I apologize in advance for how depressing and existential this may turn out to be, but it’s just something I can’t get out of my head. It’s rather late and I’ve been wasting my time watching videos about math because I thought I’d use this column to talk about why mathematics is great while arithmetic can be very boring (You can love concepts of mathematics while hating the idea of doing physical computational arithmetic because, yes, you probably will always have a calculator with you). Unfortunately, after losing myself in math, rediscovering Fermat’s little theorem, the cultish nature of Pythagoras’ approach to math, and the beauty of geometry in origami crease patterns (you can ask me about all of this if you ever find me in person. I’m almost always willing to talk about this stuff), I sort of got caught up in an existential loop.
About a month ago I ended up talking to my roommate over Applebee’s-half-off-appetizers-dinner about a screenplay that he was writing for class. It’s basically about a doctor who physically fights death in order to save a patient (well not a physical fight, but more like a game of chess). Eventually he said something along the lines of, “most doctors view death as an enemy, but that shouldn’t be the case.” I sat there hoping he’d elaborate. “A good doctor should view death as inevitable, and use their job to accommodate their patients. They shouldn’t take a patient’s death personally” Something along those lines.
I’m a weird type of person so I summed his statement up to: “A doctor’s job is performative.” I know for a fact that’s not what he meant, but all I could take from that conversation was that a doctor’s job is in fact performative.
Think about it this way. In the job description, very roughly, a doctor’s job is to prevent the inevitable, death. But by definition you can’t prevent something that’s inevitable. I mean you can argue that doctors cure people sometimes, but there’s still the fact that people die, they just don’t die earlier. I feel like when you’re being operated on by a doctor, you have this sense of hope, this sense of invulnerability. You feel as if getting pushed over this hurdle by a professional will get you to a place that isn’t your final destination. A doctor can’t do that because a doctor can’t always fix you.
The beauty of a doctor’s job is that they can take control of your bus and steer it towards a long detour. The GPS of life recalculates and hopefully it takes longer to get to your destination. “It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey getting there,” you’ll hear tons of hopefuls say, and if a doctor can extend that journey then you’ll be happy. A doctor’s the uncle that takes you to disney before bringing you to the dentist (can you get me this uncle?).
There’s also the idea that there’s someone who will take care of you when you really need it.
I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, it’s just a thing I’ve been thinking about. Actually, you can say that a lot of things that people find important to be performative. Take the lottery for an example. Are you really buying a lottery ticket to win money? Now stop reading if you don’t want me to ruin the lottery for you because if you hear what I have to say, you might view the lottery differently (this is just something I picked up from a math video). When you buy a lottery ticket you’re not only buying the slimmest chance of winning a ton of money, you’re also buying yourself the ability to dream for a moment.
“Christian, you’re crazy.” Yes. But that’s besides the point. When you buy a lottery ticket, what’s the first thing you do? For most people, you start talking about what you could do if you won the money. You could afford your dream house. You could stop looking for a sugar daddy. You could own all the dogs that you could ever handle. You could do anything that you can think of that involves money and some other things that you can delude yourself into believing involves money *coughfamilialaffectioncough*. Buying a lottery ticket is an escape into something better than your current situation. It’s your favorite medical TV show.
Everything in life is performative because everything in life is temporary. That seems to be the idea that keeps cycling through my head, and honestly you could view that in anyway you want. Nihilism is happy cruise if you think about it in the right way. I once wrote in a piece of fiction, “calm down, dinosaurs are only known for their bones,” and I was astonished when a kid came up to me and told me how hopeful and inspiring that phrase was; I meant the line to provide this feeling of insignificance. I mean insignificance can be inspiring. It’s all about perspective.