The Pursuit of Crappiness

Illustration by Joe Watson

Did you enjoy reading your little transnerdulist magazine about pleasure, prancing and sustained orgasm? Now you expect a little humor, don’t you? Well, guess what? I’m not in the mood.

I was in a yoga class this morning, listening to the soothing sounds of the instructor telling me to lean backwards until I stick my nose up my own ass, and if I feel snapping and popping to just go with the flow. The gentle croon of the flute made me grind my teeth, the trickle of the fake waterfall made me have to urinate, and performing the “twisting willow” maneuver made me have to fart. Seeing a mirror everywhere I looked — that was the final sadism in this crap my wife makes me do to lower my stress. At six goddamn AM.

If you’re not from California, you will need me to explain. Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice designed to clear the body of gas. By contorting your joints into exquisitely painful positions, it helps you appreciate life when you’re not contorted into exquisitely painful positions. I’m built like a fire hydrant — and I’m about as flexible, so I distracted myself from my seething rage by contemplating this issue’s general theme of human happiness.

Try this test. Read some Kahlil Gibran poetry while having your hemorrhoids removed. See if you are profound enough to appreciate the miracle of your moment-by-moment existence. I was audited last year. To sooth myself, I read Chicken Soup for the Soul. Didn’t help.

Profound people can see the miracle of each moment. Good for them. What about us shallow people? We pay gurus to teach us how to stop being miserable.

Now I’m listening to yoga twerp tell me and a group of huffing, puffing sweaty women that stress does not come from the “world without” but from the “world within.” Interesting theory contortionist boy. My personal theory is that stress is caused by everybody constantly pissing me off, and not shutting the hell up while I’m trying to stick my elbow into my armpit because it’s good for my health. Hey ladies, how about instead of the “twisting willow” maneuver, we twist the head off yoga boy? That would relieve some stress. Instead, yoga twerp recommends meditation.

Woman meditatingMeditation? Guess what that’s about? Acknowledging that our default state of mind is a torment. Why do we have to put effort into stopping our thoughts from torturing us? Does my dog need to twist his body into contortions to stop himself from neurotic thinking?No, and it ain’t because he’s spiritual. It’s because his species hasn’t evolved our style of bloated frontal lobe. That’s the part of the human brain that’s in charge of imagining long-term future scenarios and choosing among them. Hominids with a deep sense of well-being didn’t pass on as many genes as hominids whose anxiety drove them to worry about their children, stress about the next drought, and complain that their hand axes need to be redesigned to prevent calluses. Thus I inherit a brain specialized for bitching. My meditation guru tells me to “observe” my thoughts and “go with the flow,” but you don’t go with the flow when you’re on shit creek.

Are there any legitimate methods for sustaining happiness in the bitching brain? Nancy Etcoff, Harvard psychologist and author of Survival of the Prettiest, typed “happiness” into Amazon and found over 2,000 titles that promise to deliver it through the 7 habits, 9 choices, 10 steps, 12 secrets, and 14,000 thoughts of deliriously happy people. This pisses me off. Suppose I read all 2,000 books. Will I be any happier? If anybody had any clue, why would we need 2,000 books?

Tens of millions of us are clinically nuts. How do I know this? There are 120 million medications for anti-depression at large night now.

What do we need to keep our civilization running? Economists will tell you: gas, oil and illegal drugs. Each represents about 8% of the world trade. That’s about the right ratio for my personal economy too. I need to drive, buy crap and medicate myself.

Satisfaction sustained. Empathy mutual. Trust utter. Love permanent. Energy infinite. Violence extinct. Suffering banished. Everything that nature isn’t.

Otherwise, I’d have to shoot some of you. We Americans have one of the highest homicide rates among developed countries. This sounds like a big problem until you realize our suicide rate is higher than homicide rate. Most Americans, when given the opportunity to kill the person they hate say, “Oh, to hell with it. It’s easier to kill myself.”

It’s a species-wide behavior. Each year, some 800,000 people across the planet off themselves.

What’s our problem? I’ll tell you what our problem is. We humans are smart enough to figure out what a raw deal existence is.One of my favorite beach reads is Schopenhauer, who, as far as I’m concerned, made a pretty airtight argument that life is neither good nor indifferent. Life is evil. Life has exquisitely designed every living thing to hurt and kill other living things.

Think about it. Each of us must kill to feed. Nothing that gets fed upon wants to be killed. You will not survive without participating in this evil. There is no way out but death.

Laughing yet? If you refuse to kill to feed, the universe punishes you with a slow torturous death of starvation. The only thing life demands is that you kill. The only sin life punishes is not killing. The only commandment: Thou shalt not not kill.

Hell on earthAs The Schopster put it in his chapter, “On the Vanity and Suffering of Life”: This world is the battle-ground of tormented and agonized beings who continue to exist only by each devouring the other. Therefore, every beast of prey in it is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of torturing deaths.

If Satan wanted to create the perfect gladiator arena of evil, it would look exactly like the natural world we are in. Schopenhauer says the Secret of Life is: Hell is all that exists, and it requires evil from me if I am to survive. The only way to escape Hell is death. The only way to escape death is to keep killing. And every one of us is doomed to lose.

Bwa! Ha! Ha! Ha! This humor column is on a roll now! When our species became self-conscious and future-thinking, the first thing we noticed is that life is too horrible to live. But death is too terrifying to embrace. Yet there is no third alternative. So we make up a bunch of lies to distract ourselves from the horrible reality of existence.

Go on. Click on another link. Flick another switch on a screen. Stick an earPod into your skull. Twist yourself into a contortion. Go find a god and pray. Anything to distract yourself from the existential hole at the core of your being that drives your ambitions, the acid of self-consciousness that eats away a gaping cavity of boredom that waits for you in the next moment and will continue in an endless march of moments until you die.

Schopenhauer goes further. He says that if empathy really existed, there would be no enjoyment. After all, suffering is everywhere. If we really cared, we’d be perpetually empathizing. But we don’t. Why? Because you can’t simultaneously be compassionate and content. The existence of enjoyment proves empathy is a fleeting self-indulgence.

The pursuit of crappinessSo why do we keep struggling to increase the suffering of other sentient beings in order to survive? The illusion of hope. If I keep chasing my next desire, maybe I will finally catch the carrot of sustained happiness that will not wither as I grasp it. That’s the hedonistic treadmill.

The only way to end your participation in an evil universe designed to create suffering is to end your mindless Will to survive. If you were truly a being of pure compassion, you would kill yourself right now.

I don’t know if this is because I went off my Celexa this week, but it seems to me that Schopenhauer’s gift was that he divested himself of the delusions required to survive with a human brain. You want to talk about a guy who stared into the abyss and did not relent until he had used flawless logical steps to march all the way to the bottom. Reading a chapter of Schopenhauer is like listening to a Nirvana album start to finish.

Was he crazy? Psychologists have established that healthy people radically over-estimate the amount of control they have over their lives. The only people who accurately assess how much control they have over experimental situations are the clinically depressed. That’s right, depressed people are the most uniquely skilled at accurately predicting their control over outcomes. Re-instilling their delusion of control is called curing them. Damn, did those results ever depress me.

So here we are, a self-conscious self-lacerating species whose perpetual sense of dissatisfaction drove us to develop genetic engineering, mood-altering drugs, biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and plastic surgery. We can change the whole ball game. We’re all Michael Jackson now. The general response from critics? “Shouldn’t we leave well enough alone, trust in the wisdom of nature?”

We may not have the collective wisdom to tinker with nature. But then again, neither does nature. Wisdom teeth don’t speak well for the wisdom of nature. I don’t think it was very wise to create inside-out retinas that give us blind spots. The pointless bursting appendix, spine and knees incompletely designed for upright tottering, tubes for breathing and swallowing so close we choke, babies who kill their mothers breaching their thick skulls. And whose idea was it for the urethra to pass through the prostate gland? Nature, that’s who.

Bad news. Our brains were designed by natural and sexual selection. Our sublime state of complexity and beauty has resulted from a few billion years of struggle which has had no regard for optimizing human happiness. Happiness, as Arthur “Sunshine” Schopenhauer elucidated, is the carrot on the end of the stick that keeps us moving for nature’s ends. Rare fleeting nibbles keep us running on the treadmill. Suppose we could rig the stick so we could munch the carrot?

Satisfaction sustained. Empathy mutual. Trust utter. Love permanent. Energy infinite. Violence extinct. Suffering banished. Everything that nature isn’t.

Stretch. Blank your mind. Be.

Joe Quirk is the author of humorous science books and philosophical novels, most recently, EXULT, a story about hang gliders who live out the Icarus myth.


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6 Responses

  1. Noddy says:

    If you like Schopenhauer, try horror writer Thomas Ligotti’s The Case Against the Human Race; a non-fictional look at why we all should just not be.

    Read the Ligotti’s book while listening to Joy Division’s Closer…..a wonderful experience.

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