I don't often do this, but David Sirota's latest post at Open Left is something I've been feeling for a while, and a question that is it critical to ask oneself periodically. Think of it as mental maintenance...
Existential Question: What The F%$@! Are We Doing?
by: David Sirota
Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 20:46
Over the last decade, I went from idealistic college kid, to idealistic Hill staffer, to cynical political campaign operative, to angry/angsty writer/activist, to full-time journalist, and in this last stage, I've hit an existential question that I think many are struggling with in their own lives, regardless of their age: What the fuck am I doing?
What, for instance, am I doing working in a media/political business that is so often governed with no rhyme or reason, and so often rewards the foolish, the stupid and the immoral? I mean, really: for every Rachel Maddow, there are five Sean Hannitys, but it's not even that - that's just an ideological bias against progressives, and that I can make sense of (even though it disgusts me). The worse truth - the one I simply cannot grasp - is that for every Harold Meyerson (ie. for every legitimately brilliant progressive writer) there are 25 Joe Kleins (ie. braindead megaphones).
This is the kind of thing that makes me want to throw my computer out the window, wear my PJ's and a robe to the supermarket, and play Halo all day. It's not the conservatives that really get me - their existence/success at least has a rationale (ie. serving the corporate masters who pay them). It's the unskilled - the classic No Talent Ass Clowns, if you will. I work in a business that treats Andrew Sullivan and David Broder and Matt Bai and Journolist and the Politico and Tom Friedman as Very Important, Very Serious, Very Newsworthy People - people worthy of not just applause, but of emulation. Scores of the precocious and the ambitious in this business aspire to be these people, scores of youthful college kids head to D.C. dreaming about being the next Joe Klein or David Broder. Indeed, there are entire magazines like the New Republic whose foundational objective is to groom the next Matt Bai.
Though I certainly don't want that for myself (thus, my flee to the sanity of the Rocky Mountain West), I'm struggling with the questions about the system. I wonder: What am I doing working in a system that creates those desires, rewards that idiocy, and creates a gross incentive structure?
That's the question, as I said, I think lots of people are asking about their own lives, whether in the media business or any other field.
David Sirota :: Existential Question: What The F%$@! Are We Doing?
Thanks to the economic meltdown, ensuing AIG bonuses, and promotion of economic criminals to top White House jobs, it has never been more clear that the American economy and political system is one that rewards everything we say we don't want to reward. The media world I work in rewards David Brooks, the economy rewards AIG executives, the political system rewards Larry Summers. It's all the same fucking thing - everything we say we want to punish, but instead systemically cheer on.
So again, what the fuck are we doing? Why do we just sit here and take it? And if we're not going to take it, what the hell should we do? Most of us who have a job are totally overworked - we barely have time for our families. Those of us who are out of work are scratching and clawing to survive - they barely have time for anything else. So what should we do?
I don't have an answer to these existential questions...at least not yet. And I certainly don't know what to do in reaction to asking them. One voice in the chorus that is my inner monologue says "you're right, what am I doing? Fuck this, I'm moving to Costa Rica."* Another voice says "I'm not getting out - I'm doing the right thing by keeping the faith that this is important work." And yet another voice says, "Just don't ask those questions - they will only give you heartbreak."
All of the rationales have merit - not just for me, but for society. And I'm sure millions of people are having the same "on the one hand, on the other hand" debates in their minds. Some days we defiantly push on, other days we want to drop out and move to some far away nirvana.
Shit, maybe this is my quarter-life crisis (though that would mean I'd have to live to 120) or my mid-life crisis (that would mean I'd be dead at 66 - that would suck). Whatever it is, all I know right now is that we live not in interesting times - we lived in fucked up times, and that means fucked up questions are going to be asked. Here's hoping we don't fuck up the answers.
* I know, I know - there are definitely serious problems in Costa Rica. But at least its warm and near the ocean...or at least that's what I tell myself as a rationale for seeing that Central American nation as a terrestrial version of heaven.