Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Happiness, Suffering, Loops, and Questions

As I've mentioned, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. So much thinking. I feel like I'm desperately seeking for answers to questions I don't fully understand.

I realized that one of the things that pulled me down into depression is this feeling that it's wrong to feel happy while there is so much suffering and injustice in the world. So I started thinking about the nature of suffering. It seems true that there will always be some suffering. People die, bad things happen, and there will be pain and grief. It's absurd to think that one can't be happy until every last person on the planet is already happy. What if we all felt that way? Nobody would ever be happy.

Then there's injustice. That, it feels, is the real problem. A small number of people continuously steal from the rest of us, causing more and more of us to suffer and starve and get sicker and die before we should. Systems of power and corruption now grip the entire world as we increasingly become a global community. Bigotry in so many forms not only exists but is carefully cultivated and exploited by the powerful in order to gain ever more power. Endless, bottomless human greed results in mass destruction and death.

Have we, as humans, always been like this? The more I contemplate, the more it seems like existence is an endless parade of contradictions. Humans have always hurt each other, yes. But humans have never dropped death from the sky via unmanned drones before, we have never put ourselves at risk of total annihilation via climate change before. I keep coming back to that old cliche of "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

My parents lived under the threat of the global nuclear apocalypse during the Cold War. While our kids do active shooter drills in school, they did "hide under your desk from the giant fiery explosion of death" drills. When I was younger, I was unable to imagine the horror and absurdity of living day to day life knowing that at any time, it could all end very quickly.

Today, a nuclear apocalypse seems pretty unlikely, though maybe it shouldn't. The threat of climate change is different, yet the same. Before the Cold War, WWII felt to many like the end of the world.

It feels as though existence is a series of loops, big and small. History seems to be a sad tale of humans making the same mistakes over and over and over. Or is that just the history we white people have written?

It is possible for us to live peacefully, yet some of us seem to always need to be warring against each other. Why? Can we humans ever step outside of this loop? Can we ever stop hating each other for arbitrary differences? Can we ever figure out how to stop bad people from seizing power and spreading misery in order to hold onto that power? What will it take?

How many thousands of years have humans asked these questions?

In the meantime, what does it mean to experience joy while holding the knowledge of human evil and mass suffering? And don't tell me to take a break from news and social media because both of these things are necessary for my job.

I wonder how I can be happy while there are concentration camps on U.S. soil, the true horrors of which I'm sure won't be revealed until many years later. Then I wonder if our prisons are so different from what we call concentration camps. They still employ slavery, so.

So much of the injustice of today has been around for my entire life, whether I was happy or not. The only difference now is that I'm aware of it. But awareness has not enabled me to stop it.

What I do know for sure is that I can't turn away from human suffering and injustice. I can't shrug it off, I can't pretend I don't know about it. I have to keep fighting, even if I feel like what I'm doing is ineffectual. I also am pretty sure that I can't be more effective until I get my mental health in order. But that thought also terrifies me, because people will suffer and die in the time that takes. Then again, how arrogant am I to think that I could stop a significant amount of human suffering and injustice now, even with fantastic mental health?

I am exhausted from all the questions. How are philosophers not just constantly annoyed with themselves? Maybe they are. Oh fuck that's more questions. Send help.

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