‘Peace is only a time to be used to prepare for war.’
How many wars to end all wars have we had? It’s my understanding that out of some five thousand years of recorded history Mankind has been free of major conflict for only about two hundred. Not a very impressive record. There is always a war of some kind going on somewhere. Time and time again come the calls from those people who, as a rule, lie to get elected, for an end to all war. They must be in dreamland, for how can war ever end when it is intrinsic to life?
‘Only the dead know the end of war,’ said the sublime Plato. What would we do if all war and strife ceased, neighbors loved each other, the whales saved, nobody died of starvation, disease was wiped out and all turkeys flew around ready-roasted? We would most certainly all go insane and start new wars and go after not only the whales again but salmon and dolphins too.
For the real problem lies in existence itself. Life swings like a pendulum from struggle to boredom and then back again. Each person can clearly see this in their own lives. Sometimes, the problems we face suddenly dissolve, things get solved for the moment. What then is our state of mind? We are at peace, but only for about five minutes, because soon that eternal curse of Mankind weighs in — boredom. We scan the room for something to do. We phone and message everyone. Help me my problems are solved! What shall I do now?
What if we solved the disease/death thing? The first result would probably be the collapse of civilization. Already the world population is out of control, totally out of control. Very soon supplying the billions will require the equivalent of the resources of two earths. In fact, Mankind properly fits into the grouping known as the plague species. Man joins in this illustrious group with cockroaches and vermin. Like a virus, Man does not reach an equilibrium with his environment but moves into an area on a search and destroy mission.
He savages every area he moves into. When food supplies soar massive birthing follows. The population increases exponentially and soon a crunch comes — a cataclysmic event reduces population levels drastically. The result is sometimes annihilation of the species. This is our possible future.
If you look at a graph showing the rise in numbers in a rat colony it is very similar to a graph of human population growth since the last ice age. At that time there were only some four or five million humans. We now approach seven billion with one hundred million added every twelve months. Every person over the age of forty has seen the world population double in his own lifetime.
There have been about thirty billion species on this planet. 99.9% of them are extinct. Solving the world hunger problem and all the suffering that entails, could spell disaster in the end. So in some way we are doomed to suffer, watch others suffering, knowing that eliminating the suffering could even worsen the situation.
The same is true with disease. As admirable are the efforts to make this a disease-free world just stop to think what would happen if everyone survived. This is the sad story of Mankind.
Now we are told that the lifespan of a human is between seventy and seventy-five years. But I am of the view the natural span is when your teeth start falling out, when you have to pay huge sums to a dentist for crowns and whatnot. Most people start having problems with their teeth in their fifties and I say this is a better estimate of the natural human lifespan. In any case passing fifty, one enters into the realm of doctors, pills — it becomes a staving off of death really. It appears to me that once past this natural lifespan I speak of, people are kept alive artificially.
The Italians have a fine phrase regarding this last period of life – ‘old age is nothing but pain.’
Of course a young person, unless he be of superior intellect and insight, will not see things this way. We can say that the young, as they look forward to life, are like children in a theater eagerly waiting for the curtain to go up and the play to start. It is a blessing they do not know what is really coming. At times children seem like innocent prisoners, condemned not to death, but to life.
So I say that solving our problems could, in the end, increase them; that the real problem is existence itself. There is a blind, purposeless force of unknown origin that pushes everything into ‘becoming.’ As Plato noted: ‘Nothing is, everything is becoming.’ It’s as though each thing is trying to escape from what it was. This in itself should tell us something about the nature of this world. Nothing wants to be what it is.
The great thinkers of all ages agree that with the tremendous suffering and angst here it would be far better had there been no world at all. Struggle is at the core of existence for every organism. Look at mother and child — there’s a virtual war between them. They cooperate, but selfishly.
The mother needs the foetus to get her DNA into the next generation, the foetus needs the mother to come to fruition. We can say that ‘love’ is, in reality, a pleasurable feeling resulting from a dump of ‘feel good’ hormones and the desire of the unborn egg to come to fruition. Shortened, that last sentence would make a fine slogan for a Hallmark card.
The foetus is taking no prisoners in its struggle to survive. It rips off blood supplies from the mother and fires hormones into her system that suppress insulin production. The effect of the latter is to enrich the blood with sugar for itself, a process that often pushes the mother into a pre-diabetic situation. The foetus steals nutrients from its mother – especially iron and calcium.
We can say that the foetus and mother cooperate in the same way the liver works in conjunction with the digestive system, they work together, but each for itself.
Our own bodies give us a fine example of this incessant struggle. We are under constant assault from viruses and bacteria of all kinds. In fact, if we were able to gather all the strictly human cells into one place in the body they would fit in the space of one leg — from the knee down to the foot. The rest of us is bacteria.
Struggle then is at the epicenter of life and those born are condemned to it. When I meet an ‘optimist,’ as a rule, I find a silly person, one who is delusional, or an expert in self-deception. Deception seems essential to living. Melancholy rises in proportion to intellect, according to Aristotle. It is not by chance that virtually all classic works in literature end badly, while the commonplace books and films must have a happy ending or risk being shunned by the herd.
We should take the confirmed optimist on a tour of prisons, places of execution, battlefields, homes for the terminally ill, operating theaters and the shocking spectacle of real poverty which envelops a good part of the globe. I am sure this optimist would be filled with horror. It’s said that an optimist believes this to be the best of all possible worlds and that the pessimist fears this may be true.
I believe that any man, with a modicum of intellect, who passes the age of forty will incline towards melancholy.
I am told that suffering is out there if you want to find it. As if one has to search out suffering when it is everywhere at all times! It’s not suffering one has to seek out, but real goodness, let me say, a genuine, kind human being. This is a rarity, not suffering, which is the rule. I wonder if we were able to show a film to each foetus whether they would refuse to leave the safety of the womb. Let the Auschwitz tape roll! Have a look foetus. I am sure that if we could approach the dead and ask them if they wanted to live again they would shake their heads, ‘no thanks!’
‘Life flees and never rests one moment,
and death runs after it with mighty stride;
Present preoccupations and memories from the past
and things from the future, too, wage war on me.’
photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons