As I sit here tonight–it's Saturday night and everyone is in bed–I give thought to the phrase; mistaking a shiny penny for the sun. I can't say where I heard it, but it says a lot in only a few words. It highlights the folly in materialism–of capitalism, the naivety in believing a charlatan, and the pursuit of one's self in the world of things. It says I'm a fool, but only while I'm convinced that my happiness and contentment are to be found in things. As William Blake wrote in Proverbs from Hell, “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise”. And so we do.
Proliferate Alternative Thinking…
Subscribe to the weekly Sunday Letters newsletter and receive essays of life, work, & the pursuit of happiness straight to your inbox – No spam, no hard-sell, no bullshit. Just good quality content.
There’s always something to win or achieve, is there not? Tomorrow, next week, next month, next year… the meaning and purpose of life seems always to be somewhere beyond where we are. Whatever it is that will make our lives complete, it's certainly not here.
When we stand back from our daily life experience and consider the nature of our interactions with others, are the majority (if not all) in effort to gain some advantage or avoid loss? Others are at it too–always trying to sell you on some idea or product thinly disguised as fulfilment, while searching for the same illusive thing themselves.
We're chasing ourselves around the place, selling each other fake plastic models of happiness, while trying to find the real thing for ourselves.
Is this it?
Is this what life is about?
Jacques Lacan said that desire, a function central to all human experience, is the desire for nothing nameable. That sounds about right to me. Is this desire an innate function of the human animal or is it bred into us by a society constructed on the vain assumption that whatever is missing can be found?
Work, religion, shoes, sex, money, TV sets, philanthropy, racism and all forms of social injustice. A 15 minute break from the monotony of work, the weekend, a two week holiday in the sun, fighting to get somewhere on time–they are all distractions. Each one designed to keep us thinking, to keep us on our toes and away from things that really matter.
I think deep down, we really know this. It's just we're too scared to face it.
It appears that we have little choice.
We are born vacant, accompanying which is the inescapable desire for occupancy. We need it, and the world of human beings would stagnate and die if not for it. And although there have been many advances and benefits to humanity by our addiction to materiality, the downside is a bit too much to stomach.
Our pursuit of ourselves has become a pursuit for more things, and in this, we have mistaken a shiny penny for the sun. The planet is our objectified adversary and so too are others who don’t match our ideals. We have bought and sold ourselves in pursuit of ourselves, and it will ultimately end in our destruction.
Maybe that's the master plan.
I look at examples from around the world of indigenous people losing their lands and way of life to pale skinned Europeans and their descendants. The Aboriginals in Australia, the Native North American Indian, the Amazonian tribes, the pillaging of African nations, and even in my own country, the slaughter of native Irish and the stealing of their land. All peoples have been, or are being, wiped out and assimilated by marauding caucasians–these days in smart suits and red ties.
The Capitalist generals and their armies of willing foot soldiers have infiltrated governments to the core, taken over democracy, and lobotomised the people with impressive marketing and engineered consent. The raping and pillaging has been normalised through repetitive messaging, and sterilised by media outlets.
And we, the people, facilitate them.
We are like a plague of locusts wreaking havoc on the planet and on ourselves. And as I sit on my own at night and write, or as I cook a meal, I wonder is there some greater plan at work. Is this how it's suppose to play out?
Perhaps humanity is in transition and we have yet to learn an important lesson. Nothing lasts forever, and maybe we will expand until we explode in a blaze of glory, or contract until we disappear into the vacuum from whence we came.
We're damned either way, thankfully.
Now, I may be accused of being a defeatist, a nihilist, refusing to accept the positive side of it all. Well, not so, because I have written on the dichotomous nature of things before.
There are two sides, I accept that. But the truth of the matter is that our physical existence is finite–there's no one getting out of here alive. But we still have a choice. To steal a phrase from Stephen King; “It always comes down to just two choices. Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
So I choose to immerse myself in work that interests me.
We can say that immersion in work that engages us, for no other reason than it makes us smile, is an antidote to the inability of material things to satisfy, and the inevitability of our mortality. Anything less is a waste of life.
It seems strange though, because although I know this intellectually, I can't escape the reality of my own desire. I know I want something, but I can’t quite say what it is. At the same time, I know the answer can’t be found, yet I know the answer. It feels like I exist in a dualistic reality where things are and are not at the same time. I have desires and wants, yet I know I cannot have them fulfilled.
It's why I keep going back for more chocolate!
These desires, for the most part, have become weaker than they were. I don't dreams of fancy houses and cars and bank accounts anymore. I don’t care for status and possessions like I used to. Although these things are not important to me now, there is a smirch of something still there.
My concept of future and past also have changed, and in many ways, they feel like buckets with holes. I'm not as obsessed with meeting a better version of me, of becoming something I'm currently not. That's a daydream, a fanciful distraction that keeps me from myself.
So, what does that mean for personal growth?
Well, for starters, that's a bullshit idea, one likely designed by an advertiser to convince us that whatever he had for sale was worth our attention. It's trendy but worthless, because it tries to convince me that there is a bad me and a good or a better me. So I become split, not whole and individual, but separated and less than I ought to be.
Can you see the problem here?
Growth or expansion, or whatever you want to call it, will happen of itself and requires no pushing around by me. I view the quest for better versions of ourselves to be a naive pursuit of the young and restless. I have grown out of that idea.
My goal these days is to write and study and these things will take me where they will. I prefer not to know. Honestly, the best life experiences I've had came from following my nose, my curiosity.
Long story short; I suggest you just get into it, whatever it is, and go deep. You might fuck it up, and in fact you will, but that doesn’t matter because you’ll be dead someday regardless.
No better reason to do the work you’re drawn to, and forget about shiny pennies.
Like Reading This Article?
Every week I create new content, on life, work and the pursuit of happiness. If you liked this article, subscribe to Sunday Letters for free.