“I knew nothing but shadows and I thought them to be real.”
— Oscar Wilde¹
We live in a chiaroscuro; a world that only shows us a flank of its reality. Like docile sheep, we blindly follow the orders of this shepherd who “guides” our wandering, which we dare to call life. We follow the path that he points to, without questioning the very nature of these choices. The deep and comforting voice of our guide lulls us, as we hold onto this awakened dream in order not to fall into the oblivion of our uncertainties. From time to time we doubt and go out of the herd, but the Cerberus immediately pulls us back on the right track and we rush into the darkness of the mass. Reassured, we continue our march, proudly marking the word “freedom” often lurking back at the disappearing traces of what we left behind. But this apparent freedom is stained by a disguised slavery. It’s true that our Western lands seem (apparently) vast and without any fence, but is this freedom the prison that encloses us in the belief that we, Westerners, beings with a pure white coat, are the righteous and the good? We are “free”, so we are just individuals, aren’t we? A holy vision, perhaps naive, surely. I’d say it’s more like a willingness to let us lock ourselves in the lie of our life.
I feel that we like the hypocrisy of this reality more than the unknown of our existence and I’m not sure if we really want to get out of this bittersweet dream. I’d be more inclined to think, as cynically put by Chuck Palahniuk²: “People don’t want their lives fixed. Nobody wants their problems solved. Their dramas, their distractions, their stories resolved. Their messes cleaned up. Because what would they have left? Just the big scary unknown.”
Lost in the meanderings of our doubts, we want to desperately fill the void left by a life of dilettantes. Fortunately, we quickly cross the path of this Oracle that will save us from these shifting sands: Consumption³. Incapable of resisting the sensuality of this priestess, who captivates us with her most perfidious curse: advertising. She plunges us into the irresistible quest to “live better”, which can only be achieved by following what she says. It’s really a simple charm, a mere conquest of objects (physical and/or virtual) that will bring us close to the divine. It’s these items we go about collecting, aimed at making us better, stronger and more powerful to defeat the dragon of our fears. But the chimerical image of this ideal life that she projects to us, is only a mirage that we will never be able to decipher. However, some of us perceive this deception.
The eyes half-closed, they no longer see their own kind but an empire to heal… to conquer, letting themselves be attracted by the power given by the advantage of this awakening. They claim the laudable task of helping their people in the quest for a better life. They begin to divide this enormous pile of beings into small groups, which is essentially the only way to control the flow of this disorganized mass. They create castes by giving us things to do, to take care of ourselves and prevent us from dispersing. We respond to the call of our obligations as a duty, reassured to have a role to play in this mysterious adventure. We are the fuel that feeds this locomotive which will never stop moving. Willingly forced into this infernal race, we no longer realize the crazy speed at which the landscape passes before our eyes. The environment is no more than a vast trail of light and colour that has lost its contours. Fascinated by the ferocity of our evolution (apparently exceptional), we let ourselves be carried away by the desire to spread our “perfect” model of life beyond our shores. We delude ourselves that all herds deserve to live as well as we do. In our exhilarating crusade, we think we embody everything that is good about being human and we want to share our “holy” word, by letting ourselves be deceived by our dear fathers-decision-makers who ardently proclaim that they will cure the world of its ills. And not only do we delude ourselves that this is a call to a holy war, we let them take arms. They know how to coax us, they serve us our daily favorite meal: sensationalism. So we feed our voyeurism until it sweats out of our purulent pores. We can’t help but falling into the fascination of the misfortune of others. At the same time, is there any other way of reassuring ourselves that our life is not that difficult? We placate ourselves that the “Other” seems to have it worse. Alas, such a relief! But this relief arouses superiority. Condescension is perpetrated on this Other being, who lives over there and is different from who we are and what we know. We never question our fascination with the Other. He doesn’t seem to understand how to live better. The pursuit of happiness has to traverse through the rules of life, that we have created through the rigours of time. We are convinced that there is only one manner of living: ours. Any land that is not cultivated by our Western engine can yield weeds.
But how can we think that these others, whom we name primitive and uncivilized, have the right to exist only in the shadow of our lives? If we are as free as we think we are, should we not judge them?
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
— Nelson Mandela
During this paradoxical sleep, we occasionally open one eye to be temporarily enlightened. Dawns the futile realization, that we are fed diversions merely to divert our gaze from the ugliness of our common actions. Futile; for we are the least bit empowered. We try to paint the portrait of a perfect reality, absent all its defects. But the more we chisel the immaculate skin of this Dorian Gray, the more rotten our picture becomes. Fortunately, out of our sight, this painting stays in the dark. However, the constant piling up of thick layers of paint ends up making the closet door yield and forces us to look at it… at us. An unbearable confrontation ensues. We reject it immediately, we find it hideous, odious. We treat it as immoral,… words are no longer enough to express our disgust.
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
— Oscar Wilde⁴
Ashamed, we rush into the ridicule of this ugliness. Mockery, derision, laughter being the only means of tolerating our own selves. We fall into the excess of a folkloric entertainment, to try to ward off this evil and keep us away from the repulsive reality of our evil thoughts. This atrocious reflection is the only cause of all our sins. It can not be a simple mirror, it must be a two-way one, it’s necessarily the reflection of an Other! Unfortunately, we are the only authors of this work.
How did we get here? Why have we allowed ourselves to be locked up in our own shadow? Perhaps we have been fooled too easily by the speech of our emperors. By brandishing their sparkling sceptre, they had assured us that they wanted to bring good, that they would take care of us and they were there to relieve us of the heavy burden of our responsibility. They would be the Atlas that supports the world. And it seems to be true. This paternalistic figure has always helped us get to a better life in this modern society that drains our very core. But this support is not free, we have to pay a price for our “freedom”. For most of us, our only significant value is our labor and perhaps the only thing we can offer. Since our lives depend solely on the wages we earn, money becomes our master and places us as the mercy of the society rather than actors of our lives (which could meet the definition Of Karl Marx’s “word” proletarian[⁵]). Weakened by the weight of this labor and the multitudes of our daily obligations, we abandon the reins of our lives, one string each day.
"A suggestion given by intent and supported by an outside personality has an added strength which few are able to resist, just because the choice has been made by another and not ourselves. Also, our tendency is to accept this vicarious choice and follow the path of least resistance."
— Charlotte Mason⁶
We are causing the world to go astray. Blinded by an artificial sweetness of life, we constantly set aside our duties to be. To be, is it not precisely to assume our actions, to accept that the image that the mirror shows us is none other than the reflection of our collective consciousness? May be that’s why it’s so difficult to look at ourselves, because the raw reality that is thrown at us is constantly putting us back in our place. We will never succeed in being who we are not and yet we exhaust ourselves in trying to be so. The more we try, the greater the gap is. Frustrated, we condemn the Other for not having understood us and we rush into the violent accusation that if we are not, it is because of him! To make the situation even more complex, a third character enters the game: this “us” that the Other would like us to be. So we find ourselves in an infernal triangle from which it is impossible to escape. Alone, lost in the cell of our soul, we step out off this state, not by choosing a role but by abandoning ourselves to the comfort of the mass. This shapeless thing, like a phagocyte, forms no more than a viscous unit where the individual becomes *somebody* and where the being vanishes.
Written by Arno Faure
Edited by Sinj Karan
[¹]: in The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890.
[²]: Chuck Palahniuk, is an American novelist and freelance journalist, who describes his work as “transgressional” fiction. One of his most famous book is the award-winning novel “Fight Club”. Read More.
[³]: In 2015, personal consumption (household final consumption expenditure) represented between 53.94% (Germany) to 68.10% (USA) of the nation’s GDP (for the G7 countries). Source: The World Bank.
[⁴]: in The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890.
[⁵]: They are both very controversial terms and ideas, I invite you to form your own opinion on what a “proletarian” and “wage slavery” are. One of the most common definitions is the “Marxist definition”: The term proletariat is used in Marxist theory to name the social class that does not have ownership of the means of production and whose only means of subsistence is to sell their labor power for a wage or salary. But you should read more article about it, some information you can start with: Proletariat, Wage Slavery.
[⁶]: Charlotte Mason was a British educator in England at the turn of the twentieth century (Source: Wikipedia]). I recommend you to read her final book on education: "A Philosophy of Education" published in 1923 (free).