Beyond Self

Even as I write this post, I’m not entirely sure the subject is not completely oxymoronic. It is entirely possible that there is nothing beyond self. If there is, we may be incapable of accessing it. I am going to try to smash all of my rambling thoughts on the matter into a single post. As everyone knows by now, brevity is not my strong suit.  Here we go.

7 Billion Worlds

A few months ago, it became official. Population experts decided that we had crossed the 7 billion barrier. I grew up in a world where there were only 6 billion people. Now, we have another billion. Don’t ask me how that works. It is the statistician’s world; I just live in it. Still, I disagree with their assessment that there are 7 billion people living in the world. My misgiving has nothing to do with the number of people. If they say it is 7 billion, who am I to argue. I haven’t counted. I suggest they have grossly underestimated the number of worlds in which we live.

We have often said of another, that they are living in their own little world. I agree. They are. We all are. The vast majority of us are born, live, and die on a tiny fraction of what there is to see of the world.  Even if we travel a lot, we still only see a small percentage of what there is to see. More to the point, we know even a smaller percentage of what there is to know, and experience even a smaller percentage of what there is of human experience. The reason it is such a small world is that we are small people with small minds that can only hold so much of it within us.

The view we have of the world (dare I call it a worldview) is the whole of our world. Without knowing you, I can guarantee that your world is different from mine. Your ideas about right and wrong are different from mine. Your ideas about humanity, religion, rights, this topic, all different. We were born to different parents in different places with different priorities and outlooks on life.  It is not inaccurate to say that we live in different worlds. The worlds are small because each world only has one occupant.

A World of Experience

Try your foolish best to talk someone out of their experience. You will have better luck trying to talk the wind out of blowing. In the many worlds I have observed, experience is god. Once a person is convinced they have heard the voice of god, they can never be unconvinced. At church, yesterday, a lady gave a stirring testimonial about how god saved her from a life of drugs and despair. (Yes, this can happen in a UU church). She had a miraculous change of perspective in the hospital when her baby was born not addicted to all the substances she was addicted to. That experience has made her an evangelist.

It never occurred to her to ask why she was singled out for this miracle at Cooper Green, while countless other crack babies were detoxing, deformed, or dead. The only thing that mattered is that god did something for her. The person who wins the lottery is clearly the person that god loves the most. But I digress…

We live in a world of experience and sensory perceptions. We believe it is hot outside, not because some widget on our smartphone says so, but because it feels hot when we go outside. If we had a high fever that made the world outside our skin feel cold, we would put on a jacket or blanket regardless of what anyone else had to say about the matter. In our world, it would be cold. End of discussion.

Have you ever argued with someone who swore you said something that you swore you didn’t? At such an impasse, the only thing either can do is swear louder. There is no logic. There is no logic. There is no reconstructing the situation. There is only,

“Yes you did!”

“No I didn’t!”

The only place to go from there is personal attack, then divorce court. (But enough of my autobiography). The problem is not who said what. The problem is that we cannot see past our own personal experience. We are incapable of entering the other person’s world where we said some offensive thing that means “war” in their language. It requires a form of selective, cognitive dissonance to walk away from what you experientially know to be true, to embrace something you know to be false, for the sake of peace. I am incapable of it, and therefore, socially unadapted for worlds where such is required.

When Worlds Collide

I admit that this view of humanity leads to a somewhat bleak future if carried to its logical conclusion. But I think that is only one possible future. I do not believe that worlds must collide as much as intersect. We can never bring a person fully into our world, nor can we fully enter that of another person’s. However, we can intersect and cooperate. Just as our worlds have many points of dissimilarity, they have many points of similarity. We can agree on many things. We can partner for short-term and long-term projects like raising a family and building communities.

What we can never do is have a complete utopia, which I define as a world made up of all the things that satisfy our individual sense of good. Complete utopia is a no compromise proposal. It cannot be done in a half measure. Almost perfect is an oxymoron. The only way to achieve it is to usurp someone else’s sovereign universe. I am not willing to do that. In my utopia, there would be no freedom of religion. I happen to believe that freedom of religion is a very bad thing. (Another post). But the only way to achieve it is to conquer other worlds inhabited by other people. It cannot be achieved by persuasion, alone. For me, that is a bridge too far.

Self: The One, True God

As I have newly thrown off the shackles of the false, one, true god of the bible, I find that there is one, true god remaining: me.  How is that possible? Whenever I had an opportunity to make a choice for my life, I made it. I considered my options when options were available to consider, and I chose what I thought gave me the best chance for success based on my own definition of success. I did it my way. In college, I studied what I wanted to study. As an adult, I applied for the jobs that interested me. I developed the skills I thought I needed the most. No on pulled my strings. My successes and my mistakes were mine. I followed no will higher than my own.

That is even truer to this day. I feel only pity, well, perhaps a bit of contempt, (sorry), for those who believe they are led to and fro by the hand, going through life and following the pattern laid out for them by a superior being. They didn’t choose anything. They only obediently followed the leading of their celestial guide. Come to think of it, I don’t feel pity at all, just contempt.

A big part of that contempt is reactionary. I grew up with an almost, pathological fear of declaring that I would do this or that. It always had to be couched in terms of if it be god’s will, I would do this or that. By the way, that particular neurosis comes directly from scripture. There is a certain smug, certainty about that approach that has always rubbed me wrong, even when it was mine. All of my decisions are righteous because I am following god’s plan for me. There is also an abrogation of all responsibility for poor choices. You never have to own up to making poor choices if you were just following god’s plan. God has a secret reason for wanting you to go through this rough patch. It is not a direct result of poor decisions and poor planning on your part. Contemptuous!

Still, some of my best friends are deeply religious, and I do not feel contempt for them. My emotions are considerably more complex and muddled than I make them out to be. As I said, I was that person not so long ago. At least, I tried to be. Thing is, when tough times visited me, few cut me any slack for following god’s plan for me. It was just me making bad choices. Truthfully, that is all it ever was. But for that to be true, that means I was my own god, listening to my own voice, following my own, best lights. In fact, we all are. There is not one, true god, but 7 billion. There are as many gods as there are worlds, and perceptions of worlds. And when there are 7 billion gods, there are no gods.

Conclusion

So when I tried to look beyond myself, I found nothing at all. Before I was born, I perceived not the world. When I die, I will, again, be beyond perceptions reach. The world only exists to me through the narrow lens of perception, filtered through an even narrower lens of time. It is like looking through a telescope, backwards. That is the boundary of the world as we can ever know it. When I open my eyes, the world is a going concern. When I close them, it is no longer here. I cannot see the world outside of myself. Try as you might, you can’t either.

No matter how liberal you are, you cannot see it through my eyes. You cannot know it as I do. You cannot walk a mile or a step in my shoes. Such notions are mere abstractions. Joining hands and praying does not really mean we are in the same place, of one mind and one accord. We are all creatures of self. We have evolved to experience the world from exactly one perspective, our own. The rest is diplomacy. Once we recognize this simple truth about who and what we are, we will have a chance to make progress in accomplishing major, cooperative action that is mutually beneficial to all 7 billion of us, in all 7 billion worlds.

David Johnson

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