In Pursuit of The Authentic Life, or Not

Guy McPherson

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“When we recognize patriarchy and its impacts, where does that leave those of us pursuing authenticity? Indeed, attempting to conduct an authentic life in a culture dominated by patriarchy and engendering destruction is analogous to pursuing meaning in an uncaring universe. Does authenticity have meaning in such a universe? Is authenticity a desirable goal, if goals are merely cogs in the machine of a culture run amok? Is authenticity another stumbling block on the road to happiness? Is authenticity yet another piece of propaganda promoted by the thieves and liars pulling the levers of civilization to trap decent people into lives of service? Do we ultimately and perhaps unwittingly serve civilization, hence omnicide, when attempting to serve humanity?”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Guy McPherson

“Passport Photo,” 1953, by Saul Steinberg. Fingerprint on paper. Originally published in “Steinberg, The Passport,” 1954

“Passport Photo,” 1953, by Saul Steinberg. Fingerprint on paper. Originally published in “Steinberg, The Passport,” 1954

Guy McPherson

SAN ANTONIO Belize—(Weekly Hubris)—February 2018—I’m often accused—or credited, depending on one’s perspective—of leading an authentic life. As nearly as I can tell, the accusation or accolade refers to the following definition from Merriam and Webster: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

Fundamentally, aren’t we all true to our personality, spirit, and character? How could we act otherwise, in the absence of multiple personalities? I have concluded that we’ve been captured by the culture in which we’re immersed. We are unable to escape without killing ourselves, and yet the culture is killing us.

We’re six millennia into the culture of Abrahamic religions. We’re more than two millennia into western civilization and the six questions of Socrates: 1) What is good? 2) What is piety? 3) What is virtue? 4) What is courage? 5) What is moderation? 6) What is justice?

Furthermore, every person reading these words is a product of an industrial civilization that depends upon expansive use of fossil fuels.

Is this the only way to live? Is this the best way to live? Do our hyper-connected, high-tech lives lead us along paths of excellence, in the spirit of Socrates?

This culture is steeped in patriarchy and depends upon violence for its continuation. Is it safe to assume this culture is the ultimate expression of our humanity? Is it safe to assume that this culture is the best we can do simply because this culture is the only one we have known? Is it safe to assume there is no other way beyond the hierarchical omnicide we’ve come to depend upon for money, water, food, and personal identity?

Questioning this culture and its underlying assumptions follows the model promoted and popularized by Socrates. Answering his questions requires one to step outside the normalcy bias and profound enculturation of the way we live. Asking challenging questions, much less answering them, requires enormous courage when the questions themselves refuse to validate, much less approve, this irredeemably corrupt system.

I do not claim to know the answers to these questions. I’m not certain they have answers independent of the person pondering them and his or her personal experiences. I nevertheless believe it is important to ask the questions and develop personal responses to them. As a result, I will tackle these and related questions here, questions which, for the most part, culture discourages us from asking, much less answering.

Mark Vonnegut, MD, and his son, Oliver.

Mark Vonnegut, MD, and his son, Oliver.

Questions, Questions & More Questions

Throughout our lives, we spend considerable time seeking feedback from people and institutions, but the feedback we seek generally falls within a small subset of important issues. Furthermore, I question the wisdom of seeking validation, much less approval, within the realm of an irredeemably corrupt system.

Some of us seek to conduct meaningful lives. However, the universe imposes upon us a meaningless existence. There is no meaning beyond the meaning(s) we create. In attempting to create meaning, which often involves attempts to outrun our mortality, we generate distractions. We occasionally call them objectives, goals, or acts of service to others. And the result we see as our legacy.

Yet it’s too late to leave a better world for future generations of humans. The concept of leaving a legacy becomes moot when staring into the abyss of near-term human extinction. What, then, is the point? Are we, in the words of English poet Frances Cornford, “magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life”?

As we seek feedback about the conduct of our lives, we simultaneously seek distractions. The distractions include the movies we watch, the books we read, the trips we take, the discussions in which we engage. The line blurs between distractions and authentic work until we are defined by the combination. The totality becomes who we are. The nature of our distractions is what makes us human, in the sense of differentiating us from other primates. Non-human primates don’t read books, much less discuss them. Such distractions do not enable our survival and, in that sense, are not “necessities” (cf. food, water, shelter). However, they are not necessarily “luxuries,” either. Apparently, there are shades of existential grey.

Shades of Grey

Shades of existential grey are evident in our pursuit of meaningful lives. How do we differentiate between necessity and luxury? How do we distinguish what we want from what we need? And are these distinctions important?

When I began the ongoing process of walking away from the omnicide of industrial civilization, I felt I had no choice. My inner voice overrode outer culture. I have subsequently come to realize that most people born into this set of living arrangements are literally and figuratively incapable of making a similar choice. Distinguishing between needs and wants, between necessity and luxury, is hardly clear.

Occasionally, we turn to wise elders in our attempts to infuse our lives with meaning. Kurt Vonnegut often wrote, in response to the question about meaning, that we’re here to fart around. His son Mark, between the loony bin and Harvard Medical School, responded to the question, “Why are we here?” with the following comment: “We are here to help each other through this, whatever this is.”

I love Mark Vonnegut’s response, but it fails to acknowledge that service to others is important and it’s a trap. Service to others is no longer virtuous when the entrapment includes self-inflicted harm (including emotional or psychological suffering).

As the Buddha pointed out more than two millennia ago, life is suffering. Do we have an obligation to minimize suffering? Does that obligation extend to our individual selves, as well as to other humans? Does it extend to non-human species?

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously defined happiness as the alleviation of suffering, implying that it was a temporary condition. The pursuit of happiness—from Schopenhauer’s perspective, the alleviation of suffering—is a right guaranteed by the founding document of the United States, but I’ve no idea why it’s guaranteed or if it stops at the alleviation of suffering. If the alleviation of suffering qualifies as happiness, then it seems wearing shoes that are two sizes too small is a great strategy for producing happiness, if only at the end of the day when the shoes are removed from one’s feet.

If happiness goes beyond the alleviation of suffering, perhaps it includes joy. But the notion of such an idea drags into the discussion the notion of documentation, hence measurement. How do we measure joy? Is it the same as the bliss produced by ignorance? How do we know when we’ve stumbled upon it? And if joy is meritorious, even at the expense of suffering by another, how do we balance the existential books? 

Consider, for example, a single example for the Abrahamic religions (aka patriarchy): marriage. Do we have an obligation to minimize the pain when a monogamous relationship becomes personally painful, or even a matter of indifference (i.e., lacking daily joy)? Contemporary culture suggests we muddle through, in sickness and health, until death. And then, the ultimate personal endpoint solves the problem of suffering.

“Socrates and Philosophy,” by Antonio Canova (1757-1822).

“Socrates and Philosophy,” by Antonio Canova (1757-1822).

The Cost of Happiness

If happiness is a goal, and if that happiness extends beyond the mere alleviation of suffering, how do we evaluate happiness? If our own happiness comes at the expense of another, how do we justify our gain? Equally important, but rarely considered, is the converse question: If our suffering brings happiness to another, how do we justify the personal pain? Is our own suffering less important than that of another?

How do we minimize suffering? Is such a quest restricted to humans, or are other organisms included? What is the temporal frame of the quest? Does it extend beyond the moment, perhaps to months or years? Does it extend beyond the personal to include other individuals?

We could minimize suffering to humans and other animals by playing solitaire in the woods. But even that seemingly humble act takes life. Tacking on the seemingly simple acquisition of water, food, clothing, and shelter for a single human being in the industrialized world brings horrific suffering to humans and other animals. Attending to the needs of the 7.5 billion humans currently inhabiting Earth comes at tremendous cost to the water, soils, and non-human species on the planet. Contemplating the desires of an increasing number of people on an overpopulated globe is enough to drive a thinking person to despair.

There is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure, and yet the Greek word for “pleasure” forms the root of the English word “hedonism.” According to my pals Merriam and Webster, hedonism propounds that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. When stated in this manner, pleasure seems to have taken a step too far. But drawing the line between personal pleasure and hedonism is no mean feat. Less often considered is the line we draw between personal suffering and the attendant happiness of others.

But, lest we take that step too far, we should remember that the idea of hedonism some 2,500 years ago, when Socrates was haunting the Agora, was a bit different than the idea today. Back then, humans comprised a tiny drop in the large bucket known as Earth. The quest for personal pleasure and happiness at that time would have had essentially zero impact on the natural world relative to the impact of today’s quest for gratification by 7.5 billion people on an this ever-shrinking and ever-depleted orb.

When my happiness requires the suffering of another, is my happiness warranted? When the pleasure of another requires my suffering, is the suffering warranted? Does failing to contemplate questions about our needs and desires commit us to nihilism? Does living within the Age of Industry, hence participating in untold horrors to humans and other organisms, violate the Socratic notion of good?

Countries where the US has a military presence, c. 2015. (Image: Quartz.)

Countries where the US has a military presence, c. 2015. (Image: Quartz.)

What about Empire?

American Empire is merely the most lethal manifestation of industrial civilization, hence any civilization. Because this culture is inextricably interconnected with this civilization, I have concluded that contemporary culture is worthy of our individual and collective condemnation. Walking away from empire is necessary but insufficient to terminate this horrific culture.

As nearly as I can determine, maintaining American Empire—or any empire, for that matter—requires acceptance of three prerequisites: obedience at home, oppression abroad, and destruction of the living planet. Unpacking these three attributes seems a worthy exercise, even acknowledging Voltaire’s observation: “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

Obedience at home means capitulating to culture and the government. It means abandoning a culture of resistance in favor of the nanny state. It means allowing the government to control the people instead of the other way around. It means giving up responsibility for oneself and one’s neighbors and expecting the government to deal with all issues. Considering the excellent record of the government in transferring wealth from the poor to the rich while promoting an economy rooted in war, I’ve no idea why the people with whom I interact are fans of this government.

Oppression abroad is obvious to anybody paying attention to American foreign policy over the last hundred years. The government of the United States of Absurdity extracts taxes from the citizenry to build the most lethal killing force in the history of the world. This military, supported by cultural messages and, therefore, most of the consumer-oriented citizenry, is then used to extract materials such as fossil fuels from other countries. The resulting “riches” enjoyed by Americans serve to pacify the masses, embolden the government, and enrich the corporations that exert strong influence over both the media and the government.

Destruction of the living planet is imperative if we are to support seven billion people, many of whom want “their” baubles. Are we not entitled to transport ourselves around the world, dine at fancy restaurants for a few hours’ work at minimum wage, entertain ourselves with music and movies, and all the rest on an essentially limitless list? Where do the materials originate for each of these endeavors? Are we so filled with hubris that we believe that driving dozens of species to extinction every day is our right? Do we lack the humility—and even the conscience—to treat non-human species with respect?

Each of these three broadly imagined prerequisites serves a subset of humans at the expense of others. Although obedience to culture prevents us from being viewed as “odd” to our straitjacketed acquaintances, it also serves the oppressors. Giving up on radicalism— i.e. getting to the root—fails to serve our needs while lessening our humanity. But it nicely serves those who pull the levers of industry.

Perhaps it is time we heed the words of deceased American social critic Christopher Hitchens: “To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.”

The Cuyahoga River, once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States, caught fire a total of 13 times, dating back to 1868. (Photo: Cleveland State University Library.)

The Cuyahoga River, once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States, caught fire a total of 13 times, dating back to 1868. (Photo: Cleveland State University Library.)

Imperialism has Consequences

The US Constitution and Bill of Rights are bobbing along the same waves as social justice and environmental protection, sold down the river by a nation addicted to growth for the sake of growth (the ideology of a cancer cell, according to desert anarchist Edward Abbey). Indeed, it seems very little matters to the typical American beyond economic growth. And for that, most importantly, we need an uninterrupted supply of crude oil. We need the Carter Doctrine—the world’s oil belongs to us—and an unhealthy dose of faux patriotism.

Our lives are imbued with faux patriotism. We are manipulated by the war-loving corporate media and the war-loving politicians that, unsurprisingly, are enriched by war. We support the troops that bring us the baubles we’re convinced we deserve, and we rarely question the real, underlying costs of those baubles.

Support the troops. It’s the rallying cry of an entire nation. It’s the slogan pasted on many of the bumpers in the United States.

Supporting the troops is pledging your support for the empire. Supporting the troops supports the occupation of sovereign nations because might makes right. Supporting the troops supports wanton murder of women and children throughout the world. And men, too. Supporting the troops supports obedience at home and oppression abroad. Supporting the troops throws away every ideal on which this country allegedly was founded. Supporting the troops supports the ongoing destruction of the living planet in the name of economic growth. Supporting the troops therefore hastens our extinction in exchange for a few dollars. Supporting the troops means caving in to Woodrow Wilson’s neo-liberal agenda, albeit cloaked as contemporary neo-conservatism (cf. hope and change). Supporting the troops trumpets power as freedom and fascism as democracy.

I’m not suggesting that the young people recruited into the military are at fault. Victims of civilization and a lifetime of cultural programming—like me and, perhaps, you—they’re looking for job security during a period of economic contraction. The entire process is working great for the oppressors pulling the levers of industry.

Perhaps most importantly, supporting the troops means giving up on resistance. Resistance is all we have, and all we’ve ever had. We say we’re mad as hell and we claim we’re not going to take it anymore. But, sadly, we gave up on resistance of any kind years ago. 

We act as though America’s cultural revolution never happened. We act as though we never questioned the dominant paradigm in an empire run amok, as if we never experienced Woodstock and the Summer of Love, bra-burning hippies and war-torn teenagers, Rosa Parks and the Cuyahoga River. We’re right back in the 1950s, swimming in culture’s main stream instead of questioning, resisting, and protesting.

We’ve moved from the unquestioning automatons of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell to the firebrands of a radical counter-cultural worldview and back again. A generational sea change swept us from post-war “liberators” drunk on early 1950s propaganda to revolutionaries willing to take risks in defense of late 1960s ideals. The revolution gained steam through the 1970s, but lost its way when the US industrial economy hit the speed bump of domestic peak oil. The Carter Doctrine coupled with Ronald Reagan’s soothing pack of lies comprised the perfect background music for our complacent middle age, so we abandoned the noble ideals of earlier days for another dose of palliative propaganda. Nearly four decades later, we’ve swallowed so much Soma that we couldn’t find a hint of revolution in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

In short, the pillars of social justice and environmental protection rose from the cesspool of ignorance to become shining lights for an entire generation. And then we let them fall back into the swamp. The very notion that others matter—much less that those others are worth fighting for—has been relegated to the dustbin of history.

A line from Eugene Debs, five-time candidate of the Socialist party for US president, comes to mind: “[W]hile there is a lower class I am in it, while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

I don’t harbor any illusions about my freedom. I was born and raised in Police State America.

When we recognize patriarchy and its impacts, where does that leave those of us pursuing authenticity? Indeed, attempting to conduct an authentic life in a culture dominated by patriarchy and engendering destruction is analogous to pursuing meaning in an uncaring universe. Does authenticity have meaning in such a universe? Is authenticity a desirable goal, if goals are merely cogs in the machine of a culture run amok? Is authenticity another stumbling block on the road to happiness? Is authenticity yet another piece of propaganda promoted by the thieves and liars pulling the levers of civilization to trap decent people into lives of service? Do we ultimately and perhaps unwittingly serve civilization, hence omnicide, when attempting to serve humanity?

Ernest Hemingway, in old age.

Ernest Hemingway, in old age.

Imperial Illusions

Ultimately, I wonder why any of us bothers trying to be a good person. As Ernest Hemingway indicated: “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”

Vulnerability isn’t so bad. But few knowingly bring on their own destruction. Instead, I suspect most humans—even those who consider themselves good—actually benefit from and even promote contemporary culture, the problems with which are legion.

Do good people promote patriarchy? Do they pursue and promote the exclusive notions of marriage and monogamy even while knowing these ideas are steeped in the patriarchy of a culture gone seriously awry? Marriage and monogamy are obligations of empire rather than outcomes of natural law, and they are hardly the only ways to live. Instead of abiding and supporting imperialism, shall good people attempt to reduce or eliminate patriarchy, hence civilization, one act at a time?

When we recognize patriarchy and its impacts, where does that leave those of us pursuing authenticity? Indeed, attempting to conduct an authentic life in a culture dominated by patriarchy and engendering destruction is analogous to pursuing meaning in an uncaring universe. Does authenticity have meaning in such a universe? Is authenticity a desirable goal, if goals are merely cogs in the machine of a culture run amok? Is authenticity another stumbling block on the road to happiness? Is authenticity yet another piece of propaganda promoted by the thieves and liars pulling the levers of civilization to trap decent people into lives of service? Do we ultimately and perhaps unwittingly serve civilization, hence omnicide, when attempting to serve humanity?

If a life of service is a trap, why step into the trap? In avoiding the trap are we embracing nihilism, “a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless”? And, if so, does the embrace constitute a pact with the proverbial devil?

As individuals and a society, have we become so broken we cannot pursue the truth about ourselves and our culture? Have we become so marginalized, demoralized, and humiliated by this insane culture that we are no longer able to rise up against cultural insanity?

In closing here, all I can do, but what I am compelled to do, at present, is append my own questions to those of Socrates: the dialogue continues.

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Guy McPherson

About Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson is an internationally recognized speaker, award-winning scientist, and one of the world’s leading authorities on abrupt climate change leading to near-term human extinction. He is professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he taught and conducted research for 20 years. His published works include 14 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. Dr. McPherson has been featured on television and radio and in several documentary films. He is a blogger and social critic who co-host his own radio show, “Nature Bats Last.” Dr. McPherson speaks to general audiences across the globe, and to scientists, students, educators, and not-for-profit and business leaders who seek their best available options when confronting Earth’s cataclysmic changes.
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28 Responses to In Pursuit of The Authentic Life, or Not

  1. Robert Schick says:

    Thank you Guy. Thank you, from the composer of the operath ‘Sphere’. Listen for it in the near term future, assuming there is one.

  2. Will says:

    Authenticity is the cherished quality, recognized and celebrated when we find it in others. Sometimes it seems the inward search for the authentic in oneself is the path to inauthenticity.
    If Socrates’ view of the unexamined life can be expanded to measure the “life” of an entire species, then perhaps our species’ reluctance to assess itself should diminish our chorus of lamentation about our impending fate.

  3. izzy says:

    Well, the “Universe” – a term that encompasses so much it is literally beyond comprehension – might not have an ultimate meaning, but our own life and actions certainly have meaning for ourselves. Which might suggest psycho-spiritual components to existence not easily grasped by the reductionist scientific approach. Sometimes the questions get so big they are functionally unanswerable from within the experience. Paring them down to personal size might be the only practical way to address these topics. Which can still be a challenge when one is lost in a miasma of propaganda and preconditioning.

    And the local collective prognosis is, at this time, exceedingly grim.

  4. Jef says:

    Great one Guy, thanks!
    It was over for me after watching Paula Zahn interview “Mad Maddie” Albright when Paula said ” over 500,000 Iraqi children have died due to harsh sanctions. Was it worth it?”. Madds replied “it was tough but yes we feel it was worth it”. What she said was that it had to be done to “protect Americas interests”. The logic struck we to the core. I decided then and there that I would make every effort to step away from this entity that required millions of innocent women and children to suffer horribly and die in the worst possible ways in order to thrive. I too am baffled that others are willing, even enthusiastically, to support this nation of death and destruction.

    I have become a pariah to those who know me, both family and friends ridicule and pity me. Those with whom I shared a brief period of camaraderie with in the run-up to the Peak Oil and AGW awareness effort are all now convinced that nothing will happen and the best focus for their efforts is to “become more productive, get on with their careers, and make some bank”.

    I still find great comfort in nature although it is bittersweet in knowing what is happening to it all. Through all of this I often find it getting easier for me to love, I feel waves of affection pouring out of me at times and revel in it. However I am finding it ever more difficult to make myself lovable. Not that I am mean spirited or nasty but just that what I got is not all that lovable I guess. That and I am increasingly unwilling to compromise myself to become what others obviously want to see from me to be “lovable” to them. Humans have that instinct to withhold affection at times if they think they can gain something. Nature still feeds me though in more ways than one, even when she slaps me upside the head on occasion it doesn’t feel malicious.

    Still hanging in there waiting for the part of the ride where we breach the apex, throw our hands up in the air and scream in fear and delight.

  5. Angel says:

    Exquisitely painful humble pie. Thank you. I’m the one who brings the vagabond at the grocery intersection a deli sandwich. I don’t care if he spends my dollar on beer. We help others because we have a conscience, a sense of moral duty and a sense of guilt if we turn away. It may or may not cause or eliviate our own pain but it’s what drives us nonetheless. The way I see it, that’s what makes us spiritual beings. Taking care of each other is what makes living in this insane asylum bearable.

    So, keep writing.

  6. Jef says:

    Funny thing is that no one ever confronts me directly, stands up to me and lays out an opposing view with factual references and logic. Its all quips, jabs, and innuendo.

    This is because IMHO they know there is a good chance I am right. I was right in warning friends and family about the dot-com bubble at the top. Many got out and saved big money, some didn’t. I was right in calling the top of the housing bubble, most of my family sold off with 2 to 3 times profit, some lost millions. I called the peak oil crash of 2007/8 which most now just call it an economic event. My family and friends were getting pretty tired of me talking about how bad things were getting by then and I became pretty much ignored and they all became invested in the mainstream media version of reality after that point.

    I have some very smart, capable, progressive people in my circle of friends and family and part of me wishes someone would step up and challenge me on the issues, start a debate, maybe even make me see how wrong I am on something. But Noooooooo, I just get the cold shoulder or shunned entirely.

    I have learned that there is nothing to be gained in standing in the way of their self pleasuring activities and everything to lose so I just fade into the background and only interject in moderation and without malice hoping for some sign of enlightenment from any quarter.

    Cheers!
    Jef

  7. Thanks to each of you, Robert, Will, Jef, izzy, and Angel. I greatly appreciate your contributions to the discussion few are willing to have.

  8. Pierre BERODE says:

    Anarchiste et Éco-terroriste ? … Ma foi ce sont là des qualités qui me conviennent bien. Des qualités qui devraient permettre aux Femmes et aux hommes de demain de remettre en route de nouveaux systèmes collaboratifs sociétaux, si le réchauffement des températures Nous en laisse le temps. Je suis heureux de Te connaître Guy McPherson

  9. Todd Anxious says:

    Dear Jef,

    I would like to point out that a lot of innocent people lost homes, money, etc during the boom/bust periods. There are millions who lost due to lack of financial awareness, some being conned into taking out mortgages they couldn’t afford, being advised by “professionals” and lured into shares and other investments, which went pear-shape later on.
    It sounds to me like you and your lot are not better.
    Enjoy the ride.
    Pffff

  10. Lucita Miller says:

    Thank you, sir! Brilliant thought provoking piece from a beautiful mind by an old brave soul.
    This vampire Empire, with NO accountability & NO authenticity, controlled by patriarchal “organized crime”, fosters a violent psychopathic cancerous war mentality within an oppressed suicidal cult.
    NO AUTHENTICITY. FAKE news, FAKE history (rewritten), FAKE money (FRS debt notes), FAKE news, FAKE social media, FAKE wars against FAKE enemies, FAKE vaccines, FAKE food GMO seeds, FAKE weather (Geo-engineering, Solar Radiation Mgmt). Psychotronic EM patriarchal control grip on society. Patriarchal Social & Technical Engineering courtesy of patriarchal Langley VA and partner bankster corporations. Empathy, care and values are on decline in this non-sensory virtual culture of dumbed down beings in this synthetic matrix of illusions.

  11. Jef says:

    Todd – I have made these bubbelicious prophesies from the gutter. I have only escaped complete and total ruin by the skin of my… teeth. I have nothing or less than nothing if you ask my family. I more than anyone I know understand the loss others have and still suffer and suffer with them because I choose to. I get more out of feeling compassion than I do feeling envy. What a concept eh!

  12. Maya says:

    Sartre said that one was cursed to be individual I see a direct link to authenticity and the way one is treated when that lonely onanistic path is chosen my soon to be 4 year old granddaughter knows the sun rises in the east and sets in the west she knows orion and alderbran and we plant food in the spring she is kind because I’m kind to her I’m not an altruist and am pain avoidant so I won’t smash my head on the bricks of thus current paradigm but being kind doesn’t hurt me even when it’s inconvenient I don’t believe I will change this *thing* we of the sensitive mind are experiencing but I am relieved that I no longer care for me it seems it makes kindness even easier thank you for your honesty and brutality

  13. Pierre, Todd, Lucita, Jef, and Maya,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. You’ve made my day.

  14. Bob says:

    When I was in my early teens, I came to the realization that I had no interest in having children. Being an only child, I let my mother know she wasn’t going to become a grandparent. Being honest wasn’t my motivation; this was my way of teasing her. As expected, she expressed her mild disappointment and doubted that I’d go on to never have children. After all, most people do start families.

    By my late teens I concluded there was little chance that I would end up in a romantic relationship. I was more comfortable being alone and enjoyed the peaceful quietness of solitude. Being in a library or wandering through nature was more appealing to me than the noise and bustle of social interaction. Loneliness was a concept that I understood but never experienced.

    In my late teens I assumed I would remain single and devote my energy towards career and hobbies. I assumed I would discover my passion, as in what I love to do for a living. I may have been unconventional in terms of personal relationships, but that did not extend to the concept of work. I didn’t want to be a burden on society. I believed that contributing to your community by working was both necessary and a virtue.

    I never found my passion. It turned out that having no interest in relationships can extend to having no interest in anything. Curiosity allows me to explore a wide variety of topics, but never to the level of expertise. There were a number of career paths that seemed logical, in terms of having the aptitude, but I lacked the drive and motivation to want to enter a field full time. I enjoyed computer programming, but the thought of having to write code for hours on end did not appeal to me. When I code, it’s when I’m in the mood to do so, and on problems that interest me. The activities I spend time on barely qualify as hobbies.

    I worked a few jobs that I disliked through sheer force of will, but lost my discipline as I grew older. I quit working and began living on savings alone. I returned to school to study several vocations, but never followed through on those opportunities. I just wasn’t that interested in X or in the work culture that surrounds it. Searching for work is a social activity I dislike.

    Jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none is a good descriptor of what I’ve become. My dominant emotion with regard to living is apathy. Because I was diagnosed with a personality disorder, I’m considered disabled through no fault of my own. I don’t dispute this, it’s not something I’d planned or was aware of.

    What I’ve learned from my experience is that “passion” is a natural and crucial part of life. Without it, life becomes bland and subjectively meaningless. I have no goals, nor the motivation to pursue them. My needs are physiological (food, water, shelter) and psychological (solitude). As long as these are met, I do not get depressed or suffer. I don’t possess the subjective wants that most people take for granted, like raising a family or pursuing a career. As a consequence, they aren’t part of my identity. I had assumed that ‘doing what I love’ would reveal itself to me, but I was mistaken. Society could not inculcate what only I could provide. If I had been born in a third world country, I would be a different person or I would’ve perished.

    You are what you do. I do very little.

    The desire to work and raise a family is a behavior. This is what individuals do in order to survive and perpetuate their species. Arguably, it doesn’t require introspection. When a species is social, another set of behaviors kicks in, which requires rule-making. You have spoken of this in terms of anarchism. When a species is organized into a civilization, institutional behaviors become apparent and their effect upon the populace and the environment scales accordingly. Unfortunately, managing a civilization requires contingency planning and ‘big picture’ thinking, along with a host of behavior modifications for which we have proven ourselves deficient. At this scale, homo sapiens is about as sapient as a swarm of locusts.

    My conclusion is that authentic life is a mix of beauty and horror, joy and sorrow. An individual is unlikely to be aware of what is experienced by others, let alone the experiences of all forms of life. So it is perhaps inevitable that individual lives fall short of what is possible. Education may help, or conversations like this one, but there are 7.5 billion people leading busy lives. They are the norm. Their lives are as authentic as those who are exceptions to the rule.

  15. HG says:

    Thank you Guy, and commenters, for your thoughtful contributions. That is a lot of intense thinking to process…Now, to get mildly quarrelsome, lol.

    To me, “we are what we do” is part of the prevailing ethos of Western culture; so I personally would disagree with Bob that we are, solely, what we do.

    Learning how to “be”, in a quasi-Buddhist sense, has been a very important part of the past few years for me. Perhaps more to the point, I believe that when we prioritize only the busy and “productive” external effects of a person (whether those are social, economic, or artistic; even environmental) to the exclusion of all else as “not real”, we erase something vital but intangible about what it means to be a human creature. Material effects are also vital, of course; but they are not all of who we are.

    I will also cop to disagreeing with Guy that existence is inherently meaningless (at least, not inherently meaningless without any doubt lol.) This seems, like emphasis on external actions only, to be a trace of strict, reductive materialism (which itself has a significant patriarchal inflection – if I am boiling down a lot of history-of-science accurately!) It is likely impossible to fully free ourselves from the cultures within which we were raised, Western or otherwise; but if we are to resist a culture of obedience in the face of omnicide, I think it is important to remember that thinking of existence as inherently meaningless often serves the dominant culture quite well.

    Reality is full of paradoxes. Is it possible that different and contradictory meanings, revealed through the minds of different people and/or at different times, can all be “discoveries” inherent to the universe, rather than “projections”, without canceling or negating one another? It’s also worth recalling that the nature of reality (ie the universe, and consciousness itself) is at heart an irreducible, unsolvable mystery.

    A life of service can certainly be a trap, if you conceptualize this as the *only* good. However, most people who prioritize service to others do not have to do so at the cost of all else. There are many complex shades of gray. There’s gotta be a “sweet spot”, for people who take joy in helping others, so that service is possible without sacrificing self-care and self-interest.

    …I dunno; I just really bristle at the temptation, so to speak, towards nihilism, even under the definition provided by Guy. If one runs in millennial circles, this type of nihilism is actually already a big part of the prevailing mainstream culture in the United States of the Internet; I frankly have to ask whether obedience and omnicide are not among its beneficiaries.

  16. dave thompson says:

    Guy,Thanks for all your hard work and efforts. My life I lived the lazy mans dream, because being lazy always pays off now.

  17. Thank you, Bob, HG, and dave. Your thoughtfulness shines through.

  18. Right on partner…, write on.

  19. Angel says:

    Bob,
    What you wrote is so real and so moving. Thank you. I’m sure you speak for millions of people who just do not have the stomach to participate in a culture so empty of life. You may be diagnosed with a disorder according to the DSM but that’s only because it was written for the pharmaceutical cartel. Stay sane and never change.

  20. Thank you, Scott, my longtime friend. And also Angel for recognizing genius.

  21. Tim says:

    Service to others is no longer virtuous when the entrapment includes self-inflicted harm (including emotional or psychological suffering).

    Guy, do you mean from your own perspective or as a general rule? I often see self-inflicted harm as a reinforcer to the intoxicating master-slave relationship. Perhaps even considered a great virtue by some. Whether that be to one’s religion, partner, or country, etc.

    Perhaps this is also the kernel of Stockholme Syndrome?

    I can’t help but think of the lyrics:

    Everybody’s looking for something.
    Some of them want to use you
    Some of them want to get used by you
    Some of them want to abuse you
    Some of them want to be abused.

  22. Tim, I’m referring to the general notion. I’ve no such personal experience.

  23. Angel says:

    Tim,
    I’m stuck on Guys words, “obedience to culture” – I feel like to some degree we are all slaves of industrial civilization. You can have it all, and still long for something else. Something free. Something sacred. There are few places in our lives that haven’t been captured by culture. I feel like we were sprouted out of corporate greed, and now they are hoping we blame each other instead of them. We are oppressed, because we can’t revolt, except individually, in symbolic ways. I think we should do what we can in these shackles, and stop beating ourselves up for what we can’t. I wish everyone good luck.

  24. I couldn’t agree more, Angel. We were born into captivity and the cultural shackles are extreme. Yet there’s no reason to accept our endlavement.

  25. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    As one of Guy’s “editors,” I am one of those who “reads him first.” I discovered him virtually, and we have never met analogly, and yet I knew him as kinfolk from the first. Guy, you are one of the fragments of greater consciousness–I believe you rarely, if ever, go unconscious–that walks outside my body, and I feel some guilt presuming upon you to stay awake, by the dying fire, while we others, tired, nap. You are tired as well, but you maintain your vigil. I grew up in several cultures, and claim none. I also grew up not truly in a family, as defined by cultures: my parents were always, to me, to them, other individuals. We all just happened to live together. So . . . facing the enormous darkness Homo sapiens has engineered, I am–oddly–not searching for a stance; a role; another job description. I am somewhat conscious, and that is the very best I can do, though I don’t actually “grade” my stance as on a continuum of merit. It’s all I can do; all I can muster. It’s as though, faced with this extinction, the best I can do is say, “Oh!” Or: “Oh, and you’re here, too.” I’m grateful in no other-directed way for this. Guy, you cannot be The Catcher in The Rye. All, all is rye now, and there is no catching possible. But . . . you have company here. Best we can do: accompany you, and stay awake, mostly. xoxoxoxo

  26. Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for all you do

  27. Glen Osborne says:

    Hello Guy, excellent brain food. As you know I chose to step out, although it is only possible inside of your mind, therefore you must be able to accept your cultural oddities and embrace objectivity. A full response to this essay would take considerable time, so I will comment on what jumps out at me. Your use of the word bias seems appropriate. I take it you mean duplicity or dichotomy. My journey of self de-conditioning, years of self reflection and investigation, have brought me to the conclusion that everything has a positive or a useful component. As we can see everyone has an entirely unique personality that sees words in their own light, even you must have a vision as you place your thoughts upon the screen. Yes you do choose your words to present a crisp and bright appearance. I do not disagree with your statements, far from it, as they clearly state the obvious. The main observation, or opinion if you prefer, is that I would say “ All processes, whether they be physical or mental, will have an effect upon the human being. If the human being can stay calm and objective then all situations will become at least part of their journey of gaining knowledge. “ If we can agree that bulk or gross information is not necessarily knowledge. I personally think that knowledge is the most valuable thing in the universe, seeing as we could not have one without it. I have been working on the words Process/Possession, but I will definitely be looking at authenticity. Cheers and saludations to you and Pauline over there in San Antonio. Sincerely Glen

  28. Guy McPherson says:

    Good points, Glen. We don’t know all we believe we know, and biases abound. How to remove the scales from our own eyes, if we can’t admit they exist?

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