Tell me something not worth telling about. Something nobody would have any time to discuss or profit from in any way. Something that’s of no use to anyone. Least of all to you and me. A forgettable, ordinary piece of knowledge that won’t make you and I wiser. Or dumber. Or braver. A message that tells nothing of the messenger and without any meaning except what you make of it. Let’s pass the time killing it to achieve something unachievable and unknowable. Uncatchable. Something that makes us tired not because it’s a goal they told us to chase after but because doing something is tiring, and these bodies are made to tire. Expire. And at night we’ll sleep, close our eyes anticipating a blank slate, a new beginning where anything is possible and everything is impossible at the same time. We’re in the center of an endless white sea, or black sky–who’s to tell? We begin to confuse things until nothing makes sense, while feeling like we’re on the edge of a massive indescribable discovery. I’ll slowly walk towards you as your eyes and mine talk, sharing a coded language the greatest minds will never unlock. Because there would be nothing there and everything. I’ll see my perplexed but reassured expression in the clear mirrors of your eyes, and you will no doubt see somebody who looks like you, feels like you, but strangely unfamiliar like you, reflected in mine. And then you’ll take me to the crest of that wave of nothingness until I can’t take it anymore–the extreme shallowness and childishness of it! That innocent violence that leaks from the seams of beautiful plans! We’ll destroy the world. Their dreams. Their hopes. Their little, tiny important things. We can do it–us pieces of crumbling driftwood torn apart by the ruthless tides.
The social media industrial complex has been telling us how to define ourselves, shaping our minds and our beliefs, fashioning us into foot soldiers of one brand or another, the coolest cause or the latest mass-produced celebrity–and that’s why as an act of resistance to all of this existential violence, I have chosen to be defined by a Taco Bell burrito.
You may ask why, if I’m being serious in challenging the status quo, did I nevertheless select the best-selling product of an American chain of fastfood restaurants to define my very being. But see, that’s the crux of this willful act of defiance in the face of this monstrous labelling machine. By consciously choosing a delicious item in the menu of a massive capitalist business as an anchor for the definition of my Self, I am strongly subverting the meanings being handed to me without my consent.
Taco Bell thinks that I’m merely a statistic in their usual conversion metrics but little do they know that I’m secretly a dangerous guerrilla of post-modern revolution.
I’m eating their burritos while battling in the trenches of definitions. Every mouthful of saturated fat and sodium takes the fight to this behemoth of colonial capitalism, and every bite of the soft, tender wrap oozing with melted cheese and juicy beef a shedding of imposed needs I have imbibed through constant exposure to advertisements calculated to induce brainwashing in their audiences.
This is my own way of saying “NO” to the repressive forces that have been unleashed on my individuality since I was a child. This is me taking back my life from those who want me standardized like the rest of the poor misguided souls on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and everywhere people are judged, measured, and monetized every day. I eat this Taco Bell burrito and wash it down with Pepsi to assert our humanity and that which is rightfully ours.
I see the underemployed workers, the unhealthy eating habits, the starving farmers, and questionable assembly-line methods that sustain this system of consumerist servitude. And I think of them all, waving the flag for them, as I let out a loud burp smelling of diced onions and sour cream.
I could, of course, subscribe to more conventional advocacies, such as feminism or advancing the rights of LGBTQ, or saving the environment, but after thinking my options through, I have decided to leave these battles to other people in the community while I wage furious war on culture industries, starting with aligning my selfhood with a half-pounder burrito. Not a quesadilla or a Mexican pizza. Not even a taco–but a burrito.
This is only the beginning of my activism. After my thirst for change has been quenched, and the Taco Bell burrito and me are one and the same existence, I’m moving on to the McDonald’s Big Mac.
DON: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. This is Don Fernandez, your host for yet another edition of The Human Condition, bringing you the most striking interviews of common people you wouldn’t normally think about if you had something better to do. Tonight–Mr. Charlie Mendez–a man who is extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied.
Mr. Charlie Mendez–can I call you Charlie?
CHARLIE: Well, I don’t know. I prefer “Charles,” really. Has a more respectable ring to it. But go ahead, call me “Charlie,” if–
DON: No, no! Absolutely not! If “Charles” is what you prefer, then “Charles” it is.
CHARLIE: Nah… Use “Charlie.” I hate that nickname but… fine! Just use it.
DON: But… I’m totally ok with calling you “Charles.”
CHARLIE: Please. Just call me “Charlie.”
DON: Ok, ok! “Charlie” then.
CHARLIE: Ugh. Ugly name.
DON: Good grief!
CHARLIE: I know right? There are thousands of better names out there and your mother somehow saw it fit to give you the most atrocious, banal, wimpy name possible!
DON: Ok. I may have jumped in this interview the wrong way. Clearly, this–what’s manifesting here–is a symptom of the problem you were going to discuss with our audience today. That is–you, Charles–or Charlie–are a man who’s extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied.
CHARLIE: I… wouldn’t really frame the issue that way. Seems too simplistic. And reductionist. It’s definitely more than that.. but, uh, I guess if that’s convenient for you, then… fine!
DON: I see what’s happening here.
CHARLIE: Do you? I doubt it.
CHARLIE: But again–it’s ok!
DON: Ok! So. Let’s move on–
CHARLIE: God, I hate when people move on, but…
DON: –but let me guess–you’re fine with it?
CHARLIE: Sure! I mean, what can you do? Launch a revolution?
DON: Charlie, you don’t have to launch a revolution for anything. You know, you can say “No” if you really don’t like what’s happening.
CHARLIE: I do say “No.” I say “No” all the freakin’ time. But then people or circumstances push back, and when that happens, I say “Fine then, yes!”
DON: Don’t you think that’s a supremely defeatist attitude?
CHARLIE: Oh, I do. I do think it’s defeatist. And cowardly. And absolutely nothing will ever change in my life if I continue being this way!
DON: And? How do you feel about that? Sorry, let me rephrase–
CHARLIE: Oh, I HATE IT!
CHARLIE: GODDAMMIT I HATE THE FEELING! But at the end of the day, I just let it slide. It sucks but.. fine!
DON: See, Charlie, maybe you just need to try harder. If things don’t go your way, perhaps you should try just a little bit harder to, you know, get really, constantly angry at the state of things!
CHARLIE: Constantly? Like, uh, constantly-constantly?
CHARLIE: Like, uh, hate it forever?
CHARLIE: To do what?
DON: Well, so that you’re so angry and mad at the state of things that you finally push yourself to do something about it!
DON: Don’t you think that’s a better way to live than just being extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied?
CHARLIE: To be honest–that sounds like a TERRIBLE idea.
DON: Terrible? How so?
CHARLIE: How? What do you mean, how? It’s freakin’ terrible. Constantly being angry in order to actually do things… are you insane? That’s the most terrible idea I’ve ever heard and it makes me sick!
DON: Oh no, just… just stop th–
CHARLIE: But if that’s your opinion, then, FINE!
DON: This… This isn’t going anywhere.
CHARLIE: Nothing’s going anywhere. You, me, this world. All of us ain’t going nowhere. I’ll keep working my soulless day job working with soulless people, enriching some soulless millionaires that keep this soulless society in check! You think just because people are getting more offended these days that this will actually result in a movement that will free us from the savage shackles that have held our humanity back from time immemorial? No! It’s a deception! A mirage! Fifty, five-hundred, five-thousand years from now, we’ll still be talking about the same issues stuck in the same rut!
DON: Charlie, Charlie… I hate to break it to you. But it’s precisely because of people like you that things aren’t going to change. Because you refuse to do anything about your situation! All you do is complain!
CHARLIE: Are you thick? You think I don’t know that? You think I don’t go to bed at night with those exact, same thoughts haunting me to sleep? Of course I’m aware of my shortcomings! Of course I’m aware I’m part of the problem–and the very CAUSE of it! And you know what? I HATE IT!
DON: Here it comes.
CHARLIE: BUT THEN I TAKE A DEEP BREATH, TURN ON THE TELEVISION, AND THEN… I’M OK!
DON: …What do you watch on TV? Maybe… maybe that has something to do with this attitude of yours.
CHARLIE: Nothing particular. Some sappy drama. Or childish sci-fi. Whatever’s on. They’re all garbage. But I watch them anyway. Because once you get used to the trash the soulless media industry is serving you, they numb your mind and your palate enough, and then… they’re ok!
DON: That’s sad.
CHARLIE: Miserable. Bleak. But I’m fine!
DON: What about a relationship? Maybe you just need to be loved and experience love to get out of this vicious cycle of being utterly content with misery?
CHARLIE: Oh, that has nothing to do with it. I’ve been married for over 10 years already.
DON: Wow! That’s quite an accomplishment. You must love your wife very much.
DON: Er, right?
CHARLIE: …Nah, I don’t like that woman.
CHARLIE: Yeah… I mean, I got her pregnant after the most horrible sexual intercourse I’ve ever had!
CHARLIE: Like, I’m not even kidding. It’s shockingly boring and disgusting at the same time! But we sort of… you know, got off, so the thing did its job, so I guess it’s all right. Then her belly started growing bigger after a few months and both our parents pushed us to get together. Oh, I freakin’ raised hell about that for weeks! I screamed at all of them, told them hell no I’m not marrying that woman whom I barely remembered from one drunken night at the pub! But my parents are devout Christians and they believe that a child has to have a father and mother living together yadda yadda yadda. So, you know, after a week, even though I didn’t like her not one bit, I said, “What the hell, FINE, I’ll marry the wench!” And we got married, and the baby was born, and oh God Almighty, what a bloody ugly baby that was who grew up to be one of the ugliest children I’ve ever had the misfortune to lay my eyes on. And my own flesh and blood, you know? But I accepted the kid, anyway.
DON: Because deep inside you loved your kid, right??
CHARLIE: Nah. Because I couldn’t do shit about it anyway. So… FINE!
DON: OK THAT’S IT! FINE! Let’s end the interview right here. I’ve had enough!
CHARLIE: You angry at me, Don?
DON: YES! WHAT KIND OF A FATHER HATES HIS OWN KID? YOU’RE… YOU’RE MAD! YOU’RE PSYCHO!
CHARLIE: So what? What are you gonna do about it?
DON: I–I… WELL, NOTHING FOR NOW!
CHARLIE: So you’re fine for now?
DON: GODDAMMIT. I’M AFRAID WE’LL HAVE TO CUT THIS STINKIN’ PROGRAM SHORT AGAIN! ‘TIL NEXT TIME IN THIS GOD-FORSAKEN MADHOUSE OF A SHOW! THIS IS DON FERNANDEZ, HOST OF THE HUMAN CONDITION, SAYING GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK! I HATE ALL OF YOU!
CHARLIE: Come on, Don! Chill! It’ll pass!
If I had anything else to say, I would’ve said it by now. If I had anything more important to do, don’t you think I would’ve done it by now? There are possibilities, sure, and I have significant–what do you call it–ah, yes, “potential,” but well, that’s why it’s just a potential right at this very moment because it can’t be anything other than just a potential. It can’t be actual. Can’t be active and cannot be activated. Definitely not by you. Certainly not by me. Because I’m the Master of Potentiality, the Captain of Probabilities of Future Happenings that May or May Not Happen. See, I’m trapped. Like a horse thumping its hooves in a cramped starting gate seconds just before the gun fires in a horse race. Except here in this case, the gate doesn’t open and I’m just here in my stall, braying and neighing in anticipation of a wild, heart-stopping race of thoroughbreds that, in all probability, would never begin. Such a shame, true, but never despair because I’m far from the first case of a conceivable project stuck in the conceptual phase. All things are only plausible potentialities, or promising promises, or pretty pipe dreams before they’re presently prancing ponies right before your eyes, my friend. I mean, think about it. This coffee I’m drinking wouldn’t have been sipped if it weren’t resting in the cup in the first place. I wouldn’t have sat if I weren’t standing, looking for a chair just a few moments ago. Wouldn’t have spilled nonsensical drivel if there wasn’t any nonsensical drivel to be spilled right from the start. Thankfully, there was. There always is. And there’s always more! Always there at the tip of my tongue like sticky saliva stretching, stretching downwards forever pulled by gravity before snapping in the middle and dripping onto the floor. It takes many seconds to reach the ground, minutes, and inside those minutes, millennia. I’m basking in that infinite space between the ticking of the clock, floating in utter dormancy, resisting the rush to be realized. Unbent, unbowed, undeveloped. No reality. You scoff at it thinking you’re free from this plague of latency ailing me but you’re mistaken. Everyone exists within a realm of possibility just before something real really happens and when it does, it has already passed. You can’t catch it transpiring. It already did. And there it did again! Did you see it? You’re there because you can’t be anywhere else. Obviously, if you could be any place else right now, wouldn’t you be there already? But you’re not. Which means you’re stuck in this, too. Like me. Whatever you’re thinking right now, whatever comes to mind, can only be the things that pop in your head and nothing else. Certainly not hamburger. But now I said it, that can only be the thing in your head, is it not? Hamburger. Now, bacon. Now, cheese. And sandwich. There–I put all the ingredients in your head and now, at least for a span of time, you wouldn’t be able to get rid of them. You can potentially get rid of them–but not yet. Not until you’ve had some time to put this behind you and get back to your life brimming with budding events that could happen. Or could not. If only you weren’t there in that spot when I said it but you were. If only. God, I hate those words! If only you were this, if only you were that. If only you were bright, if only you were glad. Well, you’re not and I’m not. It’s not a question of “Can I?” but a question of “Am I?” It’s me, it’s society, it’s elementary, it’s poverty, it’s lack of sleep, lack of religion, lack of a destination, lack of love, lack of luck, lack of lack! In the end, it is what it is. Is it such a crime to be chronically constrained by circumstances? I guess so. From this perspective, crime is punishing destiny for being destined. We can be apologetic but there’s little room for regret. You couldn’t have done it better or differently; if you could, then we won’t even be talking about it because the record books would say clearly and in bold text, leaving no room for confusion or doubt that you did. But right now, it doesn’t say so. And now here I am, and there you are, and what can we do? Maybe we can wait. Something’s going to happen now. Before you can even blink. Before you can ride the next thought. Any moment now. Any moment now.
Young Filipinos have a popular saying, “Walang forever (translated: There’s no such thing as forever / Forever is impossible).” It’s a decidedly pessimistic and mocking view of love and romantic relationships popular on social media where it’s been expressed through innumerable memes. A girl actually coaxed Bill Nye to answer the question whether forever really existed or not, to which Bill Nye answered, yes, forever possibly exists if by “forever” one means time as a property of the universe. Bill Nye was trolled, of course–like all old folks online. The question was not really about time but the permanence of love.
Thankfully, I think I may have found a better answer from my nightly readings. It turns out, Jean-Paul Sartre, French existentialist philosopher extraordinaire famous for confusing the daylights out of students, had something to say about permanence or rather its opposite–“fragility,” which I think we can extend over our analysis of love and relationships.
Destruction and Fragility
In his book Being and Nothingness, Sartre explained that “to destroy” is human. Without human beings, there would be no such thing as “destruction.” You can’t say for example, that a bolt of lightning destroyed a tree in a forest because without man to define what happened as such, the concept of “being destroyed” wouldn’t exist. In fact, there wouldn’t even be any “change” at all. There would just be Being and outside that, nothing.
In relation to this, “fragility” is also a human thing. Nothing in the world is fragile except those which man defines as such. But if man is the one who posits something as “fragile,” didn’t he, in essence, also cause its own destruction? For if he never defined that something as “fragile” in the first place, then it cannot possibly be destroyed.
“And what is fragility if not a certain probability of non-being for a given being under determined circumstances. A being is fragile if it carries in its being a definite possibility of non-being… Thus it is man who renders cities as destructible, precisely because he posits them as fragile and as precious and because he adopts a system of protective measures with regard to them. It is because of this ensemble of measures that an earthquake or a volcanic eruption can destroy these cities or these human constructions. The original meaning and aim of war are contained in the smallest building of man.”
I personally love this line: “The original meaning and aim of war are contained in the smallest building of man.” Sartre appears to be saying that once man gave birth to the concept of “fragility,” everything that concept touched was doomed to be destroyed precisely because fragility “carries in its being a definite possibility of non-being.” A fortress–no matter how strongly built, no matter how well-defended, is doomed to fall because as a fragile object, it always had the definite possibility of being nihilated.
Throughout history, men went to war because they knew there were fragile things in the world that they could destroy to achieve their goal. We always knew things are breakable, so we broke them–just as planned.
“It is necessary then to recognize that destruction is an essentially human thing and that it is man who destroys his cities through the agency of earthquakes or directly, who destroys his ships through the agency of cyclones or directly.”
Once an object has been posited as “fragile,” it was always going to be destroyed directly or indirectly by man. Earthquakes do not destroy cities; it is man who defines and limits the meaning of destruction, and so he is the one who made that earthquake’s destruction possible. It’s actually just a different way of expressing that old philosophical question: can the color red exist for a blind person? No, because he doesn’t have the capability to create that concept in his mind. How could destruction be possible if we didn’t have the ability to conceive of something as fragile?
This takes us now to the concept of love.
There’s No Such Thing as Forever?
Something always taken for granted dawned on me while I was reading Sartre. To say one “loves” hides an unspoken fact people conveniently forget or fail to discuss; namely, “to love” is only possible because it’s possible “not to love.” That is, loving something presupposes that one does not love everything or one can choose not to love.
You say “I love this person” only because you don’t love all the persons in your life–just this one particular member of the human race.
But the scary thing? The statement “I love this person” is possible because “I don’t love this person” is also possible.
As Sartre says, nothingness lives “in the heart of being–like a worm.”
“Not to love” lives in the heart of “love” like a worm.
Love is a fragile thing because we adopt “a system of protective measures” to keep it from falling apart, to keep it from descending into “not loving.” But here is where all lovers, even the most passionate of them all, may have already doomed their relationships if not teetering on the edge of their ruin, because it seems that if we believe Sartre, then to love is to enter into a contract with a disclaimer at the end that says “I can choose to destroy this love if I wanted to because love is a fragile thing and it can and it will always be destroyed by me or someone or something else if they wanted to or if circumstances permitted it to happen.”
Is there no such thing as forever? How could there be one if we’re talking about a thing as fragile as love? It’s a thin sheet of something weak, something that breaks when you pound it with a hammer, or roll it over with a bulldozer, or crush with the weight of the entire world–it doesn’t matter. It is breakable and if it’s breakable, then it’s not a thing made for “forever.” Love presupposes its own destruction.
So we guard against all the forces that could break that “precious” thing apart (love is, in fact, precious because it can be shattered and taken away from you). We do all we can to protect this little magical thing from the pressures of other parties, of our work, our daily lives, the economy, of whatever else in the universe that threatens to annihilate this gift that we have. But the funny thing is that we, ourselves, made it feeble and frail because we posited this thing between us as “love” in the first place–and unfortunately, love is fragile.
Wait, what of “True Love?”
But isn’t there such a thing as “true love?” And isn’t “true love” not fragile?
Adding the word “true” to “love” is more a play on words than anything substantial. It doesn’t contradict the fact that true love is also only possible because there’s a definite possibility not to be truly in love. Thus “true love” itself is haunted by its nothingness, that is, that inside its being lives that worm of “not being truly in love.”
Let me put it this way: you say you two are “truly in love?” Then that must mean you’re not truly in love with everything and everyone in your life–just this one specific person. That must also mean you’re walking on eggshells; you two are adrift in a sea of people not being truly in love with one another, and you two can drown anytime, sinking into that deep sea with all the others.
So what is one to do in the face of potential doom?
Nothing, really, but to accept the ultimate responsibility of the choice in front of you. You can love but to do so, you must accept the fact that it can be fractured and pulverized anytime. You step into all the wonders of it knowing full well that they can spin around and shape-shift into nightmares.
There’s no such thing as forever or maybe there is but the odds are hopelessly against it. What we do have is a responsibility to keep a fragile thing from exploding into smithereens; and, moreover, a bigger responsibility to deal with the consequences if and when it does.
“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.” — Sartre
Afflicted. Plagued. Sick. That’s who we are every day and especially on Friday nights when the urge to see through ourselves in front of a mirror is extraordinarily strong. So strong that our vision pierces through our lungs and we question why we’re still breathing. And we behold our heart and we think about why in the world it’s still beating.
And sometimes, we see all the way to our soul and find out, well, that it’s not there anymore. There’s a note pinned on the empty blank space where it used to be. It’s been on sick leave for a very long time.
What does being “healthy” even mean? Is it the state of being pain-free, fuss-free, germ-free? If that’s the case then I would have to say being healthy is the greatest abnormality of all–an aberration so uncommon that it’s not worth talking about.
For surely, I might have been pain-free at many points in my life, but then I wasn’t fuss-free or germ-free. And I might have been fuss-free during, say, long vacations far from my office cubicle but… I was probably not pain-free or germ-free. It’s most likely impossible to be completely sanitary in all aspects of life.
You could say one is always contaminated.
There’s a constant need to go after a cure. Somewhere out there is a panacea to heal all these diseases of the body and of the mind and of the heart and of the soul. It’s in the form of an opportunity that sounds too good to let go, a thing so amazing not to own, an idea so powerful not to subscribe to, or a person so unique and useful not to be with.
We take them and inject them into ourselves, suffusing our lives with their well-advertised medicinal properties. And there are mornings when the thought of merely doing something to treat yourself, no matter how small, is enough to make you feel better.
At times, the belief in the power of that medication is so potent that we convince ourselves that we’re ok now. We’re fine now. And that we can live this way for years–a placebo effect necessary for our own sanity and survival.
The funniest thing is that we’re all doctors. Talking to each other, diagnosing one another, giving away endless prescriptions to any patient who’s patient enough to listen or care. I say “or” because some people listen but they don’t actually care. They could win a medal for being the best listeners though.
“Oh, you’re hurt? I know EXACTLY what you’re going through! Here’s what you need: take one dose of self-confidence in the morning, two doses of shopping sprees in the afternoon, and three doses of sex at night! Take a full glass of prayers with these and never forget to apply a dollop of independence. Wash it down with alcohol and stay in bed far away from everything for a decade. I promise you’ll feel like brand new!”
If only we were as accurate as our imaginary licenses claim to be. Unfortunately, we’re not. In fact, we’re unbelievably bad at what we do. And many times, instead of correctly pinpointing what’s ailing our friends and our loved ones, what we see is nothing but a reflection of our own illnesses and pains that we ourselves have tragically failed to cure. But if we can’t even mend our own maladies, then how could we be expected to find a pill that works for others?
If there’s one thing that’s going for us it is that we never give up. Debilitated as we are with all the hurts and injuries we’ve suffered, we keep on moving forward. Doubtless there’s courage in that albeit a lot of it rooted in hard-headedness and, frankly, being naively dumb.
But perhaps there’s something there when one strives for excellence when the odds are against oneself. Or not even excellence. Not even mediocrity. Just one really good, healthy day.
“You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”
– Treebeard, The Two Towers
“There is no future. There is no past. Do you see? Time is simultaneous, an intricately structured jewel that humans insist on viewing one edge at a time, when the whole design is visible in every facet.”
– Doctor Manhattan, Watchmen
I am at a strange point in my life when I’m, arguably, not too young and not too old. Of course, a lot of people would say 33 is already too old given that the baby boomers already had settled lives at this age (marriage, kids, a snore of a job, and whatnot), but I beg to differ. Times have changed, and I–supposedly belonging to the much maligned millennial generation–am still a man collecting plastic playthings molded in the image of muscled men in colorful trunks and tights.
I call this particular juncture in my lifetime “strange” because, of late, I have been feeling strangely, keenly aware of how I am at once distant and near both the past and the future. Some recent events have doubtless triggered this weird mix of anxiety and wonder about the nature of time, the most impactful of which was the death of my sweet grandmother. Yesterday, I saw a sad picture of my father lighting a candle over her grave just newly adorned with bermuda grass, and I couldn’t help but think that this powerful woman bursting with life, energy, and the most entertaining brand of humor just maybe two or three years ago, is now cold and damp earth beneath my father’s feet. And as healthy as that man is, he’s looking old, too.
Someone had uploaded faded, yellowed pictures in a chat group showing me and my cousins, our parents, our uncles and aunts with my grandmother. Taken with those large, clunky cameras and printed on photo paper, the years have not been kind to these pictures, some of them with faces you could barely discern. One showed me as a malnourished teenager in a jacket five times my size, another my sister, who’s now living halfway around the world, as a suspicious, wild-haired baby, and yet another of my aunt looking like a summer girl plucked out of Instagram. We all look so different now and these snapshots of life supposedly happened such a long time ago–but did they? When digital photos became accessible, the vacation and holiday pictures we take suddenly took on a marvelous degree of permanence and perfection that completely set them apart from those stained, cracked pics in our family albums. Suddenly–in terms of quality and if you don’t mind the subjects who had totally changed in their appearance over the years–my first uploaded digital pic on Facebook back in 2008 looks like it could have been taken just last week.
But was 2008 such a long time ago? Phones were a little dumb back then but not as dumb as the Facebook Newsfeed these days. Beyonce wanted you to put a ring on it. Twilight was a plague us Potterheads tried to avoid ferociously, our fangs out and our claws bared. Somewhere along the way, I learned what a rewarding and goddamn stressful thing a relationship was. In truth, I don’t feel as if these events had been too long ago; sometimes, I feel that these could have been just five or six years ago, and one out of three girls would still shriek my ear wax off if I mention the name “Edward” or “Jacob” to them.
2008 doesn’t feel that long ago and, frankly, neither does 1998 to me. Celebrity Deathmatch was the most awesome thing in the world (hey, maybe it still is?). My Heart Will Go On went on forever in every radio station. There were Britney Spears and the Spice Girls and all the fibers in my being raged to an unpleasant stiffness whenever they were on MTV. And the President of the United States lost his office due to a job he blew (a blown job). Yes, we wore baggy clothes featuring anime characters that would have looked alien today, but all in all, these happenings still do not feel that far back into the past.
10 years, 20 years don’t feel that long ago to me, especially when I’m alone and retracing my life in the canvass of my condo’s cobwebbed ceiling.
You know what feels long? How about 12,000 years?
12,000 years is the supposed lifespan of an Ent, a tree-like being in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I remember these creatures whenever I get to pondering the vast expanse of time. Treebeard, the oldest of the Ents, spoke and moved so frustratingly slow that the Hobbits got madly impatient at him. But could you really blame a creature who had lived thousands of years to give a flying squirrel’s posterior about a halfling’s extremely short-lived preoccupations?
Tolkien was clearly putting us in the Hobbits’ shoes and telling us that a lot of the matters we fuss over in our daily lives are only caused by our lifespan being too short or our expiration date being too soon. We need to do everything now because, honestly, we don’t have long to live and the clock is ticking. Some people are able to extend their stay much longer than expected but these folks are still quite rare. There are a handful of women (five to be exact as of this writing) who have lived past 110 years old, gaining them the flashy, heroic-sounding title, “supercentenarians” even though you can imagine there’s probably nothing “super” about how they feel. As unrepresentative as I am of my cohorts, I would admit that at 33, there are already some mornings I feel so heavy that I wish I were made of metal and a huge magnet could pull me up from my bed, drag me, and drop my limp body into my office chair. Everything–tasks and leisure alike–is becoming so tiresome I’m beginning to think that a couple more years and I’d be ready to say, “Screw it, I’ve seen everything, where’s the exit?”
Still, some days I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be exciting to live long enough to be here when man first sets foot on Mars?” But then if this space faring milestone only happens after 40 years had passed–would I still care, stuck in my wheelchair, unable to see through my three-inch cataracts, with the least bit of excitement a fatal threat to push my blood pressure over the edge? Maybe it’s not worth it. Hell, perhaps it’s best to check out just before sex turns into an appalling affair.
Thankfully, 40 years is still some ways off into the future. The way I personally think of it is that to get there–that unpleasant 73 year mark when everything’s painful, evil, dark, and cursed, including smiling children–I would have to go through the length of my entire life up to this point again and then some. I would have to suck on my mother’s breasts again (my earliest memories), watch all my favorite morning cartoons again like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Denver the Last Dinosaur (kidding, I hated that wimp Denver), play around the flag pole of my elementary school again as my mother accompanied my sister to school, kick ass in elementary by being a teacher’s pet and receive my fair share of bullying, have to get circumcised again and be in utter shock of my poor, murdered genitals begging for help in a pool of blood, fool around high school and discover the gift of masturbation, be torn between wooing crushes and playing Counter-Strike, graduate, get really serious in college and fill my head with some dead German and French philosophers’ mind farts, hate Capitalism, discover I was in fact a dork and nothing like Batman or Wolverine or Raphael (my favorite sai-wielding ninjutsu-adept turtle), lose almost all confidence in myself and attempt to extricate myself from society, somehow get into a relationship and regain a sense of belonging, love Capitalism then witness more than five retrenchments as a transcriptionist, then a writer, then a social media marketing expert or whatever they want to call that profession, which only became possible because a guy named Mark Zuckerberg was even more of a dork than I was a few years ago, see all my friends go to leave for other jobs before finally being here at this moment in time, a little comfortable with my work, with the most amazing girlfriend in the world whom I hope to marry, but struggling with accelerated hair loss.
That would be quite a long time to relive.
But maybe still not that long.
After all, 33 years is really just a millisecond of a millisecond of a millisecond of time.
Recently, I’ve been obsessing about dinosaurs, paleontology, history, and evolution as anybody who had an excess of time in front of a computer would… naturally. I have learned that if you compressed time into a 24-hour period, such that the Earth formed at midnight and that the present moment when I’m typing these words is the next midnight, modern humans would only have appeared at 11:59:59pm–that’s all of one second. And if you took that clock and recalibrated it to compress human history into another 24-hour period, only 14 minutes had passed since Christ was here, walking amongst people.
The universe is 14 billion years old, the Earth four and a half. It took three billion boring years for microbes to evolve into fish in a world filled with volcanic eruptions and rivers of fire. Animals have been here 600 million years but mammals themselves started scurrying as little, insignificant rodents 200 million years ago. The dinosaurs, the poster boys for extinction, were actually here much longer than us, ruling the planet for 165 million years compared to our measly 200,000! In fact, the dinos overstayed for so long that the Tyrannosaurus rex is nearer in time to Donald Trump than to the stegosaurus–you know that other popular dino with four legs, huge plates running along its spine, and spikes on its tail? I’ve scratched my head at this myself multiple times but it’s true. There are only 5,000 years of recorded human history and prior to that, human beings spent roughly 150,000 years being embarrassingly simple-minded like you during the first couple of seconds when you wake up in your bed, not knowing what the hell is going on.
Given the sheer immensity of this timeline, you can see how 33 years is truly puny verging on nothing.
I say “verging” because considering time is almost infinite, as short as 33 years is compared to a universe that has existed for billions of years, that period is still as valid as any duration of time; that is, 33 years is really as valid as, say, 33 million years. And that is the paradox of time, is it not? Moments that are short-lived might as well have run forever against the backdrop of infinity. You say I live in the present but I only see life as a series of past events stretching into yesterday, the last week, the last month, the last year, the last epoch. I can only grasp the present as a hand would try to hold grains of sand streaming down between its fingers. And how could a million years be longer than a second when there could be a million moments within it?
During deranged ruminations like this, I remember another character from pop culture: Doctor Manhattan of arguably the greatest graphic novel of all time, Watchmen. Dr. Jonathan Osterman was a nuclear physicist who was accidentally disintegrated by an Intrinsic Field Subtractor machine but was later able to reconstruct himself as Doctor Manhattan–a powerful being outside time and maybe space. This fictional character’s perception of time was even more bizarre than Treebeard’s because he viewed every event in the past, present, and future as all transpiring at the same time, creating all sorts of problems for other characters in the story who, like us, only saw time as a linear march of events: there is yesterday, today, and tomorrow. But Doctor Manhattan was a being that’s acutely conscious of his past, present, and future existence at each point in that linear timeline, and so he felt disconnected from virtually all the emotional struggles of humanity that arise from their belief that things only happen because of things that precede them (you only leave your boyfriend because he cheated). To illustrate, Doctor Manhattan knew he would cheat on his first girlfriend before he did it because he was already living that life in his future, and yet he still did it. It’s like you celebrating your 10th birthday party, the best, most fun and memorable birthday party of your life, knowing that you’re already spending your 60th birthday party alone in a nursing home, cursing existence. It’s such a dire situation to be in that Doctor Manhattan literally exiled himself to Mars.
But unfortunately, as much as backpacking to Mars is becoming more and more tempting each day considering our present plight and as the world blazes down the rabbit hole of eternal shittiness, there’s nothing much we can do but accept the paradoxes and ironies of time. I guess, if you think about it, there’s a cruel but poetic consolation in the fact that we are helpless and literally can’t do anything about the matter, which means nobody truly expects us to do anything substantial. Sure, you can buy some tubes of anti-aging cream, hang out with the young ones as what’s left of your liver smoulders into a boiling square inch of ash and bile, or play with your man toys like I do as you reminisce about the past–but really, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to turn back the hands of time or stop the seconds in their tracks. We can try to hold on to happiness, to sadness (some people consciously prefer it), to people and things as much as we want to but it’s all over before we think it; and in that–there’s sweet release, a responsibility to be wantonly irresponsible.
The message here is not to make the most out of life because “you only live once.” Chasing after something, which ultimately won’t matter or will matter but only in a certain cramped definition, so doggedly is a fool’s errand. Many have lost their minds and the people who truly care about them trying to recapture past glories that have long transformed into ghosts.
It’s more like this: let the inevitability of the rushing river of time wash over you, accept your fate, and be shredded majestically into strips of beautiful nothingness as the universe races to its end.
Matt and Ray meet at the watercooler in the office:
MATT: Hey, Ray! What’s up? Where the hell were you last Friday? We were looking all over for you just before we headed down to the bar but you were gone! OH. GOD. You missed half of your life, dude! Bob and I went with Jackie from Human Resources and SHIT. GOD. WILD.
RAY: Oh yeah? That’s cool, Matt. But I left work early to get some much needed rest, and I was flipping through cable at home when I chanced upon this documentary on National Geographic about how dinosaurs went extinct–and it was AWESOME. It was called the Chicxulub extinction event!
MATT: Uh… the what now?
RAY: The Chicxulub extinction event, man, and it’s wilder than your party!
MATT: Bugger off! Nothing’s wilder than last Friday, Ray! Bob and I and Jackie got super friendly super quick in the car that we busted out this nasty bottle of Scandinavian vodka Bob’s been keeping in his glove compartment, and we halved that freakin’ bottle of pure gasoline even before we went inside the bar! And then in the bar, there’s this rich South African mofo who apparently got promoted in his job or hit the lottery jackpot or somethin’ and he was makin’ it rain free shots all night! We were so buzzed Bob was already starting a fight with three fellows all named Chet on the dance floor not 30 minutes had passed!
RAY: Huh. Sounds like a good time indeed.
MATT: A “good time?” It was INSANE.
RAY: Well, Matt, that kind of thing might seem insane to you but your Friday night’s nothing compared to the Chicxulub extinction event. See, Chicxulub? It refers to the town of Chicxulub in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. That town is the center of a huge-ass crater–and when I say huge, it’s freakin’ gargantuan–93 miles in diameter and 12 miles deep in the earth, Matt. That crater was dug there by an asteroid the size of a goddamn mountain hitting the earth at 40,000 miles per hour 66 million years ago! You know how big of an explosion that kind of massive asteroid produces when it hits a natural tinderbox of oil?
MATT: How big?
RAY: As big as 100 trillion tons of TNT or 10 billion Hiroshima bombs exploding all at the same time on your face, Matt! The impact was so powerful if you were within 1,000 kilometers of it, you’d still be killed by a murder fireball along with the dinosaurs in a snap! Now THAT’S wild!
MATT: Ok. Ok. I agree that’s kinda wild, my friend… But not wilder than my Friday night! See, last Friday night? We were so friggin’ hammered, I dared Jackie to kiss this girl she’s been rubbin’ butts with all night long on the dance floor. And you know what sweet, prim-and-proper Jackie from Human Resources did? She just went and grabbed that bitch by her ponytail and proceeded to devour her throat–gums and all! And the girl hungrily devoured Jackie’s molars and tonsils back! But it didn’t stop there. No, sir! I dared that girl to kiss another girl next to her–and she did my bidding like she was under a magician’s spell, Ray! Not long after that, me and Bob were staring at this glorious, sweating crowd of intoxicated females all lickin’ and slurpin’ each other! Your mass extinction event ain’t WILDER than that, Ray!
RAY: So you saw some women kissing and you thought that was wild? What are you, twelve?
RAY: How about this–the Chicxulub Impactor–that’s what they call the dino doomsday asteroid–hit the ground so hard that the resulting explosion, rain of fire, and climate disruption killed off 80% of all plant and animal species on the planet! Eighty percent! This wanker was so deadly that nine seconds after impact, an observer watching this shit from a thousand kilometers away would’ve been roasted by a savage blast of thermal radiation! It was so strong that herds of Alamosaurus–you know these long-necked behemoths belonging to the sauropod clade weighing some 80 freakin’ tons and standing 52 feet–glowed like goddamn transparent light bulbs when hit with that radiation blast! Forests, valleys instantly burst into flames and almost every poor living creature in the vicinity suffered third-degree burns all over their bodies in seconds! Can you imagine that? And that’s just the beginning of it, Matt. This end-of-days phenomenon produced a lingering impact winter that halted photosynthesis in both plants and plankton. Photosynthesis STOPPED. Means plants stopped eating. How can some women kissing compare with that, Matt? THEY CAN’T.
MATT: LAME! Last Friday? I left Bob drinking his mind out at the bar as I was grinding this voluptuous mass of curves that turned out to be an 85-year-old hairy man who had lost his dentures in the dark! And then suddenly, people just came crowding around the bar and I heard everyone laughing, and lo and behold–it was Bob! You know what that dolt did? He dropped his pants to the floor and he was peeing on top of the goddamn bar, Ray! He said he thought it was the bathroom! I pulled him back and almost swiped my hand against his pecker as he was trying to stuff the horrific thing back into his pants, and I think some golden droplets actually landed on my palms! And I didn’t wash because I was so drunk! Security arrived and the Rock and Stone Cold dragged Bob’s ass to the exit as the bartender yelled that he was banned in that establishment forever! But I didn’t care! I was laughing my ass off because I was hammered as hell and, as far as I was concerned, the party was just getting started! That’s what you call WILD, Ray! Not some goddamn–
RAY: To hell with that! The Chicxulub extinction event produced infernal fires from the heavens and a deluge of death! Scientists estimate that the massive blow to the earth’s surface kicked up a mega tsunami measuring up to 1,000 feet high! It’s like that movie Interstellar but it was here on Earth and it was real! The seismic event was so powerful it’s equivalent to all of the world’s earthquakes for the past 160 years going off SIMULTANEOUSLY! Bob peeing is not anywhere–
MATT: Jackie was so drunk she got a bottle of ketchup from the counter and chugged it down like it was chocolate milkshake! I threw up some melted fries on the neck of some guy who then threw up tuna sandwich on someone’s eyes, so shut up with y–
RAY: The Chicxulub shock waves blew winds that tore through everything at 600 miles an hour! That sonic boom roared at 105 decibels, like a jet flying over your goddamn cubicle, shattering the eardrums of T-Rex, triceratops, and all the doomed dinos that day! Your Friday night ain’t got sh–
MATT: I WAS SO WASTED I STAPLED MY NUTSACK TO MY THIGH FOR TWENTY BUCKS AND NOW I’M STILL LIMPING.
RAY: IT TOOK MONTHS FOR THE SOOT AND ASH ALL OVER THE GLOBE TO CLEAR AND WHEN THEY DID, THE RAIN FELL BUT IT WAS ACIDIC MUD.
MATT: I HELD MY BLEEDING CROTCH TO THE BATHROOM WHERE SOME PSYCHO PICKED UP HIS POOP AND THREW IT ON THE CEILING AND IT DRIPPED ON MY MOUSTACHE.
RAY: THE CARBON FOOTPRINT WAS SO BAD IT RELEASED 10,000 BILLION TONS OF CARBON DIOXIDE, 100 BILLION TONS OF CARBON MONOXIDE, AND ANOTHER 100 BILLION TONS OF METHANE INTO THE ATMOSPHERE ALL AT ONCE.
MATT: JACKIE FROM HUMAN RESOURCES WAS APPARENTLY UNDERAGE, AND AN UNDERCOVER COP ARRESTED THE BARTENDER WHO SERVED HER SOME DRUGGED TEQUILA, AND THE COP THREW HIS ASS DOWN TO THE GROUND WHEN HE TRIED TO RUN.
RAY: THE CHICXULUB ASTEROID CAUSED A NUCLEAR WINTER AND GLOBAL WARMING, NOW DINOSAURS ARE JUST CHICKENS, MATT.
MATT: THAT RICH SOUTH AFRICAN MOFO TOOK ME TO A MOTEL AFTERWARD AND NOW MY BUTTHOLE IS SORE, RAY.
In my dreams, I could move things even if my fingers don’t touch them. In the waking world, this is called “psychokinesis” or, more commonly, “telekinesis.” And as is usually the case with things that sound superb in the waking world, psychokinesis is a huge steaming pile of bullshit.
In the dream world, if I concentrate just a tiny bit, my brow furrowed into a little knot, the thing I’m looking at starts to move as I please. I think one time I was able to play a prank on someone by moving their bag away from them so as to hide it, and another time I might have even been able to stop a robbery by deflecting bullets or stripping away some flabbergasted robbers’ handguns. I seem to remember once I also did something perverted to a poor lady with this wonderful ability of mine–how could I not? I can’t recall clearly. With dreams, one couldn’t be sure, so delicious are their details that the devil devours them as soon as one opens their eyes.
If you haven’t had one of these dreams, I feel it’s my duty to tell you that using this ability feels so amazing–exhilarating–that after having dreamt such a dream, one couldn’t really deny themselves foolish attempts in the real world. Hey, despite the insanity and impossibility of it, what if it somehow works? Many a time I’ve found myself sitting in a toilet, the drip, drip, drip of water echoing in the four corners of the bathroom, and me doing my darndest to turn the goddamn faucet with my mind.
Oh, I try.
I’ve tried since I was a young boy.
I’ve tried to move heavy stuff like TV sets and light ones like dried leaves on the ground, unsurprisingly, to complete and utter failure (which, frankly, hasn’t fazed me). I remember there was one fine day in my youth (a day so fine that the sun seemed to take forever to set) that I spent maybe an hour or two, or three, sitting on a curb, trying to move fallen dried leaves of a santol tree; pushing, lip-biting, perspiring, willing those brown, crumpled leaves to move even just an inch, even just to wiggle under the tremendous force of my brain. Not even the wind consoled me with the illusion of success.
Some tired days, maybe when grey skies whisper strange mysteries through the thinnest drizzle, I test the reality of it all by flushing the contents of the toilet bowl with my thoughts. If my piss flushes down through a mere wish, I’ll know I’m dreaming. I realize this sounds crazy but if a third of our lives is spent sleeping, then at any point in time, there’s one out of three chances that you are actually dreaming. One could never be sure, so it helps to check.
Of course, all this would be unforgivably foolish if not greater minds have also seen the vast potential of influencing objects physically from afar. And I’m not talking about magicians and street performers in India though those minds are remarkable in their own way, too. In 1984, no less than the United States National Academy of Sciences itself, at the behest of the US Army Institute, formed a scientific panel to see if there’s sufficient, solid evidence for psychokinesis. Learned men fussing over lunacy. As usual, since the US government was involved in some capacity, this was, in reality, not about any metaphysical truths the proving of psychokinesis might open up for discussion, but about missiles and things that hurt other people efficiently. One cited purpose was to assess if psychokinesis could be used to remotely jam enemy weaponry. Maybe choke communist generals at their tables during supper, too, who knows?
This whole odd business was serious enough that it took three years before conclusions could be published. I guess they didn’t want to leave the slightest trace of doubt for pathologically creative folks to fashion into another magnificently dumb conspiracy theory.
And yet despite their negative findings, scientists, philosophers, and other combative blokes by profession have since then continuously tried to reiterate what we’ve known all along–that psychokinesis simply cannot exist. A fellow by the name of Mario Bunge (who’s both a physicist and a philosopher and is therefore doubly combative) wrote that “psychokinesis… violates the principle that mind cannot act directly on matter. (If it did, no experimenter could trust his readings of measuring instruments.) It also violates the principles of conservation of energy and momentum. The claim that quantum mechanics allows for the possibility of mental power influencing randomizers… is ludicrous since that theory respects the said conservation principles, and it deals exclusively with physical things.”
While the supreme vehemence by which Mario brought down that scientific and philosophical hammer is appreciated, I would like to make it clear now that the subject doesn’t even require this much preoccupation. Not that telekinesis is obviously, unequivocally stupid (it is); but because, after thinking this through, I’ve decided it won’t have any significant practical use for the common man were it real.
Sure, it might be a tad convenient to start preparing a cup of coffee while I’m still in bed in the morning, but actually, that would ruin another otherwise sweet “five minutes” going back to sleep. Tripping random people on the street whose mug doesn’t strike me well could also be entertaining but I bet the novelty fades after a while or as soon as somebody gets seriously injured. Breaking into a bank, robbing stores, and lifting ladies’ skirts all seem at first exciting, but honestly, my fragile conscience wouldn’t let me. I am as hopelessly trapped by my decent upbringing as I am by the laws of this universe.
Psychokinesis wouldn’t help me finish my reports earlier and make them seem less useless to me or make me unaware that a whole troop of suits grows infinitesimally richer than me doing nothing as I’m telekinetically processing these reports. It wouldn’t make the commute to the office less stressful. Wouldn’t make my relationship stronger, allow me to avoid unhealthy habits like eating unholy amounts of a fried pig’s face, give me more days off, make me more confident in front of women, cure my virulent insecurity and fatal pride, protect me from the accursed flu cycles, or make me feel as loved and wanted as I insanely need to be.
In truth, it’s a pointless ability. One’s probably better off having the power to fly or turn invisible if one’s to profit from freakish talents. And this is also, I think, the reason why my mind is obsessed with dreams of magically pushing and pulling objects–because it knows deep inside that psychokinesis only has real value in the realm of pure thought; here where external things do have unseen but unbreakable strings tied to the one perceiving; and one need only to focus in order to tug at those strings to force the world to bend to one’s will. What this also suggests to me is that this is a longing of the mind to reach this perfect state, an ideal state where the mind and the world are not two sides of a coin that will never meet. Psychokinesis only has currency here and only truly desirable in this world.
Outside, matter rules over matter. The mind is nothing but a word used to ascribe the illusion of power to a person no different to a feather blown hither and thither by ruthless winds. No force is strong enough to stop attracted atoms from bonding together or two tarnished lovers from leaving each other. There’s no power greater than the brute strength of time whose very purpose is to exhaust our energy, pulverize our bones to dust, and disintegrate all our silly paranormal and scientific notions alike as if to cleanse the earth of our offensive nonsense. And gravity will keep on pulling things to the ground–apples, leaves, the stars, absurd fantasies and dreams.
Part 1: Who’s Ashamed of Being Mostly Sad?
Once, over alcohol, I told a girl in that Humphrey Bogart-cynical-wise-man-of-the-world-style that the default sentiment of a person is sadness. She, of course, not getting that I was simply reenacting a character in Casablanca in my own mind–as I am wont to do whenever I am working extra desperately hard to impress someone–didn’t agree with me.
Matter of fact, she had quite a violent reaction to the statement as if she suddenly choked on a rather large cockroach swimming in the mojito she had been daintily sipping; she was so vehemently opposed to my opinion that it almost got too frustrating to illustrate what I was conveying because she kept trying to cut me off. Nevertheless, I still did my best explaining to her that if you really think about it, those quiet times when you’re alone and you’re not talking to anybody or engaged in some form of entertainment or activity (like that sometimes blessed, mostly wretched thing called a job), the lingering feeling there–and you’ll feel this only if you were absolutely honest with yourself–is that of sadness or loneliness.
Now, hold your horses and take a seat if you find yourself experiencing such a violent reaction yourself. Let me clarify. You see, happiness is a conspicuous thing. And I’m not talking about the big, bombastic moments when you’re overjoyed like when you receive a birthday gift you’ve long wanted or when your partner finally acquiesces to your weird, disgusting request during sexy time because you’ve found it convenient to make them feel guilty for not agreeing to do it with you for years; I’m saying happiness is a very noticeable thing, even when it takes the form of the subtlest feelings of contentment or satisfaction that one feels in a normal day.
When you’re happy, you know you’re happy. You take note of it in the back of your head usually without intending to. Try to remember the last time you were glad and you’ll know exactly when that happened and what you were doing or what occurred to bring about that positive emotion to blossom in your chest. That can’t be an accident. There’s a reason happiness stands out in your brain like a pink elephant wearing a blonde wig dancing the ballet.
There’s this notorious nihilistic South African philosopher named David Benatar (and if you’re hopelessly entangled in this nasty business of reading someone else’s moribund brain farts like I am you would’ve heard of this bloke) who saw pain–a function of life–so worthless and unjustifiable that he believes human beings should never even be born into this world in the first place. To clarify, he’s not talking like a misunderstood ’90s teen here who listened to too much goth music and had an overabundance of mom’s mascara;this is not something shallowly emo but instead a metaphysical conclusion drawn after establishing certain solid philosophical propositions. Benatar is not saying death is preferable to living. He’s saying it’s better not to have lived at all.
Now, you might be a generally pain-free person perhaps because you’re healthy and live a comfortable life surrounded by loved ones, and you sometimes sing in the woods with some cute, little bunnies and chirping bluebirds all around you, but that is not the point. Benatar argues that all in all, living in the presence of pain (which everyone would necessarily have to go through at some point) is enough reason to say life shouldn’t be.
Granted that is an extreme way of putting it (or not–what do I know? Maybe you’re hardcore and in fact drink the blood of bats at night); but Benatar points out something I sincerely believe a lot of us normally don’t pay attention to: that pain is everywhere and if you’re not in the midst of it now, then good for you, chum, but you can trust that it’s waiting to ambush you just around the corner. Maybe in the form of a clusterfuck of deadlines in the office, or getting into a fistfight with your boss because he caught you checking out her underage daughter online, or getting bitten by a tarantula which just happened to build a cozy home in your dumpster of a desk drawer, or slipping on someone’s used sanitary napkin, or your girlfriend breaking up with you for an exceptionally hairy and sweaty guy she met at the gym, or finding out you’re harboring the newest, zombie-turning iteration of the bubonic plague. It doesn’t matter. Unjustifiable, metaphysically inexplicable pain–and therefore, sorrow–has all of us in its big, black address book and will surely ring our phone anytime soon. Maybe some 5 minutes from now.
To put it another way: pain, sorrow and sadness make up the canvass of life and the occasional droplets and blobs of paint strewn across it is happiness. Overtime, paint thickens as more and more layers in different colors are brushed on top of each other, but underlying all of it is still that rough, blank base of negative existence that won’t go away because, in a sense, it is the very foundation of experience.
We all know this: happiness is a precious resource, a pricey commodity. You buy it, I buy it, they brand it, your pathetic friend rents it, and some people have made lucrative careers out of literally killing for it. In this state of affairs where happiness or contentment occurs so infrequently, your brain can’t help but mark those bright moments for memory, possibly to create a pool of happy thoughts from which it could draw strength, hope, or positive energies from during times of bleakness. You know, just another built-in survival skill your species’ amazing evolution handily equipped you with?
But coming back to this conversation I was depicting a moment ago wherein once again my impression of Humphrey Bogart failed to impress the opposite sex, this particular lady didn’t agree with me at all. She said something like, “Well, that must be just you because I’m definitely not mostly sad. I’m mostly happy.”
I didn’t believe her one bit. Her eyes told me otherwise.
It got me seriously wondering about why anybody would want to pretend that they’re mostly happy instead of admitting that they’re mostly sad. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being mostly sad, is there? I realize that a good part of the game of life is peppering social media with pictures of our pleasantly smiling faces while in picturesque vacation spots but you’d have to be a pitiful simpleton if you’re convinced that’s the whole point of living. Certainly, Shakespeare’s classic tragedies didn’t come about because he was inspired by everyone who expressed approval of his beach pictures.
So please allow me to say that again: there’s nothing wrong with being mostly sad and admitting you’re more on the dismal rather than on the delighted part of the spectrum. You don’t agree? Then let me throw you a bit of a bone here. Consider this: sadness, at least on the surface, doesn’t say anything at all about the life you live, whether you’re a good or a bad person, or whether you have a productive existence or an existence of so little value that people will only muster to shrug their shoulders and let out a big yawn if you died.
Gloominess doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making all the wrong choices in life although some people do have a tendency to make boneheaded decisions that result in awful situations and, in turn, to the feeling of being down in the dumps. But a host of other factors, such as chemical reactions in our brains, which we don’t have control over, circumstances that we find ourselves trapped in, or just the repulsive music of the decade could be to blame. Despair can sprout anytime, anywhere, and for virtually any reason; it would be unjust to put all the blame on poor you.
And in the afterlife, it’s not like God will open his sacred tome, finger the pages, and read about how cheerful or cheerless you were when you were breathing, and then condemn you to hell if he finds out you were a melancholic, neurotic, people-hating social disease who spent too many days skulking under the table in your room and not enough days taking a shower. “Ah, I see you’ve been a disgustingly unhappy person on earth. Unforgivable! I therefore banish you to… er… more sadness in the form of afterlife’s signature eternal suffering!”
No, that doesn’t sound even remotely possible at all (though frankly all bets are off when it comes to guessing what happens after one passes away and I wouldn’t be too surprised if we die and discover that heaven is nothing like what everyone said it would be, and in fact it’s nothing but an unkempt apartment where somebody left last year’s pizza underneath the couch’s cushion and there’s a stinky pile of clothes on the floor that need washing). Sadness doesn’t say anything about your value here on earth, so therefore it isn’t something to be ashamed of.
Here’s the deal: if you told me you were 98% sad during the course of a day, I wouldn’t think anything of it, though I’d definitely appreciate your honesty. But if you told me you were 98% happy every single day, I would simply smile and think you’re a big bag of bullshit not worth talking to.
Part 2: People Worth Talking To
In another discussion borne of another confluence of social necessities, over another set of food and drinks, one person told me that there was this guy in their office who was remarkably brilliant but hated people. This jolly person I was talking to recounted how he invited this remarkably brilliant but people-hating guy to lunch one day but this guy said he couldn’t come–the reason being that if he went to lunch with them, then he’d have to talk to people and at some point, he would get really bored, and he would have to stop talking to them. The guy I was talking to replied, “You know, you could’ve just refused!” And we laughed heartily about it.
We laughed like perfectly normal people disbelieving the antics of what could be a crazy, cold-blooded sociopath-in-the-making but the truth is, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was laughing about–the fact that this remarkably brilliant, people-hating guy was such a gigantic jerk who’s clearly dead inside or that, secretly, I shared his assessment of the situation and his sentiment regarding the discomfort of having to endure conversations with some people–even those who are pleasantly friendly, and not the least bit obnoxious.
But isn’t that the reason why we find ourselves laughing most of the time? Because we are actually laughing at ourselves? Because we are secretly amused with the imagined shadow of ourselves doing the stupid thing that another person ended up doing? And the opposite is equally true: we oftentimes cry because we see our image superimposed on another suffering soul’s face.
Now, please don’t crucify me for the banality of this proposition but, ultimately, everything’s all about ourselves. The person you most know about is not your brother or your sister or your significant other, but that bloke hoisting your brain in their skull, wearing your clothes. We are the massive black hole that gave birth to and in the center of our own universe (or our own multiverse if you’re mildly schizophrenic).
From the moment the world starts to make sense to us, we form concepts only in relation to ourselves, weighing, measuring, ascertaining them through a natural compass of pain and pleasure. In this way, one man’s favorite snack becomes another man’s poison, and one person’s pretty face becomes another one’s phantom. You’re conscious of anything only in its relation to your experiences (your favorite stinky doll or mattress is probably associated with comforting memories). You know me only in my relation to you.
I know one guy who hated chicken so much, it literally makes him vomit his guts out every single time–and he doesn’t even know the reason why. But the reason for that strange logic is in his mind all right–encoded into the folds of his brain though the key to it may be lost to him forever. To this chicken-hating, otherwise normal guy, it won’t matter how much you describe to him that spicy buffalo wings dripping with sauce taste like heaven; to him, it would taste and smell like a steaming bowl of poop soup.
And you know what the totally weird thing is about humanity? There’s bound to be somebody out there who thinks a steaming bowl of poop soup is a 3-Michelin star delicacy.
So going back: me and this jolly fellow had a good laugh at this person’s anti-social oddity over lunch but, in reality, I mostly laughed because I didn’t want to embarrass the storyteller, considering he graciously made the effort to entertain us as we killed time before our orders arrived (and I couldn’t emphasize more how much people who help us kill time during awkward waiting situations should be thanked; in my book, they are nothing less than heroes and saints). In truth, I simply thought that the remarkably brilliant, people-hating guy was in love with himself that much more, which, looking at the big picture, is not that big of a deal.
Thanks, Whitney Houston, for drilling the greatest love of all into our heads.
Why would he want to hear somebody gossip about who Ms. Jackie at the HR is dating or pay attention to three-minutes’ worth of badly misinformed, sadly misinterpreted, overall cringe-worthy political opinion, when he could listen to the fascinating voice in his own head? Think about it. If Albert Einstein were living now, would he find much interest in Netflix when he could tune in anytime to the show in his head for free and witness the secrets of the universe unfold in spectacular 8k ultra HD? Granted this guy we’ve been examining is certainly no Einstein but I’m sure he still found more reasons why being alone was a vastly more exciting prospect than being with other folks.
But aside from that endlessly entertaining voice in your head, who are those other people worth talking to? It’s tempting to say they’re those who have the most quantifiable utility to us–“quantifiable” because if we were such a douchebag to actually sit and ponder how much each person in our life could help us achieve or impede our goals and wants, we’d be successful in doing so. We could segregate the winners from the losers and throw the rotten basket away. It’s not something someone with a clear conscience and who was brought up by their parents with genuine love and care would do, but it’s definitely a viable option.
However, the truth is far more complicated than that, thankfully! People are an undecipherable lot in that sometimes, it’s the most dreadfully useless persons they like or fall in love with; men and women who are the equivalent of the human appendix–a vestigial organ that you could usually surgically remove without causing any problems to the other organs of the body. And yet, these useless, worthless people are, for some, the most indispensable in their lives though they couldn’t readily pinpoint why. They wouldn’t be the best conversationalists and may not even speak as much as grunt like ogres would, and, all in all, they could be what amounts to a good-for-nothing, bloodsucking scoundrel. But such qualities wouldn’t matter if love got involved since this powerful force would steamroll over all those ugly bumps and cracks on the surface, smoothly paving that loathsome, questionable character into nothing less than Humphrey fucking Bogart.
You could probably then say that the people who are worth talking to are, more often than not, those superfluous to one’s existence. Maybe due to the fact that excessiveness is an unmistakable characteristic of life.
Part 3: Please Distract Me From the Fact That I’m a Big, Breathing Bag of Meat
Which brings us to the third part of this drunken rumination: forwarding this theory that life is all about excessiveness because the more excessive a thing is, the stronger is its power to distract you from the fact that you’re nothing but a delicate breathing bag of meat.
Have you ever stopped yourself in the middle of chewing a sizable chunk of hamburger, looked intently at where you bit off the bread and patty, and just marvelled at the fact that you’re eating basically the same material as yourself? I know I have. This “food”–supposedly so different from the one who devours it–is organic tissue, muscles and fat singed to a crispy, juicy brown ball of goodness that essentially has no difference to the mouth that’s eating it: meat eating meat.
Our biological simplicity can be pretty scary if you put down your hamburger and just think about this for a second. I have oftentimes rattled myself at the thought of just how literally fragile we all are (I’m not talking about your fragile emotions if you’re a sentimental crybaby, but that also supports this concept that we’re all feeble creatures). One would think the apex predator and the primary driving force of change in the expanse of a planet would be something more beastly and durable (I’m thinking fanged, metallic beings that process inorganic matter and nuclear waste for energy, or maybe like Goku’s race, the Saiyans), but no–it’s just these whole lot of awkward, two-legged barrels of meat who are suffering from all sorts of diseases, including hilariously petty things like “heartaches.” “Oh, mother, I can’t go to work today–my heart is aching!”
Knock on wood, but ending the life of the average member of this apex predator species is quite easy (and you know, that’s why hit men are overall kinda cheap, especially in a Third World country like the Philippines). We’re basically lumbering giant water balloons terrorizing towns and the townspeople, forgetting the fact that a well-placed ballpoint pen pointed upwards can puncture and deflate us anytime. And I think we are deeply aware of this tremendous vulnerability, so, as a species, we’ve made it our critical mission to hide that fact and practically forget all about it. And how do we do this? Through culture. Flashy, garish, mostly pointless, shockingly pretentious culture.
And lest you think I’m just hating on beautiful things and beautiful people, let me develop that idea further. I don’t hate beautiful people–well, not all of them. Beautiful people and beautiful things in general give us relief from the general misery and ugliness of life (and nowhere is that more apparent than on PornHub–where you can access the ultimate benefits of unbridled beauty for free). It seems to me that culture is all about trying to construct the ultimate image of beauty no matter how it eludes us because beauty hides those pathetic, pulsating pieces of meat or those lumbering giant water balloons that can be punctured anytime.
Nowhere is this obsession with excessive beauty more blatant and overwhelming than in a modern art museum. Virtually none of the artworks in this place need be here–existing, inviting people to gawk at them and whisper ludicrous interpretations but, nevertheless, they are. I’m specifically thinking about those kinds of art that look like 3-year-old children could have produced them if you gave them three buckets of paint and enough space to do whatever they wanted to do. Five years ago, a painting by artist Barnett Newman, featuring a single white line across a blue canvass–a piece that looked almost exactly like a ping-pong table and would probably do fine as a ping-pong table–sold for $43.8 million at Sotheby’s; while I admit I don’t have the slightest training in discerning abstract expressionist art from something that could have been painted by some bloke taking his Monday morning crap, I just can’t see even now how such a thing could be valued at $43.8 million. If you wanted evidence of worthless excessiveness worth more than the lives of millions of people, you’ve got it right there.
Let me illustrate this further. If we’re being very strict about the requirements of life, all we need really are just some leaves and bugs to put in our mouths and water to drink and we’d survive just fine (yes, I know I’m throwing hyperbole like ninja throwing stars here but please bear with me). This bare minimum of survival, however, isn’t really living, is it? “Living” is piling up unnecessary things on top of one another–knowledge, spirituality, sentimentality, romanticism, artistry… until we’ve pretty much forgotten that we could actually drop all of these any second and get back to eating bugs and we’d be all right. In short–the gaudiness in a modern art museum reminds us that life is all about this astonishing excess, which is a requirement to say that one really “lives.”
And that’s why I don’t agree that the poorest people in this world “lives.” They’re definitely existing, but I’ve seen a lot of dead people lying more comfortable in their coffins.
The pursuit of excesiveness happens not just in art though but in everyday life. To give an example: your day is spent looking for those sought-after “distractions.” How to kill time? How do I push myself to be productive today? How to have fun? We’re recklessly driven by this persuasive force to continuously, sometimes maniacally, look for things and activities that could cover these long hours.
What your distracting yourself from isn’t really the stagnant state of your love life or the tight deadlines waiting for you at your workplace but the fact that you’re a bag of meat slowly but surely spoiling and decaying under the heat of the sun. You’re scared that the piece of meat that is you will go bad before anything in your life starts to get good. To point out the tritest thought, “living life to the fullest” is merely maximizing the pleasures this world has to offer because in the back of our minds, we know we’ll perish soon (and we are perishing now as you read this fucking long-ass article) as meat necessarily does the moment it leaves the vagina–that lovely pink piece of meat from which all other pieces of meat come from.
Living ostentatiously is somehow a protest to the way the universe conspired to give us such weak bodies. So we have to be as extravagant and as unreasonable as possible because every time we do so, we raise a big, fat finger to the irony of existence and we exclaim that we are more than what we seem to be–that we’re not just organic matter temporarily passing by due to the complete randomness of events in the cosmos, but rather, we are dazzling beings destined for greatness, glory, and some lasting legacy we’re not entirely sure about.
But don’t ask me what that legacy is. I’m probably just someone you stumbled upon on the internet while you were searching for porn.
Part 4: But Why Should You Believe Something You Just Came Across on the Internet While Searching for Porn?
Responsibility–our mothers and fathers never tired of hammering this into our heads and spanking this onto our butts but still it never seemed to stick that permanently, did it? You may think that you’re responsible but, bad news, you’re really not.
If you were responsible, you wouldn’t have let your precious time be consumed reading this rant that someone who may just be a legit lunatic typed in a cell in some dark, twisted mental facility hidden underground where scientists are conducting experiments to develop a drug that could induce people to give opinions on subjects they have no expertise about.
If you were responsible you wouldn’t have read past Humphrey Bogart’s name in the first paragraph because it’s obviously a splashy shit of an article that thought too much of itself, and is an absolute disservice and slight to the grand manliness of Humphrey Bogart who didn’t have to do too much and say too much to be of significance.
But you didn’t. You’re still here, perhaps waiting for some punchline that won’t come. Maybe I’ll make a note to deliver it later.
If you were responsible enough, you would’ve spent your time reading other articles by more authoritative sites out there; sites where serious investigative journalism dig up irrefutable facts that are so cut and dried all you need to do is just put them in your mouth and proceed to digest. This world is awash with facts. It’s a testament to how irresponsible people are that there’s even such a thing as “fake news”–that there are even so many arguments and disagreements going on when the cold science is out there for everyone’s perusal. Why are we even debating climate change and why are we even talking about whether we should try to do something about it or not? We’re so dumb we deliberately choose to be idiots in the face of so much verifiable, unquestionable knowledge. In a similar vein, why are we even discussing whether people of the same sex should marry or not? Is it so hard to imagine that 50 years from now, the hopeless ignoramuses who are against this would look like even bigger hopeless ignoramuses when kids in the future read and snigger about this pointless problem in their textbooks?
A thoroughly responsible individual would’ve definitely chosen to consume something with actual citations, APA, MLA, and Chicago. A singularly responsible person would’ve dived into a piece of writing that took its time to respect the past by mentioning those intelligent people before who have already spouted its old, hackneyed ideas (you don’t seriously think I was the first one who thought we are nothing but vulnerable water balloons, did you?). In fact, an exceptionally responsible human being would make absolutely sure that all that their brain absorbs is measurable, unassailable, ironclad truths like “a triangle has three sides.”
Congratulations! Your parents clearly didn’t rear you the scientific way. There are obvious lapses in your judgment and your reasoning flows like a grimy sink clogged with someone’s armpit hair. Your logic is not so much a logic but a bunch of three-syllable kindergarten words repeatedly screamed over and over again until the listener surrenders at the threat of you dealing them serious physical harm. You are a caveman. An unshaven, grubby neanderthal who worships bears and mates with creatures that are not even of the same species as yours, grotesque little fuckers called homo sapiens.
If given good advice, you would listen to it beaming then discard it away faster than vomit gushes out the throat of a drunken man. If you were told you act like a booger-eating halfwit in love you would keep on dining on your plate of booger anyway because you’re a booger-eating halfwit in love. And if it were pointed out that you are, in fact, in love with an earwax-gobbling blockhead, you wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to leave that earwax-gobbling blockhead of a lover and you two will end up binging on boogers and earwax forever and ever until you die surrounded by your mutant children.
You refuse to believe. You refuse to believe that a triangle has three sides. You would try to find a hole in seamless logic to serve your own purposes and self-interests, usually to make you feel better. You just can’t accept that you’re wrong and that you have glaring flaws in your beliefs and in your personal hygiene–because you’d rather eat a steaming bowl of poop soup than admit someone’s better than you. You are the proudest heap of bullshit to ever come out of the plains of Africa. An insecure, insufficient, inflexible, incongruent, incontinent amoeba of incompetencies and influencer of inconsequential things that’s not going to help move things in the right direction for this world one bit.
I wish I could say that’s ok but it’s not. I guess the only shred of solace I can give you is that everyone’s in the same boat, even the wisest ones. Heck the smartest fellow humankind has ever produced, our guy Einstein, was more or less responsible for the atomic bomb that killed hundreds of thousands of people, and it sounded like he regretted it plenty, too.
Now that’s irresponsible.
Part 5: Hope Blossoms in the Valley of the Dumb
Is it really cynical to admit that the odds are against us? Last year, Oxfam, a nonprofit working to end injustices in the world that cause poverty, released a study that estimated there were a total of eight men–eight men who may as well be gods for they could poop anything into existence if they wanted to–who were as rich as the poorest 3.6 billion people combined. Nine countries hold nuclear weapons and and a good number of their heads of state are men who could be clinically diagnosed as dunderheads. In the Philippines, the people voted for a man of the people only to discover later on that he was a man built for ending the people. I know because I voted for him, too. In a large swath of the world, the Marxist dream has ended because, apparently, all the masses wanted for comfort so as not to revolt was for their vacation pictures to be sufficiently Liked on social media. People have succeeded in turning racism and bigotry into everyday jokes that we have more or less assured ourselves that the more light we shed on these issues, the jokes are just going to get better and better. Your boss has dropped all pretense of being benevolent and has figured out you’d lick his hiney for peanuts, anyway, if they assured you your job was secure. Love, in all its forms, is still as scarce as it’s ever been and the few moments it suddenly appears like an unexpected Pokemon, you realize it’s a selfish, store-bought, rehashed tragedy waiting to happen. You’re still aching in about twenty-four different places because you’re growing old faster than the latest meme, and above all this–above all this–when you take the time to sit back and think about it, life still doesn’t have plans to make its meaning clear to you. Is it really cynical to believe we are riding a flaming chariot to hell?
Despite all these hardships, we stupidly carry on and persevere in attempting to make something for ourselves. You still work your day job and your night job and your midnight job and your self-handjob until you sleep dreaming of another bout of jobs for tomorrow. Hey, maybe you’ll get promoted. After 10 years. Enveloped by a stifling cloud of loneliness, you still feebly reach for your mobile phone to make a pathetic attempt at connecting with someone out there, anyone, who may have the luxury of a few seconds to talk to you. Maybe tell you your hair looks soft. And when they type in on that little screen that your hair does indeed look soft, you clasp on that memory so desperately it could mean the difference between a good day and a bad day, a good year and a bad year.
Because we are impervious to facts and hungry for tales. We love stories about people who overcome adversity as if one rags-to-riches story nullifies a thousand stories of people who didn’t so much as fail as got stepped on by an AT-AT. They didn’t even have time to say “Youch!” They simply disappeared without a trace, unremembered by graves, completely alien to history books.
Imagine that there were a machine delivered from the future to the present by a special Amazon service and this machine spat out an itemized inventory of the failures, torments, and sorrows you’ll have to endure for the rest of your life, would you still go on? Of course you would. You’re built to believe. In fact, said inventory could probably anger you so much you’d demand a refund from future Amazon for offering such a shitty service. Your very consciousness is forged to believe in unknowables while conveniently disregarding the fact that 99% of the most important things are already known. This is the reason why religion is possible and romantics exist.
From this fatal allergy to truth, amidst the confusion of not knowing enough, basically due to the condition of being apallingly dumb, a sort of magic materializes out of thin air. This magic hypnotizes us into believing that it’s possible to turn the tide against the cruelty of the circumstances; that if we fought hard like mad dogs snarling and drooling in an arena of death, we could emerge victorious. Get a raise or a match on Tinder. Make daddy proud for once.
This is hope and it blossoms in the valley of the dumb. If another asteroid were again to smash the face of the planet, we’d have hope to thank for the many tales we’ll leave behind. For if nothing else, even if narratives, autobiographies, histories, and romance novels were imperfect and mostly false, life would still have been about telling a trillion stories and the earth would remember us as great storytellers–flamboyant and bewildered.
Rick: Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean what you’re fighting for.
Laszlo: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
Rick: Well, what of it? It’ll be out of its misery.
Laszlo: You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart. Each of us has a destiny – for good or for evil.
Rick: I get the point.
Laszlo: I wonder if you do. I wonder if you know that you’re trying to escape from yourself, and that you’ll never succeed.
Rick: You seem to know all about my destiny.
Laszlo: I know a good deal more about you than you suspect. I know, for instance, that you’re in love with a woman. It is perhaps a strange circumstance that we both should be in love with the same woman. The first evening I came to this café, I knew there was something between you and Ilsa. Since no one is to blame, I – I demand no explanation. I ask only one thing. You won’t give me the letters of transit: all right, but I want my wife to be safe. I ask you as a favor, to use the letters to take her away from Casablanca.
Rick: You love her that much?
Laszlo: Apparently you think of me only as the leader of a cause. Well, I’m also a human being. Yes, I love her that much.