#5: How meaninglessness feels like

Two days ago, I wrote about what an existential crisis feels like. I documented my top-level thoughts at that point. Now, let's get more specific—thoughts that are paralysing.

One: I am—or was?—very passionate about journalism. I've thought extensively about the issues with media and how to fix them. Not merely as an editor or reporter, but potentially as a founder. I keep telling myself: enough of ranting about what's wrong and broken; get in and build something—the kind of journalism I imagine India needs and which must exist. Not easy, but felt very worthy. A problem worth trying to solve, even if I fail, because free press matters for a healthy democracy.

And so, over the last many months, I have been thinking, it's time now. Let me do it. The 2024 election is looming. Perfect timing to launch a political publication. Start small, experiment, fundraise, earn—do it all. And I must acknowledge that while this thought has been inside me for years, the push this year came from a dear friend—who, I sometimes feel, believes more in me than I do in myself.

But now, peak meaninglessness—the ultimate mental roadblock: if life has no meaning, and nothing really matters, and nothing that we do has any significance, because the universe doesn't care, and we are just products of biological evolution, and we will just die one day, and that human society is just a giant fiction, what's the point of journalism? Isn't this also just a fictional construct?

And if that's so, why choose this fiction than a more pleasure-inducing fiction, like, say, becoming a Hip Hop dancer? (I really want to learn Hip Hop, just so you know!) What's the difference? Nothing matters, right? But actually, I love writing—so I can tell myself this is not a fair comparison. So what about political journalism vs writing romantic fiction? I can just create art? Assume I will be financially sorted in any case with some side gig.

You see where I am going? You see my dilemma? How do I choose?

This is what meaninglessness is doing to me. I am just finding it hard to make a long-term commitment to stuff that feels inherently fiction. For comparison sake, people feel real, cities and towns feel real—these are tangible things. I don't have trouble committing to people (family, friends, a potential future lover) or committing to a place. The trouble is about committing to social constructs and ideas—like journalism. Like, why should I care about democracy?

I have never had these thoughts before. These weren't questions to be answered; rather, they were foundational principles I took as self-evident, much like axioms in mathematics. I assumed it was a given. The questions that occupied my mind were different: What is the purpose of journalism? How can journalism stay relevant in today's world? What kind of journalism should we produce to foster better citizenship, seek truth, improve society, and create a better world?

Not anymore. And so I am stuck. I don't know what to do.

Two: Let's take this one level deeper—and this thought came to me this morning.

At the heart of a lot of "social good" is the idea of justice, right? Something is wrong, and you want to make it right. This sense of right and wrong comes from some sense of underlying morality, and how we imagine the world should be. People may fight over what those morals should be, but at the core of it all, there's a moral order.

And when the world doesn't match that, it seems unfair, unjust—making it just becomes the key mission for many change-makers. This includes everyone from entrepreneurs and politicians to activists, lawyers, teachers, and journalists.

And this idea of instigating change lends a sense of purpose to life. It signifies committing your life to something beyond just you, for the larger good of society. And this grand idea is what fuels people in the face of adversity, offering the hope for a better, just world.

The me in crisis mode is puzzled: Why are we so concerned with ideas of justice or equality? Where does this concern come from? When did the universe declare that human society should uphold justice as a virtue? Where is it written that life should be this way? Isn't the quest for justice as arbitrary or meaningless as anything else?

In a universe devoid of inherent purpose or moral absolutes, the human constructs of "justice" and "injustice" are just that—constructs. Right? They are also subjective realities that we have invented to impose some semblance of order or meaning onto a fundamentally chaotic and indifferent universe.

So what's the point of dedicating life to such a cause? What tangible difference would it truly make, apart from in our collective imagination? Why declare it your life's mission when, in the grand scheme of things, it might be inconsequential?

How do I move forward from this point? I'm stuck.

What next: Yes, these thoughts sound nihilistic, I know. But I want to live these thoughts now because else, they keep lingering at the back of my mind. I want to think about these head-on, as humans have done for centuries or even millennia, I guess. What I need is my theory of human life and some guiding principles to live by, which acknowledges the meaninglessness rather than ignoring what feels like a fundamental fact. More on that in future posts.

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