Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Earlier in the year, Chuck read a communication from a listener who seemed to wonder, since any action one takes, with whatever intention, gets coopted by the capitalist machine that contributes to destroying people’s lives, and no one, without exception, has yet been able to escape from the snare, wouldn’t it be better just to remove oneself from the Earth, in order to at least minimize one’s bad impacts on the planet, and cease the process of feeding the system with well-intentioned efforts, all of which eventually arrive at negative outcomes?
I mean, if this really is Hell, why should we continue to stay here?
I hope that listener has resolved this issue to their satisfaction. Nevertheless, should anyone else be positing similar questions about the value of carrying on, here are a few things to consider. And believe me, I need to take this mental journey as much as anyone.
In the simplest terms, if this really is Hell, then the option to leave is a red herring, and you’d probably end up somewhere even worse, or at best back where you started. And if you survive a suicide attempt (I’m assuming I’ve been coyly discussing suicide here, though I don’t really know myself that well) you will be stigmatized and possibly lose what little freedom you have. And being trapped in a mental hospital, at the mercy of a system that’s currently discussing bringing back electroshock and lobotomies, is worse than what you might be wishing to escape from.
I assume everyone agrees that it’s possible to do a modest amount of good to improve the lives of others in a small way, every day. Someone is in pain right now, and you can relieve that pain. That alone, whatever the unintended consequences down the line, is worth the price of admission.
Don’t beat yourself up for your inability to escape the moral convolutions of human existence. I mean, if you think about it, it’s an egotistical point of view. Who do you think you are, Supergirl? Jesus? Buddha? Jimmy Carter? Florence Nightingale? Leonora Carrington? Esther Freud? Esther, daughter of Mordechai? Joan of Arc? Edith Piaf? Zora Neale Hurston? All of them with human flaws, some with pretty lousy ones. Ask James Baldwin about Zora Neale Hurston some time, if you ever get reincarnated into the past, which is likely.
What I’m trying to say is, it is not humble to think of oneself too far beyond one’s immediate effects on the universe. That’s how you end up with folks with overweening ambition, like the people I could name who’ve visited actual horrible sweeping direct effects upon the innocent, like Henry Kissinger, Pol Pot... I assume you get the idea.
Even thinking in terms of achievements and direct effects at all, talking about who’s a tyrant, who’s an altruist – it’s just a bunch of dick-measuring. Weighing your results to see if you’ve got a net positive is succumbing to the commodification mindset many of us agree is threatening our species and others as well, not to mention the ones it’s already destroyed.
I’d like to give a shoutout to just existing.
Existence gives you something to think about. Stuff to experiment with. An arena in which to rehearse and perform. A piece of ground on which to stand and from which to journey hither and yon.
Look, existence is full of bastards and idiots, but it’s the only place to get a decent taco. The best books we know of are all here. The cutest cat videos. The tallest trees! The coldest planet! The bluest whale. The stinkiest cheese. The most massive black hole.
Still discouraged about how little you can accomplish and how badly it can be twisted by the overweening class? You know what the dry drunks say: Give me the strength to change what I can, the patience to endure what I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.
As it is recorded in the Mishna, Rabbi Tarfon used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.
And as good and sensible as that may sound, I say, “up yours, Rabbi. You’re not the boss of me.” Here’s my spin on Rabbi Harpoon: your duty is to realize you don’t have a duty.
You may take a duty upon yourself; good for you. You may have a duty forced upon you; whether you rise to it or fail is up to no one’s judgment but your own. No one is able to dictate the ultimate meaning, or lack of it, of a single thought, action, or breath you take.
Think about it. It’s called enlightenment. Everybody’s got at least a little.
Lest you think I’m getting too big for my britches, here’s something even worse: if you see the Buddha on the road, don’t kill him. Just go up to him, pat him on the shoulder, and say, “Dude, enlightenment, yeah, y’know, everyone feels that way sometimes. You don’t gotta make such a big deal about it, like it’s a jewel in a lotus or something. Man, chill.”
Consider the Dahlonega gold mine. Around 1880, a man with the name of Knight, like the medieval knight, discovered a vein of gold-bearing quartz twenty-two feet thick, running downhill underground at a 45-degree angle, deep, plunging below the level of the water table.
And you know what the shaft is called? The Dahlonega “Glory Hole.”
Even from as base an activity as the mad search for gold, you can end up with a shaft with a thick vein in it, plunging deep, and you are cordially invited to enter the Glory Hole. Do you know how much gold can be recovered from that ore? Why, a veritable golden shower.
This set of double-entendres was brought to you by Pride Month.
Where else can a few greedy people, 141 years ago, in Georgia, clawing for their fortune under the Earth, end up with a legacy that might make old queens of today, some of whom have had very difficult lives, giggle. Old queens and puerile essayists. Where else, but right here in good old existence?
Don’t be measuring outcomes. No need to weigh your soul against a feather, that’s someone else’s tune, Jake. This is where it’s all happenin’. This is where it’s at.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!