The Abyss Stares Back

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

There is precious little on this Earth that is more pretentious than quoting Nietzsche (calling something Kafkaesque is one of them), but I read a wonderful piece of writing last night that reminded me of that quote.

I am burdened with an almost absurd amount of privilege (including the white and moderately-affluent varieties), so generally speaking I should just shut the fuck up and rub money and Taylor Swift albums on myself until I’m sated. But something I’ve become to believe is a universally human feeling is that of hopelessness. It’s a bourgeois topic, and one that only shines a brighter light on one’s privilege because having the luxury to discuss it as a topic, instead of say where your next meal is coming from or whether that cop is going to shoot you for no fucking reason, is enough to make you feel like an asshole.

Yet here I am. Beer in hand.

The reason I bring up that privilege stuff is because I find it to be inappropriately linked to any intellectual discussion of darkness. It is dismissive. And while I believe there are a multitude of topics that those of us of the rich/white/male persuasion should remove ourselves from, I don’t believe this is one of them. And I vehemently disagree with the principal that the existence of greater injustice invalidates lesser injustices (though this is the smokescreen that GamerGate operates under but I digress). Logically, that argument is akin to ignoring murder until we stop genocide.

Consider all that foreword and disclaimer writ from guilt. I want to talk about darkness. The void. The abyss. I wrote, recently, about a friend who committed suicide. What I omitted from that discussion – at least overtly – and from discussions with our mutual friends and acquaintances is that I get it. I understand that darkness. From the outside looking in, you could look at my friend (or at me) and deduce that “nothing” is wrong. What I sought to state in that previous post is that is what makes the darkness so insidious. It hides in plain view.

(Lest I worry anyone: this is neither a cry for help nor anything of the ilk. This is musing on a topic, like I do on so many topics, this one just happens to be especially dark.)

The Film Critic Hulk piece I linked at the beginning delves into a similar area. The world, right now, is a pretty fucking awful place. Ebola – while not a topic even worth mentioning in America – is ravaging West America; ISIS/ISIL is a fucking thing; so is GamerGate; Ferguson; other smaller and larger issues abound. The point isn’t to rank these or to point out their rather obvious existence, but rather to illustrate that, yeah, the world sucks right now. And there’s no escaping it. What the Hulk piece does an excellent job of articulating is that while each of these things are horrible, and while we have our own personal turmoil, trials, and tribulations, what is really fucking heavy is the cumulative weight of it all.

That’s what I get about suicide. I don’t understand the ONE BIG THING suicide, but I understand the weight. The slowly accumulating burden that lands on your chest like so many stones in The Crucible. “More weight.” It’s bravado and masculinity, but it’s also a prayer for the worst kind of reprieve. A resignation. I know things won’t get better, so let’s fast-forward.

I was watching Sons of Anarchy tonight – a show that revels in its own darkness – and one of the characters who had his eye gouged out in the previous episode remarks that you “might as well kill me,” because he wasn’t going to give them any information. And he doesn’t, which makes this statement anything but braggadocio. What makes it powerful is that, unlike the fucking several billion times this line has been uttered in media previously, it isn’t played for affectations of masculinity. It’s played for humanity. Having sat through seven seasons of Sons, it isn’t very hard to see how a person gets to that point (and this character is far from the first who resigned to their fate, and the show hinted that the whole impetus for the main story is driven by this fact).

The part of the Hulk piece that struck me was when the author mentioned his/her time as an EMT trainee:


Your and my pain suddenly pales in comparison to that image, but the point underlying that is universal. “It never goes away. It’s just always… there.” What “it” is, doesn’t really matter. It can be the crushed skull of an infant, heartbreak, body dismorphia, street harassment, loneliness. Anything.

I talked with my dad recently and I made him watch an interview that Louis CK did with Conan O’Brien where Louis touched on technology, bullying, and loneliness. So I don’t have to recount it:

It’s goofy, but there is something profound in his analysis of why we’re such a “plugged-in, always-on” culture; especially my generation of the ubiquitous participation trophy. We’d rather having meaningless accomplishment over meaningful failure. It’s why every asshole has a tattoo of some empty platitude that Gandhi once shat out.

No one wants to face the unblinkingly real possibility that their life will not end on their terms with all their goals accomplished. I am 28 years old. In just about every major sport, I’d be at or past my prime (if I were even capable of doing any of them adequately, let alone at a professional level). People cling to the platitude that if you work hard you can be anything, but that’s bullshit. And it is the constant refusal to acknowledge that – not even accept it, but just to acknowledge it – that makes so many people so profoundly sad. You keep pushing down and burying something you know to be true, and then it bubbles up and because – against your will – you’re still a logical being you can’t ignore it anymore. So you go talk to a shrink and get pills to quiet that voice in your head that says “you can’t do it.”

But here’s the thing “you can’t do it” isn’t a negative message; it’s often a factual one. The new platitude (which we now call memes) is “haters gonna hate.” Actually, in a lot of cases “haters” are going to point out fundamental flaws in how you self-identify that you’re incapable of coping with due to self-delusion. And yes, there are trolls and “haters” out there but like I wrote about craft beer on my other blog: criticism is vital.

I understand this is rambling and barely coherent (which is why no one pays me to write about this shit), so let me distill it down: no matter what you do, what you accomplish, or what you become there will always be a fundamental sadness inside you, and that’s okay. If you don’t allow that sadness in, if you don’t allow it have it’s moment, it will build up and it will crush you. My generation is already the most medicated; the sheer amount of mind-numbing drugs might be the only thing that keeps us from surpassing baby boomers as the generation with the highest suicide rate.

It’s why I rage against people who don’t seek out dissenting opinion. My now-ex-girlfriend said to me once that she wished our political ideologies more closely aligned. I said, “I don’t.” Here was a person who I felt was (at least) my intellectual equal, arguing points I disagreed with. This forced me to re-examine my beliefs. If you keep yourself in a bubble, if you ignore things that can’t be ignored, they will break your walls down.

If I may combine two sayings: know thy enemy; we have seen the enemy and he is us. Or, essentially: know thyself. That includes the dark parts.