Optimistic Cynic

Choosing to be happy sounds so corny, but I am convinced it’s the only way not to get crushed under the weight of this hard, fallen world.

How one become happy in a world filled with imperfect human beings, and while being one yourself, will differ from person to person. Some use religion. Some decide to ignore negative information. Others find that dwelling on the bad helps them cope. Still others might drown the tragedy of being alive with distractions, either electronic or chemical.

I get that. I really do. A lot of what people do depends on their fundamental views of human nature. This deep stuff, but so much of one’s world-view depends on their answer to the following question: are human beings intrinsically good, or intrinsically bad?

Note well that I did not say “evil,” but “bad.”

People can either be perfected here on Earth and it is society that corrupts us, or we are born broken somehow and need to structure society, as well as work on structuring ourselves, to mitigate these tendencies.

In other words, society has to improve, or you have to improve.

This is really a simplified version, but it helps see how each of these basic assumptions about the nature of being can influence nearly everything, from political affiliations to religious beliefs to the very kind of art one creates and enjoys.

I am clearly in the second camp–that human beings are fundamentally bad and have to be trained to be good–and yet I find this a pretty empowering view of things. In fact, gaining a greater understanding of this view, and treating others and myself in accordance with it, has helped me become happier over time:

  • We are all imperfect, but we can all improve;
  • There will never be a Utopia or a heaven on Earth;
  • We all need to be kind to each other and ourselves because we’re all broken; and
  • I’m never surprised or disappointed when people, from the individual to the species level, makes the wrong choice.

Human beings will never learn the hard lessons from history. That is a fact. This is pessimistic, but pessimism about human nature doesn’t have to translate into being a miserable person.

I have come to consider myself as an optimistic cynic. I have no illusions about humanity’s ability to navigate terrible crises before the happen and head things off. This isn’t how the overwhelming majority of us operate, personally or societally. We have a massive inborn self-destructive streak, and we’re really good at sharing this dark tendency with society at large.

But, and here’s the weird part, we’re still here. We haven’t annihilated each other from the face of the planet, despite our best efforts. Yes, many peoples have been extincted through deliberate genocide, or by being conquered and breeded out of existence, or even inadvertently through diseases. Evil stuff like this still happens, and that’s the tendency we see among those people who can’t cope with the burden of being alive: they lash out at existence itself, whether they’re a mass shooter in a movie theater or school, or a dictator directing their anger at “those people over there.”

And yet, civilization exists in many parts of the world. And it’s actually quite nice. Believe it or not, lots and lots of human beings frown upon destructive, evil behaviors. This would not be possible for as long as its been going on (albeit, in a still woefully low proportion of the global human population) if this fallen nature of humanity couldn’t be mitigated.

Our rules don’t perfect us. They keep us free, from the harmful actions of the government, from the harmful actions of our fellow citizens, and often from the harmful actions of ourselves. Laws aren’t magic, but they do express the values of a society. And I’m much happier living in a society where things like rape and murder are punishable by life imprisonment or even death than a world that tries to legislate these dark impulses from our basic nature.

Because that is never going to happen. Continue reading “Optimistic Cynic”

The Creation Disease

In times of strife and trouble, uncertainty and violence, people seek escape. This is not weird at all. Imagination is a key that unlocks the door separating what is from what could be. And the mind is the one place that is uniquely yours.

Keeping minds active and inspired is one of the greatest things one human being can accomplish for another.

Think about the period of the Great Depression through to the end of the Second World War. America fondly remembers this era where Hollywood, using the power of talented storytellers and actors, produced films that not only bolstered America’s spirits during the war, but also its soul.

The times are reflected in art, and whole there’s a push-pull, with art often driving and normalizing certain things, very little art can be divorced from its milieu. And people create, no matter how dark things may be. Holocaust survivors and prisoners of war relate how the power to keep their imaginations from being broken by their oppressors.

And for those of us who like to create, it really is like a compulsion or a disease to do so. Whether it’s music, painting, fiction, poetry, machinery, or tinkering with cars, we couldn’t stop if we wanted to. Tough circumstances only seem to drive us further into our crafts.

I suppose this makes sense. If you feel that your days are numbered, or that there is precious little sunlight poking through the gloom, then you’ll want to get as much out of you as you can before the end comes.

Of course, this is melodramatic. Things aren’t that dire yet. Or maybe they are. Some days I really do think that the world order as we know it is coming to a violent, ugly end in a matter of weeks. Maybe it is.

See, one curse about having the creation disease is that you think of weird things all the time. That’s why you want to get them out on paper, on canvas, or tell jokes about it. A part of thinking these weird things involves being curious and making connections, extrapolating what could happen, when it could happen, and why.

We’re not always the best at game-planning what to do about it, although I may only be speaking for myself. Still, seeing a lot speculation from prominent creators whose answers tend to be “Vote the way I do!” or “Agree with me about everything or you’re evil (and stupid)!” leads me to believe that this is a common failing among the majority of creative-types.

The creation disease is not only a disease of creators, but also a disease of creation. This dark strain is present in the mainstream nihilism that is still so fashionable in much of our culture: There is no hope. Everything sucks. The impulse to “burn it all down and start over” offers precious few hopeful scenarios as to what that starting over would be like, or why it would work.

Even worse is the impulse to take something beloved, cherished, and that works, and deliberately ruin it, like an angry teenager pissing on a Rembrandt. “Watch how I totally subvert and ruin the legacy of Tolkien/Lovecraft/Shakespeare/Austen/Star Trek!”

Such edge! Such insight! Such talent! Three cheers for destruction! Continue reading “The Creation Disease”