Objectively “bad” things happen all of the time. People die in natural disasters, or poach animals, or slight one another— the list of transgressions goes on and on. But the nature of these transgressions has changed vastly throughout history. There are some human universals, but morality is often a flexible and strangely cultural thing. There’s no “good” without “evil”; as soon as you define an A, you must define a B. And as soon as you establish a Good, a Bad arises in its shadow.
Things that cause pain happen. We begin to run into problems, however, when we put good against bad. We only think death and suffering are bad because we are human, and these things cause us pain and discomfort. The truth is that the natural world doesn’t care too much about our pain and discomfort. Nature is cruel by human standards; just look at an earthquake or a tsunami. These aren’t moral events, but they are deeply tragic. To the Earth, they’re just part of the deal.
One of my favorite Stephen Crane poems goes like this:
- “A man said to the universe:
- “Sir I exist!”
- “However,” replied the universe,
- “The fact has not created in me
- A sense of obligation.””
Your life and the lives of everyone you know consist mostly of the universe arbitrarily shifting matter around. Some people are born beautiful, rich and privileged, others are born to die. We’re all a bunch of matter moving around, altering other matter; someday we’ll become soil or whatever, but there’s always some sort of natural purpose. Where humans run into trouble is when they think they are more important than they are. The world would be a simpler place if people learned to conquer themselves first. There would be no need to conquer others.
In other words, your headaches, your relationship problems, the things that offend you— they are not real. They are just concepts, with no basis in material reality. You may be able to use magical thinking to achieve a material goal, or live in harmony with the chaos of the world, but you will never change the fundamental functions of the world. And those functions say, “You don’t matter.”
This isn’t sad but liberating. It frees us from the ball-and-chain of two-sided thinking. Being of no individual or collective consequence shifts our thinking. No need to bomb cities, fight an evil for the sake of a good, or any of that. Fighting evil just creates a new evil. Revolution merely creates new dictators. Better to relax than pick straws and pretend that there’s any objective validity in human ideas over the functioning of nature. Suffering and anguish will remain, but why resist? Things will work themselves out on their own accord. The Earth has a way, and we cannot change it.