April 5 2003
Life can be a real shit. There is no point in trying to avoid this fact. Life is arbitrary, unfair, often tragic, and frequently vicious. The species to which we belong is well populated with individuals who deliberately add massive injustice to this litany or negatives in an attempt to guarantee their own security and personal pleasure. Most people are enmeshed in a social system which perpetuates injustice, and it is very hard to escape living in ways that disadvantage someone somewhere else
There is no point in denying this reality. The issue is how we respond.
One response is the subtle denial of this reality with religion or some other philosophy, although not all religion or philosophy does this. The religion of denial posits a god who makes it all worthwhile in the end. Our concepts of goodness and justice are blinkered and imperfect, and our complaints are simply wrong. We do not really understand what is going on. Our complaints are imperfect, foolish and God alone knows the truth. Heaven, for those who follow the god, will make up for all the ill we suffer now.
Some philosophies deny reality too, stating that people are what they make themselves. Those who suffer and who are weak have simply not tried enough. (Only the fortunate believe this.) Others simply adhere to a primitive Darwinism of the fittest surviving and thriving; a manifesto essentially devoid of compassion for anyone less successful than themselves.
How do we live in the face of reality, if we have not been blinded by the ideologies of denial? I think we can make a choice. We can choose to give in to negativity or we can seek to look for the good. We can simply focus on the negative, the bad, and the evil of life... and there is plenty, or we can look for something better. I find this is the fundamental choice in the survival of my humanity. The wrong choice here leads not to life but to a lesser existence as something embittered and slowly becoming much less than the humanity I could be.
I also have to be honest and say that sometimes I have seen people who appear so beaten down by circumstance and abuse that I wonder if they have any choices of this kind left. I am keenly aware I am talking about making choices when at the same time I wonder how much choice some people have. Perhaps all I can say is I find I have a choice. And that there are days of going backwards toward bitterness.
A focus on the negatives of life can only disillusion and dis-empower. There is so much which is bad, or just indifferently hostile to life. Any act for justice has to have hope for something better and a trust in the worth of the good. But there is more than this. There is something about 'a love of now,' as the Waif song London Still puts it. We can go through life looking back at the good times (the good old days) or looking for some better future when everything will be much better. I suspect this is a major cause of mid life disillusionment. Men, especially, finally realise that things are not going to be better... or they get to some goal and discover it is hollow and does not hold the satisfaction it promised, or with which they invested it. At that time they have nothing left.
Looking back can never satisfy. Yesterday can never be had again. We can learn from the past, and gain wisdom, but the past can never be regained. Living longing for a past time will only erode the now. Living fearing the future also erodes the now. I used to drive across the plains down from Wamikata to Itjinpiri, looking at the western ranges floating in the desert-distance mist. There was always a tinge of regret and fear that I would loose this, and have to head south to the city again one day- and a wondering of how I would live then. Too much focus on that would have destroyed the beauty. And to look back and long for it now is pointless. Now is to enjoy the beauty of the trees along North Terrace and through the Botanic Gardens as I walk to work. And that may all change tomorrow if I loose my job, or am hit by a car, or the train collides with a bus. A love of now enjoys what is and is grateful, despite the tiredness or pain or injustice which is also here.
So I smile at the cats sitting like book ends in the bay window as we leave for the train and look out for the big tom with no tail who lives down the street. I watch the two sisters and their brother who play cards on the train on the way to school and the pretty girls as they get on the train. There's the couple who sit holding hands, eyes closed and half dozing each morning, with an ear plug each, listening to I don't know what... but you see them smile together occasionally. I look up into the high trees in the gardens and smile to the other walkers who seem to have a sense of the beauty of the place- others hurry past; they seem merely to be taking a short cut to somewhere, not living here now.
It's all a balancing act, of course. The past must be remembered for its lessons and warnings. Some thought for the future will help me not be penniless then. And there is the work of being informed, and of seeking justice in some small way- of maintaining compassion. But even this is also for the now... social justice which aims only for a lofty goal which must be far into the future is eroding itself. It must be based in the love of now and be inherently just within itself now. (Perhaps this is one reason many churches fail; their very structure is hierarchical and unjust, and fails the test of now, despite whatever they hope for and act for in the future.)
And a love of now is not empty of ideology or commitment and passion. I can't see how a love of now can avoid the call of justice if it is not to be pure hedonism. A sense of the mystery of the cosmos and even the presence of the Divine is probably heightened by a love of now and a being aware of what is happening here and now, and the glory of it. But it is about being, and being now. It is living now, rather than living some set of rules or ideology based on a past or future hope. For now is all we have. There may be no tomorrow, and tomorrow I may not remember today.
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