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Archive for February, 2009

Killing Time

February 23rd, 2009 No comments

I’m in the middle of a long four-day period with nothing to do at all, and while the whole time has been filled with pleasant, enjoyable experiences, I can’t help but feel like a complete and utter piece of shit. Certainly the fact that this is the fourth day in a row of completely overcast skies doesn’t help at all, but I think this has to do with more than just the weather. I’m also beginning to feel genuinely lonely for the first time in awhile, although the last thing I feel like doing is hanging out with people. On Saturday I asked Amanda to take me to the liquor store so I could return my case of beer from my birthday party and pick up another one for gradual consumption over the next couple weeks, and we also went to the supermarket afterwards, but that’s the extent of all the social interaction I’ve had over the last two and half days, and that’s if you count English class as social interaction.

Of course I’m currently operating under the belief that we choose our own emotions and that if I wanted I could look at this completely differently. I could be happy that I have such a long period of time with nothing to do but what I feel like doing. I could be glad that I’ve managed to go jogging every day for the last three days as well as working on my philosophy journal. I could appreciate the entire afternoons and evenings of simply having fun and enjoying myself. Instead I just feel low and miserable, constantly considering just how much happier I’d be if I had a terminal illness and I knew I only had a few more weeks or months ahead of me. Staring down the road at the years or the decades ahead is just too depressing to contemplate. My quarter-century of life feels like a millennium. The idea that I might not even be half-way to the end is almost too much to bear…

I just feel like I’m not going anywhere, in spite of the fact that I know I’m not supposed to be going anywhere. I’m doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life, only at this point I’m not exploring as much or experiencing as much as I thought I’d be. Probably because I’m not making as much money as I thought I’d be. I suppose I could be looking for another job or a cheaper apartment right now, but I have no motivation to do either of those things. I don’t want to leave this apartment and I don’t want to go through the bullshit of getting another job especially when I’ve already got an interview coming up next week. Perhaps the extra 400 euros a month I might be getting from the International School will be enough.

In any case, I know that I’ll probably be out of here by the end of the year and off to Japan. That seems to be the way I’ve chosen to deal with my life since graduating college. Not going anywhere? No forward progress being made in life? Still haven’t found that special someone? The solution—move somewhere else. End your old life and build a new one. That’s a high that literally lasts for months. But then the seasons change and eventually you find yourself in another stasis that doesn’t look all that much more extraordinary than every other stasis you’ve found yourself in. Then your thoughts shift to moving again and going somewhere else. Giving yourself the illusion that you’re going somewhere, that you’re making some sort of “progress”, or even that this time you might find that special someone.

Really it’s all just killing time. I have no reason to live and never really have. The simple pleasures that I fill my days with are nice and all, but they’re not worth living for. Only one thing in life is worth living for, and that’s love. And I haven’t been truly in love for years, the emotion that once went with it now twisted and warped into something unfortunate and disturbing. I’m not doing any good for anybody in the world. My friends certainly don’t need me. I haven’t talked to Corey in weeks and Krissi is…well, she is who she is. She appreciates me but she has never needed me.

The fact is I’m not doing anybody any good by being alive. I have no wife or children to take care of, nor do I have any talent that I could use to make the world a better place. I’m just breathing everybody else’s air, drinking their water, eating their food, and contributing in all my little ways to the suffering of the unfortunate people and animals who are victims of civilisation. I suppose I could choose not to look at it this way, but it just feels appropriate to do so. I would rather not be alive. Looking at my life objectively, as if I were some outside spectator who had to decide which lives were worth preserving and which could be discarded without much loss to the world, I’d place myself in the latter category. Not that I’d be the only one, but I really feel like my life is worthless to everyone but me. Sure, I’ve had many experiences worth having, but what have I done to deserve them?

The only good reason I have not to kill myself and remove the burden on the rest of the world of my presence here is that any suffering I mitigate by taking myself out of the equation will be offset by the suffering I cause to my parents and the other people who care about me—which they only do because it’s natural, not because I merit it.

I suppose it’s useless to fight this mood right now. I think I just have to let it be, like an illness that can only be cured by waiting it out. I know I’ve got to feel this way sometimes. Choosing not to and really fighting it would take too much effort. Besides, I’ve always been inclined to indulge my misery when true misery comes about. It’s important to allow myself to be reminded from time to time that I’m just a miserable, worthless sack of shit after all. But this mood will pass eventually, as will my life. I’ll just keep killing time until it does.

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Endgame: E.ON

February 8th, 2009 No comments

On Thursday I had one of my best classes ever. I was looking online for an article that would provoke a truly interesting discussion, and as E.ON is an energy company I had to find something that related to the topic of energy in at least a general way. I wanted to look at an argument similar to that of Derrick Jensen’s argument in Endgame, a book I read last year that really got me thinking about the end of civilization. After searching for awhile and failing to find anything I figured I should just try to find the source itself, and I came across a PDF of the premises and first three chapters of the actual book.

As it happened, I had a full class for the first time ever, all four of my students from Andreas and Monika to the lawyers Christine in her late twenties and Suzanne who was born in France but has been living in Germany for at least thirty or forty years. The three woman are pretty liberal and Andreas is quite conservative so I expected a good discussion. All of them are advanced speakers so it hardly felt like an English course at all—it turned out to be more of a philosophy or political science class.

Much to my surprise, there was unanimous agreement with nearly all of Jensen’s premises. They reacted with shock at how direct and strong the statements were, but they couldn’t deny the truth in them. Civilization, they agreed, is unsustainable in its present form and a catastrophic collapse is likely to occur. Andreas was dead certain that it would, as he had the most negative view of human nature. All societies, he held, are rooted in the violent subjugation of the many at the hands of a powerful few. You could put just two people in a room with some food and water, he said, and no matter what they would eventually find themselves fighting over who gets the bigger share.

I explained that not all societies are unsustainable and rooted in violence. Native Americans are the prime example Jensen writes about of a culture that does not take more from the land than they need and where the leaders of a tribe do not rule by force but because they are regarded as the wisest. Andreas didn’t disagree but the idea that we should all go back to living a tribal existence seemed absurd to him.

When we reached the statement that “Love does not imply pacifism” and I talked about how Jensen advocates the use of violence as necessary to protect the natural world, it was Monika who first said that such a statement makes him no better than the people he believes are killing the planet. Suzanne agreed, saying his beliefs were contradictory. But I countered by pointing out that there is a clear distinction between violence for the sake of a greater good and violence for the sake of personal interest. If one is willing to die for a cause he believes is greater than himself, this is a completely different thing than a person who is willing to kill insofar as it will benefit himself or his own group but will not risk his own life. That was all it took for Suzanne to change her mind, and the rest agreed as well.

But the most interesting parts of the discussion came when we were talking about the general idea of the downfall of humanity. Both Suzanne and Andreas are Christian, but where Suzanne sees a divine plan where God has a destiny for humanity, Andreas believes that human beings are just one tiny piece of God’s universe, and our time on earth just a blink of an eye. He believes that not only will civilization collapse but that human beings will go extinct as well, and relatively soon. Suzanne wouldn’t accept this, believing that God has a plan for us and although there may be a catastrophe that will wipe most of us out (she cited the Noah’s ark story) there will always be some survivors who can start again and hopefully do it right.

I risked getting even more philosophical and pointed out that belief in God and a divine plan does make a huge difference in how a person will see the issue. If you believe we’re here for a reason, you won’t think that God would really let us destroy ourselves, but if you believe that we’re purely here by chance it becomes obvious that nothing guarantees our survival. But I even got Suzanne to agree that we are still responsible for ourselves, and that even if God exists He isn’t going to do everything for us. I suppose it was her inner Frenchness that caused her to agree with this existentialist assessment—that we can’t just sit back and hope that God will take care of everything for us.

In the end, all were quite ready to accept that civilization is definitely going to collapse and there’s nothing we can do about it. The only minor point of contention is whether there is any hope at all—whether after the collapse human beings can start again and figure out a way to live a more sane and sustainable existence. Andreas said no, and he may be right, but I didn’t want to seem like the prophet of doom, so I offered the words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama when I saw him a couple of years ago at a talk he gave in Princeton—that while things may look really bad in the short term, a lot of moral progress has been made in the long-term such as the abolition of slavery and the growing equality of women in societies around the world. I offered the possibility that humans can learn from history and that perhaps in the future we will be able to live peacefully and sustainably in the world. I think everyone was grateful to me for ending on a positive note.

I could tell they were all lost in thought when I ended the lesson and said goodbye. I’m sure I gave them enough to think about for quite some time, and that was a strangely good feeling I’m not used to. Perhaps they’ll go and talk about it to their friends and family or the rest of their co-workers in the energy industry. I certainly hope so. Because as I said towards the beginning when they were still shocked at the force of his premises and the serious nature of their implications—this is a problem we’re all aware of but we never talk about. If civilization is really certain to collapse (and these energy industry people had no arguments to the contrary) and the longer we wait for the collapse the messier it will be, what we have to be doing now is talking about it and spreading these ideas. My current job actually gives me the opportunity to do that, and as such I’ll take advantage when I can.