I’m not special. I’m no genius (no shit, Sherlock!), nobody would describe me as ‘brilliant’ or ‘visionary’ – quite the opposite. I mean, I don’t expect I’ll be noticed or remembered for my ideas. I may never achieve my first big dream, of having anyone call me a writer. Those are just fantasies, I know that. I’ve never taken those dreams seriously, they’re just embarrassing little voices that perhaps we all have in some form or other, and while we’re in our right minds we don’t converse with them. Plus, every sane person has doubts about themselves and their ability to perceive and deal with reality, and therefore has doubts about their whole worldview. Please note, I said ‘sane person.’ Of course many people appear not to doubt themselves at all. When it’s more than appearance, when they really don’t, they’re not sane. Well, of course, sanity is relative, but those folks are not sane enough for many social responsibilities, like philosophizing or voting.
So maybe what I call My Insight, or My Epiphany, (nothing delusional about Capitalizing your Thoughts, is there?) that punishment is damaging abuse and misguided in all of its applications has some of its roots in my fantasy, that it is born from grandiosity and immaturity. I think, in psycho-babble terms an unwillingness to accept the world as it is and ourselves as we are is ‘immaturity.’ I did have a psychiatric assessment done when I was fifteen, and ‘dreamer’ was the diagnosis; it didn’t take a lot of years for me to accept that description, and that was almost forty years ago now but I imagine I’d assess the same way today. I accept the label, but still immaturely reject the premise. A society will survive without noticeable impairment if some small percentage of its citizens are not pragmatic. No harm, no foul. To paraphrase the great mariner poet of my youth, a yam, what a yam, and that’s all. What a yam (say it out loud).
I was depressed and unmotivated when I was checked out at fifteen, and a puritan at the time with the discovery of marijuana still a few years off. It was just that point in high school when we are to start making choices about what sort of career path to take, wood or metal shop, science or law, and none of it appealed to me, I was dreading adulthood and work. When you’re fifteen, a few things apply: one, I thought a thirty or forty year employment was forever; and I couldn’t seem to find my way out of a teenage rebellion that I somehow knew could bring no change. There was a primal scream of “NO!” welling up in me, but no imaginable reward to come after I let it out.
So I rebelled, dropped out of school at the legal age to do that, and did nothing for several years until I simply picked up where I left off, chose a trade and went back to school. It had taken me five years of dependency and poverty before I saw any upside to having a job and leading a pedestrian, working man’s life. During those years I discovered I was a poor drinker, too many blackouts, too little control, and I knew that couldn’t be a regular thing for me. It still was, to some degree, throughout my twenties, but in those lost years of my late teens I also discovered the heathen devil-weed, which seemed to make life tolerable for some thirty years. By the end of that dalliance though, it was just never enough, and I gave that up.
Now I have this. Now, in order to face what depresses people, what depresses me in particular, life’s apparent meaninglessness and life’s even more apparent hopelessness, I have this idea, that punishing is causing all of our problems.
It seemed to me at some point that what I just called ‘life’s hopelessness’ was really just My Hopelessness, and perhaps not only mine, but many people’s, and if it was personal and individual like that, maybe there was something for it. The ‘hopelessness of life’ – that is existential, a parameter we have to live within, but Our Hopelessness, that’s a little more down to earth, perhaps that is somehow . . . manageable. That’s not how we get there, though, let me back up a little.
When a young person gropes with the question of meaning, at least the way I recall it, it’s phrased thusly: Why are we here? Towards the end of my adolescent sabbatical from life I was reading some philosophy, some religious stuff, and sometimes consuming small, five dollar bits of paper or semi-toxic mushrooms on the weekends, and for a stretch in my twentieth year every weekend would bring about a new perspective, I would have a new philosophical or semi-religious idea. Still depressed then, I needed an explicit reason to keep breathing and going to work, and I worked through several of these hallucinogen fuelled constructions in fairly rapid succession. I’ve got to say, despite the suspect nature of the mental states that seemed to produce them, some of the thoughts from those weekends have stayed with me for life. One of them was this: ‘why are we here?’ struck me as a pointless, meaningless question. People from all over ask it, people from, here, here and also there ask it, and truly, if we were somewhere completely elsewhere, another planet, another universe, another form, we could still ask it! What is the meaning in asking why am I here, when I would ask it wherever I was? So after that mental leap, I started to think that the surface meaning of this universal question wasn’t the point of it, and certainly wasn’t the sense of it, so to understand its appeal would require a subtext, and that goes to the person asking it. Why do we ask it, is the proper question, and the answer is, because we’re sad.
‘Why am I here’ is not a question a happy person asks, and it isn’t a question one asks when they’re somewhere they want to be. But now, again, it’s personal, it’s at the human level. ‘Why are we here?’ – that is cosmological, religious. But ‘why am I sad?’ that is in the here and now. That we might have a chance to answer. If we look at meaninglessness, hopelessness and the mystery of why we are here as universal, philosophical, as pertaining to some predetermined Human Condition (not all grandiose, Capitalized Thoughts are mine), then they appear unanswerable. But what if that’s not it? What if universal sadness either isn’t universal, or at least isn’t necessarily universal?
What if the near universality of sadness and hopelessness has a nearly universal real life cause, in the here and now? Or to put it another way, what if we could imagine a human being who was happier, a person who might never ask ‘why am I here?’ In what ways would this person’s life have to be different from the rest of ours? This question must have been lying dormant in me when I finished my interrupted education, got my trade, and returned to my home town to take up life as a normal, working adult.