I was revisiting Section.80 by Kendrick Lamar for the first time in a couple of years because it's dope and it's one of those classic projects that makes you come back to it every once in a while. As I was listening on shuffle (fuck chronology) Ab-Souls Outro came on. I hadn’t heard this song in a while and it definitely hits different listening to the song as an adult during the current state of the world, as opposed to when I was in high school. Ab-Soul said “What's your life about, enlighten me.” The song goes on to delve into the monotony of modern day life within capitalism, pre corona. It discusses the darker implications of following the status quo like believing everything you see in the media, abiding to all forms of authority and ultimately losing your individuality while chasing this fictitious end of the road or ”American Dream” that Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar seem to believe we are sold. But the question Ab-Soul kept repeating is what caught my attention.
What's your life about? What's your reason? Honestly, what is the integral purpose as to why you do anything it is that you do? For a lot of our lives, the reason why we did anything was because of someone else. We spent our whole lives in schools because our parents told us to, we did what our teachers told us to, we did what our bosses told us to, we wore stuff because someone cool wore them or to impress someone we liked. Our perception of ourselves from the perspective of others is a large incentive to make us do anything. We all want to be liked. The desire for approval, appreciation, and acceptance by others is a normal part of being human. And although some people may care less than others about the opinions of their peers, on some level everyone wants to be liked. So we mold ourselves in the image of what gets us the most approval from the group. And that has benefits but it also has setbacks.
Covid quarantine has forced us to spend more time alone and placed this question in the forefront. Aside from capitalistic pursuits, survival and doing things to please others, what's the reason a lot of us do anything? That's when I came to the conclusion of interests. Interests are these ideas, subjects, topics and skills that attract you. These interests seem like the most obvious routes to take as you maneuver through life, but a lot of the time you take another route because of what you think someone else might want you to do or see you as. And for a lot of our lives, we’re slaves to that. That forces us to live life in an attempt to please our own perception of how the most optimal version of us will look like in someone else’s head.
Jean Paul Sartre once said “Hell is other people” The line comes from a 1944 existentialist play by the French philosopher called No Exit. In the play, three people are trapped in Hell — which is a single room — and ultimately, while confessing their sins to one another, end up falling into a bizarre love triangle. The confinement of the characters extends beyond their physical holding room: they are trapped by the judgments of their cellmates. That's why one of the characters says, "Hell is other people" — because of how we are unable to escape the watchful gaze of everyone around us. "By there mere appearance of the Other," says Sartre in Being and Nothingness, "I am put in the position of passing judgment on myself as on an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the Other." Many times we can live according to some social contract that we made up in our own heads. Where if we act a certain way we’ll be liked more or if we do something, someone else is gonna think we’re cool.
Social media is one of the biggest proponents of this problem. Social media puts us in this endless notification addiction which is ultimately just our need for approval. That's why so many people surgically reconstruct their entire bodies for the currency of likes and followers. But this chase for approval can make us lose that original essence. I believe those moments where we follow our interests and hone skills or crafts are the most honest reflections of ourselves. Those moments in time where the concept itself disappears and it's just you and the task at hand, acting as one thing. Don’t confuse it with that moment where we post what we’re doing and wait for the likes, don’t confuse it with trying to gain followers. Don’t confuse it with our postmodern irony where everything lacks sincerity, where we have to be meta, non literal, self deprecating and are supposed to act in accordance to someone else's perception of us.
I’m talking specifically about the time when you are most sincere, which is the way that makes you enjoy your time alone. Not your time with your significant other, family or friends, specifically those moments where you are at most peace, bliss and joy without the incentive of external approval. Without someone double tapping, laughing or even seeing, what does that route look like? That essence that enjoys those moments can also be your guide through life's terrains. We need to refine that essence by following it more often. We somehow know the way but we take another path because we doubt ourselves. We doubt our instincts that are actually much stronger than we know. How many times did you know the answer to a question on a test but picked a different one because you doubted yourself, and then the test came back and you were right all along. That's because you doubted your instincts.
This isn’t to say that we should follow every hedonistic desire, that's not what I’m saying at all. We all somehow have these objects and people in the world that catch our eye and pull us toward them like magnets. Some are positive and some are negative but it's unusually idiosyncratic. I grew up with 5 siblings and all of us have completely unique and sometimes opposing temperaments, interests and personalities despite growing up in the same house, around the same time, raised by the same people. We all turned out different because different things pulled us towards them. As we get older we’re able to refine and discern our positive interests and negative ones for a variety of reasons. A lot of times in life we don’t even attempt to go the route of our interests because of how we were raised. We’re rewarded when we act in accordance to someone else’s opinion and we’re punished when we act in accordance to our instincts.
When you’re a kid and you wanna take a cookie out of a cookie jar and all of a sudden some dickhead tall person is irate and you’ve gotta take the charge and get walked into your room looking like some repeat offender in a maximum security prison for wanting to eat a cookie. And maybe we did something and someone liked us for it so we adopt that part of our personality more. And that makes us grow up trying to look cool or appease people so we’re not breaking some social contract. So we posture and pretend, but it's all a hoax, a farce, a bamboozling. I don’t follow my interests because of anyone else, I follow my interests because of the level of joy it exudes in me.
Creativity and problem solving are fundamentals of human nature, and art gives us a place to encapsulate ourselves in the essence of what we are, pause. (yes I paused myself in the middle of a philosophical inquiry) This is all to say that we can appreciate looking cool or wealthy with praise and accolades, and we can acknowledge and evolve with critique, but that can’t be the reason behind pursuing a craft, skill, interest, career, whatever it is. Because if the goal is external validation then people can make and break you, ultimately you’ll just be a shell of a person waiting for the next hit of validation, like a cup waiting to be filled with water. We can stop ourselves from trying new things and new experiences that catch our interest because someone might laugh at us, or mock us, or consider us uncool failures. But when we follow our perspective of others perception of us, who are we?
That's why I try to do everything I do, mainly because I derive actual joy from it, and the things I don’t like very much are necessary to maintain the infrastructure while I do the things I derive joy from doing. Other than that if it doesn’t provide value, expand my freedom, enrich my being or bring me any or those around me any kind of peace or joy, I just won’t do it. Money and status aren’t enough of a reason on their own, because those are fleeting. Miserable millionaires exist and they have trapped themselves within their wealth, unable to escape the trap they’ve set for themselves, where they have little to no freedom and don’t enjoy how they spend most of their time. We don’t need to impress anyone, no one's opinion supersedes the importance of yours, some people may be better informed and can provide you opinions of some value that can inform your opinion, but generally speaking nobody’s opinions should decide your opinion, if your goal is to be a free individual.
Every human being is flawed and all experience is idiosyncratic as far as you’re concerned, because nobody is able to live your life, experience it as you and view things from your lens. If we refine our ability to critically think and discern our opinions and interests, we can be truly free. Free of the shackles we placed on our own brains when trying to appear as an object for the perception of others. If we’re true to ourselves we can live and have access to the most optimal states of being. You may have experienced a flow state at some point — that sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction. Time feels like it has slowed down. Your senses are heightened. You are at one with the task at hand, as action and awareness sync to create an effortless momentum. Some people describe this feeling as being “in the zone.” This is the flow state and it’s accessible to everyone, whether you’re engaged in a physical activity, a creative pursuit, or even a simple day-to-day task.
This doesn't necessarily speak to being on a capitalistic pursuit, although it can be, this is specifically talking about when you are truly invested in the matter you have at hand. Be it doing a task, honing a craft or doing an activity you really enjoy like watching a movie, looking at a painting, reading a book, whatever your thing is. We can get there if we honestly follow our interests and passions. Consumerism can often make us feel like we’re not cool or we’re left out if we don’t belong to some type of clique or subgenre of the culture where all the cool people are doing something so we all instantly have to do it too. Following “The Cool” leads us into Group Think, as discussed in legendary Chicago MC Lupe Fiasco’s album of the same name.
Everyone in our globalized world is going to Mcdonalds and drinking Coca Cola. Everyone wants to wear designer brands and everyone wants to be cool, but our definitions of cool create these clone communities where everyone is just one giant consumer. Everyday we’re bombarded by stimuli from all angles from ads to content to a new piece of technology to everyone’s opinions about everything.
In French philosopher Jean Baudrillards 1981 book Simulacra and Simulation, he discusses the idea of images and signs, and how they relate to our contemporary society, wherein we have replaced reality and meaning with symbols and signs; he states that what we know as reality is actually a simulation of reality. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the signs of culture and media that create the reality we perceive: a world saturated with imagery, infused with communications media, sound, and commercial advertising. Every year you can expect a brand new iPhone, a brand new Fast and Furious sequel and a new collaboration of brands owned by the same company. This simulated reality leaves us chasing after its fictional ideas of success, luxury and happiness.
Our interests and passions have the ability to pull us out of the rabbit hole and lead us down a path where we can carve out our individuality and be of value and service for the rest of society. Because of the internet we have the ability to follow our passions and interests to download useful and resourceful information that will enrich our lives directly into our brains like we live in the Matrix, but we can also just be content, notification and product junkies, floating through apps and malls for our next hit.
Honing our individuality can strengthen our bond with others by helping us appreciate each other's interesting differences, as opposed to regurgitating and reflecting the world. And in turn our interests are of value to others because they are interesting and can be beneficial to the greater good of society. If we shape our individuality we can purchase and create things based on the meaning and benefit they provide to us, and we can complete tasks because of the joy or thoughtfulness that we derive from it, not just to please people or fit in with the mold, and ultimately we can make life more meaningful and beautiful for ourselves and the broader community. Every individual living in a society needs everyone else, and so we attempt to provide value in each other's lives, but that shouldn’t be through becoming what we want each other to be, but by becoming ourselves and using that to help each other.
I know this essay is pretty anti consumerist but its also pro honing crafts and meaningful purchases and creations. During Covid-19 quarantines I worked on a video game titled The Explorer. The Explorer is a PC game about the adventures of Ellen into a strange world. You suddenly wake up in a strange world. You will need to use 3d platforming skills in order to evade. You will encounter some weird creatures that will attack you. Prepare your brain since you will need to solve some puzzles in order to advance in game. You will need to use triggered actions to open gates, to trigger moving platforms, and to use your fighting skills to fight robot enemies and bosses.