I just want you to tell me everything's going to be okay, Part I: Thinly-veiled nihilism

Published on 2024-03-07

Picture this:

You're a university student. You and your peers are represented by an organization--let's call them the Student Union. The Student Union is, among other things, meant to advocate for the student body and provide certain services. They are a "union," in a sense, though if we're being honest they do a lot more providing certain services than they do advocacy (you, being the nerd you are, looked into their audit from last year and found a single line titled "Advocacy," for which they apparently spent under 1000$)

The Student Union is run by students, as the name implies, who are elected to one-year terms.

It's election season. People keep telling you it's your civic duty to Vote, and Make Your Voice Heard, because You Matter. So, after having forgotten eight or nine times, you finally sit down on the last day of the election to Perform Your Function As An Elector, and start scrolling through platforms.

First up, Candidate #1, running for Vice Head Director General to the Second Executive Chair of Internal Operations.

During my adolescence, I was the laziest child you could ever meet...

Okay, weird start. Quirky. Quirky's not always a bad thing. Quirky people can be pretty cool.

[...] my grades weren't high, I was slowly turning obese and hygiene wasn't a thing for me

Jesus Christ. Moving on to Candidate #2.

Fate is often described to be inevitable, a facet of our lives controlled by a celestial aura that is incomprehensible to us. The concept of fate is controversial, it's disregarded by the arriviste hard workers, but it's feared by the superstitious

This is terrifying. This scares me. Not because I feel deeply moved by the words themselves, but rather because it feels too much like something I'd write--perhaps the most damning fate of them all.

I can't tell if I'm reading a political platform or being preached to. Is there really a difference?

The point of this unnecessarily mean rant isn't to reproduce people's campaign platforms and defeat them line by line using Facts and Logic, so you'll have to trust me when I say that this keeps going. The whole thing, just hammering on this idea of inevitability. I almost voted for candidate #2, just for the sheer audacity of their words, but they finished things off by singing a kind of praise for empiricism that's not exactly my cup of tea.

Scientific apostasy

On to candidate #3

I have inculcated

Inculcated? What does that even mean? That looks like a typo.

Inculcate. Transitive verb. To teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions

Okay fine you got me. I'll stop being an asshole

I have inculcated within me an insatiable drive to keep learning and developing my skills, and have come to be known for this curiosity, passion, and persistence.

I find this kind of writing fascinating, in large part because this sentence could be summarized as "I like personal development" and I can't convince myself that the original text feels any more moving than my summary.

The interesting part comes a few sentences later:

It is very important for me to be a part of something grand and impactful; something that can solve problems and bring a revolution in the unjust practices we have normalized today. I want to create a ripple that leads to change much bigger than me and in my future as I owe that much to a society that has allowed me to live a comfortable and happy life.

And this, I think, is what matters, because Candidate #3 is not the only one to have been inculcated into the great spirit of greatness, the faith of the Revolution that will wash the Earth clean of injustice, the righteous conquest of freedom, democracy, virtue, life, happiness, enlightenment, and all the rest. The endless struggle for what's Right. The unwavering commitment to Truth, the materialization of Heaven on Earth.

They all do. Every single one of them, inculcated.

What bothers me, then, is that none of them seem to know what that means. Or if they do, they're playing their cards very close to their chest.

At least somewhat importantly, it's worth noting that my Student Union discourages campaign promises, which I think is fair. We should probably be voting for people based on their character, not what they're pretending they'll do if elected. Nonetheless, of all the people who ran in the Student Union election at my university this year, there was only one person who specifically acknowledged anything they believe is wrong about how the Student Union and university operate. Everyone acknowledged that they believe things are Wrong, and that they are the righteous warriors who will fight for what's Right, but only one had the courage to say what that actually means.

Needless to say, I voted for him. I vaguely knew him from before the election through his involvement in the community. I knew he was running, and throughout the whole process I told everyone who'd listen that I was sure he'd be the only candidate with anything meaningful to say. I think I was right.

I'm scared. I've always lived in fear of the creeping Spectacle, the machine that recycles our hopes and dreams into empty signifiers and commodities, the universal mediator of all relationships. I fear I no longer remember how to connect with people, with ideas, without having traverse a network of unreality--without having to speak a language in which I'm not permitted to exist.

I get so angry, perhaps irrationally, perhaps justifiably, in situations like these, and I know that anger must ultimately be rooted in fear. It's rooted in the fear that when all hope is lost, hope itself will be gutted of all its meaning, and will be resigned to the pseudo-world that can only be looked at.

For example, international students on my campus have it bad. They have it bad because being an international student means paying in the range of fifty thousand dollars a year for a degree of incredibly dubious value. People are swept up in the fantasy of getting a university education, and then all of a sudden they're trapped in a country that hates them, paying tens of thousands of dollars of other people's money to people to whom their lives are a rounding error. You'd have to be an engineer to pay off a debt like that. You'd have to finish university to be an engineer. That's bad.

(And for what it's worth, fifty thousand dollars is a steal compared to what students in the United States pay to study domestically)

If you aren't willing to spell that out, then I can't convince myself that you're on my side.


The platforms I quoted in this piece are in fact real, though the title is not. Extremely keen readers of this gemlog might actually be able to find the rest of them.

They're published online; it's not exactly proprietary information, but I do feel kind of weird about it, having written all this. It almost feels distasteful; I can be a pretty ranty person but I try to hide it.

These platforms were literally written by real people with complex feelings and stories that lead them to write these specific words. As harsh as I've been, and as worried as this pattern I see does legitimately make me feel, I don't really feel any malice towards these people. I don't actually know these people at all!

But I don't know. I have a complicated relationship with "student leadership," as I'll expand on later, but I suppose student unions are influential organizations that throw a lot of money and power around like it's nothing, and the people vying to run them deserve to be scrutinized.

But anyway, I thought I'd mention that. I'm sure these people are fine. Except they guy who described being fat as a moral failure.

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