Sunday, March 06, 2005

Universalizability

A friend recently told me that I am unable to recognize the universality of human suffering. This could very well be true, and it should not come as a surprise that this is the same friend who first coined the term philosobot, to demonstrate my seeming immunity to emotion. The center of his assumption, though is cause for some reflection.

Suffering can be seen as universal. Indeed, I'm not sure that there is anyone who does not suffer at times, and I doubt that there is anyone who would try to assert that people free from suffering their entire lives even exist. Given the relativity of the term it is essentially impossible to prove, but I would say that it is mostly safe to assume that all people, at some point or another in their lives, have experienced suffering.

In another sense, though, suffering is NOT universal, simply because we all do not experience it all the time. Rather, there are large portions of our lives not afflicted by suffering, and, hopefully, these moments are just as universal as the suffering is.

Perhaps the difference between the optimist and the pessimist is their perspective on which attribute defines humans. They are not, though, so disconnected as their nature as opposites might imply.

The existential comedy (if one can call it that) "i heart huckabees," now out on video, ended with this idea: "our interconnectedness arises out of the manure of human drama," and I think that the underlying theme here is exactly the same idea of universality in suffering. It is neither suffering nor happiness nor anything else particularly that binds us together as a human race; it is the very fact that we all deal with the same human shit that makes us human.

Neither I nor the film have said anything particularly stunning about human nature; the sole conclusion here is that people are people because they deal with people problems. Nothing earth shattering, and mostly self-evident, I know. But the over riding theme, the fact that our experience is universalizable in the sense that everyone in the world can potentially feel happiness is something to at least assure ourselves of now and again.

The main characters in the film face a turning point in their existential evolution when they spend time hitting each other in the face with a large red rubber ball. While I don't necessarily identify with this particular act, I personally identify perfectly with the idea behind it. Personally, I find music to be especially effective as a mind clearer, and that I my normally overactive mind stops and removes itself from my existence for brief moments when I'm lost in a song. The characters of the film found for a brief moment a way to escape human drama and realized the nature of their existence.

As I'm sure others who have experienced the particular existential feeling that they portrayed in the film can attest to, the feeling is singular. When our minds stop and the drama of suffering and happiness around us end, we are able to recognize both how unspecial and integrally connected to the world around us we are. If anything, it is an exercise in recognizing that we are simply animals and creatures of this world.

While the feeling of getting away from one's thoughts and drama is temporary, the cause of that feeling is not. We are all simple animals, we are all a part of nature, and beneath the drama of human life these facts remain, and this is another way in which we are ultimately interconnected.
Should we recognize the universality of suffering as the defining trait in human existence? Yes, but it is not the only universalism trait. Happiness is just as valid as suffering, and it is being faced with "human drama" that makes us interconnected. Furthermore, though, it is our very natural nature as animals that binds us. We are a part of the earth which is a part of the galaxy, which is a part of the universe, which connects us all, fundamentally, always.

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