viatical ownership

Sartre kept on going off about the meaning of life is to pursue freedom, but I still have very little idea of what it means to live a “free” life. He says something along the lines of acknowledging that we have freedom in the first place, I find that quite underwhelming.

There is a lot I want to do in life that requires the sacrifice of other things I want to do in life. I want to eventually have kids and move to a house in suburban New York, but that requires sacrificing other parts of my life. Effectively, if I want to be able to afford a house in New Rochelle, I won’t be able to work at the US embassy in Mozambique doing some variety of administrative work. Everyone keeps on saying that you should do what you want to do, but they often fail to acknowledge that doing some things means that you can’t do other things. I really want to move to Mozambique, but it probably means that I won’t be able to afford a house in New Rochelle when I approach my 30s and want to move to suburban New York.

When we are younger, our parents exist as the source of our money. They give us money, and we implicitly do what they tell us to do. In a sense, they have equity in our lives because they provide capital for us to continue living. We are willing to sacrifice our freedom to do what our parents want us to do because they have ownership over our lives. When we grow up, we obtain jobs for ourselves, and we are no longer dependent on our parents to financially support us. We can listen to our parents less because they no longer have their equity stake in our lives. We still do because that’s what we do to pay them back for all their investment into our lives, but they no longer have final authority over what we can do or not do. We think we financially support ourselves, but in actuality we are dependent on our employer to support us now. In return, we do what our employer wants us to do, which also involves additional restrictions in our lives.

When I was growing up, if I want to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique my parents wouldn’t let me because they don’t want to travel alone in a place without an established tourism network. Now, if I want to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique I won’t be able to because I have limited vacation days every year. Different phase of my life, different restrictions. The only time I would be able to go on a two-week trip to Mozambique is when I retired with enough saved up when I don’t have to work again in my life. By then, however, I would be so tired and frail that I won’t be able to take the 20+ hour flight to Mozambique.

If I want to own a house in New Rochelle, I would have to work all my life. If I want to take a two-week trip to Mozambique, I would have take a hit on my career. These are both things that I want to do. At present, however, I value owning a house in New Rochelle more than I value taking a two-week trip to Mozambique. As long as I continue on the career track that I am currently, never in my life will I ever have the freedom to take a two-week trip to Mozambique. It is the limitation of my freedom. Nietzsche kept on going off about not listening to other people and do things for yourself, but where did that get him? His life was sad, wretched, and I wouldn’t trade my life for his for the world.

Something I feel Sartre and Nietzsche never really addressed in their philosophy is the ontology of opportunity cost. It seems that after Kierkegaard’s Either/Or there isn’t much discourse surrounding how choice necessitates unhappiness. Economics is quite different now than it was back then, but I don’t ever remember them discussing how choice in one direction precludes choice in another. Living according to freedom, according to Sartre seems more than anything a myth of “having it all.” It’s like that episode in Bojack Horseman where Princess Caroline tried raising a kid and scheduling a party and being swamped at work in the same week. She wasn’t able to accomplish it even in this fictional universe. If you live in accordance to freedom, then you would have a free life, which is the life that he said you should supposedly have. What about the life that you don’t have because you chose to have another life?

It is seldom that our choices have a clear and contrast right and wrong division. There is nothing that tells me I have to get a house in New Rochelle or I have to go to Mozambique. They are just both things that I am interested in doing. Pursuing absolute freedom would be able to accomplish both of these things, but it is not possible to do so. We certainly do have some choice over what direction we want to guide our life, but we do not have the capability to do two things that are at odds with each other. That is the limitation of our freedom, and it is a choice that necessitates sacrifice. In this sense, the human condition necessitates a limit to freedom — therefore, we are not born to be free.

The closest thing we can come to freedom is financial independence — from our parents, from our employers, from everything. Financial independence means that I could afford a house in New Rochelle and go on a two-week trip to Mozambique. It means being able to reconcile this paradox of choice that precluded freedom. In that sense, having money equates to having freedom. It means coming one step closer to living the freest life.

Granted, money can’t buy everything. A famous aphorism I’ve heard: money can’t buy style. Although, if you’re rich and can afford a personal shopper, I guess you can buy style. Money also can’t buy friends, but money makes it a lot easier to make friends. Money can’t buy friends, but money can buy experiences that make making friends a lot easier (3-day EZoo passes don’t come cheap, but 3-day EZoo friends make making friends a lot easier than not having a 3-day EZoo pass). Also, there’s that quote from Avengers End Game: “No amount of money ever bought a second of time.” I disagree with this quite a bit. What is the point of time if it is not to make money and spend money?

When we reach adulthood, we spend quite a bit of our time working. Why do we work? It gives us something to do (so we don’t get bored), but it’s also to make money. What do we do when we don’t work? We spend money, among other things. If you make a lot of money very quickly, it buys quite a bit of time actually. If I had money, I could spend more time with my friends and less time making money. If I want to purchase a house in New Rochelle, I would need to accumulate quite a bit of money, which takes a lot of time. If I had money, I wouldn’t have to work as long as I need to purchase a house in New Rochelle. It gives me time to earn money for another purchase, such as a Toyota Camry. If I want to buy a house in New Rochelle and a Toyota Camry, I would need to work for a significant period of my life. Mortgages and loans means that I’m indebt to the bank, which takes away even more of my freedom. Having money means being able to afford a house in New Rochelle and a Toyota Camry without sacrificing your time to obtain the money needed to make these purchases. It gives you time to pursue other things, such as making more money.

I used to think the meaning to life was art and literature, but I think the meaning to life now is participating in consumerism and achieving freedom from all the ontological impossibilities that result from not having money. As long as we are dependent on money given to us from someone else, we cannot live the freest life that we can. The only way to achieve true freedom, true ownership of our lives, is to live life without worrying about money ever again.

when childhood role models grow up

The concept of a mentor is a very “adult” thing to have. The closest concept you have to a mentor when you are a child is something along the lines of a teacher, but teacher aren’t anything close to mentors because teachers don’t particularly care about your personal development. To them, you are still a student in a sea of other students. There’s no reason for them to pay particularly close attention to you. Eventually, you move up a grade, and that’s the last you will ever hear from them. But, before you have mentors, you have role models, which is something you feel out yourself.

Personally, my role models when I was a child were other children who were slightly older than me, maybe a grade or two. It didn’t really make sense to me to idolize adults who accomplished much in history because it seemed all so far off. It’s cool that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and stuff… but what do we actually know about Neil Armstrong? Since reading biographies were far outside of the things I wanted (or could) do at the time, I figured I would just learn from the people around me. The closest otherworldly figures that still had some sense of semblance to me were students who were slightly older than me, and those were my role models at the time.

The thing about being a child is that it’s quite a inferior level of awareness. Social cues don’t come as easily. Feelings are less specific; everything more-or-less seemed like an angsty blobule snipping away at your last strand of self-confidence. When we gravitated towards other people, we do so for reasons we don’t quite understand. There’s a superficial limerence to it all. For traits beyond our understanding at the time, we devote more of our attention to some people more than others. And, as life dictates, the things we devote our attention to eventually become solidified in our identity.

Role models as a child is quite a one-way relationship. Most of them time, at least for me, it was someone around my age. We were friends, but it was more of a hang-out-a-few-times-a-year friendship as opposed to a hang-out-every-day friendship. In adult standards, hanging out a few times is already considered more than most of my friends, but things were different when you were a child. You grow more slowly as an adult, so time apart felt less significant. But when you’re a child, every day is a day of growth, so even mere months apart seemed like worlds apart.

My role models usually have a certain set of traits that I find admirable, that I might not be able to articulate at the time, and then I would try to become as close I could to them. It’s quite unlike the modern phenomena of simping in the sense that I don’t ever attempt to live for the other person. It’s not about what I could contribute to their life as much as it is what they could contribute to my life. Quite selfish, if you asked me.

But, as we age, our childhood idealization no longer takes hold, and we have more accurate pictures of people. When we are children, the traits we have projected onto others do not seem as otherworldly as they do now. By the time we reach our 20s, we have been through enough friendships and relationships to understand when we are falling into limerence. But, when we are children, we are still unable to recognize the lack of reality that identified our conception of others. We grow up, but the world doesn’t grow up alongside us. The world is more-or-less the same, and everyone in the world is more-or-less the same.

I’ve come to realize that when we are children, there is very little that we value. We low-key steal the values of others because we either aren’t bothered or do not have the capacity to formulate values for ourselves. I was thinking about how I ended up picking my college majors, wondering if it was an aesthetic decision after all this time. I don’t think there was ever a time in college when I had this profound realization that I enjoyed what I studied.

For English, I never really understood the appeal of the books found in the English canon. I don’t think Shakespeare was particularly a good writer, much less the greatest British writer of all time, at least compared to his contemporaries. Guilliver’s Travels is like an 18th century meme more than anything. There was this book I read about traveling the Scottish Highlands in 19th century, and I swear I could not finish more than 10 pages in one sitting. Clarissa is one of those books I would like to read for the clout but I refuse to dedicate at least 100 hours of reading 1,500+ pages of letters between a drama queen and a sociopath.

Economics is cool, I guess. It’s cool only in retrospect. Actually learning econ was painful. I liked stat, but I was also pretty bad at stat. There was also a lot of calculus that I neither liked to do nor did well. Thankfully, I will never need to take another Lagrange multiplier ever again in my life.

There were moments throughout my undergraduate career when I thought to myself, maybe this isn’t so bad. For a long time, In convinced myself that I enjoyed what I was studying, but that’s more Learned Optimism-esque Pascal’s wager more than anything else. I think, after all this time, it was just me thinking it was a cool thing to do. It was the aesthetic of studying what I studied as opposed to what I actually studied.

It’s a lot like studying in a coffee shop. It’s a cool aesthetic — studying in a coffee shop. You are, after all, studying in a coffee shop. I did it a lot my sophomore year. In fact, I spent every Saturday and Sunday at Green Line Cafe from 11 AM to 6 PM, when it closed. Realistically, the aesthetic of studying in a coffee shop composes of turning on your volume too loud to drown out the chatter of voices around you, waiting around for a table near an outlet, realizing the only working outlet in the entire room is taken by some wannabe hipster with a pierced nose and an iced chocolate latte, and exiting after two cups of coffee realizing that you actually got jack shit done the entire day. Yeah, it’s like that.

So why did I study what I studied? Because cool people around me studied what I did.

Specifically, some childhood role models that ingrained this image of what I want to be that I never grew out of, even as I descended into adulthood with the alleged validation to determine my own destiny. One of them became a writer. The other, a hedge fund analyst. The imagine never left me, so I studied what they studied and did what they did, even though they are so far from being directly relevant to my life right now. I haven’t forgotten that the image I had for myself entering college was to become a doctor.

It’s really interesting watching your childhood role models growing up. They don’t change much. They fall perfectly within what you imagined them to be. At the end of the day, you don’t become them, but they aren’t what you want to become anymore. One way or another, you end up discovering what you want for yourself, and you no longer need these idealized images of others to guide you for what you want to be. The unfortunate thing about growing up is that you don’t see yourself too far from them anymore. You more-or-less understand how they became the way they became. If you ever had the misfortune of talking to them again, you would realize that they weren’t that special all along. It was all in your head, a technique constructed so you could acquire the character traits you wanted as a child. Once you no longer need this sheltered existence where everyone existed as their idealized self, it turns out people aren’t that glamorous.

When we were in elementary school, the difference between second grade and third grade was immense. Age seemed like such a big part of our lives back then — it was; a year difference when we were ten was literally a tenth of our lives. If your role models are slightly older then you, they seemed like they were so much older than you. They were always ahead of you. When you were in fifth grade, they were in middle school. When you were a senior in high school, they were already in college. Your experience was vastly differentiated from them, and they always carried this image of what you imagined the next phase in your life to be. And when your life doesn’t turn out the way that you wanted it to, how could you compared against the idealized existence you created for someone else?

Out of all the schooling I have received, I do think college was the biggest differentiator in experience. More or less, when you are raised with similar parents, you have roughly the same childhood and adolescence. Outside of the influence of your parents however, that’s where personality truly becomes individual. That’s were values are created — through experience, particularly experience where you don’t have a particular idea of what you want to latch onto. it is also a space with enough failure and rejection to lead to the realization that there’s not much to the world except cultivating what you value for yourself. You have a lot of first experiences that were previously portrayed in media but now exist in reality because it actually happened to you. Turn out, it’s not as great as it was in the movies. It’s what I would truly quantify as the loss of innocence.

The thing about watching your childhood role models grow up is that it’s a bit like a death. Gone are the days of simplistic idealization when values can be picked from a tree like peaches. I’ve come to realize after graduating college that the world is pretty barren. There aren’t many peach trees around to feed you peaches. You have to cultivate your own land, plow your own fields, which unfortunately means growing boring shit like wheat.