Friday, December 18

‘How hard it is, sometimes, to trust the evidence of one's senses! How reluctantly the mind consents to reality.’ Norman Douglas ‘Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.’ Albert Einstein (attributed)

Although this blog’s readership is small, a question that I have been asked by one of you two fine folk regards why, when the more inspirational entries are so positive and generally ‘feel good’, I consistently go back to darker and less optimistic themes?

Here is the truth of it: I do not have an overly optimistic perspective on the world we currently live in.  People will point to the accomplishments of the human species and suggest that we are marvelous, creatures of amazing ingenuity and persistence, capable of exploring and exploiting the depths and resources of our planet, able by our science, math and technology to take fledgling steps towards exploring the solar system around us physically and the universe beyond by grace of our craftsmanship and expertise. We are, by that argument, miraculous healers of the sick by evidence of the medical marvels we have wrought, and have devised complex socio-economic matrices that allow us to live in a relative state of stability in spite of the fact that we are so many on this little blue marble floating around in space.

I consider these parlor tricks. All of our accomplishments are a minor misdirection compared with what we have the potential of actually accomplishing as individuals and as a species. We are chronic underachievers distracted by a myriad of shiny objects and the ephemeral and illusory concepts of security and comfort.

So perhaps you will understand that, while I want to continually appeal to my (our) better natures, I am also motivated to address all of my (our) self-delusions and discern the reality beneath the glossy top coat that we focus on most of the time; to sweep away the distractions and get down to the reality that they camouflage.

And so I chose two quotes today because I think that, together, they form a nice concept in line with how I see the world, two parts pessimistic pragmatist and one part hopeful idealist.

Mr. Douglas rhetorically points out a simple truth: That we are inclined to deny that which we would prefer not to know; that we live in a world and by a system that is more than not perfect – it is broken. The evidence is all around us, and there are many who try to point it out to us daily, but we prefer not to hear that truth. I’m not suggesting the media here, or even most of mainstream science, and most assuredly not our political leaders, but there are some if we’re willing to look a bit, read the right books, and watch an occasional dissident documentary. Yet, for the most part, we don’t.

That’s why I tend to return to less positive themes regularly – to not do so is to deny reality. To focus on building our little cocoons of comfort, we have to actively repress the truth around us, selfishly concentrating on ‘us’ and ‘ours’, happily abdicating our power and responsibility to the less fortunate and the abject horror that constitutes most of the world around us. Not next door or around the corner perhaps, but just around the globe a bit, or even just a little closer to downtown than we usually like to look at.

That’s the reality of the world we live in. In Mr. Achebe’s words, things fall apart. The cracks get bigger and massive numbers of human lives are allowed to fall through, but we chose to buy the infotainment media lines that say, ‘Hey, it’s not perfect, but life is generally pretty good as long as we can keep the terrorists at bay and learn to survive the now-perpetual state of pandemic that the earth will be in forever and have a nice house and get our kids into good schools and buy that new car and big screen TV.’ We owe it to ourselves to be honest about these things, to face up to the truth of the ‘now’.

And then there’s Mr. Einstein with his big, revolutionary brain, cutting way past the bullshit to uncover, in fewer words and cleaner prose, the higher reality of the situation. Yes, things may fall apart; the ‘now’ may be, in truth, dismal, but it simply doesn’t have to be that way. At all.

That part of me that refuses to lie down for reality is reminded constantly that we are an amazing species; that our ability to develop new tools, greater technologies and more profound and sublime systems of empathy and compassion is barely scratched; that there are those among us who have and are capable of making sacrifices and showing the dedication required to live altruistically in service to our fellow man; and that their level of sacrifice has only been necessary because they are so few – if they were more, not even a majority of humans, but simply a significant ‘more’, a ‘we’ instead of a ‘them’, then the ability to radically change the ways and means of our selfish existence as a species would not only be within reach, e would find that it’s practically poking us in the ribs, slapping us on the face trying to get our attention.

We could end world hunger and poverty completely by spending the combined military budgets of the world for one year in a concerted effort to end inequality (but that’s not very profitable). We could end our subservience to petro chemicals completely inside of a generation if we actually utilized the extent of our available resources and technology and research and development budgets to their real potential (but that wouldn’t be very profitable either).

And most important, most significant, we could, each of us, live more generous, empathic and compassionate lives if we just chose to, just turned off the bullshit on TV and made a choice to give as much as we get, to share as much as we take: To live unselfish lives.

This blog is still about what’s going on in my head, so please understand, if the language seems to suggest that I am pointing fingers, know that I do so standing in front of a mirror. I am the first person I chose to accuse of not living up to our intrinsic potential. Like that beautiful quote I’ve blogged about by Augusten Burroughs, “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” It always starts with our selves.

I don’t foresee a specific day yet when I’ll feel comfortable elucidating on my own thoughts and can leave the quotes behind – I am still inspired by the words that better folk than me have spoken – but I am hopeful and motivated by the thought that one day I might get there. In the meantime I’ll keep Google-ing and spouting off about what the words of my betters have meant to me; how they have, perhaps, in some small way, helped me choose reality over illusion, altruism over self-interest.

And at the very least I’ll continue to know that I’m helping a couple insomniacs get their well-deserved rest at night…

(Yes, I know: The 500 word barrier is being broken more and more often. My apologies, too bad, and I've amened the disclaimer to reflect my choice to not submit to my own tyranny. J)