“Spiritual (Existential) Suffering”

A very good video by Professor Anton:

On the topic of agency, yes, that’s the word I ought to stick with too instead of saying “free will.” Thought about that in relation to videos I’ve created, wishing I hadn’t put it like I did, because none of us are truly and fully free. Our minds are impacted by so much around us, by our families and wider communities and greater society and other societies, by art and popular media and music, by laws and expectations foisted upon us, by the environment and our own inborn limitations, etc. So the word “agency” holds much more water here and gets the idea across more accurately that we do possess however much power and can choose to whatever extent to act on it.

The rest of the video hit on so many good points. On the topic of the afterlife, I’ve personally never had a whole lot of use for the notion, though I do play with the idea at times. My Grandma very strongly believes in heaven and has a tough time imagining hardly anyone winding up in hell after dying, her Christian views being a bit more compassionate and merciful than what we typically see in the mainstream. But the way she tells it is you have to work on improving conditions in this life where you’re able so as to be admitted to heaven, or to at least have “God” be proud of you and satisfied with what you’ve tried to do. That’s an important aspect of the religion that unfortunately seems to be falling to the wayside now that people are jumping on the Evangelical bandwagon that directs more attention toward recruiting more followers and impacting legislation. In the case of the Evangelicals many seem to believe they are simply destined to a heaven in the afterlife due to asking their “Lord” for forgiveness, and I used to watch the hypocrisy in this assumption play out in my hometown down South where people would behave awful toward one another all week, spreading lies and gossip, fighting and fucking each other’s partners, then go into church on Sundays and ask forgiveness, only to walk out feeling like they have a clean slate they can go back to scribbling hell on. That’s a damaging way of looking at it and it lets people off the hook, so to speak. And it’s attitudes like that that poison what remains of major religions.

But me personally, I won’t claim to know anything one way or the other about the afterlife, assuming there is such a thing. For all I know our souls will wind up reincarnated into other lifeforms, or perhaps will dim with our dying bodies and serve the earth as worm food. I’m okay with either possibility. But we won’t know until we’re there, and by then it’s too late to come back to share the news with others. So, I do tend to turn my attention to right here on earth and the question of what it would mean to create hell or heaven on earth. In my thinking, hell appears like a much more concrete reality than heaven — as in the formation of hell being well within our grasps. Whereas I see heaven as more of an ideal we aspire toward and perhaps can never fully arrive at, and that’s okay, because it’s through that striving and the diligence required that our lives become infused with meaning and purpose, both individually and collectively. In other words, the notion of creating a sort of heaven on earth calls for vigilance and a mind toward both justice and mercy, and that means challenging ourselves deeply and honestly as well as one another. Heaven in this sense becomes about a process, not a place or a destination. It’s a working toward that if we don’t remain mindful of, we default back to heading in the other direction which culminates in the creation of hell on earth.

Think about it like this: hell can be brought about by not giving a damn, by not lifting a finger, by walking right past injustices without caring to take notice, by allowing apathy to block our hearts and minds. We can create hell by simply being selfish to the point of ceasing caring about the welfare of others, or by trying to force our will onto all others. This is what is meant by the idea that the paths leading to hell are wide and varied, as opposed to the path leading to heaven being narrow. This proverbial path to aspire toward the creation of heaven on earth requires effort, introspection, and care taken, whereas we can travel on the roads to hell as passive passengers. Do you see how that works? The formation of something like heaven on earth can’t be achieved by sitting back and doing nothing or by hiding our heads in the sand, though such approaches can easily help push us toward creating hell. Different paths calling for totally different strategies and levels of cognizance. At least that’s how I’ve come to see it.

But then I try never to forget that the road to hell can also be paved with good intentions. What this means, I think, is that we can be misguided and biased and thereby blind to the potential consequences of what we’re aiding and abetting. Plenty of ideas seem good on the surface, but when we scratch deeper we realize how dangerous they might be if manipulated in the hands of people lacking integrity and fortitude and who are more interested in serving their own selves at the expense of others.

A modern example of this was president George W. Bush expanding the powers of the executive branch of government disproportionately, under the guise of protecting our nation after the 9/11 attacks. For plenty of people, many in my own family, this seemed to them the right thing to do at the time, and they turned away from the warnings that future presidents will be able to utilize that expanded power as well, and that once power is attained it does not concede itself. Meaning future presidents might be tempted to use such power in even more horrific ways, and that sets up an even tougher battle for citizens going forward to get a leash back on our governmental system. Now, I could go deep and wide into this topic and level all sorts of criticisms against G.W. Bush and Obama and other presidents who came before them who also helped paved the way for this, but I’ll save that for another time. The important point here is that knee-jerking into going along with self-serving schemes in the short-run can lead to travesties on down the line, and this is why we must remain vigilant and strive to become as well-rounded as we’re able in order to seek balance in our minds so that we can question our motives and intentions and protect the principles that matter most. And we Americans have roamed a long ways from home in that respect.

Hell, for me, involves slavery of various forms because humans wind up reduced down to utilitarian value — objects serving others’ ends. This necessarily causes me to be critical of any and all economic schemes and political setups, as well as the direction of civilizations in general. And it is because of considerations like this that I dream of what I’ve referred to as “10,000 communities and clans going their own ways,” because it opens up so many possibilities and allows for innovative approaches to governance and trading and resource allocation and utilization. A one-size-fits-all, top-down approach cannot do this — it is authoritarian by its very nature and morphs to become totalitarian as more and more power is centralized. It is forceful and coercive and demands conformity, even (or perhaps especially) when it is corrupt and leading its citizens toward demise.  I try to dream outside of that box in wondering what power we might have and how we might could use it going forward. How we might create saner lives through the formation of saner communities that are held together by saner objectives.

But when societal change doesn’t look likely to occur in a real and positive way during my lifetime, I turn my attention to what I’m doing and who I’m affecting — what is within my sphere of influence. And here I’ve made many mistakes and hurt myself and others, and it is a very heavy burden to carry. But I believe if we hold on to one another with love, that’s something. If we can help one another get through this life and do what we need to do and stand up for what we need to stand up for, that’s something, and it isn’t trivial. Gotta start somewhere. Even when we fail, gotta get back up and gotta keep walking on. Nobody promised us a rose garden… If we don’t grow it, who will? If we don’t try, who might? If we can’t love, we’ll never fully appreciate the “thou” in ourselves and others. And without that, the sacred is diminished and we keep sliding toward hell on earth.

The bitterness and pain is nearly impossible to block out some days, but it’s not a punishment put on us so much as it’s just a fact of life that calls for a courageous response, hard as that is. So much is easier said than done, especially when we do not know where to apply our efforts and we’re injured so thoroughly spiritually and psychologically that all we want is comfort and escapism. That’s the present dilemma as I see it. It’s a tough call, and courage doesn’t come easy. We suffer, yet we have to be mindful of how pain pays forward. We have to be mindful of what we’re doing if ever we are to break the chain so as to create something else in its place. And we do need support from one another as we reckon with this reality and what it’s asking of us. That boils it back down to being about love and recognizing the needs of the soul (as Prof. Anton mentioned, the difference between “sickness of the soul” and “health of the soul”).

Unfortunately some folks out there are too embittered to do anything but laugh at a message such as this, believing it to be naive rambling of little consequence. But they likely are blind and biased — there is no reasoning with them. If they are to be won over, if that’s even a possibility, it will have to come through our works commanding respect. Basically showing them another way so that they might be touched by it and not just words on the subject. This is why love matters — it’s about devoting time and energy to one another, trying to learn more about one another, honoring the inherent worth of one another, and thereby creating a draw for cooperation going forward. If we continue trying to use one another to serve our own ends, we harm each other and break people’s spirits and cause them to distrust us, because they know underneath it all we do not really care about them. They are just fodder intended to serve our own interests and nothing more, and that is a form of slavery. If others recognize themselves as disposable in our eyes, we have harmed their spirit and undermined their value and contributions, and that is not fair. More than that, it’s poisonous and generates apathy in people aiming to escape that sort of reality. And on and on it will go until we pay heed and work toward breaking the chain as we are able.

It is a very sad day over here, so I expect to do a lot of writing in days to come. This is my therapy, my reaching out, my attempt to connect my dreams and understandings with others. Something tells me this is the only way to heal what ails us, and a broken heart goes a long way in demonstrating how painful existence can be. Life’s hard enough and always will be, so I try in my own way to strike at the root of those entities and systems that are proving toxic and further damaging to our social relations. It’s all I know to do at this point in my life, small as my ambitions may appear. But I am one person, and this is my life, and these are my loved ones, and dammit, we do matter. We work with what we have.

A dialogue between Professor Corey Anton and Stefan Molyneux from 2011

A dialogue between Professor Corey Anton and Stefan Molyneux from back in 2011:

Watched it once a while back, but tonight watching it again, paying closer attention now that I’m more familiar with Stefan’s positions after having watched several of his videos over the last many months.

Pausing at 16:34, yes, Prof. Anton was getting at there what I’m wondering about too. “Why do people become so slavish to institutions?” A top-down approach will never prove sufficient, not unless the plan is to someday turn us into droids, maybe require us all to be on prescribed drugs or find ways to genetically alter future generations (good luck with such a scheme and all that can and will go wrong with it). If we’re to exist as free individual agents with autonomy and power to live productive, meaningful lives, then it really does boil down to each of us individually, because an authority can not live our lives for us, and why would we want it to? Authorities and economies cannot provide all moral guidance, and again, why would we even want them to?

Yes of course each individual is molded by the culture(s) they are raised in and who they’re raised by and all the institutions and other external factors that shape reality as we experience it. And that’s where we run into the problem of the paradox: people are not strictly individuals nor strictly members of a collective. We are both, inescapably. It cannot be helped.

The libertarian argument has been augmented to suit modern economics and all talk of rugged individualists successfully striving for the top is a rarity-turned-myth promoted by this new narrative. It’s a fantasy that will remain very far from reality for most. This idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is overplayed but useful in shifting all responsibility onto individuals, furthering this trendy belief that all the power lies within our own selves and there’s no one to blame but oneself. It’s an oversimplification, to say the least.

Stefan does not argue along that line and clearly does acknowledge educational and social influences, but he steps in another hole that plenty of “anarcho-capitalist” atheists step in, which is placing so much emphasis on the ‘science’ end of things without paying much attention to the history of how humans have behaved socially. We are not merely bags of bones, flesh and DNA — we are hugely defined by our relationships with one another, but we also have these inner lives and drives created through who we are (as is always evolving, but beginning with our core personality traits) meeting with our environment and all entities and people in it, both directly and indirectly. In short, we’re complex creatures with complex needs and a complex history. For some to assume that human nature can be rather easily molded to fit the latest ideology is a scary proposition, and I don’t see how this might be grandly accomplished except through some method of compulsion. This logic is premised on the notion that humans are significantly malleable while maintaining sane states of mind. I do not agree with that assumption. Look around and ponder it.

What Stefan is proposing is a theory that we have no way of knowing if it’ll prove successful, and the odds look to be against it on several levels, particularly when it comes to thinking people only behave violently because we are taught by authority figures to do so. That’s simply not true, and in the absence of any form of government providing some level of protection and redress for aggrieved persons, it’s going to be a painful lesson to contend with. Think corporations are going to come to our rescue? Would we even want that?

But what I think Professor Anton is getting at is us striving against some of our base-level motivations and drives and transcending them so as to become the moral beings we wish to be is the only way one truly becomes moral, because morality isn’t a top-down affair, at least not beyond superficial appearances. As much as culture and environment influences each individual, it ultimately winds up coming down to each individual’s striving.

Stefan differs from this in that he seems to believe a societal overhaul along with the creation of a new culture (somehow — that part’s never clearly explained, leaving us to wonder how the chicken will manage to come before the egg?) will impel people to do what is in the best interest of this new setup. His reasoning for this seems to be that it would be the rational thing for people to support — but how often are people all that rational is what I want to know? We have an entire history of acting irrationally on plenty of levels. In fact, it can be said that humans have never acted all that rational. But now, apparently, we’re ready to become rational. Why? Because we’re capable of reasoning and therefore should be able to assess what’s within our collective long-term best interest. This notion is predicated on the idea that we humans just keep evolving to become better and better, or at least we possess the potential to be so. And to an extent I agree — the potential does exist, potentially. Stefan’s argument seems to be hinged on this, plus the idea that people will opt for a 100% non-violent society. But on that latter point I couldn’t disagree more.

One reason being that if all others choose non-violence as their response, it leaves those with the willingness to act aggressively or violently with an advantage. They will do what the rest refuse to do — they will go on the physical offense. And believe you me, that will occur. It will always occur. We can adopt defensive strategies for dealing with it, but a non-violent strategy will render folks sitting ducks. And that’s fine if one wishes to abide by a pacifist code of ethics — go for it, but don’t expect everybody to go for it.

And I’m not sure we’d want a completely non-violent society anyway. We’re aggressive beings at times, and it’s so far proven the only effective way of handling certain disputes and violations. Stefan’s concept of non-violence extends so far as to include all coercion and force. Can there be a way to hold a person against their will without the use of force? Because they will resist with force. We’re active, physical creatures — this must be accepted. It is who and what we are at the core, and I can’t think of any way to transcend this if we are to continue to care about protecting ourselves and others (which we very much do care about).

In another video by Stefan he talks about all money being basically on debit cards where a bank or whoever, in response to a violation, has the ability to simply cut off one’s access. Now, I have trouble seeing this as much better than the use of force. We’re talking about a State-less society here so I’m unsure who decides and enforces the laws in this sort of setup (well, obviously it’s major corporations and banks, as he eludes to), but whoever or whatever does wields an awful lot of power, more than any entity really does today. Because there he’s envisioning all money going digital and all purchases requiring some sort of card or chip, all of this taking place within a corporate wonderland. Those with the power to control access to money control everything. They control all of society and nothing really stops them from coercing us, especially not if we’re all set on remaining non-violent.

Ya’ll tell me, how does the logic go here? How might people maintain power to keep mammoth corporations in check in the absence of any form of government? Some major corporations today are already proving more powerful than nation-states, and we’re seeing what they’re driven to do.

I must agree with Prof. Anton that it seems that logic is predicated on some sort of Social Darwinist theory, which is potentially dangerous. This is where all talk of evolution winds up troubling me a bit, because the reality is, counter to what some folks like to believe, that how we best adapt to a given environment doesn’t always turn out to be in humanity’s long-term survival interests. We’re not just ascending ever higher and higher, even though it appears right now our technology indeed is.

To be returned to at a later date…