So you’ve been wronged, screwed, born upside-down, the world is a pale shade of what it should be, and your own internal development is stagnating and festering like sitting water. You’re not wrong about any of this. The denial of this suffering is impossible in a world where responsibility exists.
Responsibility for oneself implies loss. If you are not responsible for yourself, you will lose yourself, and become a smeared mirage of what you could be, of what you want to be. This is the fate that exists for everybody…potentially.
Every person on this planet could, at any moment, convince themselves that they are doomed. Chaos, at any moment, can emerge from order. The truths that you’ve made for yourself could, with the sheer return of a chaotic memory, a regret, a lasting wound, fault or injury, collapse instantaneously and leave you only with a clasping pool of self-doubt. Order is always susceptible to chaos. Nothing can ever change this fact. No cult, no religion, no ideology, no politics. Your beliefs are always vulnerable. And for thinking people, who base their lives upon their cherished beliefs, your identity is also vulnerable. If you believe nothing, then chaos ferments only in pain. But if you believe in a great many things, then chaos can slip into view through any channel, through a thought you cannot make sense of, that cannot be interpreted in any satisfactory way. These thoughts are infinite. There are, at any given time, an infinite number of debilitating thoughts that if internalized, would destroy your life. This is the chaos of being, and all the structures of yourself, which we call order, exist to maintain life above the sweltering sea of all we cannot face.
With too much order, we become fools. Rigid, cocksure where we ought to be dubious, singular and precise to the point that we lose any sight of others whatsoever. But we are responsible for creating order in our own lives. If our order is passed down to us, or absorbed entirely through our peers, recommended canons, or another person’s structure of order, we become a corollary to their world and both stake our fates on the same mast. This can be beautiful, but in the digital age, too disastrous to hitch one’s being to another. Only in solitude does genuine order emerge, and it is elusive, unknowable until it shows itself, buried beneath the surface, just like chaos.
Good can emerge from evil, and evil can emerge from good. There is no other source possible. Likewise, chaos and order always emerge from one another. Desiring an escape from this process is desiring escape from reality itself. It’s desiring non-being. It’s suicidal depression.
The chaotic self, the shadow, the beast with a thousand names, can never be hacked off from the flesh of the soul and cast in the forgotten heap of history. History itself is the story of this shadow. It must be integrated properly into the self, and each self properly responsible for its own evil is capable only then of facing the world. Responsibility is the only salvation from the all-consuming rationalizations of the shadow, the reasons why you are doomed, why you are not enough, why your life was a mistake. These thoughts are not false! They merely present a choice!
You, at every instant of your existence, are suspended above a chasm of infinite loss or painful and incremental gain. Taking responsibility for that condition is what it means to become a master of life.
Suicide is forfeiting the finite gain of hard-won being for the infinite loss of non-being, and the joy of rejecting chaos and evil forever. Indeed, suicide is the only way to create a world free from these monstrous forces. But it is all freedom from. The freedom to approach is won only through responsibility for the finite gain present in every single situation you face as a human being.
You can convince yourself through perfect logic that infinite loss is the better option. That it simply is not worth it, that the pain is too great. I convince myself of this a thousand times per day. But that does not mean I turn permanently from the sun. I merely take a break, and the vow to return is the only reason to live at all. We all need breaks, of course. No human being can permanently take responsibility for infinite loss at every instant of every day.
But you build momentum. Your soul is imprinted with the weight of your decisions. If every glint of the overpowering sun is met with a turning away, a glancing into shadow, you have made a decision. These decisions accumulate in the slow grind of time that generates finite gain. Forfeiting that potential gain is your own decision, and yours alone. And the truth that we live finally with our own decisions is the most painful of all.
Depression, it must be restated, is a wholly rational state of mind. There is nothing abnormal about it, just as there is nothing abnormal about the presence of evil in the world. But recognize that stating a case and defending your values are two entirely different things. Never rationalize the state of the world or the mind through ‘normalcy’. All horrors are normal. Chaos is the undifferentiated default state, and the logos, the conscious mind, often uses its exceptional reason to reaffirm chaos. This twisting is the source of modern misery in thoughtful people.
So do not justify it! Do not justify depression, even though it is the most rational response to life. Yes, you are a meek thing slimed up from primordial waters, a tar-slicked swamp beast, an atrocity. So be it. If you accept the burden of infinite loss, you commit suicide, and reject the burden of being. To justify depression is to commit suicide. But how do I know that the finite gain is worth it? How do I know that any triumph will come to pass? How do I know that all your striving won’t fall flat? I don’t. No one does, and no one can ever change that fact. Being is all you have, and yet being is the most uncertain thing of all. Choosing to live in spite of that is absolutely heroic, and in itself is a religious venture.
Who is to say that the gain is all finite, anyway? Obviously we have biological limits, our genetic code, our brains, our environment. But we don’t quite understand the upward limitations of triumph and transcendence. We know the basest bottom – suicide, which is the execution of internalized chaos, or murder, which is the execution of externalized chaos. That is how bad it can truly get. But how good can it get? What can a world of people who have taken responsibility for their own monstrosity truly become?
Consciousness is a democracy. On its face, it sounds absurd. But the facets of the self, all our hidden beings, shadows and personas, playful fairies, destructive djinns and utopian statesmen are perpetually vying for the approval of the whole. The whole of the mind is under constant tyrannical threat by the multitude of thoughts within it. Each thought wishes to reign supreme, to establish order in its own image. In a democracy, a true democracy, the process is much the same.
The harmonious mind is an assembly of beings brought together in shared representation. A sorted being where no shadows are oppressed, no monsters denied, but given their rightful place among the constituency. All impulses come together and all impulses dictate the direction of the host, the self, the democratic state. But only in a condition of responsibility. Responsibility for the world inner and outer. The denizens of Earth and spirit in tune.
The striving of humankind is the sorting and integration of all facets of the self toward a productive end. A productive end is the aiming toward finite (or infinite) hard-won inner development in the face of the allure of forfeiting responsibility. It is the project of Nietzsche, Jung and the existentialists alike. It is psychology meets the state.
When we can handle ourselves, the world will follow in that image. But the process of internal handling is the wrangling of a snake that at all times lives amongst you, draped upon your body, inseparable, closer to yourself than even your most coveted dreams.
If the serpent of chaos can become your ally in pursuing those dreams, then you are a master of the world.
A note about Cain:
The mythology of Cain is of course the central motivation for this essay. No story so brief has held such deep and lasting implications for the human spirit. Cain has done his work, has taken responsibility for it, and yet his works have been rejected by God. The very being who made him has told him that he is not enough. This is the ultimate crushing of the concept of responsibility, the evocation of all our deepest terrors that we were simply born wrong, incapable of success, made in a false image. When the striver is struck down, he becomes an avatar of malevolent vengeance against creation itself. When your role in the world is denied, that role becomes toxic, inverted, murderous. We see this everywhere in the world today, from a furious unemployed steelworker in Michigan who voted for Donald Trump, for serious and legitimate reasons of betrayal, or a Muslim youth in France turning to crime, also for serious and legitimate reasons of betrayal. A striver denied becomes a gargoyle. Cain murders Abel, successfully acting out his grudge against the world. How could he not? The world doesn’t want him.
In the modern world, Cain is on the rise. The unemployed, the failed artist, the alienated person, these are all incarnations of Cain, not Abel, who attends Harvard and lives the charmed life. The vast majority of people are Cains, and not Abels. Radical questioning of the world can lead to murderous outrage or dissident beauty.
When the world rejects our striving, we transform ourselves, and become Cain surpassed. A Cain who does not take his rejection out on others is the most powerful being in existence. The one rejected by God, who strives anyway, upon new foundations, in unforeseen and chaotic new ways.
On the contrary, Abel is the stagnation of a world rapidly vanishing, the world where economic success is promised in reward for hard work.
Cain is the pathway to something new, if he can manage his murderous shadow.
In our world, torn by the massive roiling infrastructures of technology and spectacle beyond our control, the world of those who can walk upon chaos is seemingly our only possible future. Those rejected by God understand most the truth of the splintering world.
Let us hope that that truth does not scorch them, and render them beasts of hatred who cheer destruction.
Or better yet, let us write of them as the future, whatever they become.
A note about responsibility:
Does life have value? The asking of the question is the admittance of a disease. Life is the only thing there is. Does matter have value over a void? Read my essay “Words for the Times” for my true treatment of this issue. But of course, the answer is yes. The problem is that its burdens are so great that death, in many cases, seems preferable.
The world is exploding with value. Nihilism is ignorance. But most intelligent nihilists become who they are because they cannot engage with value without asserting themselves over it. They cannot take others, and the world, as they are, and without a grand theory of everything, they lapse into rejection of all the world and its pieces. Narcissism!
You have a choice between suicide and life. But if you are serious, you may only choose life. If you reject life, you reject the very thoughts that led you to your present condition. You choose the roiling waters of the deep before the word of God parted them and made of them alienation, outcasts, and sense.
If you are reading these words, you already know too much. Do not pretend that your truth is worth destroying. It is in fact more true than any church has thus far found. And it will lead you to a place, if you can handle it. Where is this place? We do not know. But still, we are responsible for it, just as we are responsible for the unconscious whispering of our innermost dreaming mind.
Both places are equally distant, in that they are omnipresent, and nowhere.
So take responsibility for the ground beneath your feet, and start walking.
If you are in chaos and do not know where to begin, approach the monster within. Voyage into the underworld, face your slime and dogma head-on. And after that, if you still lack direction, plunge into the depths of hell again, and again, until you fight your way out with a new and beautiful gem worthy of expression.
“You only live twice…
One life for yourself, and one for your dreams”
-Nancy Sinatra, You Only Live Twice