“Sorrow is just exhausting/So I’d rather feel nothing.”
If one is unable to distinguish between what is real and what is fake, then there’s no reason to expect that one should be able to tell the difference between an illusion and one’s own life.
Or rather, let’s put it this way: isn’t it strange that stories seem to evoke emotions that real events can’t? What could it be, such that those-which-aren’t are more than those-which-are?
There’s an irony to that, and the irony is the irony of the age. We live in a world with more-than-ever, and yet we have less than any, do we not? We are surrounded by more people than our ancestors could imagine, able to reach out and contact any at a moment’s notice, and yet we are more lonely than they could ever bear to think. We live hermetic, not hermitical lives – although hermits had to live in the desert, Hermes is the god of the city. Or weren’t you aware of the etymology? God, sometimes I think the words are the only things keeping me together. That, too, is ironic: the sign, the symbol is what I cling to, since I have no access to the meaning and even less to reality. That’s where we all are, I’m afraid.
Irony is humor, or rather, irony is the subsumption while humor is the release. What both cover is wrongness. One sees something which is wrong, deeply and unmistakably wrong, and the only way they can possibly save themselves from crushing despair even if they lack the power to answer it is to make the assertion of irony: namely, that it is even meaningful to say that things could ever be right. But irony is grim and coarse, so as much of it is released in humor as possible. With a laugh, the wounds of the world are shaken off, and for the ones deep enough to scar there is always sorrow to fall back on. But every time we laugh, the relief is a little less, until finally we laugh just to laugh, to stave off the nagging pain for just a moment longer. Jokes that used to be splendid and relaxing fun become rote and meaningless. Jokes that were rote and meaningless become dagger-twist reminders. Eventually, those jokes stop being jokes, once our tolerance for relief-humor is high enough, and of course they don’t ease the irony even for a moment. But isn’t it ironic, that something that’s supposed to help does nothing, perhaps even drags you further down into misery? And with that, everything becomes ironic and we lose any escape.
Irony is the substitution, the ought standing in for the is. There’s no other way for it to function. Do you think the eye-rolling hipster at the coffee shop is a stark realist, no matter how they try to play it to you? The very act of sigh, mock, that’s just how it is relies on the fundamental assumption that there is something else. Because the ideal is more important, therefore the real can be dismissed. Fun fact: the exact same thing is going on with the tough-guy act, “that’s just the way the world works, deal with it.” It’s just another way to dismiss the real. In the same boat: played-up and disproportionate outrage and faux-empathy. Want to know what a real human does? They offer whatever help they can, the real over the ideal. These days, you get one of three responses: send money, go volunteering, like on Facebook. All three are virtue performance, because they all focus on abstract people rather than real people.
“But I care about real people,” says the unfortunate soul. “I put way more time into my friends’ problems than I do my own.” Yeah, and what kind of help can a wreck of a person possibly give? The reality is, friends’ problems are so much easier to focus on because they’re not your own, because they’re not real, and therefore they feel so much more real. The fake, the illusion, has more power than the reality. It’s so much easier to play a part, play a role, than it is to actually become. This is why anticipating things is always better than doing them, why romances are better than relationships, why porn is better than sex, why images and stories are so damn much better than your real life.
“Trigger warning for everything that follows: the coddled, over-sensitive, “triggered” millennial crybaby does not exist. Hold your applause—the COSTMC is an oxymoron because coddling does not sensitize, it scleroses.”
Accurate recording of phenomena; mistakes correlation with cause and confuses certain effects. Seven out of ten. Understimulation does not cause sclerosis, it causes a disconnect from reality that can range from neurosis to psychosis. Sclerosis is caused by constant sensation – you don’t see a callus and infer soft living. All three are present in massive numbers in the current generation, not to mention the generations before.
Neurosis and psychosis are easy enough to explain with coddling. Children never get exposed to certain emotions, certain experiences, and so their senses which are supposed to adapt and adjust to them go utterly haywire. Typically, these are externally-oriented pieces of the human psychoanatomy, such as the ability to affect the world (power). Coddle the child, never give them the bounds of their own competence or grant them true freedom to act, and their understanding of these fundamental constraints will twist in on themselves and expose in unpredictable and undesirable ways: superiority and inferiority complexes, delusions of grandeur, obsessions, complacency, and so on. Probably underestimated is kinkiness. Play is how children get a grasp of their own bodies, and for children who never grew up, the only play left is sex. What, you didn’t think Homo erectus (a-ha) had black leather and whips, did you?
Sclerosis is a little harder to get a handle on. It’s overstimulation, and although it would be nice to just say that our raucous and titillating media is responsible, people still choose even meager happiness over heroin. Reality, when truly tasted, is fare more filling than any of the shadows we cast. It’s different from the tolerance mechanism as well, where you start needing more and more of something to just get your fix – we don’t try to get more and more of our own lives, but rather, the exact opposite. Sclerosis is protective. “Wait, so we’re being protected from…” Bingo.
Let’s tell ourselves a story. A child is born, and all their needs are taken care of. They don’t go hungry or thirsty, and physical pain is avoided at all costs. And yet, this child begins to shrink away from the world, little by little. They turn in on themselves, their hobbies turning to private pleasures, meaningless pleasures, possibly TV/video games/drugs as the case may be. Definitely porn. The child has trouble interacting with the world, has trouble feeling things, and ends up indecisive and complacent. In fact, attempts to interface with the world seem to be repressed, the psyche resisting any efforts to really connect. The primary symptom is generally depression, sometimes matched with overactive imagination. Fantasy is a good foil to reality. What could cause this? Doctors are stumped. They try to treat the depression. No dice. Better try: under what circumstances do we see this? When an animal withdraws from the world, what do we always identify as the cause?
The only sane, the only sensible conclusion is that the human is suffering unbearable agony. Not physical, because that’s been eliminated, but psychic, from sources that can scarce be imagined. We are in constant, almost unendurable pain from living deeply inhuman lives. That is what keeps us numb. It’s not that we don’t feel things, it’s that we’re acclimatized to something so much more powerful that the ordinary emotions feel like nothing in comparison. “I think I might be happy right now,” says the unfortunate soul, “but I can’t really tell. This doesn’t feel like much of anything, really.” Yeah, and that’s why you move from beer to vodka. (Incidentally: alcohol calms the frontal lobe, reduces inhibitions, and at the same time manages to numb psychic pain. That’s why it’s such a popular drug in general, and in my experience, serious quantities of it are the only way to feel my own emotions any longer. Funny how that goes.)
If one’s own psychic state is so unendurable that access to it has to be ironized and desensitized, the only contact left is through other things. In particular: drugs, which bear sensation within themselves rather than as a part of the user, and stories, which are the emotions of the characters rather than those of the user. I’m sure you get the pattern by now.
That’s the position people today are in, both you and me included. We use irony, detachment, dissociation to shelter ourselves from the world we really live in. Even this, even this very essay is detachment – or didn’t you notice how I shifted from the literary style to the scientific style? Analysis precludes understanding and provides some semblance of shelter. That’s why we research things and go to experts. “Ah, yes, you have words for that. Very good. That fixes everything.” Like hell it does. Words are how you pretend you know about something by having a means to reference it. “But then I realized… I have depression.” Fill in your own favorite disorder, but that sentence means nothing. Nouns, definitions, mathematics are static. They have no motive force and can have no motive force. Static, stasis, unchanging… sound familiar? Better to survive as one is than put one’s life on the line. That’s conventional wisdom, at least.
If I had to say, going forward… what? The pain is there, but it’s almost inaccessible by virtue of that same callousness that infects us. How does one, on one’s own, destroy one’s own barriers, resistance, ego in order to access what lies beneath? How does one destroy one’s own self, one’s own mind, so that something else can come of it? How does one become capable of taking one’s own life seriously, instead of treating it like some joke?
There’s not an answer I can offer, here.
6 thoughts on “Crux”
It sounds like your reaction to the issue is caught up in reference, mental structures pointing back at themselves. I think a significant proportion of the relevant causal levers are grosser physiological ones. The CNS is fucked because it wasn’t properly calibrated. But you can seek that calibration now. That’s why exercise, yoga, things that affect the vagus nerve, becoming involved in an intense feedback loop in relating to others, mindful eating or other sense based practices all tend to decrease neuroticism.
You’re not wrong – in fact, I’d agree entirely that this (and perhaps every) problem is at its root a problem of reference. But though physiology is a big player, I wouldn’t ignore the psychic effects of successful control. Controlling oneself through any of your stated methods provides traction, the push and pull against reality, and that’s all we wanted all along, isn’t it?
Good diagnosis, but what is the prescription? Don’t leave us hanging.
Prescription, I believe, could take the rest of one’s life to figure out, and well into every following generation. Still, I’m taking a stab at it.
Would just like to let you know I enjoy your writing and hope you continue to post.
Have indeed continued. Sorry for the wait.