I have no one else to thank for writing this book. I did it myself. Isn't it disgusting how some authors will give credit to their spouse and/or kids for something that they really did on their own? They do this, of course, to compensate their family members for having neglected them while they were working. If anything, a family gets in the way of writing a book. It's really annoying when you're trying to get something done that's important to you, and your (in)significant other gets on your case about not putting enough effort into "the relationship", or your kids have to be chauffeured to Cub Scouts or ballet class or they shout things like "Timmy's hitting me!" and "Please let me out of this trunk!"
Fric: "I introduced myself to that woman, and she wouldn't even give me the time of day."
Frac: "It's 3:30."
Hello. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm a white male who was born in the early 1960s. Religion was never forced on me and now I am an irreligious, benevolent skeptic. I have always been very energetic, inquisitive, intelligent, and one who thrives on challenges. Well, at least that's what my 4th grade teacher wrote on my report card three years ago. In my late 20s and early 30s I sought the deeper truths of life, questioning everything and learning a lot and writing a shitload of thoughts. I often went too deep and experienced meaninglessness, despair, futility and general unhappiness. Now that that episode of my life is over, I thought I'd use the wisdom I gained to write this book.
In this book I will try to intelligently discuss various psychological issues such as meaning, purpose, belief systems, morality, happiness and misery. Additionally, I'll address God and the origin of the universe. I'll also try to keep a straight face while I'm doing it.
|In the beginning there was nothing. Then God said, "Let there be light."|
|And there was still nothing, but you could see it.|
Except for parts of West Virginia, people in every corner of this planet have at one time or another contemplated where we came from and where we're going. Life is the vast unknown, the huge question to which we have no absolute answer. We work and follow laws and do good deeds and try to make a good life for ourselves, and what does all this effort lead to? Death. "Is this what our existence is all about?" we wail. "We build, learn, love, help, laugh, cry, grow ... only to die? It isn't fair!" Well, what is fair? Is it fair that we were given a life in the first place, a life that we did not - could not - earn or ask for? Is it fair that you are able to read this book while others were born blind? Or that you and I enjoy freedom and opportunities while others live in oppression? Or that you have dreams that you'll never be able to make come true? And what, if anything, are you doing in response to life's "unfairness"? Are you striving to make things fair? Are you merely complaining? Has life's unfairness diminished your incentive to take on new challenges? If you insist on fairness before you act, you will never accomplish anything. You'll also never get anything done if you don't move your fat ass away from the computer.
Are we merely a random accident of cosmic movement, existing for an instant and then perishing? If so, then is all we do futile because our accomplishments, loved ones and passions will die as well? Does the effort that goes into making ourselves socially acceptable, getting educated, earning money, raising children, climbing mountains, painting, cleaning, and trimming our nose hair end up in the toilet? Why reproduce, or write, or exercise, when it just doesn't matter? (Boy, there's a cheerful way to start a book.)
Or are we eternal souls, created by an omniscient being, destined for (an)other world(s) after we leave this one? If so, then why did He/She/It create us? Why are we on this planet right now? Why do some people get away with murder while others suffer in disease and poverty through no fault of their own? It all seems so random: the time and place into which we are born, the people we meet, the parents (or orphanage, or pack of wolves) that raise us, the language we're taught, our skin color, our gender, our handicaps, our natural talents. If we had randomly been born into different circumstances, then we would have had different parents, made different friends, married someone else, and had different children. So the next time you're lamenting one of your petty little problems, just be thankful you weren't born into the Kennedy clan.
Is there a grand purpose to this brief journey we call life? Some people say that everything has a purpose. Really? Even telemarketers?
I've often wondered why some people analyze life so much and others don't. Deep thinkers are honest, intelligent and sincere, but they sometimes overdo it, causing themselves to live in sadness and despair. Non-thinkers are shallow, irresponsible, ignorant and contemptible in the eyes of deep thinkers, but they tend to concentrate more on what's going on, not what could have been, and their "ignorance" allows them to stay involved with life and keep a sense of meaning and purpose. Our society seems to be full of shallow folks who never do more than scratch the surface of life. This is why Coke and Marlboro sell so well.
|Patient:||"I feel that my life is an exercise in futility."|
|Psychiatrist:||"That's okay - you need the exercise."|
What is the meaning of life? This is a question that has, throughout history, been asked almost as often as "Do you want fries with that?" Before we can answer this (the meaning of life question, not the fries question), let's look at what meaning is.
The meaning of an action, a thought, a friendship, a memory, an event, is the effect it has on us, whether positive or negative. For instance, your in-laws come to visit for a week. What this means to you is that you're going to be miserable for the next seven days.
Each person's life is the sum of his actions and experiences. However, this total experience can have an overall meaning that goes beyond all the meanings of each of the individual events. For example, if you are a family man, the meaning of your life might be that you spend time with people you love and that you make each other happy, despite all your experiences with alcoholism and the frequent domestic violence. It is important to remember that any meaning that a person finds in his life as a whole is his own subjective experience, not something that is automatically bestowed upon all of us. I think that many people who ask "What is the meaning of life?" aren't really referring to this subjective perception; rather, they want to know why we're here and what we're supposed to do with our lives, in which case the correct question would be "What is the purpose of life?"
What is purpose? The purpose of an action or a thought is the result we expect it to produce. In short, a purpose is a goal. We all like to work toward goals. It feels good to travel with a destination in mind. Oh sure, we might occasionally dream of how nice it would be to win the lottery and never have to work or deprive ourselves of pleasures, but the truth is that a life of aimlessly wandering and engaging in momentary pleasures without any direction or structure would be unpleasantly empty. Look at Pauly Shore.
Would you like to know the purpose of life? If so, then do you mean your life in particular, or life in general? That is, do you assume that life itself and all the creatures (or at least people) who are part of it have some common reason for being here; or do you see each life as a separate journey, each with its own particular purpose? Do you believe that the purpose of your life or of life in general is thrust upon us by a creator, or is it left for us to determine? Some people believe that God created us for the purpose of doing certain things and that we need to find out what this purpose is. Others believe that no matter how we got here, we are to determine how to spend our lives, and whatever goal we set becomes our purpose (i.e. there is no divine plan for us). For example, you might choose to raise a family and provide for them. Or you might choose to be a scientist and cure diseases. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of people's chosen purpose is to get fat and watch TV.
Not everyone is aware of a grand purpose in life, nor do we necessarily need one. Rather, we can have just a lifelong series of immediate purposes. Each activity has a purpose of its own, e.g. we bathe in order to enjoy cleanliness, and we lie about our age or salary in order to get laid. However, a lot of us at one time or another wonder whether our life is merely a series of self-serving acts, or a prelude to something greater. It is very human to view oneself in the context of a larger whole, for we are social creatures and "no man is an island", but who's to say that this larger whole is anything other than our neighbors, friends and family? Let us not have delusions of grandeur. We are infinitesimally tiny creatures in a gargantuan universe, and it would be foolish to believe that we can impact anything except the few tiny objects and people around us. Wake up and smell the insignificance.
Even if they don't have a grand purpose and they realize that they can't change the world, some people at least want to feel that the things they do matter outside of their own, earthly life. Some folks want to help the less fortunate; others have posthumous goals such as going to a better existence (not necessarily a lofty goal if you live in Iraq). This is fine as long as it is not the only thing one does with his life, because focusing on just one thing leaves a person unsatisfied in other facets of his being. We need to balance work and spiritual pursuits with rest and momentary gratification. The purpose of every activity need not be eternal or extend beyond our own life; an activity can be nothing more than the enjoyment of the moment. Like taking a huge dump, for instance. We can revel in music, humor, sex, food, and all the other worldly pleasures, without looking beyond them for some deep meaning or revelatory truth; without analyzing them in an attempt to figure out why we enjoy them; without considering them to be unworthy of our time because of all the wrongs in the world that have yet to be righted; without seeking cosmic justification for our self-gratification; without thinking about how our acts affect other people. In short, we can be like politicians.
If we see the world for what it is, without the idea of God or some other authority, we have to supply our own purpose for action, and if we cannot do that, we have no incentive to do anything. This is why we need either the courage to choose our own path, or someone to lead us. If you believe that you should take orders (perhaps from a religion, a political movement, or society), or you are simply too weak or ignorant to lead yourself, then you need someone or something to guide you. Unfortunately there are many organizations and belief systems that are run by people who don't have your best interests in mind, and many people who turn to them for guidance end up getting hurt. As a rule, your own needs, desires, senses and intelligence will guide you pretty well. You just need to believe in yourself, something which too few people do. There are some people who deny themselves many life experiences because they are always afraid that whatever decision they make will be wrong; hence they remain holed up in their humdrum lives, hardly ever doing anything new or exciting. There are others who, even when they make a decision, can't believe that they made it, so they attribute it to a Supreme Being, e.g. "The Holy Spirit is telling me to do thus-and-such." Life is about choices, and if you don't make choices, then you are not being responsible and you are not really living. (Making choices is discussed further in the next chapter.)
To some it seems that life cannot have some mandated purpose, because if it did, then if we were to fulfill it, there would be nothing left to attain and the rest of our life would be a horrible, meaningless, empty experience. They go through life choosing goals as their reasons to live. Others believe that life does have a mandated purpose (e.g. to find God or reach nirvana) and that once we attain it, life thereafter will be sweet bliss because we'll be able to enjoy the simple pleasures, we won't get stressed out over possessions or popularity, and we won't need earthly pursuits to drive us onward.
"What is the meaning of life?" is a question that many people ask when they are suffering, or at least not completely satisfied. They're experiencing some form of physical or emotional pain, so they project this feeling onto life in general ("Life sucks!") and look for a philosophical answer that will somehow deliver a feeling of meaning, purpose or fulfillment. These feelings can be obtained only by our own good fortune and attitude. If you've got a great job and the perfect mate and excellent health and a comfortable home and an active social life, then you're going to be happily involved, perhaps never questioning why we're here or where we're going. All it takes is one very unpleasant incident to make you question what all this is for and why you bother to go on. Then, when the crisis has passed and the pain is over, you will return to your unexamined life of instant gratification and self-servitude. This suggests that asking what the meaning of life is, or proclaiming that there is none, is merely a form of whining.
|Wife:||"Do you want dinner?"|
|Husband:||"What are my choices?"|
|Wife:||"Yes and no."|
We are blessed with so many things to choose from. During our free time we can take a walk, see a movie, get drunk, have sex (with or without a partner), eat at a restaurant, exercise, go to a sporting event, shop at a mall, play video games, read, write, listen to music, or just lie on the couch watching reruns. Sometimes it is not easy to make a choice. If we don't have a clear preference for one activity over all others, then no matter what we choose to do, we might be troubled by the thought that perhaps something else would have been more worthwhile. We've got to just pick a track and get on it. Move ahead, without looking back or wondering "What if?".
Our freedom is somewhat limited, since our needs, appetites, strengths and weaknesses were mostly thrust upon us. Furthermore, although we have lots to choose from, we have no say in what these things are. That is, we choose from a set of things that we did not choose to be the set of things to choose from.
External factors often make our decisions easy. For instance, if you have a typical daytime job that pays the bills for you and your family, then it is quite clear that the most beneficial thing to do on weekday mornings is to go to work. Or if you're in a room with a tiger, a lion and a lawyer, and you have a gun with only two bullets, then the right thing to do is obvious: shoot the lawyer twice. But when we have time in which we don't really need to do anything in particular, there is no outside motivation to do anything - the only motivation is our own inner drive to be creative and to experience life. Some people use this free time quite well: they do something fun, active and/or educational. It seems that many people, however, are at a loss to find something enriching to do in their free time, perhaps because they've lost some of their zest for life. Rather than engage in some form of self-expression, they mope around feeling bored and uninspired, perhaps turning on the television in order to distract themselves from the emptiness of their existence.
Many people want to be relieved of the burden of choice and the responsibility of taking control of their own lives. They want someone else to tell them how to spend their time and energy. This is why, for example, fashion is so popular: without fashion to direct them, many people would have trouble deciding what to wear. It is also why religions and cults are able to recruit so many followers: people don't trust themselves to make worthwhile choices, so they shift the responsibility somewhere else, thinking that other people can direct them better than they can direct themselves. With insufficient inner drive to steer their actions in healthful ways, many people find it quite agreeable to be told what to do. They use the orders they're given as justification for their actions, so no matter what the results are, they can claim that they merely did what they were told and hence they did the right thing. It's interesting how people will insist that an action is right, even when the results contradict that premise. Consider a rat in a maze. If it goes down a particular tunnel it gets cheese, so it learns to travel that way when it's hungry. If you take away the cheese, the rat will eventually stop going down that tunnel. In this sense rats are wiser than a lot of people, who go down the cheeseless path forever. These people would rather go down what they believe to be the "right" tunnel than get the cheese. It is this belief that causes people to travel the same wrong path for years, maybe even their entire lives. They keep doing it even though they're not happy, because they believe that what they're doing is "right". Consider a couple in a horrible, unfixable marriage. It would be good for both of them if they got divorced and looked for compatible mates. However, if they are devoutly religious and divorce goes against their religious beliefs, they might stay together because they believe that remaining (unhappily) married is "right". Belief is all you have when you aren't satisfied with your life, and this is one reason why many people cling so tightly to their beliefs. People who are happy and satisfied don't have to prove that they're in the right tunnel - they don't need beliefs which contradict reality.
Usually we can choose whether to be happy or miserable. It might not seem so, because certain events that are beyond our control can upset us, but most of our suffering is self-inflicted by focusing on negative things. For example, we might dwell on our insignificance, propose that nothing matters, and bemoan the thought that nothing is worth doing because nothing is, by its very nature, important. If so, then look what we're asking for: we want a certain importance to be built into things, so that we are basically told what they're worth, rather than assigning our own value. But aren't we the very people who claim that we want to be free? Then why would we want to be told what is important? It is precisely because nothing is absolutely important (or unimportant) that we are free to choose whether to value things (thereby enabling ourselves to be happy) and be involved in this life, or consider everything worthless (thereby making ourselves unhappy) and withdraw from life. If we were forced to exist eternally and always had loved ones and goals forced upon us so that we could not help but have a sense of purpose, then we would be forced to be happy; we would not be free. Similarly, if there were nothing available to enable us to meet our needs, we would be forced to be miserable. In our current situation we are free: we can choose loved ones, activities, goals and projects, and thereby create meaning, purpose and happiness; or we can reject it all and thereby create meaninglessness, purposelessness and misery.
Making choices is directly related to...
As children we relied on external authority to guide most of our actions. For example, parents told us to clean our rooms, go to sleep at a certain time, and stop making fun of Aunt Bertha. We often depended on orders for our sense of purpose. Most people carry this desire to be led throughout their lives. This is one reason that so many people need to believe in God, a cosmic principle of morality, or a posthumous existence. They follow the herd because it provides a source of external authority, security and direction. If, as adults, we continue to define ourselves in terms of external authority, then we never really know what we want, and we look for some sort of justification for each of our actions. I say that there is no legitimate authority other than our own needs and desires. When we determine what we want and pursue it, we are being responsible and autonomous. To merely follow someone else's orders is to reject responsibility for one's actions, to be a puppet, to be less than human. If you want to live like that, you might as well be married.
Individualists always question and explore. They like to acquaint themselves with a full range of ideas on a subject so that they can form their own opinion. They assess their perceptions with a critical eye. They want to have as many facts as possible, not leave their beliefs and rewards at the mercy of a group of people and that group's limited view of the world. They seek truth rather than having it dictated to them. The mental stress of gathering data, thinking about it, dealing with seemingly contradictory information, and rejecting the preferences and preaching of mainstreamers can be quite difficult and at times unpleasant; it would be much easier to just accept established teachings from some political or religious group, but of course doing so would bring the danger of being lied to and led in a negative direction. Individualists grow stronger, experience the joy of discovery by their own power, and feel good knowing that they live with dignity, for they do not blindly eat whatever doctrines and customs that others try to spoon-feed them.
Unfortunately we can't just pity or laugh at people who feel a need to be led. Never underestimate the potential danger of these people. Many of them can easily be molded into fanatics who will gladly work and die for their holy cause. The Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Jones and others have manipulated plenty of people for their own purposes. Whether a gullible person joins a beneficial or a destructive organization often depends merely on who gets to him first. As long as people are spiritually vacant, they will go in random directions, perhaps joining churches, perhaps worshipping Satan, perhaps becoming drug addicts, perhaps joining street gangs, perhaps visiting psychiatrists. It would be better if everyone would grow strong and reach autonomy so that they could live in society with creativity rather than conformity or anger. There would be way fewer social misfits, and subversive organizations would all but vanish. Unfortunately there will always be factors such as genetics, parental neglect, abandonment, disease and poverty that will cause a segment of the population to be weak, vulnerable and corruptible at some point or perhaps throughout their lives.
|Priest:||"God lives inside you."|
|Man:||"I sure hope he likes beer."|
The lonely, frightened, needy human race, with remarkable facilities for creativity and imagination, created God. For humans, God is an invention to cope with fears and loneliness. God is a kindred, omnipotent being who is always there, always watching, listening, caring, and loving us. God is our reassurance that we are not alone, that we are not helpless, that we will not have lived in vain, and/or that we will have everlasting life. This is the basis for a lot of religions, but one need not follow a religion in order to believe in God.
Man created God in his own image. That is, once people believe in God, they often assign human characteristics to this supposedly way-above-human being. For example, they'll use pronouns like "He" and "Him", as though God has a penis.
It's silly how some people thank God for good things while not daring to blame Him for bad things. For example, someone gets cancer and goes through chemotherapy or surgery which eradicates it. A normal, intelligent, sensible person would thank the doctors and be grateful to live in a time and place where modern medicine is available to cure diseases that used to kill people before science had advanced so far. However, the religious imbecile instead thanks God, claiming that it was His will that helped her overcome her illness, ignoring the work of thousands of people who built hospitals, invented medical procedures and sterilization techniques, and did all the other things necessary to provide successful medical services. Not only will she credit God for work that people did, but she won't even consider the possibility that God had anything to do with her getting sick. Well, who does she think created the cancer cells in the first place?
Whether people believe in God seems to depend a great deal on their circumstances. For example, it has been said of soldiers that "In foxholes there are no atheists." What this means is that when people are in great fear and they don't think that they can prevent harm from coming to them or a loved one, they often reach out, in desperation, for help from any possible source, even one that they never believed in before, because they have nothing to lose by doing so. There are other factors too. A long time ago people led simpler lives. Many were uneducated. They didn't have television or radio. The weekend trip to their place of worship was exciting. They were awed by stories of God and miracles. That kind of environment is conducive to belief in God. People today are much more educated, as well as entertained by the media, and as a result many of us consider the idea of God to be useless and outdated. Machines and technology knock down forests, build homes and produce food, so we feel more powerful than our ancestors and less dependent on God. This is why a lot of us don't believe in a Supreme Being.
You know how they have mythological gods to represent different things, for example, Bacchus, the god of wine? Well, I don't see a need to make the names up. We can simply use celebrities. For example:
|Kennedy, the god of booze.|
|Geraldo, the god of violence.|
|Farrakhan, the god of ignorance.|
|Dole, the god of impotence.|
|Mondale, the god of depression.|
|Kato, the god of homelessness.|
|Britney, the god of cluelessness.|
|Dubya, the god of stupidity.|
|Clinton, the god of infidelity.|
|Fuhrman, the god of bigotry.|
|Limbaugh, the god of hypocrisy.|
Neither anyone's belief or unbelief in God, nor their reasons for believing or not believing, constitute proof of His existence or nonexistence. A lot of people argue this issue until they're blue in the face, and it is a waste of time and energy because nobody with any integrity is going to change their belief as a result of someone else's ranting. I wish God would give me a sign that He exists. For example, by having Pamela Anderson show up naked at my door with a wheelbarrow full of cash.
A priest, a minister and an engineer were at a dinner party. Suddenly all the lights went out. The priest said, "The Lord seems to want us to have a moment of contemplation regarding our sins." The minister said, "This is an opportunity to reflect on just how empty we are without God." The engineer replaced the fuse.
What is religion? It is a set of beliefs about a Supreme Being or the supernatural. However, this also defines cult, a term which is usually used in a negative context. What's the difference between a cult and a religion? Well, many Christians define cult as "any belief system which is not ours". For instance, Satanism, which sometimes involves blood and sacrifices, is considered a cult. However, Christianity revolves around a legendary figure (Jesus) who got sacrificed, and some Christian sects eat wafers and drink wine to symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Virtually every society has its own religious beliefs. Some believe in reincarnation, some believe in eternal afterlife (perhaps dual extremes, e.g. Paradise/Hades or Heaven/Hell), some believe in one God, some believe in many Gods ... the list goes on and on. Obviously, everyone can't be right. Unless we make religion a subject in outcome-based education.
How did all the world's religions get started? Did someone speak with God, or have great cosmic truths revealed to him somehow, or witness supernatural occurrences that could have happened only by divine intervention? Of course not. Sure, the propaganda may claim that this sort of thing took place, but doesn't it seem rather suspicious that all the supposed miracles happened thousands of years ago when we could not document them on video tape, and that none happen nowadays? What really happened was that in each society, people would wonder just how everything got here: the trees, the water, the animals, us, and so forth. After sitting around speculating but unable to know for sure, someone would decide to make stuff up in order to satisfy people's curiosity so they'd all agree on this issue. He'd write a bunch of stuff that sounds deep and meaningful, like "And the Lord spake unto her, saying, 'Lo, thou wilst go into the land of Oz, where dwells a wizard, and ye shall receive of his bounty.' And Dorothy didst go unto the wizard, and the wizard didst give her his bounty. Repeatedly." Then other people would add their own two cents, concocting fantastic accounts of miracles or conversations with angels or good crops as the result of virgin sacrifices. People believed the outlandish stories, just like many people today do, because the vast majority of religions were developed a long time ago when the general population was, as it is today, composed mostly of idio-- uh, folks who have faith in religious leaders. Don't be fooled into believing everything you read in a book (including this one) because the fact that it's old or well-written or widely believed doesn't prove that anything it has to say is true. Look at the Bible - it was written by a group of people who thought the Earth was flat.
A lot of religions feature stories about a particular person. Let's look at a few of them.
- Buddha (real name: Siddhartha Gautama) was born into wealth several thousand years ago in the Far East. One day in his late 20s when he saw a beggar he wondered why some people are rich and others are poor (a Rhodes scholar he was not). He set off on a journey to find the answers to his questions about life. Legend has it that eventually he attained enlightenment while sitting under a tree, much like Isaac Newton with the apple falling on his head ("Ow! There oughta be a law!"). When he returned many revered him, and a religion (Buddhism) was made after him. I went through the same kind of spiritual quest in my late 20s and all I got was laughed at.
- Jesus Christ (real name: Jeff Rabinowitz) was born about 2000 years ago in the Middle East. His unmarried mother (Mary) got knocked up by a "friend". Premarital sex was frowned upon by the local prudes, so in a desperate attempt to save herself the shame of being labeled a whore, she claimed that God Himself impregnated her (which is partially true, because as she and her lover were playing Stuff the Muff, she screamed "Oh God!"). Her friends and acquaintances believed her (as I mentioned earlier, people back then were idiots). When Jesus was finally born, many people touted it as a "virgin birth" and thought he was the son of God. There are no stories in the Bible of Jesus' life between infancy and age 30. Of course not. No one would take the Bible seriously if it had stories about Jesus throwing up at a toga party or being caught masturbating. I'm sure he was brought up like other kids at the time, milking cows and playing Nintendo. Most people highly respected him because of the son-of-God thing, but his mother knew he was just an average kid so she spanked him when he misbehaved and yelled at him when he forgot to do things ("Jesus Christ, close the door! What were you, born in a barn?"). However, she treated him with reverence in public so no one else would catch on. Eventually when he was in his early 30s he got fed up with a lot of the goings-on around the town. He caused quite a stir in his rebellion against the Establishment. He got some folks to follow him, but he pissed off the wrong people and got himself crucified. His followers started rumors about him returning from the grave, which many people believed. In fact, they came to believe that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh and that someday He would return to judge everyone, so a new religion was born, which its followers called Christianity.
- One of the greatest Jewish historical figures was Moses. He led the Jews out of slavery from Egypt more than 4000 years ago. The story is told in the movie The Ten Commandments, where Charlton Heston tells Yul Brynner, "Let my people go, you damned dirty ape!" and inflicts plagues such as turning the Nile River into blood and bringing locusts, frogs and lawyers, until finally the Egyptians let the slaves go. Then the Pharaoh changes his mind so he takes his troops and tries to get the slaves back, but Moses will have none of that, so he causes the Red Sea to part, allowing his people to cross, and when the Egyptian soldiers follow, he releases the water and drowns them. (Of course, none of the plagues or parting of the sea actually happened, because back then there was no Hollywood to create the special effects.) Later on Moses climbs Mount Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments from God. The people at the bottom try to listen to what's going on, but all they can hear is Moses saying, "Let me get this straight: we're the chosen people, and you want us to cut off the tips of our what??" The role of Moses was a great career boost for Mr. Heston, and he subsequently became president of the NRA.
Of all the religious groups, the Jews have probably been the most hated, persecuted, enslaved and scapegoated. Part of the reason Jews have been so targeted is that they were wrongly blamed for Jesus' murder. First of all, he was killed by the Romans - the Bible clearly states this. Second, Jesus was Jewish. We know this because everyone hated him, he lived at home until he was in his 30s, and his mother treated him like God. So all Jew-hating Christians (e.g. the Ku Klux Klan) worship a Jew! The Jews have dealt with their oppression by discussing it and teaching it to their children rather than ignoring it, so that if a new form of oppression appears they will be able to recognize it and either put an end to it or avoid it. Thus each Jewish holiday has three themes:
Sometimes religious beliefs and/or laws get misinterpreted and changed from their original form, and these erroneous ideas get propagated through the generations because they become part of the culture. For example, in some (but not all) Islamic communities, men are considered to be the only important people and women are treated like scum: women are men's possessions to be used, abused and even killed if a man chooses, without legal punishment for doing so. This chauvinistic garbage has been ingrained into the culture for so long that people just go along with it as though it makes sense.
Theologians cannot agree on even the most basic explanations of God, the universe, and why we're here. "God created us in order to defeat Satan." "No! He created us in order to enjoy His magnificence!" "You're both wrong! We live several lives, each time rising to a higher one." "You will perish in the Pit of Damnation for saying that!" "Burn the heretic!" "Oh yeah? You and what army?" They possess the maturity and tolerance of a nine-year-old, and yet billions of people revere them as spiritual leaders. Why? Because most people possess the maturity and tolerance of a seven-year-old.
There is no way to disprove religious dogmas. Consequently, any greedy, power-hungry or emotionally screwed-up lunatic can concoct stories about other worlds or supernatural beings, and there is no empirical way to prove that he or she is wrong. This is one reason that many people believe in vampires or ghosts or Santa Claus or Elvis - no matter how many places you search and no matter how logical your argument, someone can always say that you can't look everywhere in order to prove that something doesn't exist, or that you cannot sense metaphysical things from this physical world. Well, I can play that game too: I am God incarnate. I came to Earth to enjoy writing books and drinking beer. I command all you attractive women between the ages of 18 and 30 to come to my house and have sex with me. Everyone else, send me your money. You must do this because I am God.
Prove me wrong.
While you can't prove that a religious dogma is wrong, you can't prove that it's correct either. Many believers will try, though. For instance, ask any devout Christian to prove that his religious teachings are correct, and the best he can do is point to Bible passages. ("Of course I can prove that Christianity is the one true religion. It says right here in John 1:1 to 1:3, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.' See?")
It seems like every time a new religion springs up, people think that the new beliefs must be highly respected as though they’re true. First there was Judaism. Some people followed it, others didn’t. So for about 3700 years there were two kinds of people: “Jews” and “everyone else”. Then Christianity came along. It was fervently followed by people who were afraid of Judaism’s vengeful "eye for an eye" God, but since the entire religion was based on a Jew (Jesus), it was considered valid by association. Besides, people were lured and frightened into believing it with the promise of Heaven for believers and Hell for "heathens". More than 600 years after Christianity was born, some disgruntled Arabs founded Islam, which had the same Heaven/Hell concept as Christianity, except that the religion was based on an Arab (Muhammad). Although this religion practices the oppression of women, let us not forget Islam’s contributions to mankind, such as suicide bombings. No, seriously, most of them live quiet, culturally backward lives, adhering to centuries-old barbarian precepts, and when they look around and see what people in free societies enjoy, they blame Christians and Jews for their own lack of advancement and innovation. A lot more religious fabrications have sprouted through the years, most of them sects of Christianity. There are Roman Catholics, Irish Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Presbyterians, Calvinists, Methodists, Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarians, Amish, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Quakers, and others I’m sure. They all started from the same religion, but people had to invent their own particular forms of it, and God forbid the rest of us should point out that that many of them kill each other over their differences of opinion. Along with all the different religions come a slew of holidays such as Christmas, Passover, Ramadan, Pentecost, Easter, Hanukkah, Ash Wednesday, Yom Kippur, and one of the latest ones, Kwanzaa (invented in 1966). Whenever someone observes any religious holiday, the rest of us are supposed to respect their high holy day because it would be considered blasphemy to point out that it’s just another fabrication.
And don’t get me started on Buddhism.
So if there's no way to either prove or disprove a religious dogma, what makes some people believe it? A thing called faith. Faith is the quality of believing what nobody else in their right mind would believe. Many people make a leap of faith - that is, they leap over their logic and reason in order to attain a belief in something that cannot be proved. But why do some people make that leap while others don't? There are several possible reasons. For example, a weak-willed, unhappy person looks for something to fill his empty existence. David Duke, Louis Farrakhan and others have shown us that there are a lot of people who are ignorant and dissatisfied enough to give themselves to any system that promises to add meaning and purpose to their wretched lives, even if that system orders them to bother, hurt, hate or kill total strangers because of their lifestyle or skin color.
Some people believe something because it is ingrained from a very young age. A person's mind is largely formed in the first 6 years of life. If religious family members teach a child to accept their particular faith, the child will do so because he trusts them and therefore believes whatever they tell him. This programming happens before the child is even able to tell what's going on, before he has the ability to look at it critically and question it, so it becomes an unquestionable part of his psyche. This makes the belief a "given", and it can be hard to shake later in life. Contrast this with an irreligious family that has no religious teaching: the child becomes more pragmatic and reality-based, and is less likely to adopt a religious belief at any time in his life.
Many people believe that whatever religion they happened to have been brought up in or chosen to adopt is the one correct religion and that all others are wrong. They defend their belief as though they could not possibly have had any other. They don't realize that what they believe is largely determined by their upbringing, genetics and personal experiences, and that all of these could have been different. The Christian who proclaims that Christianity is the one true way would have had Moslem beliefs if he just happened to have been born into a Moslem family, and he would be absolutely certain that Christianity is wrong. How do we get through to these ignorant, stubborn souls? We can't. Trying to convince one of these people that they're wrong is like trying to convince Bill Clinton that getting a hummer from a White House intern is wrong.
Some religions use scare tactics in order to control people. For instance, they claim that God will punish you posthumously if you do not believe what they tell you. Do you think that a truly omniscient, understanding, loving being would punish you merely because someone else's beliefs seemed wrong to you? He would be a gigantic asshole if He would. The only way to have any integrity in your life is to gather information and make your own decisions, not blindly follow other people's beliefs. If God really "knows all" as most people claim He does, then He will certainly respect you if you use the curious mind He gave you. (Notice how I keep referring to God as He, not She. If any feminists are reading this, I can see their faces turning as red as their K.D. Laing CDs.) People with a high degree of self-esteem do not merely accept, blindly and irresponsibly, the teachings of an organized doctrine. We honest, integrated people will not be told how to think or what to believe. Even if God would punish us for refusing to join a bunch of frightened ignoramuses on their man-made bandwagon, we cannot know this until it happens. Right now the idea seems ridiculous, and we can believe only what seems true to us; we cannot take an idea that seems false, play a mind trick, and make it seem true. Except when politicians promise us no new taxes - we always seem to fall for that one.
Rather than attempt to force people to accept Man-made organized belief systems - which tend to promote fear of anything or anyone that differs from their way of life - we should allow everyone to handle life's big questions in their own way. No belief system can help us make the best decision at every crossroad because there are too many in-between situations that established "isms", because of their absolutist nature, cannot address realistically.
Some believers say, "If I'm wrong, I won't be punished, but if you're wrong, you're in big trouble." That might be, but the threat of suffering for not believing something still does not prove the belief is correct. These people hold onto their religious belief as a form of insurance: they spend time and energy believing and praying so that on the off chance that it really is true, they will be rewarded rather than punished. It's like when men dress nicely and take women to expensive restaurants on the off chance that it'll get them laid, when in reality the end of their evening will consist of hand cream and a towel.
Religions that threaten punishment for unbelievers often fail to address issues such as what happens to people who die never having had the capacity to understand religious teachings (e.g. young children, retards, postal employees)? Can they rightfully be held accountable? Check the Bible and the Koran and get back to me, will you?
Some people get very offended and might even physically attack you if you denounce their belief system. Why? Because they're insecure little twerps who realize deep down that they have no proof that their belief is true, and your questioning this belief alerts them to their own shortcomings and doubts. If they really believed what they claim to believe, then your questioning it would have no effect on them; but because their belief is so tenuous, any random stranger who questions it can shake their faith. They cannot totally believe what they claim to believe because they merely swallowed propaganda that was fed to them rather than arriving at a sensible conclusion based on evidence and logic. They realize or at least suspect deep down that they are living a lie, that their loved ones who share their beliefs are also living a lie, and that maybe they are no better off with their belief than they would be without it. When you point this out, you bring them to a reality that they cannot handle. They get upset at you for enlightening them, for taking away their security blanket. What they are really upset about is their own inadequacies, but they are too proud to admit it, so they direct their anger at you instead of taking steps to grow. It is very easy to blame others for your own faults, and our society encourages this, as evidenced by our legal system which lets a person spill hot coffee on herself and then sue the vendor.
A lot of people trap themselves in their beliefs. They never grow past the point of grovelling for forgiveness and salvation. When their inner self tries to cry out, to express its needs and desires, to seek truth on its own, their religious programming tyrannically proclaims, "Repent! Ye evil sinner, thou darest to question my authority?! Murder thy soul's desire to express itself, beg for mercy, and hope that I do not cast thee into the pit of eternal damnation for showing the slightest inkling of self-respect, personal power or creativity!" It's like working for the government.
Not all belief systems are as pompous as the salvation-based, you'll-be-sorry-if-you-don't-follow-us religions. Some belief systems focus more on the self, or the Earth, without promising great rewards for merely believing something or punishment for failure to do so. In most Eastern and Native American religions, although the beliefs are fabricated stories of gods and/or spirit worlds, the followers do not shout their drivel on street corners or hurt others for not sharing their beliefs (more on this later).
Any belief system that promises people relief from their pathetic little problems if only they'll accept a story on faith is for the immature, the fearful and the lazy. They delude themselves that they will not be snuffed out, that everyone will be rewarded and/or punished as they deserve, and that their little lives are important outside of the few people who they meet. They cling tightly to a belief system that promises to grant their wishes. They want a definitive because they are afraid of the unknown and/or too lazy to explore it. This type of religion is especially attractive to seekers of instant gratification because they see a way of attaining ecstasies without hard work or growth: they can get into Heaven or some other desirable situation merely by accepting a belief; they can get what they want merely by prostrating themselves in front of a Supreme Being and asking for it, the way a child begs its parent for a toy. The world is full of people who have no comprehension of anything but the simplest scheme of rewards and punishments. Churches persuade their congregations with promises and threaten them with punishments if they do not keep their childish lusts within bounds. A belief system which pretends to have certain knowledge about the workings of the universe will fool those, and only those, who are not wise enough to understand the limitations of knowledge. Apparently most people fall into this category. They return again and again to be soothed by the voice of a leader, the singing of hymns or chants, and the security of the group of fellow worshippers. I don't know what's worse: blindly following a belief system, or watching American Idol.
By now you might be thinking, "Ben, why does it bother you that people have beliefs? So what if they're wrong? Can't you just let them go on being ignorantly contented? Why must you criticize them, you arrogant shithead?" If people's beliefs remained confined to their heads, I would have no problem with them. The problem is that blind faith can turn into destructive and/or unjust actions. Let's look at a few examples.
|10)||No one will kill you for not drinking beer.|
|9)||Beer doesn't tell you how to have sex.|
|8)||Beer has never caused a major war.|
|7)||They don't force beer on minors who can't think for themselves.|
|6)||No one knocks on your door trying to give you beer.|
|5)||Beer makes people more interesting.|
|4)||You don't have to wait 2000 years for a second beer.|
|3)||There are laws saying beer labels can't lie to you.|
|2)||You can prove you have a beer.|
|1)||If you've wasted your life on beer, there are groups to help you stop.|
Note that I am not denouncing religions per se, but rather how some people use them. If you really believe something and it makes you be a better person, then fine. But if you're a lonely, unhappy wretch who turns to a religious belief in an attempt to distract yourself from your pain or because in your desperation you'll try anything in hopes that it will magically cure your problems, then religion is nothing more than a drug that you're trying as self-medication. If you cling to a dogma merely because your life is empty, and/or tell others that they'd better adopt this particular belief or else they're going to Hell, then you're letting your life be run by your emotional problems. If you need something to give your life meaning and purpose, then I guess religion is better than, say, joining a hate group (e.g. the Republican party), but you'd probably be better off taking up a hobby or getting a dog. (Keeping a dog can be a bit expensive. For example, Alpo is up to 99 cents a can. That's almost $7 in dog money.)
One way in which religion is used is to reduce reality to something that everyone can understand. We live in a complex universe of molecules, plants, animals, agriculture, political systems, emotions, planets, solar systems, galaxies, etc, and most people cannot even begin to understand it all, so in order to keep them from being overwhelmed and bewildered, religions each provide a simple "master plan" which "explains" how and why everything got here, rules to follow, etc. Unfortunately these belief systems must be made up because no one can know for sure how we got here or tell us the best way to live our lives. Basically religions attempt to reduce ever-changing reality to a static thing, and then provide fabricated goals for their followers to "attain" (enlightenment, salvation, oneness, etc). This universe will always be much greater than anything we can comprehend. I like that vast unknown. Instead of using religion in an attempt to diminish the hugeness and wonder of all there is (and telling the rest of us that we should do the same), religious adherents would be better off revelling in this great mystery of which we are a very small part.
"Religion is the opiate of the masses." Karl Marx said that. Or maybe it was Groucho. Either way, the benefits of religion are the good feeling, the reduced crime due to the fear of punishment, etc, whether or not God or Jesus or Allah actually exists. Religion keeps much of the masses in line. It's functional. Even if its leaders know damn well that its teachings are bullshit and that if people blindly believe them they will stunt their personal growth, that doesn't matter. The people in charge want to keep the masses under their control, and if they have to lie to them in order to achieve this end, then that's what they'll do. In order to control people, a religion needs to make its followers dependent on it. One way is to make them feel like shit. For example, Christianity tells us that we are all sinful and guilty, that we therefore need Jesus to "save" us from Hell, and that the only way to be saved is to believe that Jesus is our savior. This idea makes believers dependent on their belief by playing on their fears. Followers have no motivation to change or grow - all they do is grovel for Jesus to take them with Him. I can't speak for Jesus, but if I were Him and I came back to Earth and saw all these people begging me to take them with me, I'd be disgusted by them. If I brought them into Heaven with me, I'd be surrounded by a bunch of useless, annoying whiners. In fact, it wouldn't be Heaven anymore - it'd be more like Seinfeld.
If people knew that their religion was merely a ploy to bring us together, to make us act good, to ease our loneliness, and that there was no factual truth in it, then they would not believe its teachings and they would not derive any of the benefits. A lot of people have to be duped into believing fictions in order to improve their lives; if we merely suggested to them that they treat each other better and enjoy togetherness, they wouldn't do it. Why? Because these people suck.
Religion is a structured psychological help system. For example, many people feel a need to confess the bad things they've done; if they don't, they'll carry around a burden of guilt. When they confess to their religious leaders, it's the equivalent of patients confessing to their therapists: they feel at least a temporary relief, and as long as they can do this every week or two, it is a comfortable routine that they can live with.
Some people seek a religion that closely matches their own values. This is certainly better than blindly believing something which goes against their better judgment, but if they already know what's important to them, then why do they need religion at all? If it's not going to change their lifestyle, then all they're doing is trying to convince themselves and/or others that the way they're living is right. For instance, if a man beats his wife, all he has to do in order to justify it is become a Moslem. Then he can point and say, "See? These other Moslem men beat their wives, so that makes it okay."
Some religions promote a mental activity called prayer, which is the futile exercise of asking a higher power to manipulate events for one's own purposes. When people feel helpless in a situation, prayer gives them the feeling that they can change the outcome of events by their mind power alone. Prayer doesn't actually work, of course - it merely occupies people's minds so that they don't constantly bemoan their circumstances. If there is a God, then He has stood idly by and watched as many millions of innocent people have suffered unspeakable torture and murder, never answering any of their prayers, and yet not only do people continue to pray, but they pray for relatively trivial things, as though God considers it more important to help somebody win a football game than to rescue someone from being vivisected by Nazi doctors. If these people are right, and God really is this sick and twisted, then I can see it now: a Bosnian woman, being held down while Serbian soldiers boil her baby alive, cries out to God for help, and He replies, "Sorry, I've got to be in Cleveland to help a high school kid score a touchdown."
The possibility of eternity intrigues and possibly disturbs us. No matter how strongly we convince ourselves that this life is the only one, the fact remains that we just don't know. We have no proof that death is final, and the possibility that our actions here might have posthumous repercussions - that we might eventually suffer for earthly deeds that we "got away with" - can perplex our will. It is precisely this huge unknown that religious leaders use in order to dupe the masses into being obedient and donating money. ("Receive rewards for your virtues, compensation for your suffering, and see justice meted out to all of history's tyrants and victims! Just give me $25 every week!")
Televangelism is a perfect way to swindle fools out of money that they're not using anyway because they don't have enough self-esteem to have a life. Televangelists always gain a following. Why? Because being on television makes them very convenient - people can watch and listen without even having to leave their homes. Many people are old or ill and cannot go out, which increases both their need for a spiritual leader and the likelihood that they'll tune in. Other followers are not physically incapacitated - they're just idiots. Either way, they gladly send their money to shady used car salesman-type preachers no matter how bad they appear in the public eye. This is why Jim Bakker was able to keep such a following after his scandal, and why Oral Roberts received millions of dollars after telling everyone that if he wasn't able to get it he would be taken by God. Even when a televangelist has been found to be swindling money or having sex with minors, followers still support him because they need to believe in something in an attempt to fill their empty lives. If not him, then they would squander their time and money on something else. I think that if there is a God and He wants to deliver a message to us, He won't use a slick salesman with a bad hairstyle.
Some churches preach the feel-good idea that everyone should love everyone equally, merely because they exist. This is, of course, just a way of trying to get people to be nice to each other. It is impossible for a person to love everyone, because you cannot love someone you don't know. Even if you could meet everybody, it would be impossible to love each of them equally. Yet some people delude themselves that they love everyone equally simply because their church encourages it. It would be ridiculous for anyone to love someone they just met on the subway as much as they love their own child, but I've had religious nut cases tell me that they do precisely that. ("Yes, Sally, you're a wonderful daughter, and I love you. And you see that flasher over there getting arrested? I love him just as much!")
|Bob:||"After ten years of prayer, meditation and soul-searching, I found the meaning of life."|
|Ray:||"Really? What is it?"|
There are lots of non-religious techniques that were developed for the purpose of attaining peace of mind: inner child work, est (erhard seminars training, named after its founder, Werner Erhard), psychotherapy, dream interpretation, hypnosis, meditation, etc. No one method is best - each one has something to offer, so all of them can be tried. Which ones are helpful depends on the individual. The technique I like best is the drink-and-get-laid method, which was founded in the 1960s by Ted Kennedy.
Dream interpretation tries to determine the significance of the dreams we have while we sleep. Turmoiled people often try to find out what's wrong with them or predict the future by interpreting their dreams or having their shrink do it for them. For example,
|Patient:||"Every night I have a dream about a door with a sign on it. I push the door as hard as I can, but it won't open."|
|Psychiatrist:||"What does the sign say?"|
Dreams are the result of random electrical impulses that our brains produce during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The subconscious mind attempts to translate these impulses into thoughts, so it grabs memories of certain objects or people and fabricates events. However, since these electrical signals are random, the resulting thoughts usually make no sense to our conscious minds when we wake up and remember them.
There are several forms of meditation. One form, mantra meditation, is an inane process whereby you sit and repeat the same thing over and over. The thing you repeat (a word or phrase) is called the mantra. This technique is practiced in some Eastern religions, as well as by the Hare Krishnas (those annoying bald-headed Buddhist mimics who bother you for money at airports). The purpose is to clear your mind and relax you. It can serve its purpose, but its proponents claim that which particular mantra you use is important. For instance, the Hare Krishna mantra is "Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare, hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare" (translation: "Look at our bald heads, you yuppie swine, and give us money before catching your connecting flight"). I say that any verbal utterance will do. Look at the Beatles' Hey Jude. The end of the song, where "Naaaaa na na nanananaaaa, nanananaaaa, he-ey Juuude" is repeated about a hundred times, is mesmerizing. (Incidentally, a few of the Beatles members helped bring Hare Krishna to the mainstream about 30 years ago, and George Harrison sang its mantra in his song My Sweet Lord.) In the 1970s, during the mantra meditation fad, self-proclaimed authorities on the subject claimed that each person's mantra had to be unique in order to be effective, so they'd make up nonsense words and idiots would actually buy them!
Through the centuries, monks and other spiritual folks have meditated, cleared their minds, and "reached enlightenment" (whatever that means). At first glance we might be impressed with their supposed spiritual powers or wisdom, but let's look at why they did this: they were bored. They lived in a time and place that did not have television, radio, magazines, the Internet or Chuck E. Cheese's. Blanking out their minds and deluding themselves that asceticism is the way to live were their ways of dealing with deprivation. If you and I had been born in 9th century Mongolia, we probably would have lived like that too. Similarly, do you think that those "enlightened" meditating monks would have spent their lives sitting in caves and eating lotus leaves if they had been fortunate enough to live in modern America? A person would have to be a moron to reject what this society has to offer and miss out on all of its benefits. I guarantee you that the vast majority of people who became monks and prophets would be average slobs, driving cars and watching television and investing in mutual funds, if they had grown up in a late 20th century suburb.
One Eastern philosophy is to overcome desire, because it is desire that causes unrest. This is merely a cop-out. Sure, unfulfilled desire is unpleasant, so it is unwise to desire something unattainable, but working toward a goal is fulfilling. Should we never desire anything, never have any goals? Should we just sit and experience the things around us? If that was all we did, then who would grow and harvest crops, build houses and make clothing? Many proponents of the desire-less philosophy have done these things. And they did them because of their desire to keep living instead of starving or freezing to death.
There are a lot of phony ideas being sold by clever charlatans. Tarot, palm reading, psychic hotlines, numerology, crystals, shamanism and astral projection are but a few examples. These forms of snake oil are peddled by weirdos (mostly women aged 35-65 for some reason) who are unable or unwilling to work at honest jobs. They throw expressions around like "meditation to reach God realization" and "reunion with your inner self". I have an expression for them: "You're all full of shit." These practitioners, who have no formal degree in their field because it is not a field at all, run ads in "alternative" publications that look something like this:
Let's look at a few of these quackeries. Astrology is pretty popular. Even conventional newspapers often have a horoscope page. The idea is that whatever time of year you happen to slip out of the womb determines certain things about you. I don't believe in astrology. You see, I'm a Gemini, and Geminis don't believe in astrology. It's easy to fabricate horoscopes and get otherwise normal, mainstream people to read and believe them. For example:
|Virgo:||You do terrible things to small animals and pick your nose a lot.|
|Gemini:||You fall asleep while making love and are fascinated by paper weights.|
|Cancer:||You'd make a good bus driver or pimp.|
|Scorpio:||You are a drug user and will eventually be murdered.|
|Libra:||You will die of venereal disease.|
|Capricorn:||You'd sell your children for whiskey.|
|Taurus:||You are creative and imaginative, which explains your habitual lying.|
|Aries:||You have no skills not involving a broom.|
|Pisces:||You have herpes. You will commit suicide by boring yourself to death.|
|Sagittarius:||You are a cheap bastard.|
|Leo:||You are a habitual thief and kiss mirrors a lot.|
|Aquarius:||If you're a man, you are queer; if you're a woman, you are a whore.|
There. Don't you feel better?
Chakras and auras are fictitious areas of energy found in or around your body. Practitioners wave their hands over you and/or touch you, claiming that they're picking up vibrations from your aura or that your chakras are misaligned, and of course they can "heal" you if only you'll come back for a series of treatments. Many people claim that their alternative medical practitioner has worked wonders for them, but their "improvement" is merely an emotional high caused by the power of suggestion: they have been fooled into believing that their "doctor" has done something, and this makes them feel good, much like a spiritual belief will make one feel good no matter how factually incorrect it is.
Fortune tellers are able to make a living by telling people fairly obvious things about themselves and pretending to predict the future. People pay these charlatans for advice on relationships or money or their vocation. If fortune tellers really can predict the future, then why don't they make millions of dollars investing in stocks that will eventually become high flyers instead of going to the trouble of doing half-hour crystal ball or palm readings for a mere $50 each?
Telekinesis is the supposed ability to move or bend objects by mind power alone. Some telekinetic occurrences have been televised in programs such as I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, but for us mortals it is quite impossible to do anything by mind power alone other than think and feel. Hucksters use sleight of hand in order to make it appear as though they can move things telekinetically - something that any half-decent magician can do. If these people really could move objects with their minds, then they could go to any casino and win a fortune making dice or the roulette wheel behave a certain way. Why don't they?
Visualization is a method of making things happen by visualizing them. Basically it's the mistaken belief that if you fantasize about it, it will come true. If this were the case, then I would have won the lottery seven times already and I would be having sex with Cameron Diaz.
And Meg Ryan.
|I took a class about human behavior. In it I learned that people|
|are stupid, easily-manipulated fools. And it only cost me $2700.|
There are all sorts of control systems wherein a large group of people is duped and controlled. This works because there are a lot of people who want to be controlled; they want to give their power away and be led. This is a common reaction when people feel powerless: "I'm not happy. I'm not getting what I want. Maybe this system can help me. I don't mind giving my power away since I have so little to begin with. Even if this system doesn't help me, I can't end up any worse off than I am now." And so people join Amway or a church or a 12-step program in order to make money or feel secure or overcome an addiction. The results can be good at first but might lead to other problems. Look at Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 steps give patients a system to follow. Attending the weekly or monthly meetings keeps them connected with other people who empathize and care. This often helps people overcome their addiction to alcohol. However, some patients get caught up in rigid adherence to rules, insisting that this method is the "only way", and they sometimes end up addicted to the 12-step program.
Spiritual "retreats" are often precisely-engineered training sessions where leaders get people to pay lots of money while being brainwashed. The victims are held for a few hours or days and told a bunch of bullshit that might not fool you or me, but since the participants are searching for something to fill the hole in their lives, they are more susceptible to deceit. The controllers might ask the participants if they "feel" anything or if they are "getting it" in order to suggest that if they aren't "getting it" then they must be really stupid or stubborn. Before they go home, the participants are often encouraged to recruit new suckers by asking them to come to a future session. So each intimidated and perhaps brainwashed participant calls a few people and extends an invitation to attend a "meeting". The folks with lives will naturally decline the offer, explaining in a polite yet condescending way that this sort of thing is not for them, or perhaps making up an excuse as to why they can't attend, while wanting to tell this person to get his head out of his ass.
Any belief system that does not encourage you to think for yourself or express doubt or question any of the teachings is merely a system of brainwashing, and any adherents who are weak-willed enough to voluntarily subject themselves to it remain addicted to it. People who have been brainwashed will usually passionately defend their manipulators, claiming that they have simply been "shown the light". How do we get through to them? It takes time, patience and work. You can't just call them morons. You need to sit down with them, show them why they're wrong, and provide an alternative method. If they don't believe you, then call them morons.
One of the oldest and most obvious manipulation tricks is the make-the-lame-person-walk ploy, which fills idiots with awe and strengthens their belief. The religious leader stands at the front of the room and says, "If there is anyone here who needs healing, please come forward." Then someone rolls up in a wheelchair, the preacher puts his hand on the person's forehead and says something like "You are healed my child", and - voila! - the "cripple" gets up out of the wheelchair and walks. If this were actually possible, don't you think every cripple in the world would line up at this guy's church to be healed? Don't you think people would give their life savings to fly this guy to their homes so that they could gain the ability to walk?
At the stereotypical church, repetitive music is played. It's a hypnotic beat that can mesmerize people to the point where their bodies release opium-like chemicals. It feels good and makes them want to come back for more, and it makes them drop their guard so that they'll believe stuff that they normally wouldn't believe when their intellect filters out crap. This is why they'll listen even when the preacher surgically removes a passage from the Bible and gives a long boring sermon about it. For example, "In Hezekiah 2:9, article 8, section 3, we read, 'Lo, and the Lord said that thy camels shall turn to dust, yet thou shalt inherit the kingdom of Heaven.' What this passage means is that the animals belong to the Earth, but we belong to God. Unless it was written on an odd-numbered Tuesday, in which case it means..."
Religious gatherings can be very uplifting, as people proclaim the strength of their belief or sing songs or relate stories of "miracles" in their lives, but let us not think that this good feeling necessarily comes from a Supreme Being - it comes from people getting together and rallying around a common value. I get the same feeling at a Karaoke bar. If I'm ever at a church service and someone asks me, "Do you feel the Lord?", I'll tell them, "No, I feel the energy of the mesmerized imbeciles around me."
I remember reading a newspaper article in the 1970s about a mass wedding for followers of Sun Yung Moon. Hundreds of "Moonies" lined up, men in one line and women in the other, and they all got randomly paired up and married. That is, the participants did not select each other - they each took the next random person in the other line. This is a perfect example of people who want to be led. They don't want to take responsibility for their own actions, whether it's finding a job or selecting a mate or getting a legitimate education. They prefer to give away their power. They look for answers, meaning and enlightenment outside of themselves. Basically they are running away from themselves. They see themselves as losers, so they join a group of other losers who accept them as they are. All I know is that if I were in that Moonie wedding and the woman they were gonna pair me with looked like Linda Tripp, I'd run from that scene and become a Mormon.
It behooves all of us to develop a healthy skepticism. It takes intelligence, experience and self-esteem to reject stories that others try to get you to believe. This is why young children are so gullible. As you mature you develop the tools necessary to filter incoming data and not be so easily duped. The goal is to not let everything you hear cause you to stray from your course, to act on knowledge and wisdom rather than on hearsay. This sensible way of living will usually keep you from getting swindled out of money, time and energy. However, if you're so stupid that you think the International Date Line is a 900 number, then there's no hope for you.
Why do we want to know where everything came from? Because we are inquisitive creatures, always seeking knowledge. Unfortunately there is no way to prove how everything got here. All we can do is observe the world and speculate. Some people simply enjoy the wonder of it all; others jump to conclusions despite lack of conclusive proof.
The Big Bang Theory hypothesizes that at one time all matter was squished together in a single point, and then it exploded. I doubt this theory - it's hard for me to believe that at one time Rush Limbaugh was smaller than Delaware. Anyway, the theory goes on to say that the "stuff" that exploded randomly formed different kinds of atoms and molecules, which formed different kinds of substances with different levels of thermal energy. Thus gases, stars, black holes, planets, air and water were formed. Following this is the Theory of Evolution, which proposes that molecules randomly arranged themselves into simple cells, which were able to make copies of themselves. Random deviations caused different features to be added to succeeding generations; those that inherited helpful features survived to reproduce, while those that inherited hindering features died before they could replicate themselves. Thus eyes, lungs, limbs, brains, etc were eventually formed, comprising the higher animals.
Some evolutionists study chimpanzees in an effort to prove their theory. The idea is that if it can be shown that humans evolved from chimps, then it can be inferred that this linkage goes all the way back to single-celled organisms. Every time a chimp does something that even remotely resembles human behavior, such as using a twig to catch termites, one of these "scientists" will point to it and exclaim, "See? Look at that human behavior! This proves that chimps and humans came from the same lineage!" I don't think so, you hemorrhoid. When I see a chimp drive a car, or wipe its ass, then I'll give this common lineage thing some consideration.
Many religions (for example, the Judeo-Christian religions) assume that a Supreme Being (e.g. God or Allah) created everything and that evolution never occurred. This is an easy concept for people to understand because they don't have to consider physics and biology. The classic tale of Man's origin centers around God's creation of Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve really were the first two people on Earth and they started the populating of this planet, then we're all inbred descendants. The very first book of the Bible mentions Cain (Adam and Eve's son) laying with his wife. Who was Cain's wife? Where did she come from? Was she Adam and Eve's daughter? Perhaps this family was a bunch of hillbillies.
The creation vs. evolution argument will probably go on as long as our species survives, and I know that I for one have wrestled with it for many years. I look at our similarity to other animals, the way that animals are built to survive in their environment, archeological evidence, etc, and evolution seems like a possibility. But then I consider music, poetry, emotions and Marilyn Monroe, and I think, could all of these be the result of a random movement of matter? And where did all the matter come from?
The main problem with the Big Bang and evolution theories is that they run counter to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that matter tends toward entropy. For example, if you place a stack of quarters, a stack of dimes and a stack of nickels in a box, close the box and shake it, the stacks will quickly transform into a random mix of the three types of coins. No matter how long you shake the box, the coins will never order themselves into three homogeneous stacks. How, then, can matter randomly organize itself into different elements, molecules, substances, planets and organisms?
By the way, "homogeneous" does not refer to someone who's both intelligent and gay.
So let's say, hypothetically, that the Big Bang and evolution never occurred. Then how did everything get here? I don't know. The idea of a Supreme Being creating everything is probably the oldest assumption, but it is just that - an assumption. It's easy to accept because it doesn't require any hard thinking or proof. I'm not saying that it's wrong - there may well be a God or several Gods - but, being an assumption, it could just as easily be wrong as right. By the way, you ever notice that a lot of people look upward when they talk to or think about God? Why do they do this? Does He exist only in outer space? Or the stratosphere?
The existence of a Supreme Being would explain a lot of things. You know how some events could be coincidences but make you wonder whether there's some intelligent force in the universe that made them happen? For instance, one time when I was walking to my office from the parking lot, I felt a sort of premonition that I might bump into someone whom I hadn't seen in a while. I don't have chance meetings with old friends frequently, and I hardly ever get premonitions. I thought to myself that if my premonition were to come true, that would strongly suggest the existence of some universal force to which I am connected. Well, not five seconds later I ran into an old friend - who I see maybe once a year - walking from another direction. Coincidence? Maybe. But even if it was only blind chance, this type of little accident keeps life interesting and mysterious.
What makes us us? For example, if your parents had each married someone else, would you have been born? That is, would your consciousness be in one of those two couples' progeny? Or would you never have existed?
Science is the practice of looking at observable phenomena and using them in order to better our lives. It is science that brought us all of the world's great inventions, such as the wheel, the light bulb, the airplane, and processed cheese. It is only because of science that we are able to travel around the world in a matter of hours, cook food in minutes, and produce masterpieces like this book.
The main difference between science and religion is that science is based on evidence and religion is not. Religious followers just believe stuff because they read or heard it. Religion is a rumor, started a long time ago, spread around the world by people who are gullible enough to believe it. You or I could fabricate a belief system, preach it, and gain a following; or write a "religious" book, bury it, and centuries later someone would dig it up, read it and believe it, because hey, it was written a long time ago, so therefore it must be true.
Although we laypeople (heh heh) have to take whatever scientists tell us on faith (for example, I've never seen cholesterol), their reports can be investigated. The large number of people working in scientific fields around the globe provides an elaborate system of checks and balances so that scientific lies cannot be propagated nearly as easily as religious lies. Take smoking for instance. Tobacco companies swear up and down that smoking isn't bad for us. However, thousands of scientific studies show that it certainly is bad for us, so the corporate lies can be refuted. By the way, if you're gonna smoke, cigars are preferable to cigarettes because cigars are so disgusting that they make you not want to inhale, plus they give you all the privacy you want by driving the rest of us away. A cigar can clear a room like a Yoko Ono album.
Science involves some trial and error. It has had its share of wrong assumptions. However, scientists at least attempt to gain knowledge that will either prove or disprove theories; while religionists repeat the same centuries-old assumptions, never proving them but nevertheless beating them into people's heads, and often suppressing scientific reasoning that contradicts their beliefs. For example, Ptolemy reasoned from an Earth-centered theory (i.e. the Sun revolves around the Earth). This idea was widely accepted because it supported Christianity's anthropocentric bias. Later, Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei showed that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Not surprisingly, religious fundamentalists considered that idea an insult to God; they labeled it sorcery and heresy, and banned it. This type of behavior is expected from anyone who has something to hide: accuse others of something in order to distract people from your own faults; scream loudly about how wrong someone else is and hope that this will wipe away your own doubts and fears; keep the truth hidden so that your inadequacies and/or crimes will not be revealed. Moreover, people disliked the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun because their working view of the world, which centered around their religious beliefs, was challenged. They chose to suppress new information because they were too fearful or lazy to change their view. However, they expended more energy denouncing and suppressing science and defending their outmoded view of the universe than would have been required to correct it in the first place.
Another reason that science and religion have been opponents is that people sometimes lose their religious beliefs when science makes them feel powerful or seems to answer questions that religion cannot satisfactorily answer. Religious leaders have often felt threatened by science because they would lose their power over the masses if science were to lead people away from religion. However, scientific knowledge does not necessarily have to make religion obsolete. While science cures diseases and builds living quarters and produces food, it cannot answer important questions such as "Who am I?", "Why am I here?", and "Will the Saints ever win the Super Bowl?" Furthermore, science can actually lead people toward a belief in God. For example, via science we have learned that the universe is designed perfectly, so that physical properties always work in exactly the same way (except when you fly: they put the luggage in the plane, the plane goes up, the plane comes down, and the luggage is gone). Such an intelligent design might suggest an intelligent designer (e.g. God).
Science is the closest thing we have to international brotherhood. There are hundreds of different religions, and despite numerous attempts to bring peace through religion, many wars have been started over differing religious views. Science, on the other hand, successfully brings people from all over the world together. It provides a way for people to transcend the narrow-minded teachings they were brought up with. Scientists from all national and religious backgrounds talk and work together in the common interest of seeking truth and bettering the human condition. Squabbles over whose belief is correct - very common in religious circles - are uncommon in the scientific community because proof is the name of the game. And scientific differences of opinion do not lead to hatred and war.
Science, like anything else, can be used in helpful or harmful ways. For example, the electron microscope has enabled us to see individual molecules and view chemical reactions on a molecular level so that beneficial chemicals and materials can be synthesized. It has also enabled us to learn that an object is merely a bunch of molecules held together by atomic forces and is mostly empty space; we only perceive it as a book, a table, a mug of beer, because our naked eyes are incapable of seeing and our touch receptors are incapable of feeling the individual molecules. However, this "blindness" is essential if we are to lead sensible lives with distinguishable objects. If we were to consider only molecules and the spaces between them, then we wouldn't be able to see the objects they compose - we wouldn't be able to see the forest for the trees - and our lives would lose meaning.
Science has enabled us to see particles below the molecular level: atoms. We have even been able to learn about the atom's constituent parts: electrons, protons and neutrons. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the atom, billions of dollars are spent on particle accelerators which accelerate beams of positively and negatively charged particles in opposite directions. The particles are diverted so that they smash into each other, just like Amtrak does with its customers.
|I stole a dollar from a liquor store, but I got arrested when I tried|
|to spend it. I forgot to take it out of the frame.|
We hear a lot of talk about how we should do things for others, and it is implied that it is shameful not to. This idea of altruism is a functional method of creating good feelings between people who would otherwise be indifferent toward each other, for we feel good when we are surrounded by magnanimous people and lonely when surrounded by selfish strangers. But this philosophy is really self-serving: most people frown on selfishness only because a selfish person does not serve their own selfish interests. Of course people want the selfish person to be altruistic - they stand to benefit from that!
Every living creature has its own needs to take care of, and meeting them requires a great deal of time and effort. Hence most actions are based on self-concern. Think of what you spend most of your time doing: working for money (or, if you're in school, studying so you can eventually get a job), reading, eating, showering, crapping, commuting (driving, walking, or taking public transportation), watching TV, listening to music, nursing injuries, and sleeping. How much time does any of us spend selflessly doing things for others? Even "altruistic" actions are often not altruistic at all, e.g. someone does something to help somebody of value to her (family member, close friend), hence her act indirectly benefits her; or throws a coin at an annoying beggar in order to get him to stop pestering her. But let's for a moment consider totally selfless acts, e.g. you help a motorist whose car has broken down - someone who will not pester you if you do not help him, and who you will probably never see again so you stand to gain nothing by helping him. How many of us are this selfless? Some people would laud this act of charity because it shows a good heart. Others would ridicule it, saying that you'd have to be an idiot to "waste" your resources instead of continuing to live your life of self-servitude and convenience. What's your view? "That's a stupid question," you might be thinking. "Of course it would be nicer to stop and help than it would be to ignore someone in need. I think this because I'm a nice person!" Oh yeah? What do you do when you see someone on the side of the road with a flat tire or a steaming radiator? You just drive right by, don't you? That's right, you hypocrite - you just leave that poor soul stranded there and continue onward to your comfortable home or the mall or church. You selfish bastard.
So we all live our lives mostly in self-servitude. Is this bad? Hell no! We should not feel guilty merely because we take care of our own business. We simply do not have the time, energy or money to help every random stranger in need. This is not to say that we should never help people unless we expect it to pay off somehow - we just need to do it sensibly. For example, we might give blood, but we're not gonna donate a kidney to anyone but a close friend or relative.
Even the raising of children and pets is self-serving. All mammals have a strong, innate desire to nurture. We take care of dependents because our lives are enriched by doing so. Nobody says, "Living alone is wonderful. Raising children would lower the quality of my life, but I'll do it solely because it will benefit others." Quite the opposite is true: life is more fun and fulfilling when we nurture others. We procreate and/or acquire pets because it benefits us. And our dependents are just as self-serving as we are. The main reason they obey us is to gain rewards and avoid punishments. If we did not discipline them, they would do little more than mess up the house, watch television, play games, and request toys and food. The greatest benefit we get from them is the good feeling of nurturing - it has nothing to do with any altruism on their part. Even if they do take out the garbage or fetch our slippers, this pales in comparison to all the resources we spend feeding them, bathing them, providing medical care, cleaning up after them, and arranging our schedules around them. Don't get me wrong. I love kids and animals, and I am all for raising them - in fact, I have children and dogs living under my roof - but no matter how adorable our dependents are or how wonderful a feeling we get from nurturing them, this doesn't change the fact that they are just as self-serving as everyone else is.
We cannot feasibly treat everyone with equal regard. Each of us only has so much time and energy to spend, and if we try to spread it evenly among everyone we meet, nobody will get much of our attention and we will never become very close with anyone. In order to meet our own need for closeness or intimacy, we must distance ourselves from some people so that we are able to have close relationships with others. It's kind of sad, but that's just one of life's harsh realities. There are a lot of nice people who we'd like to spend more time with, but neither they nor we have enough time to do this. Mahatma Gandhi did his best to treat everyone equally, and as a result he largely ignored his wife and other relatives. Gandhi lived in India, a country where animals such as monkeys and cattle are so revered that mothers will hold their infants in a cow's urine stream because it's considered such an honor. He dedicated his life to bringing peace between rival religious groups, and in the end he was rewarded by being assassinated. I think his last words were "Holy cow!"
Self-servitude is logical. For example, you work hard so that you can obtain enough money to buy the things you need. You don't give it all away. You might give some away to charity, but you use the majority of it for yourself. Hence hard work pays off. You get what you work for. This is Capitalism in its purest form. Egalitarian systems such as Communism and Socialism attempt to even things out so that there are no rich and no poor. While their intentions might be good, they are not very fair because they reward those who do not work their fair share, and at the same time fail to adequately compensate the most productive people, thereby taking away some of their incentive to put in the extra effort.
Let us not confuse self-servitude with being a complete asshole. Self-servitude means meeting your needs, not being greedy. Robbing others, cutting them off in traffic, and so forth go way beyond self-servitude, for they exhibit a total disregard for others in order to obtain a little money or time. There are a lot of assholes who live their lives thinking only of themselves and angering others, and the only thing that keeps them from getting beaten up is the fact that the people they piss off don't want to be separated from their homes, loved ones and hobbies by getting thrown in jail. Many times I've wished I were an undercover cop so I could pull over all the reckless drivers who cut me off, tailgate, and weave in and out of traffic. It seems that these jerks never get caught, but when I break the law just once I get nailed. You know how you sometimes follow someone who's speeding, thinking that you won't get pulled over because there's someone ahead of you? Once when I was on the highway, I got behind someone who was doing 85, and I thought I was safe. A cop nabbed me, giving me a ticket and chewing me out. Meanwhile he didn't even pull the ambulance over.
In an effort to free themselves from responsibility for acts which are prompted by their own questionable inclinations and impulses, some people join a religious or political group, commit crimes, and then claim that they were "just following orders" or "doing God's work". While some of these people really are weak and stupid enough to give away their personal power and do whatever a leader tells them to do because they are afraid to lead themselves, many others know exactly what they're doing, and they merely use an existing group as a shield from punishment, practicing unabated selfishness and placing the blame on someone else for "forcing" them to do what they did.
Is there an absolute moral "right" and an absolute moral "wrong", a cosmic duality of "good" and "evil" which is woven into the fabric of the universe? Or are we merely here, adrift in an indifferent cosmos, with plenty of free will, capability and physical matter upon which to act, without any cosmic morality to guide us? Are "right" and "wrong" merely terms for "pleasant" and "unpleasant"? That is, are "good" and "evil" merely relative, dependent upon one's point of view, so that one person's "good" might be another person's "evil"? If so, then you can bet I'll cheat on my taxes this year.
Relative morality is as old as the creatures who call themselves moral. Polygamy, public nudity, prostitution, slavery, premarital sex, drug use, abortion, capital punishment, and the killing of female babies (see note) are practices that occur around the world. Each practice has its proponents and its opponents. Many people are vehement in their pro or con opinion, convinced that they are absolutely right and that everyone who disagrees with them is wrong. They are, of course, speaking from their own corner of the universe, their own view of reality, their own upbringing, their own selfish needs and desires, and they are mistaken in believing that everyone else's morality should match their own.
Note: In some countries, most notably China, male babies are preferred, and female babies have often been killed by their parents in order to avoid wasting their resources. Today there are adoption agencies that will take unwanted babies and thereby provide the parents with a more humane alternative.
Morality doesn't exist in a vacuum. No act is absolutely wrong in and of itself and in all circumstances. Let's take prostitution as an example. A teenage runaway might detest sleeping with strangers, but it might be preferable to starvation and homelessness; whereas there is no need for someone with enough food and a home to sell her body. Prostitution would be more immoral for the latter person because there is no need that justifies her actions, whereas the former feels that she is justified - hence moral - because she is striving to meet her basic needs. Some people sit back, fat and contented, and proclaim that prostitution is always wrong and that a woman should endure hunger and cold in order to preserve her morality. This sort of abstract platitude is typical of self-righteous ignoramuses. Their judgment is born of ease and not knowing what it's like to be in a desperate situation. How quickly their tune would change if they were in that runaway's shoes. By the way, dating is a form of prostitution. Think about it: a man spends $50 in one evening (wine, dinner, movie, etc) in order to convince some woman to have sex with him. I think that prostitution is actually better than dating, because at least with a prostitute you know you're gonna get laid. Plus you don't have to waste four hours pretending to like her.
Many people think that an act makes us suffer because it is wrong. I say the reverse: we consider an act wrong because it makes us suffer. For example, we consider excessive alcohol intake wrong only because it causes unhappiness, automobile deaths, cirrhosis, nutritional deficiencies, etc. If it did not create suffering, we would not consider it wrong.
A person's sense of right and wrong is tied to what benefits him. This is why some of our values change: we change, so the things that benefit us change. For example, young people tend to not have much money, so they tend to be democratic. A lot of them believe that it's wrong that some people are rich while others are poor and that the "haves" should therefore share with the "have-nots". As many of them get older and amass more wealth, their view changes: they believe that people should earn what they keep and keep what they earn, and that a hard-working person should not have to share with the less fortunate - after all, it isn't his fault that someone else has less. Why has their opinion changed? Simple: they are now haves instead of have-nots, so sharing the wealth would now hurt them instead of helping them. Hence what they once considered wrong they now consider right, and vice versa.
We learn much of what we call morality. It is taught by our parents, teachers, friends, and religious and political leaders. We learn to have adverse reactions to some things not because they are inherently unpleasant to us, but because we are taught that we should dislike them. A good example is nudity. Little children have no inhibitions about running around in the buff, but many parents teach them to keep their bodies covered up. No good explanation is given as to why being seen nude is a terrible thing - children are just taught that it's "wrong". Years of this conditioning cause the child to believe that nudity is wrong in an absolute sense, as though there's an unquestionable cosmic law that makes it wrong. Once this illusion is in place, the person feels embarrassment and/or shame if seen naked. Even if he or she isn't fat.
For many of us life is too easy. We are buffered from the weather by clothing, buildings, air conditioning and heat; from laborious toil by machines; from hardship by medicine and easily-gotten food; and from reality by television. We are separated from the natural world and lulled into a stupor. A lot of people spend much of their time sitting around, unmotivated to get up and do anything, because there is no pressing need or inspiration. They lead unfulfilling lives of ease and passionlessness: there is nothing challenging that they need to do and they don't have a hobby, so they just drift through their existence eating, sleeping, watching television, and expending as little effort as possible. The result is an empty, unfulfilled, uneasy feeling of untapped potential. What a paradox that ease causes unease. How do we motivate these folks to do something useful? We don't need a bunch of people sitting around, uninvolved with life, taking up living space and breathing our air. We already have the clergy.
Why does inactivity make us so unhappy? Because we are energetic creatures whose minds and bodies want to be exercised. We need to both work and play. This is why it is so good - indeed, necessary - to have a passion in life. It doesn't matter whether it's pottery or woodworking or cooking or gardening or soccer - what's important is that there is a genuine passionate interest and that we pursue this interest. Directing our energy toward interesting and challenging activities is fun and satisfying while we're doing it, and satisfying afterwards when we're exhausted from putting great effort into something worthwhile. A wonderful thing about giving 100% effort to something interesting is that it needs no intellectual justification, hence even a deep thinker who has reasoned away the meaning of life can enjoy it. Total involvement is a creature being itself. It is self-expression. It does not mean pointing to oneself and one's activity and proclaiming, "This is me." It means being totally absorbed in an activity because it is so interesting and compelling, doing it without fanfare, without asking oneself why, without regard for anyone's opinion or whether anyone even notices. When we passionately express ourselves this way, the meaning of or reason for anything is not even an issue.
People who fail to find something interesting and satisfying to do on a daily basis endure emptiness and boredom. Lack of stimulation might cause one's mind to create stress in order to be affected by something and keep itself from starving (we see this phenomenon in experiments where people placed in sensory deprivation chambers report wild thoughts and even hallucinations). Bored people often turn to unproductive outlets as substitutive satisfactions. Sometimes these outlets are self-destructive (e.g. worry, gluttony, fetishes, drugs, alcohol), and sometimes they hurt others (e.g. vandalism, child molestation, sadism, spousal abuse, pyromania, animal cruelty). The outlet most frequently used is television. The rich, the poor, the old and the young watch videos or whatever happens to be broadcast at the time in an attempt to fill their void. This does not make them happy or satisfied, but they're too lazy and/or uncreative to find an alternative. When they finally turn the television off, they are not only still empty, but also at least vaguely aware that they just wasted a few more hours of their short life. They come nowhere near their potential as human beings, in terms of either accomplishments or happiness, but they are not suffering enough to be motivated to change their humdrum lives; they are just comfortable enough in their rut to stay in it.
The unhappiness that accompanies inactivity used to be confined mostly to the idle rich (people who made, married or inherited a fortune and as a result do not have to work). Many of them have become lemmings who attend only those social events where they can "be seen" and impress other insufferable bores, and afterwards express to their spouses the contempt they have for the people they just pretended to be delighted with. "Oh, that Charles is so gauche." "Did you see the way Constance clung to Robert?" "That dress Mrs. Smythe wore was simply horrid." Hey, wake up and smell the pretentiousness, you conceited, contemptuous snots! Anyway, now many middle- and even lower-class people suffer from the same emptiness because modern society has made our lives so physically easy. Without having to work hard and economize our efforts in order to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves (because technology and industry do these things for us), we need to find something meaningful to work at - something that we are very interested in and therefore feel compelled to do - in order to be fulfilled and feel dignified about our actions.
Inactivity is sometimes an effect, rather than a cause, of unhappiness. For example, as children grow to adulthood, activities and roles that used to be each family member's identity often disappear: the athlete and the cheerleader are no longer lauded for their talents, and the parents are no longer needed for financial support or to make dinner. This can cause them to lose much of their sense of worth and purpose. If the adult children stay single for many years, there might be the feeling that there is something wrong with this family because the children haven't married and produced offspring like children in "normal" families do. Rather than accept life's changes and find other activities to get involved in, many people choose to regret the fact that things are no longer the way they used to be or haven't turned out the way they had planned, and they mope around feeling like something is missing instead of travelling down paths that could make their lives enjoyable.
It seems to me that lack of interests, and the resulting inability to "get into" anything, is just a symptom of a deeper existential problem. There are a lot of things available for us to do and enjoy, and a healthy individual with self-esteem and a positive outlook will become interested in and pursue at least a few of them. Someone who feels badly about life or himself, on the other hand, might not be able to experience joy, so he might therefore view everything as useless. This is precisely what Hamlet went through. Hamlet is a Shakespearean story about a whining crybaby from Denmark whose uncle murders his own brother (Hamlet's father) so he can marry his sister-in-law (Hamlet's mother). Hamlet has the existential blues, so he cannot take meaningful action such as killing his uncle. He is also unable to have sex with a nymphomaniac named Ophelia who wants him, so she kills herself. He goes off on some depressing monologues such as the famous "To be or not to be" speech, and at one point proclaims, "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world." He eventually has a sword fight with some guy who is in cahoots with his uncle to kill Hamlet. Their plan works, but before Hamlet dies the uncle accidentally kills Hamlet's mother and Hamlet kills his uncle. Basically everyone dies and it's a real bummer, kind of like several of Shakespeare's works, which leads me to believe that Shakespeare was probably not very fun at parties.
|Do not walk behind me - I might not lead.|
|Do not walk in front of me - I might not follow.|
|Do not walk beside me either. Just leave me the hell alone.|
As social creatures, we all need the security and comfort of a tightly-knit group. This does not necessarily mean that we must reproduce; living with or at least frequently getting together with other adults can be sufficient, but these must be people that we love, not mere acquaintances or bowling buddies. We all want to be an accepted part of a benevolent social system. This is an undeniable human need that a lot of people who consider themselves independent are unaware of until they start to lose the support system that they had been unwittingly dependent on. No matter how physically or emotionally strong you are, no matter how much money or fame you have, you will feel absolutely miserable without love and companionship. I contend that most cases of psychological turmoil are caused or at least triggered by loneliness. That is, we all have vulnerabilities to unhappiness, neuroses, boredom, directionlessness, despair, and a basic inability to enjoy things, and any or all of these problems can manifest themselves when we do not get the companionship that would otherwise keep them in check. Loneliness can be sated only by closeness, just as hunger can be sated only by food, and as long as this need goes unmet, one cannot be truly happy.
In addition to socialization, we also need touch. I don't mean touch in a Michael Jackson sort of way, but in a caring, affectionate, playful sort of way. Touch is a basic mammalian need. Babies born prematurely and kept alone in incubators don't do nearly as well as premature incubator babies who are handled a few times a day. Some of the unhandled babies actually die from not being touched. Any mammal at any age that is unable to touch or be touched by another will suffer mentally and physically.
Many of us at some point in our lives experience the dissolution of our social support system. Most of us have fairly social youths: we play with other kids and/or our parents, and we are rewarded for doing well in school and/or participating in extracurricular activities. However, when our school years are over we are thrust into the real world, no longer in frequent contact with our parents or school chums. If we move far away (perhaps for career pursuits), we are faced with the challenge of finding new friends and we feel lonely until we do. Our parents suffer too: no longer involved in PTA meetings, little league, etc, their empty nest can feel lonely and be difficult to adjust to.
Although we might have many friends and acquaintances, each of us depends on just a handful of people (family members, close friends, a significant other) for most of our love and social security. If one or a few of these key individuals were to move away or die, we would lose much of the frequent companionship we need and we would consequently feel lonely. Unfortunately we can't just go out and grab random people to replace lost loved ones, because the people we love are irreplaceable, and, quite frankly, each of us considers the vast majority of other people too boring, stuck-up, lazy, weird, ignorant, selfish or annoying to get close to. We don't come right out and say it, for that would be considered rude - it's just one of those unspoken but universally known truths. Not that we consider most people bad; they're just not our "type". Of the few that are left, most either have different interests or are already quite occupied with a family, so that of all the people we meet, only a small percentage are potential loved ones. Sure, we might enjoy brief encounters with half of the people we meet at social gatherings, but how many of these people do we have enough in common with for us to want to get together with them - or for them to want to get together with us - on a regular basis? And even when we do find a few special people who we'd like to spend a good deal of time with, we often find that we are all too busy to see each other more than once a week or perhaps even once a month. This is why there is so much loneliness in the world despite the fact that most of us live in crowded areas. It's also one reason that people get married, but that's a can of worms I'd rather not open right now.
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, "Hell is other people." I think that this statement applies only to the unpleasant things that people do. Overall, being with other people and experiencing both the good and the bad is better than not having any contact with them at all. While it is true that some people are contemptible maggots and even our loved ones piss us off sometimes, we nevertheless need each others' company. If others abuse or neglect us we might, in self-defense, clam up and shut off our need to give and receive love, our sexual desire, and our need to touch and be touched by another; but this blocking, which succeeds in at least partially protecting us from hurt, succeeds also in shutting off our ability to enjoy friendship, closeness, sex, love and affection. We might so distance ourselves that we cannot become intimate. We might so repress our needs and feelings that we cannot enjoy anything as fully as we did when we were sensitive. We must keep our hearts open. Sure, this leaves us vulnerable to rejection and ridicule, but is the alternative - the hell of feelinglessness - any better? When we remain ready and willing to interact with others, we open ourselves up to many more experiences, some good and some bad, and as a result our lives are more fulfilling, more interesting, and much less lonely.
I use the word unhappiness as a catch-all term to describe any kind of mentally-caused negative feeling such as worry, despair, marriage, etc. (Depression, which is genetic and/or chemical in its nature, is discussed in a later chapter.) What makes one unhappy is not just the negative feeling, but also the lack of hope that it will ever improve. If we knew that our suffering would soon pass, then we could easily be in good spirits even before it passed.
As I mentioned in the preceding chapter, loneliness causes most of our psychological problems. Lack of a benevolent social support system can leave us joyless, so that no activity seems worth doing because there are spaces in our hearts that can be filled only by loved ones. Even if you have loved ones in your life, if you only see them once in a while then most days you might feel lonely and uninspired. This is why many adults become "depressed" sometime after they move away from their parents or their children move away. Many people who seem to be depressed become much happier when they find a mate or when loved ones come to visit; when they break up, or the loved ones' visit is over, they feel miserable again. This illustrates a key difference between unhappiness and depression: the former is a reaction to a bad experience or an unmet need; the latter is a condition where a person is always miserable, even when all basic needs are met and no trauma has been suffered.
The world is full of suffering. Not just the obvious suffering of hunger, disease, homelessness and injustice; but also emptiness, despair, anxiety and worry. The first four are afflictions of the poor and the downtrodden; the latter four can affect anyone. You might think that people who live in a society with protective laws and plenty to eat and good medical care and adequate housing would be happy all the time. Not so. People often focus on the negative rather than the positive, on what they don't have rather than what they have. They can't enjoy the moment because they're too busy regretting the past or fretting about the future. Free from real life-threatening problems, they find other things with which to ruin their lives. This sort of destructive negativity often runs in families. There is a genetic component, as evidenced by similarities in twins who were separated at birth. It is not entirely genetic, however. Negativity can be learned: when you live with someone, you can unconsciously pick up their thought habits, and if you're very impressionable, this can mold the way you think.
Some people make themselves unhappy because they want to be happier than other people. Even though they have good health, adequate money, loved ones, a place to live, enough food, and freedom, when they see someone else with more money or a nicer house they refuse to enjoy or appreciate what they have because this other person has a little bit more. The envious person refuses to be happy until he can "keep up with the Joneses". If, however, everyone had less than he has, and he had exactly what he has now, he would be happy. It's like a kid who is momentarily happy with a cookie, but upon seeing another kid get a bigger cookie, he becomes upset and refuses to enjoy what he has. This shows that some adults are just as immature as they were in their childhood. The big stupid doodyheads.
A general unhappiness can be caused by unmet unrealistic expectations and lack of individual effort. For example, many people complain about indifferent neighbors and coworkers, lack of community spirit, insufficient funds to buy certain possessions, or the inability to find a suitable mate. But are these problems any worse than what the Pilgrims faced when they sailed away from Europe and colonized a foreign land, or the toil and strife endured by slaves in almost every land at some point in history? What we have today is a generation of spiritual wimps, living an easy life of heated and air-conditioned homes, television, easy-to-get food, electrical appliances, and the safety net of unemployment and welfare payments. People expect to be supported by others, to get whatever they want, to be instantly gratified. This mindset makes them complacent by diminishing their motivation to work hard in order to achieve their goals. They sack out on the couch and stare at the TV and munch on ready-to-eat junk food and basically shortcut their way through life by putting as little effort into it as possible. This failure to use their personal power, coupled with the failure to get what they want (while expecting to get it), makes them feel helpless and unfulfilled, and, consequently, unhappy. It is only by striving toward a worthwhile goal that we can feel powerful, fulfilled, and that life has meaning. Even if our efforts fail, we can at least feel good that we tried. So all you Montel-watching, potato chip-eating, frivolous lawsuit-filing maggots who whine about how "hard" or "unfair" life is and bother us hard-working individuals with your complaints can suck my ... toe.
There are so many neat things to do and learn, yet a large percentage of people choose to waste their time watching Wheel of Fortune or the latest presidential scandal or some other form of irritainment. This is one reason that their lives are empty. There is an angst inside each of us that yearns to learn and do and love. When this hunger is not fed it makes itself known as a vague emptiness, and some people react by running to psychiatrists and taking various antidepressants in order to soothe their "depression", which is really just self-inflicted unhappiness.
Most people deny that their unhappiness is self-inflicted. They think that if they could only hit the lottery, or get married, or move to California, then their unhappiness would disappear. This isn't the case. We all have a set "happiness point" which is determined by our attitude and is mostly independent of events. There is always a temporary reaction to events, such as elation from winning the lottery or negativity from losing one's job, but within several months people generally return to the happiness (or unhappiness) point they were at before the event. Even then, some idiots find something or someone else to blame for their unhappiness, never admitting or perhaps not even realizing that their misery comes from within and that if they don't resolve their personal issues, they can never be happy no matter how much money they have or where they live.
A person's self-inflicted unhappiness can become such a burden that it leads him to consider or actually commit suicide. In fact, there are more suicides in the U.S. every year than there are murders. And that's only counting the quick suicides (e.g. pills or a gun); it doesn't include the millions of slow suicides people commit with smoking, gluttony, television, worry and alcoholism. "How are these forms of suicide?" you ask. Suicide is nothing more than an escape from life. So is drugging yourself with nicotine, alcohol or food. So is afflicting yourself with atherosclerosis or cirrhosis. So is channel surfing in order to find anything to distract you from real living. So is worrying about something rather than taking action. For every quick suicide there are 23 failed attempts. Boy, that's gotta make you feel low: your life is miserable, you're a complete failure, you try to kill yourself, and you find that you suck at dying as much as you suck at living. Then, while you're in the hospital with tubes up your nose, people visit you and say things like "How could you do such a thing?" and "You have so much to live for." Oh yeah? What do you have to live for? These people only tell you that you have "so much to live for" because they pity you and feel that it is their duty to persuade you to extend your life no matter how unbearable it is. And believe me, they don't want to feel obligated to get together with you every couple of days for the rest of your pathetic life in order to prevent you from killing yourself, because that would make you a burden to them. So keep trying. The pills didn't work? Jump off a tall building.
For some reason, a lot of people choose to wallow in their misery rather than take steps to improve their lives. For example, on any beautiful, sunny day, you can go into any bar and find at least a few people sitting in the dark, drinking and smoking. They don't want to experience the cheerfulness of great weather. Bars illustrate the old adage that "misery loves company". Members of the Ain't-It-Awful Club gather, often between 4:00 and 7:00 PM (when drinks are half price), and the only rule is, "You get to tell me your problems, but you have to listen to mine." For some unknown reason, this is called Happy Hour.
As we pass through our life stages, our knowledge, wisdom and needs change. This causes us to grow out of thought patterns and activities that had previously worked well and brought us pleasure and joy. We must give up the things that we used to hold dear but that no longer work for us so that we can make way for new things that will work for us. This can be difficult to do because we might feel that we're not just losing things - we're losing our selves. When we give them up we feel at least temporarily unhappy as we mourn our loss. But as we lose the ability to enjoy some things, we gain the ability to enjoy others, so, all things considered, we experience not a loss but an exchange. We need to trade the old for the new and adapt to our new stage of development, because if we don't, we will prolong our unhappiness by holding onto things that no longer satisfy us, being frustrated and lamenting the fact that life is not the way it used to be. Some things are simply taken from us as we age, often before we are ready to do without them. For example, our physical beauty diminishes, dependent children grow up and move away, and we lose certain physical abilities. We are forced to give these things up, and if we don't accept their loss, we make it all that much more difficult to grow in new directions and be happy.
A lot of people suffer from anxiety. Anxiety is unfocused fear. Despite leading normal lives in safe environments, many people are inexplicably fearful, nervous and high-strung much of the time. Sometimes they "awfulize", blowing up small things out of proportion, perhaps creating worst-case scenarios in their minds about what could happen. I suppose people tend to assume the worst because they believe it might help them to be prepared in the event that the worst actually happens. However, this form of "insurance" almost never pays off. First of all, the worst rarely happens. Second, most people merely fret about the worst happening; they don't take precautionary measures. It's like worrying about your house burning down without buying a fire extinguisher or fire insurance. If you haven't taken preparatory action, then dreading catastrophe won't help one bit because it neither physically prepares you nor makes it any less likely to happen. If worry has caused you to take action, then fine, but continuing to worry is useless because your contingency plan has things covered and further worry still won't prevent catastrophe. Worrying might prepare you mentally - and if it does, this is a small gain compared to the unhappiness it causes you beforehand - but often it has just the opposite effect: the shock of the event adds to the already agitated state of worry, causing an even greater emotional reaction.
Anxiety can cause high blood pressure and heart palpitations, and make life one big stressful bummer. Unable to pinpoint the cause of their unrest, many people wrongfully blame others. If the people who they claim are the sole source of their misery were to suddenly disappear, they would still be miserable and look for some other scapegoat. For example, bigots like to point at members of other races as the source of all that is wrong with the world. But in places where the vast majority of people are of the same color and nationality, they find other reasons to hate each other. Look at Ireland. Here you have a group consisting almost exclusively of white, Irish Christians. They are so similar that it's a wonder the country has more than five last names. Yet they choose to have differences of opinion about their religion, and members of the different sects (Catholic and Protestant) kill each other over these disagreements. But what do you expect from a country whose biggest contribution to the world is beer?
So how can we be happy? Before we delve into this, let us define what happiness is. There are happy times such as being with loved ones, hugging your dog, working on a fun hobby or curling up with a good book, but these are discrete events. If you are miserable between these events, then you are not happy. Happiness is a lasting sense of well-being; a positive, hopeful feeling that, overall, life is good and worth living, even though unpleasant things sometimes happen and the highlights of life are short-lived. It is fairly easy to weather certain storms, e.g. the common cold does not make us unhappy even though it might fatigue us and keep us from being able to taste food or visit friends, because we know that it will be over in a week. However, problems like anxiety, depression, or the death of a loved one can be quite challenging to our sense of well-being because we are not sure that we will ever get over them. The happiest people are those that are best able to retain hope and a positive outlook in spite of nontrivial problems. There are people lying on their death beds that are happier than some people who are in perfect physical health and who live in $300,000 homes. It's a matter of having a positive rather than a negative outlook. Some people accuse positive thinkers of living in self-delusion or denial: artificially entertaining positive thoughts when they "know" deep down that things are worse than that. I say that this is not necessarily the case: we can focus on the positive rather than the negative, and still be honest. Rather than fabricate positive ideas out of nothing (e.g. religion), we can simply choose to appreciate the good things we have and not dwell on the negative. Thinking positively might not change physical situations, but it helps avoid unnecessary turmoil and makes life more enjoyable. People who focus on negative things - negative thinkers - make themselves unnecessarily miserable.
Happiness is based on the ability to take all the insults of life without responding with tension or rage, and to adapt to situations instead of bemoaning the fact that things didn't go exactly as planned. It is not the external event that creates the emotional response, but what we say to ourselves. We have a choice. For example, when plans that you made a week ago get disrupted, you can get upset about it and make yourself miserable, or you can find something else to do and have a good time. A lot of people don't realize that they can choose to be happy, that their enjoyment of life is not totally at the mercy of events that are beyond their control.
Millions of people have sought psychological help from counselors of some sort (psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, etc). Professional counselors can help people pinpoint the root of their problems, which is the first step to solving them. However, the remaining steps are often beyond the counselor's help. For example, if one's problem is that she is lonely (e.g. for a mate or good friends or children), then she needs to go out and find or create what she needs. Continued visits to her counselor might not produce any helpful revelations, and the time would probably be better spent in pursuit of her goals. Yet a lot of people spend years or even their entire lives going for regular psychological visits despite the fact that they never attain what they need. Some do this because they're afraid to pursue what they need. Others do it because they don't feel that they can discuss their problems with their friends, so they pay a professional to listen and offer advice.
The Declaration of Independence promises us "the pursuit of happiness". Many people mistakenly interpret this to mean that it guarantees us happiness. It does not - it merely allows us to pursue happiness. Furthermore, there is a mistaken notion that pursuing happiness will make one happy. It will not. Happiness comes as an unintentional by-product of close personal relationships, striving to attain worthwhile goals, and fun recreation. Trying to be happy in activities puts the cart before the horse; rather, one should go about one's life, not thinking about happiness, but engaged in activities, relating to other people and pursuing goals, and happiness will result in the natural course of events. As soon as you stop and think, "Am I happy?", you might short-circuit the involved process that had kept you interested, contented and happy. There is an old adage that goes, "Happiness is like a butterfly: chase it, and it will fly away; mind your own business, and it will come and perch on your shoulder." I forget who said that. I think it was Aerosmith.
Loved ones make us happy. Sure, they might aggravate us sometimes, but overall they make life worth living. As I mentioned a few chapters ago, one cannot be happy when one is lonely. Both loving and being loved inspire us and make us feel good. Most people prefer to be part of a nuclear family (meaning parents and children, not Three Mile Island) because this arrangement provides the daily love and nurturing that we all want. However, one can also be happy without a family, i.e. with loved ones who are not family members. The key is frequent contact. Just knowing that you have loved ones "out there" will not bring you much happiness if you hardly ever see them or even call them. Once you become close with people, you must maintain your connection with them. It can be tough to schedule time together, but the benefit is well worth the effort.
What each of us needs to do in order to be happy depends on what problems we have to overcome. Some of us are lazy and lethargic, and need to take some initiative to get things done and feel involved with life. Others of us have just the opposite problem: we are always in a hurry, rushing from place to place, racing through activities and stressing ourselves out. Perhaps we fear that if we don't get things done as soon as possible, they'll never get done. We need to slow down, stop feeling such a need to accomplish, relax, and be a human being instead of a human doing. Too much hurrying causes stress which can hurt us both physically and emotionally. Furthermore, it makes life a blur and therefore hard to thoroughly enjoy. Often times many of us feel that our lives are an endless string of chores and obligations. We might spend our day commuting, working, taking care of our kids, doing housework, cooking dinner, etc, and not leave any time to relax. A lot of us take on responsibilities that we think we can handle without too much difficulty, only to have things turn out to take more time and effort than we had planned, and we end uo thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?" We might cling to certain activities as though to let go of them would be to let go of life itself. Meanwhile our busy schedules are sapping our time, energy and joy.
Our own negative thought patterns are often the main cause of our unhappiness, and all we need to do in order to once again be happy is change them. Usually we don't notice how they become established. Criticism, disappointments and just plain bad luck can make us look at things or ourselves negatively. Our outlook can shift from optimism and hope to pessimism and despair, and the process can be too gradual or subtle for us to notice. We need to catch ourselves when our thoughts bring us down, and realize that life and the future are much better than we're making them out to be. Retraining our thoughts is certainly easier said than done, and the process won't happen overnight, but it is certainly within our power. I'm not talking about "positive thinking" that has no basis in reality. (Don't you hate it when, in the depths of your misery, someone tells you to "think happy thoughts"? Don't you just want to strangle this person?) What I'm talking about is realistic thinking. That is, look at the way things are, objectively and honestly, and you'll see that the only reason things looked so bad was that you were making them look bad, perhaps fearing the worst and projecting unpleasant things that hadn't even happened (as I explained in the section on anxiety in the preceding chapter).
A sense of play is both a cause and an effect of happiness. All mammals need to play. We play quite a bit as children, but a lot of people start to lose this ability as they get older. We must continue to play all throughout our lives. This is not to say that we must reduce ourselves to the mindlessness of children stacking blocks or chewing on furniture; nor does it mean that we should only play. It means that we need to balance our obligations with things that relax us and bring us joy, such as playing a sport or swapping jokes or having a pillow fight with family members. Play is fun precisely because it is arbitrary. Work is a means toward an end, but play is something to be enjoyed in and of itself, with no purpose other than the enjoyment of the moment. In this sense play is absurd. We need to occasionally act absurd in order to be happy. Why? Because life is absurd! We're all gonna die and everything we create will eventually decay, so all is futile. What better reason to enjoy the moment? It's sad that some people lose their sense of frivolity, remain uptight and serious all the time, and disapprove of others who enjoy some playtime. These humorless prigs are really just jealous that they're miserable while other people are having fun. No matter what happens, no matter how unhappy you might sometimes feel, never become continually serious. Always allow your playful side to come out occasionally. Even if you don't have loved ones to play with, make your own fun:
Our brains function via circuits that convey signals through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, all derivatives of amino acids, include serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Serotonin is perhaps the most implicated in the etiology or treatment of various disorders, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, stroke, obesity and pain. A deficiency of norepinephrine at functionally important adrenergic or serotonergic receptors is often implicated as well. Although serotonin may be obtained from a variety of dietary sources, it is synthesized mainly from the essential amino acid tryptophan through the actions of the enzymes tryptophan hydroxylase and aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase.
Now that I've totally confused you, we can discuss mood disorders. It seems that many cases of psychological disruption are caused merely by imbalances of neurotransmitters. An excess or a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters can make us manic, high-strung, bored or lethargic, and in any case can make us feel sad because it disturbs brain circuits. This condition is generally referred to as depression.
Depression causes a vague sadness, without obvious cause. After years of suffering, a victim might lose hope of recovery, and this can cause the loss of motivation to exercise or perform personal grooming, sense of humor, sex drive, and even the will to live. Although other psychological problems might produce similar symptoms, depression differs in that it is chemically caused, whereas many other problems are caused by a combination of events and one's reactions to them. It is not always easy to determine whether one's sadness results from a negative reaction to events or from true depression, especially since many people have just enough chemical imbalance to be prone to depressive reactions to life experiences, but not enough to be depressed all the time. That is, many people are chemically prone to suffer from depression when certain life events take place that bring on stress or loneliness. Since negative things eventually happen to all of us, a high percentage of people who are prone to depression become afflicted with it at some time in their lives. Many famous people who you would never suspect had it suffered from depression. Abraham Lincoln is a good example. In his pain he wrote: "I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better it appears to me." What a loss to the world it would have been if he had killed himself. (By the way, isn't it ironic that stores celebrate his birthday every year with white sales?)
One big problem with depression is that its victims often don't know that they have it, and their inexplicable negative feelings confuse and frustrate them. At least if there were a specific event, e.g. death of a loved one or job loss, to attribute one's depression to, then one could mourn it, realize that this is just a normal reaction to an unfortunate incident, eventually get over it and once again enjoy life. Depression disrupts and often ruins otherwise happy people's lives by afflicting them even when events are going well. In addition to causing people misery, it can turn them into spiritual cripples, rendering them unable to concentrate or function normally. What can we do to help these people, aside from giving them government jobs?
Chemically-depressed people can often be helped with antidepressant drugs whose names sound like Klingon characters from Star Trek: Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, Lithium. (Is it any wonder, then, that the Enterprise runs on dilithium crystals?) These drugs bring neurotransmitters into proper balance. At least that's the intent. Different people have different kinds of imbalances, and often it takes trial and error with different medications and dosages to find the correct treatment for a particular patient. To further complicate things, some medications must be taken for several weeks before any results can be seen. As if that weren't bad enough, some people experience negative side effects from some medications.
There are some over-the-counter products that purportedly help ease depression without side effects. One of the more popular ones is St. John's Wort. It's worth a try before seeking prescription drugs.
Although depression is chemically induced, it does not always require medication. The amounts of brain chemicals we produce are not necessarily beyond our control. Our thoughts can alter their production. Hence mild forms of depression are controllable by mind power alone. Looking at the positive side of things rather than the negative can cause us to produce more of the "good" chemicals and less of the "bad" ones. If you choose to focus on the positive things in life, you are an optimist (no, an optimist is not an eye doctor); if you focus on the negative things, then you're Jewish.
Some "depression" is caused solely by negative mental processes set in motion at some time in the past. For example, someone who chooses to look at himself and others negatively because a few people have rejected him in his life might become unable to feel good about himself or trust others, so that he always keeps people at a distance, cannot get close to anyone, and as a result always feels alienated and isolated. This can make him perpetually unhappy, and since the cause is not chemical, drugs might not help. Nevertheless, some psychiatrists automatically prescribe antidepressant drugs to unhappy patients regardless of whether their suffering is caused by chemical imbalance or destructive thought patterns. This contributes to the common "helpless victim" mindset which tells us that our problems are never our own fault and that there is nothing we can do to help ourselves. This is bullshit. During my existential travels in my late 20s and early 30s I went through major unhappiness as a reaction to loneliness and realizing all the bad in this world. A weak or lazy person could have gone to a psychiatrist, who might have labeled the condition "depression" and prescribed medication. Rather than go that route, I chose to work hard by reading many self-help books, thinking, writing over 1000 pages of thoughts (all handwritten), and experiencing the legitimate suffering that went along with this process. The result was that I grew past my existential pain and became a much stronger, wiser person for having gone through it. People who use medication to skirt their personal problems rather than work through them remain spiritually weak, never overcome personal problems, and foster a dependency on drugs. Even when drugs "work", in many cases they merely medicate the patient into a zombie-like state, easing the anxiety or sadness but not allowing the person to grow or experience real joy.
About 250,000 people in this country are hospitalized every year due to depression, many more visit psychiatrists and take medication, and still more suffer without seeking treatment. Why would depressed, miserable people not seek treatment? Well, perhaps they don't even know that they're depressed. Or maybe they're too embarrassed to take medication because they feel that there's a social stigma attached to it. Their belief is that it's their fault. But if their problem is merely chemical, it's not their fault. Depression can be viewed as AIDS of the mind: just as the immune system cannot fight off AIDS because the immune system itself is attacked, it can be difficult or impossible for the mind to battle depression because the mind (brain) itself is attacked. Speaking of AIDS, Magic Johnson was given a $900,000 advance to write a book on how to avoid getting AIDS. It's going to be called Don't Have Sex With Me.
It's possible that all addictive behavior is caused by neurotransmitter imbalances, and that the particular actions we do in response, such as overeating, drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling, obsessive compulsions (repetitive, inane behavior), shoplifting, sexual perversions, workaholism and so forth, are merely manifestations of the same underlying problem. If so, then this is why treating the behavior, e.g. an eating disorder, is often ineffective: the underlying cause (depression) is not dealt with. Merely teaching someone about nutrition and exercise isn't going to stop depression or keep it from driving the patient to overeat.
Perhaps the angst caused by chemical imbalance is necessary for creativity. Many great people throughout history suffered from depression. Maybe if we gave everyone the chemicals they need to soothe their hungry brains, they'd stop pushing their limits, so that nothing more would ever be accomplished and we'd all grow fat from inactivity (and maybe we wouldn't care because we'd all be medicated). Are all of us movers and shakers merely victims of bipolar mood or mania or some other disorder caused by brain chemical imbalances? Is it only by suffering from an affliction that anyone can ever be moved to paint or sculpt or write? Are the only mentally healthy, sane people the couch potatoes who are seemingly contented to just sack out in front of the boob tube and eat Fritos, since they have no inner deficiency that makes it necessary for them to play sports or develop cures for diseases? If so, then kill me now.
The National Institute of Mental Health has free information about depression, anxiety and other mental problems. Visit their Web site at http://www.nimh.nih.gov or call 1-800-421-4211. For free information about obsessive-compulsive disorder, call 1-800-421-4211111111111111111111.
Are we merely programmed physical beings who react, not act, to outside stimuli? Do our genetics and experiences totally control us and force us to behave the way we do? Or are we free spirits who always have the freedom to choose? Some people believe that we are merely products of our genetics and environment, that our every thought and deed is determined by the cosmic chain of events, and that none of us can therefore be lauded or blamed for being the way we are or doing the things we do. I don't know. When some asshole cuts me off on the highway, I tend to blame him, not the universe.
I like to believe that we have free will. Then again, maybe the universe is making me believe this. When I choose potatoes over Stove Top Stuffing, is this a free choice, or was the choice made for me by my preference for potatoes - a preference which is innate and that I cannot change?
Legal disclaimer (to prevent a ridiculous lawsuit): This constitutes neither an endorsement nor a criticism of Stove Top Stuffing. My hypothetical example uses a preference for potatoes because I'm sick and tired of the husband in the commercial always choosing Stove Top Stuffing. What a putz.
A deterministic view can disparage us, for it makes us see ourselves as puppets, thrust into circumstances and compelled into actions without our consent. The philosophy goes something like this: we were born/created with a body, brain neurons and needs that we did not choose. We were brought up in a neighborhood with parents and classmates in an era and geographical location that were also not of our choosing. Many things happened to us and came within range of our senses, forcing us to perceive and feel certain sensations and feelings. These events, coupled with our needs, capabilities and weaknesses, caused us to react in the only way that was possible given our present state of mind. Every time we "act" we are merely following the chain of inevitable events that was started long ago. We might believe that we have the ability to make free choices, but what we really have is unconscious determinism. When we work hard to attain a goal or move to another neighborhood or laugh at a joke we are only responding to our needs, desires and knowledge in the current situation. Our preferences were shaped by genes and environment, and we cannot change these preferences. Furthermore, being physical beings, all the atoms in our body - including the ones that compose our brains and therefore produce consciousness and thought - must follow physical laws. All particles of matter are on an unchangeable course that was set in motion sometime in the past, and we cannot alter this course because we are part of it. The thoughts we have are caused by the movement of our neurons' atoms - a movement that was predestined to happen precisely in this way. So every thought and feeling we have and everything we do is an inevitable event. There is no meaning in our choices, because they are not choices at all. And because we cannot choose anything freely and cannot therefore cause anything to happen differently from the way it's destined to happen, none of us can be praised or blamed for anything. Everything is fate. We might as well stop trying (and if we do stop trying, that was predetermined to happen). We are powerless to make a difference.
Believers in free will see life drastically differently: we always make a choice in everything we do. The environment supplies data but we are not forced to react in any particular way - we always have the ability to choose. Interestingly, not all believers in free will believe that we are nonmaterial souls. Souls would explain free will, for they, being outside this physical world, would not be subject to the laws of physics, and so could remain unaffected by matter. But the concept of matter (i.e. brain tissue) moving itself contradicts our limited empirical knowledge, which proposes that matter is bound by physical laws and that its state is dependent upon what happens to it. The only possible loophole is the Uncertainty Principle, which allows for an unpredictable movement of atomic particles, but even this is unsatisfactory because random atomic movement would produce random thoughts which would not necessarily pertain to our sensual input. So it seems that we are either physical and determined, or nonphysical and partly free. I say partly free because it seems that some of our actions are compelled. For instance, you step on a nail and it's extremely painful. You cannot will the pain to stop. How much of a choice do you really have of whether to pull the nail out? Doesn't your pain compel you to remove it? Free will is dependent upon willpower, and there are some situations that overwhelm this power. It seems that we are free only when we are relatively comfortable (without great pain or dire need). Some people have more willpower than others, e.g. some dieters are able to overcome their hunger and resist fattening foods better than others can. The stronger one's willpower, the more free one is.
Living consists largely of the choices we make. Whether or not our choices are freely made, they determine what we do, where we go, and how others judge us. There are immature people who judge folks by things other than their choices, such as their height or skin color, but mature individuals know that people should be judged only by the choices they make. I think I've matured in this way. When I dated in my youth, I used to judge women by their looks or body shape, which are largely beyond their control. Now I judge them only by things that they can control. For example, a woman can control whether or not she gives head.
A man buys a pack of condoms, and as he leaves he busts out laughing. A week later he returns, buys more condoms, and again leaves laughing. This goes on every week for a month. Finally one time after the laughing man leaves, the pharmacist tells the stock boy, "Follow that man and find out what's so funny." The boy leaves, and returns an hour later. "Where did he go?" asks the pharmacist. The stock boy replies, "To your house."
Humor is a human characteristic. If there is one thing that separates us from the animals, it is our sense of humor. Many animals share a number of our capabilities, such as language, sex, family units, work, play, affection, fear, joy, anger, boredom, pain and pleasure, but only we can laugh. Everyone - except the Germans - has a sense of humor.
Our sense of humor helps make life fun because it causes us to say and do irreverent things that spice up our lives, and/or get a rise out of things that others say and do. For example, you know those contact lenses you can get that make your eyes a different color? Well, once, just to be funny, I bought a pair. I got a lot of funny looks from people because the lenses were plaid. Ha ha! I guess you could say I got my eyes checked. Get it? Checked? I know, my jokes are getting cornea. All right, enough of this vitreous humor.
A sense of humor does more than just give us pleasure; it also helps us deal with life's tragedies, absurdities, and potentially stressful situations. For example, if you're stuck behind someone in a Cadillac going 35 mph in a 50 mph zone on a one-lane road, and all you can see through their back windshield is knuckles and some blue hair, then you can either get angry and stress yourself out because you're gonna get to your destination a few minutes later, or you can laugh at the absurdity and joke about it with your friends when you arrive.
Some people are uptight all the time and hardly ever laugh. They are no fun to be around. I understand that they might have had life experiences that made them unhappy, but that doesn't obligate the rest of us to waste our time talking to them or listening to their boring stories or tales of woe. Another reason not to hang out with these people is that you can't say or do certain things to them without their getting upset. One time I made fun of someone's beard at a party, and she started crying.
If someone laughs at everything, it doesn't necessarily mean that he has a good sense of humor or that he has reached great maturity or wisdom. It could be that he's an idiot or a social misfit, or that he's using a "nervous laugh" to fill awkward gaps in conversation. This is not true humor.
The jolly laugh is all too uncommon in adults. The laughter of children during play is often caused not necessarily by finding anything funny, but by feeling happy. Many adults seem to have lost this ability, often because they think too much and/or focus on the negative rather than the positive and thereby deprive themselves of joy. This is why we need to stop taking life so seriously and be frivolous now and then. Only frivolity can make us feel happy enough to gush forth laughter. It provides us with a unique kind of joy which enables us to keep our mental health and our feeling that life is worth living. The humor we get is more happy than funny, and is the best humor of all.
A lot of people say that you should keep a sense of humor no matter what happens. Unfortunately, few of them mean it. Once I saw a pedestrian get hit by a car, and I was the only one laughing.
Do you sometimes wish to go back to a time when you were unaware of the harsh truths of life? Do you ever regret knowing that people are basically selfish and that many threaten your security; that the perfect mate doesn't exist, and even if it does, you have no hope of meeting this person, and even if you did, this person wouldn't want you; that life is merely a temporary sojourn of short-lived triumphs that will inevitably end with your death? Have you ever wondered whether you should be living your life differently? Do you sometimes feel a little unhappy even though you live a relatively safe and healthy life, and as a result feel a bit disgusted with yourself because you don't live in poverty or disease or danger so you have no excuse for feeling unhappy? Well, join the fuckin' club.
As we humans "grow up", we become painfully self-aware. We view ourselves in relation to everything and everyone else. We are concerned with what others think of us, whether we will be physically and financially secure in the future, etc. We often take things too seriously, attach great importance to the small and temporary things that our lives are made of, and inflict worry upon ourselves. Screw that. We don't have to wear the right clothes or have lots of money or say politically correct things. Why? Because life is meaningless. It's just a free trip - there's no cosmic law or Supreme Being that orders us to please anyone else or strive for anything in particular. You can choose not only what to do with your life, but whether to let it continue. Have fun with it. Drink booze and smoke dope. Have a purely physical affair with a beautiful blonde who has the IQ of a toilet brush. Go to an elegant party in a Megadeth tank top and laugh at the yuppies. Be fatuously contented with a profane existence. Let go of the constricting conventions that boring, fearful people want us to follow. We're all gonna die anyway, so why not be crazy and have fun while you still can?
A pertinent question at this point would be: if life has no ultimate meaning and no grand purpose - if it's merely an exercise in selfishness, an absurd play, a dead end - then how can we march forward through our existence as though life makes sense? We can do this because of our own personal growth, which lifts us above wailing about the finitude of life and the limits on our power. Wisdom and maturity allow us to enjoy and appreciate what we have; to not want more and thereby cause ourselves to be dissatisfied; to realize how precious our lives, our health, our freedom and our loved ones are. When we are able to see just how good our lives are, we have basis for action and we can choose activities and goals because life is such a fun trip. Life is about experiencing the moment, not regretting the temporary nature of our existence.
Fail at everything you try.
Be a boring, disappointed wretch.
Be really good at making stuff up.
Lead an unbearably drab and uninteresting life.
Know nothing about anything.
What makes some people look beyond what's immediately apparent (for God, meaning, etc) while other people barely scratch the surface of life? I can't speak for everyone, but loneliness seems to be a factor. For example, my existential travels began when I started to feel really lonely: my father had recently died, and most of my friends had gotten married and didn't have as much time to spend with me as they previously had. I explored religion, philosophy, vegetarianism, meditation, etc, while my friends were living more conventional lives. I grew and learned a lot, but I wonder: had I met the right woman and built a life with her and been totally happy with her, would I have travelled the existential road? Are deep thought and spirituality things that all people should pursue, or are they really just substitutes for intimacy? All the philosophers who wrote about the emptiness and futility of life - were they just lonely and/or unhappy? Did they merely project their own negative feelings onto the world? Had their lives been better, would their happier feelings have caused them to produce more positive literature (or perhaps none at all)? It seems possible, because most people remain focused on their worldly pursuits and do not see the emptiness and meaninglessness that philosophers have written about until they feel miserable. In fact, many people are never inclined to so much as consider philosophical issues. Philosophers might call these people irresponsible, shallow animals, wallowing in the physical world like pigs and never coming close to their human potential. Nonphilosophical people, on the other hand, might view philosophers as negative, depressing bores who should just get a life and stop trying to bring everyone else down. Who is right? Well, there are both good and bad reasons for philosophizing or not philosophizing. A happy, honest, down-to-earth person might question why we're here, the origin of thought, etc, out of curiosity and interest in life. However, the same type of person might not ask these questions if he's very busy and satisfied with a worldly life. An unhappy person might philosophize as a substitutive satisfaction or in an attempt to find a solution to his misery, the way some people use religion. However, the same type of person might not philosophize because he has become an automaton who is too uninspired to delve into deep questions.
Some people feel a need to know the answers to questions such as "What is the purpose of life?", "Is there life after death?", and "Should I eat my pizza crusts?" If, for whatever reason, existential questions such as these burn inside you, then you should search for answers. Although this may cause suffering and will not guarantee that you'll find answers, struggling with existential questions can be helpful in other ways. For example, I benefitted greatly from my existential quest: although I did not find out why we're here or whether God exists (these things are unknowable and unprovable), the search enabled me to grow immensely as a person, pinpoint and solve personal problems, and find out what I want out of life. If you ignore your existential questions in order to retain the security of the herd - that is, if you choose to spend your time doing mundane things with other people who lead unexamined lives rather than seeking answers to your questions because you're too afraid to search on your own and face life's harsh realities - then you will remain a frightened, unsatisfied spiritual midget. The tendency to seek and maintain an average, "accepted" life is characteristic of spiritual decay, whereas a spiritually healthy person maintains a sense of spontaneity and self-direction.
When we philosophize we must be careful not to let our minds run away with us. Our active, intelligent minds can think and feel in many ways. We can perform mathematical analysis, contemplate the origin of the universe, enjoy art and poetry, etc. Sometimes we can become so cranial that having bodies might seem "beneath" us. To need to eat, drink and sleep; to experience orgasms and flatulence (not at the same time hopefully); to have body odor and tooth decay and diseases, like animals do - all this might seem like an affront to our dignity, and it might appear that our minds have evolved to the point where they make demands that our sensual equipment cannot satisfy. This might cause us to stop exercising or doing other mostly physical activities because we consider our thoughts to be much more important. The problem is that if we only think, nothing useful will get done. As lofty as we believe our thoughts are, and as "crude" as we consider worldly endeavors, we nevertheless need to do physical things as a matter of practicality (e.g. we must construct homes and plant crops). Furthermore, we can satisfy our minds' higher demands through physical efforts. For example, our species invents machines that bring us audio and visual representations of objects, studies things through microscopes, sends probes to other planets, and performs complicated medical procedures. Of course, this same species destroys itself with melancholia, drugs, hatred, war and Jerry Springer.
Some types of philosophy are really stupid. Statements like "Life is like a box of chocolates" and "If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?" are useless. What good does this abstraction do? It doesn't put food on the table or heal our injuries or help us live our lives better. Yet philosophy is included in almost every university's curriculum. Philosophy students all around the world are required to read negative, depressing pontifications about the meaninglessness of life merely because a few men such as Kierkegaard and Heidegger felt unhappy a long time ago. Why people choose to get degrees in philosophy - and why schools even give out philosophy degrees in the first place - is beyond me. When they leave academia and enter the real world, a good number of philosophy majors quickly learn that all the abstract thoughts they used to hold so dear were just a bunch of useless musings as they're flipping burgers.
My girlfriend is mad at me. Women are strange. I mean, you can go out with a woman for three years, take vacations together, and even live together, but sleep with her best friend just once...
Man is a complex and often puzzling creature. He has many great mental and physical capabilities, but often he uses them foolishly or not at all. Let's look at a few of his quirks.
Y'ever notice how activists ignore some causes even though they're just as worthy of recognition as the causes they support? For example, they'll shout "Fur is murder!" and throw paint on people wearing fur coats, but they conveniently overlook all the leather clothing that came from dead cattle. You know why? Because it takes a lot less courage to harass old women than to annoy bikers and gang members.
Insecurity causes a lot of folks to seek acceptance from everyone. They worry that they might say or do something that others - even complete strangers - don't approve of. This fear causes them to conform. Look at fashion. Many people wear what's "in style" rather than what's comfortable or economical, just so they'll be accepted. Women in particular spend lots of money on comical outfits that took considerable time to pick out and wear uncomfortable shoes that cause hammer toes, calluses and corns (and you know what they say: Hell hath no fury like a woman's corns). Do you refrain from doing certain things because others might think you're strange and laugh at or ostracize you? If they would, then are these judgmental ignoramuses the sort of people you want to associate with? Fuck 'em. It's time to stop being a prisoner of other people's opinions. As long as you're concerned about what impression you're making on others, you will never be free.
Some people are lazy and put very little effort into life. This is a form of negligence that can actually be harmful to others, and so should be considered a crime. For example, you can get arrested for driving drunk, but not for living half-asleep, which causes you to be inept at operating an automobile and a menace on the road even after 30 years of driving experience. Laziness seems to be mostly an adult phenomenon. Children are full of enthusiasm and energy. They want to do things by their own power, and if you don't let them they become upset. Then, when they reach adulthood, many of them metamorphose into slugs. For example, they'll drive around a parking lot for five minutes in order to find a space that's twenty feet closer. What happened to these people? Don't tell me that this is part of "growing up". Laziness is not a sign of maturity.
Many folks look up to celebrities as though they're magnificent. For instance, people see an actor on TV and build him up to be an idol. The mere fact that he's on television makes him appear great. Meanwhile there are plenty of people in other professions who are better at what they do and more helpful to society than the actor, but because they get no media coverage, almost no one holds them in such high regard. Furthermore, some popular actors turn out to be alcoholics, drug abusers or wife beaters. As another example, let's look at the clergy. Many people revere priests, bishops, etc as being extremely benevolent or even above human. The fact is that in every generation throughout history, many members of the clergy have stolen money, lied, and/or sexually molested children. Basically clergymen are the religious equivalent of senators.
Some people wrongfully take their pain out on others. We've all met uptight people who get upset about the slightest things. They are this way because they have personal problems that keep them agitated. Many of them unjustly direct their frustration at innocent people. This is a conscious choice. We've all been unhappy, hurt, frustrated, or what have you, and most of us suffer and deal with our pain privately. But some people choose to lash out at folks who had nothing to do with their unhappy state, as though they can attain a normal level of happiness by bringing everyone else down. I'd just like to wring their sorry necks and punch their bitter faces when they snap at me or accuse me of doing something I didn't do. Some people physically or mentally abuse their kids. They feel powerless in some aspect of their lives, so in a pathetic attempt to feel powerful they dominate helpless children. These sadistic bastards should be tied up and forced to watch reruns of The Nanny with the volume way up.
Once their youth is over, many people live boring, quietly desperate lives, being "safe" and "normal", never making waves or taking chances. Watching a rented video is often the highlight of their evening. They look at motorcycle riders, boxers, skydivers and other people who like to break out of the protective shell of society in order to feel the excitement of danger and physical exertion, and wonder why those people do it. They don't know the passion, the thrill that drives those "reckless" people. As someone once wrote, "Most people die at 25 but aren't buried until they're 80." There is a passion inside all of us that makes us want to do more than merely eat, sleep, shit and die like cattle. Bungee jumping, rugby, spelunking, mountain climbing, etc exist because of this human spirit. Life is not worth living if you merely remain safe - it's quality, not quantity, of life that makes it worth living.
Pride causes a lot of people to not attempt things, rather than attempt with the possibility of failure. They're too proud to not succeed at everything they try, and they think that not trying makes them better off. Some of these people make fun of others who try and fail, and this is of course merely their twisted way of deluding themselves that they're "above" those who "fail". The reality is that those who have the balls to try and fail are much braver than those who sit impotently on the sidelines. It is a much greater failure to not try than it is to make an unsuccessful attempt. So those of you who don't try make the rest of us look good. Thanks.
Let us differentiate between pride and self-esteem. Self-esteem is derived from one's potentialities and achievements. A person has self-esteem when he likes the person that he is and feels good about the things he has done or knows he can do. Pride, on the other hand, is a sense of worth derived from something other than oneself. A person is proud when he identifies himself with a leader, a holy cause, a collective body, a possession, or unproven abilities. Pride is often accompanied by intolerance, as people wave the flag of their nation or religion and look down upon anyone not associated with it. The less a person likes himself, the more he needs pride. Let's take rabid sports fans as an example. Most people who follow a professional sport root for their local team - that is, the team that "represents" the geographical area they live or grew up in, although this is a false notion since all professional athletes are on their particular team merely by the luck of the draft and would just as gladly play for any other team for the same amount of money. So, in effect, fans cheer not for loyal players (since there are none), but for uniforms. Supporting one's favorite team is all well and good as long as it's fun and one does not let it disrupt one's life. But rabid fans actually attach their own self-worth to their favorite sports team, feeling miserable after it loses, feeling good when it wins, and perhaps getting into arguments or fights with other proud fans over whose team is better. Why? Because these people don't have much inner sense of self-worth, so they try to ride someone else's coattails in order to delude themselves that they have accomplished something. Whenever a local sports team wins a game and I hear some pathetic fan proclaim "We won!", I just want to say "No, they won; you did absolutely nothing, you useless pile of shit."
Some people accumulate lots of trinkets and knickknacks but never use them, or perhaps use them once. The only time they even see a lot of their possessions is when they're looking for something else. The thought that something will always be available makes them take it for granted and keeps them from thoroughly enjoying it or even using it. It seems that the only way for some people to keep enjoying something after the novelty wears off is to not own it, or to at least know that it won't always be available, for then they'll make an effort to use it before it becomes unavailable. Like when someone lives in or near a big city, he'll fail to visit it or partake of the many wonderful things it has to offer because he "can visit anytime", but if he's only visiting a city that's far from home, he'll make an effort to see and do things there.
Gifts are typically given on "special" occasions (birthdays, holidays, etc). A lot of people go overboard with this idea. For example, when Christmas rolls around (indeed, for many weeks beforehand), people get into a frantic rush to buy possessions for or at least send cards to just about everyone they know. They drag themselves through malls and department stores to carry out this yearly obligation, hoping that they haven't forgotten anyone for fear of offending them. Sometimes, just when they think they've bought, wrapped and sent enough presents for everyone on their list and the nuisance is over for another year, a gift from someone they hardly ever see (and probably don't care to see) arrives, unwelcome and unwanted, and so they must schlep back to the crowded shops in order to return the "favor". It's friggin' blackmail. In many cases the only reason gifts are given at all is out of guilt: folks never visit someone, so they try to make up for this neglect with a Hallmark card or a sweater. I say that this whole charade can be avoided if we all agree that holidays have become way too commercial and that we shouldn't line corporate pockets by going along with their propaganda. Material goods do not show love. The greatest gift you can give to anyone is yourself. That is, spend quality time with this person and have an actual relationship.
A lot of people promote stereotypes. They like to believe that, for example, all Jews are rich, or all Blacks are thieves, or all lawyers are rich thieves. Rather than wait until they meet people so they can judge them on an individual basis, they assume that if one member of a particular race or profession or gender is a certain way, then all of them are that way. There is a grain of truth in stereotypes - they wouldn't exist unless at least a few individuals had the stereotypical characteristics - but it is unfair to make inferences about every single member of a particular group. For example, there are some men who are always looking to have sex with women. Consequently, some women assume that all men are this way, and their paranoia causes these women to misconstrue men's genuine friendliness as sexual advances. Of course, in some cases they actually want men to come on to them. Let's take the workplace as an example. Plenty of men have no sexual interest in their female coworkers because they're already in relationships or because their interest is mainly in their work. Engineers in particular (I'm going off on an engineer tangent now, with no apologies to Scott Adams) are notorious for being work-oriented dweebs who have little or no sexual motivation. Typically, when an engineer encounters a female co-worker on his way to the bathroom or his desk, he does not stop to talk/flirt with her. More often than not, he views her not as a sex object but as an incidental body of vertical protoplasm that he must circumnavigate in order to get to his destination. He might say an obligatory "Hi", but often he doesn't even do that. And many women who claim to be offended or turned off by flirting (which was renamed "sexual harassment" shortly before the 1987 Stock Market crash) resent engineers for being so unfriendly and not making them feel pretty (of course, most of these women aren't pretty, but it would not be politically correct to point that out). Perhaps if these women were pretty, engineers would give them the attention and flirting they secretly desire instead of spending their lives in front of computers and attending Star Trek conventions. And perhaps if engineers weren't such nerdy, nasal-voiced wimps, they would get actual dates instead of spending their weekends downloading pornography and choking the chicken.
Most people have average or near average abilities, intelligence and/or looks. Not only that, but for each characteristic, half of all people are below average in that area. Think about it: if you were to take the statistical average, say, intelligence of the human race, then half the people would be smarter than that and half would be less smart. Yet how many people will admit to having below average or even average intelligence? In fact, many average people get offended if you call them "average". It's an ego thing. They like to think that they're above the norm. Their offspring too. Do you ever notice how many parents brag about how smart and beautiful their kids are? If everyone's children are so intelligent and gorgeous, then where do all the stupid ugly people come from?
Sometimes people can be so petty and contemptible. They argue and fight over small things and adhere to mindless rituals. For example, a friend of mine told me about a boat trip he was on. All the people were below deck. There were Moslems onboard. At a certain time of the day it was time to face Mecca and pray. These Moslems got into a heated argument over which way Mecca was! How is it that a species that can travel to other planets and split atoms can be fooled into believing that they must face a certain direction at a certain time of day?
The hypocrisy of churchgoers never fails to amaze me. People go to church, learn about things like love and forgiveness, and claim to be loving and forgiving. Then after the service they go out and get angry at each other, cut each other off in traffic, file lawsuits, and so forth. Of course, this is not the church's or God's fault - it's the people's fault for being such contemptible shits.
|Father:||"What are you going to do when you grow up to be as big as me?"|
Psychological/spiritual growth is part of healthy development. We experience, we suffer, we learn, and as a result we become wiser and stronger and less vulnerable to being upset by life events. This growth process is difficult at times. How ironic that it is only the problems and pain we wish to avoid that enable us to grow spiritually, that make us stronger so that we are then able to handle future vicissitudes. When people ignore or run away from their problems they often cause themselves more suffering than the original problems would have caused, and for longer time. Rather than take a few weeks, months or years to meet their problems head-on, eventually eradicating them while learning and growing in the process, they instead live the rest of their miserable lives in fear, perhaps developing neuroses, and often evoking disgust from themselves and/or others for being such cowards.
Those of us who pursue the path of self-development become spiritually stronger than people who lead unexamined lives. However, we often suffer from isolation and the burden of leading ourselves. We might sometimes feel that there is something wrong with us, without the slightest inkling that others go through the same mental turmoil we go through. But feeling as though something is amiss gives us incentive to improve ourselves and thus helps us grow.
Each of us needs to find ourself. That is, we need to know what it is we really want, not what others tell us we should want. If you do what you do not because you enjoy it, but out of fear that other people will disapprove of what you really want to do, then you will not grow as a creative, unique being and you won't be able to just be yourself and have genuine relationships with others. Following established patterns without questioning them is what causes many people to go through a mid-life crisis: in the first half of their lives they blindly accept society's values and expectations, follow the mainstream like sheep, and play roles (mother, housewife, father, breadwinner); then, at middle age, they wake up to the need to find themselves and they become aware of all the things they never experienced due to having spent their time and energy playing roles. Self-developers, on the other hand, do not blindly step into roles after high school or college. They know that there are other options, and if they do step into roles, it's because they truly want to, not merely because "everyone else does it". The concept of finding oneself is laughed at by ignorant mainstreamers because it seems ridiculous to them to honestly assess the way things are and decide which path to take; they have let their path be decided more by others' opinions and suggestions than by their own creativity. Finding yourself is a difficult process. You must be able to ignore everything by which you had previously defined yourself (social status, physical beauty, money, vocation, etc) so that all you are left with is the essential you, with all of your fears, doubts and vulnerabilities. When you have exposed yourself this way you can find your own interests and your own reasons for doing what you do, rather than adopting other people's values or pursuing what they think you should pursue. So expose yourself!
One way to grow spiritually is to love. Unfortunately some people don't know what love is - they're merely psychological dependents who spend their lives manipulating others in order to get their own needs met. They either refuse to become self-sufficient so that others will take care of them, or they foster dependency in their children by giving them everything they want and doing everything for them in order to feel needed and/or in hopes that when the kids grow up they'll feel a need to visit often or keep living there because they will not have learned to be self-sufficient. In these cases, dysfunctional relationships are maintained under the guise of love. True love means a willingness to develop personally, to help others develop, and to choose to have relationships with others without being dependent on them. It means making an effort to obtain things rather than always asking that someone else supply them; to give but to withhold when giving would not be in the recipient's best interests; to praise but also to blame; to sometimes be together but also to sometimes be apart; to explain why certain things should or should not be done; to teach; to learn; to reward; to punish. When you truly love someone, you do not use them for the purpose of meeting your own selfish needs. Rather, you are interested in and willing to help promote their personal growth and well-being. When we live and love this way, we grow stronger and our capacity to love grows, creating a positive cycle.
Spiritual growth is also aided by skepticism. Skeptics usually question what they're told or what appears to be at first glance. They seek answers and thereby grow instead of passively accepting a story. Skeptics are often accused of lacking respect or spirituality. Of course, the people who make this accusation are those who stick to the "old ways", who do things merely because "that's the way it's always been done", who blindly believe ancient stories, without questioning, because they're too afraid of disapproval from their peers and/or too uncreative to find alternative methods that work better. These fearful, ignorant, spiritually-stagnant people are as wrong about skeptics as they are about their own way of life. Skeptics respect truth, honesty and learning; they believe in the betterment of themselves and mankind; and they are willing to endure the challenge of seeking truth and the risk of criticism and ostracism for doing so. This invariably leads to spiritual growth.
Skepticism is not only a cause of growth, but an effect as well. A wise and mature person will "look before he leaps" so that he is not easily fooled. Consider advertising. Companies sell inferior products by using peppy commercials aimed at the eight-year-old mentality. Hollywood continually plugs mediocre movies that people flock to pay their money to see, and even if they're somewhat disappointed because the movie wasn't as good as the commercial made it out to be, they'll still rush to see the next movie they see advertised. Even the local news successfully uses sensationalism in order to get people to watch, e.g. "Tonight on Fox News: Lawns. Some people mow them ... but some don't. Tune in tonight at 11:00. You'll be shocked to see what we found." Why does this hype work so well? Because a lot of people are immature and empty-headed. Slogans and jingles convince ingoramuses to buy products and vote for political candidates (e.g. "I like Ike") because they just don't research or think about what they're doing. They are easily fooled into believing that a particular product is great, or better than other products that were made exactly the same way, because of the beautiful model or the song or the celebrity who presents the baseless claims. The actual quality of the product hardly seems relevant. Running the same ad over and over also works, because no matter how irritating or inane the commercial or billboard, the mere familiarity causes the consumer to buy Frosted Flakes or vote for Pat McGroin ("Well, I've seen his name on signs along the road, but I've never heard of these other candidates"). A large percentage of the population will believe any lie, no matter how big, if they hear it often enough. When people grow, however, they are less likely to jump to conclusions and more likely to look at things reasonably and make wise decisions. No matter how many times they hear, for example, that they should buy Frabisco potato chips, they are likely to remain unconvinced, knowing that potato chips are mostly salt and fat.
We have very hungry minds that want - need - to do, learn and grow. Yet many people do very little with their lives. Perhaps they're too lazy or too frightened to enrich their lives, and this makes them prefer smoking and drinking in a bar, or sitting in front of stupid TV shows, over grabbing opportunities to expand their horizons instead of their butts. But it's not like they'd have to do anything dangerous in order to grow. Reading a book or working on a hobby is pretty safe. Maybe it's just inertia that keeps people in their ruts: they live easy lives, they're comfortable, and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". But some people in the same easy environment consider it unpleasant to vegetate, and choose to find or create challenges. What causes this difference in levels of self-motivation? Do people's brains run at different speeds, with fast-brained people wanting to do things and slow-brained people preferring long periods of inactivity? If so, then what causes these differences in brain speeds? Genetics? Life experiences? Both?
Growth takes effort. Just as our bodies tend toward weakness and obesity if we just sit around and eat, our minds tend toward weakness, fear and intolerance if we don't work, learn and love. Too bad. Wouldn't it be great if we could just eat chocolate, watch The Simpsons, have sex and drink beer, and as a result be ecstatically happy, have the health of an Olympic athlete, and look like Brad Pitt or Jennifer Aniston? Why do health and happiness require so much work? Why aren't we put together in such a way that we can be lazy and still enjoy spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical wellness? I don't know. All I know is that this is the way it is. Our minds, like our bodies, adapt to stimuli (or lack thereof). We can strengthen our minds, but disuse can cause them to weaken. If we work and grow to a certain point, then spend a few weeks being lazy, we can become fearful and unhappy, and it will take some work to climb back up to the spiritual level we fell from.
Maybe I'm way off base here, but it seems to me that make-up, fashion, expensive-yet-impractical possessions, etc are indications of a widespread lack of spiritual growth. Spiritually small people find these things necessary because they feel the need to keep up an external facade in order to compensate for their inner emptiness. I'm not saying that having a nice house or dressing well is necessarily a sign of spiritual problems. However, when people buy a much larger house than they need, wear way too much make-up or jewelry, or cover themselves with the most outlandish clothing, that usually indicates that they're trying to fill a spiritual void with material possessions. Some people use snobbery and conceit in an attempt to ease their spiritual emptiness by deluding themselves that they're better than others. I hate conceited snobs. They're not perfect like I am.
That which has a beginning has an end. There was a time when we did not exist. Then we came into existence. It naturally and logically follows, then, that our existence will end. There's no way around it. When your time comes, that's it - the show's over.
The thought that we will die, and hence lose everything we've worked so hard for, is something that virtually all adults face. None of use likes to think that someday we will perish (except people who are suffering and want to perish, e.g. victims of disease, prisoners, husbands). But even though death is real and inevitable, we need not dwell on it. If we just focus on our lives, we can ignore death and be happy. When our lives end, so will our consciousness, so we will not have to endure the loss. We can go on living as though we will never die and life can seem eternal because we are always alive in our experience.
What grieves us most is not our own death, but the death of our loved ones. It hurts a great deal to endure the loss of those who are closest to us. They're talking and playing and laughing with us, and then - poof! - they're gone. It can be very difficult to accept the fact that someone who used to be a big part of your life is gone. This causes many people to believe or make up stories about afterlives in an attempt to avoid the finality of death. The belief might be that we all enter a "spirit world"; or that we're reborn into other earthly bodies; or that a Supreme Being puts us someplace depending on what we did with our life, e.g. good people go to a good place (Paradise, Heaven) while bad people go to a bad place (Hades, Hell, Newark). This is all mere speculation of course. The bottom line is that death is part of life and you have to learn to live with it. Even if it kills you.
One good thing about knowing that we will die someday is that it makes us realize just how precious our time is. When we fully understand the temporary nature of our existence it becomes much easier to reject the stupid things, appreciate the good, and focus on what's really important and enjoyable. Our awareness of the limit on our time to live and love encourages us to make the best use of our time and live life to its fullest. The biggest and most frequent mistake of youth is taking life for granted. People feel immortal and don't realize that their time is limited, so they squander it in petty grievances and other nonsense. Ironically, many people want a Fountain of Youth. Even if there was one and people could stay young and alive forever, they would still be unhappy, hate each other, etc. What good is it to live longer if you don't live better? What we need is a Fountain of Wisdom.
In the Foreword I asked if our eventual demise makes life futile. The answer, of course, is subjective. A lot of us at one time or another entertain the thought that any life that isn't eternal isn't worth living at all. But there seems to be a force that drives us onward despite our disappointment over life's temporariness and pain. We want to spend time with loved ones, work on hobbies, eat good food, rest, laugh, learn, etc, so while we do not relish the fact that we're travelling headlong to our death, we realize that to go on living is the best choice we can make because whether we slit our wrists or not, we're gonna die just the same, so why not have some fun before we get cremated or eaten by worms?
Bad first line for a novel:
"Fred began his day with a trip to the insurance agency, where he took out an enormous life insurance policy, which was fortunate since he dies on page 347."
At this point you might be thinking, "Hey Ben, you haven't told us whether God exists" or "I still don't know why we're here or where we're going". If so, then you've missed the whole point of this book. The existence of metaphysical beings, how we got here, and where we'll end up are unknowable. It is up to each of us to choose our own path and travel it with honesty and courage.
Life sometimes seems like a lottery, as we cannot control when or where we're born, our color or gender, or what more powerful people do to us. On the other hand, we can make choices that steer our lives in beneficial ways. Most of us have enough freedom and luck to be able to live healthy lives and develop good interpersonal relationships. The big question for each of us is: What am I going to do with my life? We can choose to be involved, striving to get what we want, enjoying the moment, and accepting whatever good and bad things happen to us. Or we can commit suicide. Or we can exist in servitude to a religion or a hate group. How are you spending your life? Are you satisfied with how it's going? Would you like to change it? Do you have a psychological or spiritual problem? If so, then do something about it. Change or put an end to old relationships and thought patterns that are making you miserable. Try new things and throw out what doesn't work. Try meditation. Doesn't work? Then try exercise. No? Try painting, marriage, writing, drinking, weightlifting, guitar playing - there's an endless supply of possibilities that can keep you interested, involved, and on the path of self-discovery for the rest of your life.
There is a lot of gloom and doom about problems such as pollution, AIDS, injustice and overpopulation. Don't let these things frighten you away from your path and your goals. There's plenty of good mixed in with the bad. Besides, the human race is remarkably adaptable and resourceful; we can deal with the worst of problems. After all, we survived the Bubonic Plague, the Holocaust, and disco.
If you remember anything from this book (and you probably won't), remember this: as long as you go through life with respect and humility, always growing as a person and loving the good people you meet, then you are all right, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise.
In this Web page I poked fun at Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, the clergy, the Ku Klux Klan, lawyers, politicians, engineers, activists, evolutionists, philosophers, monks, astrologers, feminists, televangelists, the lazy, the overweight and the stupid. Good thing nobody cares enough to read it - if they did, it would probably offend a lot of people. Even if you didn't feel insulted by it, you might have found it disturbing, enraging, or just plain wrong. Perhaps you plan to tell me how horrible it is. If you do, then I'll disagree with what you say, but I'll defend with my life your right to shut up.
Ben doesn't believe in anything except his own superiority. He is a conceited bastard who thumbs his nose at people who have an honest belief in something other than their own lives. He has no respect for authority and no tolerance for people who are different from him. He leads a vacuous existence of beer and parties and government employment. He is no fun to be around and has a way of pissing everyone off. Even his two dogs can't stand him.
This is the 4th (and hopefully final) book Ben has written. You might ask why
he prints his books at home instead of getting a legitimate publisher to create
product. To put it simply, he's just plain stupid. He couldn't count his
balls and get the same number twice. Besides, even if he did approach a publisher
like O'Reilly or Prentice-Hall, do you really think they'd print this garbage?