By John Lee Pendall
“You’re too fat,” “You’re too skinny,” “You’re hair’s too short, too long, there’s too much, too little.” “You’re too smart,” “You’re not smart enough.” – Society
I’ve left behind most of my hatred and anger, but I’ll never be able to forgive society—the herd-mind—for all the horrible things it does to people.
It’s like we’re born free, as eccentric individuals, but then we’re put through “the machine” of social conditioning until we come out looking like everyone else.
In the video for Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, Pink Floyd used the metaphor of students being put through a giant meat grinder. Roger Waters put the blame on teachers, parents and institutions, but he forgot the main culprits behind the process: our peers, our “friends,” and the “man on the street.”
Over the years, praise and insults, acceptance and rejection, force us to cover ourselves in filters. We create a kind of committee in our heads that votes on everything we do and say. The more hurt you are by people, the more filters you put up. It can get to the point where who you are and how you express yourself are totally different.
We end up living a lie, and then we wonder why we’re unhappy.
We’ve all been hurt by it. Our kids will be too, and so will their kids, and their kids’ kids because social checking isn’t something new—it’s one of the ugly parts of animal-nature. There are a lot of theories behind why we do this, but no one really knows.
All we know is that acceptance and reinforcement feel good, and rejection and punishment feel bad, and the strongest theory behind that is that it helps us survive. If getting hurt didn’t make us feel bad, then we’d do a lot of self-destructive shit. It isn’t the pain that teaches us to change our ways, it’s the hurt, the emotional pain. Physical pain and pleasure only have value when we give it emotional weight. Without that, they’re both totally neutral, pleasure isn’t good and pain isn’t bad.
The brain responds to acceptance and rejection the same way it does physical pleasure and pain. When we’re criticized, it’s no different than someone harming us physically, and usually the scars last a lot longer. This scar tissue can build up to such an extent that we don’t feel anything anymore.
For the existentialist, the solution is to breakthrough all these filters, to rip away the scar tissue and be exposed to the world. Without that, we end up living our lives in “bad faith.”
It might not seem like it, but I’m actually an optimist. I think that, when we truly brush aside the debris, we find someone innocent. Manic, peculiar and difficult to understand perhaps, but innocent. Savagery is something we learn by living through savage times. Deep down, I don’t think most people are savage. I think there’s a helpless child hidden in our hearts, a child that just wants to love and be loved and who doesn’t understand anything else.
The mistake we make is depending on the world for that love. We’ll never find what we’re looking for “out there,” at least most of us won’t. We find conditional love, circumstantial love, love with strings. True love has nothing to do with anything outside ourselves. The trick is to find and maintain reciprocity between our own thoughts and feelings. In Freudian terms, to kill the id and superego, so that we’re no longer enslaved by the pleasure and morality principles. Instead, we live by the reality-principle.
If we go way back into early Buddhism, that principle is just, “What is, is; what isn’t, isn’t.” Is and isn’t are always changing places, so the dynamic self goes along with the changes without building walls. All the energy we use on preservation is redirected to creation.
When we take a step back and look, isn’t creation what life’s all about?
Editor: Dana Gornall
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