Ambition is an odd thing, especially in this time. For young people, our brains literally aren’t developed enough to do a long-term cost/benefit analysis. Risks? Not all that big of a deal. So, then, what’s skipping a few classes in the long view of things?
In a generation used to immediate validation, what’s the good of striving toward a long-term goal? And what is a long-term goal in the age of climate crisis and COVID? Who even knows themself and their place in the system well enough anymore to figure out what they want their role to be?
I’m a Sociology major, which is fun. But it’s less fun when we’re talking about neoliberalism and exploitation in class and then we have to go home and do six-plus hours of homework.
I can’t stop thinking about this: How do you get into “good” colleges? You have a very high grade-point average, and preferably tons of internships and extra-curriculars. But what are we measuring with that scale of acceptance if not a willingness to blindly stretch yourself to your breaking point? Or a willingness to comply with the capitalist system that compels you to work for no pay for hours and hours and keep piling on more things you’re doing for free, because that’s what gets you prestige? The admissions process claims to be measuring smarts, students’ ability to think critically, but I think it measures almost the opposite: How willing you are to not think, not analyze; to give in.
I’ve spent so much mental energy this year actively trying not to think. I don’t know how I’m supposed to just turn it right on again for academics. It feels as though once again we’re all supposed to ignore our world burning down around us and keep our noses to the grindstone.
I saw somewhere (ok, yes, by “somewhere” I do mean TikTok) that hunters and gatherers only “worked” 15 to 20 hours a week. Did they have a better life? Who can say? I can’t fathom what they even did with all that free time.
So while in no way can I form a comprehensive pros-and-cons list, it is undeniable that our current way of life has many, many downsides and negative consequences. Have y’all seen that silly Scarlett Johansson movie, Lucy? The opening line is, “Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?” And the funny thing is, I often feel that I’m working against my brain to avoid thinking about that. That if I, like in the film, used 100 percent of my brain capacity, I would be overwhelmed with that question, so I’m always working to dampen it, to dull its inquisitions and worries.
Do you have a daydream that keeps you going? That you think about when all else has failed you for the day and you just don’t wanna do it anymore? If not, that’s OK, just pull up any old daydream. What are you doing? What do you look like? Who are you with? Where are you? What do you smell?
But, most importantly, what do you feel?
Here’s what I think about when I’m not feeling life so much. I’m in my late 20s or early 30s. I have a cute little apartment with my chili-pepper lights hanging above the kitchen window, and plants about, and the cabinets are painted red, and I’m dancing with my partner and our dog. Pretty good daydream, if I do say so myself.
But here’s what I recently realized: in all my daydreams, future me doesn’t think. Future me has no inner life. It’s like when the story ends and they all live happily ever after, but they’re still people. They still have these rich and tumultuous and fucking scary inner lives. Which is, I guess, kinda beautiful. But by nature of our brains and media, the way we tell stories, we often feel like we are the only people who experience inner tumult, that everyone else is just peacefully floating on through life in a Disney movie.
I’m taking this Science Fiction class right now, and we read J.G. Ballard’s 1971 essay “Fictions of Every Kind” this week. Ballard had a big problem with space and lasers and Buck Rogers–style stories. He argued that a story more interesting and more true to the science-fiction form would be one about exploring a person’s inner space, rather than the world’s outer space. I might tend to agree. We all have countless worlds just in our heads, and we don’t need a space ship to explore them.