Our lives are so small. In the West, we take the details much too seriously without seeing the big picture. We are lost amongst the trees without ever seeing the forest.
We never seem to live in the now, always focusing on delayed gratification rather than cherishing each moment as it happens. This attitude holds us hostage even as there are metaphors all around us that nothing lasts forever. Up in the sky, even the universe tells us existence isn’t permanent. Supernovae are testament that even something as seemingly unending as suns also die.
The universe is 13.6 billion years old. We only recently arrived on the scene. And the way things are going, we may soon exit stage right as the H. Sapiens knack for challenging our own survival becomes more worrisome with each passing year when compared and contrasted alongside our exponentially increasing technological prowess. Astrophysicist Carl Sagan knew the danger well:
We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
If it’s not a diabolical elite sucking the life right out of humanity as it seeks to socially engineer our species into an electronically chipped planet of masters and farm animals, we may yet blow ourselves up with a massive nuclear weaponry at the hands of a psychopathic elite. Who knows exactly what will take out humanity permanently, but with well over 99% of all the species that have ever lived on earth being extinct, we are at best a transitional species that will morph into something else given evolutionary pressures.
We seem to have lost perspective (if we ever had it to begin with) on what’s really important in life as we analyze and criticize without ever taking the time to enjoy ourselves. Unlike Rome, we don’t even seem to enjoy our sexuality anymore in the Anglosphere as latent Puritanism has morphed into virulent feminism. They sure knew how to live back in those days.
Our more immediate ancestors, who had much more difficult lives than us never forgot the importance of the human part of the equation of living. But the modern West is becoming bereft of culture and has lost its passion for being alive. We have made life into a problem to be solved rather than a thing to be lived. Western culture strives for the infinite, as Spengler knew, but this is an impossible goal.
Infinity is going to consume us if we don’t pull back and focus on the temporal.
La Vida es Una
The West seems to think it can live forever.
We don’t seem to grasp the fact everything dies. We die. Cultures die. Even Earth and the sun will die someday. As the sun continues heating up, the oceans of the planet will boil away in another billion years, if it takes that long. (That’s real global warming, caused by the sun – not man!) The sun will later balloon into a massive Red Giant swallowing the remains of our planet before it fades into old age as a White Dwarf.
We deny our mortality and the life and death cycles on the cosmic stage in a vain search for the eternal fountain of youth. One sees the longing for the infinite in Western culture today as our entire lives have become vivisected from the macro scale to the micro scale. The obsession with living a picture perfect life to sanitizing every last germ pervades the land.
The culture is now focused on problems and solutions rather than experiences and living. Philosopher Alan Watts knew the price of always worrying about every little detail rather than experiencing each moment for what it is:
No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now… Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal. For the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it exists forever… You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now.
Indeed, a nihilistic mood in the West threatens our long-term prospects.
From childhood we are commanded to focus on the future rather than the here and now. School children are told to plan for college, adolescents to plan for careers, and adults to plan for retirement. Always living for some future moment that never arrives has created a sense of hopelessness and despair.
This poem reflects the situation in a culture that is always trying to get ahead of itself:
First I was dying to finish high school and start college.
Then I was dying to finish college and start working.
Then I was dying to marry and have children.
Then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work.
And then I was dying to retire.
And now, I am dying – and suddenly I realize that I forgot to live.
Dale Carnegie also lamented a culture that has forgotten how to achieve balance. Americans dedicate themselves to work and career obsession without enjoying the fruits of their labor beyond binging on shopping and eating indulgences. Carnegie wrote:
One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.
It might seem odd to those who haven’t analyzed their lives using this microscope when a man decides to abandon the life script everyone else goes by and proceeds to march to his own drummer, living a life of adventures, experiences, and sexual fulfillment rather than imprisoning himself in the McMansions and debt slavery everyone else considers to be the pinnacle of existence.
But if there’s any wisdom to be gained from the study of astronomy and cosmology, it’s that we aren’t going to be around forever, life comes but once, and we should endeavor to turn our lives into a self-creating masterpiece of our own unique design.
Life may be painful and difficult in many ways, but in the words of Tony Arata who wrote one of Garth Brooks’ most poignant hits, we don’t want to miss the dance known as life. In Latin America a popular saying is “La vida es una” or “You only live once.” Maybe man should start living that way since the West has taken his past reasons for living – a loving wife and family – away. He now has only his own pleasure to live for.
For life is a but a brief dance in the sun.
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