In which I look at the delusions we all share
Today I read an article on the Telegraph website that positively screamed “You are alone in a random and uncaring universe.” Seems a four year old American boy was sitting in church when he was suddenly killed by a bullet which ballistics experts figure was fired into the air from an AK-47 assault rifle three or four miles away. Apart from the obvious tragic and ironic elements, I can’t help but feel that a four year old kid probably doesn’t want to be in church in the first place. It’s like those people in Pompeii, frozen in place for eternity. There’s this one dude playing dice, and that’s all anyone knows about him, and will ever know about him. What if that was his first time playing? What if he was the world’s greatest poet, or a physician, or just a really good family man? In a thousand years time virtually nothing you know will have any relevance and everything you do today will have been meaningless. The only time we can make a difference is right now.
The other thing that bugs me about the article is that the guy who fired the gun is currently unknown. I guess there are two possibilities, either he knows that by pure bad fortune his actions caused the death of an infant and hasn’t told anyone, or he is going about his business completely unaware of this horrible, horrible fact. I guess there is a third possibility, which I guess is the one I’d probably go for if I were in his shoes, which is that he figured that taking his own life would be preferable to living each day with that horrible knowledge and simply hasn’t been found yet. Obviously, it’s a pretty terrible situation and one without even the faintest hope of a happy ending.
But it’s unlikely he was a bad dude, just incredibly unlucky. I guess it’s like that line from Phantasm, shoot to kill or don’t shoot at all. And I guess that that’s something I’ve been thinking about with the new year dawning, how do I become a better person?
I’m a pretty terrible person, but within socially acceptable limits. I don’t believe in moral absolutes, but it’s not like I do any of the really bad stuff, like killing or raping. But I don’t really do any good either, pretty much the only positive contribution I make is volunteering most afternoons I’m home from Uni, and even then it’s mainly a way of killing time rather than something I do to make a difference.
I guess my main problem is the same as everyone else’s: apathy. Every few days you hear about a murder or some terrible crime, and you feel bad for a few minutes and never think about it again. You pass victims of horrible misfortune in the street and do nothing to make a difference. A girl I met last Thursday at the BHF was telling me about a friend of hers whose Mum had kicked her out of her house that morning. The friend was pregnant, and this was New Year’s Eve. It was clearly a bad situation, and I simply did nothing to find out more or to try and make a difference. My room is kept for me when I’m at Uni and we have a spare room with a bed buried under crap we don’t need. We also have two futons which are never really used. That means that for eight months of the year we have two unused bedrooms and four unused beds in our house. Even so, I’ve never met the pregnant girl and that was the first time I’d met the friend that morning, so it’s not like I could invite her back to my parent’s house, that would just be crazy. And I don’t have any spare cash I could have passed on. So even if I had cared I would have been unable to do anything. And that feeling sucks.
My brother bought two girls back to our house after his shift ended at Tesco last night. He wanted them to spend the night, but my parents said no because it was at zero notice and they had no idea who those girls were, so they sent them out into the snow. And I totally get why my parents did it, but it sucks to live in a world where that makes sense.
But it would have been considered crazy to take them in! Which I guess is something I take comfort in, that the whole world is crazy to some degree. Take the example of the kid in church from earlier; anyone who believes in any kind of higher power when pure randomness like that causes untold death each and every day must be a little crazy, right? And I understand how it’s a comforting kind of craziness, but it’s crazy nonetheless! And people acting on arbitrary religious dogma passed down from generation to generation to people who are at the very least a little bit crazy, right? And religious war, well, that’s just pure insanity.
And then there’s the other religion dominant in our society today: economics. There’s so much worry and despair that stems from finance, when really it’s all a big shared delusion we all tacitly enter into. I get that it works on a very simple scale, when one unit of currency represents one unit of labour, which can then be exchanged for other goods or services. Fine. But when some people have literally made millions, or even billions, then surely the whole system stops making any sense? People are losing their jobs, their homes, their children due to this economy which was screwed up by the very people we put our faith in, meanwhile Next has just announced predicted annual profits at around half a billion pounds.
Today it was also announced that pi has been calculated to 2.7 trillion digits. I guess my Dad thought it was funny that anyone cares (he sent me the news, and when I tried to talk about it the words “stupid” and “pointless” were used) but I think it’s phenomenal. I read a book about Pi over the Summer and it’s truly fascinating, a kind of yardstick of the limits of what we as a species are capable of, at least in the sense of technology and mathematics. I understand that we don’t need the information (with eleven digits you can calculate the circumference of any circle that will fit on the Earth’s surface to within a centimetre, with thirty-nine digits you can calculate the circumference of any circle that will fit in the known universe) but seeing as the number is infinitely long we still have an infinite amount to discover, and it’s not like we’ve put research into curing diseases on hold in order to calculate this. I realise I’m something of a nerd here, but I don’t care, I have a t-shirt that reads “πmp” (get it?) and can currently recite pi to sixty-seven digits, which I often do in my head as it is a great way to focus and/or calm down.
Ultimately I don’t think I do anything that’s actively bad or harmful to others, I just live a fairly hedonistic lifestyle. And even then not to any great degree, it’s not like I’m snorting coke off a hooker’s thigh. I’ve never taken any illegal substances; in fact I’ve turned pot down on more than a couple of occasions. (Not due to any moral or ethical reasons, purely that it’s illegal and I don’t want to fail any drug test if an employer or the university makes me take one. When they legalise pot and restore our civil liberties I imagine I’ll be blazin’ a phat blunt to celebrate, yo.) The only real vices I succumb to are porn, booze and meat.
Porn I don’t really care about, I only look at the free stuff, I do it on my own laptop from my own ISP account, and it’s there to be looked at. I’d feel much more guilty jerkin’ it (which is generally what I’m doing when I’m looking at porn) thinking about someone in my own life. Furthermore, I still get creeped out by regular, straight-forward sex, so rather than looking at that I end up looking at weird, fetishistic stuff I could never, ever ask another person to engage in. Ultimately, I guess I feel I’m a better/happier/nicer person if I get some relief once in a while, and it’s not like there’s anyone else who’s going to help me with that. So I guess I can justify it rationally, even if in reality I tend to feel disgusted with myself afterwards.
Booze, again, is just a nice form of escapism which is pretty acceptable socially. In fact, at university it’s pretty much taken for granted that you imbibe a little once in a while, and if you overdo it, then no harm, no foul. To be honest, if I’m drinking I do tend to get properly drunk, but what’s the harm, really? The stupidest thing I’ve ever done in the search of a good time was drinking a bottle of over-the-counter cough medicine in the hope of getting a bigger buzz, which is stupid and irresponsible, but on the other hand I’ve read reports of twelve year olds regularly doing the same thing, so relatively speaking I guess it’s not so bad.
Meat is the real mind-blower to me. I realise that it’s basically pretty horrible and selfish, and I probably wouldn’t do it if I had to physically kill an animal every time I wanted a snack. But I was reading that in a lifetime the average person eats 4.4 cows worth of beef, which seems reasonable to me. So I guess if I was asked to kill five cows now in order to carry on eating beef for the rest of my life, then yeah, I would. Chickens are a lot worse, the average person eats around 1,040 chickens in their life, which is obviously a lot, but again I figure that they’re being bred purely to be killed and eaten, and if I decided not to do so because I thought I was making a point or taking a stand, someone else would eat the things anyway, so why not benefit from the delicious chicken goodness? The worst thing I eat on a regular basis is probably a scotch egg, which I suppose is the death of one type of animal wrapped around the potential for life of another, and then coated in breadcrumbs. I realise that this is ethically speaking pretty horrific, but I just don’t care, because it makes me feel good.
And I guess that’s the crux of it, we are alone in a godless universe purely as a result of billions upon untold billions of random events. Nothing that we do will matter within a couple of generations, assuming that as a species we make it that long. The only chance we have to make a difference is right now, and this is the only opportunity you have to be happy. So tell yourself whatever lies you have to in order to get through the day with a smile on your face, because we can all go at literally any second. Start this year intending to do whatever makes you feel good.
Thanks for reading this, I hope some of it makes sense to you. Remember, you will never have more potential for greatness than you do right now.
Comment by Greta posted on Mon, 11/01/2010 12:57
Woop woop! 🙂
Comment by Rees posted on Mon, 11/01/2010 12:34
Heh heh heh – Cheers Lucy for the supportive comment. I was totally trying to get at what you were saying, only not as eloquently as you did!
I guess part of this post is realising that perfection isn’t attainable when it comes to being good, or normal, or even “sane” – we all believe in things that make no sense and do things which are weird or that we feel guilty about. That may sound obvious but it’s a hard thing to accept that you may never be an upstanding pillar of virtue, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying life and accepting the way you are. So do that as much as you possibly can!
Woop woop to us indeed!
Comment by Lucy posted on Mon, 11/01/2010 11:38
From what I can get from this blog is that you’re trying to say that make life now make a difference? We only live once and our lives are so short in comparison to the whole of time that we need to make now count…rather than just letting it all pass by. What I think is a wonderful message…if that was what you was trying to say or I have just come up with a good message from no where! either woop woop to us!
But to add to that it seems like you are beating yourself up for not being perfect. And well no one is. And we have to think of ourselves from time to time too as if we dont then we dont live life to our full potential. Yeh I want to make a difference with my life…so does everyone…but it doesnt have to be a big difference. Even if you just give one person some hope then surely thats a good thing? And well i think you volunteering is lovely. Even if you do it to kill time you could be doing anything. To kill time I watch films…I dont go into town and volunteer! So give youself some credit!