We are dead. We remain dead. And we have killed ourselves.
Last time we discussed how we killed God with the flaming (illuminating) sword of Truth and how we attempted to fill the gaping hole in the fabric of our reality with ourselves. In our naiveté, we neglected to consider the double-edged nature of the sword of Truth and so inevitably we have also killed ourselves.
Nothing remains of us now but shadows and dust.
The Death of Us
I think that the discovery of evolution is the worst thing that has ever happened to humanity. The discovery is so momentous that we have yet to fully grasp its implications. I totally understand why people were (and why some still are) so appalled by it. I sympathise deeply with the desperate attempts to disprove it and discredit it.
“Are you saying that we are nothing but monkeys? Animals? That God didn’t create us in His image? That we are merely the accidental by-product of a blind process? That would mean that God doesn’t exist, that The Bible isn’t true and that there is no such thing as Heaven or Hell. It would mean that we are not special in any way. How could we go on living if such a thing were true? Why even bother with being good if it’s all arbitrary, if there is no higher authority? No sir, you are must be mistaken. This simply cannot be true.”
But it is True. And there is no going back now.
What is strange is that today most people aren’t bothered by this, at least on the surface. We rarely think about it anymore; it’s like background noise. Except that it isn’t really. It’s the abyss – the void at the centre of reality. Like a supermassive blackhole at the centre of a galaxy, its gravitational pull is stable as long as you don’t get any closer to it. But every time you glance at it, it brings you pulls you closer – slowly draining the world of meaning and purpose. We instinctively know not to look directly at it for long, lest it shallows us whole all at once. But we can only delay the inevitable for so long…
We try desperately to fight back – inventing all kinds of stories and ideologies to try and keep us grounded. But the problem of modern ideologies is that they are not grounded in God or anything transcending reality. They are explicitly political and secular which means that they are fragile and weak, because we are fragile and weak.
Nevertheless we persist. Screaming nonsensical stories louder and louder into the abyss; hoping that something, anything will stick. We get angrier and more reactionary, endlessly reacting to bullshit news stories and demanding greater and greater sacrifices and conformity. Never trying to actually improve anything because we don’t really want things to improve – we only want a clear identity, we want a comforting story to tell ourselves about ourselves. We only want to be seen, to know that we matter.
But the abyss is still there – still burning our very souls with its glare.
“Evolution? Really? That’s the big bad abyss? That was 162 years ago and the world certainly didn’t end.”
Are you sure?
Nothing beside remains.
Here is the poem Ozymandias by Percy Shelly but I replaced the word “Ozymandias” with “Truth”.
I met a traveller from an antique land,Percy Shelly
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Truth, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Get it now? The sword of Truth is our oppressor, conqueror and murderer.
Truth for its own sake is a horrible idea because we are not gods and therefore we can’t handle the Truth. It’s too powerful and too destructive for us.
Our fundamental nature is not based in Truth; it’s based in stories. We don’t want Truth, we want a good story. Our Belief in our stories was what compelled us to pick of the flaming sword of Truth in the first place. We actually Believed that it would illuminate that correctness of our stories. How naive we are! But we were messing with forces we didn’t (and still don’t) understand. We thought we could play God but in so doing we summoned a Lovecraftian deity that drives you insane by even looking at it and trying to comprehend it: the black abyss.
And nothing beside remains.
I hope that I’ve stated the problem clearly enough because if you clearly understand the problem you are half-way done to solving it. The problem is essentially this:
The enlightenment and the discovery of the scientific method has dramatically undercut our belief in something eternal, transcendent and good. That is the death of God and its a real problem because belief in God is still fundamental to our belief system. We have been experimenting with humanism as a replacement for God for a couple of centuries and for a while it seemed to be going pretty well. But my sense is that humanism is going the same way as religion via the same mechanism.
Since we are fundamentally a story-telling, social animal that have a deep-rooted need to belong and to believe in something bigger than ourselves, this represents a deep problem. We have not only lost faith in God, we have lost faith in ourselves.
We are starved for meaning and a sense of belonging and many people try to compensate for this in two self-defeating ways: either attaching themselves wholly to a pre-packaged ideology or descending into nihilism. This leads to the old familiar problems we face today: narcissism, victimhood contests, fragility, a mental health crisis, ideological fanaticism, censorship, purity contests and filter bubbles.
The underlying issue is that we simply know too much and are desperately trying to un-know. You can tell by seeing how afraid we are of following what we know to be true to its logical conclusion. For example, it is self-evident that humans have no free will, that we are not inherently superior to other animals and that our values are not transcendently true. This is a logical conclusion of evolution, biology and physics.
I tried to use metaphor to explain this to myself: the sword of Truth being Lucifer (the light-bringer) and the abyss being the idea that existence is fundamentally meaninglessness, i.e. hell.
In Paradise Lost, the character of Lucifer damned himself with his arrogance, naiveté and by worshipping his rationality and intellect. Eventually he fell into the dark abyss where he rules his dominion with bitterness, anger and self-righteousness.
I fear that could be our fate as well if we don’t course correct.
Next time I’m going to try and map out a way out.