There’s a Hole In This Story

And then, another voice in me said “well, what’s the big deal, right? I mean, if you’re going on and on about ‘we’re gonna die, you know, there’s nothing you can do about it, and you’re sure that there’s something just waiting for you, then why don’t you just go back to sleep, and just let it happen?'” And I could feel, I could feel this, this thing inside me, this thing inside me that was resisting that, and that was me. It wasn’t a parasite, it was myself. And there was this drive that I felt. I was not going to let myself fall asleep again. And it’s a drive that we all have. We live; we keep living, and if death comes into the neighborhood, we’re going to fight it. And that is true. That’s a rule, and it’s real.

— science writer Carl Zimmer, in a 2011 episode of Story Collider called “Holes in the Net,” also a Radiolab episode entitled “Sleepless In South Sudan”

     Over the past few weeks, after having learned about Radiolab, I’ve worked backwards, starting with the newest episodes and getting to progressively older ones. Earlier tonight I heard that short, which is a live storytelling that Carl Zimmer gave for his podcast about four years ago. Carl has been on the show multiple times, and they’re always great, but this one struck a particular chord.

     All of my life, I’ve kind of struggled with depression. It’s a common story with people now, since people are sort of “coming out” more about it, but for everyone who lives with depression, you understand how lonely and… trapped inside your own head it makes you feel. Listening to Carl talk about his descent into this sort of spiral of morbidity and death after a really huge loss felt very familiar to me. In my life, I have been no stranger to death. By the time I was in my 20s, I had been to more funerals than I cared to try and count. Some of them were more devastating losses to me than others, but all of them were losses just the same. In the span of two years in my teens, for instance, I lost my dad and two friends. Two to accidents, and one to suicide, and there’s only been continuing losses as I’ve gotten older (as would be expected).

     So I suppose it’s sort of odd to lose so many, and feel sort of lost yourself—to the point where maybe you think the world would be a much better place without you in it—which is where that bit of Carl’s story pulled me back to. Years ago, sitting in my room, dragging a pocket knife across the flesh of my wrist. Wanting to end it all because of sheer loneliness, but that drive he spoke about? It kept me from cutting deep enough to do any irreparable damage. It’s a very conflicted feeling to want to die, try to die, and not want to die all at the same time. It’s not a case of “well, you obviously weren’t really suicidal. You were just trying to get attention.” Not true. I really did want to end it… I just… couldn’t.

     I suppose now, looking back, that I’m glad that I didn’t. I’ve met a lot of really great people (lost a lot, too) and learned a lot of really interesting things. I’m still mostly bummed out the majority of the time. Life is a never ending cycle of drudgery, it really is, but it’s also a never ending cycle of wonderment, laughter, silliness, intuitions, discoveries, victories, friendships, weirdness, and myriad other things. Life is this giant, absurd, chaotic ride, and as a human being I view it all filtered through a meaning engine. The brain takes all of this random shit and tries to smash it together into this coherent, purposeful story. Even when I know there isn’t a purpose to be had other than the one that I manufacture, I still can’t help but be a prisoner of that meaning engine. Drug along against my will, and finding things to stick around for on the way.

Podcast or blog? I guess we’ve figured that one out.

I’ve always lived by the maxim that if you don’t have anything worth saying, you should keep your mouth shut. I held to that so much in my younger days that some folks in my home town wondered if I was mute. I’m not. I just don’t think that passing air over my vocal cords to say “hi” is worth the effort when a simple nod will suffice. When I first started working at my current retail job, I would come home physically exhausted from the effort of saying hello to every customer I waited on. I shit you not, that was the most draining part of my job in the beginning. I guess that sort of classifies me as somewhat of an introvert, I don’t know.

I spent a long while deliberating over whether this should be in spoken or written formpodcast or blog, and after a few times stumbling over my own tongue, even with liquor to “lubricate the tongue,” so to speak, I think I decided that I should just write it down. Talking isn’t my thing. It seems too far removed from thought for me. Typing on the other hand? That seems like a direct line into my psyche. Opposed to speech, typing seems more sophisticated and much less clumsy. It’s easier to say what I mean, and edit what I mean, by just typing it out.

I suppose an introduction is in order. I mean, it’s only the third paragraph, I suppose I should give people some idea of who I am. I’m a Caucasian male, pushing forty (I’m thirty eight), born and raised in southern West Virginia. I’m a liberalextremely liberalalmost militantly so. Years ago I took a “Political Compass” quiz and it classified me as a Social Libertarian/Libertarian Socialist. I like the socialist part, let’s just leave it at that. My political opinion is that Democratic politicians are spineless pussies and Republican politicians are insane idiots. That’s about the long and short of that.

Another bit of info about me is that I’m an atheist. I’m what some folks refer to as a “Weak Atheist,” although I prefer to think of it as an intellectually honest atheist. “Weak Atheism” is basically at its root agnosticism. We say that there is no definite way of knowing whether or not there is a God, but based on the evidence (or lack thereof), we feel fairly confident in saying that there probably isn’t one. Of course, the existence of Weak Atheism implies that there is a “Strong Atheism.” There is indeed. Francois Tremblay is one of the major proponents of that flavor of non-belief. Francois even wrote the Handbook of Atheistic Apologetics (I have a copy of the Short Handbook of Atheistic Apologetics), and it works as far as it goes, but I think that Strong Atheism fails for much the same reason that Pascal’s Wager fails: it’s a far too limited idea of God. Basically in the Short Handbook of Atheistic Apologetics, Francois expends the majority of his efforts against the God of Philosophers, the so-called “Omni God” (omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent)a god concept that I think defeats itself (I may get into that and the Problem of Evil in a later post), so it doesn’t really need a whole handbook of Atheistic Apologetics devoted to it. Posit a God that isn’t all powerful, or everywhere at once, or all good… a pantheistic God, panentheististic God or even a deistic idea of God, and those arguments fail to work.

I’m a self-described Skeptic, and as such am in love with science, facts about science, science news and the scientific mode of thought. That being said, I suppose it’s obvious that I’m somewhat of a materialistically-minded empiricist. I’m not of the same opinion of a lot in the science community about the role of philosophy, though. I understand that the underpinnings of the workings of science and the scientific method are naturalism, materialism, and empirical philosophy, without which there would be no basis at all for science. There would be no benchmark for evidence. Contrary to the recent thoughts and writings of Michael Shermer, I don’t think science has a damned thing to say about morality and other value laden modalities. In my opinion, those are better left to ethics and aesthetics. I’m not scientistic, but I am scientific, if that makes sense.