Some will say, and I wouldn’t demur, that our default setting is happiness.
In short, if you take away the interpretative thinking, save in survival mode, there is just ‘this’ — i.e. a moving, shifting, indescribable experience.
And yet, given the sinkhole of brainwashing we’ve been immersed in all our life, we end up transfixed and assimilated by a series of labels, stories and things we believe will or should make us happy.
If you’ll allow me the opportunity to tease things apart, let’s start with life’s supposed journey — or at least the dominant narrative in so many parts of the West.
We’re brought into this world without our consent. In fact, up until we’re born, we’ve very few rights. The early months and years (not for all) are a cacophony of experience and we’re lost in the reverie of the moment. At some stage, we’re meant to grow up, which means we get thrown into an education system that is rules-based (much like the workplace that is to come) and certainly from my experience, the people that succeed are the ones who can best adapt to those rules without losing their identity. (For a long time, I didn’t understand this.)
If we’re lucky, we’re loved, nurtured and kept safe from the early slings and arrows and we feel life is proceeding in the right direction — give or take a few failed friendships and broken promises.
And then comes Big School. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes but it’s hard on the soul, not just because the rules have now been dialled up a notch or two but we’ve to navigate some fairly unpleasant behaviour and a dose or two of opprobrium.
Of course, I generalise like hell, but whatever your experience, and of course this is all so Western orientated (i.e. the rich North), the only reason we go to the Big School is that we’re being processed ready for the meatgrinder of work. In other words, we, the proletariat, will be working to ensure the neo-capitalist experiment doesn’t fail and the plutocrats can continue to have their wicked way with the planet.
You might believe something else — i.e. that working for the man is going to be an amazing experience — but the kids don’t believe that or at least I’m very doubtful they’ll be seduced by all that HR spin given their parents’ experience. (When I think of my father who worked a Continental Shift Pattern — i.e. 6-2 one week, 2-10 the next, followed by a week of 10-6 (nights) — you can see why he was so beaten down by the system, even though he enjoyed his work as an electronics engineer.)
Still, what else is there?
A new school?
Possibly, but not for the majority.
So you persevere.
Do as you’re told.
And knuckle under.
Mostly, but not always, it’s about coming out with the best grades possible in a bunch of useless subjects. I call them ‘useless’ because in these crazy, anthropocentric times, what we should be teaching the kids is how to survive and not how to do calculus or know the details of 1066.
Anyhow, thereafter, at least in my bailiwick, there are two discreet paths — assuming you’ve not run away. Either you go to University — a proving ground for very little save conformity — or you get a job; any job will do. The thing is, eventually they both end up in the same place, i.e. retirement. Sure, one might offer more prospects and you’re further up the greasy pole but that doesn’t mean you’ll be any happier or content with your lot.
I’m sure that my tendentious, one-sided sketch of the school/work experience misses out a great deal but I’m apt to ask myself, as someone who’s still at it, after 41 years (yes, I started working part-time as a porter at Pontins Holiday Camp in Paignton, Devon when I was 13) what the hell is it all about?
Not much, and certainly when I think about all the assumptions made, which are mostly never questioned beyond how to improve a moribund system, what no one seems remotely interested in discussing is why the dominant narrative has and continues to breed such discontent, unhappiness or, at the Buddhists like to say, dukkha.
Dukkha is a Pali word, which appears in Sanskrit as duhkha, and it is most often translated as “pain,” “suffering,” “stress,” or “dis-ease” (and as an adjective, “painful, stressful”). The concept of dukkha is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism — Oxford Bibliographies.
Of course, from an antinatalist perspective, the obvious way to negate this pain and suffering is never to be brought into existence but that’s not a message, so far, that’s found favour in the West. It might in time but by then it will be too late.
So if that’s out, what then?
That (of course) remains the $64,000 question.
If not the dominant narrative, what then?
Perhaps it’s not an either/or proposition, particularly as we’re so heavily invested in the capitalist project, but to ask ourselves why we’re now trapped in a projection of the world that is so out of whack with reality.
What do I mean?
Simply this. We’re not encouraged or even invited from the earliest age to consider why we’ve come to wrongly label everything we see, feel and experience. On one level, it’s obvious why we might do so — i.e. to survive — but from a more metaphysical perspective or certainly one where we’re willing to approach things with a blank sheet of paper, what we see and experience is a fiction.
What do I mean?
Well, take something like a tree. Any tree will do. Consider your native tongue. Mine is English but if you speak Russian then you’ll call a tree something different — дерево (derevo). But you have to be told this or have heard it said. You’re not born with that knowledge. And that’s fine as it goes but it doesn’t actually describe anything. How can it? Put it like this, if you examined the tree under an electron microscope, it would look different to the physical thing and if you could travel in time and go forward 1,000 years, it’s doubtful the tree would still be standing, in so far as, like everything in life (and this you can check from your direct experience) everything is changing.
Simply put, we concretise what we see, feel and experience as, otherwise, we’d go stark raving mad, or so we think, by not being able to make sense of and navigate the world.
At this stage, you might be scratching your head wondering why I’m pointing to something quite so New Age? One minute I’m talking about the meatgrinder of work etc. and the next some word or thought experiment.
No, it’s a good point. They don’t just seem disconnected points on the spectrum of needs and wants but the latter seems totally random.
I can see that.
The thing is, though, imagine if we did die to our old world and we didn’t or didn’t think to make the same associations with the things we own, pursue or what we’re told to believe?
Take something like the age-old trope about money not making you happy.
Now, the money bit isn’t something, unless you work out a way of living off-grid, that you’ll manage to avoid. How much you need, now that’s a separate question. But what about the prism we call happiness (or whatever label you want to use) that money is supposed to bring? What is happiness? Assuming you can answer that question, what would happen, even if money didn’t buy it, if you had it for every minute of every day for the rest of your life? Could you handle it? That’s doubtful. You might think I’m making a stupid point but isn’t that what we’re taught to believe that happiness is the apogee of life? I certainly was.
I suppose all I’m inviting is for you to consider if what you think or feel about things is in fact true? It might feel like it at the time but you might want to go to the actual thoughts (what are thoughts?) and ask yourself if the thing you’re describing is in fact what you believe it to be.
I accept that in the discombobulated world which we’re thrown into, this ethereal proposition, even as a starting point may seem a pointless exercise. I mean, if you’re hungry you’re hungry and no amount of wordsmithery is going to change that but perhaps I might be allowed over the coming weeks to develop further my theme of non-attachment — for want of a better word.