In response to an argument with Karim, November 3, 2002
I am rather amazed at the human condition, not so much at the extremeness of human behavior, but in the subtleties of mankind. Karim speaks of opulence versus poverty in the first and third world nations, but the significance of the dichotomy within a single society is just as important.
I have sat on a train where a person bought a standing room ticket for them and their child, sat in my seat, then relinquished it to me, the ticket holder, with profuse apologies. The parents moved on, but the child gave me a look of incomprehension that disturbs me. Even more disturbing is my lack of courage to give back the seat.
In the grand scheme of things, it is a small thing, but it perfuses throughout society. Just looking almost anywhere in Taiwan, the discordant mixture of tiny plots of garden amongst concrete; filth in equal existence with opulence, one has to wonder about the distribution of wealth not simply in Taiwan (this is not an isolated society), but everywhere; first and third-world countries.
It is true that American wealth is in such great disparity with Uganda or Kenya, but within America, the distribution of wealth is a little more horizontal than vertical.
Too many people spend time in self-indulgent psycho-babble contemplating identity and existence. Even more could care less and wander through life in apathy. There is meaning in reality and that meaning the essence of life.
My world, the American world, is an opulent place not often given to worries of survival nor hunger in fast. Our definition of hunger is three hours since lunch. The absence of genuine worry allows us the luxury of introspection and it is in the introspection that we find emptiness.
Everyone, to some degree is lonely, but the emptiness in the absence of extreme trauma is a construct, a self-indulgent examination and re-examination to find a reason for living. I know now, the meaning of life is simple, but back then, in my mental masturbation, my search for identity and desire for meaning let me, not even an angry young man. Instead I was a boy filled with unfocused anxiety.
While there are people who fight tooth and nail over a scrap of meat and children who unknowingly play tag amongst corpses (don’t fool yourself, this is not uncommon thing outside of our sphere of opulence). I spent my angst and anxiety in personal traumas, melodramatically awash in feelings of loneliness, consuming myself in relationships and generally being an average intelligent teenager.
I would spend my time screaming “why?” as I writhed on a down comforter and clean sheets when I should have examined myself and asked “why not?”
Mind you, whatever the petty or sophomoric reasons for my turmoil, I was genuinely unhappy. Very little in life gave me any sense of joy or even respite. I had gotten to a point where I would have cared less about being happy; peace was all I really wanted. Being young, you don’t realize they are much the same thing.
I was never diagnosed with clinical depression, but I may well have been. I periodically sank into darkness and would have to claw my way back but could only do so if I found the strength. Depression is a lack of will and to counter the immobility, to act, I self-medicated with caring, friendship and anger. To my dismay, the darkness would spill over onto my friends.