Why can’t I take someone seriously when they have the same motivations as I do? I mean, not precisely the same motivations. Some people are less motivated by the urges to sleep, eat and fart than I am. Oh my word, I would so happily be asleep right now. Don’t you ever feel the same?
I just saw someone on TV who started a Cuban restaurant after visiting Cuba a few times. I laughed. Out fucking loud. I have been to Scandinavia a few times, and have harboured half-arsed ambitions to start a Scandinavian restaurant near me. Why am I so different? Why are my dumb ideas any less risible? Is it because I will never actually act upon my culinary dreams, while this poor schmuck will?
I do the same to MasterChef contestants. Why apply for this, when you could go to catering college? At least that has a basis in reality: pinning your hopes and ambitions on luck and a TV competition, rather than plotting out a career path – a very well established career path – and following it to the letter just seems outlandish to me. Learning how to do something properly, and then setting about doing it seems fine. Deciding you can do something, and then expecting to succeed not so much.
I hate to do down one of the greatest nations to ever grace the world with its presence – and very much the most sarcastic, current news events are proving – but I do feel that this is a particularly English frame of mind. People putting themselves forward and giving something a good old try is the closest thing to a shared joke we actually have. More so even than Nigel Farage and Michael Portillo.
We all – I secretly think – secretly want to push ourselves to greatness. We all – I secretly suspect – secretly think of ourselves as the most talented and successful human beings, innately born to the top of the heap. We see it as the core plot of so many films: a person is living an ordinary life, naught but woes; all of a sudden they are discovered, and are instantly imbued with the ability to kick the nuts off a given passing gnat. Or do computer programming; or other such feats of magnificence.
The Matrix, Harry Potter, Interstellar, the list goes on. However, much like romantic comedies being a very poor template for a successful and happy love life, basing your business ambitions on the events of entertaining science fiction and fantasy films is monumentally mistaken. At the very least.
Such is the effect that these works of fiction have on our puny human brains that we take it as fact that such feats of predetermination, destiny and innately unearned success are always open to us.
Is all of humanity subject to such self-delusional codswallop or are some people actually aware from the get go that reality is nothing but a sad veil of tears? Or is it a sliding scale? Do we have, at one end of the silly spectrum, people who fervently believe that any minute they are about to be picked up by some marauding band of space creatures, looking for their long lost warrior king; at the other end, people who faintly suspect that they are much better equipped to run the department than Ron from accounts ever would be, regardless of the fact that they have none of the skills required.
Self-delusion is key to survival in an infinite and meaningless world: life is worthless and without any degree of consequence, so we may as well dream of lives better spent, of lives being worshipped by gathering hordes of mewling sheep. At least that way we won’t notice the rapid passage of time and the complete and utter lack of progress in anything resembling civilisation, closely or otherwise.
There is a world of difference between pointing something out and suggesting that it is a bad thing. The many words I have already written in this post will inevitably have brought at least three score and ten people who have never read this post to the conclusion that I am being overly negative.
I am not. I’m pointing out all of the above because it strikes me, not because I think dimly of it. I do seem to think dimly of myself for judging people who appear to be living by my own standards and values. Judging myself is perfectly appropriate; judging other people is an appalling waste of time.
I have never felt that having an external locus of my own worth was an appropriate use of my time. Living in a world where it matters to me what other people think of me has never appealed. Living in a world where my success or failure depended on how I can tend to the needs of the people around me has never appealed. Living in a world where other people exist has never really appealed either.
I’m not suggesting that I live in a world of solipsism, without any external influences; that would be awkwardly simplistic. I’m just suggesting that I tend to prefer any of my opinions to any of yours.
The influences around us have a profound effect on the ideas we have, and how we are able to communicate them. The limitations of the languages we speak shape the limitations of our thoughts, just like the limitations of the stories we are told shape the limitations of our collective aspirations.
It’s sad, but we can recognise it all around us. And, as we all increasingly share the same stories, we all begin to share the same aspirations. The malaise, the ennui, the general sense that the world is not living up to our hopes stems not from the decline and fall of western civilisation, but from the fact that we are all watching Spiderman down the local multiplex. That’s my hypothesis, anyway. I have no proof of it, just like I have no proof that I’m not actually a dragon, lord and master of all of the kingdom of dragons, waiting to be discovered and for my skills to be presented to me at once.
Either way, my own rambling flights of fancy notwithstanding, I’m still no clearer on why I have this odd tendency to judge people who are putting themselves out there. I would love to believe that it is not universal: as little as I regard the rest of the human race, I hope they’re not as fucked up as I am.