Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why I Wake Up Every Morning

Or: Why Ayn Rand Was On To Something.

If you're looking for another travelogue post, check back in a few weeks when I get around to posting the Vancouver pics.

Despite the tone and title of this piece, let me make one thing very clear: this is not a plea for help, veiled or otherwise. I have certainly reached deep lows in my life, but never so low as to lose faith in myself or hope in the future. If you take to heart what I have written here, you'll understand why.

I'm an aetheist. I'm an aetheist who treats his beliefs as seriously as the faithful treat their faith. I'm an aetheist who, for a long time, looked for positive beliefs in a philosophy that does no more than reject all others. I'm an aetheist who accepts the possibility that Something could exist, but feel that it probably doesn't care about humankind.

Having grown up in an essentially religious vacuum, I think I'm lucky to be an aetheist unencumbered by my parents' religion. I don't dismiss religion out of hand because I have some sense of how it serves all of us. From personal experience, it is hard to overstate how it can soften the grief of death; few things are so traumatizing as the loss of a loved one, and few places offer such comfort as a temple of God. Add to that a sense of purpose, organized charity, places of refuge, and established community inherent to any religion. (And yes, this perspective includes the exhaustively-documented ills of organized religion; there is no need to re-hash here what others have so capably done.) Further, I view a lot of religious injustices as reflective of human nature. Islamic terrorism is a great example: though religion provides a justification for the means, the roots lie more with poverty, economics, industrialization, corruption, and government surpression. On a deeper level it has to do with cultural traits like pride, family, social mores, identity, gender, and honor. If we had a world devoid of organized religion, I suspect that humankind would find plenty of other avenues to persecute itself--and to better itself as well. I'm sure many of you disagree.

But back to the original topic. This post is aimed at the aetheist who gives lip service to their beliefs, or the aetheist who refutes religion without providing an alternate philosophy, or the lazy aetheist who just enjoys spite (this was me for a long time), or the spineless fuckwits who chose aetheism because they're too embrassed to be religious.

So why write at all? My belief system:
  1. offers no moral/ethical underpinning for day-to-day existence;
  2. destroys any sense of significance;
  3. is negative rather than affirmative--i.e. it rejects Faith and doesn't offer a positive path.
How could anyone realistically refer to themselves as aetheists? It's a wonder they aren't killing themselves left and right. I mean, Aetheism upends our entire existence, right? Doesn't it boil humankind down to a bunch of Darwinian/genetic impulses? And more significantly, how could Aetheism have existed for so long without imploding? How do I justify waking up every morning when my entire existence is accidental and irrelevant?

Simply put, I embrace Humanity. I embrace the best parts of what makes us Us. I would not be here thinking about this if I didn't have uniquely Human qualities: love, hate, insecurity, ego, trust, pride, honor, rage, sadness, or that oddly Human urge to reach out. I would not be Human without unconditional love for my family, without complicated friendships, without the scars I carry inside, without a fear of mortality, without ego. I would not be Human without joy.

My Aetheism defines an empty Universe but my Humanity fills it. And to what end? Joy, love, pride--is that all?

Yes. It's an irrational belief, impenetrable to logic and grossly egotistical in scope. But if we didn't have that ego, if we didn't have that sensation of standing on a mountaintop in the freezing wind and screaming from the toes, we wouldn't exist at all. And no, we don't need to actually stand on a mountaintop--genuine friendship, love of kin, fear of the unknown ... all of these Human expressions are easily equivalent.

Moving back to the lower-case human realm, none of our relationships are as warm and gooey as I describe. We do those most amazingly awful things to ourselves. As groups, we have committed such horrific crimes that our collective psyche is scarred; who in the world doesn't know what a Nazi is? Who doesn't know about nuclear weapons? As individuals, we thieve and lie and distrust others; who in the world doesn't carry keys on them? Who hasn't seen a relationship dissolve over infidelity? But despite this, we (most of us anyway) don't live without some form of hope. Be it genetic of cultural, it is always present.

Now you should understand why I get righteous when confronted with manipulation, dishonesty, unfairness, or lying. They betray our best qualities. They poison us--me. They diminish what and who we are. It's that incredulous reaction of "How is it possible that you don't understand how this all works? How can you be so short-sighted?" When people get so wrapped up in their insecurities or fears (and fear is the most terrible of all), I become so angry. So much energy is wasted on internal stress. Are you still rebelling at your parents? Do you still hurt from that last relationship? Do you over-compensate for your weaknesses? For myself and for you, it's just not worth it. The bottom line is that we're going to die. What happens between here and then is up to us: a life spent worrying or compensating or hiding or scared, or a world of experiences and sensation and people.

So there: a very, very rough draft of my beliefs. Really this whole thing is a poor justification of why I want to learn how to dance like David Bernal (Elsewhere). We now to return to my irregularly-scheduled paint removal and the few sunny days left in the season.


Blogger humble bee said...

you really are a beautiful writer when so inspired.


I'll likely print out a copy so I can make comments in the margins. I'll post my official response later. :)

9:51 PM  
Blogger Waan said...

I skipped over a lot. A LOT. I mean, why not fill the universe with plutonium? What's so bad about global climate change? Why not quit my job tomorrow and go bungee-jumping for the rest of my life? Why not jump on the "no regrets" bandwagon?

That's something I left out: that aetheism shouldn't be used as an excuse for your urges. Or maybe it should. I still haven't enunciated those thoughts in my head clearly enough to put them in to writing.

The part I left out had to do with how this philosophy is simply a lens through which most things can be viewed; it doesn't offer a path, merely a suggestion of meaning for us godless, guideless, spirtually unsettled non-believers.

And I posted it in an internet blog. MAS QUESO, POR FAVOR

10:45 PM  
Blogger humble bee said...

part of what I was thinking about, trying to wrap my head around, when i not-so-jokingly wrote that i would print your post and make notes in the margin was the fact that i have always tried, but never succeeded in writing my down my philosophy of life... or even part of it... I always get stuck in the hipocricy of my own thoughts. the labels, the lack of tangible evidence for any of it, the feeling i have one day that are no longer transferable the next.

there are holes in everyone's philosophy. there are truths in each one. which parts do we tear out and stick in our pockets for later, which do we put in the compost pile??

4:22 PM  
Blogger tortaluga said...

i for one am sick of all the judgemental destruction that has been wrought on our society by godless bungee-jumping extremists.

10:04 AM  
Blogger pasq242 said...

Brilliantly written, as always. I'm always in awe of the structure of your thoughts.

There's a George Carlin bit in which he suggests the idea that mankind exists solely to add a little plastic to the environment. I don't think you can be atheist without de-nobilizing man, which I think a lot of people are reluctant to do. We've been on that kick forever.

Noble or savage, though, it doesn't change the fact that we're here; if anything, it crystalizes the idea that this is all we have and we should make the most of it.

So, as for atheism being an excuse for your urges; it's a matter of what your priorities are. All choice has cost; do I blow off life to bungee? What if I have a wife and kids? Do I care whether or not my choices hurt others?

I think the golden rule is all you need for morality. Notice that we've written a little bit more than that? The letter of the law has been expanded pretty voluminously throughout the history of man. Doesn't say too much about us being inherently good and noble, does it.

In any case, both you and Ms. Bee talk about how your some of your ideas are still unsettled and fluid. I think that's human nature; you're not the same person now that you were five years ago, and you won't be five years from now. You should be constantly changing. If you aren't, you aren't asking yourself hard questions; you aren't challenging yourself. I'm interested to hear what you guys think is still unsettled...

2:17 PM  
Blogger Waan said...

George Carlin's bit had me laughing at work.

Thanks Mikey, I think you pretty much get it. A big part of the reason I haven't taken off for some big travelin' extravaganza is that I know I want to go to graduate school and I know I don't want to be indebted when I graduate, forcing me in to a situation where I have to pay off loans for a gazillion years. I also would like to some day have the flexibility to travel (or even live abroad) as much as possible with my family. That's important to me and I want the flexibility to do it. Unfortunately that doesn't comport too well with my urges to go sprinting straight in to the nearest bushes for a few months of quality berry-nibblin'. That leaves me pretty unsettled. I accept the economic situation we live in because I have to (or haven't figured out an alternate way).

My lengthy, deleted second half to the entire piece dealt with fairness, the Golden Rule, and the social contract. Basically there's an unspoken agreement among people that I closely hew to. (And I use "civility" very broadly.) There are unspoken rules that cross culture and time that bound us all together.

Ah, I'm tired. Maybe I'll think up something more structured later.

10:19 PM  
Blogger humble bee said...

I would like to hear more about this...

9:31 PM  

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