Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

The human condition

Camus was right: the primary question that anyone is facing is not why you would commit suicide – but why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t matter how coherently and rationally you can convince yourself of brightness of the future, the depression always comes as an irrational feeling – it doesn’t interfere with the domain of reason at all. Usually it’s quite the opposite: it is exactly the mood that determines the direction of rational reasoning. No wonder Heidegger put so much emphasis on ‘Befindlichkeit’ or ‘attunement to Being’ through the mood. Some things are divorced from the reason.

No one has an advantage: we’re all in the same position here. Having been born into a strange world, that you can interact with through the interface of a strange body. It takes babies months to learn how to operate their bodies properly, and how to control their arms and legs. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get used to this whole situation completely. No wonder it’s been a dogma for a long time that the mind and the body are entities from two different realms – the idea of ghost in the machine only recently refuted by Gilbert Ryle.

People live in a society. This often creates a false impression that things have been figured out beforehand, long before you were born. There’s a Church based on a two-thousand-year-old dogma. There’re Universities and faculties of Philosophy, with serious men preoccupied with serious questions. The mere fact of knowing that these places exist is comforting. What’s your role in figuring out mysteries of existence, when there’re such well-established spheres, that’s been exclusively devoted to these questions for centuries, studying them in a seemingly successful way? Too bad this apparent confidence is nothing more than a sophisticated illusion.

No one has an advantage of knowing anything extra about existential matters. Everyone is in the same position. That’s why philosophy has sprung so many contradicting schools over the years: someone new would always come, and compare the old theories against his own perception of life. Anyone has a right to challenge the theories of others, no matter how well-established they seem to be. In the end, it’s always a personal matter of you and the weird uncanny state of existence you face. There can be no intermediaries.

Yet, society tries to become such an intermediary. It’s both comforting and misleading. While being among others, the artificial importance and complexity of human affairs occupies one entirely, and distracts him from more fundamental matters. It feels great to be busy, as it creates a sense of comfort and clarity. There has been a higher number of cases of depression and suicides observed during the recent pandemic, because people were deprived of this exact feeling. While one is isolated from society, things that belong to the domain of human artifice quickly lose their solidity and strength. The illusory, imaginary nature of it all quickly becomes apparent. The curious claim of Harari that ‘corporations don’t exist in the physical world, but only in people’s imagination’ starts getting self-evident and gradually spreads to all other things around.

And you’re lucky if at home you at least have a smaller unit of society – a family. This way, family members can pull you back from despair into the state of conventional ‘normalcy’. The maintenance of sanity, in Jordan Peterson’s terms. ‘Every time you manifest one of your uncontrollable weaknesses, they slap you on the side of the head telling you to behave.’ In absence of that, things quickly deteriorate. In the end, you will be left with what has always been there, the only certainty – the sheer unexplainable maddening strangeness of existence.

Of course, the rational judgement of the situation could also lead to a different conclusion – that in absence of anything certain, we’re completely free to do whatever we want, and create anything of our own. Morals, values, rules of conduct. It’s not a coincidence that most great philosophers from the past came to the same conclusion regarding the meaning of life – Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, Heidegger. ‘Ubermensch is the conqueror of both God and nothingness’. Radical freedom is both a blessing and a curse, and nihilism can be viewed as reassuring. Nevertheless, such theories and conclusions are primarily cognitive, logical, mainly wishful. It’s hard to hold to them, when you think that you’re nothing more but a bunch of organic cells, that appeared on a space rock, and managed to organize themselves into insanely complex structures through millennia. The seemingly stable structures that nevertheless can only hold together for 80 cycles of Earth’s rotation around the Sun or so. And you are nothing else but the object of their self-reflection.

So there’s nothing unnatural in feeling desperate and suicidal. In a way, that’s the most natural state humans can sense. In a strange world, where there’s nothing transcendent but the natural history, this is a part of the human condition, and it’s not something to be cured or fixed. As long as human history goes on, despair, depression and suicide will be a part of its course.

(There will be no optimistic ending with a reassuring twist here)

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