Waiting For The Punch Line
Should God indeed exist, I will be relieved in a sense if He tells me my life was a joke that He amused himself with and that I could come on into Paradise and live forever in a nice neighborhood having realized I was the joke, finally in on the reason for all of that silliness. Haw, haw. That’s cool- I have some practice at being a joke. Don’t we all?
I have been a good person, deserving of a little heaven, certainly more deserving of eternal contentment than some jerks I know who get dunked in some water by a pastor and are “saved”. I have had some good times, and met the most amazing people I will ever know-my family.
And it breaks my heart to the core to accept that I will not see them after I close my eyes and stop respiring. This is the part where I become angry while wiping a little moisture from my eyes with the idea of God and his adherents.
I remember when I was in my teens, desperately searching for meaning and purpose. I had stopped attending church because no one there really became a better person for knowing Jesus. I threw away the Bible and plunged into other books. There I found different ontologies. I remember being glad that there were so many philosophies, that so many great people struggled to understand why we are here and what we are doing. It made living much easier knowing that I was in good company trying to figure that out.
One of the things often missing from life is certainty. We’re all walking around doing life as it comes, often doing it poorly, or wishing we could do something else. In American capitalism, if you are lucky, you typically get four years to study up and find a meaning or an occupation that is right for you. Chances are a real job that has nothing to do with your beliefs and skills will come along once you get your paper with the pretty seal on it and take up all the time you need to think because you’ll never be done working until you are near death. When you come home every day you have to work some more, often to get ready for the next day of work. Twelve years of school has gotten you used to that idea. Small surprise that the Job that keeps you going becomes your reason. Some people are satisfied with that, that the meaning of life is what you worked on. Add a dash of everlasting salvation from the labor by being “born again”, and your meaning is hermetically sealed up, to be challenged nevermore.
I often deride these people, because I feel they are so woefully misguided. They just stopped thinking at some point because it became too painful to consider the alternative, that you are alone in American capitalism even when you are with others. God and Jesus are easy ways to explain away everything. And they derive happiness and hope from it. I am related to some of these people.
I don’t blame them one bit. In fact, I would love to be one of them. But exposure to competing ontology is like a bell that can’t be unrung. Bye, certainty. I know just enough to be dangerous to myself. We’ve been working on what this all means well before the Hebrews were in Egypt.
If you insist on being a searcher, life’s meaning becomes much like those little Russian nesting dolls. You think you’ve got it, only to find there is more to consider, a more precise set of facts that you can’t ignore. There you go, pulling at the doll’s midsections to reveal a smaller, perhaps more exquisite version of the doll. You pull over and over until you have found the tiniest one, the one you have spent so much time getting to…
And there it sits in your palm. You are done. Not much to look at, but you now know there’s no more dolls and that’s the end of the search. But the problem really is that there’s nothing inside the tiniest doll. All that thinking, and we have very little to show for it because the whole thing, the final conclusion was made of emptiness all along.
Looking at these words, it would appear that I have become something of a nihilist. And that’s cold fucking comfort to me. I don’t even think I need to go back to Sartre, for I know well what there’s a chasm between existence and essence. At 47, a medically retired soldier under house arrest and married with two teenage boys I have found myself wondering if there really is an essence at all. I feel like the entire American capitalist system is designed to make you feel that if you aren’t working your ass off, spitting out taxpayers and speaking in tongues on Sunday you are a shit American and I can love it or leave it if I don’t like it. Jesus will reward you in the next life for that bent back.
So I am stuck, looking for a philosophy that does more than commiserate with life’s punchlines…its victims. Anyone got any good suggestions? Because I’m coming down with a bad case of thanatophobia. But who the fuck am I? Just a neurotic 21st century monkey, a spudboy looking for that real tomato. How dare I look at this family and say that life is without meaning! If it weren’t for those three, I’d probably be homeless, hungry and insane somewhere. God has no time for losers who don’t work and worship.
This is all a way of saying that I just want to count on something, something huge, find the answer to the why. But perhaps I need to remember that small somethings arrive which bring happiness here, and that is the best it gets.
Some will say that an atheist like me is angry at God.
I am. Quite furious, I’ll admit.
I am angry at Him for not existing.
And I am exponentially angry with his believers because they contrived Him so they could feel better. Christianity in American capitalism is an institution, phony like any other religion but it’s generally the one that nonbelievers here have had to contrast themselves with (and I am talking about not just heathens, I’m talking about any minority belief system). It’s the cause of the emptiness I feel because it is the one I know best that came up with the idea of eternal life. I think I feel fucking miserable because you all can’t stop thinking about The End because this life has stymied your desires and scared you half to death. You and everyone else have to be Busy. Humble. Always guilty. Kneeling in pain from the weight that only God can remove.
Had we been designed to be myopic about the end, maybe things on Earth for humanity would have been more bearable. This system I am in wants nothing more than to Die. Don’t have any thoughts otherwise or you will burn eternally or be expelled from the presence of God. And you’re taking all of us with you, those of us who wonder if life is just about Life, taking death as it comes but never fretting about it because Life is everywhere right now and I want time to touch it with all my senses, hug it and kiss every bit of it. But I am exhausted from thinking about my mortality, and bitter because there is no continuance of existence as promised, bitter because we are slaves to physics and entropy. It should be logical that I want surcease from that. But I’m not going to go crying to a creator about it, least of all the Christian one. What kind of a god makes such fucked up creatures anyway, built for living but cursed with dying? I have been given so much, and the catch is that I have to relinquish it and everything that makes it good? I’m flummoxed.
God is an Indian giver, it seems.
I don’t want to hear your remedies. I want to grin and bear it, but it is hard, brothers and sisters. I am greedy for time here, not some afterlife where I’m supposed to be happy worshipping and adulating a god, a god with the vain sensibilities of Donald Trump or the Jong lineage from North Korea.
One of the logical conclusions you can make when contemplating the whole of existence is that our evolution is a mistake; even our national religion subtly peddles the idea from jump that knowing anything is a grave error. That’s a very tempting outlook to accept, and it thrills the capitalist when you adopt it. Knowing stuff is dual-edged in nature; it can empower; occasionally it disempowers temporarily. And so we find knowledge not to be the succor we so desperately need either. Thinking itself is prone to error like a motherfucker. Lots of bad ideas out there masquerading as truth. Then again, the falsities are paradoxically what’s real, until we disabuse ourselves of the previous nested doll. Science itself is predicated on a series of misunderstandings but it has a better track record these days than religion-we’re Right and getting righter. Or are we? Arthur Koestler, author of Darkness At Noon, postulated in 1942 that knowledge (political doctrine in Koestler’s case) was not technically a linear phenomenon, which was at odds with Hegel and even Marx who both thought there was a romanticized end state to knowing. He instead described knowledge as a river, with a series of lock chambers that can be filled to capacity so the boats on them can proceed upon a higher level. Therefore, even when one has reached a new level, he is at the same time at the lowest level of the next lock. So humanity appears to start over, and morality doesn’t look a whole lot like the morality that preceded it. It in fact may be replete with some of the things that the new morality wants to end. This explains a lot of why humanity keeps destroying itself; it’s moved on to a new lock level and the same brutality we want to eventually end manifests itself again, in service of getting to the next lock. It’s as good a way as any I’ve found lately to explain why we can’t seem to eradicate evil. It became necessary to become evil in order to someday purify enough to be Good.
Do the ends justify the means? This is not a good question for a talking monkey. I wouldn’t trust me to answer right.
I hate it. Are we doomed to do this? Well, if we are, I would like it if these flashpoints, these lock chambers actually made life any better. Politically, I am a fairly hard leftist but am aware that the river of Communism is partly mixed with tons of mega-gallons of blood. There isn’t a whole lot of daylight between capitalism and Communism as practiced if you are scoring with blood, though; Ayn Rand famously said that it was morally right to take land from people who don’t know how to work, improve and most importantly, use it for profit. Even at my Randiest long ago I had problems with this. If things were right, we would be having more fun living as the work load lessened and essential tasks were left to automation. That’s what they told us after the Second World War. But that’s not what keeps happening. We’re back to torturous hours just to stay off the street and no one is getting paid for their actual production. If we were, McDonald’s workers would go home in Lexuses considering how many people they feed in a week. And even when there is nothing to do, as can be the case with modern jobs, you still have to sit there because the clock demands it and you need the money anyway. A lot of misery is balled up in this system, a lot of exploitation to keep it all going. There’s so many jobs out there that people don’t have to go to anymore per se- we’re plenty past the need to go to a building for eight hours to tap on a keyboard much like the one you have at home. But what will Ruby Tuesday do if you aren’t there to eat salad you don’t want? Those croutons are pretty good anyway. How will Shell profit if you aren’t filling up every day to go to work that you hate, and buying all that caffeine, beer and tobacco to cope? For all of our imagination, we still seem to be working on the wrong problems. It looks to me like our quality of life sucks despite all of our toys, gadgets and machines. People are still surviving, not living. And no one is doing a thing about it. The economy is supposed to work for us, but let’s face it, we are working for the economy. If you didn’t have something to Do, it would all fall to pieces. Keeping you occupied keeps the shekels flowing upward. Most of us don’t own this life-we’re renters, serfs, believing that an endless supply of choices confer freedom. You get to choose Costco over Sam’s Club, a multiplex of movies in and out of your house, a Honda or a Hyundai. These are the markers of individuality and success.
This rant is over three weeks old, and I thought it a bit too ranty even for me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to end it or what the main idea here is. It came from a place of despair and anger that I didn’t know what to do with. I’ve spent my time with worse material of my own, and while I’m on blogging hiatus I thought I’d put forth some unfinished B-team work. That’s what the pros do.