Men and Cockroaches

I have great friends who imagine we are in the midst of a historical process of overcoming a contradiction, in which two opposing forces fight each other over the control of reality. I disagree with them. I don't believe in any of that. There are only two things I can discern after observing reality. The first one is that there is no direction besides the ones dictated by nature, with its physical, chemical and biological laws, and we are part of nature. The second one is that, for the most part, reality is painful for living beings capable of feeling pain.

Hubble ultra deep field, NASA

I do not say reality is bad and painful because of politics. It is bad and painful in relation to the all in which beings are inserted, since the beginning of time. I don't have a negative view of reality because I think there was an ideal model that was corrupted, but because everything is "corrupted" since the beginning, since the first thing that ever existed.

We could say that we were "thrown" here, in this life, and we spend all of it looking for some magnanimous meaning, be it metaphysical or material, but that meaning doesn't exist. I don't think we can conclude some teleology when we study human history. I disagree that there is a purpose or finality that will occur when we overcome all contradictions and there is harmony among men. We try to make reality a little less bad—and sometimes, in some places, we actually make it less bad, which is positive, of course—but there will never be a favorable end. It seems fantastical to believe that it will be so, even though this fantasy sometimes is incredibly sophisticated.

I disagree that the history of men is the rational unfolding of the Idea, the Spirit, or of material forces of the world throughout a long process of overcoming of opposites, be them ideal or material. That means I disagree with Hegel, and also with his critics and materialist reformers. The history of men, like the history of anything in the universe, may be mechanically determined, but it is not based on some universal reason that uses us to colonize the world, using us as its agents, something that would make us special, if only in a tortuous manner. History can be intelligible, we can comprehend it a posteriori, yes, but it doesn't behave in a rational manner, at least not in the manner dialectical thinkers from the 18th and 19th centuries believed. If there is rationality, it is completely alien to our presence and we don't appear to be important individually or collectively.

At one point during the history of thought, some philosophers became too eager to discover the mechanisms behind History and ended up seeing patterns where there were none, and even made predictions based on those non-existing patterns. There is nothing that indicates that the historical forces push us in the direction of a favorable end, for which we should fight and die. It seems that both natural history and human history will engender new hells, even worse than those life on Earth has already experienced.

However, this sad realization does not mean we should resign and accept all negative aspects of life as if there were nothing we could do. Yes, we should fight for better lives. I don't oppose those who struggle against concentration of wealth, the commercialization of the human being, and poverty. On the contrary, I support this struggle. But I don't believe in a future that will be able to redeem the tears and pains of the past and present. No future will ever be able to redeem a single elderly person dying alone, cold and hungry, forgotten by their family. Nothing in the future of humanity will ever justify the pains felt by a single child thrown in the fire by the Phoenicians as a sacrifice to their gods.

Even so, for those who believe that history is a succession of struggles that lead to progress, any attitude that doesn't reflect some engagement in favor of what they believe is the truth of existence is equivalent to accepting oppression. Equivalent, therefore, to legitimizing evil, whatever it may be. Some will say that this evil is the oppression of workers in the capitalist mode of production, others will say this evil is represented by progressive movements who want to destroy the traditional family and private property—after all, just as there are progressive heirs to Hegel, there also conservative heirs. This type of thinking permeated everything and it seems many of us were raised attached to it.

In my experience, most people tend to agree that History necessarily behaves as some sort of evolution towards something better, from the most primitive to the most developed and complex. It matters little that some believe the most developed age will come when we reach a classless society or if the highest development will occur with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. All agree that history follows something and that this something can be understood in such a way that we can know exactly where we are inside the process and where we are going. There isn't a whole lot of difference between mystical and materialist thinking in this regard.

Those that have faith in human history as the progression of something firmly believe that abstaining from the world—or wishing a different alternative—means siding with the enemy. To not sympathize with them is—according to this view, save rare exceptions—to automatically sympathize with the wrong side. I have observed this everyday for the last two months because of the 2018 Brazilian presidential election. Mystics and materialists are turning my becoming into a hell. Both think it is impossible not to side with no one or to hold a third position because, in the end, both believe that disagreeing with the vanguard, whatever it is, benefits the enemy, whether we want it or not.

So, according to my dialectical friends (both the progressive, materialists, and the conservative, mystics), truth certainly is not democratic, since the most rejected candidates are in the second round of the current Brazilian presidential election. There are very few agents with any real power in the tragedy of  historical progress, even Hegel thought so. Most of humanity is dragged along against its will.

I agree that truth is not democratic. Most people believe that existing is a blessing and that there are more positive things in the world than negative things, and this is simply not true. In fact, any serious dialectical thinker agrees with that. What distinguishes me from them is that I don't believe in the possibility of overcoming contradictions that will give birth to a historical reality that can justify all the blood, misery and degradation that humanity and life in general has gone through throughout History. I cannot agree with this. No future utopia will ever justify the birth, old age, disease, pain and death of a living being against its will.

There is a citation I've been seeing a lot during this election that is being wrongly attributed to Dante Alighieri, supposedly found in his Divine Comedy: "the hottest place in hell is reserved to those who were neutral in times of great crisis." This is not in the Divine Comedy. However, in Inferno, Canto III, Dante and Virgil walk in the vestibule of hell, a place that is neither hot nor cold. There they found the angels that were neither faithful to God nor rebellious, and also the souls of cowards that were neither honored nor infamous in life. They are angels and men who were not accepted in Heaven and Hell. Their punishment is spending the rest of eternity in the ante-chamber of hell. There they chase incessantly after a banner while they're stung by vermin.

Being neutral is different than being a coward, and even more different than being convinced of a position that is not in accordance with the two great narratives (illusions) of our time, which is the case I find myself. I don't agree that the left wing party is and its allies are the incarnation of a historical process that will free the oppressed. No.

I think it is corrupt, disastrous and irresponsible. It contributed to the growth of a violent right wing movement when it polarized society even more—although that is not the only factor, nor is it the most important. I also disagree that the extreme right wing candidate represents the side of God in the fight against the forces of evil, corruption, immorality and other fantasies his supporters belief. His success came after a political bet: his side saw that there were far more reactionaries among the Brazilian electorate than Brazilian progressives believed. It paid off and he'll probably win Sunday.

No matter what the future has in store for us—a revolution that installs a new age of equality and human progress; a war that defeats materialist and collectivist atheism; or some other foolishness—, it would be positive if we understood that none of this was made for us: the planet, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. If a cockroach was able to reflect, it would believe that the sewer was made for cockroaches to thrive, when in fact the sewer was neither specifically nor indirectly made for them.

It is an accident that the sewer helps cockroaches to thrive. In the same way, it is an accident that this universe allows us to be alive. Everything seems to point to the conclusion that there is no cozy purpose behind all of this. What we have is an infinite abundance of pain. But I think we'll never understand. In the future, when the last human being is about to die, he'll probably throw a fit and cry, and like so many during our brief history he'll believe that there should be something more.

By Fernando Olszewski
(This post was first published October 27th, 2018 @ Exilado Metafísico)