Sunday, March 13, 2016

What Did We Learn

My Grandma has this belief that we’re put here on this earth to live our lives the way they unfold and for our immortal spirits to learn something from the lives we lead. It could be something very big, it could be something very small, but regardless we’re here to learn and learn we will. My friend has the belief that we’re essentially the same spirits repeated again and again, and the two of us met thousands of years ago and been friends before and we’ll meet again in the future (assuming it exists, he’s a bit of an end timesy guy when he’s down). Reincarnation is a super common belief, even in Abrahamism where the incarnations of the immortal soul are off in some new fantastic world (hell or paradise or limbo) arguably because the alternative, that our lives are incredibly fleeting and go from dust to dust in the blink of an eye not only is kinda scary to contemplate, it sets wrong with our estimation of ourselves and those around us.
Are we avoiding this on purpose? One of the many facets of modern life that seems to go badly is the obsession with preserving our selves, our money, our possessions, our will beyond the end of our lives. Whether it’s complex tax schemes to keep the money within our genetic offshoots or putting our name on as many big buildings as we can afford to fund, the screaming terror of mortality tends to manifest in these putrid displays of wealth and enforced posthumous filial worship. It’s not good! Inheritance schemes are pretty similar to bad cholesterol, in that they form plaques within the greater systems of human existence and make it harder for those systems to flow smoothly. Or in other words, it makes it harder for new people to earn that wealth while preserving a handful of folks who, by dint of their father or grandfather or great-grandfather’s efforts can just sit around at home and literally earn more than half this country will ever see in their lifetime of holding two and three simultaneous jobs.
It’s not like this is new or anything, the wealthy of Egypt would arrange to inter themselves along with their money, an arguably better system than inheritance at least. The scary truth is whether or not our consciousness persists after death everything we’ve made in this world is done for. It doesn’t matter anymore. And we all know it, right? It’s another one of those things where people are aware of this factually but it doesn’t really translate into the kind of behavioral shifts you’d expect if people really believed it was true. C’est la vie, ça ira, etc.
While we’re still on this earth though, we still gotta deal with earthy stuff. Our messy relationships, our tough decisions, our mistakes. Ideally every time you make a mistake you just, boom, you’ve learned a thing and now you know it and you’re slightly more perfect. Obviously life doesn’t work this way, and in fact a lot of things aren’t even framed as mistakes when they are. Even the concept of a mistake is tied to a personal ethical system. Maybe you think it’s a mistake to cause harm directly but indirect harms are pretty much a-ok. It makes me wonder sometimes what we could possibly be learning when the basic premises of our lives are so different. Maybe that’s the point and you have to learn something that’s buried under a facet of a facet of existence, like, maybe we need to learn exactly how to hurt people specifically. Who the heck knows?
All this gets even more complicated as trauma enters our lives and molds our ability to understand and appreciate our world. Every scar makes approaching life just a little stranger and affects the way we approach situations in both conscious and unconscious ways. Is it still a mistake if it’s a result of the emotional mindset caused by a past trauma? To what degree does your ability to make decisions really come into play with mistakes?
When I’m feeling more or less ok I’m happy to share my own take that reality lacks any real dimension of personal decision, that what we do is set in stone from the start and we’re just here to ride the emotional rollercoaster. It’s a little nihilistic, at least inasmuch as we live in a society that is absolutely obsessed with not just agency, but a sort of personal individualistic agency that makes things like “by your own bootstraps” and “welfare queens” make sense and destroys even very smart folks’ ability to understand systems as systems and not as the result of individual interaction within those systems (e.g. victim-blaming). I think it’s worth it though. All of that stuff is nonsense. Individuals don’t have any agency in the systems they’re trapped in. Stuff changes, of course. It just changes as a result of collective work that’s largely outside the hands of any particular person. You create the new culture you want to live in with your like-minded humans and it butts up against the existing culture and hopefully your culture wins that conflict.
So hey, what do you learn then if your life is basically on rails? Well heck you can learn dang anything. Your “mistakes” are just happenstance. Learn from them and try to avoid them or don’t! Whatever you’re going to do is pretty much already going to happen. There’s not a lot of sense in fussing about it. Really there’s not a lot of sense in fussing about anything. We still do it, I still do it, it’s just a human thing, but it’s not really useful in any real sense.

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