Prisoner-labourers in a typical African open pit mine, many of whom will “end up in shallow graves, executed for suspected theft, for lack of production, or simply for sport”
(photo by Jean-Claude Coutausse/ CONTACT Press Images)
For several years I’ve been touting what I call Pollard’s Law, which I think largely dictates what humans do, and don’t do, regardless of what they think, believe and intend:
This has nothing to do with laziness. This is human and animal nature, engrained in our DNA. We are preoccupied with the needs of the moment, and when there are none, we rest, we play. It’s a billion-year-old survival strategy.
My British friend Nick has written about the importance of letting go of our beliefs, fears, hopes, desires, ambitions, assumptions, anxieties, plans, distractions, stories about the past and future, stories about who we are and are not, and about what is happening and should be happening in the world, our reactions, anger, despair, grief, preconceptions, concerns about what others think, illusions about control, and judgements. Much of what we think we must do is driven by these fictions we can’t let go of, and if we can let go of these things then we may start to realize other things, perhaps more important things, that we must do, that we cannot not do.
Nick explains that when we let go of these fictions, this gunk that’s become attached to us, we can bring ourselves to the present, to a realization of what really is, here, now. This takes an enormous amount of courage, because some of what is true, here, now, is terrible. It requires a willingness to let our heart be broken by unbearable truths.
In my recent post about what I care about, I wrote that the “social me” cares about:
But, I lamented, the “visceral me” cares instead about:
Guess which list is more urgent (must-do stuff), and easier, and more fun? No contest. I do what I must: eating, sleeping, my job, household chores, exercises. Then I do what’s easy and fun: writing this blog, imagining possibilities (including some with that really hot girl over there), conversing with those I love, learning new things, listening to good music, walking in the forest, playing with cats, watching the birds, dancing in the moonlight. Hmmm… no time left today for that first list of seven important things. Well, perhaps tomorrow.
There are many assumptions, intractable problems and fears that underlie that first list. These are massive, almost unfathomably complex problems. What would make these problems must-do’s for me? I think if I were really present with these issues, if I were to go out into the world and realize the consequences of my inaction on them, it would break my heart. I would ‘real-ize’ that these are more than ideals, more than good things to do: my failure to act on them makes me complicit in the horrific suffering, the squandered opportunity to avert or at least mitigate ghastly forthcoming crises, the tragic mind-numbing waste of human life, energy and enthusiasm, the massive, devastating crimes against nature (mostly out of ignorance), the consequences of our dumbed-down society’s dreadful imaginative poverty.
One of my favourite posts is called No Noble Savage, and it describes some of the atrocities going on in the world, right now, always and everywhere. Maybe I should witness them now, in real time, real space. Despite my vivid imagination, visualizations are not enough to break my heart. It is too easy to turn away. I know people who are fighting these atrocities every day, and they tell me the reality is a hundred times worse than anyone could imagine.
The question is: Am I prepared to give up my comfortable life, and my paralyzing, reality-distorting fictions? Am I prepared to acknowledge my complicity, through inaction, in everything I rage about? Am I then prepared to let go of everything I have, and parse my time even more finely than I do now, in order to act, meaningfully, beyond just writing about them, to make the world a better way in at least some of the seven ways in my list above?
Perhaps for the first time in my life, I think there is a 50-50 chance that my answer to these questions is yes. As much as it breaks my heart to admit it, there are millions of writers out there, many of whom can write about the things I know and care and have ideas about, better than I can. Yet even as I say this my instincts, my nature, tell me that I am happy now and plunging into these important and complex tasks will make me less so, and how much of a difference can I make anyway?
I’m tired. I’m hungry. There’s something else I want to write about. And hey, is that really hot girl over there looking back at me?
Category: Human Nature