Ghost in the Shell’s Advice for not Being a Tool

Ghost in the Shell’s Advice for not Being a Tool

If you’re a geek and have a functioning cortex, you may have caught wind of a micro-budget film coming up on March 31st. If you’re glued to ET or other TV shows or just spend a lot of time browsing entertainment sites, you may have heard about this little indie film as well. It’s called Ghost in the Shell. Chances are you’ve heard about it because of the whole whitewashing controversy. I don’t want to focus too much on it, though as a geek it does piss me off. Long story short, Ghost in the Shell is an incredibly popular and influential cyberpunk manga and anime series. Heard of a little movie called The Matrix? Thank Ghost in the Shell for its heavy influences. If you haven’t heard of The Matrix then holy fuck what is wrong with you? Back to Ghost in the Shell and its controversy woes before we get into the main point of this post. Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese property with Japanese characters and in typical Hollywood fashion, they cast a white actress, Scarlet Johansson, in the main role of the cyborg who I’m pretty sure for many nerds was the cause of much adolescent stirring. Not only that, but there is a great fear that this American production will stray far from one of the other things that made Ghost in the Shell so great which was its seamless blending of heavy philosophy with action and hot cyborgs.

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Yes, Motoko may be mostly cold synthetics but for many geeks, she sure could spark a very hot response.

Now, in keeping with the true spirit of Ghost in the Shell, I want to go back to the original anime movie, all the way back to that magical time known as 1995. In particular, I’d like to focus on a specific quote I think that holds a lot of weight and that we can all apply to our lives and in fact should. Yes, there is advice coming out of this article. The quote comes from none other than Motoko Kusanagi, the fully cyberized commander of the Section 9 cybercrimes task force. The quote is said in the scene in which she is talking with the newest and least cyber augmented member of the team, Togusa, about why he was chosen and how he complements the team by adding a wildcard aspect to their otherwise highly cybernetically augmented unit. In the course of this conversation, Motoko says, “It’s simple: overspecialize, and you breed in weakness.”

It is ever so simple isn’t it? He’s human and so he won’t react the same way. Harder for the bad guys to predict Section 9’s patterns and next moves and thus get away. But, there’s more to it than that. With Ghost in the Shell, there usually is. If you think about it, part of the reason Togusa can be unpredictable in ways that the other members of Section 9 can’t is that he is in full control. The cyber augmentations of the other team members may give them enhanced abilities in some respects but in others they actually detract from their ability to exercise free will. They are constrained by the model specs of their particular enhancements. Additionally, just like any mass produced product, not to say that they are no equipped with top of the line augmentations that basic civilians would not have access to, they will lack complete, true individuality and most importantly, they will possibly suffer an impediment to their ability to make choices or at least to manifest them. So what the hell is this all leading to? I hate to do this… actually screw it, I don’t. Let’s look at another quote to further develop our conclusion.

Robert A. Heinlein, author of classic novels like Starship Troopers an Stranger in a Strange Land, had this to say about overspecialization.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

On a subtle level, both quotes are talking not just about the problematic effects of being too specialized but of relinquishing choices. In Motoko’s case, being too cyber augmented strips the unit of the ability to act in an unpredictable manner and in Heinlein’s case, being specialized is a roadblock to living a fully realized life of being able to choose between a large repertoire of acquired skills and experiences. (Funny side note, many people incorrectly peg Heinlein as a fascist because of his book, Starship Troopers, but many people are uneducated and humorless idiots who don’t see that this book was an ingenious work of satire. The more you know.) But how does this relate to everyday life?

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Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers continued the trend of being misunderstood by people with amoebas for brains.

 

Now this is where we get to you, you self-absorbed malignant narcissists, you. The thing about overspecializing is that in a way it is an abdication of choice. When one becomes overly specialized, one forgoes the entire life experience and instead cordons oneself into only a specific corner and acts only in that corner, that one specific subset of situations. As for the rest? Fuck it, I’m not specialized in that. Furthermore, by overspecializing, one forgoes any hope of a unique, complex personal identity, either in one’s personal life or work. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of working in a cubicle farm like I have; doing the same fucking task for eight or so hours straight, specializing in a particular task, as it were; you will begin to experience a breakdown of a sense of autonomy as you begin to take on the aspect of a thing, a process, an application that only does a certain thing, that only serves a particular function. The problem here isn’t just that this divests an individual of their individuality but what happens, as I said before, a person accepts this mechanistic view of him or herself. It sure makes making choices simpler as we can fall back on safe, well worn behavioral patterns and duck away from making harder choices that lie beyond the safe boundaries we’ve twisted ourselves to fit within. But the opportunity to overspecialize doesn’t just come from boring desk jockey jobs.

Overspecializing can occur by way of only subscribing to one particular point of view or holding one particular ideology above all others. This can apply to religions, politics, economics, or philosophies. Overspecializing can be said to occur when we lock out the rest of the world and only view things through the one particular filter we’ve chosen and never question if this filter is reasonable or is just more bullshit we’ve piled on to our bullshit existence. The weakness arising from such slavish, unthinking devotion to a set of ideas should be obvious. You not only erode your ability to think critically but you also forgo any possibility of adaptation. Foregoing and refusing adaptation, you will inevitably be left behind by a world that couldn’t give less of a fuck about you or your thoughts because it already gives absolutely zero fucks about you.

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Life is like a big room, devoid of fucks.

Now, the rest of the world may not care about your being left behind, in fact no one will likely know you were even there to be left behind in the first place, but you will feel it on some level as the world becomes more and more incomprehensible since your inflexible ideology goggles get more and more scratched and scuffed, soon leaving you in a swirling miasma of confusion that could be easily lifted it you just took off the fucking goggles, man! But this is the kind of weakness we’re talking about when we talk about overspecialization. Little fun fact for you, one of the things that makes humans so adaptable is that we come in to the world totally unspecialized for anything more than feeding, pooping, and looking squishy and adorable. Everything else, besides a very few innate tendencies and biologically derived cognitive capacities, is learned. And now look at us. Masters of the planet. All because we were flexible, we could adapt and integrate new information and paradigms.

The take away point of all this is that life requires choices and we make those choices by the accrual of individual experiences and skills. All these things allow us to act in a way that is particular to us. I hope this won’t be misconstrued as the tired, saccharine platitude we’ve heard ad nauseam: just be yourself. This isn’t about that. First of all, you might be an asshole to others in which case maybe you should be a little less you. Secondly, that tired cliche never actually tells us why we should be ourselves. Again, the reason that someone is usually fed that kind of advice is that this person has something that he or she wishes to do but for whatever reason, is living a repressed life and finds that it is not possible to act in the way he or she wishes. It boils down to freedom. We could go further and say that such a repressed person has become overspecialized in the practice of conforming to the expectations and needs of others. They have created a product of themselves and a product has no function unless it is consumed or utilized.

In the end, we are really talking about freedom, the freedom to act as oneself, not as a component of a machine or system, not as a specialized tool whose function is prescribed. I’m not suggesting that one totally go crazy, start wearing their underwear on their head and smearing their entire body in used coffee grounds for no other reason than, “Fuck it, I’m free.” Sure you can do that but to what end? Maybe it’s performance art. I don’t know. All I’m saying is that all things are possible and permitted; that’s both the awesome thing and the terrifying thing about life. It seems crazy to lock ourselves into tight corners and claustrophobic rooms when considering the vast degrees of freedom that are literally forced on us by dint of our being alive. And yes that may come with crushing responsibility but the terms of our existence are not open to negotiation so we may as well step up and make the best of it which means being willing to take on the role of a singular being,  left without the assurances of determining factors, and compelled to act to the best of his or her ability in a rapidly changing and indifferent universe. The thing is if you’re doing it right and embracing this mercurial state, you can actually have a good bit of fun, no cyber augmentations required.

 

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Welcome to the Anti-Self-Help Movement: We Ain’t Fixing Shit

Welcome to the Anti-Self-Help Movement: We Ain’t Fixing Shit

It seems like it’s official. There’s a name for the recent trend of self-help books that tell you there isn’t any help and that we’re all pretty much fucked. It’s comforting to know that writers like myself are tapping into a common vein, like junkies passing the same conceptual needle back and forth. You can read more about this anti-self-help movement at the link provided at the end of the article. However, I found two interesting things about this article that I’d like to share.

First of all, this article rightly picks up on the existential blood that pumps through the veins of this literature trend. This anti-self-help movement is honest in a way that traditional self-help books fail to be. Now, traditionally, you’d buy a self-help book in order to get a boost of motivation, get information on how to achieve something like more self esteem or earning more money or screwing more people (in the bodily fluids sense or not), or something similar. These books have always aimed to give people the sense of having power; having control; and, possibly above all, having purpose. This may have worked back in more innocent times but these are not those times. Everything in this era reeks of decay. Our societal systems are collapsing, our government is deteriorating, and my generation, the much maligned Millenials Generation, will have a lower standard of living than our parents. One of the biggest things we all take from this and internalize is that there is no inherent order or meaning to any of this. It’s just a big shit cyclone and we’re caught in the middle of it. We certainly don’t have any meaning or purpose we can turn to. Especially when so many of us are fucked when it comes to employment or finding an outlet for our natural talents that will also be accepted and valued by the marketplace. Essentially, if you can do something but the market place has no use for it, it may as well not exist and you may as well not exist. So the marketplace, which a growing number of young people already don’t have faith in, also has no faith in us, a cycle of fictitious entities in a race to devalue one another. This also speaks to the other aspect of why traditional self-help books are not sufficient.

There is a myth that we’ve been sold. That myth is progress. You might say, “But look at all the progress we’ve made! iPhone six (or is it seven?), bitch! Another Alien movie! Look at these fucking sequels and new products! Look at them!” To this I say you’re an idiot. But that’s nothing new. In reality, progress is slow and prone to reversal. It is not a given, as so many would like to think. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to think that. It does help to stave off the horrible encroaching intimation that this is all for nothing but that’s all an unswerving faith in progress is good for. But back here in reality, there is no such thing as progress. There’s just the same shit with a different coating. It’s like Taco Bell. Same salty yet flavorless mix of indistinguishable crap, just in a different shell. Progress assumes an endpoint. It assumes there is something to work towards. I invite anyone to tell me what that is. There isn’t one. What there is is the daily workings of life, of getting up, doing stuff, then going back to bed until you die. That’s not a bad thing. It’s life and I’ll be damned if I’d trade it for the alternative. However, we can’t keep lying to ourselves that there’s this magical promise land awaiting us in the future. It’s all we can do to not totally fuck up everything immediately around us. And as long as we’re on the topic of fucking shit up, I want to move on to the second thing that caught my eye in this article.

The author seems to have a problem with the levels of vulgarity that this genre or movement employs. Kind of fucked up, right. Why do I consider this fucked up? Shouldn’t I aim to say less horrible shit?  Well, here’s the thing, ya bastards, these are words. They are signifiers. Their entire existence is dedicated to referring to things and sharing concepts and meaning. They are employed by people who want to get certain ideas into the bone balloons (heads) of others. The thing to remember here is that words themselves have no intrinsic power or meaning. They are merely an amalgamation of symbols or sounds. All meaning is ascribed to them by intent and context. This is why you can go up to someone you’ve known for a long time and say, “How are you you son of a bitch?” and be completely friendly. The use of this, “vulgarity,” is a way to break down distinctions and boundaries and it works in print too. When I curse you know I’m not holding back and that I’m not hiding anything. Accordingly, you should feel like it’s alright to be yourself. You don’t need to feel inadequate or less than me or anyone else, a problem that I encounter in many conventional self-help books. These writers, by setting themselves up as gurus, by presenting themselves as people who have made sense of and more or less mastered life’s difficulties, make themselves inaccessible.  Cursing and using profanity puts us all at the same level, it eliminates distinctions, it makes it easier to empathize. And, considering the amount of shit we all have to deal with in this life, we could all use a bit of empathy, which brings me to another reason why a couple of well placed expletives are just what we need to get to a more realistic understanding of our place in the world and how to cope with it.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize that the world is a brutal, cruel, and unfair place. We’ve all been under life’s boot heel at some point. We’ve been hurt, we’ve watched powerlessly as those we cared about were hurt or taken from us, and we’ve known what it’s like to look at the world and realize how little impact and control we have over anything. In such a world, some foul language is the least of our worries. Think about it. This is a world where there are millions of women and girls who are kidnapped or tricked with promises of a better life then sold on the human trafficking market. And people are offended by the word, “fuck?” Seriously, let’s get our priorities straight. There is an incredible amount of suffering and what could be called evil in this world. If anyone should be offended by anything, it’s the amount of injustice and wanton cruelty that is happening every day all over the world. After we internalize these facts, who gives a cabbage patch fuck about some, “bad words?” Not only are they a non-issue but sometimes we need strong, direct language because the unforgiving nature of existence necessitates it. Sometimes we need a punch to the cortex and one of the fastest ways to do that is with curse words. We need to feel something and, since the anti-self-help movement is primarily in the business of realistic advice, a lot of what we need to feel and get comfortable with is the harsh nature of the world in which we live.

There’s no one coming to save us and we’re all on the same sinking ship. But, there’s the opportunity to go down with grace and style, like a million dollar escort. That’s what I think the anti-self-help movement is best at. It doesn’t make false claims that you too can be on top, and make a million dollars, and look like a million dollars, and be liked by everyone. Nope. It just ain’t so. And the anti-self-help movement is here to help you recognize this fact and show you that you never needed all this shit in the first place. All you ever needed was to live a simple, happy life as yourself, hopefully with some people you care about and who care about you by your side. It may not be glamorous or perfect but it’s life and that can carry its own reward.

The Minivan of Enlightenment or The Toxin of Self-Importance

The Minivan of Enlightenment or The Toxin of Self-Importance

Just the other day, while driving back from the market, I saw a van pulling out of a parking lot. It was a nondescript van, yet not so nondescript that I would assume that it was being driven by a 57 year old, slightly balding man with a mattress in the back who routinely keeps a pocketful of candy in case he runs into the local kids (if you see anyone like this, please alert the local authorities or Crime Watchers if you have one in your area). No, instead it was a mid to late 90’s spoiled cream colored kind of nondescript van driven by a woman who’d crossed the deserts of middle age on a horse with no name. The finish may have once been sleek and shiny but was now approaching a matte finish and had patches where it looked like it had contracted the fiberglass version of the mange. But it was the front tag that got me to stop and think and that led me, from that moment, to drafting this post.

The tag announced:

That’s Dumb

That one statement hit me like a sack of dead squirrels. So simple, yet so complex in its own, quasi-but-not-really-at-all meta-humor awfulness. Here was a person who drove around in a van that looked like it was ready to vomit itself inside out, who looked like she was holding on to the world with her fingernails and yet still felt like she knew enough to proclaim that everything in front of her was dumb and that we all needed to know this. In that moment, I realized something, something I think we could all benefit from knowing and that might actually help our world. In this way, 90’s van lady has become my teacher, my guru, my savior.

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All hail the great teacher, 90’s Van Lady! (Artistic recreation.)

What I realized, what she taught me that day is simple and can be summed up as follows.

NOT EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW YOUR WORTHLESS OPINION ON EVERYTHING.

I’m giddy each time I realize this powerful truth. And it is a truth, a truth we’ve forgotten. With Facebook, Twitter, blogs (like this one), we actually think that our opinions matter. Worse than that, we think, nay, we actually believe that people want to hear our opinions. All the time. Well, it’s high time we get back to reality and the reality is that no one gives a sideways shit about what you or I think about things and we don’t need to constantly be airing our sad, tired, uninformed opinions to the world.

Imagine the arrogant delusion we must live under in this society to think that now we even need vanity license plates that proclaim to the world that we think everything is dumb. To think that anyone cares, to think that we, stupid naked monkeys set for inexorable destruction at some point in the possibly near future, are so important that we should just vomit out every tedious, nonsensical, pointless thought that passes through our meat-chunks computer (brain).

But it’s okay now. 90’s Van Lady has shown us the way. With her broke down van of truth and enlightenment, we now can ascend to a higher plane. And how does one do that?

Simple, my slightly greasy adult-babies.

By not constantly assailing people with your fucking thoughts and opinions on everything. By leaving people alone and not forcing our view of existence on others. By realizing that, as my grandfather would say, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. Would you go rubbing your asshole on some random person’s eyeballs? Why would you do something so hideous? You’re one of those people like the guy with the candy in his pockets from the beginning of this post if you’d do that. You should report yourself because every time you needlessly throw your uninformed opinions out there you are rubbing your winking brown eye in another person’s face.

By the way, I know I’m guilty of this too. Judge not lest ye be judged and all that. Just writing this blog is an act of rubbing myself all up on your face. I acknowledge it. But I also acknowledge that I might not be right. I also acknowledge that I’m not special and that you shouldn’t listen to me. In fact, go outside and get some vitamin D, you’re looking a bit pale (though that’s better than looking like a bucket).

All I’m saying is that maybe we need to stop yapping, maybe we should learn to listen a little bit more than we speak. Instead of saying, “This is my opinion and fuck you, you’re going to take it!” we should shut our mouth flaps and look around and, gosh this is a strange concept in this day and age, think and contemplate. Not just that, we should all take a good look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that we are not important, our opinions are not interesting, and that people will get on just fine without being hosed by the constant stream of toxic, fetid bullshit we spew in myriad forms throughout our lives. We have created a toxic stew of noise and inanity in our culture and we are both swimming in it and adding to it and at some point, after one final gulp to try to suck a bit more air into our flailing bodies, we’re going to suck a big lungful of the rancid shit down and that will be it.

Too many of us are high on self-importance, on the illusion that the world needs us and our opinions. Just like crack addicts, we seek to get that next high, that next opportunity to vomit our opinions everywhere, all over everyone in the desperate hope that we will find some validation for our existence in the stunned, quasi-concussed look of approval on a random stranger’s face. It all speaks to a seriously skewed perspective on reality that puts a premium on recognition and couldn’t care less about the quiet self reflection needed to even have an opinion worth sharing in the first place.

So let’s not keep adding to the shit-stew. Let’s realize that life isn’t like Twitter or Facebook and that we don’t have to rub our unwashed, brown, puckered opinion butts on people’s faces. Maybe we should just learn to be quiet, to think more, and to yap less.

But that’s just like, my unsubstantiated claim man.

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The Dude dispassionately allows all things for an unspecified duration of time.

 

I’m Pregnant! With a Book. It’s a Metaphor.

That’s right devoted acolytes and groupies, yours truly is going to be releasing a book in the coming months. What’s it about? In short: pain. No, not bread (pain is French for bread) but suffering and means of managing it. And I’m not going to be focusing solely on physical pain either but the pain of loss, the pain of dealing with fucking crazy bosses, the pain of dealing with feelings of depression and self hatred. By the end of this book, you should walk away with a grin and the feeling of, “I got this shit. Here, hold me beer.”

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This baby’s got this and soon you will too.

I’m going to tell you right now that this book won’t make your pain go away but it will give you some mindset and perspective tools to live with it and even use it to your advantage. So keep checking back as when we get closer to the delivery date, I’ll be running some promotions. Also I’m going to need someone there to help. I have a feeling this is going to be a sticky one. Bring the towels.

Strange Planet Music to Shut Down that Pesky Ego

Strange Planet Music to Shut Down that Pesky Ego

You know that in space, no one can hear you scream. And we all know that your screams will go unheard because in space there is no air to transmit sound waves (At least, everyone should understand this by now.). However, as per usual, reality doesn’t give a sideways shit about your monkey-level preconceived notions of how things work or should work. It turns out that there is, “sound,” in space if we broaden our definition of what sound consists of which is what the awesome people at NASA decided to do. It turns out that planets emit electromagnetic radiation, radiation we can detect and measure. Each planet emits a characteristic electromagnetic vibration that, when put through the right computer programs, will produce sounds, sounds that could be said to be the sonic fingerprint of these planets. Why am I talking to you about planet music? Two reasons really. First of all, this kind of thing challenges previously held beliefs and knowledge. These are perceptions and beliefs we accept without question and if you’ve read any of the post on my blog you know that I am all about never just accepting what we think we know. Secondly, listening to these sounds is a good opportunity to break you out of your normal frame of mind and frame of reference to see that there are phenomena playing out on much larger stages. In other words, our little human drama is not all that astounding when placed besides the roaring and whistling of these cosmic bodies. So sit back, close your eyes, and let these eerie sounds sweep you away into the vast stretches of cold, sterile space where you’ll be reminded for just how little your ego counts.

Time to Get Schwifty: Why Rick and Morty is the Show You Need to Be Watching

Time to Get Schwifty: Why Rick and Morty is the Show You Need to Be Watching

I understand that a lot of the stuff on the blog gets into some heavy philosophy and psychology and deals with some rather negative realities. Sure I try to mix things up with humor but ultimately who wants to read all this shit all the time? Why do we always have to be thinking? Isn’t life full of that crap already? You have to think about the bills. You have to think and worry about your kids. You have to worry about your extramarital or extra-relationship lovers. You have to worry about that weird bump that’s starting to itch and which one of your lovers gave it to you. Luckily, the good people at Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim have got the answer for you in the form of their hit show, Rick and Morty!

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Peace among worlds, bitches! (All rights@Warner Bros. Television)

In case you’ve been rubbing broken glass in your eyes and ears for the past two or so years, Rick and Morty, the sci-fi sitcom that airs on the Adult Swim programming block on Cartoon Network, is a big deal. It’s been garnering a massive and dedicate following and is considered by many to be one of the most simultaneously funny and disturbing shows on television. It was originally a single short film titled The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti that was a bastardization of the dynamic between Doc and Marty from Back to the Future. And what a bastardization it was. One that I strongly, strongly recommend you don’t watch. Unless you have a strongly warped sense of toilet humor. Or have access to copious amounts of eye bleach. Actually, just stick to the mass marketed product of Rick and Morty.

The show itself follows the interdimensional misadventures of mad alcoholic genius, Rick Sanchez, and his neurotic grandson, Morty. There’s a lot more to it than that. Actually, there’s an entire mythology that the creators of the show baked in and said they would only allude to in clues scattered about. For the most part the show is episodic, with each episode existing as a self-contained entity though there are frequent callbacks and references to events that occur in other episodes. Now would you like to know why you should get on the Rick and Morty bandwagon?

As you may have guess from posts like this and this I’m a big fan of the idea that the world is basically beyond human comprehension, that our existence is absurd at its core, and that we are nevertheless bound to still pursue meaning in a world that is devoid of objective meaning. To put it succinctly, I subscribe to what can essentially be described as the kind of absurdism espoused by thinkers such as Albert Camus. Rick and Morty is heavy on the absurdism and the absurdist comedy. So while we may have moments of insane humor that highlights the almost arbitrary nature of the reality we experience such as the following clip

there are little nuggets of philosophical, specifically existentialist and absurdist, philosophy sprinkled throughout such as the following moment.

 

Rick and Morty is almost like a fun house mirror to our lives in some very interesting ways in that it is both grotesquely entertaining while still conveying some aspects of our reality. Yes the gags and interdimensional hopping are way out there however, the core of the show is its characters and as always it’s the characters who really keep you glued to the screen. Every character is filled with some kind of pathos that’s milked for comedy and that, on rare occasions, gets played straight. And really at its core, and possibly deeper if some of the fan theories about the backstory are to be believed, the show is about the bonding between a boy and his, admittedly, crazy grandfather. Who can’t get behind something like that?

I’ll admit, this show is not for everyone. It is offensive, often times seemingly crazy and random (bordering on Dadaist sometimes), and has it’s share of crass humor. However, if you every had the feeling that the world around you is fundamentally unhinged or that our nature as humans owes more to the irrational than the rational as Aristotle thought, then you may have found your new addiction.

What Makes Life Worth Living: Finding Meaning in a World that Lacks Any

What Makes Life Worth Living: Finding Meaning in a World that Lacks Any

At the end of my first post, I posed the question of why not, in the face of our mortality, simply do whatever we feel like, in essence just turning the world into one giant orgy of violence and unending pleasure. Today, I’d like to get back to that question but, more importantly than just saying why this is bad, m’kay, I’d like to tell you a bit about what I think does make life worth living. So let’s begin. M’kay?

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Blood orgies are bad. M’kay?

First of all, using the senselessness of life as a means of justifying acting like a jackass is incredibly irresponsible and cowardly. You hear this kind of evading of responsibility in the great philosophical aphorism of our day:

YOLO

“YOLO,” or, “You Only Live Once,” is a, “Carpe Diem,” for the club age. Not surprisingly, you can find it being uttered before acts of stupidity and recklessness. But such recklessness and pursuit of highs is all just in the service of avoiding the reality of our situation, the reality of our pain, the reality that we’re all on the same rickety ship bound for the stygian depths. But what is wrong with not wanting to see the reality of our situation, the helplessness of mortality, and the inevitable end that awaits us all? Why shouldn’t we run towards whatever pleasures and experiences will shield us from this existential pain?

The use of extreme forms of experience are essentially tantamount to suicide. Sure the body continues to live but can the same be said of the mind? Short answer: no. Long answer: At a certain point extreme experience, including pleasure, is actually a numbing agent. Believe it or not, we do not have an infinite capacity for feeling. Past a certain point, emotions and sensations lose definition, break down, and we no longer really feel anything. We become literally overwhelmed and go numb. String together enough of these experiences and you can keep yourself in a state of excitable numbness where you don’t have to think or worry. But why is this a bad thing?

A simple reason for why keeping ourselves numb to the reality of our lives is not a stellar idea is that it makes the maintaining of a comfortable level of numbness the center of our lives, in effect, making us the center of everything. All that matters is that we’re comfortable. All that matter is that we’re happy. Screw you and your pain. Screw the fact that you are a scared, lonely creature living on a rock in space destined to die and just trying to live on the best terms you can. Screw you all. All that matters is I’m comfortable and comfortably numb. All that matters is the high and seeing if there’s a way to get even higher.

So throwing it all to the wind and doing whatever we want regardless of the consequences isn’t a good option. In that case, what can we say is worth living for in a world that lacks meaning? Why is anything worth doing?

The simplest explanation for why bother doing anything is just as senseless as our existence. We do things because that is what we do. Wow. That was simple. And a little unsatisfying. But it is what it is. Why does a plant grow? Why do fish swim? Why do oxygen and hydrogen atoms form bonds? Because it is in their nature. Our nature is no different than other living things. To be alive is to be active in some form, to use energy to do work in some way. A lot of the work we have to do is focused on survival but we are also naturally curious, naturally prone to wondering, and naturally creative. We are also naturally selfish, naturally stubborn, and naturally prone to building belief systems based on faulty observations about the world. No we’re not perfect, but as living things we are active. Of course, this leads to the question of what is worth doing? What kinds of things are worth our time on this planet?

Going along with my post series about humility (Here are links to Part 1, 2, 3, 4 if you’d like to catch up on that.), I’d argue that those things worth doing are those things that are bigger than ourselves, that are not about ourselves but about others or that serve some cause that extends beyond us. I feel like it’s important to be careful with my wording here since it is far too easy to go from the concept of serving something bigger than oneself to serving dangerous causes. As the brilliant French-Algerian philosopher Albert Camus said:

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This is another big part of what makes something worth doing: it improves or in some way enriches the lives of others. Again, those things that shift our attention away from ourselves to the big picture of existence, to the existence of others, are worth our time, our energy, even our pain. But why, if we are so insignificant, are we to place significance on others, others who are just as insignificant? Well, it’s not that it’s all about them. It’s just that it’s not all about you. It’s also that putting yourself above others, being dominant over others and always placing ourselves as priority number one, is just a way of aggrandizing your own ego, a way to hide your nature as a decaying meat puppet from yourself. Self aggrandizement and self absorption also completely deny the fact that everyone else is suffering as well. Everyone around you is also in some kind of pain. So why not take a little interest in the suffering of others? It’ll certainly help you take your mind off yourself for a while. However, before getting to the last point I want to make, let me take a brief aside and tell you what I’m not telling you to do.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m telling them to be a martyr and hold delusions that they’re going to save the world or that they should even try. Guess what, this is just another example of self aggrandizement. By and large, we as humans can barely save ourselves. You aint saving nothing.

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I can make this joke because I’m Italian. So vafanculo.

You can’t save the world. Nobody can. The world doesn’t need saving. It’s going to keep doing what it has been doing. People are going to keep doing what they have been doing: being kind, stupid, perverted, cruel, funny, altruistic, and everything in between. The last thing the world needs is another wide-eyed idealist flapping his gums about utopias. You might know one of our species’s most famous utopian idealists. I’ll give you a hint. He had a silly mustache and he wasn’t Charlie Chaplin.  See how well that turned out? So no, you’re not going to, “save the world,” but you don’t have to. You just need to try to be a decent human and treat your fellow humans with a modicum of respect and compassion. See, that’s not that hard. If anything, it’s a lot easier than all the work it takes to try to change the whole world and save everybody on it.  Just a little more compassion, a little more listening, a little more seeing if we can be of service to others, a little more keeping our God damn mouths shut. That’s all it takes. Which brings me, mercifully, to the last point about why we don’t all jump in the big orgy pile.

Simple pleasures. That’s right. Simple pleasures have more lasting impact than any fast-paced high we might get from chasing extremes.

“But wait!” you say while flapping your arms like a goose in the middle of a seizure, “You said pleasure was bad!”

While I admire your zeal and funky fowl dance moves, I am going to have to insist you stop before a duck tries to mate with your face and I’m forced to record it and put it online. Also there is a big difference between a simple pleasure and the ecstatic abandon that comes from always chasing the next high. We’re able to appreciate simple pleasures in a different way, a slower way. Not only that but we are forced to consider that this moment will pass. Built right into the experience is the experience of transience, that the moment is slipping away from us. There is something wonderful about that. But it’s not just impermanence that lends simple pleasures their impact. These little moments, in a way, transform the world. The simple pleasures, like good food, time with family and friends, a sunset, a child laughing, are able to connect us to our humanity. It breaks through the biases and filters and reaches down into some fundamental aspect of ourselves. We connect with the world and others in a more genuine, authentic way. The world, for a moment, is presented to us in a new way and we are made new as well.

So there it is. You can run behind and under all the pleasures your body can take but you’re still going to die. So instead, try to do those things that are bigger than yourself, so long as they do harm towards none, and enjoy the wonderful simple pleasures of life. If you can do that, you may find that the world that you thought was so humdrum is actually a great deal more interesting than you’d thought.