Welcome! Happy New Year!
So 2020 is done and dusted and we’re so ready to leave the stress, chaos and general shittiness of the Worst Year Ever™ behind. Great. We’re also hoping 2021 will be kinder to us, but before we all get carried away by the winds of a new beginning, let me just say this. I don’t normally get esoteric, but I think this situation calls for it so here we go.
You just exist.
What exactly do I mean by this?
Well, I mean it quite literally—you just exist. One day your parents had sex and after roughly nine months, out you popped. You didn’t ask to be born into this world yet here you are living in it, possibly even against your wishes. So what now? You go to school, study, make friends, maybe study even further at an institute of higher learning, get a job, get married, buy a house, fuck a few times until you give birth to an unwilling baby of your own and then raise it until you die. I mean, that’s the plan, right? Society’s plan.
And now, all of a sudden, you no longer simply exist, you must prove yourself useful too, otherwise what’s the point? Because one of the unwritten laws of this world dictates that you must become a useful member of society to really have any worth as a human being at all. Just look at how we treat the disabled and people on welfare. We call them “welfare queens” and “dole bludgers” and “useless eaters” and some of us even wish they were dead! Honestly! But is that really what we were put on earth to do? To be useful? No, of course not.
You simply exist. That’s all. Your job isn’t to make yourself useful for anyone else, it’s simply to exist. Just the way the universe made you. Everything else is a man-made thing called convention because the universe certainly doesn’t care what you do. It, too, simply exists. In fact, it doesn’t even know it exists. That can be extremely depressing or extremely liberating.
Here’s what I mean:
The universe doesn’t give a fuck about you.
It’s not conspiring against you nor is it looking out for you. The universe, by itself, is probably one of the most neutral things ever. It’s only humans who try to bend things to their will. That means the universe is neither good nor bad, karma isn’t real, and even if you follow all the rules, dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s, that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be rewarded for it. You can also do the most reprehensible things and still not be punished for it.
I know hearing that sucks. It’s disheartening. Depressing, even. Why do we have all these rules and regulations, then, if we’re not going to be rewarded for following them? If the bad guys won’t even be punished for their crimes?
Well, the reason we do that is because humans like order. We like it when things are neat and tidy—it helps us make sense of the world. That’s why have things such as in groups and out groups, boundaries and borders, hierarchies and pecking orders, states and governments, and why organised religion is so big. It’s because those institutions help us organise and give meaning to what would otherwise be a chaotic and ultimately meaningless existence, and again, us humans like that. Our lizard brains do not deal well with chaos. Which brings me to point 2,
Life has no meaning.
Human existence is inherently meaningless—it only takes on whatever meaning you want to ascribe to it. People may say they have the answers to living a great, possibly even ideal life, whether it’s material success, spiritual enlightenment, being surrounded by loved ones or what have you, but in truth, those are not universal at all and depend on each person’s values and beliefs.
For example, I might say that life is meant to be spent in the pursuit of knowledge, but that is only because I value curiosity and lifelong learning. Another person might say that life is meant to be spent having a good time, and they’ll have their own reasons for it. Perhaps they simply enjoy hedonistic pleasures or they have an allergy to work or something else. Yet another person might say that life is meant to be lived strictly in accordance to the wishes of God, which obviously means religion is very important to them.
Who can say they’re wrong? Someone might decide they want to spend their entire lives murdering babies and unless you believe in some form of karmic retribution or the all knowing justice of some supreme deity, you can’t say that that’s not how life is meant to be lived at all. How do you know? Again, the universe doesn’t give a fuck what you do. It doesn’t care whether you get straight As at school, donate frequently to charities and you’re extremely diligent in caring for the environment, or whether you murder babies for fun.
You’re just a speck of dust in this gigantic vacuum called the galaxy, a mere ant in the vast expanse of the solar system, no different to all the other little specks of dust or any other cosmic particle. The earth will continue to revolve around the sun regardless of what you do or don’t do (humans may no longer be able to survive on this changing earth but that’s an article for someone else to write). Which brings me to point 3,
Nothing is permanent. Also, you will die.
Humans will come and go, like all species, and soon nobody will be left to remember you. Yes, I’m talking about death. You will die. You are pretty much guaranteed to die. All humans are.
This simple truth is often obscured through the pushing of conspicuous consumption and all the excess that goes along with it, encouraging us to buy something, do something, or go see someplace like we’re going to live forever, which I think is mistaking glitter for gold because while what you do from point A to point B is completely up to you, you can’t cheat death. I mean, sure, you can delay it with healthy living and medical treatment, but ultimately death will have the last laugh. There’s a poem in Buddhism that I can’t remember properly right now but it goes something like this (badly paraphrased):
What use is material goods when I die? I cannot take it with me to the afterlife. Even my body will rot, so what even is the use of coveting beauty?
It deals with the second noble truth, which states that the origin of all our suffering is attachment (which is predicated on our delusion that everything is somehow permanent). Now, I have no interest in pushing religion on this blog and I’m not particularly religious anyway, but this poem (and I’m pretty sure it’s a poem) demonstrates that nothing lasts forever. All things, good and bad, will pass eventually and the only reason you’re suffering is because you think it won’t.
You spend your entire lives chasing things that are only temporary and things you can’t even take with you when you die, which of course isn’t your fault. You’ve been led by society and centuries of advertising to believe that certain things are compulsory when in fact they are not—they are merely illusions—hoping that this next thing will give you whatever you seek in the moment, whether that’s feeling high, status, money, beauty, admiration, a longer life and so on.
We all do it. But of course, all things gained are momentary. They will not last forever. And then you have to keep chasing after it which makes you unhappy with yourself (because you think if only I buy one more product or take one more course or get one more lap dance, I will finally be beautiful/successful/happy/whatever), and you suffer. The Buddha saw this continuous cycle of desire and attachment and suffering and proclaimed that only by giving up such desires in the first place will we put an end to suffering, which is incredibly difficult, obviously, but he had a good point.
2020 exposed all that. The coronavirus made us confront our own mortality, it took away all our comforts and all the things we know to be true, it exacerbated the deep divides that were already festering within our communities, and it made us realise that we truly have very little control of our own lives, and that shit’s scary. Very scary.
For the first time in forever, we were forced to reckon with our own fragile existence and the various meanings we give it and having it all come to shit because no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t live like we used to. Even simple things we used to take for granted, such as going to the shops to buy groceries, were no longer a sure thing. So what do humans do when everything they used to know no longer holds true? They freak out. Blame others. Espouse conspiracy theories. Pretend that everything’s fine and dandy when we all know it’s not. Like I said, our lizard brains can’t handle chaos. We get very uncomfortable when things are not neat and tidy for us.
Anyway, it also made us question things we used to take as facts, such as, all our lives we’re trying to prove ourselves, and for what? So we can die without our material possessions? So our lungs can fill up with fluid and our flesh can rot until it becomes a feast for maggots? So we can work ourselves to the ground just to make ends meet while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Why do we spend our lives trying to be useful citizens? Is it because it’s expected of us?
And what does being a useful citizen even constitute anyway? Does it mean having a job you hate so you can pay the bills for things you can barely afford? Does it mean working your butt off so your taxes can go towards bailing out the corporations that have billions in the bank while regular folks starve? Does it mean consuming goods you might not even need because you’re told that’s how the economy will recover post-covid and you have to do your part?
If we can take anything good out of the shitstorm that was 2020, it’s that it exposed the absurdity of the world we live in and all the rituals involved. Excuse me, all the man-made rituals. What, you didn’t think nature itself created this system of governance and all that did you? No, of course not!
As I said before, the universe does not give a crap about any of this. It simply exists. It’s because we’ve taken what the universe has provided and given various meanings to it and created myths and legacies out of it, fallacies such as this is how the world is supposed to work when in fact, and 2020 has shown us, none of that is true at all. And so we’re disappointed, we’re disheartened, we’re angry and we’re panicking. And so we suffer. The world didn’t work as we thought it would, as we thought it should. And so we suffer.
All the things we’re so used to doing we thought we’d do them forever—we didn’t, we couldn’t. The comforts we had, all gone in an instant. Our ways of life, of living, of working and enjoying, all gone. The system we thought would protect us, yeah, fat lot of good it did. And so we suffer. Did you really think it’d last forever?
Nothing is permanent. We all got attached. Now it’s gone and we may never get it back. Our old normal couldn’t last and we’re now tumbling into something new and scary, something unknown and different, something we never thought we’d ever have to deal with in our entire lives and something that we think should not even exist in the first place, and so we suffer. We thought the world and by extension our existence was one thing, something meaningful, but it turns out that it was another thing entirely, completely meaningless. And so we suffer.
Like I said, all this can either be incredibly depressing or incredibly liberating.
You exist. You will die. The universe doesn’t give a fuck either way. Do with this information whatever you will (but please don’t take it to mean I’m telling you to kill yourself. I’m not. I’m really not).
Happy 2021 and until next time,
Your friend in the trenches, the depressed duck
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