“Sometimes, the hand that feeds you is also holding you captive.”

Ben Irvine


“Beneath the incessant parade of images, nothing.”

Magnificent Ruin


We are all captive of something. And often that ‘something’ is tangible, yet has the ultimate value of nothing. That is why progress can be elusive and self identity can become a bit of a tug of war between the “I compass” and the external world. That said, today is actually about being captive of something specific – nothing. I will define ‘nothing’ as things that (a) don’t really have an impact beyond individual satisfaction and (b) don’t really contribute to personal meaning beyond productivity.

The sheer numbers of data, wealth, images, memes, production of stuff, that bludgeon us and our senses on a daily basis only suggest we measure our lives by accumulating some of those things – theoretically by choosing one we give them the meaning of something – rather than what we actually may choose to be measured by absent of these choices. In doing so we become occupants of a space designed by the system, captives of nothing. Yet, this nothing is defined, or bounded, by what is deemed ‘reason’, common sense or, at minimum, reasonable. Yes. The world convinces us it is reasonable to be measured by things with a ‘nothing value.’ And by defining these numbers, or these ‘somethings’, as a measure it will invariably constrain focus toward the present (the now) with critique centered on either the past (kind of a warped assessment versus ‘then’) or against others within the Now defined space (competition within the present). I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that if your concern is having “something” at the end of life, judging oneself, consistently, in the present doesn’t guarantee that.

“Everything seems simpler than it truly is, when you are not the one working on it”

Look. The truth is results in Life are tricky things. This is why gamification was/is so appealing. But we know from research that finite progress (milestones, sprints, etc.) are a doom loop of chasing things in which people get trained to chase output instead of outcomes and items instead of impact. People inherently gain greater satisfaction if they show progress – better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today – so why don’t more people do so?

Well, first, what the emphasis on this type of measurement does is to heighten the discomfort of the alternative; the plausible but not certain, the probabilities of not the prediction of. The plausible does not usually equate to “is”, i.e., some certainty, and it is within the wretched hollow in-between where we become captive to nothingness. This is where “if you cannot measure it, how do you know you were successful” falls. So we twist ourselves into pretzels turning thoughts of plausibility into images of possibility, then images of probability, ultimately shaping/morph itself into a perception of “is”. We move the uncertainty ball into the certainty space not because we actually believe it will make our lives meaningful, but rather because we fear the absence of certainty found in plausibility and probability. Second is that, well, absence of a pursuit of these things, you worry you may actually end up with nothing. Yeah. The truth is while business and society use “somethings” to make us captive of what are actually ‘nothings’, nothing is personal. What I mean by that is even though we may not view the world in a zero-sum way we fear having nothing at the end of the race. We show up to our meeting with Death with no answers for ‘did you have a successful life.’ By becoming a captive to a fear of nothing we jump onboard the ‘something train’ and hope even if we don’t do anything meaningful (however that could actually be assessed) we will have something; rather than nothing. And maybe that is the weird (awful) thing. In our successful pursuit of these things, we actually still end up with nothing. I tend to believe far too many people are currently captives of nothing. My reasoning? Well. I tend to believe we are having an existential “meaning”, or “how do I matter”, societal crisis and what I have just written could very well be part of the reason why. Ponder.

Written by Bruce