Thursday, March 04, 2010

an individual struggle

'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle' [Plato, apparently]

We all suffer from lethargy from time to time, or they may be mood swings, depression. We’re all, I imagine, bipolar to a more or less pathological degree. And we’re driven, not just to keep going, but to improve, to progress, to get smarter and wiser, to experience and learn more. And then we fall into a bit of a funk and feel ashamed, disappointed, overwhelmed by our ignorance, our uselessness, our vanity, our vaunting ambition.

It’s a particular problem, perhaps, of individualism, the myth of the auto-didact, the Nietzschean Ubermensch. I’ve said we, but I have no right to generalize from myself. I wish I was a team player. I wish I had a family of my own. A daughter in which I could recognize something of myself. Myself but more confident, more sociable. More of a team player.

In recent times I’ve been trying to get my head around science, in my dilettantish way. Science, I suppose that reveals the amateurishness of my quest. Not astronomy, not genetics, not oceanography or neurophysiology. Just science. This might seem to suggest ambition, and maybe in my youngers days that might’ve been so, but I’m no longer young, though not old.

It seems to be a search for somewhere to belong. Even a mental place in which to belong. A way of thinking that is mine, and also shared, appreciated, understood, warmly welcomed. Science, or philosophy, something analytical, speculative. A place in which to get lost, safely, delightfully.

Here I am, an unprepossessing member of the species Homo sapiens – I’ve also heard it designated Homo sapiens sapiens, I don’t know why – one of over six billion currently inhabiting the biosphere of this small planet. My essential purpose is to reproduce, like every other member of the species, and like every member of the species Semibalanus balanoides [one of some 1220 species of barnacles], the species Aedes aegypti [one of some 3500 species of mosquito] and the species Nocardia opaca [one of a number of bacterial species, the number being so great, and so much in flux, as to be meaningless]. I haven’t managed to fulfil this purpose, but I’m reliably assured that, given the nature of our highly social existence, there are other ways to contribute to the success of our species. Knowledge, artistic excellence, possibly even a smile displayed at the right time and place. So I need not despair.

I have my heroes, as we all do. Let’s take some big splash-makers – Darwin, Shakespeare, Einstein. All rather remote, I admit. From my life, I mean. My next door neighbour might have led a heroic and admirable life, after all, but those great, instantly recognisable splash-makers at least provide fine examples of success beyond mere reproduction. I know Darwin produced ten kids but they weren’t his most successful productions. It makes me wonder about the meaning of the word offspring. That’s what civilization does to you, it complicates simple meanings with all these metaphorical overlays, confusing the purpose of life.



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