Justice

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

— Aristotle

Life is unfair, so they say.

Some people are lucky, they have wealth, health, beauty, talent, intelligence. They were born to parents who loved them in all the right ways and communities and circumstances that allow them to put all that good luck to good use, and then there are some people just have to suffer through life with less, a whole lot less.

You are born with a losing genetic lottery ticket, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, in the wrong body. You have parents who came from parents who came from parents with bad luck too, and they’ve gone and passed it on down to you. You never have enough of anything, not food, money, or love. You grow up hard, and people hurt you for no reason other than they can. They never let you be. They take what little you have, and nothing is ever done about it. The world is shitting on you. A rain cloud follows you wherever you go. Nothing is ever easy, and nothing ever happens to anyone else.

There is a profound imbalance between what you have, what you deserve, and what everyone else seems to get so easily. It isn’t right, but is it unfair? If it is unfair, who or what makes it so? Is it your fault, other people, the government, God?

When we are talking justice, we aren’t just talking about the modern judicial system meant to prosecute and punish criminals. When we talk about justice, what we are really talking about what is fair, and what is fair has many different meanings to many people. What does equality look like? Does everyone have the same things, or does everyone have what they personally want and need? When a crime is committed how do we set the world right again? Retribution, restoration, rehabilitation?

Justice doesn’t just exist between criminals and law-abiding citizens. It exists between business owners and their customers. It exists in the workplace, in schools, between lovers, neighbors, and friends. It exists between the government and its people, between countries, between races, and genders, class, and age. It is the shape of our society. It’s in everything we do.

We treat others the way we are treated. We treat others the way we want to be treated. We seek a resolution to our pain, by giving others the punishment they deserve, and we seek to make right the wrongs around us by restoring the dignity and peace of others as we judge fit. Between us and everyone around us is a scale and the constant tipping and desire to rebalance those drives much of our lives.

It isn’t just us either. Apes and other primates, dogs, elephants, and other life forms on this planet have an innate sense of what is fair, but it isn’t a rational sense. Not even in humans. Injustice anywhere, but especially injustice personally experiences, arouses deep and intense emotional reaction from us. Unfortunately, those reactions are often exhausting and short-lived.

Justice is exhausting. It’s everywhere, it’s complicated, it requires us to employ empathy and to change, and humans loathe to change. In order to rouse us to face injustice, we have to feel as if we are being, or could be, personally victimized.

We have to put ourselves in the shoes of others and imagine what we would do, need, or want if we weren’t us, but them instead. If we had been born to different circumstances, learned differently, raised differently. What might you need if you were born with a disability, to parents with no education, and in a country that hated you for your skin or your gender? What crime might you commit if you had never known love?

But how do we agree what is right? Who decides? This is the question that has plagued us since we became aware of our social nature. Humans need to live harmoniously, and the requires leaders who can keep us safe, fed, sheltered, and cooperative. Cooperation requires rules and those rules have to foster fairness or what you will have is chaos and revolt. So, why can’t we ever get it right? Why do our instincts elude us? It all seems so simple, if we want fairness, we must act fairly, and if there are those who don’t we must move to act against them, but what if that unjust someone is you?

“There is no justice among men.”

— Nicholas II of Russia

If there is a system of justice in a place that gives us a believable illusion of fairness, we find it very hard to act, even if we aren’t benefitting from the system but especially if we are or hope we will. Justice, we come to believe, is merely everyone doing what they are told to do regardless of what we want or what is right. It’s not making waves. It’s taking your lumps and being happy with what you have, even if what you have is nothing at all. Justice is keeping your head down and waiting until it’s your turn to get over on everyone else. Justice is a tool, it is strategic.

What is fair has to be balanced against our greed, but as sad as that is, that is how I know that deep down, people are good. It’s how I know that we are capable of being far fairer than we are. I know this because the moment a person is out of excuses, and there is nowhere left for them to look to, we suddenly find it in us to do what is right. When we are forced to face inequality, we are forced, through our own guilt and innate sense of what it right, to rectify it, and we do it every single time.

We will fight to the death for what we know is right, as long as we are made to know it. We will protest, revolt, and go to war for others once there is no way to escape our own guilt by not acting, but the moment we can step back into our own lives, as soon as we can stop feeling so much for them, so much like them, we forget.

And that is why life is unfair because there has never been sufficient enough effort made to make it so. We try, time and time again, but the truth is the effort cannot be sustained. Humans are not built to act fairly 100% of the time. We are opportunistic creatures and will weave elaborate justifications for inequality we create and perpetuate to get ahead.

So, life is unfair, but not because of God or the laws of the universe made it so,  it’s unfair because inequality benefitted human evolution at some point and now we struggle to overcome ourselves.

Now we have to suffer generation after generation for so little progress. We have to do the exhausting and endless work of hurting each other, then healing each other, distributing and redistributing wealth and compassion, then punishing and rehabilitating ourselves for getting it wrong again and again and again.

We do it because we must. For every impulse to harm, there is also one to help, and for all our destruction and cruelty, there is in us a dream of a blind, universal justice where every human knows their place, has what they need, and never knows indignity. A world where the scales in our minds weighing right and wrong, have and have not, are always in perfect balance.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter J under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Andy Omvik on Unsplash

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The Wisdom of 33

And so, another year of my life has come and gone, but something about this one feels off. Usually, I’m excited to begin a new year, but this time I can only say that I am ready. I have resigned myself to it.

I have hardened my heart for what is to come. Sure, there will be happiness and new experiences, but there will also be more challenges, more disappointment, and more suffering too. It’s funny how the good stuff is never enough to sustain you through the bad. It’s funny how existing gets harder and harder. This is what it means to age.

Thirty-three has been the hardest to handle. My 30s have been great so far, but there have been some strange changes to my body and a sombering of the mind I wasn’t prepared for. I am definitely coming to understand the importance of exercise and eating right, but I’ve learned more than that too. I’ve learned to see the boundary between myself and I’m beginning to understand its purpose. I’m growing wiser, I think, and I thought I would share some things I’ve learned off the top of my head.

  1. You hardly know yourself at all.
  2. Toxic ways of thinking are contagious. Protect yourself.
  3. Some of your problems are your own fault.
  4. Minding your own damn business is self-care.
  5. If someone you don’t like, doesn’t like you, let it go.
  6. Listen when it isn’t your turn to speak. Breathe before you respond.
  7. You could be wrong.
  8. Your feelings are all in your head, and they are 100% real.
  9. A quiet life can be a good life too.
  10. Make things that don’t exist on the internet.
  11. Ask all the questions you need. Deal with the answers you are given.
  12. Yeah, it could be worse, but it could be better too. Figure out how.
  13. Your body is going to fail, be ready.
  14. Relax into your relationships.
  15. Get a dog. Get any pet at all.
  16. Have serious conversations. Explore the heavy stuff with people.
  17. Break the rules every once in a while, unless you’ve already been warned.
  18. People don’t belong to you, and you don’t belong to them.
  19. Schedule your mental health days.
  20. Look up at the moon and stars. Notice when the sun rises and sets.
  21. Share playlists.
  22. Think about death.
  23. Let people know they mean something to you.
  24. It’s never as bad as you think.
  25. It’s never too late.
  26. If it’s important to you, it is important.
  27. Even if you know you will fail, try anyway.
  28. Make a list of all the things you are avoiding, figure out why.
  29. Be honest with yourself, and with others, about your fears.
  30. Keep a journal. Write all the bad stuff out, then write 5 good things.
  31. Protect your focus—and all of your other boundaries—at all costs.
  32. Water your plants. Water yourself.
  33. Let yourself be sad, angry, bored, hungry. Let yourself be.

That’s all I have for today, but it’s more than I had a year ago, five years ago, and 10 years ago I had almost nothing. I hope what I have helps you, or at least reminds you of what you already know. I hope to have gained more wisdom next year. I’ll consider it a personal failure if I don’t.

P.S. My birthday was actually last Friday. I wrote this then but didn’t have the courage to post it until now. It’s hard to share my story sometimes, even when it’s being served up in a simple list post.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

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If We Were Having Coffee // An Emotional Birthday Weekend Rollercoaster

Hello dear readers. Welcome, happy Sunday, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of caffeine and catching up. It’s going to be a quick conversation this week, today is that special day of the year I get to spend at the kitchen table, squinting at my computer screen, surrounded by a collection of documents from various financial institutions, trying to tell the IRS what they already know.

At least the sun is shining today, and the temperatures are warming up again. This weekend gusts of frigid winter air blew through the city and sapped all the energy from our bones. It was a harsh reminder that it isn’t quite summertime yet and to make any outdoor plans right now is risky. Luckily much of my birthday celebrations were all inside activities.

“Sometimes it is the smallest thing that saves us: the weather growing cold, a child’s smile, and a cup of excellent coffee.”

― Jonathan Carroll

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that my birthday was a good one this year. This year, my birthday fell on a Friday the 13th. I’m not superstition, but it’s fun to have the day that you celebrate your birth and another year of life occasionally fall on a day culturally considered unlucky.

I usually celebrate the day as a sort of mini Halloween. I wear creepy t-shirts, I might watch a scary movie, and sometimes I get tattoos from shops doing Friday the 13th specials. This year I got a gorgeous, and quite painful, “bad luck” tattoo on the back of my neck.

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the rest of my birthday was spent with just my girlfriend. We had pizza before the tattoo shop then we found a new Italian place to check out for dinner after. I had lamb ribs with fig glaze, rabbit gnocchi, and a pastry dessert that I can’t remember the name of that was to die for! My fiance had the cornish game hen stuffed with pheasant sausage and tiramisu for dessert. It was all delicious, and it was fun to try some new foods on my special day, but I don’t think I’ll be eating rabbit or pheasant again anytime soon.

Yesterday was a close friend of mine’s birthday, so we had another birthday dinner, this time at a sushi restaurant, then drinking, dancing, and a drag show after.

It was all a ton of fun, and I was glad to see my friends and celebrate with them, but I realized that for me, turning 33 was a very serious, quiet, and personal affair. I’m not sad about it, and I certainly believe it is a milestone worth celebrating, but celebrating with a more intimate company was definitely a good choice.

Another thing I love about birthdays is hearing from all the people who think I matter too. From my father’s text at four in the morning to my grandmother’s late-night call to sing happy birthday before I was off to bed I felt like for just one day I was more alive, more real, because so many people were thinking of me.

I still have to see my mom—who also celebrated a birthday this month—and my siblings, and my dad. I’ll have another dinner with my cousins soon and another later in the month with a few other friends who, like me, prefer a quieter night out. I celebrate the whole month long, and I recommend everyone do the same. We all deserve it.

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the gifts were pretty awesome too. A coworker brought her 7-year-old daughter in to give me a gift bag full of six avocados. I got myself the tattoo (you should always buy yourself something too). My mom gave me money to buy more books. My girlfriend got me a few AdamJK things, a book of Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett, and 17 volumes from The University Society Book Lovers Edition 1901 Shakespeare Collection she found at a thrift store.

Many are full of handwritten notes and pieces of other works either glued or stapled in. Used books are ever just about the book. They are also about every person who has owned them before you.

Apparently, there are more gifts to come tomorrow, something bigger I hear, but I honestly already feel so content and happy with what I’ve received I can’t imagine what else I could want.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that there was in the middle of all this celebration and special attention some bad news came. All the tests the doctors ordered a few weeks ago have come back and while I’m not doing poorly—as in, not anemic, no new health issues—the inflammation is back, and my medication is definitely not working.

I’ve been slowly declining for a few weeks now, and I’ll keep getting sicker and sicker if I am not switched to new medication but of course, because I live in America, standing between me and the next stage in my care are big dollar signs. I have the choice of two different meds, one I’ll have to pay for up front, or one to be billed later, neither of which can I really afford.

I’m applying for financial assistance from the drug companies, but the application process is complicated. It’s going to take some time. Meanwhile, I’m worried about how much work I’ll have to miss, and if three or four or five years from now after I’ve paid 10s of thousands of dollars the medication will stop working, and in the end, my colon will end up being removed anyway.

I’m only 33 years old! I shouldn’t be dealing with these kinds of problems yet!

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you the taxes are all done, and that means I have to move on to other projects. I’m at least four letters behind in the Blogging A to Z Challenge, and I still have to get ready or the work week. Thank you for sitting through this stressful time with me, it helps to have friendly vibes and an ear to bend to ease the anxiety.

I hope you had a pleasant weekend. I hope your taxes are done, and Spring has been more like summer than winter where you are. I hope your coming week will be productive, and if it isn’t, I hope you know it’s okay to take a break and that you can begin again anytime you choose.

Until next time.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Illusion

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

— Albert Einstein

Wherever humans exist, things are not what they seem. Illusion taints every aspect of the human experience. It’s in everything we do, and feel, and think. It is in the way things taste, the way time flows, what we believe is valuable, beautiful, right, and wrong. Illusion goes as deep as free will and to the very core of who you believe you are.

An illusion is what is left when our experiences do not match up with the true state of the world, and it is where ever our thoughts and emotions do not match up with reality. The objective perspective eludes us because the world cannot be experienced outside of our minds. For human beings, the outside world is filtered through our senses and our bodies flaws, through our emotions and biases, then colored, categorized, and served up to us in a version we can understand.

To be plagued with illusion is a universal condition, every mind is different, everyone’s body is different too. The specific illusions each of us perceives varies from person to person.

What you see and feel, physically and mentally can never be shared, and can never be accurately conveyed. Even if they can, they can never be fully believed or verified. How do I know that the red you see is the same as the red that I see? Things have form outside of our mind, true, and it is also true things have form outside of our gaze, but they do not look like anything.

“If a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The cause of sound surely exists without the human nervous system to carry it from the vibration of air molecules to the brain, but does sound exist? What else is only in our heads?

“Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the Weather.”

— Bill Hicks

The taste of honey, the smell of a rose, the cry of a newborn baby, and the pain of a broken bone are illusions, but what about love? What about fear? What about justice and the right to free speech? What about money, or the happiness we think it will bring? What about the past? Does the number two exist? Does π? Is it all just one big shared hallucination? Does it even matter?

These are questions philosophers, scientists, and men of deep spiritually have been asking for centuries, and while the data is piling up, the answers are as far away as ever. How can we know that any inference or interpretation isn’t simply another trick of the mind? How can we be sure there isn’t another false reality underneath each fact? We can’t. Reality is not for us it is not a state we can enter.

Luckily, humans are very good at creating elaborate and persistent false illusions. These lies lead to the richness of our experience. Without them, life would be quite boring indeed.

Our world is a complex web of interpretations, on top of opinions, on top of incomplete data, on top of subjectivity masquerading as universal truth. We have created an entire world of values, customs, emotions, language, sciences, philosophies, social structures, and taboos painted over the world around us. Illusions on top of illusions. It’s all made up, and somehow it still feels real. It all feels right and true. It feels like it all came into being before us, we discovered it rather than created it, and that these truths will endure long after we are gone. That’s part of the illusion too.

Your identity and the control that you think you have over what you do is the greatest illusion of all. You are simply an effect created by a mind stitching together the past it remembers and the future it hopes for. You are simply the face of a larger collective making decisions and moving you through the world and this life. Most of what goes on in your mind is kept from you entirely.

Information is passed to the subconscious first. Meetings are held behind closed doors, buttons are pushed, levers are pulled, choices are made, and only at the very end are you brought in, and you, like every other human, are duped into thinking it was all you all along. Another deception.

“Is not this whole world an illusion? And yet it fools everybody.”

— Angela Carter

So what though? So what if it’s all in our heads? It exists in all our heads the same and doesn’t that make it all real too, in a way. I mean, knowing money and marriage and morality is made up doesn’t change a thing, does it? Does it?

There is a kind of truth in our illusions too, a human truth, the only truth that really matters to us. Our world may be an illusion but it’s the one we have to live in whether we like it or not, the subjective viewpoint cannot be escaped, and rationality and hard science will only get us so far. We can’t fight our nature. We cannot escape the human condition.

What we have done is taken reality and superimposed our own world on top of it and that world may only be around as long as us, but as long as we are here we have to live in it, and it comes with its own rigid rules. We still have cause and effect. We can still predict outcomes based on data and observation. Much of what is true in one life, at one time, in one place, is consistent in all lives, in all times, and in all places. The human world is a science all its own with its own method and reason, laws and theories.

Our illusions are our reality. They are real, and they are persistent and consistent. They are useful. Our illusions help us move confidently in the world and to tell the truth some of them are quite beautiful and elegant. We ought to be proud.

“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”

— Voltaire

You may hear people, especially old philosophers who wrote old books, tell you to get rid of your illusions. I’m here to tell you that you can keep them. They are who you are after all. And anyway there can be no other way for us to live without them. Without the way we see the world, experience space, time, and ourselves, there is no us. If we lost them in our place, another species would exist that looked like us but was not us at all. The human world that exists in our minds is the only world we have, will have.

Life is too short to try to escape the inescapable. You cannot win the battle against illusion, and you shouldn’t want to either. My advice is to be the most human you can be, and that means accepting that the world in your head isn’t reality, and the reality you know isn’t even yours to control. Give up trying to be so damn objective and go experience all the illusions you can.

Try on new ones and discard the ones you don’t find quite as satisfying or helpful. Share them, trade them, lay them out side by side, stack one on top of another, combine them and tear them apart. Hold tight to whatever feels the most real to you. Not that the choice is really yours to make anyway, is it?

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter I under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Unsplash

Humiliation

“Oh, humiliation is poisonous. It’s one of the deepest pains of being human.”

— Pierce Brosnan

Like all negative emotions, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and humiliation seem to be concentrated in our species. We are, as far as we can tell, most aware of ourselves and so are most aware of our place compared to others, and most sensitive to what we look like when viewed through their eyes.

Shame, guilt, and embarrassment are all shades of our special kind of suffering, but it’s humiliation that we fear the most. Shame is internal, secret, it hurts but that hurt is ours alone. Guilt maybe public, but it is counteracted by the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. Embarrassment is temporary, and if the victim is strong and well humored enough the episode may actually bring them closer to their peers.

But humiliation is something altogether different. It puts you beyond redemption and out of cohesion with society. It is a shame that has been brought out into the public sphere. It’s guilt without forgiveness. It is the dark side of embarrassment that dwells in loneliness.

Humiliation is a forcible removal of your pride. It is a public lowering of your social station through “intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment” usually as a result of a person perceived to have “committed a socially or legally unacceptable act.” It is the loss of your ability to say who you are. It is as if your very identity has been taken and spoiled. It’s an intense emotion, and it hurts the deepest parts of us.

Of the negative emotions, humiliation may be the hardest for us to cope with because it is out of our control. It’s up to others when our isolation will end.

Even if we were to forgive and accept ourselves for the transgression and consider ourselves ready to reclaim our place in society, others might not. It is up to other people whether we can live comfortably as who we are and what we have done, and there may be nothing at all we can do to persuade them. We may be forever cut off from our place in our communities and that causes great pain and loneliness in us.

“Avoiding humiliation is the core of tragedy and comedy.”

— John Guare

Humiliation is the price we pay for protection and security. It is the price we pay for shared responsibility and fate. It’s a deterrent to taboo and destructive behavior as well as a reassurance to others that their cultural beliefs, rituals, and rules are working to keep the community going. Humiliation has been so helpful to our survival that it became embedded in the human condition. Humiliation shaped us, together.

 

Humiliation has made us who we are and—in a cruel and twisted way—made us stronger, but it has had some pretty severe side effects. Of the negative emotions, humiliation may be the most intense and damaging of all.

A person who suffers a public shaming can go on to suffer depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, anger, and private shame. These people seethe with rage and long for revenge, or they turn their anger inward and find they can no longer face themselves. Cut off from their communities and denied the opportunity to redeem and reclaim their status leads them to feelings of hopelessness and desperation. They will do anything to have any status at all rather than none.

We go to great lengths to avoid humiliation. We lie, to ourselves and everyone we meet. We make our mistakes, our flaws, and our greatest shame our deepest secrets, we let them fester and grow because to be filled with such self-loathing is preferable to the hate we might find in another’s eyes. We’ll do anything to avoid humiliation, even kill.

People die every day for someone’s humiliation. Whole wars have been started, massacres carried out, and families obliterated over regular old human humiliation.

“Public humiliation comes to us all, and never so surely as when we’re just a little bit pleased with ourselves and feel, just for once, that everything is going our way.”

— Kate Reardon

We suffer because we fail to see humiliation as a natural, essential, or universal emotion. We simply never consider that we will find ourselves feeling it. Humiliation, we think, is always deserved and, we think, we would never break the kind of social rules that warrant the embarrassment and ostracization. Humiliation, we know, as a means to an end, a tool to control others and only others are ever deserving of being controlled.

We suffer because we forget not just that the feeling of humiliation is in all of us, but the desire to inflict humiliation is in us too. We loathe to feel it ourselves but are quick to wield it against others for the pettiest reasons. Those people who lower others this way to gain a higher place in the hierarchy gain nothing by taking humanity from others. Those people have lost who they are and become a slave to their need for control.

We suffer because we allow our pride, the flip side of humiliation, to grow far too large. We inflate our place in this world and believe too strongly in its permanence.

There are other, more abstract kinds of humiliation, ones I believe can be positive forces in human life, should we have the forethought to see it that way. They are of spiritual humiliations, the lowering of the human status as a species, often only individually, but the time will come soon, I think, when we will feel it collectively.

This Earth, this rocky planet third from the sun, our only home and hope, will remind us that we have conquered nothing and are despite our technology and intelligence are at the mercy of forces we provoke with our ignorance, neglect, and arrogance. We will be lowered by climate change, by dwindling resources, by disease. I only hope the humiliation won’t come too late to save us.

And of course, the universe reminds each of us in time of our powerlessness too. We’re reminded that for all our bravado and grandiosity we are still quite fragile beings, some of the weakest on the planet even, and that at the end comes for us all. When it does, we’ll have nothing but regret and longing, just before we have nothing at all. The truth of who we are is one giant humiliation, and the worst part is we do not let ourselves feel this humiliation enough or for any of the right reasons.

Humiliation is the beginning of an honest examination of ourselves and if we can avoid bitterness, anger, and everlasting shame over it. Through humiliation, we find humility and humanity. We find out that the identity we hold so tightly to was but an illusion, easily shattered and stolen. Humiliation pulls back the curtain, tests the ego, and reveals the true self underneath. If we can hold on, we can find a new place in our world, one that suits us much better and offers peace, finally, from deception and fear.

“One improves by learning to be productively ashamed of who one currently is.”

Alain de Botton

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter H under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by lucas clarysse on Unsplash

God

“That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre

In the beginning, there was life, vicious but harmonious life. That life grew and morphed while eons passed. Life split off from itself as tree branches to receive the sun, and each branch received its own power. One gained self-awareness named itself human.

At the dawn of that first intelligence human beings looked up and found themselves alone and exposed, fragile and lost. Unable to cope with such suffering humans shouted to the heavens “Let there be God!” And so it was, and nature, seeing what they had created prostrated herself before her creation, and man, seizing his new power, prostrated himself before his.

“Among all the creatures of creation, the gods favor us: We are the only ones who can empathize with their problems.”

― David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

The Gods have been with us since we became who we are, religion is part of our evolution. Through them, we found meaning, we found a reason to cooperate, and we were able to explore who we were from the safety of a celestial stage.

This universe is cruel and deaf to human suffering. We need these agents working on our behalf. Having a being, or beings, to pray to, to hear our cries, and to offer rewards for struggling and sacrifice makes life a little easier. It gives us hope and keeps us optimistic is the face of hard, confusing times, and death. The Gods provided a means to bend this world to our will, if only we behaved and believed just right.

Having a God to answer to and power beyond our own to fear encourages cooperation, compassion, and self-control. Societies may not have formed if it were not for religion and ritual to bind us and keep us struggling toward a common goal. We might not have worked so hard to overcome ourselves if there were not a picture of perfection in the sky to strive for.

We needed not just an explanation for the way the stars moved in the sky, the way the seasons changed, and why bad things happened. We needed to explain ourselves, who and what we are and where we came from. We needed stories to justify and glorify. We needed ritual and punishment. We needed a celestial companion, who would make it all right and make it all meaningful.

The Gods were the answer for why we live, how we should live, and what would become of us when we cease living. Religion made tolerance of stress and suffering a virtue and promised rewards for enduring, and punishment for refusing. The Gods gave us a place to give up your worry and uncertainty to a higher power and get on with the business of building our world.

But the Gods didn’t just provide the individual meaning, they also facilitated the formation of societies. Religion keeps us all on the same page, it kept us working together and cooperating. It kept our eyes on a higher purpose so we can let the pesky problem of individuality go and keep our place and purpose. Religion justifies the hierarchy.

“That wasn’t any act of God. That was an act of pure human fuckery.”

― Stephen King, The Stand

The Gods are said to have made us in their image. I believe it happened the other way around. I believe that God was created in our image and as proof, I point out just how jealous, fearful, cruel, incoherent, and ignorant every God ever created has been.

I point to how easily each of us can find justification for whatever worldview we wish to impose on others in any religion with a God to sign off. I point to the diabolical among us who’ve found it so easy to use these cruel and ignorant Gods to humiliate, massacre, and wreak havoc on the rest of humanity and how easily they have found followers. The Gods, it seems, do our bidding, not the other way around.

Then again, whether any gods exist or not, or whether religion has been for the better or the worst in human history is a moot point isn’t it? Like money, race, class, and gender roles, all human constructs may be illusions but the have real world meaning, purpose, and consequence. Religion has meant something to humans and every human life and lineage has been impacted by it. Whether your ancestors were saints or burned at steaks, you have been shaped by a God.

The Gods are hard-wired into our genes and into our culture. They serve a need, a deep, primordial need that is in all of us, even the most iron-willed atheist.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

When Nietzsche said “God is dead” it was not in triumph, he was mourning what we had killed in ourselves. He was grieving our loss. We are clutching at knowledge hand over fist and the more we gain, the weaker the Gods become. There is not much left for them to give us and more and more their comfort is hollow and their promises empty. We have left open a gap in human need and provided nothing for the human spirit. We are all, even the believers left among us, now starving for spirituality.

Nietzsche spoke specifically of the loss of morality, but religion has provided so much more. We have lost our answers. We have lost our structure, our purpose, and the hope we had of eternity. We have lost our celestial stage and our celestial companions. We have only loneliness, fragility, and the absurd. We have suffering and eventual extinction, that is all.

I may not know much about religion, I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I know about that need. I envy those who still have such comforts.

I wish God was real. I wish heaven were real. Even hell would be preferable to passing on to nothing at all. I wish there were a being, any being who looked down on me and cared for my little life. I wish I could earn something more than the lot I was handed at birth. I wish for miracles and eternity. I wish to ease my suffering and find peace and closure. I wish God could hear me, but I know there is nowhere I will find him but within myself.

It is strange to have an illusion be ingrained as deeply as my DNA. I am aware of the illusion, but I may never be truly free of it. Evolution has not carried us that far but I hope one day far from now humans will find what they need with a firm hold on reality. I believe one day we will have the power to look at the world just the way it is in just the right way, we can find something there to honor and suffer for.

***

 

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter G under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Lukas Bornhauser on Unsplash

If We Were Having Coffee // A New Normal to Get Used To

Hello dear readers. Welcome, happy Sunday, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of coffee and catching up. I’m in my usual Sunday panic dashing around the house trying to get everything ready for the work week and feeling guilty that more time won’t be spent enjoying what time I get to myself.

It’s like the weekend is all of Friday night and Saturday and Sundays are just pre-work days. Your body may get to be home, but your mind is on tomorrow and already feeling the first twinges of anxiety and longing for your next day off. Sigh, at least the sun is shining, and you are here, and there is coffee to brighten the mood, yes?

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup”

― Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that last week was my first back to work since Spring Break and of course, as always, I was thrown into some last-minute, and extensive, schedule changes. We ended up having a class of new employees start, and I ended up working overtime to train them. I’m wasn’t at all happy about it either. I was feeling grouchy and down, worried and restless the whole week.

It wasn’t a particularly large class or difficult compared to any in the past, I just wasn’t feeling all that great, and I had so much else I would rather have been doing. I think the unstable weather contributed to my bad mood too. We’d have days that felt like summer was just around the corner, plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, and some days we were plunged back into winter with snow and temperatures near freezing. It’s exhausting.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I had a hard conversation with my doctor. My health has been declining again, and I think she’s a little peeved at me for not listening to her nearly a year ago and switching my medications. It’s hard though when you are teetering between “not quite what you were but feeling okay” and “extreme fatigue, pain, and a host of other alarming symptoms.” It’s hard to know when what you are doing isn’t working when you don’t know what your new normal is, you know?

So, now I will have some new medication, new side effects to watch for, and a new normal to get used to. I’m so thankful for the support and understanding of my fiance, my family, and my friends. I’m thankful for their willingness to listen, to check in on me, and to make me do all the things I don’t want to do. I’m thankful they are willing to put up with my whining and my frustration. They are more patient with me than I am with myself.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this week I had a scare. I almost lost someone who means a lot to me, and who I had been taking for granted for too long.

My grandmother was rushed to the hospital early last week with chest pain they found was caused by a tear in an artery. She endured some 6 or 8 hours of open heart surgery and came out ready to begin her recovery. I went to visit her and was so inspired by her resilience and her sense of humor and love for me. She asked me to come around more and to get her pictures of my girlfriend and I, and I promised her I would.

I realized that she is where I come from and she holds a ton of knowledge about my past and my family. She holds all the secrets and stories. I found myself panicked worrying that if I were to lose her, I would lose the answers to so many questions I haven’t had the chance or the courage to ask.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you that because of work, and my health, and my moods, and my panic, I fell behind on my A to Z posts, but I’m very close to catching up.

I know that most people write their posts well in advance of the challenge, but I had been hoping to cultivate a daily blogging habit starting with this challenge. I thought beginning with a theme and having at least an idea for each post might help. It might also help if I wasn’t so wordy and long-winded. Hopefully, that will get better with time.

I have worked out a few kinks and settled into a flow, and I have learned how to write first and edit later, though it is a lesson I have to keep learning again and again. I’m writing every day and scheduling my posts for the next. That doesn’t feel too much like cheating.

Unfortunately, any hope I had of an easier week to write in have already been dashed though I still think I’ll be able to keep the overtime in check. I may fall behind a few times before the end of this month, but I am not for a second entertaining the idea of giving up.

***

If we were having coffee I would tell you the best news of all, this week is my birthday week! And this birthday is an extra special one, this year my birthday falls on a Friday. This year my birthday falls on a Friday the 13th. I’ve been waiting so many years for this one, and I’ve decided to get a new tattoo to mark the occasion.

Many of the tattoo shops around me do Friday the 13th tattoo specials in which you choose a pre-drawn piece of flash to adorn your body with for only $13 (or $31, or $62, or some other flat rate). I have a tattoo or two I’ve gotten spontaneously on a Friday the 13th just for the fun of it, and this year won’t be any different. I’ve already scouted the offerings from some local shops, and I think I’ve settled on one that feels right.

As for the rest of my plans, We’ll go out to lunch, we’ll cook a special dinner at home. I’m hoping for crab legs and a good bottle of wine. A close friend’s birthday falls the next day so Saturday will be the night for hard partying and Sunday will be spent in recovery. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

***

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the day is wearing on and I have at least two more posts to write before the day ends, plus laundry and dinner, not to mention the afternoon nap I hope to squeeze in.

Thank you again for stopping by. I was in greater need of the caffeine and conversation than I knew. I hope your week was productive and your weekend peaceful. I hope Spring has found you wherever you are, and you have found time to enjoy some sun.

Until next time.

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli

Photo by Izzy Rivi on Unsplash