A chained man no more.
Have you ever been in this situation? Knowing that you must do a thing, but your body and mind just couldn’t let you do it?
I faced this scenario this morning. Everyone knows that I have (or had) a terrible job. But I woke up. I put on work clothes. Got in my vehicle. And drove the 20 minutes that it takes to get to my (former) place of employment. I got to the building, and everything fiber in my being wouldn’t let me pull into the parking lot.
I literally couldn’t do it.
So I drove on by and didn’t look back.
I have never done that in my professional career. Usually I’d just bite the bullet and hack out another day, and hope that I will land on my feet somewhere else. But not today. My body and intellect kicked in and took over. I was no longer in control.
My rallying against careerism is nothing new. I’ve always felt that people overly associate their identity with their career. But in doing so, their profession becomes just another stone that weighs down the true identity of a person.
In the last post, I mentioned this thing called the static identity. We’re born. Then we’re given a name, a social security number, and assigned a gender. We’re stuck in this life until the day we die. You can run all your life, but you will never escape your social security number.
This is how we see ourselves.
We are our family. Our jobs. Our community. And our relationship with others. You are not permitted to escape.
While it’s not possible in a physical sense to become something or someone else, the notion of the self (or the “I”) is not actual. It’s something that only the mind applies to itself, and so the notion of a continual self is an illusion. As in Buddhism, all of reality (to include the self) is a stream moving forward in time. The notion of continuity is an idea in the mind, and is therefore not real.
This might sound crazy, and I don’t care. I can say anything I want in this blog.
But the important thing is that these ideas in the mind are rudely enforced by the external world. We can choose to ignore them, but in doing so, we risk having the will of the outer world imposed on us….meaning the law will imprison us, we can become ostracized, or any number of other things. To avoid this confrontation, we placate these societal norms and play the part that was given to us.
We become locked-in to our identities, and it is made difficult to transform. Then we are forever trapped within the existence imposed upon us. This, I believe, is why we are undergoing a mental health crisis. Not only because we are getting better at diagnosing these problems, but because bureaucratic, technological, and economical entanglement is getting better at transposing societal norms onto individuals. And the only way forward is to find acceptance, so we have higher rates of depression, paranoia, addiction, and recidivism of crime.
Therefore, as the great Jean Jacques Rousseau said: Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.
Rousseau seemed to have differed from his fellow contemporaries in believing that human progress has not been beneficial; that mankind was better off in its state of nature. Believing that in this state, humans were peaceful, noble, and lived in harmony.
This belief in the nobility of the natural state of mankind is, of course, bullshit. HOWEVER, I don’t believe that he was completely wrong in challenging human progress. This “progress”, really hasn’t been progress at all. At best, it’s just been a matter of switching one set of problems out for another. IN FACT, this progress has contributed to a great deal of modern problems, namely class warfare, racism, sexism, slavery, poverty, and God knows what else. While this state of nature might not have been peaceful and noble, mankind was at least EXISTING in its natural state, rather than living in a manufactured and prolonged misery of being.
We might be living LONGER, we can also say that we are living in an extended existence of slavery. Slavery to jobs, to mortgage, to materialism. Instead of being seen as an integral part of a community (as in a state of nature), we are seen as being just one. Just one of the millions that consist of a nation-state; an existence that doesn’t matter, that only plays a small role in the vastness of world population. We have to fight for meaning and purpose because we are chained to an insignificant societal identity.
To be happy is to be unaware of this predicament, or to find meaning outside of this paradigm. This means to be stupid or in complete denial. OR to find acceptance in this stream of existence.
This is an unpopular opinion. Especially in our state “feel good” literature. Everyone wants to read or hear about how “they matter”. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. The average person today just doesn’t matter. The individual has been disconnected from a grand community; thrown into existence. We are all just a minor player in this realm of society.
Of course, the solution isn’t to return to a “state of nature”. We know too much. A state of nature is a ship that has sailed. For better or worse, we are stuck with this economic-bureaucratic-technological complex. The paste is out of the tube. How we fix this problem would require a recognition of hard truths.
What are these truths??
Chiefly, most of the nonsense we surround ourselves with is false. They are only problems that we create in our heads, and become reinforced by societal standards. Imaginative problems are the number one cause of stress in the world. Having a mortgage and career are not LITERAL necessities for survival. Realistically, to live a reality that’s genuine, we have to recognize our basic selves. One that is stripped away from from modern conveniences.
But truthfully, I have no answers on how to fix these problems. Because in order to do so, would require an understanding that’s fundamentally contrary to everything that we know. It’s not as easy as reverting back to anarchy or taking up a Marxism. The only revolutions that work are the ones that are generated from within.