A short and easy post

I have been writing very long posts. I tend to write them for myself. My target audience is me. This is a kind of therapy: I write what I think and feel about things, sometimes without explaining what I really mean with this or that term. This will be an attempt to do something small and simple. The theme here will be what I think about life.

Painting by Raymond Douillet

What I think about life is not complicated. After a long time I've concluded that it is tragic. Not only human life, but all animal life is tragic. Among the multicellular organisms, the only exception I'd make are plants, maybe, because they do not posses a central nervous system and don't feel pain. Besides that, most species of plant are autotrophic, which means that they don't need to consume life in order to obtain energy and survive. In the case of the animal and fungi kingdoms, the consumption of other life forms is necessary for survival.

Beings that posses central nervous systems have tragic lives because their only apparent function is the perpetuation of the species, which means perpetuating life, and nothing else matters, really: not the amount of pain and harmful events, generation after generation, it is all for naught. Even if there were no carnivorous animals, the lives of other animals would be tragic because they'd still be exposed to pain, diseases, accidents, violent, old age, degradation and death—and all of that with a simple purpose: perpetuating life.

In the case of the human being, the problem gets even more complicated. Evolution gave us not only our intelligence, but also a profound capacity for reflection, a deep consciousness. Contrary to other animals who are also intelligent, we are capable to forge our own world, transforming nature in an extraordinary way. We are also capable to notice the lack of meaning for all the slaughter that occurs between birth and death. For this reason, we are experts in creating myths. The mythologies we create, far from being harmless fantasies, had and still have a clear impact on the real world: they provide different forms of organization that are responsible of keeping cohesive groups alive throughout the history of our species.

Cults, religions, and ideologies: from the most primitive to the most complex. Religion had a real impact on the world. It helped societal cohesion, but not only that. It has permitted the existence of complex physical structures. The magnificent medieval cathedrals in Europe and the beautiful Hindu temples in India remain as a testament of that. The same occurs with political ideals, whatever it may be. For the despair of many who love to discuss politics, the primordial function of a determined ideology is exactly the same of its rival: they exist in order to give cohesion to a group of homo sapiens, so it can remain alive and reproduce.

A few myths escaped this pattern. Certain religions saw the world as a prison, a hell in which our essences—whatever they may be—need to escape. Although all great religions consider this world to be a way-station, they do not treat it as hell. In the beginnings of Christianity, many Gnostics saw the world as the creation of an evil god. Even today, many Buddhists consider our world as an eternal cycle of birth, pain and death, from which the only escape is Nirvana, a state in which we never come back here.But the Gnostics were persecuted and destroyed by Christian orthodoxy throughout the centuries. On the other hand, Buddhists ended up adapting themselves: not everyone needed to become a monk and abstain from sex—and so, from reproduction. Lay Buddhists could still live their lives normally, maintaining certain precepts and accumulating karma with the goal of becoming monks in future lives. Out of all the myths we created, I believe these have the greatest value.

There are other myths which we can call naturalists or even vitalists: philosophical beliefs that consider life as being irreducible to any category besides itself. Vitalism can permeate—and in reality it does permeate—several mythologies. But vitalism goes beyond that, somewhat. A person can espouse vitalism while being apolitical and without any religious faith. All one has to do to be a vitalist is to consider absurd any value judgement regarding life itself. He or she will say: life is what is is, and it's up to us to accept it and live it.

This affirmation of life has several problems, like presupposing that there exists something that cannot be questioned, criticized or altered. Natural selection didn't intend for our species to build airplanes and eat french fries, but we do those things frequently. By definition, the human being is an animal that judges everything, including life itself, and doesn't accept the way things are. If we did, we'd still be hunter-gatherers living on the African savanna. There isn't a single vitalist who doesn't get upset when they suffer some form of injustice, or when they're eaten by a lion—two things that are part of the game of life and can happen to anyone, as long as we are in wrong place at the wrong time.
By Fernando Olszewski
(This post was first published on November 11th, 2018 @ Exilado Metafísico)