If you’ve been hanging out with me lately, you’re almost sure to have heard me utter phrases such as these:
I’ve been thinking a lot about animal rights recently.
So I watched this Noam Chomsky documentary the other day.
I think we should all give to charity more often.
I feel very uneducated about world affairs.
I’m not sure which of these I’ve actually said out loud and which have just been playing on repeat in my brain over the past couple of weeks, but regardless, there’s a pattern here that needs addressing. Maybe it’s something to do with the new US administration and how exhaustively its caricaturish activities have been covered by the media. Maybe it’s another manifestation of my growing unease about my education and prospective career. Maybe it’s just a springtime blues. No matter what caused this new wave of Weltschmerz, I’m at a loss to elude its grip.
I have a deep feeling that the world is in a state of disrepair, and the only remedy at my disposal, however temporary its effects, is watching YouTube videos about van life and off-grid housing. I ought to be spending my time more efficiently, I tell myself — stop treating the symptoms and tackle the causes. I ought to be reading about war, social inequality, and genocide. If I want to end up in a healthy frame of mind which allows me to put my resources to use to alleviate the wounds I inflict on the world just by virtue of being alive, I had better start educating myself right now. There’s no time to dwell on outstanding papers and upcoming modules.
But even if I stopped worrying about academia for a while, I wouldn’t know what to do with the information I’m exposed to. I read and run and nothing changes: I neither become an informed citizen confident enough to speak out about issues close to my heart, nor does the world show any signs of improvement from the efforts other people put into transforming it.
On days when any energy I put into getting informed seems petty and for naught, I find myself thinking back to a time when I was experiencing a very different kind of mental unravelling. In my early days of nerdfighterdom, roaming the busy streets of downtown Toronto, I was awash in a sea of cultural, linguistic, and literary stimuli, but unlike today, they fuelled rather than drained me. They didn’t scare me back into my emotional shell; they made me even more eager to explore my surroundings. It was the period in my life when I bought comic-book introductions to philosophical thought and lost myself in the pages of my first Vonnegut novels. And the funny thing is, I’ve come to feel incredibly nostalgic about this time of intellectual naïvety even though I would never trade that goofy 19-year-old’s brain for my current one. Does that mean I value an appreciation for complexity more than my own happiness? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. But I’ve heard from some trustworthy people that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.