Those few of you who care to read what I write know that I rarely publish for the sake of attention and keeping a constant online presence; those are not my goals. I publish when I have something to tell. It makes things simpler.
Well, I have something to tell now: I’m tired, lost, angry and unhappy. Nice package.
I sit here on a calm and relatively uncomplicated Sunday. Father’s Day, go figure. I’ve had good food and kept good company this week. I’ve flipped through enlightening pages, watched interesting and thought-provoking audiovisuals and shared gossip and mindless fun with my peeps. You’d think that’d be enough to consider myself lucky, huh? Sadly, it’s not. I feel stuck.
Maybe it’s because I ponder too much (the ole “the more you know…” spectrum of philosophical balderdash) and I’m too impatient, but for every little thing I enjoy, there are three more that make me sink into anguish and despair, into rage and a sense of revolting helplessness. My doctor would call that depression or dysphoria. I call it seeing things as they are. I feel strangely awake in the land of the slumbering and, without the blindfold I see many others ambling on with, I contemplate wretchedness. The worst aspect of this is that I am, at the moment, unable to ignore it.
If you care to continue reading, you’ll find a gush of what I consider hard truths, not bound to man-made constraints and fabricated notions of morality (conveniently and hypocritically devised in man’s own favor). If you find a chink in the armor of my arguments, by all means, comment and dispute; you’ll be doing this poor chap a favor if you convince me. But then again, the usual ad hominem or most other types of fallacy claims based on socially accepted preconceptions (and on my enmity with them) will fall through the cracks on their own merit.
One more thing to consider: I’m just venting and ranting, but I still love you. Don’t hate me back
Let’s Start with a Crude Parable
(If you’re hasty and not ready for a long story, jump directly to the facts here.)
Kali lives on a lonely island which he likes and enjoys as it is. The land provides everything he might possibly need: there are lakes with sweet water to quench his thirst and fishes aplenty to sate his hunger. He has to walk great lengths to get to these waters from his humble thatched roof hut, and the fishes don’t fall easily into his nets. Extracting salt from the sea water and lighting fires to flavor his meals also take time, but Kali works hard and is grateful for the payoff of each day’s exertion. As a boon, there is a thicket of tall palm trees that provide, with a bit of extra work from Kali’s part, sweet coconuts for a welcome variety in both consumable flesh and liquid, and bark, wood and leaves that help him lead a more comfortable life.
There is also a mighty presence in the form of a totem that demands only two things: that Kali pays him a tribute month to month in the form of salted fish and coconut water, and that he follows a set of harmless rules. Two of these rules are: Kali is not to use the wood found in the island for any purpose other than building the necessary fires, shelter and tools, and Kali is never to approach the northern edge of the island. The man is happy to oblige.
But Kali is also, just like the island, a bit lonely (you know, totems don’t usually make for good companions).
One night the totem, seeing Kali’s need for company and in an exceptional display of generosity, reveals to the dreaming man the existence of a place where there is an infinite number of people that are not people, and where the people that are not people are neither happy nor unhappy, they simply are. The totem also shows Kali how to summon one of those not-people and shape it as he is.
Awake the next morning, armed with new knowledge and elated by the prospect of companionship, Kali reaches through the nether spaces that are not spaces and plucks a person that is not a person out of its neither happy nor unhappy existence. Kali cradles then a beautiful, bawling baby.
Kali comes to love the boy deeply. He nurses him with coconut water laced with fish blood and fish oil for nutrients. He works twice as hard to bring him to good health and to cover his basic needs, and is rewarded every time the kid regards him with an enamored smile.
As he grows, the boy–whom Kali dubbed Kalki–learns how to fish and how to climb up the palm trees and obtain his own fruits, but he does this seldom and without much zest, for Kali still dotes on him.
On his teen years, Kalki is already a great conversationalist, which amuses Kali to no end. The young one, a natural explorer (although he knows not to approach the northern end of their little plot of land) prods the older one with outrageous questions and amazes him with puzzling discoveries (like when he learns that fallen logs float on the sea, but that is also taboo and he is barred from further discussing such things). Kali, however, has little to offer the boy besides fish talk and palm tree talk and totem rules talk. Just then that is enough.
On the eve of Kalki’s eighteenth birthday, the totem (as he will be prone to do often, authoritatively and without warning) instates a new rule: from the age of eighteen and onwards, Kalki will have to procure his own sustenance and offer the corresponding tribute. Kali is ready to help with the enforcement of such decree. Kalki is not asked what he thinks of it but complies nonetheless.
And now trouble ensues.
On a hot summer afternoon Kalki catches a bad fish and falls sick. No totem law denies Kali the right to care for his bed-ridden boy and so he does. Kalki recovers but soon realizes that the high fever had consequences: he is no longer able to eat the fish (he tried once in hopes of restoring his strength just to become ill again) and his palate develops an inexplicable distaste for coconut products. Now he is faced with a double quandary: he still has to work for fish he doesn’t eat (tribute, remember?) and he is forced to climb up the palm trees for a fruit he despises but needs for nourishment. This is a sad time for young Kalki.
On another, even hotter summer afternoon, Kalki makes a watershed discovery: half-buried in the shoals to the east he spots an unfathomable tube made of materials unknown, opaque on the outside and with a hollow, crystalline interior that magically changes the size of the things seen through it. Well, not unfathomable after all. Inquisitive as he is, Kalki soon finds uses for it.
Kali does not think much of the thing; he knows the seas are deep but is, as he has always been, happy not asking too many questions. Kalki, on the other hand, asks all of the right ones: what is this? who made this? how does it work? are there more strange things like this one lying around? what else can I do with it? Kali allows him to keep the bauble (strange how he felt the right to exert his power of veto over the young one’s doings and havings even after their cleaving) because it makes lighting fires easier, and continues with his fishing and coconutting and law-abiding activities.
During the winter that same year, Kalki witnessed the reaping of not one, but five more child-things. Kali was ecstatic mollycoddling the loud but sweet-looking Durukti, Krodha, Jimsa, Bhaia and Mritiu. Kalki questions (silently, of course) the need for more boarders and wonders how will they all fare with such limited resources in such a limited space, but understands that maybe Kali was lonely again. He tries, however, not to mingle with this new brood, which gives him a bad vibe (the truth of this gut feeling is fabric for a different story and we will forget about them for the time being).
The next spring, stung by inescapable curiosity, Kalki breaks one of the totem rules and ventures north with his magical enlargement tube. He had used it on the southern banks but all he had seen was wave after wave. But as he trains the looking glass on the blue arc of the boreal horizon, he is flabbergasted with what he sees.
On an island to the northeast, pretty much the size and look of the one he stands on, he can make out people like him and people like Kali and child-people like the other five infants too, doing the same his maker and him and the pups do every day: they throw nets for the fishes, climb palm trees for the coconuts, light fires for the cooking, toy with what they can, ensnare new babies from the in-between, and abide by the laws of a familiar-looking totem. There are, however, many more–too many–figures crowding that little place and Kalki often sees fights breaking out over fishes and coconuts, over toys and over the attention of others. Sometimes kids would wander the sands soiled, untended and miserable. Sometimes the adults would too. He soon loses interest on that particular place, seeing how much it resembles the realm he is now so eager to judge and doubt, and dreading the possibility of it going belly up as well.
What he sees next makes that apparently ponderous last worry seem like an ant nibbling on an elephant’s foot. Not that he knows what those are, mind you.
On another, much larger island dead north of his position he spies lush stretches of green grass and tall, bizarre-looking rock formations that look nothing like rock formations and more like Kali’s and Kalki’s crude shelters, only prettier. The kind of people he knows, but these garbed in strange attires, enter and exit those kinky boulders. There are also other beings, some sporting four legs, some two, some eight; beings that look like nothing Kalki has seen on his own island. Some are killed and eaten, some are petted and played with. There are, in a broad sense, a myriad of things that baffle the mind of the young one and that would be impossible to put down in a single paragraph, but that include: people holding strange contraptions in their hands and performing activities with them (his looking glass must have come from them, he thinks); things that cut, drill and lift; things that emit light and things that obscure other things; people finding enjoyment through outlandish, ululating utterances (which he found later he could somewhat replicate) and enthralling body movements; men and women scribbling colorful doodles on pieces of flat wood that catch beautifully the rays of the coastal sun. But above all these oddities, there are two noteworthy mechanics that Kalki is able to discern.
One: people not only are born on the island. People arrive to the island as well; hopeful immigrants from the land on the northeast. Sometimes they achieve this by swimming, fighting bravely the towering waves, and sometimes they travel by boats, boats built from the wood surely forbidden by their own totem.
Two: as a general rule, the good and wondrous things on the island are automatically given to those island-born, while the visitors must work hard or beg for a morsel of such rarities here and there. It happens, but rarely, that outsiders become full-fledged islanders and enjoy the fruits of the land and the inventions of men.
Now Kalki is presented with a tough decision: either he stays on this island with fish that makes him sick and coconuts that make him unhappy (and knowing things will get worse as the island to the northeast has revealed), or he travels to the north, facing the waves and risking being an interloper who will have to work hard or beg for what he now knows he wants (the baubles and the dances and the songs and the pictures with their dizzying colors). He is angry that he has to make a choice in the first place; if those people on the big island are drawn from the void by the people living there, why was he not drawn the same way? Who gave Kali the right to place him on a poor island that is obviously not cut out for him? It seems all very unfair.
Kalki thinks and broods and works. He is not one to break the totem law again, so he does not build boats. What he does is sing; he’s gotten quite good at it, actually. But even if he made it ashore, braving the crests and the weather (which is no guarantee: he has seen many from the northeast fail and perish under tons of unforgiving water), he would still have to prove himself worthy of being able to sing like the rest; he would have to go through great lengths be accepted in the place he believes he belongs to. He is sad, and he is angry, and he envies those on the far side of the swells.
To the northwest, a few summers later, Kali discovers with his far-seeing treasure a tiny door hovering above the sea. He knows, without a doubt, where the door leads to. Some time passes before he takes his eyes off it, but a gloomy thought never leaves his mind: even if he still plans on swimming northward and endure sweat and pain for what he wants, the prospect of going back through the door to the never was that always is beckons him.
He does not talk to Kali about his feelings; the man who catches fish and climbs palm trees and follows the rule of the totem would never understand.
Ok, did you read? Well, you will probably understand where the next statements come from. You didn’t? Then maybe it’ll be easier for you to throw judgments at me
[Read this first part in the context of planned parenthood only.]
The first obvious deduction is this:
- Bringing a child to this world is an absolutely selfish act. You do it for yourself. You do it because you’re lonely. You do it because you want to be a parent. You do it because you want to love and raise a kid. You do it because it’s natural, and is what is expected of you. But you don’t care if he/she is born ugly or sick; you hope he/she won’t, but if he/she does, then he/she will get over it and find the one and struggle valiantly to be healthy (you’ll help, of course). You don’t care if he/she wants to be born, you believe vehemently he/she does. You don’t care if he/she will agree to the way you want to raise him, you assume that he/she will inherently will. You don’t care if the geographical-social-economic conditions are right for him/her, you automatically think they are or will be with the right kind (your right kind) of hard work, and that he/she will happily perform such work in the future to fix whatever is wrong now. Or maybe you’re better than this and you do care, and ever the optimist and confident of your skills, you take the plunge against all odds.
The key point to address here is this: responsibility. For me the only good type of responsibilities are those that are acquired willingly and with full knowledge of their implications. All the rest (imposed or most types of transferred responsibilities) carry within themselves the risk of not being fulfilled correctly and of causing the bearer or someone else harm. Bringing a child to this world is in and of itself a complex set of responsibilities that regardless of whether it brings joy or pain to the parent, being a selfish act, is also a conscious, self-made effort. Parents choose it. Parents ask for it. But it’s when people miss and are blind to all or most of the implications of said choice that they start failing as parents.
In short: being a parent is an assumed responsibility; being a son or a daughter is an imposed one.
The state of parenthood now? Sometimes good, not really great, in most cases unnecessary and way too often, cruel.
Let me stress this first (because at this point it’s likely I’m rubbing you the wrong way): if you’re a good parent then you surely know you ain’t perfect and that’s quite alright. Many parents are heroes. I know parents who are heroes under the most unkind circumstances. You know who you are and how much I admire you. But even heroes don’t always do things the right way; even heroes fail on occasions. Whether you’re hurt or not by my harsh criticism of current practices and mindsets doesn’t ultimately matter. Be aware of this, however (maybe you know it already): your own son or your own daughter will, at some point, say or think what I’m saying or what I’m thinking now; it’s up for grabs. They can believe you rock, they can believe you suck. And it’s also fair if at one point they believe both.
But let’s go back to the ideal scenario whose non-existence makes me mad. In a perfect world, parent responsibilities would include:
- Care. This is already done, somewhat well by some people, exceptionally by a few, poorly by too many. This includes basic fixings such as nursing, clothing, roofing and support in cases of illness.
- Education. Now this is where things get tricky, because it’s seldom done correctly. Parents usually teach their kids what they themselves think is right. That is a misguided illusion at best, a dangerous continuation of a selfish trend most of the time. While there IS a baseline for what is good and what is wrong (for me it’s as simple as hurting people in any way: bad; everything else: good) and that should be taught as early as possible, children should also be taught EVERYTHING there is to know about the world. At appropriate maturity levels (which need to be fixed, weeded of extreme moralist boundaries) kids need to know what their options are and learn what they’re good at and comfortable with. Religion (if it is to be kept at all) should, again, be chosen, not transferred. In sum: parents should not make bubbles; parents should burst them. Parents should not be building walls; parents should be tearing them down.
- Jobs. That’s right. Parents should be the ones responsible for their get’s employment up to the point where they’re useful to society (or at least not harmful) and enjoying their role and position in it based on what they discovered through education. And remember, the recipient (son/daughter) should accept willingly what is being offered in order for the responsibility of a “job” to make sense. Accepting “what’s available” no longer cuts it.
- Happiness. Combining all three above, this should be the ultimate responsibility of a parent.
- Not acquiring them respos at all. Really. You see how f’d up the world is as things stand; do you really want to be a parent under the umbrella of everything that f’d the world up in the first place? Be sensible. If you can do it well, do it. If you can’t, for the love of unicorns, don’t.
Parents need to lay off their kids. Parents should not have automatic expectations of their progeny based on phony standards that a riven society has set. What should parents have is work to do. Lots of it. And if they do it well, then bravo! rewards should be reaped.
And you know what? These responsibilities don’t have a statute of limitation. If we are to be called humans and if we are to be considered different from animals because of our higher understanding of things, well we should start out by not breeding like animals. Procreation should be smart. Animals are visceral, instinctive things; they don’t think things too hard or too often and is easy for them to toss their offspring into the wild as soon as they can fend for themselves. But if we pride ourselves on being cerebral, we should remove that so conveniently pack-approved expiration date. Parents who choose to be parents make a choice, and self-acquired responsibilities don’t end when you want them to end, sorry.
[It's the turn for unplanned parenthood]
Now, we know there are occasions when things don’t quite happen because we choose them. That occurs thanks to the evil of man or the stupidity of man. Of course those parents are welcome to follow the rules, if they so desire. Good for them! But I believe that, under those circumstances only, there is a credible and justifiable reason for a shift in responsibility. If such parents decide not to go ahead with following the rules, it is the duty of the governments and the societies to shoulder the burden in toto. Were not them who allowed said evil and said stupidity to exist in the first place? Well, there’s the parents of stupid parents to blame for, too, but we’ll go over that in half a mo.
On Entitlement and on Sucking-It-Up
What else can we gather from our cautionary tale?
Currently there are three ways one gets what one wants: inheriting it or being gifted with it, working for it (many times ruefully and in agonizing fashion), or stealing it and going against the law. Wanting and not having is the birthplace of crime. Work is often times the birthplace of unhappiness. Over-gifting is a dangerous precedent for laziness. And as a bonus, commerce and money is the birthplace of greed (sorry, just had to throw that in there). Yes, yes, there are exceptions. There always are. However, generally speaking, if parents and the society were to comply with their responsibilities in full, these three problems would either a) not exist or b) be of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet.
Younger generations are always entitled. And they should be, by right. They want their share of the good that a long string of creative adults have brought forth, and they want gone the crap that another long line of destructive grown ups have riddled our world with. The more good they see (thanks Internet) they more good they want. The more bad they see, the more bad they want gone, if they care. Sad thing is, as people grow old, their way becomes the only way. We are still mired by the customs of yore. And if parents keep showing the young only a partial view of the world (often the wrong one) they will keep, in turn, perpetuating it. Broadness of options towards an informed and satisfying choice is the only recipe for success. Entitlement is natural, and it’s healthy. Only you, old parent set in the old ways, don’t see it that way.
Here’s where there’s an egg-chicken situation. If your parents were thrust upon the world in the same conditions as you were, ignorant and unsuspecting (be very careful in separating ignorance and status-quo from the unforgivable stupidity I spoke of earlier; very different things), then how are you to ask for your due? How can you demand accountability for something they didn’t know or believe had to be accountable for? Well, I still don’t find a right answer for these questions and that adds to my anger. I’ve tried talking, but my quirky logic falls on deaf ears. There is society to blame for this, too, but asking for a fix from them is like asking for pears from an elm at this point in time. I think that, for kids that have already been “gifted” (yes, I’m being sarcastic) with parents that did things the wrong way, knowingly or unknowingly, there is no other solution than the proverbial suck it up, beotch. And it’s sad. But I also believe that proper parenthood education under the aforementioned tenets can reorder things for good. So there is hope, if a miracle happens and this catches on somehow.
I know I am good at some things. I am, though, scared of not being good enough at the things I want to be good at because of my upbringing, because of being when I didn’t choose to be, because of growing in a way I didn’t choose to grow in. I am angry that I live in a world I didn’t pick, where there is hate and barriers and where I have to keep proving myself worthy of what little may come my way while other souls (perhaps worthy, perhaps not) get recognition and opportunities just because they were born under a more favorable constellation of circumstances.
If you want to start making me feel lousy via comparisons, I urge you not to do so. See, I’ve heard it all before. “You should put yourself in the shoes of those who have nothing,” they say. “Stop,” I say. “That doesn’t mean I’m well off! It just means that they’re more screwed than I am.”
I also know there are people out there for whom the swim upstream is hard but not tortuous, and may be even enjoyable. I know there are people out there that, like Kali, are happy living under the constraints imposed by society and its rules, working a lot and gaining little. I don’t belong to either of those.
The ways of man are broken and I am broken by consequence. I am not satisfied with what I have, yet I did not inherit the good stuff either. Only one option left. And I try, I try really hard, just to get to be on equal footing with those who did. But the unfairness of it all brings me down constantly. Breaking the law? Nah. At least I have that going for me.
Wanna call me weak and a wimp? Do so. Wanna tell me I don’t work hard enough and that I’m wallowing in self-pity? Go ahead; that might be just right. But why should that change things? If you have never felt the anger I feel you don’t know how paralyzing it can be. You know how people who have been wronged sometimes forget about everything and themselves, sickly driven towards justice and focused only on getting it? I am there. I lost something that I was supposed to have and I need my justice in order to return to my normal self. In the meantime I try to suck it up as best as I can.
Then again, there are those times when I see the little door above the water and opening it, going back to the blackness we all come from, seems far too easy and endearing.