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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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.

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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 G under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Lukas Bornhauser on Unsplash

Fear

“Man goes constantly in fear of himself.”

— Georges Bataille

Human fear is ancient. It speaks in the tongues of ancestors we wouldn’t recognize and keeps alive by the old ways we no longer understand. 

Fear is the oldest part of us. Humans survive by fear. We came together because of fear. We fought, massacred, and enslaved one another and then plundered and destroyed nature all because we were afraid. We found religion and our we found our courage because of fear. This world is a cruel and confusing place, our fear led us to remove ourselves from what was dark and dangerous, and to make a new world in our image, and still, we are haunted by our fear. 

We’ve been on a journey to conquer fear but in all the wrong ways. We strive to rid the world of fear rather than to face what terrifies us. Humans have forgotten that fear was once regarded as a kind of wisdom, now we see only weakness, and feel only contempt. Our fears have been regulated to the parts of the mind we no longer listen to and so our terrors manifest in strange ways in the new world. We no longer know what exactly it is we are afraid of, only that where ever we go there is the threat of danger, of suffering, and of loss.

“The amygdala is the part of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear. It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. So potent is the amygdala’s response to potential threats that once turned on, it’s almost impossible to shut off, and this is a problem in the modern world.”

Peter Diamandis

We fear our own fear foremost and go to great lengths to avoid it. Fear is an unpleasant emotion, it’s completely understandable. At the first sign of pain, emotional or physical, we learn the first lesson, do not do that again. Do not go near anything that looks like that, that makes you feel like that, that can remotely be linked or lead to pain like that. A hot stove, a knife in an outlet, a car accident, a heartbreak, an assault, a movie scene, the death of a loved one, and so much more. Fear erects boundaries and restricts you from your own life all in the name of keeping you and the ones you love safe.

Fear has no other purpose.

It is rare that fear is a positive force in the human life. Fear seems to bring out the very worst in us. It forces us into a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, or fall. Fear draws us in, warps desire, and hijacks the ego. You become a primitive version of yourself, ignorant, resentful, trapped. You lash out, you blame, you become suspicious. Sometimes you become delusional and see enemies where there are none and wish to strike out before you have to strike back. We fear suffering, pain, and loss but what does that mean in a world where our needs are now are so easily met ad we are so far from becoming meals for animals bigger and faster than us. What we are afraid of now no longer looks the way it did when the amygdala was being formed.

The parts of our brains that process fear do not understand statistics or proportion. This is why we hate to fly in planes but drive cars. This is why some of can’t drive cars at all. This is why we manipulate one another and fight wars based on the flimsiest of differences. We are seeking out things to fear now, new dangers and horrors to escape from and there is no shortage.

Like desire, fear can be hijacked. It is to the benefit of government and economy to keep you in a perpetual state of panic. You fear are prayed and played up to keep you under control, to keep you working, and to keep you consuming. This is not a conspiracy theory. It isn’t personal, and I don’t believe it is even intentional or conscious for most public figures or companies. We are only doing what works to make a living and keep the peace, but we are approaching a society so full of fear that no one is able to fully live their lives anymore.

“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Most things we fear we’ve never seen, but we can imagine all the worst things in our minds day and night. Fear grows in the unknown and thrives in the imagination. We fear most what we cannot control and the more we try to protect ourselves the more fearful we become. Fear follows right behind us as fast as we can run gaining strength and power.

In the last year or two, maybe more, maybe my whole life on some level, I have suffered from intense death anxiety. I’ve spent countless nights wide awake wondering if this day was my last. I worried when I might die and how. I worried about leaving my loved ones behind, or worse, them dying and leaving me behind instead. I was afraid never to see my girlfriend again. I laid awake worried I had been wrong, and hell was real, or reincarnation, or something darker. What is there was nothing but darkness, loneliness, and the mind going slowly insane for eternity?

The thoughts started to creep up on me during the day while I worked, while I cooked, while I sat talking with my girlfriend. I would think “what if I died right now?” and I would be in a panic all over again. So I did something that seemed to make no sense, I downloaded an app that reminded me 5 times a day that I was going to die and shared a bit of wisdom from a historical figure or book.

Five times a day, Every day for months now I have clicked a notification that says “Hey, don’t forget you are going to die,” and you know what happened? I stopped lying awake at night in terror. The thoughts stopped intruding while I was just trying to live my life. I took control of my fear. Instead of trying to avoid it, which was making it worse, I found validation and let myself feel it, and it lost its power.

I have other fears too. I have a driving phobia. Last month my girlfriend went out of town, and I was forced through my anxiety to drive myself where I needed to go. I’m still somewhat scared, but I’ve gained confidence by leaps and bounds. I see my fear for what it is, and I know now for a fact I am stronger than it. When I am afraid, I ask myself what the worst case might be and what would happen to me. If someone I love dies, I will be sad. If I lose my job, I will find another. If I am afraid of war, or terrorism, or sinkholes, or the earth escaping the gravitational pull of the sun, I tell myself I will survive.

Fear is part of who we are, and like all things human it is better to accept it, explore it, and, as humans do, conquer it. Better to make it your friend. Better to give it space to exist in your life. You can’t escape it anyway.

In between everything you want to do and the things you find yourself doing instead is fear. The things you think about before you drift off to sleep, the thoughts that come to you without prompt and set your heart racing, face them. Think about them, write about them, talk about them, immerse yourself in your fears, find their source and you will find out who you truly are.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

— Marie Curie

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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 ChallengeLetter F under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

Ego

“That which comes and goes, rises and sets, is born and dies is the ego.”

― Ramana Maharshi

Existing as a human being requires navigating not only the dangerous landscape of nature but the complex and challenging labyrinth of human society and culture. We have to be able to find our place in time, in this world and the hierarchy of humans. When your mind makes a map of the world around you with all the people and all the object and concepts that exist the ego is the big red dot that signals “you are here!”.

We have to be able to remember and anticipate, plan and execute, make friends, make war, make families, and governments. We have to be able to fit in, and we have to be able to lie. All of this requires a sense of who we are relative to everything we aren’t. We require a sense of continuity with ourselves despite our changing bodies and nature. We require the ego self.

Think of the self as an onion the ego is composed of the outer third or so of layers. It is your identity. It is who you tell people you are, who you tell yourself you are. For most of us, it’s our job, our nationality, our race, gender, sexual orientation, and marital status. It’s your culture and your upbringing. It’s how much power we wield and how much we much we must yield to others.

It’s your favorite movie genre, your hobbies, your dreams, and aspirations. It is your memories and who you love. It is who and what we hate and who and what we fight for. It is who you speak of when you say “I am…” and the answer to the question “Who am I?”. It is where you consciously see and experience the world from, and it is what people consciously experience of you too.

The ego is what endures. It is why you can look at a picture of yourself as a baby or remember your favorite cartoon as a kid or your first love in high school and know that person is the same one that you are now. It is why you can picture yourself in the future and feel a connection. The ego is the person you know best and the part of yourself you have the best chance of understanding, though few of us do.

“If a man thinks he is not conceited, he is very conceited indeed.”

― C.S. Lewis

To most of us, the ego is a bad thing. We think of the egocentric, egotistical, the egomaniac, the selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, arrogant, and vain. We think of the conceited types who treat the rest of us as if we were only minor characters in their great story. We are just a means to their ends.

Then again, aren’t we all a little conceited? Aren’t we all naturally self-absorbed, self-servicing, and vain. Of course we are, how could we not be? Isn’t the world around us just setting and the people plot devices, minor characters, and extras?

Everything you think, do, and say is about you, even the things you tell yourself aren’t. We’re all more than a little narcissistic. We’re all completely self-absorbed. Conceit is our truth. It is our reality. We have a natural and inevitable obsession with the self because ours is the only perspective we can see from. We are the main character of the story. The reason the story exists. We are each the dead center of the universe. Conceit is common and completely understandable.

I mean, none of us can be truly sure that other people really exist the way that we do. How do I know you feel and think as deeply as me? I do I know I’m really not the center of the universe? From this perspective, all evidence tells me that I am.

“Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.”

― John Lennon

Our egos are inflated, not some egos, all egos. The ego, you, are in incessant need of soothing and stroking. You are a baby and a beast, spoiled and raging deep down. You don’t always show it, but it is in you. The ego’s job is to help you contain it, mask it, and direct it, but you are always putting yourself first.

Our egos may be large, but they are also deceptively weak. Which means we are weak and at the whim of it cowardice. The ego functions best when functions unnoticed. The ego is a liar. It masks itself. It shapeshifts and gaslights. It’s a slippery thing. It blends in and hides in plain sight. It tricks us into becoming someone we may not really be in order to fulfill our deeper desires.

For most of us, the self is cobbled together from bits and pieces of our parents, our friends, media, culture, and religion. It’s made without our input or direction. We never put much thought into what we are made of, and as a result, many of us are made simply of suffering, superstition, anger, and fear.

Most of us are made of weak egos, a weak sense of the self, and an identity that is unstable. We don’t know our place in this world, and we don’t know who we are. We avoid challenging situations and loath to change. Reality can be hard to cope with for the weak ego.

“Humility is, in a sense, admitting how egotistical you are.”

― Criss Jami, Killosophy

But to strengthen the ego feels wrong. To be consciously self-obsessed feels wrong, but remember you already are all about you may as well admit it and control it. A strong and healthy ego isn’t the same as having an over-inflated ego. A strong ego is the sum of a reasonable amount of self-esteem, a strong drive to examine and know the self, and to present a true image of the self to the world with courage.

A strong ego can accept reality readily. The strong ego can control and shape the self and offer peace and stability. Having a strong sense of self and a solid knowledge of who you requires a great deal of humility. A strong ego-self means accepting the reality that you are both the main character and an extra in the background of another person’s universe.

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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 ChallengeLetter E under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

 

Desire

“All suffering originates from craving, from attachment, from desire.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

We are born, and then we die, and in between, we desire.

Desire is in all of us. The desire for food and water, the desire for health, the desire for love, family, and community, for a home, the desire for beauty, for knowledge, for money, success, and fame that lasts beyond our days. We desire power and control. We desire perfection.

We desire to be good, and sometimes we desire to be bad too. We desire the bodies of others, the lives of others, to be other than what we are. We desire pain upon the ones who have wronged us. We desire the destruction of those who possess what we desire most.

We desire people, things, and results. We crave, we covet, we yearn, and we long for. We are desperate. We’re excited by the very thought of having our hearts desire. Our every move is to be nearer to the thing we want most. We wish, we hope we toil, plot, and scheme endlessly, and we are never fulfilled.

There is none among us who can say they are beyond desire. Even the enlightened had to desire to move beyond such base needs as these to attain such a state, and for this reason, I believe we all, even the so-called enlightened, suffer in this world.

To be human is to live with a black hole of need inside of you that can never be filled. This is simply who we are. We want more than another other creature on this planet, and this is why we have come so far, conquered so much, and destroyed everything we have touched. Not even the best of us can say they are utterly beyond the owning and devouring of their home and their fellow humans. Each of us has felt some incessant need, and each of us has headed its call.

Each of us has suffered for it too.

“Why was I holding on to something that would never be mine? But isn’t that what people do?”

― Bret Easton Ellis, Lunar Park

To want is not inherently bad. Desire wakes us up, it moves us to imagine and act, but desire without thought, self-control, or direction can mean disaster. We have good and bad desires, and the pursuit of fulfillment is a positive and negative too.

We may long for a world with more peace, justice, and prosperity of all humans. We may desire awareness, equality, and wisdom for ourselves and others. We may desire that other people will have what they desire and that what they desire might be as positive too, but wanting is still wanting, and the world, for good or bad, will always fall short and leave us frustrated, anxious, and depressed.

Desire denied is the cause of suffering but desire denied is simply our reality. In all our longing and dreaming we never stop to consider the inherent imperfection and impermanence of reality.

What you want just does not exist. The woman you want, she has flaws. The relationship you long for will be fraught with disagreement and misunderstanding. That job won’t pay you enough and will ask more of you than you will have to give. That house will fall apart, and you will find you hate yard work. Your children will not love nor respect you as much as you wish. Something will always be missing. Some part of your world will not live up to what you had imagined it would be, and you will go on trying to get it. You won’t be able to stop yourself.

Even if for a moment you get ahold of what you desire you will still be left unsatisfied because everything is always changing. The world changes, we change, the things own, control, and covet change too. Nothing is permanent, consistent, or fixed. Nothing lasts exactly as it is in any moment and your failure to accept this fact leads to your frustration and sorrow. Life changes and your desires must change with it. You will not have everything you want and what you will have will not be as you want it.

So how do you find peace? How do you let go of all this wanting? The short answer, you can’t. The long answer, desire is always in you, but it is nothing to repress or be ashamed of. Desire is in you for a reason. To be human is to want. You should not want to rid yourself of desire, you should want to observe, understand, and direct it.

“It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.”

― Aristotle, Politics

It is beneficial for human survival that desire be put, for the most part, beyond consciousness. The body needs the mind to work for it, for food, for water, for shelter, for family and community, and desire is what keeps us working. Desire makes machines of us. If the mind cannot easily stop wanting it can’t easily stop achieving and in turn benefitting the biological needs. Evolution found a way to trick us all by giving us a drive we couldn’t turn off and if we tried we would feel uneasy, bored, depressed, useless, and stressed.

Sometimes we want things we cannot understand. The meaning and origin of the goals we set often beyond our comprehension and control. We can have desires we aren’t even aware of and act to fulfill needs and achieve goals that make no sense to us. Worse still, our desires can be manipulated. Our desires for love, happy homes, attention, belonging, and material things are twisted, warped, and redirected every day by politicians, social media companies, and ad agencies. Wherever we go want are told to want something but no matter where we turn, by natures accident or by human design we are taunted and never given release or peace.

Desire denied or unfulfilled makes us feel unsettled, uncomfortable, and often, angry. Who hasn’t lashed out or acted in cruel or shameful ways to get what they wanted. What compromises have you made with your soul and with society to fulfill your desires? What have you done to others and let them do to you to fill a need? What do you give up, what do you put yourself through? What have you pretended to be? Who among us can say they haven’t operated under less than honorable standards to manipulate or force a person, an object, or an outcome?

“Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”

― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Still, I reject that all desire is detrimental. Desire is what got us this far. What is detrimental is desire unchecked, desire undirected, and desire misplaced. I say only that you must choose your desires wisely.

Work to understand your desires and be aware of the price you pay to chase them. Consider what you might be missing about the objects, people, and an outcome you yearn for and ask yourself what flaws, unforeseen stresses, and frustrations might come with achievement. Ask yourself why you want what you want and what benefit anyone might have in convincing you that you want it?

Most of all, be aware that being human means never being satisfied. Humans want what they can’t have and in their quest devour and destroy everything they live including what they progress to love and long for, including themselves, but the truth is, the desire to live without desires is futile.

Freedom from desire is not possible, and even if it were, it might not be what you want. Wanting is part of who we are, and attachment is key to our happiness. To stop desiring would require you to cut yourself off from your humanity. It is through longing and wanting that we strive to be better, build better, and learn all that we can. Your desires do not make you weak or evil. Your desires give your life meaning and lead you through growth to wisdom. Your search for happiness—no matter how futile—is what your life is made of.

“Though surely to avoid attachments for fear of loss is to avoid life.”

― Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

 

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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 D under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash