Unabashedly An Individual

The eternal truth derives itself from the infinity of subjective truths. What I will say here then is both right and wrong. Both true and false.

I have never been interested in matters of politics. It was fine to remain oblivious when I was younger. But as I entered my late teens, my father would urge me to read the news more. I tried. But it was painfully boring. And I perceived none of it as affecting my life in any discernible way. Primarily because the events occurring seemed to be taking place only from the standpoint of various groups. Groups which were at odds with each other, groups which couldn’t seem to resolve their conflicts, groups each of which felt were right, just, oppressed, or deserving. I felt estranged from the matters they fought on about. I couldn’t figure out why that was. It could be because there was nothing in these matters of an individualistic concern. These matters seemed to be of a different realm altogether.

I understand that some of my privileges allowed for this. Being born a heterosexual middle class Hindu Brahmin male has allowed me to remain relatively immune to discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, financial status, and gender. My privilege thus allowed me to remain indifferent to socio-political issues. It wasn’t a lack of empathy that I felt as much as it was simply a feeling that I was missing the bigger picture. I had no clue what the bigger picture was. But I felt inclined to believe that it couldn’t be painted by issues that were created by the inability of a single species to live harmoniously on a planet which was home to a million other species and located within a universe which was unfathomably immense.

Because eventually, none of my privileges helped me deal with the overwhelming sense of loneliness which I felt during the last three years. None of my privileges could shield me from the profound sense of alienation I felt from my being. And the enormity of existence laughed at the puniness of my privileges when I held them up as a justification for the obligation which life had to at least be decent to me. My existence is an individual endeavour. I was thrown into being at random through no fault of mine like every other individual in every other time. Hence I understand the problem of my existence as being a problem of this randomness. The lack of certainty. The lack of a concrete directive as per which I am to conduct my existence. So then surely this problem is independent of the illusions of security and belonging which have been created- the income bracket to which I belong, the racial group I’m a part of, the group who’s sexual orientation best represents my own, my nationality, my profession or my religion. I will be confronted by the nothingness of being, the meaninglessness of existence, the anxiety of living, regardless of these man-made categories that inform our contemporary foundations of identity. If existing authentically is what an individual desires, then no amount of privilege enjoyed by their groups could prevent the unveiling of their severe disconnect from themselves on this individual level.

I don’t intend to imply that all socio-political movements and the causes they back are useless. I cannot detach myself completely from the culture within which I live and deem the problems of society as being unrelated to my life. But I’ve noticed that most groups advocating change tend to desire outcomes which are rooted solely within the materialistic man-made system. They intend to cement the security of the group within the culture of the time, within the broader system of laws that have been laid down. And everything that benefits the group is paramount. I can’t fathom how the individual finds a place in group politics. Individual identity is largely seen as being just a smaller identical unit of the larger group identity. The political agenda of a group seems to be shaped so much by superficial, blanket group goals that it fails to see whether each individual within that group feels fulfilled. It fails to take into consideration the subjectivity of the human experience. Sure, the group will have some more security with regards to basic life stressors if their agendas are fulfilled. But are the individuals within these groups feeling any more secure when it comes to the matter of their individual existences?

A 2015 study conducted in the United States at the University of Michigan found that white men are more likely to suffer from depression than black men and women of any race even though they have less stressful lives. “Surveying 6,000 adults from around the country and controlling them for status, employment, education and income, the report cited ‘stressful life events’ as including marital problems, gambling addiction, police harassment, job worries and financial issues.”

Of course, this is only one study and I accept that the representativeness of the sample population, the factors observed in the measurement of depression, and the accuracy of the participants’ answers with regards to their life conditions must be taken into consideration. But, if this report does have the credibility it claims to have, then I’d like to consider its implications.

Dr. Shervin Assari, the lead author of the study said, “White men were experiencing the least stress in their lives. They don’t get a lot of it and they are not used to it, so they are more prone to its harmful effects”. So, it could be possible that the lack of stress is a byproduct of the privileges enjoyed by white men as a group. Privileges which clearly arise from man-made institutions- marriage, the monetary system, the police force etc. And yet in an existential sense, one of the most privileged groups within our species still doesn’t seem to feel fulfilled.

And isn’t it that the privileges which most white men are enjoying are exactly the ones which most disenfranchised groups are struggling to achieve for themselves as well? Financial security, fair treatment before the law, decent living conditions, better access to education and so on? And let’s imagine for a moment that the various disenfranchised groups actually do achieve these privileges as of today. Do the findings of this study imply that the members of these groups would still individually feel unfulfilled? Still feel depressed despite the “strides” that their groups have made? And if white men are more likely to feel depressed than black men who are more prone to face these “life stressors”, then could this imply that feeling fulfilled existentially is somewhat independent of the basic privileges that are enjoyed by privileged groups such as the American white male?

I ask these questions knowing that the answers to them could never be a simple “yes” or “no”. To have such simplistic answers would be to mock the complexity of being, to refuse to acknowledge its multifaceted layers.

I realize that the basic privileges mentioned above cannot be discounted for. They form the security blanket which I myself rely upon while trying to make sense of an existence that constantly derides my effort to do so. However, I can’t help but question whether we have placed too much value on the external just so that we don’t need to face the terrifying prospect of having to look within for the source of our contentment. Certain branches of Hindu philosophy have long espoused a life of detached participation in the world which prevents one from getting disillusioned by the lack of fairness and justice that culture presents us with; By acting without resentment, acting without expectation, and more importantly, acting for ourselves. Not in a selfish sense. But in a way that we constantly refuse to fully place the responsibility of our fulfilment on the fickle, illusory, and material external.

In the context of this post, that would mean to refuse to derive our sense of identity and fulfilment from the agenda of the group. The group is not greater than the individual simply because the group can never address the complexity and conflicting nature of the individual. The group’s identity is boring, unidimensional, unrealistic and simplistic. But our desire for certainty and acceptance is so powerful, that attaching our identity to that of a group is often an attractive alternative to confronting the yawning abyss of uncertainty and possible ostracism that awaits us on the precipice of uncompromising freedom of choice.

I guess what I’m ultimately trying to say here is that all lives matter. Just kidding.

I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Probably that there’s way too many things and people that we could blame for all the perceived injustices that we face. Potholes, rogue cows, Guru Ram Rahim, item numbers, Priyanka Chopra, saas-bahu dramas, Modi, the right wing, the left wing, the chicken wing, the chicken breast, capitalism, Wall Street, Sesame Street, sesame seeds, oil, white people, black people, brown people, the goddamn Ching Chongs, the rap music, Zuckerberg, Victoria Secret, Taylor Swift, Weinstein, Disney, LaVar Ball, ISIS, Iris, Siri, Cortana, uneven testicles, smegma dicks, egg pussy, those dayumn Muzzlims, the fucking Jews, the annoying feminists, the patronising mansplainers, and of course, Scooby Doo and those meddling kids.

But, maybe mostly you. And me. We might have to take a little more responsibility. And then we might realize that we aren’t that powerless to create a little more meaning for ourselves.

But what do I know.

All I know is that I know nothing, and even that I’m not sure of.