(This is for Daria. I got your letter. I’ll also reply in paper. But this belonged here.)
Under the skin we are all the same red sh1t, but still we all pretend to be so special, we all pretend to be these beautiful snowflakes, when (if we dared to admit it) we are all just alone.
And in turn this means we all just want a hug, we just want to be loved, but since we can’t we try all sort of dumb stuff, like getting ultra-rich and super-famous and über-sexy and extra-learned, as maybe ways to be loved, and it all backfires monstrously and we get eco-catastrophe, consumerism, plastic surgery and Maffesoli.
The most precious thing in life is the fleeting, vaporous, light moment when we can see the world through the same eyes as someone else, when we are really together, when we share a thin slice of meaning with another person. But the world seems made in a way to spoil and destroy this shared meaning.
Meaning is such a weasel word! I am trying to talk about this deeply felt thing, this semi-emotional semi-spiritual thing, and still i call it meaning, a word with a very precise and quantifiable definition. I can quantify my weight (60.1kg) and i can give you precise dates for the stuff that has happened to me, but it tells you nothing about who i really am, and thus, it conveys almost none of the deep meaning i am talking about. We do not share our souls sharing information about ourselves.
But still, “meaning” and “definition” are, in some ways, synonyms.
This is a problem, because definitions are useless if you don’t know the language they are written on, which is to say, messages are impossible without a shared code, and that means that no one will really understand us unless they already have our definition inside themselves. You can never share your heart with anyone, unless they already have it. This, sadly, is just how communication works. That meaning will never come across if the person you want to share it with does not already have whatever it is you want to share.
And contemporary life makes it exceedingly obvious people do not have it.
Which, basically, means it should not be about communication.
(Thus rendering useless the countless hours i spent studying semiotics and stuff — except not really: they allowed me the precious understanding that it is not about communication. Really really not. In an absolute sense.)
The magic of the thing happens in another level, in the sharing of the code. We do speak the same language, do we not? (Actually, not really, my English-learned-from-books is very different from your Russian-using-English-words, which will be different from an natural-but-family-quircks English and so on. In some ways each and everyone of us speaks their own language. Those weirdos who mix languages (like us) just confirm the rule.)
So, how are the codes shared?
In a way, they are not really shared, but imposed. Language learning is actually language acquisition, and that, in turn, is the same as culture acquisition, which is internalisation. The human world that is around us slowly seeps into us. We become part of it, rather than it becoming part of us. And that is much more violent than poetic. Although it is also, in a weird blessing kind of way, much more practical than transcendental.
So, if you can’t convey what is really inside you, than you have to rely on you having stuff inside you that is (for some reason) equal to stuff someone else has inside them. (This would be a prearranged order of sorts, in Spinoza’s words i guess.)
The “for some reason” part being our clue. What makes we the same? Some would like to call it God, or Allah, or Yahweh (a God by any other name smells the same). Some would like to call it evolution, which is yet another name. Dancers think it is The Body®. But there is another answer that is much more grim and hopeless and cruel (and thus better, right?): Family.
By default, the people that have the same stuff that you have inside are your brothers and sisters. You probably share with your family both stuff you’re really proud of and stuff you’re really ashamed of. And certainly that leads to classical love-hate relationships (which, actually, are the only love relationships). And here, already, the spiritual thing that was meaning starts to get tainted by relationships, by sex, and by a kind of bargaining that is much more like a game than art.
We yearn for a very Romantic (as in XVIII century Romanticism) kind of relationship, where strong emotions are only good strong emotions, where the fact that we really care about someone does not mean we are really open to be hurt by this person. But relationships of this kind are very fictional, in the sense of being more likely to be found in books than in life. Don Quijote really loved Dulcinea, but he just saw her twice, from afar. And still his love of her justified all his adventures. This is very crazy, which means pathological, but it is also (and this is the real mind-blowing hard problem) oh so beautiful.
Because if it was just crazy, we could just all try to forget the whole thing and have traditional families and wait for true meaning to seep into our lives by the sheer force of spending too much time together. But i can’t. I am facing a question i do not understand, here. And (i would say) the whole western culture is facing this problem without understanding it.
This personal suffering is part of a collective suffering. This yearning and incompleteness is more than a personal thing.
The way i see this is heavily influenced by my grandparents’ relationship. They had such a connection that my grandmother started withering away after my grandfather died, and she died a few years after. She was very strong and healthy one year, then next year she was frail and weak willed. But in many ways their relationship was a cold one. I mean, by romantic standards, you could easily say they did not love each other. They had slept in different bedrooms for years (mostly because they both were olympic-level snorers, but the fact remains that the convenience of silence was stronger than their desire to sleep together). My grandmother used to decide to travel and then just tell him, without any effort to coordinate a travel together. They were like business partners.
So, in a way, sex did not stand in the way of their relationship, that is, sex was not a problem for them, it was just something to do, just like washing the dishes or working or anything. And if, on one hand, this seems to leave more room for true meaning to exist between them, it also seems to make their relationship more mundane, more banal. The meaning they had seems to become less precious. It was just something that they did, almost like a job. Which is strange because we tend to feel that sex diminishes our relationships, that sex is more mundane than spiritual.
A very shallow answer to “how to share true meaning” seems to be “have a kid together”. Having a child will be meaningful in your life, wether you want it or not, and thus having a child together will be a kind of meaning shared, wether we want it or not. And thus sex becomes another thing entirely, a way to people to feel loved, not because the sex is full of acceptance and partnership and understanding, just the other way around, actually, we feel inadequate and clumsy and more than a bit ridiculous as we fsck, and still, we feel loved, because we feel that this meaning we desire will creep into our lives through sex, not that it really does, not that we feel something that could be mistaken for it, not that our pleasure looks like it is of any import whatsoever, but we feel that meaning will come through sex because we just give ourselves up to it.
So i heve been feeling for a few years now a heavy (“pesadume”) desire to have a daughter. And i know how problematic this is, how shallow, how unlikely it is that a healthy relationship could flourish from this desire, but still i do not want to suppress this desire, i do not want to pretend it is not there, even though i really think i must not act out on this desire, and even though i guess that even if i did have a child with someone i would still feel that in some deep level meaning would be lacking. After all, there are so many parents that have no union whatsoever.
Under the skin we are all red sh1t. But still that is not enough.
In other words, the reason it might be important to talk about sex in talking about meaning is that it reminds us that at some level we have the basic commonality of being red muck inside. We are part of life, in the most gross way you can imagine.
Maybe the big difference between my relationships and my grandparents’ relationship is that they assumed that life had meaning and they went and fulfilled their part of it, and i assume that life is meaningless without some grander, romantic something else. So i go chasing after something impossible, and forget to just experience whatever it is that happens. But i’ve been trying to do the opposite.
As of late, i have been trying to accept my loneliness as it is. It is like giving myself time to feel it.
And this is a bit like giving up on shared meaning.
But it also feels meaningful, in a smaller way.
Also, this way i find myself more willing to share, in another sense of the word. It’s like, i have been more willing to tell my side of the story, even when it is not being understood.
Like, a few weeks ago, i met a girl i hadn’t seen in a while, a girl i have a big crush on, and meeting her made me even more breathless than i expected, and i tried to kiss her and she turned me down, and then, instead of pretending nothing happened i actually turned to her and said i loved her and i would marry her if she wanted to and that i didn’t expect her to understand or reciprocate but i wanted her to know anyway. That was probably a dumb thing to do.
The not dumb part of it was seeing the game as just a game, even if i am doing a bad job of playing it.
One way of talking about this sensation of lack of meaning is to say that it is just all an empty game. And it is. But also we cannot leave the game. Or maybe, going for the exit is a part of the game, it is a play, and it is much less radical than it seems at first sight.
There is a paradox there, taking the game as “just a game” allows me to play it better. But also, winning too much in this game diminishes my freedom. In other words, the romantic yearning for meaning is what freezes us into these ice bubbles. That if we didn’t try so hard to have these big deep meaningful connections we would have more connections, and thus end up having more depth in those connections after all.
Even more than that, the cold and distance that western culture impinges on relationships is a way to get this depth and meaningfulness. I save my energy for better relationships, keeping the daily dealings with other people constrained in formalism and efficiency, so that when i find someone that truly understands me i’ll really commit to it. And that is a good idea, in the short term, but it ends up backfiring. Because we want marriage to be more than a business deal we end up with divorce. And as this way of thinking becomes standard, the idea of family unravels. And that is freedom, certainly, but it leaves us with a deep and painful yearning. Maybe what we yearn for is exactly the family we deconstructed.
Put this way, this personal yearning seems to touch bigger, ideological issues. Specifically, the Right-Left divide can be pictured as two approaches to Family®. The Right thinks family can’t work without some structure, and the Left thinks family has to be more than structure. And both are correct (if both were wrong it would be easier…).
If we set a high standard of meaning for relationships, we end up with very few good ones. If we set too low a standard, we end up with too few shallow ones. Somewhere in there must be a way for we not to kill each other.
What makes each individual in a society part of the whole is also what makes him more individual. The sensation of being unique comes not from knowing few people, but from knowing lots of them. Being aware of multiple opinions is what makes me have an opinion on the first place – else i just take my biases for facts. But at some point this individuality becomes disconnection. The more education the better, but at some point education becomes a certificate factory and no one finds personal freedom through education anymore.
Sadly, this seems to mean that we need a little less meaning in our lives – maybe we need less meaning to have any meaning?
I don’t want to give up the possibility of transcendence. And i don’t want to give up trying to find true meaning. But i am curious about other ways to go about this, imperfect ways, noisy communication, unexplainable ideas.
One of the things i said to the girl i had a crush on is that i was being very bad at the whole pick up game (PUA), but that it didn’t matter, that if she ever came to fancy me she would hook up with me in spite of the plays i did, in spite of the words i said, just because of what she feels and how she sees me, and that even if i could manipulate her into being my girlfriend i could not really manipulate her into making the decision of being with me. I could manipulate her into being my wife, but i could not manipulate her into caring about me. And this decision is all that matters.
You can never manipulate others into seeing the world as you see it.
Which means you can never share true meaning.
Sometimes people will see the world trough your eyes. Usually it happens when you least expect it. And, tragically, when someone really deeply understands you, it does not feel like true love, it feels like a stern parent, one that is giving you lessons not giving you love. My mother used to call her father dry and unloving, but in retrospect it seems very obvious that he did understand her and she did not understand him.
So, i guess what this all means (and i am trying hard not to make the whole thing make too much sense) is that we are in a way absolutely alone, that no one else will ever fill this void, and we can keep each other company even if it does not solve anything, and that we should take both the utter loneliness and the simple kindness, that all of it is part of life. That life has no simple answers but it is life anyway. That we are both blessed and cursed to be alive.
Because, in a way, we can’t be really loved. No one sees the world as we see it. But we can maybe see the world as someone else sees. We can look through someone else’s eyes, instead of them through ours. This is more beautiful, actually. But it hurts oh so much more. And maybe all the pain is justified, it is like an infinite birth pain, love continually coming into the world in the worst possible way, which is also the most powerful way.
I am not even sure much of this even makes sense. But that is where i am, right now, in my journey.
Maybe the really important issues have not changed, since time imemorial. We like to think that there was never anything like our shiny new world of the interwebz and airplanes, but, deep down, maybe our Neanderthal great-grandparent already struggled with not allowing his son to say stupid stuff in order to make him think better. And maybe the adolescent Neanderthal already thought no one understood him. I do think there are some points of the issue that are made much harder because of our specific moment in time – climate change and The Donald and whatsoever. And i do love to tackle these issues, this blog is living proof of it. But maybe this very chaos we’re living through requires us to pay more attention to the small issues, to the game, to the mundane. And try to take it easy.