Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Coping (or Why Do I Wake Up in the Morning?)

“We [human beings] are on a nice downward glide. I call it circling the drain. And the circles get smaller and smaller and faster and faster. And you watch the sink empty. Huish!”
–George Carlin, 2011

Why do I wake up in the morning
Nothing's changed since the day of my birth.
-Mike Muir from If I Don't Wake Up, 1988

Life is tough. Full of pain. Teeming with injustice. Coping is a life skill. As far as I know, our colleges don’t provide courses to help one cope with life in our modern world.

So how does one cope?

Our future is bleak. I think that’s becoming increasingly clear unless you’re one of those humans who believes that evolution is a fiction, that global warming is a falsehood created by liberals and scientists so they can obtain funding for their studies, or that racism no longer exists in the United States. The signs of our inevitable demise, signs that our cameo on Planet Earth is racing to an end, are everywhere; you can’t get much more of a warning than when astrophysicist-genius Stephen Hawking warned in 2010: "Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth but to spread out into space. We have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years. But if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space.”

By now, you would have to be the human equivalent of an ostrich, with one’s head stubbornly entrenched in the sand in order not to see all the signs our planet is giving us. Here’s a sampling—and I’m just a hardly informed citizen who reads some online articles:
• The mass die off of bees around the world
The decimation of our coral reefs at a worldwide scale
• The alarming decrease of plankton—a crucial source of oceanic substenance—in recent years
• The change in migration patterns of countless species throughout the world—in our oceans, in our skies, on our land masses
• The rapid melting of our polar ice caps
• The alarming droughts and subsequent issues of water scarcity affecting major population areas like Brazil and Western United States, which includes California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and across the Southern Plains to Texas and Oklahoma.

So how do we grapple with this? How can we live with this knowledge and continue to attempt to live some form of a typical existence without imploding, without succumbing to depression, without completing giving up? How can we go on?

Like anything in life, I believe there is no right or wrong. There is no template of thought and action that can work for every single individual. With over 7.3 billion people and counting, our diversity is far too vast for that.

The purpose of this post is to share some thoughts I have on this topic, to share some coping mechanisms that I am trying to develop and hone. Again, this is a haphazard assemblage. I wasn’t formally taught any of these skills, and, last time I checked, I’m not referred to as His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Lately, there’s been a lot of ugliness in the world—or so it seems to be amplified since the Internet can almost instantaneously connect us to happenings in practically any corner of our planet. Ferguson, Missouri. The police murder of Eric Garner. The fact that these police murders of our black brothers and sisters continue to happen—and it seems like there’s always a new instance of it. The seemingly neverending conflict in Gaza. The 46 students from Iguala, Mexico murdered, in all likelihood, by the Federal police. The massacre of over 2,000 people—mostly women, children, and the elderly—in Baga, Nigeria. All the ISIS beheadings. The outbreak of ebola in West Africa. I could go on and on and on and on and on.

A few months back, when I developed a fleeting obsession of Joseph Campbell, I heard that he didn’t read a newspaper for 28 years. (He also saw few films during that time, which I consider appalling.) I have tried to find an interview in which he states why he chose to ignore the news in his time but have been unable to. Whatever his reasons were, I can hardly blame him. What is the point of keeping up to date with the news? I’m speaking for myself on this one, but do we really need to read the news or watch our daily newscast (which I equate with propaganda, or what Bill Hicks said about “the news”) to know that the world we shape is supremely fucked up? Do I need to keep abreast of our news to know that it’s hopeless to believe that we will ever learn to coexist in peace? The answer, of course, is “no.” For similar reasons, I’m on Facebook less (a.k.a. Bragbook, a.k.a. Shitbook, because people—including myself—use it to vent their shit) because I don’t need to log in and see my newsfeed to be reminded of how fucked up our world is.

Which brings me to George Carlin.

A few years ago I became aware of one of his famous quotes: “It's important in life if you don't give a shit. It can help you a lot.” I thought it was sort of funny, but I didn’t really get it.

But then the Occupy Movement happened. I saw how much effort our government and police forces expended to undermine and destroy that movement. Then George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin. Reading comments in any online article about the trial was like glimpsing into a hell, so I don't do that anymore. (I have enough anger about how things are. I don't need to feed that fire.) And then Michael Brown was murdered. And again, our inherently racist criminal justice system protected its own and I was left, again, along with millions of other Americans thinking Has any racial progress ever happened on this land?—a land stolen from Native Americans, a land that played host to their genocide which our history books have done a neat job of glancing over, a land that eventually became the United States, a country whose economy was built by slavery. Though I should have given up on my species, like George Carlin wisely did years ago before he died, I finally did after all these recent injustices and atrocities. As Carlin said in his Archive of American Television interview, “the shit is too deep.”

This country is done for. We’re done for as a species. We’ll never change. We’ll never evolve past racism. We’ll never stop using religion or spiritual beliefs to separate ourselves because we’re humans. Despite our outward appearance, despite our modern wardrobe, despite all our fancy gadgets and technology we’re still inherently a tribal beast, and there will always be a human—or group of humans—that will think they’re superior to others. I don’t think that will ever change.

So I’m completely hopeless? Of course I still maintain the right to keep a glimmer of hope. Or, as George Carlin once said: “Oh, they say if you scratch a cynic, you'll find a disappointed idealist. And I would admit, that somewhere underneath all this there's a little flicker of a flame of idealism that would love to see it all—huish—change. But it can't—it can’t happen that way. And incremental change—it just seems the pile of shit is too deep.”

Nowadays I’m trying to cope by stealing yet another page from The Book of Carlin: I’m trying not to have a vested interest in any particular outcome regarding all our madness. Like him, I’m trying to mentally divorce myself from all the injustice and shit we will always have among ourselves. I’m trying to see myself primarily as an observer of how we as a species continue to treat this planet like a fucking rental. (Economist Lawrence Summers once said: “In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car.”) As hard and emotionally impossible as it is, I’m trying not to give a shit. I’m trying not to give a shit about something I have no control over. I know this may make you idealists shake your head at me but I think a part of you can understand how it’s a practical and sane reaction.

That’s how I’m trying to cope. And, of course, love and laughter are necessary tonics. If we’re not living to be with the people we love, to do what we love, what’s the point in waking up?

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