Alone in a world of believers

You are blessed and cursed to have found your meaning in the question of meaning itself.

Blessed to be motivated to take a journey of deepest discovery, not only of the universe without, but of the universe within.

Cursed to be born in a world of believers, who are constantly and continuously tricked by the illusion of certainty and absolute meaning.

You have, through much existential suffering and malaise, arrived at some profound insights: meaning does not exist without, but within. Believers believe in what you have found to be myths; believers implicitly believe in the immortality of their egos, which you have failed to locate in yourself; believers expect judgment from a cosmic judge, now, today, and at every instant in the future, and you have realized you are your own judge.

You were once a believer. You too believed in absolute cosmic meaning. You too assumed and behaved as if your ego was immortal. You too were constantly feeling judgment, worried and fretting over the standards set by your fellow believers, and by the ultimate arbitrator. Put that all together and you have a wonderfully adapted and adaptable foot soldier in any environment at any historical time. Self motivated and self monitoring. Guided by shared myths. An immortal soul assured of favourable judgment resting peacefully every single night.

But you were not a believer for long. Something did not click. Too many doubts led to too many questions which led to your lifelong search for meaning. And let nobody tell you this was an escape, bred of laziness, for the spoiled and weak souls; you have shed more tears, had more sleepless nights, agonized in both body and mind for hours and days, months and years, non-stop. You had to know. And knowing is never achieved without great cost.

You have truly lived as a restless and tortured soul for far too long. The illusion holding power over the believers was not quite powerful enough to hold you. And yet it was not weak. It clashed with your spirit, and created for you great tension and anxiety. You could not reconcile your experience in the world with your true essence. At times you lashed out, arrogantly pointed out all the faults of the universe; other times you turned your anxiety inward, assumed the fault must be in you, and lay for days in bed. You were never still, never at peace, never at ease; there was always tension.

And after all the struggle, which is still ongoing, you have clarified the old and arrived at many new insights. Meaning exists, but only insofar as a ‘mean-or’ exists. So it is right to say meaning exists in the universe, but wrong to say meaning is universal. The ego is an illusion, an amazing trick of the mind, and even if it did exist, it would not be immortal. And finally, after all is said and done, so to speak, there is no judge, no judgment, external to the one in our own heads.

Are these hollow truths? No. Do they matter? Yes.

If meaning is subjective then you have the power to create your own. If the ego is mortal then you should not sacrifice today, in the form of existential anxiety and fear, for the hope of a better future. And, most importantly, you are the judge of your own meaning and striving and deeds. You do not have to fear the wrath of some cosmic lawgiver. If you are true to yourself, and strive according to your own standards, that is good enough.

The world of believers is caught in a web of illusion that serves a purpose, one of which each is unaware. We are, after all, evolved apes running the software of the mind adapted for survival on the plains of Africa, in a world at a time far far removed from the one we inhabit today. And yet, that software has not been, could not have been, updated in all this time. For the updates of evolution take eons, and are never completed. And besides, evolution does not care about your existential suffering, or your search for meaning. Evolution is an amoral process, an algorithm. If you are successful at continuing the legacy begun by the laws of evolution, the grounds of your success will be selected. It really is as simple, and as amazing, as that. What better way for a highly intelligent, social, purpose-seeking, conscious animal to succeed in a universe without absolute meaning – where neither its ego nor its anxieties are worth a damn outside its own head – than to have that creature not only invent, but wholeheartedly believe in, a set of myths, values, meanings, governing rules and cosmic judgments, eternal rewards and punishments?

Believers have not suffered nearly the existential malaise and doubt that you have experienced. Of this you can be sure, because they are believers. That is not to say your path is in any sense better than any other. That is not to say you are superior in any way to anyone else. It is simply meant to illustrate that you are on a different path than most people. You were destined to discover these insights. And the path was hard, and will continue to be overgrown and poorly defined. Not many people have trodden this way. But those who have would make good company. In their presence, at least, you would not feel so alone.

You were born a seeker. You could not rest. Your doubt and anxiety fueled your journey. And you have uncovered some valuable truths.

Each path a life; the worn and barely used alike. The majority of your fellow travelers rarely, if ever, escape their guiding illusions, paths crisscrossing the world, forming wide corridors and highways of frenzied activity. They may have tread many more an empty mile than you, but in your stubbornness and reluctance to step off the curb, you have made the longer journey.

Mission statement for 2019

Don’t mistake the crowd for the truth; failing to fit in does not mean you’re broken.

Your horizons might extend further than your neighbour’s, your colleague’s, your friend’s; trust in your own eyes, let others trust in theirs.

With deference to Hamlet, might I add: there is also nothing either right or wrong, but truth to one’s self makes it so.

‘Choice’ does not save the concept of free will

There is plenty of interesting science demonstrating that we choose, subconsciously, fractions of a second before we are consciously aware of the choice. And yet, test subjects are adamant, they freely, consciously choose. 

These results are interesting, but are not, to my mind, necessary to dispose of free will; the concept itself is logically unsound.

Consider the problem philosophically. Ask yourself why you would choose one choice over another? Keep it mundane: fish or pasta for dinner. Look closely enough and there will be a reason. You feel like fish. You had pasta last night. What is the reason? Now ask yourself, why would that reason decide the matter? Why would it matter that you had pasta the night before? Is it because you are a person who likes culinary diversity? Have you decided pasta is not healthy two nights in succession? Are you watching your starch intake? Regardless of the answer, you are guaranteed to settle upon a reason.

So, you are the type of person who decides by reason. Why are you that type of person? Why do reasons matter to you? (Could it be because you are part of the universe? And to act in any way requires a cause? Yes, even the statement ‘because I felt like fish’ is a reason; feeling is causal). Did you choose to be a reasonable person? Did you choose to feel that way? And if the answer is yes, why did you choose to be reasonable, why did you choose to feel that way? What would it be like to exist and to act without reasons and feelings? Is that even possible? (I think the answer is clear).

And let us suppose you are unreasonable. Let us say you actually take great pleasure in being absurd. You do everything contrary to good sense and what your gut tells you. Is that freedom? Wouldn’t identifying the opposite of good sense be the first step, and once you have identified that you proceed accordingly? Haven’t you just substitute a good cause for a contrary cause? Aren’t they both causes? Have you actually found freedom here?

Or suppose you really have no preference. Let us admit that the choice between fish and pasta is truly a stochastic one, a flip of the coin. You need to eat, so the question of freedom does not live or die with the need to eat, but with the choice of food. Yet. if you choose by the flip of the coin, where is the freedom in that? In the absence of any preference, any reason, you leave the choice to fate. Your choice is no longer a choice.

‘Choice’, or better, the illusion of choice, depends on the state of your brain before a choice is taken. What are the impossibly complicated environmental, cultural, genetic causes that set your brain in that state before the choice? Did you freely choose each of those states? (As if that were possible). For each one of your behaviours, your choices, there is a cause, a reason, you were not free to choose. That is because each of those causes and reasons had, in turn, a cause and reason for their existence. Take this truth and work step-wise backwards to the womb, and you can only conclude the person you are and the reasons you decide upon to act are the result of causes completely beyond your freedom to choose. And not only your freedom, but the freedom of your mother, of your father, of your grandparents, of their parents, of the common ancestor of chimps and humans, of the common ancestor of mammals, of its ancestor to all animals, of the organisms straddling the eukaryotic and prokaryotic divergence, of the first self-replicating molecules, the precursors to life, of the molecules composed of the elements from the exploding stars of the galaxy, of the galaxy, of the universe, of the freedom of existence itself. 

Logically, the concept of free will makes no sense. 

An introvert’s reminder

Arrogance is bad. Arrogance grounded in ignorance is even worse.

Independence may be a defense from the truth, a form of self-righteousness and silent arrogance.

Don’t seal yourself from the world, and claim superiority.

We may be our own worst (or forgiving) judges, yet removed from the tempering wisdom found only in human contact, our judgments lack facts.

A mind turned inward fails to recognize its reflection in the arena of social interaction.

The eye can’t see itself.

No one is an island.

Venting

Don’t hide behind clichés to justify yourself. Don’t blame the craziness of this world for your crazy actions. Take some goddamned responsibility.

Yeah, this life is crazy! Simply acknowledging that does not excuse your craziness, does not give it justification, does not clear the path to forgiveness and understanding.

Let me tell you, you don’t bring order to a chaotic world by increasing the chaos. There is no second law of social thermodynamics, wherein your personal order is attained at the expense of increasing social disorder.

You decrease overall chaos by first dealing with your personal chaos; get your own house in order before throwing yourself into the gears of the universe.

See it for what it is. That is the first step. Selfishness. Insecurity. Anger. Aggression. Weakness. Immorality. Willing blindness. Self-deception. Denial. Deceit. Lying. Obstruction. See it for what it is.

What is your role? Take the lead in judgement upon yourself. Develop some moral fortitude. Admit and attempt to remedy your mistakes. Few of us are so far gone that we can’t be pulled back from the abyss. Give yourself that first helping hand. Surely you must know, if anyone does, your actions are wrong, hurtful, dangerous, destabilizing. You simply have to ask yourself: ‘how would I feel?’

How would I feel?

How would you feel?

Bring some order to this chaotic world, and with humility and honesty, answer that question.

Lyrics #6 – Beggars by Thrice

Check song and lyrics out here.

Beggars

All you great men of power, you who boast of your feats
Politicians and entrepreneurs
Can you safeguard your breath in the night while you sleep?
Keep your heart beating steady and sure?
As you lie in your bed does the thought haunt your head
That you’re really rather small?
If there’s one thing I know in this life, we are beggars all.

All you champions of science and rulers of men
Can you summon the sun from it’s sleep?
Does the earth seek your counsel on how fast to spin?
Can you shut up the gates of the deep?
Don’t you know that all things hang as if by a string over darkness, poised to fall?
If there’s one thing I know in this life, we are beggars all.

All you big shots that swagger and stride with conceit
Did you devise how your frame would be formed?
If you’d be raised in a palace or left out on the streets?
Or choose the place or the hour you’d be born?
Tell me, what can you claim? Not a thing, not your name
Tell me if you can recall just one thing, not a gift, in this life.

Can you hear what’s been said?
Can you see now that everything’s grace after all?
If there’s one thing I know in this life
We are beggars all.

Lyrics #5 – Dear Coach’s Corner – Propagandhi

Check song and lyrics out here.

Dear Ron MacLean. Dear Coach’s Corner. I’m writing in order for someone to explain to my niece the distinction between these mandatory pre-game group rites of submission and the rallies at Nuremburg. Specifically the function the ritual serves in conjunction with what everybody knows is in the end a kid’s game. I’m just appealing to your sense of fair play when I say she’s puzzled by the incessant pressure for her to not defy the collective will, and yellow ribboned lapels, as the soldiers inexplicably rappel down from the arena rafters (which, if not so insane, would be grounds for screaming laughter). Dear Ron MacLean, I wouldn’t bother with these questions if I didn’t sense some spiritual connection. We may not be the same but it’s not like we’re from different planets: we both love this game so much we can hardly fucking stand it. Alberta-born and prairie-raised. Seems like there ain’t a sheet of ice north of Fargo I ain’t played. From Penhold to the Gatineau, every fond memory of childhood that I know is somehow connected to the culture of this game. I can’t just let it go. But I guess it comes down to what kind of world you want to live in, and if diversity is disagreement, and disagreement is treason, well don’t be surprised if we find ourselves reaping a strange and bitter fruit that sad old man beside you keeps feeding to young minds as virtue. It takes a village to raise a child but just a flag to raze the children until they’re nothing more than ballast for fulfilling a madman’s dream of a paradise where complexity is reduced to black and white. How do I protect her from this cult of death?

Quote #6

It takes a village to raise a child, a flag to raze the children. – Chris Hannah

Fallen Poseidon

At the Bahnhof I headed toward my favourite salad bar. Located in a renovated wing of the station, one must first walk through a small corridor and a foyer, and as I did so, the smell struck a blow like an invisible acidic wave assaulting my sinuses: sour piss and stale sweat. A moment later I spotted the homeless man: sitting, back to the outer wall of a janitor’s closet, knees bent toward chest, hands holding a weathered toque, rubbing the forest green fabric between thumb and forefinger, muttering, right eye twitching with an uncontrollable tic, scuffed Crocs sticking out from baggy rags of pants like a clown’s oversized novelty shoes, overcoat askew, greasy thick black and gray hair ringing a bald scalp, draped over shoulders.

A shawl woven of rotten ocean kelp.

An aquatic creature recently thrown from the bowels of the sea; a sad caricature of a fallen Poseidon, trident rusted and broken.

‘Ich hätte gerne ein Chicken Fitness, ohne Tomaten’.

The order takes a minute. So I stare. I can’t help it.
He continues muttering to himself, to his beaten hat, which he grips like a toddler would a comfort blanket. Every so often he takes the hat and presses the mottled fabric to his twitching right eye. Is it weeping from infection or from emotional distress? He catches my stare and I look away, ashamed. I pretend to be reading the menu in the window which separates the two of us, the menu of assorted nutrients and calories paired to assorted prices. And what is in his bags? Will he eat today?
I stare again: empathy (or pity?), and more shame. Empathy at this fallen god, who in another life would stand regally with his trim, elegant stature, jet black hair curled in satin rings upon his shoulders, crown atop a clear head, sane mind. Shame that I stand and he sits; I buy and he begs; I, who look through this window into his world, backdropped by the outer wall of a closet of mop buckets and detergents. And the smell! Shame at the sickness I feel. Utterly sick to my stomach I must cover my face. Shame at the knowledge that all I want to do his help this man, but cannot step through the piss and sweat, cannot overcome my basest instincts of revulsion, cannot step outside myself, prevented by an inner barrier as transparent, yet tangible, as the window separating our two fates.
What a sad juxtaposition, a tragic irony, a cruel cosmic joke: a filthy homeless man seeking refuge at the threshold of a janitor’s closet, adjacent a bistro of fine salads and dressings and bread, a menu of nutrients and accompanying prices; our eyes meet and my world crashes – we are the same, he and I. I know it. And all I want to do in that moment is help him. But the smell…..and my shame…..
The realisation, deeper and more profound, more real, than any cold argument or poetic description found in a book, that there is no meaningful difference between me and him. That my security rests solely on the cards dealt to me by an indifferent cosmic dealer.
And I can only imagine this man’s suffering.
Bag in hand, I walk past. Offering nothing but these secret thoughts. My haughty neglect eventually feeding my self-loathing.
A stronger will would have done something; and yet, right action begins with awareness; perhaps I am not a lost cause.

In moral philosophy there is an argument that those entities worthy of moral consideration are those capable of suffering. It seems to me that we have failed this man, and millions like him. What affected me perhaps most in this experience was a deep understanding that the amount of suffering, the sum total of pain in this world is quite literally grotesque, and we as active accessories to this crime should feel ashamed at our complicity, at walking past with bags of food in hand. Once one realises this, internalises this, there seems no recourse to ignore this; as a moral person, how can I worry about the well-being of my friends and family, of myself, without risking severe hypocrisy and loss of self-respect by not only ignoring the suffering of others, but actively contributing to it.
And I do contribute to the sum total of suffering in this world! And chances are most of us do as well. Out of sight, out of mind, is ethically indefensible. Consider the suffering experienced by sentient animals in the slave-trade called industrial farming, the meat industry, the dairy and poultry enterprises. Can I maintain my ethical integrity by maintaining the intolerable prospect of causing another human harm while simultaneously actively contributing to the incalculable suffering of an incalculable number of sentient creatures?
So what is my responsibility? How can I be responsible? Open questions open to debate, but not open to being ignored. If we spend next to no time considering our ethical place in this universe then we shirk our responsibility. In so doing, we cannot expect at some future point, when we ourselves are in need of ethical consideration, to be taken any more seriously than we have taken our current responsibilities.