Wrapping up 2013 with a thought exercise

It’s been a strange year, but no stranger than plenty of others. Been doing some serious reckoning in my personal life that needs to be done.

Holy shit, it’s amazing how much we apes fuck up living. And here I’m talking to myself primarily. There’s been plenty I don’t regret doing, but still there are a number of regrets. People like to flippantly say: “Well, learn from them and move on. Don’t make the same mistake twice.” But most of my fuck-ups are originals, though when it comes to some shit I’ve had the sense to learn vicariously through others instead of testing the waters myself. For example, hard drug use — we all know how pitiful crack, heroin, and meth users commonly wind up looking and behaving, so why venture down those avenues when they so obviously lead to dead ends?

But when it comes to gray matters, life gets much trickier to navigate. Innocent people get hurt. “Good” people do wrong at times. Loyalties get tested, and hearts get broken. Such is the human melodrama we call life.

No human is an island though, so we do not ever act completely on our own, seeing as how we are each a product of our genetics combined with social conditioning. When it comes to forming a human’s personality, the first four years of life prove crucial. Then as we grow and learn the customs of our society and butt up against its traditions and people’s expectations, we are molded and motivated respective to our personality traits. We receive inputs from our environment all the time, much of which we aren’t capable of consciously recognizing and critically assessing.

There seem to be two popular camps out there in society: those who believe the individual is all-powerful and therefore ultimately responsible for all that happens to them and for what they become, and those who argue that everything is biologically determined and therefore cannot be corrected through the expression of “free will.” Both are fatalistic and based on cherry-picked theories and information; both leave so much out of the picture.

Humans are a paradox all unto ourselves. We are both and then some. Our agency is limited by the societies we live within and the people we come up against, as well as the psychological influences that have effectively impressed on our minds. We are free agents in a sense, yet bound by the collectives we depend upon for survival in the complex systems we’re caged within. That means one’s freedom cannot help but be limited by social consequences. Yet we live in unprecedented times with technology having come to rule our lives, saturating our culture and delivering information overload of all kinds and sorts to anyone and everyone who can’t (or won’t) find a way to tune out.

We impress upon each other. We each possess the power to have a tremendous impact on others. And look at how we use this ability. This at least in part has to do with how our psychologies are being manipulated. Whether this is being done intentionally or unintentionally in pursuit of profits is of little consequence at the end of the day — what matters is how we are being affected and how difficult it is to avoid or escape negative exposure.

People like to talk about the matrix — where here it is, all around all of us, even those who think they’re somehow outside of it simply because they recognize its existence. People like to get caught up in “conspiracy theories” when it comes to this subject, but we waste time mired in dealing with such concerns. Perhaps a better use of our time is devising ways to subvert and undermine what is causing us so much harm. Unfortunately so many refuse to see it, some aim to defend this status quo, some are too fearful, some prefer to intellectualize ’til dawn, some prefer to entertain themselves to death, and many are so damaged they wouldn’t know where to start. Besides, how does one fight the wind?

Looks like there’s nowhere to run these days and few options for hiding. Escapism has become all the rage. So many of us are licking our wounds and defensively spitting at one another, because one other is who we have ready access to. Figured out how to divide ourselves into neo-tribes so that we can lob around blame, when in reality we’re all culpable accessories to what’s become of us and our society.

But then again, we were born into this long after that ball got started rolling. We came up within this and took in what it provided, most especially its educational framework and its media influences. Nearly everything’s being directed by the money game, even when that results in unnecessary pain and problems, even when it drives us crazy and reduces the sense of purpose to living. The sacred has been shattered and contorted into weapons to be used against us. Psychology manipulated so as to usher in a new religion, this time secular and centered around economic and high-up power concerns.

That’s at least one way to briefly explain what’s going on today. We’re being made to loathe our human nature due to witnessing how disgusting it can be when effectively manipulated and coerced. We find out most of us are sell-outs on some level(s). It’s become glaringly apparent what opportunists we can be and what capacity for cruelty we possess. We’ve discovered ourselves to be slick snakes in the shadows and cowards in broad light, much as we hate to admit it. We’ve learned that much that’s been deemed “good” or “bad” is entirely subjective and far more complex than the black-and-white oversimplifications we lazily seek refuge with. We feel trapped and frustrated.

Optimists like to pipe up with criticism for outlooks like this, but let it be known that I haven’t lost all hope. Just trying to accept what I can and cannot control and figure out where to focus my own attention and energies. Fundamental changes begin inside the individual, but we have a lot working against us, most especially our own selves due to our conditioning.

This is a never-ending inquiry. All I can be certain of right now is that there are people I love deeply and I possess the power to hurt and hinder as well as help. The reason why people outside of my loved ones matter is because we all share this society and impact one another in everything we do. When pain pays forward, it loops around and around and eventually can make its way over to those we care most about protecting. The best protection isn’t laws but rather opting to work toward becoming better people. But here again we meet the paradox presented by game theory where such a strategy only works when all parties involved are cooperative, because otherwise the opportunists gains an advantage over cooperate players. But if we respond with reciprocity in all cases, we risk creating unnecessary harm where mercy was needed, and that again generates more pain to pay forward. And those who are seriously emotionally and psychological damaged (and there are many) are already behind the 8-ball in terms of reckoning with all this shit and responding morally (however that is defined).

It’s a crazy loop. No good deeds go unrewarded, and to fight back non-violently in acts of love for humanity in our hearts is to be treated like a martyr. Not that that’s necessarily so terrible, considering the alternatives. But isn’t it odd that taking the life-affirming stance can wind a person up in a situation where their own lives may be negated? Which appears to be what heroics is all about. It calls for a sacrifice of the self, not for other people necessarily though perhaps them as well, but rather for the sake of upholding principles that higher beings will “devolve” into the abyss without.

I look out on society and see the idiocracy taking shape. We the proles are screwed into the indefinite future. We have no alternatives to retreat to and don’t seem particularly interested in creating any. Too busy grumbling with one another over relatively petty shit. Too busy aiming to obstruct one another and pandering to our own desires.

Makes me think of Joseph Campbell imploring us to “follow our bliss,” which is to say where our spirits lead us through our intuitive sense.  He wrote books about heroism and the journeys we’re on in creating meaning in our existence. Because that’s the human need overall, to construct workable narratives we can embark on living life with in a purposeful way. Such is life. That higher ideal pertains to the realm of that we like to call “God,” making this an individual pursuit in terms of carrying out what we believe we’re called on to do. Certainly helps to belong to a social sphere that supports such an objective, but it’s a luxury heroes of today may have to learn to operate without. And that makes navigating in this life all the more tricky.

It’s a conundrum that likes to circle around and around. Guess it depends on one’s vantage point at any given time. And I’m falling asleep trying to type this. Bedtime.

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