By Dylan Hamilton, Aesthetic Activist
Let’s be honest. Things are getting weird.
It’s hard to remain calm at times. Everything about our society and our lifestyles is designed to maximize our various anxieties and to produce revenue from advertising. I don’t mean to suggest that this is the product of some multinational conspiracy; the truth is probably that this is all happening on accident.
Any smart manufacturer knows that this is the state of the system. And so, they become generalists, producing cheap lifestyle accessories for whatever you fancy your self-image to be, and for whatever demographic group you happen to be in.
Behold! The vacation piggybank for the early twenties, in a relationship, aspirational adventurous demographic. The fonts are specifically chosen for a mix of whimsy and non-threateningness. The arrow decal in the center is a symbol of questing and dynamism. The square frame and transparent sides of the piggybank are right out of postmodern design. $18.99 on Amazon.
It’s hard to remain calm. It’s especially difficult to remain untainted by cynicism.
There are two major schools of Christian belief; Catholic and Calvinist (well, and orthodoxy, but we’ll exclude them for a minute). I won’t get into a super complicated argument here, but the gist of these two sects is that Catholics, in general, believe humans and human nature to be weak. Calvinists, who include Protestants, Lutherans, Baptists, and almost every American Christian sect, believe humans and human nature to be evil.
Don’t understand what that difference means? I’ll explain. It has to do with the way we deal with those we consider our opponents and enemies.
Someone who considers their adversary subject to human weaknesses will recognize a bit of themselves in their foe. They will look at an opponent and realize: “She and I disagree because she is uninformed and ignorant. I have been ignorant before. I should treat her with generosity and understanding.” A person who empathizes with their enemy can make that enemy a friend, given the time, drive, and persistence.
Someone who considers an opponent to be evil will do none of these things. Such a person will look at their foe and say: “A wicked man. The world would be better if he were dead.”
A person who believes in the innate evil of humanity will not know mercy, will not be able to recognize justice, and will be able to injure and kill other humans without hesitation or consequence.
I once heard someone say: “We are living in the dreamtime.”
I believe this. I know it in my heart. The dreamtime is a bastardized word for a Native Australian concept which represents the time before time, the mythological era when demons and monsters ruled the world. They were not necessarily evil, but they were so powerful that they had the means to make and unmake the very substance of the earth.
They roamed about, building, destroying, and forming the world which we now inhabit today. The Forgotten Beast, Yeiitsoh Nagaii; The Titan, Uranus; Moloch, the incarnation of mindless hunger; Changing Woman, the first leader of the Navajos; Elijah, the Jewish magi; The Rainbow Serpent, creator of all of the Glorious Cosmos; and many others.
My thesis is that we are now in the unenviable position of being those beasts. In a way, we are the monsters of immense power which dominate the world, and what we have done as an industrialised society and what we continue to do will define the character of the world for a long time. Our societies know such power and security, like no other human culture has known in the history of our species, that we have gained the influence of gods. We do not, however, have the ability to undo our largest mistakes.
What do we do? So many powerful forces in the modern world seem to conspire against us. Against the concepts of justice and freedom; against the hopes and dreams for peace and equality and fraternity. Lords of War and Robber Barons strut about in defiance. Moloch directs our fury and our rage onto the weak, those least deserving of it. Always, the innocent suffer.
I cannot tell you with certainty that we will escape these times with the things we hope for. Stability, prosperity, equity, sanity; even our very lives may be lost to some of us. I hope not, but I feel that times of great turmoil are coming, as always, caused by the greed, pride, and wrath of weak and petty men. There is nearly no way to physically prepare for such things. There is no amount of theory, training, skill, or rationality which will save us.
And even now, as I write, I must conclude that life is not too bad. But my life is rich beyond measure. My garbage, my consumption, is all borne on the bodies and spirits of slaves and poor bastards whom I will never have to meet. This borrowed luxury, this borrowed life bought with the suffering of other people, causes me to think that a reckoning will come.
Personally, all I have is faith. A weird faith, in the ability of humans to be good in times of crisis, to hope for beauty and kindness in their lives despite our violent histories. A faith that perhaps some higher power is guiding us, and that it means for us not to all perish meaninglessly. I am always driven to a saying which provides, in my opinion, the only reasonable prescription for existential despair. The saying is: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.”
Honestly, there is no better advice I can give you.