Section: Opinion

Preparing for the real world. What’s that?

As the final semester of my college career winds its way to a close, I — and, I’m sure, most of my peers — have found myself locked in a cycle of existential breakdowns and breakthroughs that seems to be without end.
Being a card-carrying-member of the liberal arts class, this isn’t something wholly different from the rest of my life (thus far). We’re taught to think big, and, with hormones rushing and cold wind biting, thinking big tends to lead to thinking too big, which tends to lead to huge emotional catastrophes.
What does this all mean? What am I doing here? Who ate the last ramen? Questions we’ve all faced in our time here. Big questions, no doubt, but without end or purpose. Airy, ethereal things; fun to look at and talk about, but of no real utility.

At this point, getting depressed about them feels like performance art. A “look-at-me!” kind of display that’s just a bit hollow nowadays. And that is the difference I’ve started to notice in the most recent crop of questions I’ve been faced with. Where am I going to live? How am I going to make money? Will I even be able to afford ramen in five months?
New questions or not, they’ve taken on a different flavor than the ones that came before. Less veal and comfit, more meat and potatoes, if you will. More immediate, more imperative and, thus, more catastrophic.
Is it endemic to our class (and I do mean that spiritually, not socioeconomically or spatiotemporally) that we are forced to question everything with the sort-of philosophical inanity that would make Socrates cringe and Derrida wet his lips? We don’t search for answers — that would be too bourgeois.

Or, at least, I don’t. Foucault and Nietzsche taught me to refer to answers as part of societal constructs trying to cage me, filled with historicity and power politics but without epistemic value. Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre taught me to think of questions personally, without the heft of universality; they taught me to slough off the weighty mantle of normative values and clothe myself in a sort-of perceptive/subjective relativity that makes whatever the hell I want as right as I want it to be.

Now, I’m not just trying to name drop here, this is to a point. You see, at this time in my (our) life (lives), I need answers. I need actual, physical, honest to goodness answers that I can cling to like rafts in a cliché.
I need a job and housing, a path to walk down, a life to construct up off of the shaky foundations of a philosophy degree and wasted nights drinking and talking with big words and no point. And that’s a scary thought. I can’t quote Mills or Peirce, Tolstoy or Rushdie and make everything okay. This is serious, and I have no tools with which to deal with it.

And thus, I am stuck. Job or no job, housing or no housing, I am bent beneath the weight of my easy-won pretensions. I’ve been taught to question but not to answer. I’ve learned to think without ends or meaning.
Oh, I can craft a thesis and argue it, but that’s just intellectual masturbation at its highest form. It’s fencing, parries and touchés, no true-to-the-heart slashes and all our points are blunted.
Whatever happens to me, to you, to us, we’ll always have the shadows of this place etched onto our minds. For good or for bad, that means something. It may mean that I will never let my children go to liberal arts colleges, it may mean that I require them to.

Only time will tell. But for now, I live in fear of my ineptness, find fault in my thinking, and wonder if this merry-go-round will ever let me off to breathe and reflect: to find some musings with a point.

Michael Burten ’14 is a philosophy major from Los Angeles, California. He can be contacted at


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