Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Post Number Forty: Misunderstood

Of How Hard It Is To Make Yourself Understood

I am not typing a blog for a wide audience. Hence, being understandable by a wide audience is not - and it won't be - my aim. Nonetheless, it is extremely interesting to see from the comments I receive that making one's self understood is a lost cause.

Those who know me, already know how I tackle things. Sometimes I choose the logic, rational approach (when I am serious). Sometimed instead, I just want to have fun and mock men. I love mocking men.
Anyway those who don't know me might be led to misunderstandings. Especially because most of the things I believe and say here, are not in line with this era's zeitgeist. Zeitgeist is a German word that means, more or less "Spirit of the Time". It doesn't really translate into any other language but German.
I will give an example.
In the Twentieth Century, mostly thanks to the Americanization of world culture, it is generally believed that Lightness is better than Weight. Weight is oppressive, tasking, depressing. People think that lightness is fun, but to be more precise, they think that fun is lightness.
Mindless, easy life with no thoughts, just entertainment, is fun. Entertainment is intended to be light.
This is so rooted in the spirit of our time that almost no one ever stops and wonder if entertainment should really be light. Has anyone considered the possibility that lightness might not be fun? A lot of people go to discos, which are a very light form of entertainment (as opposed, for example, to reading a philosophy text by Immanuel Kant in German). These people are quite positive that going to a disco is fun, and it is incidentally more fun than reading a text by Kant in German. The whole industry of entertainment has been built on the conception that the lighter is the better.
But is lightness really all that fun?
I am not trying to tell people what is fun, because I am here to tell people what I think is fun for me. Whether there is general agreement on the point is not my interest: in fact I already know there is no general agreement, otherwise the world would be more like the late 1700's and less like the early 1600's.
Because, see, there have been times in history when people thought otherwise: they thought that lightness was not fun. For example, the Roman Stoic philosophers really thought that light things were not so fun. They thought it was much more fun to read a text by Aristotle in Greek than going to the Coliseum to watch the Gladiators.
The French Philosophes thought it was really a damn lot of fun to write an Encyclopedia.
Ludwig van Beethoven was convinced that music would be much more fun to listen to and to write, if it was heavy with deep meanings, passion, intensity, and emotional charge. A big change with the previous generation when the people thought that music was fun if you could dance it.
So, the fact that today we think that light things are fun, is relative, not absolute. This is critical to understand my point.
If we accepted that lightness is the only possible way to have fun, then it might seem that I am a boring person that protests against his peers because they are having fun.
This is completely, utterly and immensely WRONG.
First of all, I am a supporter of Hedonists, and insist that we have the unalienable right to have fun. Having fun is a significant concern. Making life pleasant is paramount.
What I believe is that not everyone has fun in the same way. I am positive that Izzy, Sarong Party Girl, just to mention someone I stated I wouldn't mention again, is trying to have fun. She follows her own path to enjoy her life and I am vibrantly supporting her choice, regardless of the fact that I, for one, would not have fun living her life.

Then there is the question of why lightness might be not so fun.

And here's where I go one step further, telling an opinion that might be mistaken for an attempt to tell others what to do.

Lightness is dangerous. Our world has sunk into an ocean of lightness. There's a lot of things we deem important that are in fact transient and of scarce significance. They do not really matter. Things that matter are those that last. Human beings as individuals are here for a short time. We come, we live our short life, and then we go into oblivion. I am thoroughly convinced that this short permanence on this planet must be given a meaning. Not because I like it so, but because I believe that mankind needs a meaning. Why else are we so attracted by religion? Let's leave aside those that use religion as an excuse to let others tell them what to do. Let's talk about really religious people. Those that seek an answer for the reason they are alive for and ascribe it to some God. People like them revert to religion because they feel the void around them. They feel this world is empty, and whether they realize it or not, they are squeezed by the unbearable emptiness of the world. Life in itself is such a pointless thing: think about it. Think of herds of antelopes migrating back and forth across Africa. Imagine you are an alien on a starship, one that lives for a very long time, millennia; You look down at planet Earth and see antelopes migrating south and then north and then south and then north. Generation after generation, with no other reason to do so than producing another generation of migrating antelopes.
You could look down in the same way to mankind. But men are not antelopes.
Humans have this capability to create things that outlive them. They can think and stick to ideals, they have imagination, creativity and an immense potential. A human life can mean nothing. It could just be an insignificant transient mishap. But think of what humans can do in that life.
Think of the masterpieces sculpted by Michaelangelo. Think of the music written by Mozart. Think of the words signed in the Declaration of Independence. Think of the poetry of Shakespeare.
Can you feel the power of meaning? While there is nothing wrong with some light entertainment, I insist that our life cannot revolve around light, meaningless, transient happenings. It's dangerous. For us. For our inner selves. For our innate instinct to creativity, to imagination, to do things that outlive us.
When humans are induced to lose themselves in purely light, transient things, they often feel deprived of something. They feel something is missing. They can become nihilistic, think that everything in the world is pointless, that life is just a temporary wait till we can cease to exist for good. Very often this kind of universal pessimism induces humans to self-destruction.
If you have seen the movie Requiem for a Dream, you know what I mean. The author of the book that was turned into the same named movie, believes that our dreams are doomed and we are living in a world where nothing is worth much. Struggling is pointless. Life is cruel and everything sucks, plainly.
I refuse to agree.
I insist that this pessimism is derived by the overdose of lightness. I firmly state here and elsewhere that those who dare believing in ideals, those who dare fighting, those who create, love, and make things that last, they are not going to be nihilist-pessimists.
Think of Beethoven. At age 27 he turned deaf. Being deaf meant that he had to bid farewell to music, the only thing that really mattered for him. Can you imagine how it felt for him? If you have read the Testament of Heiligenstadt, a letter Beethoven wrote to his brother when he was in Heiligenstadt, Austria, you will know how humane and how moving the desperation of Ludwig van Beethoven was. In that letter, Beethoven stated he wanted to commit suicide. He saw everything was falling apart. His life, his greatest dreams, his hopes to live a normal social life. Being a deaf in the early 1800's, and a composer, moreover, meant to be cut off the world. And he loved social life. He yearned for contact with humans. But he was terribly ashamed of telling others "would you please write that down, I can't hear you". It's not nice. It does not feel nice. It's a pain. An immense pain.
But Beethoven did not commit suicide. After writing that letter, somewhere in his soul he found the strength to say no. If destiny opposes me, then I will fight destiny.
The result of this super-human struggle is the fifth symphony. Perhaps the most famous music ever composed. G-G-G-Eb. Destiny knocks at your door. Listen to it. Listen how the drama of the first movement slowly transforms into a fanfare when we reach the fourth, last movement. Compare the feeling of desperation created by these simple four notes that haunt the melody throughout the first part of the symphony, with the brilliant, joyous C major of the grand finale.
It's Beethoven telling us how it was for him. How terrible everything felt when destiny knocked at his door and how hard it was to fight his doom, and how powerful the joy for finding the courage to shout NO. To destiny.
There's all this in the fifth symphony.
But this is not lightness. There is no lightness in this. This is weight. It is giving a meaning to your life. It is fighting off the forces that oppose you and dare. And not only he won and became a famous composer: he's probably the most famous composer ever.
Don't you also feel inspired by this example? When I hear the fifth symphony I can't help being in awe of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven was not a pessimist. He thought there were things worth fighting for.
Those who find a meaning for their life, tend to be not pessimist. And that's because humans need that meaning.
So, here's where my message becomes more "universal", that is: directed to many and not just me. When I daresay look: lightness, lack of meaning, pointlessness is dangerous. It leads to self-destruction.

Because lightness is not necessarily that much fun. Sometimes it can be terrible. Terribly hard to bear. Sometimes we just damn need some weight if we don't want to be overcome by the unbearable lightness of being

We should not end up believing that, simply because one human's life is but an insignificant thing in the eternal flow of time, it means that it is pointless, or that nothing good can come from it.

We live in a world inherited by the past generations. Some, actually many, of those humans have built architectural marvels, created artworks, chased ideals, written Constitutions and passed an immense legacy of culture, beauty, and dreams down to us.
I say, it's our duty to do the same for those that will follow us in the next generation. Let's not forget that some weight is necessary, that we are humans like those that came before us, and we can build upon what we received from them. There is an immense wealth of marvels that humans have created. We are humans. We can go on creating.

But we must never forget, that we need to attach a meaning to our life, that it cannot be all about having some light fun and reproduce. I insist: this is not what life is all about. This is what life would be all about for antelopes in Africa, not for men that write symphonies, build cathedrals, and sign the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

We are better than animals. We can avoid being squeezed by the Unbearable Lightness of Being.