I’m not sure what this is going to be, I’m just going to word vomit a little about some stuff I’ve been thinking about.
So, um, life is pain. To live is to suffer. Buddhism starts there, which I think is good. I don’t think any religion originally tried to deny that life is pain, but the idea seems to be imported into Christianity with the idea that God is “omnibenevolent” as well as omnipotent and omniscient.
“God is a concept by which we measure our pain” is spot on, I think, for this reason. I think our relationship to “God” is often a way for us to make sense of suffering, really – either by trying to give ourselves the illusion of control, maybe, or maybe in the, like “screaming at the sky” trope that we sometimes do when terrible things happen to good people…
I mean, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the dominant religion of the West puts a dude who suffers unjustly at its center. The only way humans know how to make sense of this life, how to keep ourselves sane, is to imagine that maybe the most central part of the whole onion of life is suffering.
The story of Jesus is so compelling to us because it’s the story that tells us that even God suffers – and presumably, if anybody had a choice, it would be the dude we imagine as running the place, right?
So, but, to get away from the Christianity part, I think the point is… God is a metaphor for our individual relationships with existence as a whole, and an exploration of the possibility that there’s some kind of direction or teleology or purpose to… reality itself, I guess. So naturally, religion has at its center the question of suffering, and is used as a way to try and make sense of life in the context of suffering, of struggle and heartache and loss and, just… all of the shitty parts of life, even when hope wears dangerously thin and you feel like all of human progress has been built on a collective delusion that what we’re doing here matters at all, in the grand scheme of things.
That’s why the central problem of philosophy is the problem of suicide. The problem of suicide is just the problem of suffering, taken to its logical conclusion. And absurdism gets us a lot of the way to an answer, I think – although I think it probably wouldn’t be much fun if we could just do away with the problem altogether – but hell, maybe the only way to do that is to get rid of suffering altogether.
So maybe the real problem of life is just learning how to be a masochist – not in, like, a BDSM way, but like… okay. I write these for myself, so if I lose you here, I’m sorry for getting all wishy washy and feelingsy, but…
I think the main reason that life is pain is that we’re all separated from each other, so for most people, you feel hopelessly alone and fundamentally insecure and unsafe, in a way, being just one person in a world that seems not to care much for individuals. And the only way to get out of that is either to fall in love, join a religion or a cult, lose yourself in some kind of other pursuit, even if it’s just being a superfan of Doctor Who or whatever, or to get drunk, or high, or even better, to take hallucinogens that let you actually feel connected to other people and open to reality as a whole in a way that you really just… can’t, most of the time. You wouldn’t want to, really, because that feeling is also painful. As a person who actually suffered a literal stab wound for the first (fingers crossed, only) time recently, I can tell you this – it hurts a lot more coming out than it does going in. So maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor, but I guess my point is that even though it hurts to have walls around your psyche partitioning you off from the rest of humanity and making you feel alone, and afraid, and empty, and numb, and whatever else… it hurts even worse to take those walls down.
That’s why love – even when it’s awesome, can be at the exact same time, excruciatingly painful. It’s why we don’t only cry when we’re sad but also when we’re happy, and we don’t only laugh when we’re elated but also when we’re in pain.
To love life is to learn how to embrace pain. The pain of being an individual and also the pain of feeling deeply connected to other people. The pain of knowing that the greatest experiences of your life will only last for so long, and then they’ll end, and you’ll be back in the grocery store deciding what brand of toilet paper to buy. You’ll be in the middle of a sob session at 3 am because you’re drunk and you read the wrong news article from six years ago, or you’ll be hours into a headache that just won’t go away and you’ll forget how to remember that even though the best moments don’t last forever, neither do the worst ones, because pain stretches time out into this impossible, unbridgeable forever between now and when the pain stops.
I think that maybe life, love, and pain are actually all the same thing. I don’t know if I think there’s some kind of metaphysical lesson behind that, some overarching meaning to human existence that makes it all look incredibly beautiful and worthwhile from the outside looking in… but I do know it’s the only reality I’ve ever known, and that I’m still enough of a masochist to want to keep going. But I also know that I have it very easy, compared to most people who have lived throughout all of history, most people alive right now… and so maybe all I can do is make my dumb little videos and posts and try to help as many people as I can feel a tiny bit better. Or at least make myself feel better by telling myself that’s what I’m doing.
My new therapist says that the goal of therapy is to cultivate hope. And he also says that life is a problem of over-abundance – meaning we just have too many goddam options and not enough of a reason to choose one direction over another, sometimes.
There’s this philosophical dilemma called “Buriden’s ass” in which a hungry donkey is presented with two completely identical piles of hay, and with no reason to choose one over the other, is unable to make a rational decision, and starves. Based on reading the wikipedia page about this right now, this is interestingly also a problem in electronics/programming called metastability, where a circuit is forced to decide between two states based on an undefined variable.
So anyway, obviously the donkey would just pick one arbitrarily, so it won’t starve, but the point philosophically speaking is that there really isn’t a theory of rationality that can account for situations like this, which leads to all kinds of problems for decision making, actually, that get into much more complicated scenarios that I’ll maybe talk about another time, but… yeah, so, undefined variables + overabundance = a whole lot of, like, humans just kind of… making decisions about stuff because we have to, and not because we have more reasons to choose one path or another, or one toilet paper brand over another, really. We just eventually make enough of those choices that we develop more confidence in our ability to pick one path over another one, but ultimately, we really just start to feel more rational about our decisions as we get older – the decision itself doesn’t get that much more rational than a circuit choosing its next state based on a randomly programmed input set up to make it so that it won’t spend too long in an indecisive state (apparently they do that by having it default to the number value of the current time).
But, uh… yeah. Maybe the problem of suicide is a little bit like, that, too. Sure, life is suffering, but you don’t really ever know what’s going to happen tomorrow with a whole lot more certainty than you know what it would feel like to be dead. So we pick the bale of hay that’s closest, and we keep doing that until one day, if we’re lucky, we get to fall in love, and then we fall out of love or we have our hearts broken and we hurt even more than we did before because now we know what it feels like to have the walls come down, and how not every kind of pain is just pointless and shitty, but some of it can feel like jumping into a cold lake or shaving your head for no reason or doing something crazy just to remind yourself what it feels like to be truly alive.
Life might be pain, but there are a lot of different kinds of pain, I guess is what I’m saying. And I’ve just been thinking about that a lot, lately. So… there’s my little rant that sounds like a monologue from a TV show because OH MY GOD I AM SO DRAMATIC but this is just what I think about.