A bit of philosophical insight. This hasn’t had an opportunity to coalesce completely, but it’s one of those insights that I had to get out immediately, so I wrote it down. I decided that I’ll share it rather than keeping it bottled up.
A novelist should be more than a teller of glamorous stories, or an expert on language and culture. Great fiction comes from understanding the quirks of the human condition, and the art of crafting pervasive human emotions into literary form.
A novelist, or poet, or any artist, should also be a student of human nature. They should be the ambassadors of philosophical concepts that run the gambit from the common to the deep seeded. Their characters should be a reflection not of popular culture, but of that nagging question of the human condition: what makes us tick.
I think it’s pure folly that so many would-be great novelists disappear into seclusion to construct their masterpieces. The only way to be a true student of the human condition is to study it first-hand. Not in discourse with a small group over the ways in which others act, but rather staring at a total stranger while they spit in your face and seek to belittle you, and probing to understand and empathize with their emotions. It’s looking at love from a distance, and digging at the forms which make it possible. It’s understanding that which you fear to question.
Social conditions are relevant. Human beings are social creatures, and any far-reaching philosophy about their nature must include the philosopher. He must have the courage to look in the mirror and say, “not them, us.”
But submitting oneself to the scope of such an investigation is a paralyzing thought for many. Therefore it is up to the philosopher to be more than himself, and at the same time be himself (herself, whatever, let’s not squabble over pronouns). He must carry the courage to look himself in the eye, to face the fear of the harshest criticism, and realize that he is but part of a whole.
There are eight billion people on the planet. Nobody is so special as to be above the rest. Few are special enough to hold themselves above a select few, and even in they case would betray their own soul to do so.
I’ve met millionaires who grind the same gristle as their subordinates, often taking a day from their managerial responsibilities to do the dirtiest job they normally delegate to others. They’ll eat in the same dusty bug-ridden café with those earning less than a fraction of their own pay. They’re kind to strangers, and hold everyone to no lower a standard than they hold themselves. Probably these few individuals are the exception and not the rule, for more money and influence tends to corrupt, but they serve as shining examples of how we should all be.
The lord who digs in the dirt alongside the peasants and serfs on his manor is the one who will best be able to recruit an army when his territory is invaded, as they willingly rally by his side.
But enough of this train of thought. Let us turn inward, to the core of our deepest processes. Humans are social creatures, and though social status may be a buzzword for fleeting nonsense in the minds of the many, we all succumb to it in our relatively small groups.
Workers fear losing their job, which provides for the comforts to which they are adapted. More specifically, we will fight for the things we believe ourselves to be entitled. In the modern world, this means comfort in temperature and humidity. It means a connection to the common media. It means when we speak, others in our social circle understand what we are saying.
In Christian circles, Hell is sometimes represented not by fire and brimstone, but by distance from God. Hell on earth, by transitivity, is therefore distance from our peers, the people we respect, and the people we love. The distance we fear is the distance from humanity, which is determined in any locale or position by the social norms of said place.
When our closeness to our concepts of normality, security, comfort, or any other perceived entitlement is threatened, fear breeds anger. These fears are not the common sort. Not a startling scare or even a profound horror, but a subtle fear of this distance. A fear of losing our entitlement. A fear that we can no longer live in the manner we consider to be most basic to the status quo.
The most poor tend to have the lowest expectations, but at the same time the most control from above. Serfs in England were tied to the land. Are we any different? Are we not tied to our homes, our jobs, our air conditioning and heat in the same manner?
The term peasant is often misrepresented in the modern age, referring originally to nothing more than the common folk of the dark ages. You and I were peasants, serving under a ruling class, and we remain as such, grinding the daily gristle for a master which is a corporation or government official. The only substantial change of the human condition over the last 4000 years is the superficial appearance of technological advancement. Remember that the Roman culture was touted as a marvel of technology and art until very recently. Even in the eighteen hundreds, some roman inventions ceased to be reproduced except in the drawings of Leonardo.
Thus to understand the human condition, to really grasp it, is to wrestle with the fact: humans remain slaves to the social and economic status quo that surrounds us. I say us, to mean everyone including myself. Even in my venture to be nearly complete in my separation from the binds of media, advertising, grid utilities, and money itself, am pressed to live up to a socially acceptable standard, less I be rejected by society completely because of filth and smell.
But though nobody can truly be free of these binds without lowering their standards to the point where breathing is seen as a true blessing and not a right, we can begin to overcome the evils we create by knowing where these subtle fears are to be found, and strive to eliminate them when possible, and when not possible to mitigate the triggers.
Therefore I say, leave earlier than you’ll ever need to. Assume every day that you will experience hardship. When early, don’t dwell in the fact that you may be bored for a moment, but revel in the idea that you’ve eliminated lateness from your life, and be satisfied that at least you aren’t hurried, for impatience is far worse than boredom.
Impatience in particular breeds the worst in us. It places our own problems as a priority, and nudges us to neglect the rest of our species in favor of what will keep us “on time.” Question the true threat of appearing late, and if needed, accept the consequences. But more often, striving to allow ample time to accomplish the tasks you set for yourself is the better way.
The impatient get frustrated easier. Being “late” is the easiest way to distance from your piers. The people you love and depend on are counting on you, and letting them down would drive distance, and that distance would lower your status. Being late on a payment leads to consequences in both comfort and status. So strive to be early and bored, and when possible, eliminate the deadline altogether.
There’s more, but now is not the time.