Monday, June 20, 2005

The consolations of philosophy... or not

This may be the product of an addled mind (it is, after all, way past my bedtime), but I was just lying here thinking and it occurred to me that maybe a bit of catharsis was in order.

I’ve been a bit philosophical of late… a major life change can do that to you. You ask yourself why, and try to understand it with respect to all the other steps and missteps you’ve taken thus far. Which category does this fall into? How do you know? Me, I’m not crazy about my job, but then that all depends. Isn’t this how it’s supposed to be? Was I just spoiled before, and that’s why I’m unhappy now? Are there other things at work here? What would make me happy? How do I know? I always thought that a career in marketing would make me happy because I like thinking about the challenges inherent in that line of work. But I’ve since discovered that, while I like thinking about those challenges, that’s a very tiny (and often nonexistent) part of what a job in marketing actually entails. And sadly, I’ve ruled out other roles in marketing that might be a better fit because I don’t think I’d like them or because I don’t think I’d be good at them. For an example of the former, an academic career (I hate writing, and that’s kind of what it comes down to). The latter, consumer insight/branding (I simply lack the instinct necessary to read people: I can’t think of a single instance when I’ve made an accurate assumption about what other people think and why).

And then I have to wonder, why really have I ruled those out? It’s not like I knew what I was doing when I took my current job. It’s not that I didn’t have all the facts, it’s just that I didn’t read them right (see end of last paragraph… I don’t even understand myself, how could I ever purport to understand others?). Whenever I get into questions of happiness, of my perspective on life, I always try to imagine how things would be if I were living a hundred, a thousand years earlier. I continually ruminate on the effects of living in the information age because it seems to me that one’s happiness and/or contentment at any given time is proportionate to how much their current experience compares with what they expected to be experiencing. I don’t know if my dissatisfaction, my disappointment, is a product of having glimpsed something better on tv or in books, or if it’s inherent in the human experience. The grass is always greener, right? But is it greener some times than others? How and why does that change? What if envy and discontent are inherent (as I tend to think they are… part of what makes us human is our awareness of others, and where that exists, there exists the awareness of how they are different from ourselves) but the wealth of information we have today has exacerbated the effect?

I can’t answer that last question without defining what the measurable results of such an occurrence would be and doing a fair amount of sociological research to determine if anything’s changed. And then evaluating the research upon which that was based (for example, I recently read in The Bell Curve that violent crime has been increasing since the 50’s, but have my doubts about what those numbers and that conclusion are based upon). But my instinctive answer would be that society is not going to hell because there’s too much information. In fact, all that information shuts us up. Information is the new religion. There’s so much to sort through, and it tells stories of such extremes as you never even dreamed of (I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s new book, Haunted, and never even imagined such a plethora of horrors between two covers). And it desensitizes you. Nothing is too horrific that you aren’t sure that it’s happened to somebody somewhere. And at the same time, no achievement is too great that aren’t sure it’ll happen. Maybe we won’t have flying cars by 2025, like we’ve all been dreaming about for years, but that doesn’t discourage us from believing that it’ll happen someday. No challenge is too great that someone won’t find a way to overcome it. Look at Lance Armstrong. Is it inspiring, or depressing that you can’t hope to ever live up to that kind of example? All this information has sucked out our own passions, because how can my love of art compare to the starving artist who gives his life to it? How can my love of travel compare to the researcher who lives among obscure tribesmen for years, learning their language and customs? It makes my pleasure in such hobbies look like a cheap thrill. I see where I stand in the grand scheme of things and feel there’s no way I can measure up, so why try? Why not just sit back, watch the newly-released first season of Scrubs, and try not to eat anything?

And the questions just keep on coming. This from a girl who never questioned anything.

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