As a creative writing minor, I’ve become far more cognizant of purple writing. Many of us go through the few years where our writing needs to be dramatically stylized. In our minds, our writing is something of an explosion of power, when really we’ve done something akin to putting hair clips on a long-hair puppy. We’ve taken something perfectly normal, something that a good writer can write interestingly about, and twisted it for effect rather than honesty.
The reason I bring this up is because everyone is a writer. Everyone writes. When a person speaks, that person is writing. When a person doles out opinions and advice on social media, that person is writing. This is important to note because people who like to talk and write are generally people who love story. And for story to work effectively at the human interest, it has to have conflict, enjoyable dialogue, and many other things. All right, so why is this so important? Because stories are lies. Endlessly entertaining lies, when done well, but lies nonetheless.
What are the implications here? When a person speaks to another person, they’re generally telling some form of story. In that story, things are subjective to the teller’s perspective. This is why the telephone game works so predictably. Storytellers (see: humans) want to tell a good story. So what happens? Conflict is embellished and dialogue, though it may not be structurally altered, is given a different context and different inflection. The story is made more enjoyable.
Most of us realize when we’re doing this for a comedic story, or otherwise harmless narrative for the sake of the group’s enjoyment. But what we don’t notice as much is that this habit carries over to our more serious considerations. It then becomes more discrete by necessity, because we don’t want to know (and thus be forced to admit) that we’re doing it when we, say, post a political rant on Facebook, or shriek about social justice to our friends. If we took only a few moments to assess this habit in those more serious situations, we’d see what we were doing. But we won’t allow ourselves to, because admitting the inevitable flaws in our own personal perceptions would make our grip on reality that much more questionable.
We’re a cult of intelligence now, and coming to terms with the questionable nature of our perspectives would mean that we have to abandon any notion that we could ever be quite as intelligent as we want others to think we are.
The human mind is frighteningly fragile.
There are countless ways to break a person down, mentally. Put the heat of truth on them, and they’ll snap every time. It all boils down to shame. Are you really as smart as you think you are? Let’s explore that. Are you really as attractive as you want others to think you are? Let’s talk about it. Why don’t you live minimalist and give everything you don’t absolutely need directly to those who need it? Own one coat, no television, no computer. Work at the shelter. Those things you want aren’t important. You can’t take it with you. You talk about equal opportunity and the drudges of capitalism, but you do it from a tablet at a university, an iPhone at the coffee shop, or a laptop at work. Let’s discuss that. You’re entitled because you’re the nice guy friend? How so? Getting people to think about why they think the way they do, and really hammering at it, will almost inevitably lead to a breakdown.
In my experience, what really causes the most distress is when you start to boil everything down to some amount of faith in your own perception. Words are a wonderful thing, but they also have a habit of muddying the objective fact of a situation. We have words to describe things in a way that we understand them, but those words are only placeholders for the truth of the matter. We can use words like “fact” and pretend that it means absolute truth, when really it just means that we’ve decided through observation that an idea is inevitable or unquestionable. We can’t handle things in terms of absolute possibility, because we’d have to admit the possibility of all conceivable and inconceivable things and events. We won’t allow ourselves that amount of freedom, because we have an unquenchable desire for absolute truth. In the absence of our ability to see that truth, we’ll attribute our best and most reliable guesses to it.
It used to be that a god or gods could fill that place, and we would accept that all things were possible. But with the relentless march of observational sciences, many can no longer accept this as an answer. We now have a more concrete idea of the universe around us, because we now have words to help us understand them, thanks to dedicated and curious people. Interestingly, though, we now can only think in terms of probability, because that’s what science has told us to put our faith in. We can trust science, because it works only with facts. If it cannot be proven, it cannot be true. These are the boundaries we accept now.
So, now we accept that our deaths lead to an inconceivable nothingness, and the march toward this inevitable conclusion ought to be filled with scrambling efforts to understand everything before our minds are wiped by the indifferent forces of nature.
But, no, it’s a beautiful thing. Our finite nature is beautiful. That’s the best answer we can muster for why our efforts are worthwhile. We created the idea of beauty, and now we can use this abstract of sentimentality to justify absolutely everything we do, so as not to allow our minds to unravel when we stare into oblivion. Maybe I’m alone in this, but it sounds suspiciously like a conflict of interest.
Or, as I am wont to believe, we’re all secretly hoping that there will be a scientific breakthrough that offers us immortality. We could live forever, which would justify everything we’ve done. Or else, we’ll take it for a couple hundred years before we tire of an esoteric existence and begin killing ourselves systematically just to know what’s on the other side.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll take death when it comes to you, and pray to God you’re not wrong about Him. There’s your humanity.