The Illusion of Control

11 November 2018

“Americans have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way without interference. They would like to jump down into their stomachs and digest the food and shovel the s–t out.” – from Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Though I would rarely compare myself to an average American, I cannot help but agree with Burroughs. Whenever I feel that I’m losing control (which I never actually had to begin with) over the “big things” – politics, the environment, human nature, newspaper article deadlines – I become almost ­obsessive over little things: I insist on keeping all the writing in a notebook the same color; I would rather not take notes at all than switch pens. I keep my textbooks in perfect condition; the slightest crease in the cover or mark on a page is ­reason to buy a new one. And God forbid someone should borrow my pen and return it sans cap. That’s a deadly risk for both of us, for it means that while my friend lost only a pen cap, I lost control. And there is something thoroughly frightening about losing control. It’s as if helplessness were something inefficient, un-American, anti-capitalist.

The Illusion of Control Essay Example

When I was young and silly (six months ago), I was a simpleton and an idealist. I was told then (and still am today) that I could change the world if I wanted to – and I honestly believed it. Today, I am among the ranks of cynical youth. Having spent a few months of my sixteenth year as a nihilist, sometimes I still fall into the traps of that Jacobian forbidden fruit of knowledge and insist that nothing I do ­really matters. It is this deadly knowledge, this feeling of helplessness in the face of the brutal armies of ignorant baboons (who call themselves proud Americans) that makes me want to shoot up the calming heroin of symmetry and neatness and the illusion of control.

I would have remained in this semi-neurotic state were it not for writers like William S. Burroughs and Herman Hesse. Though radically different in every aspect of their writing, both of these men showed me the absurdity of my control issues, something for which I can neither forgive them nor thank them enough.

Naked Lunch, which made little sense if any at all, nonetheless had an impact on me that I can hardly begin to put into words. It was a thoroughly disgusting novel, but Burroughs, with his twisted sense of humor, intended it to be just that. It taught me, however, the sheer impossibility and foolishness of attempt­ing to control anything in this mad, mad, mad, mad world of ours. After all, what sense is there in running around like a psychopath, trying to force everything and everyone (including yourself) to be perfect, while completely forgetting your own being? Ultimately, the life of a perfectionist is depressing and meaningless.

Siddhartha, on the other hand, took me on a far less nauseating journey. It showed me how to let everything slip out of my hands, like water or sand, and to simply float on the river life, without attempting to rearrange the pebbles on the river bottom along the way.

Unfortunately, I started my college applications well before I read Naked Lunch or Siddhartha. Needless to say, I was completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to apply, what to major in, or even what essay topics to write about. In fact, I fell into a short-term depression every time I even looked at my copy of The Princeton Review’s 361 Best Colleges.

Today, all my college application nightmares have dissipated, leaving me completely content with all my decisions and – ironically enough – in control. I have realized that all the stress and worrying was a worthless expense of energy and time. In the end, everything fell into place and worked itself out as if by magic, without my going insane trying to control it and make it perfect.

And by the way, I now allow myself to mix pen colors in my notebooks.

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