The title of this post comes from a phrase written by Camus and the title of a Pearl Jam song

There are few things that make sense to me about the world we live in. The Problem of Evil suggests that if God is, then we either cannot presume to understand God’s workings or intent. We have gone through all sorts of mental gymnastics to attempt to explain the presence of suffering and pain in this world. If free will is the answer, it seems that from the beginnings of human existence, since humans came out of the proverbial garden, the torment of being overcame the torment of survival. Sartre and the existentialists examined this problem of damnation to choose our existence and self-determination.We are “condemned to be free,” which is a common point theists and irreligionists can agree on (but presumably not Calvinists and determinists, who are silly anyway). Whether it is the free will offered by “God” or the natural freedom of individual action that exists in the world, we can also agree that we are influenced by forces greater than ourselves; sociological factors, such as family, peers, society and ideas, but whether our behavior is determined by that leaves the capacity of an individual to decide for themselves in question. Ultimately, we are doomed to find our own frameworks of thought in a world operating by forces outside the ecology which made our hunter-gathering lives much simpler; and the efforts we place into rationalizing the absurdity of our existence produce a strain on the limited creative powers of each man. Beyond this, there are the conflicting interests of our beast-like nature; the hunger of a people versus others. The ideologies and justifications for brutality, exploitation, pursuing satisfaction at a cost to others, and seeing the psychologically twisted whims of some men met despite the irrational and barbaric torment inflicted to the dispossessed.

John Singer Sargent’s “Gassed”, 1918

 
We seem to define our existence through conflict and struggle, and Kierkegaard recognized this better than most, when he wrote

Is despair an excellence or a defect? Purely dialectically, it is both. The possibility of this sickness is man’s superiority over the animal, for it indicates infinite sublimity that he is spirit. Consequently, to be able to despair is an infinite advantage, and yet to be in despair is not only the worst misfortune and misery—no, it is ruination.

Intelligence seems to be a self-defeating concept, some sort of evolutionary anomaly that begs for self-destruction. Daniel Quinn suggested that when man took fate into his own hands, through the agrarian method and domesticating plants and animals to provide a dependable food source, he gained the power “to decide who lives and who dies” and took that out of the hands of “the gods.” Here it was metaphorical for the natural, ecological balance. Yet we have seen a few millenia of our species asserting its superiority, gaining its dominance over the earth, and now we see the expense it causes to the ecology. We can see as the world becomes more interconnected, or smaller as some say, and we gain a wider, broader perspective, with more accurate information about history, behavior, and so forth, our justifications for our existence falter and become somewhat arbitrary validations of our own pet beliefs. Those of us who stop for a moment and take a break from killing each other, pillaging the earth and hoarding up materials we cannot take with us past death are confused by the fixations of others; on “precious” stones, on forcing one’s will on another,

There is a sociological model that likens individuals and groups to the organs of a body (I can’t remember what it’s called or who’s responsible for the comparison). If that’s the case, and we take the perspective of an social evolution, we can see the rapid advances in the last 200 years since industrialization as though our mouths have learned to chew food better, our arms have become stronger, our stomachs are more tolerant and have a wider pallet. Our feet are swifter, we can traverse the globe in a day or so. Our eyes are more keen, we can see further and sharper into things distant and close. If there’s one part of our anatomy that’s lacking, it’s the brain.

 Illustration by Fritz Kahn

Obviously I mean to contrast our scientific advancements with our philosophical ones. Despite all our advances in convenience, automation, and ability, we still seem to be lacking a responsible control mechanism for those abilities; our festering id is placated by a healthy, strong ego, which suits the rationalists, free-market theorists, international relations experts and “just war” theorists who love to see reason suited to meet their needs, bent on one knee to shovel sustenance into the gaping maw of their first world appetites. Meanwhile the super-ego languishes in the care of belittled idealists, people discarded and ignored because “the real world doesn’t work that way.” It is the story of anyone who has worked for an end to war – with the overarching goal of an end to not just the current war, but all wars. Labeled as naive, some see all wars as part of a continous stream of aggression in various forms and incarnations; like a manifestation of some subconcious demon, war can be construed as a class phenomenon, a mark of religious extremism, or simply the human race trying to kill itself yet again. 

What is happening is the hands and arms, strong and nimble after 200 years of progress, have no fine motor control, an under-developed reasoning process, and malicious memes and thought-process like the viruses Richard Dawkins likened them to have taken over and are trying to suffocate the head before these parts of the brain can develop. Like an umbilical cord wrapped around the head of an infant, the selfish desires of men lacking a developed ethical and critical thought process are swiftly removing all the oxygen from the room. While donning their own masks, they are quickly choking the life out of dissenting voices, still in their infancy, still working for that answer that extends beyond the immanence of personal understanding and individual revelation. As this suffocation increases exponentially, is their hope for humanity? Will we discover the “divine” answer that we left the garden to search for? Or is this entropic mistake correcting itself, and will the universe eventually abide in restored equilibrium?


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