Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Forever Alone?

Not too long ago I read A Street Cat Named Bob, wherein the protagonist bemoaned his isolation from society, stating he felt utterly alone most of the time, like a ghost passing through the streets of London mostly invisible in the daylit world of suits and shopping bags. (I paraphrased perhaps somewhat egregiously; the author isn't very eloquent, though this doesn't detract from the book's overall merit — in fact, I recommend it.) Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It should: I used to tell myself this walking back from the chow hall at Ft. Gordon, an army base larger than many small cities; I've known kids in high school who thought this while texting friends in cacophonous cafeteria; in fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if at this moment there's myriad people in shopping malls, at board meetings, attending weddings, etc. thinking the same thing. But, is this ubiquitous angst based on anything real? Sure, some of us are pretty cut off from the world around us, but for the most part each of us not only has relatives and friends — and the occasional lover — but even people locked up in prison or bed-ridden in hospital deathbeds regularly experience human contact.

It's hard not to feel alone, even when engaged with people, but is this not merely a manifestation of the illusion of the ego decried in Asian philosophies, essentially a perceptual delusion based perhaps on a few of the starker realities of human existence? Even though we're each of us cellular members of a social super-organism we're still individuals, and it is in our nature not only to co-operate but to compete ... which must create a natural conflict within us that begets an unstable perception of both self and our relationship to the world around us. There's also the simple fact that each of our minds is locked inside our skulls, with only shoddy language available to bridge gaps (don't be too hard on yourself when misunderstandings occur; communication is like trying to transmit bit-by-bit The Garden of Earthly Delights via semaphore during a rain storm). Even more unfortunate is the fact that like all members of a greater organic whole individual human beings can perceive themselves as being rejected from the social body — often as a result of psychological trauma errant brain chemistry — which triggers numerous self-destruct mechanisms much like the programmed cell death in human bodies that's crucial to development and health; also which often results in feelings of alienation and social maladroitness. In other words, we are indeed alone to a profound degree, are ambivalent in our orientation toward others because of the more selfish aspect of our natures, and are prone to morbid and masochistic patterns of thinking and behaving whenever we feel as though we're cut off from or useless to the people around us.

Which strongly implies that the illusion isn't so much an illusion but a frustrated response to our biological reality and a troubling glimpse at a frightening aspect of life that like death, terror, and violence we feel inclined to shirk or overcompensate for. I do feel alone much of the time, and I certainly feel cut off from the more healthy body of society, but at the same time this belief of mine is belied every time I joke around with J— at Jack in the Box, drink beer with G— and D— or smoke bowls with K—, am chatting up a pretty girl while canning, or am discussing absinthe recipes with that guy who works at Oil Can Henry's. Which means I'm no more alone than anyone I'm likely to pass by on the street, and in fact I may even have a more robust and supportive peer network than many people occupying more respectable and affluent positions in society. Still, it would be nice to play a game of koi koi or Arkham Asylum with a handful of “normal” people, instead of quaffing bad beer with a congenial street drunk or joking about old Portland bath houses with one of the local meth addicts.

But, beggars can't be choosers, so I deal with what I have and dream of the day I don't harbor such a diseased self-esteem and worldview, am not beholden to self-diminution, am engaged in activities more productive and stimulating, and have a peer group that isn't one I often avoid because they're annoying or wasted or I'm just tired of hearing them spin their broken record player. Of course, I can also be a bit more proactive and put myself out there more, and work more diligently on that self-development business that tends to be stunted when in thrall to irresponsibility, avoidance, and chemical hedonism.

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