Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veteran Animals


As soon as we realize that life sucks, it's not really that bad. If we try to make our lives great, we are going to have a lousy time on earth. Someone once said that the margin between "great" and "sucks" is actually very small anyway. Our friends tell us to check out some great restaurant or that they just watched a great movie. So we go check out these great things, only to discover for ourselves that they actually suck. What gives? Well, first of all, truth is subjectivity. That's the easy answer. But even that stems from a more troubling human condition: self-awareness.

Attaining self-awareness is a slow process, but eventually results in the knowledge of our miserable situation. We are alive, for a while, until we're not. That's it. Life is quick, painful, and useless. Here's the problem with self-awareness though: when we realize life is meaningless, we try to argue. We try to give ourselves some sort of value by working hard or seeking justice. We don't want life to be meaningless, but something precious and ordained by the creator of the universe.

Cornel West poses a question to all who visit his website: "What kind of human being do you want to be?" It's not a simple question at all. Because even though human beings have free will and rationality, we still have instinct and unpredictability. West's question can easily be dodged by the latter truths, because no human should want to live completely unpredictably or by instinct (which would just be like any other animal). Humans are a unique species because they have rational self-awareness that allows them to ask the question "what kind of human do I want to be?" Cats don't ask themselves what sort of cat they want to be (except Garfield. But he's a lazy excuse for a cat anyway).

The terrifying thing about the question is that many humans may decide to answer: "a killer" or "a thug". When a youth looks at 50 Cent and aspires to be like him, he is merely aspiring towards the instinctual and unpredictable aspects of the human being. It's not that being a "killer" or "thug" aren't viable options, they're just such uncomfortably violent aspirations.

But this isn't surprising, because all humans are violent. We all have the capability to do horrible things to each other. Violence is a part of nature, for nothing lives without death. But, again, we are a complicated species when self-awareness gets thrown into the mix. A lion cannot look at the gazelle it killed and feel remorse. But we can look down at the sirloin on our plate and feel guilty of murder.

Are we guilty of murder? Absolutely. Which is why ethics and justice have evolved into the systems we have today. We are absolutely violent creatures, still (occasionally) attuned to the violent ways of nature. But since we have this knowledge of ourselves, we can lie.

A dog will not chase its tail if it doesn't know it has one, but as soon as it sees it, the race is on. We have discovered ourselves in an innate sense, and do everything possible to mend the deformities nature intended for us. The concept of "peace" is a human invention. "Hope" and "faith" do not exist outside of humanity. There are intangibles we have created for our own sake. God didn't give us faith, we've fashioned it ourselves.

This means, we determine our own fate. We can pray or struggle or protest or whatever we think will help our belief, but each individual human has their own choice to make. And if they choose violence, they have the right. Sure, they'll die by the sword eventually, but they'll have a blast for the few years they'll have living by it.

So when my bike is stolen off of my back porch in the middle of the day by people who don't know me, or my friend is beaten up at gunpoint in an alley by thugs, what kinds of human beings are we dealing with here? You and I would never steal from a neighbor or point a gun at a stranger, so why would they?

I so desperately want to believe that ignorance is bliss. But it's too late for that. I am not ignorant, and I never will be. And I do think that everyone, at some point, asks themselves "what kind of human do I want to be". And sometimes they actually answer "50 Cent" instead of "a judge" or "a writer". Not all humans aspire to go down in history, many of them simply want to go to heaven when they die, and others just hope that they might someday become a gang leader. It's not always a result of poverty or lack of discipline either, some humans just want these things.

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But look at the military. On this Veteran's Day, we have to respect the army guys. Realize that they take on the burden of violence for the sake of us all. We don't have to be violent, because they already are. In Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, Joker remarks, "The Marine corp does not want robots. The Marine corp wants killers. The Marine corp wants to build indestructible men. Men without fear." He wasn't speaking as a brainwashed sheep. A robot cannot be a killer, only a human can. This is because a human being has self-awareness. A human being kills, and says "I have killed".

Of course, everything in nature kills. Deer kill plants and tigers kill deer, but there isn't an ethical problem when they do it because they only know instinct and survival. Animals do not feel remorse, for they do not have self-awareness. When they kill, they do not say "I have killed," they just eat and survive. We are killers with remorse. We know what it means to kill. We may even kill when it has nothing to do with our survival. But our way of killing works on two levels, the instinctual and the conscious. There is a deep, natural darkness within us that makes it possible for us to kill, and it has nothing to do with evil. Killing is something that happens in our most natural states. Our remorse and "justice" is simply a reaction of our awareness of our killings.

But even though the inscription on Joker's helmet is true ("born to kill"), we all want to forget it. We want something like, "born to be peaceful," but the military quickly calls bullshit on that. The military realizes that we're still just a bunch of animals. A bunch of rational, self-aware animals. Human beings are not peaceful, never have been, and never will be. We are going to kill each other, for one thing or another. This will never cease. We know we're going to die, but we believe in things like dignity, pride and country.

But a military man is a beautiful example of dual nature. Completely brutal and violent on one hand, but also capable of asking "what kind of human do I want to be?" They will kill people they've never met, in very organized fashion. They do not refuse the evolution that raised them to be the killers they are, and are completely conscious of the horror that they have decided to take part in.

Not unlike "greatness" and "suckage", the margin between military aspirations and thug aspirations are slim, but crucial. Thug aspirations are selfish, and military aspirations are selfless. Living the thug life improves the life of the individual, at the cost of others' lives. A military man will knowingly lose his life, for the sake of a greater good. Both lives can be great, but they pretty much suck too.

War is certainly dreadful. But it is a part of nature. We no longer fight against other species, but we still have to fight something. So we fight ourselves.

We fight ourselves internally and externally. We have to fight. We fight to live. Life sucks, and so must be fought. Life is always trying to bring violence upon us, and the only way to survive is to be peaceful and pray. Wait, no. Sorry. We have to be killers. We were not born for peace, but for nature. Homeostasis is not maintained through world peace, but constant war. Happy Veteran's Day. Support the troops.

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