I remember a quote from Jean-Paul Sartre that I memorised for my student exams so I’d have an excuse to indirectly point out again the absurdity of the world. “The curse of knowledge”. He used it to mean that when we wake up our critical mind and start to ask questions about the nature of reality, there is no going back. We have to live with those revelations from that moment on. The unmasking of the absurdity of our human condition.
I’m getting that more and more at the moment. I feel it’s related to the increase in simple presence that I wrote about before. When we are simply present with what is we start to see more clearly the distinctions between life-affirming and life-draining in the world around us. And there is a lot of life-draining.
Let’s take the small local supermarket in my parents’ village that is now dominated by sweets, sugary drinks and fatty highly processed snacks. It’s not “food”. Here’s a dictionary definition of “food”: “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.” Very little of what’s in that supermarket now actually maintains life or growth (except in fat). Note the “in order to…” as well – how many of us actually choose what we put into our bodies to support our own life and growth? If we did we would bankrupt the massive industries that produce the poison so many of us feed to ourselves and our children every day.
At the train station two young girls are each given a big bag of sweets and a heavily reinforced noise-emitting tablet to keep them “happy”. I’m sure their parents love them, so is it just ignorance? In which case our society is failing massively at educating people strongly enough on how to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
The UK National Health Service groans under the weight of the people requiring help. Imagine how that could be alleviated if people just took responsibility for living a healthy lifestyle?
And where is the conscience of the people who manufacture and then sell these sugary chemical concoctions to their fellow humans? They are as bad as the tobacco industry – everyone knows now what is healthy for us. There is really no excuse for the choices we make as individuals, the lack of substantial action from our governments to create the conditions for their people to thrive and the profit-driven behaviour of the corporations. In all three areas we could be doing things radically differently. It’s just a choice.
On top of all that there is the complete non-necessity of all these highly processed products and the ecological impact that their production and consumption has. It’s insane that we even allow it!
At the station in that little chain shop looking for some tissues I felt a rising impulse to yank the racks over holding all the sweets and other rubbish and rail at anyone who would listen about how stupid we have become. It reminded me of Jesus’ anger at the moneylenders when he overturned their tables in the temple.
Back in my parents village my mother tells me the story of my childhood village doctor, Dr Dan, who every morning would come into his waiting room and demand that everyone with a cold or cough just go home, rest and look after themselves. Only serious complaints welcome. And woe to you if you were wasting his time with something “petty”.
“The curse of knowledge” – it’s hard sometimes to live in this insane society we have constructed in the industrial world when we are aware of how far off-track we have gone. How we are reinforcing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering of our fellow earthlings. I just feel that all we need to do is stop for a minute, reconnect to ourselves, each other and the Earth we are an expression of, and we could so easily turn this tragedy around. The curse becomes the context for the simple and obvious choices we need to make. Merci, Jean-Paul, for reminding me that me that the suffering of witnessing the absurd is a normal part of our human existence. Bon voyage!