These days there is a neverending list of things for people to get up in arms about. Women’s reproductive rights. Rights of the fetus. The erosion of the American Masculine. Job loss. Gun owners’ rights. Gun victims’ rights. Universal healthcare. Government meddling in the private sector. The list goes on interminably. Every proponent of every side of every story wants you to know that their cause is a threat to your liberty and your very way of life. You must stand up for your rights now or the opposition will take them away forever.
In the face of all this belligerence, it’s hard to know the right course of action. The rhetoric makes it seem as though of all the things going on in the world, of all the causes, this cause is the one that will determine your destiny. My personal reaction is “poppycock,” or in the British, “bollicks.” There are many reasons why the claims these propogandists make are not worth the time of day, but the end all is that propoganda, news and commercialism are all based on our emotional response. Threaten what we hold dear and we will take great measures to protect it. The enemy of my enemy is the spokesman on TV.
Fear tactics are perhaps the oldest methods in human history used to gain control over people. Tell them that there is a danger that they didn’t know about and that even as we speak, that danger is working its way deeper into the heart of their most precious. Tell them that you know the danger and can teach them how to protect themselves; all they need do is follow you. People still rely on fear tactics today because they work. In some sense, the world today is not so much different than the world of centuries past. We simply quabble over different values, but the arguments never change.
If we are constantly bombarded by threats both visible and invisible, and if for all of our history we have never succeeded in vanquishing our enemies except to birth new enemies in the process, how then are we to find our way? What should we think of all this fear that is being thrown at us? I claim that for each one of us, the pursuit of personal peace and self love is the ultimate use of our mortality. Everything we do must be guided by this one goal. I would say “or else…” but this is axiomatic. If you do not pursue personal peace, love of yourself and happiness, then what have you got? I would say nothing.
There are many ways to interpret the idea of personal happiness. Western religion would have it that we are fundamentally selfish creatures and that we instinctively pursue our own self interest. It tells us that in order to be righteous we should fight against our instinct, choosing others over ourself whenever the decision is presented to us. In doing this we will become, well, righteous. But let me ask you, for a moment, would you rather be Righteous, or Happy? For a moment, never mind divine justice. Suppose there was no divine justice. Suppose that you were given a free grab out of the bag of cosmic eternity to select whatever you wanted. Would you select righteousness, or would you select happiness? Religious teachings are a guide to achieving eternal happiness. Western religions tell us that by being righteous we will be rewarded with happiness. The ultimate goal is not to be right, it is to be happy.
When someone challenges you on the level of your fundamental beliefs, in the pursuit of ultimate happiness, love can provide a litmus test for the best way to respond. Suppose you are a Christian and an Atheist begins pushing anti-Christian legislature through the government, or maybe it’s the other way around. To the Atheist, I ask, does it give you peace to surround yourself by unbelievers? If you could select from the Cosmic Urn your most passionately desired outcome, would you pick that the Christians agree to your paradigm, or would your heart be more thrilled if you could instead pull out the ultimate truth of all things, perhaps even the truth of your own correct position in the debate? Here, I am suggesting that you ask yourself what your own heart desires most. Out of love for yourself, you should take the action which brings you closer to that thing.
So do we take up the battle when the call comes? Well, which battle? There will always be battles. Do you want to define yourself by this battle? Is this something that you would give your life for? Do you care so passionately about the homeless that you would devote your considerable mental talents and life energy in the effort of homing every soul on the planet? Is that what you would draw out of the Cosmic Urn if you were given the chance? Would you love yourself if you said yes? What if you said that your precious life energy, that unreplenishable source of who you are, would be better spent elsewhere? Would you love yourself then?
I believe in the fundamental goodness of people. I believe that every hurtful word, every blow, every lie that people make is the result of a failure to connect one’s self with humanity. I believe that every human wants more than anything in the world to feel loved and to be at peace. When we do not love ourselves, not only are we incapable of believing that others could love us, but we also fail to recognize the damage that we do to our own humanity as we rip and tear at each other.