The world is full of annoyance and “noise” in the statistical sense. Meaningless “stuff”, which in the bigger picture it is best to ignore. To shrug,walk away from. Forget.
Charged by angry bullocks on a local footpath I inquired as to the landowner, thinking to make, if not a complaint exactly, then at least a quiet remonstration lest others might not escape so lightly.
I asked a fellow walker and discovered the owner was none other than a local big-shot intent on desecrating this beautiful area by building 4,000 houses in the middle of nowhere.
Perhaps the fellow needs a new Bentley? A second fur coat for his wife? A servant to put toothpaste on his toothbrush? Who knows. It is odd he should want to piss on his own doorstep (the dreaded new town is but a stone’s throw from his ancient and beautiful walled estate). Perhaps he intends to collect his lottery winnings and go and ruin some other part of the country and somebody else’s life.
The kind lady told me she and her husband are members of the Green Party, which is one of a number of organisations campaigning against the monstrosity, and I was briefly haunted by old thoughts, dead ambitions.
Join Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Take up the banners, fight for what I believe in. Combat greed and greedy people. Help the poor. Feed the needy, free the oppressed.
And then I was struck by the futility of such action. Human nature will not change. Greed will always be our prime motive and if it means shitting on your neighbor or his doorstep, well if you don’t do it, someone else certainly will.
If that sounds unconstructive and selfish, if that sounds defeatist and destructive then have yourself a Carl Sagan moment. A Pale Blue Dot sartori. Think of this tiny, insular, silly little planet stuck in the middle of nowhere in a possibly infinite multiverse. Does any of it really matter?
99% of all species which ever existed here are now extinct. We too shall pass. So will Mr Big Shot and all the other Big Shots. So will the poor and the oppressed and the needy.
You are watching a huge, slow moving river flow. The river of time. There are horrors, injustices. There is poverty and hunger. Torture and murder.
In that context is it really worth getting excited about a new housing estate? Is it really worth getting fussed about anything at all?
Thousands of years of philosophy and religion, some good, some bad, have tried to make a dent, an impression. To turn the tide, to create a Utopia. Or a hell, a dystopia.
I am reminded of Harry Lime looking down from the Ferris Wheel in post war Vienna. Would it really matter if those distant dots on the ground “stopped moving forever”?
Well I am not selling penicillin and I don’t want those dots to stop moving. I don’t want beauty spoiled, the rich to inherit the earth or the poor to be oppressed.
But it will all happen with or without anything I may do. Or not do.
So on reflection, I will let it pass. I will wish well to those who have the strength to fight against the tide. But I will let the “ten thousand things” move on without me. I will listen to the white noise, the cosmic radiation background and move on.
I will recognize that we are all mere noise. And so is everything we do.
I have some sympathy with this position, but I think it misses a very important consideration, which is that there are different contexts in which our judgements are – and should be – made. Just because everything will end is not a reason to imagine that permanent global holocaust doesn’t matter, or the human species at some point developing decent social systems before our inevitable demise is pointless. Just because a person will die is not a reason to imagine their life spent suffering is the same as their life spent in fulfillment and pleasure. Just because there’s no objective moral law isn’t a reason to think good and bad don’t exist. None of these things matter in some ultimate sense (as far as we know, and we may be wrong), but you cannot deny that many things matter to you, as they certainly do to me. You’re apparently feeling a lack of strength to stand up for your moral values, coping with that by wishing well those who are feeling stronger, having yourself a nihilist moment. A lot of us are feeling powerless these days. We’re waking up to how screwed we are, how screwed we’re constantly being by the Big Shots. Hopefully that’ll pass.
Perhaps I simply have a deeply pessimistic outlook on life.
It’s about escaping the wheel of existence, for me at least. While physically stuck for a fleeting moment in a human body I choose, mentally, to be elsewhere. In a non existent realm of my own making where there is sunshine and birdsong, chanting and ancient choral music. Where I can wander through beautiful countryside and along beaches oblivious to the mess we have created.
Where salesmen do not exist, nor savage and pointless political parties. Where poverty, violence and misery have no part to play and where in the words of Gerard manly Hopkins:
“no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
Hi Anthony, now I have even more sympathy with your position – “salesmen”, “savage and pointless political parties”, “poverty, violence and misery”…
We’re quite alike in many ways. I guess is must come down to the optimism-pessimism spectrum to a great degree. I have a friend who’s been suicidal most of his life, and he amazes me just how little he really enjoys of life, and how much he suffers from its ills. I wonder, can we not make a choice to focus more on the positive things in life and less on the negative, since they’re both part of life.
What I don’t quite get is the desire for nothingness (assuming the “escaping the wheel” isn’t a mystical vision of being in some heavenly state). The birdsong and ancient choral music only come as a package deal with the noise pollution, the sunshine comes with the rain. Lose the pain of life, and you only lose the joys too. Learn to endure them stoically and they lose their grip on us. Work to increase the joy in life for all, and those pleasures become greater.
Your description of some of the pleasures make me more determined to spend time in the woods this year, and maybe on a beach.
My entire 63 years has been blighted by depression, often severe. Although never disabling. Thank heavens. Yes, the optimism – pessimism spectrum has defined my life.
Oddly enough although my article may sound nihilistic it was not supposed to. Although I confess to always having had a somewhat nihilistic and anarchic attitude to human society.
Escaping the wheel is indeed, for me, a search for a better state of mind. Where I can take all with equanimity. Not necessarily bliss but a state of mind where I can simply laugh and let go of life’s absurdities and the ghastliness at so many of one’s fellow men.
Curiously, far from being written in a state of existential despair, the article represents a state of near nirvana such as I have rarely experienced. I may still express myself in a nihilistic fashion but in fact I have never felt better.
This afternoon I walked and snoozed on Sandwich Bay – mile upon mile of golden beach and shingle with no one on it.
To be quite blunt my vastly better mood over the last few months is largely the result of a calculating, careful and sober exploration of psychedelics.
Much has been written about their apparently healing powers recently and I am beginning to witness the truth of the research by the likes of UCL and John Hopkins. Early days, but I am optimistic.
The fact of the matter is I am determined to enjoy every day as if it were my last. To watch the grass grow and smell the flowers.
I am equally determined however that I can not campaign or help anybody in particular except by writing. I just don’t have the energy to join Amnesty International, often as I have thought about it.
Things need to be done, ought to be done. But I am too old, too tired and too monk like to do anything about it. I guess part of achieving inner peace is to realize one’s limitations. And mine are legion.