Being alive is a problem of addiction
by Arran James
A coalition in favour of death. Why did I use that turn of phrase in my previous post? Because it is impossible to be against death. All of our illusions and our self-deceptions, all our methods for safe-guarding us from suicide and self administered extinction, are impossible to maintain. We affirm death because in affirming death we affirm our drive to live. And it is being alive which is the problem, not death. Death is the solution to the problem of life that none of us wants to endorse.
I want to speak in the naive language of a child for a while.
What is the problem then? Being alive. Being conscious of being alive. So excess consciousness is the problem? Only insofar as it puts us in this strange place. But let’s not think consciousness is the enemy. It is only because of consciousness that we could develop the complex social systems required for the kind of meaning production work that we all engage in (which I am here engaged in) to safe guard us from what that same consciousness reveals. It is as if consciousness itself were an uncertain masochist.
It is cosmos that lies at the heart of the problem. Cosmos is what makes us what we are. Here I mean cosmos to designate that which has made us what we are, including ourselves and everything else we have been shaped by. But of primary concern is the fact of our evolutionary heritage, our Darwinian facticity. We evolved a while ago. Not long by cosmological standards but long enough by our own. We evolved for a world that appeared brute and hostile and that wasn’t keen on letting us live. We evolved for conditions of scarcity. We evolved as survivalists. A survivor is someone who isn’t dead yet. We are all of us not dead yet. The yet is crucial. We will die, we know it, and so we are already dead…but the organism keeps going. Living is a prelude to dying.
All this because of the initial conditions of the universe. That’s right. The cosmos, the universe, nature, that which made us and which we are a partial thing of (a thing among all the other things). Living is the problem. And so it is that cosmos is the enemy that we identify. Everything that is is an accident and an aberration. There is no need for misanthropy. Misanthropy is just the negative image of anthropocentrism; of the human love affair with itself. All that exists does so against itself.
Our illusions and self-deceptions, our constitutive ability to not go mad and kill ourselves, to wake up every morning and live the banal and mediocre lives of our banal and mediocre times, is an astonishing feat of consciousness. But consciousness is not separate from cosmos. It is cosmos itself that equips us with the tools to heroically achieve the fact of waking up, going to work, playing a video-game, wanking, fucking, getting fat or laughing with friends at something stupid.
Cosmos is the Enemy that allows us to identify it as Enemy and which proceeds to give us the ability to lie to ourselves and so achieve what we call living. Attempts at living are biologico-aesthetic triumphs of cosmos. They keep us tethered to the world. So they keep us from going mad. But what good is that when our sanity keeps us rooted in suffering?
Worst, we can’t even claim it is a cruel trick. Cosmos is indifferent to us. The natural mechanisms of evolution which resulted in our brain, with its capacities and incapacities, are also totally indifferent. It is all blind, accidental, ignorant and supremely without purpose.
Does it matter? This is what I come to with the idea of the coalition in favour of death. With this knowledge, and with the knowledge of the inescapability of this condition, we are presented with a choice. Stop living or adopt which ever lies and illusions you like. Which ones are good? The answer is none. Well then, which ones cause you (and, if you are like me, others) the least suffering.
A coalition in favour of death might be seen as that which is post-catastrophic. It’s already happened. We exist. And unable to cease in our meaning producing labours we can’t get out of existence. I myself even work in a field that involves stopping other people from getting out of existence. I am a cruel and vicious monster who tethers those who can’t go on to the world.
The coalition in favour of death is identical to the coalition against death in everything except it’s self-consciousness. It is in this way completely absurd, occasionally tragic, but is nonetheless willing to endure depressions and anxieties for what episodic bursts of joy there might be. Why? I can’t answer that question. I remain only capable of stating that we are addicted to living.
And I stress, this is all the result of cosmos…all the result of material processes that are quite nonhuman and quite indifferent to the fate of human beings. The accidental self-organisation of matter in just such a way, forming and reforming itself, and you get a human mind in-capable of perceiving the horror of existence.
I say terror, and I say horror, but isn’t this little bit of writing another attempt to domesticate the cosmic forces. A friend of mine puts it in this way: we live in a universe which is really just a stomach dissolving itself. What’s more there isn’t even a stomach separate from the things inside it. Everything is a dissolving stomach. But I am still sitting here, about to watch a film, anticipating my girlfriend getting back from holiday. I am addicted. I know I am addicted, but I cannot get clean.
Wikipedia: classic hallmarks of addiction include: impaired control over substances/behavior, preoccupation with substance/behavior, continued use despite consequences, and denial.
Therefore: classic hallmarks of Addiction include: impaired control over being alive, preoccupation with being alive,
continued living despite consequences, and denial that being alive is wrong.
Some people advocate strategies of getting clean, of detoxification and finally emancipating ourselves from our condition as junkies. I’m not sure this is possible. Even the suicide affirms that the horror of existence is meaningful enough to end their life. And all that is gone is there consciousness and there being alive. Existence rumbles on.
A coalition in favour of death is a coalition against death that is self-conscious. It sees that all we have is the dream from which we can’t awake and so decides to dream lucidly. Play with it. Salvage something. Being alive might be the problem but being dead isn’t much use. It is Emile Cioran’s old joke; why kill yourself, you always do it too late.
A friend of mine told me that I didn’t really think nonexistence would be better than living. I told him he was wrong. What he failed to understand is that the recognition that nonexistence would be preferrable is not identical to the desire or nonexistence. Having been born I am addicted. Just as addicted as he is. I am simply aware that my pleasures and my joys are elements of my addiction. I don’t want to be rid of my addiction, although lots of people do.
I’m not sure anyone ever came up with an argument that proves it is wrong to kill yourself… but likewise I don’t think anyone has ever come up with an argument that proves it is wrong to stay alive. Life is wrong, living is just living. Or rather, living is just attempted living.
Am I trying to take the teeth out of pessimism? No. Because pessimism and nihilism aren’t the same thing. I am a pessimist, that does not mean I am a nihilist. Although…
In fact Addiction has always been a metaphysical condition. Neurobiologically speaking, a substance misuser develops a chemical dependency on a given substance. This is why psychiatry now speaks of alcohol dependency rather than alcoholism. The alcohol dependent person has an illness which is treatable, whereas the alcoholic is a kind of being that that person has. This, at least, is the linguistic idealism behind the change of name, as if people were not dynamically related to the categories that medicine might want to impose on them.
There are people who are addicted to behaviours, who do not have the problem of substance dependence. This is closer to what it is to be addicted to being alive, I think (although this is all intuition). Addiction refers to something to do with the will, whatever that concept might refer to…whether it is something which is free or is not. All I am trying to show here is that dependency is a medical concept whereas addiction is metaphysical. It is about a pathological state of affect…of having formed excessive attachments to particular things despite those things being detrimental to the addict.
Neurophilosopher Alvoe Noe has written on addiction. He wrote that
For the addict, everything becomes a means to an end, and nothing can be an end in itself. Other people, situations, work, family—these become mere opportunities for self-regarding adventure.
Let’s reformulate that again.
For the person addicted to life, everything becomes a means to an end, and nothing can be an end it itself. Other people, situations, work, family- these become mere opportunities for being alive. We live in order to live. We’re addicted.
What does that even mean? It looks like nonsense.
But that’s the point. Being alive is meaningless. All those things above can’t be ends in themselves. That is Kant’s Christian vision.
But more to the point, the meaninglessness that is revealed is nonsensical and because of that meaninglessness is shown itself to be meaningless.
The threat of meaninglessness, of nihilism, that dawns on us when we realise our dearest ideals are all deceptions that we can’t shake we, is dispersed like cigarette smoke when we also realise that given that meaning is generated by us and is not secured or anchored in the cosmos then it doesn’t actually matter if they are deceptions.
We create them. They are created. Just the same as the cosmos created us. Because we were created by blind and stupid drives of the cosmos doesn’t make us any less real.
There is the surface of meanings, aesthetics of meaning. The coalition in favour of death enjoys the creativity and malleability this implies. It sees the ruins of meaning and plays inside them.
I seem to have strayed. I contradict myself. I’m not sure I’m right about any of this. But if I am right, then I don’t have to be… I just have to keep going.