Posts tagged individual
pastime heatwave sidetracks
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Stockholm in a heatwave. A muscle man of fearless gloom, bruised jarred naked skin. Battered fists and broken bones and a mind too young to hurt.
 

Distractions.

From what? Impending catastrophe? Cosmic isolation? I’m not sure. But sometimes melancholy hits me like a bag of bricks and in moments of monotony in particular. Leisure hours without a clear–cut goal to strive for. So I avoid it. And justify distraction with all I have. Perhaps some of it is good? After all you cannot live your life in a never–ending state of existential desperation. It is too serious. Too paralysing. And no damn fun.

But you are forgetting the importance of these moments. Without momentary spurs of existential angst you would never feel the sense of urgency that is actually making you head out and achieve. You need these moments in order to understand the importance of meaning. To get an insight into the depth of human nature. Beyond its neat shallow facade so preferred by the majority.

Possibly. Or it’s just an intellectualised form of masochism. And why are you talking to yourself in the third person anyway?

“People tend to think of their self as located somewhere behind their eyes”, someone said. Ever heard someone utter the phrase I can’t stand myself? That sentence alone implies two selves. Your true self and your thinking self. One internal, one external. One responds to stimulus from the inside out. The other from the outside in. You need the external one, you couldn’t survive in this world we built without it. But merely that would make you just a tool.

Perhaps life isn’t as much dualistic as it is surface and depth. Levels of interpretation. But the dualism exists too. In order to achieve depth you need the fine–tuned balance between two extremes. Call it order and chaos, the known and the unknown, whatever. And you circle and circle around your true self and at times you get closer. Then you lose your grip again.

And so it goes.

"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself"
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Because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars
 

I read Kerouac’s On the Road and Bukowski’s Ham on Rye back to back. It made me want to quit my life, steal a jeep and leave, somewhere, anywhere, it wouldn’t matter. Away from the fabrication we all so affectionately refer to as the system.

I never understood the sacredness of freedom until I spent an under–stimulated year of nine–to–five in a corporation. Clock in, clock out. Stamp your hours, crave the weekend. Northern winter Europe cubicle monotony, hurting strained computer eyes. Zero. One. Zero. And repeat.

Before this I had been a student my entire life, and it wasn’t until this point that I realized how happy that had made me. How happy I had been to spend my days in front of books, art, human beings and ideas. How valuable it is to spend one’s hours relentlessly pursuing whatever new obsession one may happen to come across. Finding connections between seemingly disparate interests and mould them into a coherence of something previously unfathomable.

Then you are done. You graduate and you are excited because finally you get to take these skills and contribute to the real world where it actually matters and – hang on.

Reality.

Reality is the fact that grand utopian ideas of the poetic potential of creative madness has no value in a world of numbers. Reality is the fact that people don’t want the absurd and the sacred. They don’t want unbound creativity and invention and inquiry and ingenuity. They don’t want freedom.

People love their cages because within these they are safe. Trading the comfort of your bulletproof home for a life of unhinged unpredictability may sound appealing to some, but in practice, most humans value security. Ergo, that is the society we have constructed.

So is that it?

Is that the compromise? Is it really that dualistic? You sell yourself to the big man, earn your money, health and safety but in the process you give up the now, the creation, the madness and the screaming manic frenzies in raging desert towns. Kerouac makes it simple. There is no higher virtue than that on the road, off the grid. But the truth is less romantic. If you really dare to leave the system, the system will have you punished. And no wonder. You disturbed the order.

For Kerouac, freedom is a beautiful and dirty hustle. For Bukowski it is stupor, pain and death. It is a swimming pool of liquor, filthy bloodstained t–shirts and a bottomless contempt. Because despite the merit of being individual enough to dare reject the system you are still trapped within a society that submits to it. Maybe in a state of nature you would be the only sane one on the scene. But in a society of indoctrinated collectivists, you are a fatal liability.

Faced with that, then, is it really worth rejecting? For Bukowski, it was. For most people, it isn’t. Understandably. Most of us want happiness, not freedom. Comfort, not liberty. Achieving both seems an impossible contradiction.

Huxley knew this too. In the pursuit of happiness one must ban all suffering, but in so doing, one must also ban anything that carries meaning. Why? Because anything meaningful will inevitably also carry some form of distress. “To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise”, Dostoyevsky rightfully mused in his 1864 underground novella. The same is true of art, poetry and freedom.

But what if you think that is a sacrifice worth making? What if you are one of the few who thinks meaning is a concept worth preserving, despite its bitter tradeoffs?

In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy. Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer, the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’ 

There was a long silence. I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last.

True freedom isn’t your millennial dream of Paris cafes with a MacBook in your lap, sipping grande oat milk chai tea lattes and writing poetry amidst the city sounds and smells of buttered scones. You may think you are free. But do you understand what it took to make this privileged reality of yours possible? How many underpaid service people and overstressed labourers it took to create this polished world that you so casually enjoy?

You work hard. I know. You have had your struggles. The fact that you are sitting here today is a marvellous achievement. But you are standing on the shoulders of giants. Small, underpaid, overlooked giants. But giants nonetheless. Perhaps bigger than you and I will ever be.

Freedom is a fragile, delicate and abstract idea. It is that which we most strongly desire but also that which we most violently fear. It is painful, burdensome and difficult to carry.

But in the end, it is the most valuable thing we possess. It is not enjoyed by everyone and it is never to be taken for granted. And we must fight to maintain it.

Today, and in the future.