Stalling: The Paradox of Meaning

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

—Vladamir Nabokov.

“What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; “why?” finds no answer.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Meaning is the antidote to an inherently meaningless existence.

We need meaning to give ourselves a psychological footing to stand on. We need meaning to make sense of an incomprehensible universe.

We need meaning to feel that life is worthwhile despite the fact it ends with our inevitable demise – that nothing matters in the grand cosmic scheme of things.

This is how we keep the existential worm at the core at bay. Meaning gives us the mental footing we need to prevent us from falling into the psychological abyss.

Our reason for living stems from a refusal to acknowledge our mortality.

Now, this isn’t some crazy idea I’ve pulled out of my pilots hat! (Although I have a few.)

Ernest Becker raised this point in his masterpiece of a book, The Denial of Death, claiming the why of human existence stems from a vital lie – man’s refusal to acknowledge his own mortality.

And it is a vital lie. Because we are biologically hardwired for survival and yet we know death is inevitable

Biologist Ajit Varki argued the overwhelming fear of death would “be a deadend evolutionary barrier, curbing activities and cognitive functions necessary for survival and reproductive fitness.” 

If we didn’t have a way to keep our mortal terror at bay we would be unable to take the necessary risks to survive – we would be unable to find the necessary motivation to carry on living.

Otherwise the worm would lurch forth from our subconscious and swallow us whole. 

To manage fear we must feel we are valuable members of a meaningful community.

Terror Management Theory is an empirically oriented offshoot of Becker’s position. Authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski spent 25 years researching and testing Becker’s original hypothesis.

They presented the findings in their book, The Worm at the Core, showing conclusively that our unconscious fear of death and the desire to transcend it drives almost everything we do. 

They note to manage the knowledge of death humans call on two basic psychological resources:

“First, we need to sustain faith in our cultural worldview, which imbues our sense of reality with order, meaning, and permanence. The paths to literal and symbolic immortality laid out by our worldviews require us to feel that we are valuable members of our cultures. Hence, the second vital resource for managing terror is a feeling of personal significance, commonly known as self-esteem.”

They go onto say, “The twin motives of affirming the correctness of our world-views and demonstrating our personal worth combine to protect us from the uniquely human fear of inevitable death.

Modern psychology (and most of the self-help industry) is largely aimed at shoring up self esteem for this reason.

We have a massive problem with it in the modern world. Not just because we don’t value our own society anymore, but because the things our society values are fucked.

The cultural values of wealth and status in particular, and the humiliation of not having those things, are sources of anxiety for millions. It exacerbates the issue of heroic individualism – our desperate desire to measure up – that is causing us to all burnout and stall.

Not only do we need to feel good about ourselves, we need to see through ourselves.

But shoring up self-esteem is only part of the puzzle. I would argue this fixation on self-esteem is failing us on some fundamental level. It’s giving people relief – much needed relief, no doubt – but it’s not, ultimately, a cure.

It’s a bit like placing a bandaid on gunshot wound.

Unfortunately modern psychology often falls short of mentioning the worm at the core for fear of angering the hornets nest. I say we need to give the hornets nest a good fucking shake.

Even with the healthiest self esteem in the world, the worm is still buried deep beneath the surface. It’s still pulling the strings. While that’s better for the individual, arguably this is far more dangerous for the world at large.

The beliefs we use to protect us from our own fear of death become the things we are willing to die for.

Here’s where I flip the aircraft upside down and take the paradox of meaning to an even more absurd level.

We desperately need to understand that the meaning we give our lives is rooted in an existential fear of death. We need to understand where our need for meaning is truly coming from.

Otherwise we become incapable of challenging of our beliefs. We become incapable of updating them when we desperately need to.

Not only do we increase the risk of stalling, we run the risk of taking down an entire plane full of passengers with us – quite literally!

Now, the elephant in the existential room known as the universe here is God.

Atheists often deride a belief in God while failing to see the very real psychology security faith provides. Religious people suffer from depression and anxiety in far fewer numbers than non religious people.

The truth is God was an ingenious solution to what Buddha called the big problem of consciousness. 

The big problem of consciousness isn’t simply the knowledge we will die. The issue comes from taking the question of why to it’s natural conclusion. The eventual death of all things. Because nothing lasts forever. 

That includes the human race. 

Our cultures give us a sense of permanence that we crave, but that’s all it is. A sense. When you take the question of why to a cosmic level it finds no answer. Meaning falls away and all we are left with is a cold indifferent truly absurd universe. 

Here is where run the risk of throwing out the baby with the holy bathwater in the modern age. This is what greatly concerned Fredrick Nietche when prophesied about the death of God. Something that Viktor Frankl subsequently called the existential vacuum. 

God provided us with the belief that our lives meant something as a whole. It was encompassing. The big issue that nihilism presents – what I believe to be at the crux of the modern day mental health crisis – is that meaning of our lives becomes contingent. 

It’s contingent on you being a valuable member of your country, or community, or family. Of course theses things are important. They do give our lives a huge amount of necessary meaning. 

But the issue arises when we lose our job, when we get divorced or a family member dies. The issue comes when our health fails us – when we suffer a debilitating disease – because then what? 

If you can’t fufill your role as a valuable member of your community then what?

This is when the existential vacuum sucks the life out of us. This is when the worm eats whatever remaining life we have left for breakfast. 

Friedrich Nietzsche is regularly quoted as saying those who have a why can bear almost any how.

What if the only way to prevent the existential worm at the core from eating you alive is to give yourself up to something? Perhaps we need an unshakable why to counteract the crushing how of existence?

Now there’s a question to chew on.

One of the major things that people struggle with is the underlying sense that something is missing in their lives.

It’s just, they can’t put a finger on it. Even when they have everything on paper, they still feel something is off. The existential grumblings beneath the surface torment them. So much so they can’t even sit still for fear of having to confront it.

But confront it we must. As it turns out, the worm holds the fucking key.


This is part four of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.

Part 1: Stalling: The Aerodynamics of Life

Part 2: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift

Part 3: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift (2)

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You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

Stalling: Why We Lose Lift (2)

The Paradox of Progress

The story of Buddha is well known. Born into a palace and given every indulgence he could possibly wish for, while, at the same time, shielded from the outside world. And yet, it wasn’t enough. He knew something was off. (Sound familiar?) 

So, he decided to go against his father’s wishes and venture out of the palace. It was then that he saw, for the first time in his life, suffering and death. This unsettled him greatly and sent him on the path to enlightenment. To get there he had to give it all up.

He came to see that all attachments – including to and of the self – were the reason people suffered. 

This is us, in the developed world. Metaphorically speaking we have all been born into the palace. We have everything. We have more options than we’ve had before. The possibilities are endless. (This is part of the problem too. There are too many options. We’re stuck in the supermarket spending our lives deciding which brand of ketchup to buy.)  

We live in the most prosperous, safest period in human history. We’re all literate, well educated. Violence and wars are at an all time low. Racism, sexism and discrimination are at their lowest points in history too. Far fewer people live below the poverty line. We’ve cured countless diseases. The list goes on.

And yet, and yet, where do we go from here? Because the meaning we give our lives is based on a better tomorrow is it not? Hope is based on a better future. If not for ourselves then for our children – for our family, our community, our political party, our country, our fucking football team. 

This is what it feels like.

It feels like we’re sitting on the apex of humanity. It feels like we’re at the top of the mountain looking down. At the very highest cruising level knowing all that’s left is our gradual or perhaps rapid descent to our inevitable demise. 

The threat of nuclear war is the highest it’s been in decades. Extremism is on the rise across the political spectrum. The world is boiling. The environment is in free-fall. Donald Trump is running for president again… 

Here we are, sat inside our palace walls. It feels like a swarm of flesh eating zombies are clambering at the walls ready to rush in and devour everything we know and love. But it’s not the walls that are cracking – we are. 

Mark Manson calls this the paradox of progress. He says, “We are the safest and most prosperous humans in the history of the world, yet we are feeling more hopeless than ever before. The better things get, the more we seem to despair… And perhaps it can be summed up in one startling fact: the wealthier and safer the place you live, the more likely you are to commit suicide.”

The Worm at the Core 

But here’s the thing. (I suggest you tighten your seatbelts. This is the part of the flight where I take a rapid nose off a cliff!)

We know we will lose it all. We know that we will die. All these things – the environment, the threat of nuclear war, the pandemic (the list goes on and on and on) are simply reminding us of this painful truth.

They’re bringing the existential worm at the core to the surface. 

Las week I said that stalling is a result of losing meaning. That’s another way of saying we’ve lost hope. The problems is we become attached, not only to things, but beliefs.

Why do we get attached to them, exactly? They’re just thoughts right? I mean, all beliefs are just ideas, fundamentally. So why? Why are we so unwilling to hear the other side? Why are we all so utterly convinced that out point of view is the correct one? 

We’ve all been there right? We’ve all had that massive argument over nothing. We wake up the next morning with egg on our face wondering why it was we cared so much. Why we felt so strongly about something we know, in the light of the next day, doesn’t matter in the slightest.

This is why. It’s because we know what the end result is. We know that death is inevitable. And because we know the end result we feel that our lives must mean something.

We want to know, if we can’t live on that, at the very least, our religion can, or our political party, or our country, or even our football team. We need some part of us to live on. 

When those things lose out we can’t stand it. When the things we believe in are attacked or challenged, it feels like our very lives are at stake.

American philosopher William James dubbed this the “the worm at the core” of the human condition.

Now, I like to call him Mr wormy head because this makes him feel less threatening. (And also, I have two young boys so this is how I talk at the moment.)

Mr wormy head is always there – residing deep beneath the surface. It’s at the very core of our psychology – at the deepest root. The way we keep him at bay is by instilling our lives with meaning.

This is the primary reason we give life meaning – even if most of us aren’t aware – to protect us from the knowledge that we will one day die. Not only that, to protect us from the knowledge that nothing we do ultimately matters. 

The problem is, he likes to comes to surface any time we suffer a major loss. Whenever our self esteem takes a hit. He senses when his prey is vulnerable. He tries to eat whatever remaining lift we have left for breakfast. 

He’s a very naughty Mr wormy head. When he comes to surface he likes to remind us that nothing we say or do matters. That everyone we love will die and everything we know will be swallowed up by the sun. He tells us we are nothing but an insignificant cosmic speck in the infinite expanse of time and space. 

Like I said, very naughty. 

The natural conclusion when Mr wormy head starts to eat us from the inside out is that nothing matters at all. That because life is ultimately meaningless there’s no point whatsoever. So why not sleep with my best friends wife? Why not shoot up a school full of children? Why not hang myself from a noose and end it all? 

At it’s deepest darkest level this is what it means to stall in life – why we become completely untethered from reality. It’s not only a lack of belief in oneself but everything. It’s a lack of meaning, control and belief all rolled into one nihilistic ball. 

Not only does this cause us to stall, it causes us to give up completely.

But to finish this admittedly depressing post with something to cling to, giving up isn’t the same as letting go. When you give up on life, the reality is, you’re still not letting go.

(To be continued…)


This is part two of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.

Part 1: Stalling: The Aerodynamics of Life

Part 2: Stalling: Why We Lose Lift

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You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://wiseandshinezine.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

3-2-1 Flying Fridays

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to 3-2-1 Flying Fridays! The only weekly post that believes a meaningless existence is the whole point.

Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 something special (maybe). 

As a bonus I’ve finished with one joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!


3 x Thoughts:

1) Our lives hold as much meaning as we give them. Which is why we must give ours as much meaning as we can. In our relationships and our work. We must fill every corner of our precious existence with it. If we do, we won’t be concerned with what the meaning of life is. We will understand that the question doesn’t matter. We will understand – that when it comes to the meaning of life – our own unique, unrepeatable lives – that we aren’t meant to ask the question. We are meant to answer it in the only way that we can.

2) The real fear isn’t that we’re going to die or that soon after we will be quickly forgotten. The real fear is getting to that point and realising we didn’t really live in the first place – that we didn’t live a life we felt was truly meaningful. This is why a fear of death is so heavily associated with a fear of life. Why we often feel like we’re “racing against the clock.” It’s when we don’t feel that our lives are currently meaningful that the worm at the core starts to eat us alive. 

3) Why it’s helpful to think you’re not a good person: A good person implies something black or white. You either are or you aren’t. This fixes your mindset. You believe you’re a good person and go at lengths to avoid being proven otherwise. You also become defensive about that belief. You feel threatened whenever this comes into question and so avoid the very conversations you need to hear so you may become a better person. That’s the way you should think. Not in terms of being a good person, but in terms of being a better one. Of course, you always can be.


2 x Quotes:

“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the centre of it all.”

– Robert Pirsig

“In their fear of death, those living fear life itself, a life that is doomed to die… The mode in which life knows and perceives itself is worry. Thus the object of fear comes to be fear itself. Even if we should assume that there is nothing to fear, that death is no evil, the fact of fear (that all living things shun death) remains… Fearlessness is what love seeks. Love as craving is determined by its goal, and this goal is freedom from fear… Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future… Hence the only valid tense is the present, the Now.”

Hannah Arendt

1 x Thing:

This Mark Manson article: The Meaning of Life Is a Ham Sandwich. As he explains, “Meaning is not something that exists outside of ourselves. It is not some cosmic universal truth waiting to be discovered. It is not some grand ‘eureka’ moment that will change our lives forever. Meaning requires action. Meaning is something that we must continually find and nurture. Consistently.” I particularly liked the two ways he suggests doing that: Either by solving problems or helping others. Well worth the quick read!


1 x Joke:

I had my haircut the other day.

When I got home my 3 year old asked, “Dad, did you get a haircut?”

I said, “No, I got them all cut!”

Unfortunately the joke went over his head.


PREVIOUS NEWSLETTER:

3-2-1 Flying Fridays – 14/01/22


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You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

A 3-Step Guide For Cultivating Extreme Gratitude

“Prepare to die, motherfucker!”

Sorry! Sorry! That was a bit harsh. It sounded cooler in my head. Let me try again.

“Hasta la vista, baby”, “Yippie ki yay, motherfucker!”

Damn it! Sorry! I did it again. One more time.

“Prepare yourself for death… motherfucker!”

I’m sorry, I just… I can’t help myself. I have a problem.

Anyway, what I actually want to say is, come to terms with your own mortality. 

Imagine it. Embrace it even. Picture your loved ones dying. Picture yourself slowly turning into dust. Become acutely aware of the fact that you, and everything you hold dear, are going to die.

Now, you might think I’m one crazy motherfucker for suggesting something so morbid – you might think that contemplating death will make you unhappy, however, studies have shown the opposite to be true. Those who deliberately stare into the abyss actually foster a “non-conscious orientation toward happy thoughts.” 

The Bhutansese, for example, considered to be some of the happiest people on earth, think about death, on average, five times a day. Five times! It turns out that death meditation is a very common Buddhist practise. You know those peaceful chaps with no hair and orange robes? Yeah, they even have a name for it called Maranasati.

Personally I’ve found it to be a very powerful tool. It’s something I practise every morning now. I find few things sober me up to my present reality more. Few things give me as much clarity for doing and saying what I should – for aligning my actions with my values. Few things make me feel so incredibly grateful for the fact that I’m still alive – for the things and the people in my life as it stands today.

Now, I should say there’s like 1 percent of the population who probably shouldn’t meditate on death (disclaimer/suggestion thingy), so if you have some sort of trauma or psychological instability then please consult a mental heath care professional first. For the rest of you, however, I suggest implementing the following 3 steps, like, now!

Here they are:

  1. Meditate on the death of your loved ones.
  2. Meditate on your own death. 
  3. Reflect on and revaluate your priorities, today

Here’s the exercise in full:

  1. While sitting up straight, bring your attention to your breathe for a few minutes. However long it takes to stop the monkey mind from dancing around, then bring to mind someone you love. Now, consider the reality that they will die. Imagine it happening. Imagining being by their side during their final moments. Allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise. Next, notice any thoughts you have – like what you would say to them.
  1. Next, spend a few minutes coming back to your breathe before considering the reality that you yourself will die. Make it clear that you don’t know when or how it will happen. As you inhale you can say to yourself, “This could be my last inhale.” As you exhale you say to yourself, “This could be my last exhale.” Next, allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise. Notice any thoughts you have – like what you wish you would have done or said during your life. 
  1. Next, let your eyes open and stop meditating. Take a few minutes to reflect on your response to the reality of death. Did you feel scared? Did any regrets pop up? What seems important to you now? Consider how can you use this knowledge to inform your decisions today. Ask yourself whether your priorities are aligned. Finally, take out your journal and write down any thoughts you have. Make a list of the 3 most important values/things in your life, then ask yourself how you can prioritise them today. Finally, get on it! 

Why Everything Scares You To Death

The other night, while I was trying to sleep, I started thinking about the post I wrote last week where I stated that hatred is driven – at its core – by a fear of death. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something fundamental. Naturally this started to make me feel a little anxious. Which then got me thinking, ‘why I am feeling so anxious? I’m just thinking.’ 

Anyway, I placed my mind on that fear and I asked, ‘what do you want me to figure out?’ Then something clicked. The penny dropped and I thought, ‘holy shit, all fear is a fear of death. That’s what you’re feeling. That’s why it’s so intense. It’s simply a trick. An illusion played by the mind to keep you, and those you love, alive.’ 

Immediately I started thinking about the implications this simplicity of thought might have. How we could use it to see through and conquer our fears. But also help those consumed by theirs. So I got up and started hashing out my argument. (No, I didn’t sleep well that night!) And well, this post was the result.

Anyway, buckle up boys and girls, because I’m about to take your mind down a rabbit hole that will blow it wide open. But first let me explain my thinking with a quick biology lesson. (I’ll try to make it fun.)

The Biology Of Fear

From a biological perspective the purpose of life is life itself. That all our emotions – the full kaleidoscope of experience – can be explained, broadly speaking, by two things. The first is survival (protecting our life and those we love.) Enter fear. The second is procreation and the raising/nurturing of offspring. Enter love. 

These two broad encompassing emotional forces drive everything. They represent the light and dark side of the force. Yin and Yang, Male and Female, Ross and Rachel, Bert and Ernie… you get the point. It’s a delicate tussle counter balancing one against the other. However we need both of them.

Now, to forget love for a second (Say what?), let’s talk amount the most important of these two emotional forces – fear (Oh no you didn’t!). 

Inside your brain are two little nuggets called your amygdalas. These naughty little nuggets are, biologically speaking, responsible for all of your emotional suffering. This is because they activate something called your fight, flight or freeze response system. And this has everything to do with your survival. (They love you really.)

Now, what happens when those naughty nuggets detect what they believe is a serious threat to your life, is they shut off access to the rational part of your brain (your frontal lobes). When this happens the only thing your brain becomes interested in is your survival. And it uses the fear of death to drive your actions. Telling you to either run for the hills (fear under flight), tread carefully (anxiety under freeze), or fight for your life (anger or hate under fight). That is what fear is, in essence. Fear is a fear of death. I say that because these responses are based on keeping you alive. 

This is why I believe fear, anxiety, anger and hate are such intense emotions. Why we have a million and one different addictions and mental illnesses in our attempts to deal with them. We are dealing with a fear of death under different guises. And that is no small thing. (Have I blown your mind yet?)

The Link To Death

One of the problems I believe we have is we don’t link our fear to death. We lack the awareness. This is partly because many of us live in denial and partly because our rational minds and ancient emotional response system aren’t of the same era (your naughty nuggets are part of the limbic system which comprises the oldest part of your brain); but mainly because the ego doesn’t want us to figure this out. It’s a deliberate illusion. After all it’s not terribly useful to psychoanalyse your fear when face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger!

But you’re not actually sacred of the tiger. No, you’re afraid of one thing and one thing alone: death. What your brain has done is attach the fear of death to that animal, thing or situation. That’s why everything scares us to death. Because we are. That’s what drives us at our core.

This is also why, in the pecking order of love and fear, fear comes first (why we have something called a negativity bias). Of course this sucks the big one, however the logic makes good sense. You must first survive before you can thrive. Before you can use your big one!

In the case of a sabre-toothed tiger the link is obvious, much like a fear of heights. However others things are much harder to link, like onomatophobia – a fear of names. (Yeah, for real Bob.). Most often they’re rooted in our unique childhood traumas as part of our attempt to win the love of our parents who weren’t forthcoming with it (which we needed for survival). Other things are less obvious on the surface but make good sense when you consider our ancestry basically roamed around as tribes for millions of years. 

For example, we understand that standing up on stage and making a public speech won’t kill us, (rationally we understand it won’t matter one iota), yet many of us are still scared to death at the thought. Why? Your surface level rationale is probably saying something along the line of, “if I mess this presentation up I’ll make a fool of myself and my coworkers will no longer respect me.” But so what? That rationale doesn’t justify the level of emotion it evokes.

Well, consider this.

Imagine you’re living as part of a tight-knit tribal community. A small group of hunter gathers where your survival depends on you getting along with everyone else. Suddenly social anxiety – fear of sticking your neck out – starts to make more sense. If you stand up and talk to the tribe and the tribe rejects you, it’s possible they’ll make you an outcast and now you really are fucked. So tread carefully (anxiety). You do not want to piss off the alpha! In today’s world, rationally, we understand the stakes aren’t so high, however your ancient emotional response system doesn’t.

This is also why we care so much what other people think. This is why we get so worked up over nothing. This is why we hold our beliefs as absolute and why we cannot stand to be challenged. (Please don’t disagree with me on this.) 

This is worth stressing.

When it comes to our emotions we are working with a Palaeolithic operating system. It’s millions of years in the making based on what the world was like for us for the vast majority of that time. It’s not well adapted to modern life. 

How To Conquer Your Fear

So now you’re thinking, “Ok Sherlock, now that you’ve made me aware that my crippling anxiety is actually a fear of death underneath, how is this suppose to help me?”

Because now you can ask yourself a couple of important questions. The first is obvious. Is your life really at risk? To use my previous example, is getting up on stage really going to end your life? No, of course not. Then are your feelings rational or irrational? We know the answer to this of course. But now we have awareness on our side. Suddenly it’s clear as day. Now you can look through it because you understand why the feeling is so intense. 

That is a good reason to show those feelings love and compassion. That is a good reason to tell yourself it’s ok. And now you can remind yourself what your higher purpose is. What your loving motives are for standing up on that stage. And suddenly that fear starts to loosen its grip. 

This allows your naughty little nuggets to calm the fuck down, which allows your frontal lobes to come back online. What you’re doing is placing your emotions back in the passenger seat of your car as opposed to the drivers seat. Which is exactly where you want them to be (except when your life really is threatened.) And so you go ahead and make most passionate speech of your life (maybe).

What you’ve done is used love for the purpose it was intended, to overcome your own fear of death. Not only that, you’ve just told yourself you conquered a fear of death, not simply a fear of public speaking, which is massive.

Now, here’s where I address the rather large Woolly Mammoth in the cave. If fear – a fear of dying – comes first in the order of our emotional makeup, then perhaps all of our emotions are related to a fear of death, including love? And if you think that’s a rather dark hypothesis to end, I would counter by saying how beautifully poetic I believe that is. 

Love was nature’s antidote to prevent our own fears from destroying ourselves. It was designed to give us the courage to overcome our fear of death to protect our offspring. To protect our tribe. To protect our larger self. In an increasingly interconnected world I believe we must use that love to cultivate and serve a higher purpose that includes all life on this planet. We must use that to overcome – quite literally- our own fear of death in order to do so. I fear if we don’t, that fear, will consume us all.


Thanks for reading everyone. So what do you think? Are our fears simply a fear of death underneath? And is love the antidote to those fears by design? Thoughts and opinions keenly anticipated. Warm regards, AP2 🙏

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You can see find more of AP2’s nonsensical world views and poor self-help advice here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

How To Make Love To Hate

“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”

– MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

I’ve been thinking about hate recently. Not only because we’ve see so much of it this past year, but because I’ve felt some as well. Truthfully it got to a point preceding the US election where it broke me a little. 

I thought I was clear about where those feelings came from. What beliefs were driving my anger. But now that the waters have calmed, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that something else has been going on. Some deep-seated fear beneath the surface. 

So I thought I’d give the topic of hate a more thorough examination. In an attempt to understand its purpose. And from that understanding hopefully find in my heart to show it some compassion. So we can all learn how to make love to our hate.

First let me get you in the mood with some foreplay in the form of gentle stroking questions!

Foreplay

One thing that’s touted around the blogosphere as the panacea to all of our problems is universal compassion. It got me thinking (and laughing) that maybe I should write a post entitled, Why Universal Compassion Must Include Donald Trump. 

If I can get through that without reneging on the premise well, ladies and gentlemen, that would be something. Because honestly I can’t wrap my head around the idea. 

Are somethings not meant to be hated? The emotion exists for a reason right? The rational part of my brain figures it must have evolved to serve some kind of necessary function. At least, in very rare circumstances.

Let’s, for example, circle back several hundred years and place ourselves in a small rural English village with a plague-ridden wife and four malnourished children.

Now imagine a hoard of angry, horny, Vikings start pillaging the village by chopping your neighbour’s head off (you hated him anyway). 

Do you, a) abandon your family by running away, b) resign yourself to death and hold your family one last time, c) try to negotiate a civilised peace treaty (by agreeing to share your neighbour’s stuff) or, d) pick up your sword and fight?

Now let’s pretend your name is Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and that you pick up your sword. (I must watch less television.) What emotion do think would serve you best in a battle to the death?

Maybe I’ve inadvertently hit the G spot here?

When it comes to protecting yourself against someone (or something) who is attacking you, or those you love, perhaps hatred is meant to act as a last line of defence? Perhaps what drives our hate – at its deepest level – is a fear of death?

At this point my wife would tell me to slow down as she’s not quite there yet.

Anyway let’s get stuck into the main body (of this post) with some stuff I found on the internet.

Intercourse

After doing a bit of research into the relationship between hatred and death, I stumbled upon something that got me very excited (that wasn’t porn) called Terror Management Theory (or TMT).

TMT posits, “The inevitably of one’s death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural world-views — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value. TMT predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their world-views and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.”

I feel like I might have the G spot again!

If our cultural world-views are meant to act as a buffer against our own mortality, it stands to reason that a fear of death would cause us to hold onto them more tightly does it not?

What happens then, when those beliefs are challenged? Perhaps some of us might feel like our lives have been threatened? And what if people’s actual lives are threatened by something like a pandemic? Perhaps they’ll do everything they can to ensure that their beliefs survive in case they don’t? 

(If you want to learn about how TMT can be used to explain people’s different reactions to the pandemic I highly recommend giving this study a read.)

Now imagine, if you will, a facist nation invades your country forcing you to take up arms to defend it. How do you think that might affect your feelings toward your country? I’m guessing you’d concentrate on what it is you love. What it is you’re willing to defend and die for. 

Oh hello Nationalism!

Now consider how a rise in Islamophobia often follows terrorist attacks. Or how a rise in hate crimes against the Asian community follows when the former fear monger in chief dubs COVID the “Kung Flu.” Or how you binge watch all 5 seasons of The Wire and decide you can’t trust black people.

Oh hello Racism!

Of course this is a big problem. And it’s important to stress that while hate may serve to unite a country, or tribe, against a “common enemy”, hate always loses. Because hate begets hate. As war has proven throughout history. Unless you succeed in eliminating your perceived threat, then that hatred is only going to build. What’s worse is that hate won’t be resolved by eliminating that threat if you do (which is impossible when considering an entire race of people). And then what happens? Hate looks for a new target. And if it can’t find one, it turns on itself. (Insert caracatiure of Hitler shooting himself here.) 

This is why hate always loses. Not because love always wins, but because hate ends up destroying itself. That’s something I believe Trump never understood. He cultivated just as much hatred on the other side of the fence and it came back to haunt him. That’s exactly why the answer cannot be hate in return. (And suddenly the idea of universal compassion is starting to make more sense.)

At this point my wife would tell me to get to the point. And I would tell her that the secret to great love making is patience. And then she would tell me that girth is more important the length. And then I would cry myself to sleep… 

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, let me wrap things up. I’m nearly there!

Climax

TMT also got me thinking about another stereotype. The idea that people become increasingly “set in their ways” the older they get. It occurs to me that this might have less to do with what people believe, then an inability to come to terms with their own mortality.

Not all people face death in the same manner of course. Many are happy in death. Even when suffering many remain at peace. They’re not bitter or resentful. They’re not consumed by hate. They don’t want to hurt others. 

This all begs the following question: If all our beliefs are designed to help us cope with the elephant in the room – our own mortality – and if a fear of death causes us to cling to those beliefs more tightly, then maybe that’s exactly where we need to start in order live in peace?

Now here’s my radical theory.

If hate is driven – at its deepest darkest core – by a fear of death, I believe that coming to terms with one’s mortality might be one way to resolve those feelings.

But how do you do that?

Here are a few ideas. Meditate on your own demise. Face the idea of your death head on. Talk about it. Plan your own funeral. Treat today like it’s your last because it may well be. 

The Stoics used to employ a technique called Negative Visualisation where you imagine losing what you value the most in life in order to help eradicate that fear. The idea is that it serves to lessen the emotional impact when difficult losses actually take place. The other hidden benefit is that it helps to cultivate a greater amount of gratitude for those things or people in our lives today.

Here’s one more idea: Cultivate as much meaning in your life as you possible can. Studies show that those who feel they are living a meaningful life are, paradoxically, less afraid of death. Other studies show that those who have lower self esteem (who believe their life isn’t meaningful) are more likely to harbour feelings of resentment. That means coming to terms with past traumas as well (something I mean to explore in my next post.)

So if you want to overcome your fear of death and let go of hate, volunteer to do some charity work. (Go figure!)

Anyway, ladies and gentleman, that’s it. My answer for how to make love to hate, is to fall in love with death. Maybe if we do, we’ll realise that life is too short to live for anything but love.


Further Reading/Sources: 

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You can see find more of AP2’s nonsensical world views and poor self-help advice here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com