Friday, November 27, 2015

A Tale Told by an Idiot

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 21-28)

(Note the reference to Psalm 90.9, addressing the transience of life: "we spend our years as a tale that is told.")

Yesterday the Thanksgiving paper had a series of "I am thankful for" essays by local folks. Two of them, I noted with interest, refuted Shakespeare, declaring that life is good, and it is not, "a tale told by an idiot" in any way.

I tend to be nihilistic in my thinking, so I related to these lines from Macbeth. I think we are miniscule dots in the annals of time, individually and most likely as a species. In the vastness of the universe, what are we, anyway? Do the stars shining in the sky care if we have wine with dinner?

No. Nor do they care if we lie, cheat, steal, live honorably and with perfection, are wealthy, poor, or anything else. In that great gulf between the earth and all that is above, we are what we are, and little more.

So why then, do we persist in attempting to be more? Children of God. The sentient thoughts of the Universe. The last great creation - obviously so flawed that we must create a god in need of blood sacrifices in order to understand our own existence.

Because ultimately we are our own little gods, each of us - are we not? Standing naked before the mirror, the only consciousness in our house - everything else exists in stasis, and time becomes something we cannot see if we are in that particularly moment. But of course we are unable to live in the moment - we have pasts and futures to think of. We think we are alone in this, that other mammals on the planet do not worry about pasts and futures, though I think perhaps the squirrel hiding nuts for winter might argue that its preparedness for the upcoming snows brings with at least the perception of some kind of forethought, however much one might contemplate that it is all "instinct."

Do we not operate by instinct, too, us humans? Do we not mate, fight, argue, and love with instinctive ardor? Is not our entire economic system based upon who can fight their way to the top, who can be the most bestial, the most ornery, the strongest, the most mean? Is that not why we admire the blowhards who care little for those who suffer?

And then - there it is. The problem - or our salvation. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book The Signature of All Things, labeled it "the Prudence problem" because a character in a fictional book about science and Darwinism was sacrificial. If we are, indeed, instinctive animals, why then do we share our food, feed the homeless, clothe those who need it, and not take our diseased and disfigured children into the wilderness and leave them to die? That is, after all, what the animals do. They discard the runts of the litters.

It is our choice to be humane that makes us human and sets us apart - it is this which makes us godly and sets us apart, makes us more than we are. But it is this choice which I am watching wither away as we become less humane and instead more animal-like. Not because we are worshipping or not worshipping, but because the thing we worship is now a concrete, tiny bauble that we can hold in our hands.

It is greed that has set us back, because now instead of being the insignificant spots we know we are, we think we are more because we have started worshipping this thing we call money. This, our new god, has supplanted all that was and perhaps all that will be, if we don't get a hold of ourselves.

For this reason, we now worship the self-made man, the mongrel who chews and tears his way to the top of the heap, or the well-bred man who has more by mere chance. Not because of our primal instincts - for those instincts can be tamed (the fact that actually makes us humans) - but because we have chosen to give in to those instincts.

Dog-eat-dog worlds beget only misery and madness.

Thus we are where we are, living, indeed, lives that are full of nothingness. I am thankful to be alive - as, I hope, are you, dear reader - but in the end, if our lives do nothing to foster assistance to those around us, are we alive as animals, or alive as humans?

I leave you with that question.

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