Saturday, May 19, 2012

Three Big Problems And Some Ubsubstantiated Theories On How To Handle Them

Aside from the anxiety that comes with finding my own personal path in life, there are also three big existential problems that occasionally infiltrate my egocentric inner monologue and leave me somewhat paralyzed. Here now, are those problems, which I think we all struggle with in one way or the other, and how I manage them when they become...problematic.

1. I and everyone I know is going to die, and we are probably going to do it by way of a prolonged deterioration of both physical and mental capacity.

Because I am a godless heathen death itself isn't actually that troubling to me. I won't exist anymore so really, my death is everyone else's problem. I do however have some pretty serious apprehensions in regards to eventually losing my memory, my sight, and my ability to function independently. It is the same problem that every single person on earth has, which does comfort me, but there is really no reconciling that anxiety when it strikes. Even more troubling is that this is also going to happen to everyone I love and in most cases I'm going to have to watch. It's all very upsetting but at the same time, I feel like a jerk whenever I worry about it because technically, dying of old age is what we all hope for, and there are a lot of people who don't make it there. Cancer is tragic. Murder is tragic. Dying of old age isn't pretty, but it is the best case scenario in its own morbid way.

I once took a course in Psychological Anthropology. In one lecture we were discussing pharmaceuticals in different cultures (and how really, alarmingly ahead of everyone else America is in the pill-popping race) and the professor brought up the eastern notion of approaching life with a "wistful melancholy" instead of expecting happiness and feeling like sadness is a failure. It's a lovely and poetic term that to me meant the idea of giving yourself permission to be at ease with life's inherent sorrow. I realized that part of the reason I feel so terrible when this issue of mortality and old age comes up is because I want to be compassionate, and somewhere wrapped up in my definition of compassion is an obligation to fully internalize other people's pain and suffering. This isn't wrong but it isn't necessarily helpful, either. Empathy is important in comforting other people so one can't shirk the issue altogether, but I don't think anyone feels any better when you fall apart in front of them no matter what the circumstance. The same goes for out of context moments of death related worry. If I start fretting about death and dying, and if that fretting turns into panic and paralyzation, I'm really not of any use to anyone, least of all myself. I guess my point is that when this issue arises, and I feel myself starting to panic about it, I try to call on "wistful melancholy". This at least calms me down and allows me to carry on with my life while still embracing the issue so it doesn't catch me off guard when this philosophical dilemma eventually manifests in a concrete way.

2. No matter how many friends, romantic relationships, or pets I accumulate, no matter how much I travel or how often I blog, I am only ever going to understand a tiny sliver of the human experience.

Sometimes I'll be in my room folding laundry and suddenly the rest of the world and all of the people in it feel like an abstraction that I can't ever touch. There is a distance between our innermost selves and rest of the world that we can't really cross. It's easy enough to ignore this little problem doesn't really matter and the alternative in which we can peer into each other's consciousnesses is highly unsettling as well. I suppose I'm talking about every intellectuals favorite philosophically pliable entity; that of "The Other". Really, The Other is everything which is not ourselves, but it can also be everything that is not LIKE ourselves. Anything we consider to be an extension of ourselves is with us in our definition of normal and safe and what is Other is unknowable and distinctly separate. We can enter into a conversation with The Other but we can never really cross that distance and be with them in sameness. That just really sticks in my craw. I don't want to just sit around in my little sphere of me-ness assuming that I'm right about everything. Actually, I do want that but when I think about it I don't want to want that and that fact that I do want that makes my brain hurt.

One of the reasons I became an English major is because I view literature as the ultimate record of the human experience. I don't really trust history because it has to be written by someone and one culturally chauvinistic historian can really screw with perspective. Narrative speaks for itself. A book written by a homicidal racist rapist will still reveal something about the time he was writing in. Of course those revelations are usually subjective and pose certain threats to empirical knowledge, but that's not my problem. The Other exists in the past as well and it's much easier to get to. But the past is easier to analyze. Today I feel like I am a step behind progress all the time and there are Others of all kinds out there up to shit that I know nothing about and probably never will. It's irksome.

"Solution": Move to New York City. Question: True of False: New York is a physical incarnation of cultural consciousness. Answer: I don't know but it's comforting to think that it might be. If all kinds of people from all around the world know about New York City and have some idea of what it represents, even if that idea is completely nostalgic and silly, then the idea of living there makes me feel better. I have a lot of other reasons for moving there so I'm not a complete psycho but this is part of it. I like having the option to at least close the gap between myself and Others physically, if not consciously.

*Note: I actually only think about this kind of thing like....2% of the time. After reading this I got a picture of myself swooping around Manhattan grabbing people by shoulders and just staring them in the eyes for 20 seconds and then moving on. It was hilarious but that won't happen. The Other is a good catch all term but I am aware that using it too often makes one certifiably creepy.

3. Me getting everything I want in life is possible, but my happiness is entirely irrelevant to the greater good of humanity.

A house of some kind, a husband, a baby or two, some pets, some expendable income and a decent metabolism. My idea of a contented existence is simple and I have all of the physical and socioeconomic prerequisites to assume that I will have all of these things as long as I don't fuck up at work too badly, get my face fucked up in a fire, or develop a fetish for meth addicts. Because there is no reason why I shouldn't get these things I am inspired to try my best to get them. I see a generally happy future for myself no matter what ups and downs might happen along the way. Expect the best, plan for the worst, as they say. Most people on earth don't have the luxury of adopting such a smug little attitude towards their future. I can't even comprehend the levels of suffering in the world because I honestly can't think of a bad thing that has happened to me that didn't have a silver lining of some sort. Unfortunately happiness isn't transferable. Even if I donate money to help those most in need I can't actually donate any of my high standard of living and even if I gave up that standard it wouldn't really help anyone. There's always something. I'm not an engineer or a doctor and my skills are really only useful to other people like me. My personal success is useless when it comes to making the world a better place. But most of the time this doesn't occur to me and being an activist just isn't in my future unless something really drastic changes. I'm just getting started and I want what I want and to get it I need to hoard what I have and be selfish. It's the way it's gotta be but it makes me feel pointless, which actually doesn't bother me as much as you might think, but it's a problem for me none the less.

"Solution": This one's got me pretty stumped. The best I can come up with is that because I am of mixed heritage I don't have to feel too bad about my ancestors being directly responsible for the post-colonial disaster zones which hold a lot of the worlds suffering. I may have some white guilt but at least I'm not English or Spanish or German.

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