Claudia Munoz is a junior English major and Mustang News opinion columnist. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang Media Group.
Over the summer, I inadvertently took a deep dive into the source of every anxious person’s nightmares: self awareness. (A.K.A. I started reading more philosophy). I’ve dipped a toe into this genre before, but just barely. A couple of excerpts from Plato’s “Republic” and “Symposium,” “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder, and the first page of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.” (Which I put down in exchange for rereading “Normal People” for the millionth time.)
Somehow, I found my way back to Camus and my once discarded copy of “The Stranger” became my summer read. In about a week and half I had finished every Camus book I could get my hands on. After Camus I started reading Sartre. From Sartre to Kafka. From Kafka to Dostoevsky. And finally, from Dostoevsky to the man who has made me question my existence for the last six months: Friedrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche is a German philosopher from the late 1800s who had some powerful and interesting beliefs. I highly recommend looking him up— just be warned that some of the things he says would probably get him on some sort of list if he was published today. The thing he is most famous for, however, is popularizing the concept of nihilism. By definition, nihilism is a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless. Which, in simpler terms, means that life is meaningless.
Very intriguing. I decided to try to familiarize myself with nihilism some more, and upon doing so I came across something I found quite interesting. Apparently a lot of people (specifically those of older generations) think that we, Gen-Z, are the most nihilistic generation yet. Huh. Go figure.
For the most part, people think that life is supposed to have one big all- encompassing meaning that is shared amongst everyone. There must be something extremely important for us to do or discover to justify being born on a giant floating rock in space.
Our world is dying around us, bodily autonomy is being stripped away, the housing and “cost of living” crisis may never be solved, and all of this continues on a playground primed for nuclear war. It doesn’t surprise me that we would be labeled as nihilism junkies.
If life is this bad already, it can only get worse from here. My generation has been standing on the edge of a cliff staring into a dark abyss since we were born. It’s an abyss we didn’t make, a cliff we didn’t climb onto, and yet, here we are.
But what I question is, is there a freedom that comes with meaninglessness?
From what I see, the answer is yes.
Meaning can really come from anything. It can come from your morals and your beliefs. It can come from religion or life experiences. You can find meaning in something that brings you happiness; such as helping others or spending time with loved ones.Yet it has been consistently suppressed and limited by society. Society wants to categorize and put everything into neat, little boxes. It’s the same for finding meaning. We’re supposed to find satisfaction within only what is deemed acceptable.
A great example of this is the 1950s. Post WWII culture was one organized around the nuclear family, and with that came a very specific set of expectations for women. The main goal of many young women during this time was simply to secure a wedding ring. If a woman wasn’t married or engaged by her mid twenties, she was in danger of becoming an “old maid.” Domesticity became something idolized by the media at the time. Women were encouraged to focus solely on caring for their family and maintaining their home (if that was something they could afford).
This is a theme that has been around for all of history: society dictating what is acceptable and, consequently, people bending themselves to accommodate it.
Admittedly for some, the compulsions set by society don’t exist. They fly high above it; marching to the beat of their drum and all that jazz. Frankly, however, going against the norm is a hard thing to do. We as human beings want to be liked and loved— to have a community. Doing something that could jeopardize that can be far too big of a risk for some people to take.
But if the world is already imploding around us, then we might as well sound the drum and blow those little boxes into space! Why should we care about what society expects?
This sort of “Que Sera, Sera” attitude Gen-Z has begun to adopt is allowing us to break out of these societal conventions and make choices we never would have considered before. It allows us to take risks and explore, to try and find or create our own meaning in new ways.
I’ve imagined my future so many times over the past couple of years, each one being a different variation. In some, I choose to be a publisher. In others, an English tutor traveling Europe. Even ones where I simply live on a small farm in Washington, growing my own food and living by myself. The only reason I’ve been able to see myself doing something other than working in a 6×6 cubicle for the rest of my life is because I’ve slowly started to place more value in finding the meaning that I want for myself, rather than in forcing myself to find it within the confines of society.
Gen-Z has found ourselves in a never ending cycle of both finding meaning and losing it: our paradigm. At times life can feel overwhelmingly meaningful, but with the volatile state of today’s world, at times it can feel anything but. Gen-z has had to become a generation that rolls with the punches; trying to adapt to the changes happening around us. Fluctuating meaning can only be a result of that.
I don’t think everyone has only one meaning. I like to think we all have smaller and more temporary meanings that connect us to everyone else. And just as we do with shoes and clothes, we outgrow them. Take for example my meaning in life when I was 9 years old compared to now; it’s completely different. So maybe that loss of meaning is also due to not only the change occurring around us, but the change happening inside us too.