In the beginning I imagine that there were nebulae and um, planets being formed and the one who dreamed us standing in the middle of all that negative space, thinking, I guess this is how it will be.
He dreamed us. Or She did—I don’t think there was much fussiness about pronouns in the beginning. And there were agate blue rivers and valleys and buffalo streaming through fields before we paved them over and built apartment complexes and gas stations. Those came later. We ruined almost everything that was given to us in the beginning, but that very act of destruction—which was either one continuous act over many centuries or the aggregated Frankenstein of many separate actions, depending on your perspective—was of course also an act of creation. We were the smartest creatures on Earth and we used our collective intelligence to invent strip malls and Eggslut. We were dreamers. At least part-time. The rest we spent fucking our lives up mercilessly and reading Madame Bovary.
Sorry, I’m just trying to reconstruct it all for myself as a child of modernity. Sometimes I think about what would happen if all of civilization was destroyed and we were living in a post-apocalyptic world that somehow managed to resemble a pre-human world, all the forests somehow lush again, polar bears meandering over restored ice caps, no power lines or cell phones. Nobody to call just to hear them ask you why you called. I think I would feel an indescribable sense of awe at being plunged into the wildness of the world, the savagery of its beauty. And then I would die very quickly, or want to die. I read an article about the Piraha, a tribe in the Amazon who have almost no abstraction. No numbers, no time, no colors. Daniel Everett, a linguist who spent almost 30 years living among them, originally came as a missionary trying to convert them to Christianity. They promptly lost interest in Jesus once they realized Everett had never met him. Adults in the Piraha tribe cannot be taught to count past three, and are completely interested in coercion or outside influences or anything at all that falls outside of direct personal experience. Which is to say that they would not do very well in modern-day America. But you could drop them off in any random jungle and they would emerge two days later fully dressed, with food and a source of warmth. I’m just the opposite—everything I really find interesting requires a wifi connection or a book. I think that most interesting thing about human life is where we’re heading. I don’t mind becoming ever more specialized, removed from rhythms of biology as much as possible. If you inhabit a body you need certain things to feel okay—food and movement and people to touch you and maybe children. And we can’t reason our way out of those drives so we have to make room for them. But being a good animal isn’t enough for us: we long for something beyond the physical. We want to be more than we are, to kill God so we can be closer to Him, and so we create meaning for ourselves through continued mutation, experimentation, evolution on an ever-larger scale.
So the question is: what kind of mutations are worth dreaming of? I‘m reminded of Adam Curtis’ Pandora’s Box, how technocratic rationalism has failed us and will fail us again. And yet we sometimes succeed, and those moments are what move the world forward. Electricity and flight and the birth control pill. I think it’s our obligation to be skeptical without being cynical, to try to make the imagined real. The brokenness of our world feeds my utopian bent. I am trying to figure out what I need to know to build what I want to build, or at least find people who can help me do it. I feel limited by my knowledge and my taste, which is probably more deceptive of a feeling than I think it is. It’s kind of how whenever I write anything I feel like I need to have a deeper knowledge of Greek mythology because without it I’ll never write The Autobiography of Red. Which doesn’t really make sense. If not you, then whom?
These days I find myself torn between my active life and my reflective life. My active life is execution—doing the next thing that needs to be done, making it sure that fits into the scope of my goals. My reflective life is all imagination, all nostalgia. I think creativity is the successful merging of the two, pragmatism and nostalgia coming together to birth the future. The people I like most ask questions that have no answers yet: once we’re all uploaded, are we going to make clones of our virtual selves and force them to become our slaves? I know that what’s coming will be weirder than we anticipate, impossible and uncanny. Which excites me: life is fun because there’s no narrative predictability. Once in a while I get in a rut and start thinking about my life the way I would think about a novel and start wondering where’s the conflict, where’s the resolution? And then I remember that there’s only our own minds, only the struggle to impose desire upon reality and reshape matter. Oh, okay.
I think when He made us He must have hoped that we would spread life everywhere. Because life is active—life is the antidote to emptiness and we have more than enough of emptiness. Existence is suffering, but suffering is what allows us to experience and understand joy: gravity makes room for grace. You can’t have one without the other on this earth. I‘m trying to accept that, to live with pain as much as I can because pain is what sets the upper bound in all the ways that matter. Depression, exhaustion, loss of belief, fear—I want to operate unencumbered by those things. If you are completely okay with the presence of pain, if you do not fear it, you have access to a kind of freedom most people never will.
The last thing He said before He turned away from us: You will live. But it will hurt very much.
The three most beautiful words in the world are I’m an optimist.
** I wrote this 3 years ago. But it felt close to me today. Hope you enjoy!