Is it Reality . . . Is it Delusion – Part 2

The Philosopher Thomas Hobbes said “life outside society would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.”

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapien persuades me that living outside society may not be possible – even while society’s “imagined order is always in danger of collapse, because it depends upon myths, and myths vanish once people stop believing in them.”

Harari asks, “How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order? Christianity, democracy or capitalism?”  First – we get people to believe in this “imagined order” by never admitting “that the order is imagined.”

“You also educate people thoroughly.  From the moment they are born you constantly remind them of the principles of the imagined order which are incorporated into anything and everything.”

We build our prison walls; our imagined order:

  • “..  embedded in the material world” – as with today’s individualism; our homes, personal space and privacy.
  • “.. it shapes our desires” – the “romantic, nationalist, capitalist and humanist myths” whisking us away on holiday, following our hearts, listening to the quiet voice within.
  • “.. is inter-subjective” “I am just one person” … I must need a job, money, car, an education – because we agreed this is what is.  Right?

“There is no way out of an imagined order.  When we break down our prison walls and run toward freedom, we are in fact running into a more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison.”

It’s a catch-22!  We want science, logic and laws.  We want faith, grace and freedom.  We want to be individuals, but are bound together in the tapestry of our times.

What’s a Homo Sapien to do?
What does THIS Homo Sapien do?

Really!  What choices do I have?  Do I have a choice?

I’m part of the collective whole – no way around that. Propelled by primary “universal orders” like money, empire and religion; belief drilled into my brain and psyche.  Harari calls these three the great unifiers of humankind:

  • Money:  a psychological construct” allowing us to cooperate with strangers. No doubt, many of my life choices are based on economics.
  • Empire:  they came, they conquered … and “the process of assimilation was often painful and traumatic.”  No kidding!  National or Global – not likely to go away.
  • Religion:  our “system of human norms and values” – “founded on a belief in a superhuman order.”  Then there’s the history of universal and missionary monotheism which led to repeated and violent extermination of “all competition.”  Oy vey.

History is harsh.  No wonder denial is a thing.

… to be continued (again!)


Is it Reality . . . Is it Delusion – Part 1

What is real?

Physical – objective facts … things I can see, touch, hear, smell & taste?

Or the imagined – the gods, nations, culture, economics?

Reality will change if I tell a different story.

When I started reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens in March I was oddly relieved.  The stories . . . our collective histories, today’s worldview – my personal narrative; all fantasy.  We buy into the illusion that it’s real.

“There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

Reading this “brief history of mankind” offered a different perspective – the agricultural revolution … the industrial revolution … technology, didn’t necessarily make life better.  Harari says the agricultural revolution is “History’s Biggest Fraud” – that it only kept “more people alive under worse conditions” – “the pursuit of an easier life resulted in much hardship.”

“One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.”

The “Agricultural Revolution” – a minuscule moment in time compared to our ancestor’s hunting and gathering days . . . aren’t the “great leap forward for humanity” we believe them to be.  That’s a myth, a great deception; one I musta bought or I wouldn’t be stressing out over today’s current flash in the narrative timeline.

Yes, oddly relieved.

Relieved to be advised that Homo Sapiens have been fucking up the planet from the get go.  No reason to get all twisted up about today’s shit show in my back yard.  Amazing how this un-funked me.  Infinity … Eternity … and Me. When I think about now – this time in the history of everything, my angst isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

Relieved . . . for a minute.  Then came a mini existential crisis.

Is this world – My Life, pre-determined?  Do I have a destiny?  Are some things meant to be?

Am I doomed – or graced – to be born of this time … flounder about in my worldview stew … and then die?

What about free will?

What is my moral responsibility as a player during this sliver of time in the universe?

Can my puny actions make a difference?


… to be continued


Let’s Get Radical

Speaking up, dissenting; taking a stand – not my ambition as a youngster.  My objective then, like many girls of my generation was to be liked, to fit in; be popular.  Regrettably for that youthful goal, my edges were a bit too frayed and my opinions decidedly peculiar – finding me channeling the rebel; mouthy and belligerent.

Still, this eccentric girl learned the fine art of camouflage; it took me far and served me well – until it didn’t.  My edges, they’re still ragged; those opinions – quirkier.  The desire to fit in?  Living (dang it!), but mercifully gasping for air.

The need to placate is fading.  Biting my tongue so I don’t “offend” gets harder every day.  My habits may be entrenched; my brain may fight to keep it that way, but the balance of my dueling needs are shifting.  Gloria Steinem once said “Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age.” I’m banking on it.

My feminist inclinations clashed with the world I was born to.  I chafed at the roles available to me; finding them limited and restricting.  But to fit in – I shoved my square self into those round holes; carving off bits and pieces of myself.  Still, my 24 YO self was compelled to whack a guy over the head with a menu when he challenged my opinion that the Equal Rights Amendment should have passed.  His argument?  I couldn’t quote the damn thing.

Lesson learned.  Now, when professing to believe something, I’m well informed on that professed belief.  And I get it; women are held to different standards.  So …

Equal Rights Amendment:  “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” – Wikipedia

How hard is it to agree with this?  Apparently pretty hard. The ERA died in 1982 – three states short of ratification.

So mouth – get flappin’ … speak up; Resist.  Being liked .. Hmpf; it’s not always what it’s’ cracked up to be.


“…her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly.” ― Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex


Putting it in Perspective

Being lifted out of a funk is marvelous.  The vehicle of that nudge however – not entirely predictable.  Bemoaning my woes to a friend who’s fighting the good fight with me, she said she wasn’t anxious about events – called herself a “happy warrior.”  Jealous me; I was anxious, restless and prickly – applying all known remedies in my tool kit, making small progress.

Serendipitously my angel network sent me a link to an article about Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens in The Guardian.  Ding, ding, ding; the tumblers of my mind begin falling into place.

Chapter I:  “An Animal of No Significance

About 13.5 billion years ago, matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang.  The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics.

About 300,000 years after their appearance, matter and energy started to coalesce into complex structures, called atoms, which then combined into molecules.  The story of atoms, molecules and their interactions is called chemistry.

About 3.8 billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms.  The story of organisms is called biology. 

About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures.  The subsequent development of these human cultures is called history.

Three important revolutions shaped the course of history: the Cognitive Revolution kick-started history about 70,000 years ago.  The Agricultural Revolution sped it up about 12,000 years ago.  The Scientific Revolution, which got under way only 500 years ago, may well end history and start something completely different.  This book tells the story of how these three revolution have affected humans and their fellow organisms.”

Amazing how this un-funked me.  Infinity … Eternity … and Me.  When I think about now – this time in the history of everything, my angst isn’t going to make a bit of difference.  I can certainly do my part to fill the ocean one drop of water at a time.  I can do it as a happy warrior – or I can do it as a ragged out, blathering mess.  Hmm.  Touch choice.

The history of humankind … good, bad?  It’s all in how I choose to see it.


“What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” – Viktor Frankl


Shoulda Coulda Woulda

It’s curious how often I do what I think I SHOULD do – what I was brought up to do.  I was taught to behave in prescribed ways, believe culturally acceptable ideas and fear the consequences of misbehavior – of being ostracized.   It’s my obligation, my duty; to behave correctly – according to my people, my culture.

Life is better when I’m with my tribe – I am … we are, social animals.

But when can I know that going along to get along is to my detriment?  What if my experience is different?  There are still consequences; denial of self or nonconformity.  What I can live with?

What if I didn’t fear the consequences?  Felt I had nothing to lose?  Would I choose differently?

My husband and I watched the movie “Veronika Decides to Die” based on the book by Paulo Coeloho.  Veronika, beautiful and young – appears to have everything; yet finds life isn’t worth living.  After an unsuccessful suicide attempt she wakes up in a mental hospital.  She learns that her actions ruined her heart and only has days to live.  She also learns that crazy people don’t have to be “normal.”  These lessons liberate her and change her attitude, her way of seeing the world.  She now has reason to live.

As a corporate wonk, I took a psych test to find out what traits might derail my career.  One of my derailers was mischievousness.  HA!  Knowing this delighted me – and strangely enough I exploited it.  Maybe that didn’t do me many favors – but I felt liberated; maybe like Veronika.  Being a nonconformist in a buttoned up world boosted my desire to retire early; loosened those golden handcuffs.

Yes there are consequences for every choice, every decision.  Each choice is personal, unique; a privilege and a responsibility.


“I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar