I’ve been reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I was struck by this exchange between two war-weary friends:
“Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?”
“What other reason could there be?” Colonel Gerineldo Marquez answered. “For the great Liberal party.”
“You’re lucky because you know why,” he answered. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve come to realize only just now that I’m fighting because of pride.”
“That’s bad,” Colonel Gerineldo Marquez said.
Colonel Aureliano Buendia was amused at his alarm. “Naturally,” he said. “But in any case, it’s better than not knowing why you’re fighting.” He looked him in the eyes and added with a smile: “Or fighting, like you, for something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone.”
I feel this passage captures a truth that I’ve come to realize over the past couple years: people often invest so much significance in abstract ideals or concepts, and gradually load them up with so many associated ideas, that they lose all meaning. This process happens over time, and is driven by people hitching their professional ambitions or their personal identities to these causes, but it always ends the same: a lot of people fighting for something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone.