Warning: Going forward, some posts will be traversing darker truths. If you have the inclination to read further, then I urge you to not accept or dismiss something out of hand. You’ll get the most benefit from careful environmental observation and reflection. We can only have unshakable understanding and acceptance once illusions are destroyed. Stick with it, there’s a point to all this.
A thought experiment.
Let us imagine that you’re on a solitary trek in the wilderness away from the comfort of technology and civilisation. You heard about a particularly beautiful spot in an isolated desert for a hike. Being hundreds of kilometres from anywhere or anyone and being proud of your body, you decide to go nude. There are not many opportunities to be entirely at one with Nature, so this is an excellent opportunity to feel the earth, the sky and other life unencumbered by modernisation and people.
It’s early in the morning, and the temperature is already at 20ºC, but you don’t worry because you’ll return way before the day reaches the estimated 48ºC. You don’t take anything with you: no water, no phone, no hat. This is as pure and “natural” as you can get: your beautiful body and perfect Nature.
Continuing with our thought experiment, let’s assume you become lost. You’re completely naked and without any accessories of any kind. You’re about to get a rude awakening into Nature’s beauty.
Your body will flood with adrenalin and cortisol as your survival instinct kicks in realising your predicament. Your stress and panic are truth bombs that you know this “beautiful nature” is going to kill you if you don’t find your way back to civilisation. The beauty previously felt from the comfort of your assumed return to safety crashes as your surroundings magnify the suffering you’re about to experience. The previously magical colours lose their vibrancy; the wide open spaces turn to lonely desolation; the warmth turns to heat and dehydrated angst; your free nakedness turns to exposed fragility and impotence.
You’re the proverbial Adam/Eve biting the bitter apple of truth and being expulsed from the garden of Eden (innocence & ignorance) into the Wilderness (knowledge of suffering & death).
The inevitable pain and deterioration towards death will accelerate if you don’t protect, feed and replenish your beautiful body before it starts to weaken and feed on itself. A beautiful body that is extremely uncomfortable without man-made tools and innovation.
Your own body and mind betray you through disorienting panic, making you more lost. Your feet are burned and cut from twigs, stones and the sweltering dirt. The sun is travelling higher as the temperature climbs to high forties. You’re sweating profusely from fear and the rising temperature accelerating your dehydration. There isn’t any substantial cover from the searing heat. Small shrubs and the odd sparsely-leaved tree are the only vegetation. The flies assault your beautiful body, genitals and face with unrelenting frequency. Your mouth is parched and craving liquids. Your beautiful skin starts to burn from the midday sun.
You’ll need shelter and some form of body covering to protect your perfect body from Nature’s bliss. Your beautiful body is suffering and causing you a lot of pain from the exposed elements, biting insects and rough terrain. How are you going to start a fire to warm yourself at night, keep insects and predators away and cook what you’ve caught (if you’re lucky enough to do so) without any tools?
We’re only getting started though.
You have to drink soon because your beautiful live body needs a constant supply of fluids. You’re going to dehydrate fast and lose energy that you’ll need for hunting, building, foraging, surviving. Where will you find water? There’s no tap to supply disinfected water from a reserve. If you do find some, is it contaminated with beautifully live bacteria that can make you excruciatingly sick or undoubtedly dead?
What about food?
There’s no pre-packaged or prepared food available. Unless you have some fruit trees or berries that happen to be fruiting and ripe (unlikely) and that you know aren’t poisonous, you’re going to have to kill something to eat and regain some energy: a bug, a reptile, a fish, a mollusc, another mammal. You could eat the flies that are feeding off your bacteria and sweat. Either way, you’re going to have to snuff some other life out so you can preserve your own—because your life depends on something else’s death.
You’re now truly at one with Nature; specifically the animal kingdom. Let’s hope, however, there isn’t another beautiful life form like wild dogs or pigs looking to survive Nature by eating you alive.
This isn’t the TV show, Naked and Afraid. There, they could take a tool of their choice, they had pre-show survival training, a partner for assistance, were placed in a pre-screened location and help was always close by if they needed it (even then they struggled immensely).
Here, however, you’re on your own. No tools, no partner, no pre-planned terrain with water and food and no one to get you out. If you twist your ankle, get sick from an infection/poison or don’t find shelter, water and food in time, no one’s getting you out. You’ll have to come to terms with how beautiful Nature and Life is as you’re dying from exposure, thirst, hunger, infection, poison, injury or as food for another animal.
Once the full weight of this quick and simple thought-experiment sinks in, you may realise that Life isn’t beautiful. It seems beautiful from the comfort, safety and support of civilisation.
Nature appears beautiful as a contrast to a busy city. The contrasting silence, openness and freedom make Nature appear beautiful. The fresh air, serene sounds and unencumbered visuals are uplifting to a body habituated by city bustle. But you’re just visiting. You’re clothed and supplied with technology to contact or return to civilisation. But if it’s just you and Nature, you’ll become dreadfully aware that Life is suffering, struggle and survival. Just ask a farmer in a remote location without modern machinery.
Disney lied to you
In this thought experiment, you’ve glimpsed the daily reality of our ancestors and every wild animal on the planet where every day is spent hunting, escaping, working and protecting off-spring, shelter or terrain from ever-present predators and invaders.
Talking about animals, we like to assume they’re noble and pure compared to humans. If you’d prefer to be an animal, then you’ll face a very short life of hunger, suffering and in a constant fight for survival in the wild. Inevitably you’d die alone being something else’s meal or via a slow death by starvation (if you’re lucky enough to survive being another’s prey). However, by that stage, the chances of being picked apart by scavengers (birds, dogs, insects, reptiles) while still alive are a certainty.
Let’s look at a few examples of Nature’s beauty to understand the suffering that life requires as the toll for its existence.
Chimpanzees are our closest evolutionary cousins differing by only 3% in DNA. As Jane Goodall unexpectedly discovered, they’re not the gentle, playful nature-loving apes everyone assumed. They can be incredibly combative, cruel and ruthless in a battle for hierarchy. A chimp group will wage war on other chimp groups, and gang up on a weak member and pummel him to death. A group of chimps will tear a caught monkey’s skin and limbs off while the monkey’s screeching in agony. Still barely alive, another chimp will take a bite of muscle, nerves and sinew. The monkey will only get respite from blood-loss, shock and death.
Let’s look at another crowd favourite: dolphins.
Did you know that a group of male dolphins separate a female from her pod and then proceed to pack-rape her, perform infanticide, and rape and torture smaller dolphins and prey?
What about the mighty lion? If the male leader of a pride loses a fight to a challenger, he’ll be shunned from the pride. The new leader will then proceed to slaughter all the cubs, so the females go on heat, allowing him to impregnate them.
Many female insects like spiders and praying mantis will behead and eat the male during and after sex.
But the most horrifying death is from a fungus. The cordyceps fungus will control its host caterpillar to commit suicide as the fungus liquifies and eats its host from the inside out.
Life is a cannibalistic, psychopathic, torturous phenomenon.
Life is cannibalistic because it can only survive by consuming other life and resources. From the moment it comes into existence, Life only remains alive by feeding off or killing something else. Animals eat animals and plants; some plants eat animals and micro-organisms, bacteria eat bacteria, viruses, animals and plants, cells eat cells, and on and on.
Life is psychopathic because it has no human concept of fairness or justice. It will sacrifice the weak to feed the ravenous. Life will kill the innocent (childhood cancer) and guilty alike. Life consumes and takes, unquenchable desire is its fuel.
Life is a torturous process because it requires an incredible amount of effort to survive, let alone thrive. A living thing is in constant desire for shelter, safety, food, water. Even plants can’t escape the need for light, nutrients and water. From an amoeba to a blue whale, all living things postpone death by bringing it on to another. You’re ill or dying because other life (bacteria, fungi, viruses?) are feeding off you to survive. To survive, you’ll need to kill those life-forms. Alternatively, it’ll be biological breakdown as your own cells insidiously eat and destroy you from inside via autoimmune disease or cancer.
So if Life is so awful, what makes it bearable? Paradoxically, other life.
All together now
Humans are primarily a herd species in large numbers, but pack animals within families. Therefore, our safety, comfort and wellbeing remain directly proportional to the community we live within. Multiply those communities, and you have the magic of society. Modern society has infrastructure so complex and fine-tuned that it’s easy to take for granted until you go to an area that doesn’t. We have laws, police, defence, farmers, doctors. We have roads, transportation, homes, constant electricity to power machines that make our life easier, running clean tap water, every type of food available anytime, clothing of such abundance that you can forego practicality for style, and we have medicine that can ease our physiological suffering.
But most importantly, we have each other.
Modern, civil society is beautiful ladies and gentlemen, and it is only so because people band together and make it happen. Whether it’s a tribe in Africa, an isolated village in South America or a metropolis in any capital city, the society and the people that contribute towards it are what makes life appear beautiful.
Life appears beautiful because there are others contributing in a million ways through proximity, services or products, infrastructure and social rules allowing us to live out our lives with the fantasy that life itself is beautiful. But remember our earlier experiment—Life is killing you. Nature’s plan is to return you to your original state before birth. The society you live within is what allows you to survive and thrive so easily within Nature.
I truly believe that most of the human strife and societal pathology is not comprehending (or forgetting) how ruthless being alive, alone and Nature is, and necessarily, how much we survive because of each other. But that’s a post for another time.
Which brings us to the point of all this: Life is yearning to die.
We’re animated, conscious matter, but we’re dying from birth. If we’re lucky enough to be generally born healthy in a modernised, developed society, then our basic biological needs are fulfilled so abundantly, that our remnant desires and concerns are primarily psychological (7 cardinal sins? Greed, envy, pride, sloth, lust, gluttony, wrath).
With a lifetime habit of physical needs being met and never truly suffering for survival, we mistake our physical comfort for biological perfection. Therefore, when disease or infirmity arises, we’re shocked, angry or saddened at the apparent injustice.
I certainly was!
But Life has no concept of fairness because fairness is a human concept created to bring social stability between individuals.
However, if we desist in using the fairness card and we step down off our pedestal of Godliness (believing we shouldn’t suffer or die), we may want to reflect on the luck we’ve had compared to other people and other species. However bad we think we have it, there’s an uncountable number of people and species suffering magnitudes more than us.
We weren’t born an animal that will spend its days fighting for survival and eaten alive by others when we’re too weak to escape
We escaped dying of a multitude of childhood illnesses.
Most of us are not suffering from the plethora of horrific psychological and physical diseases that Life has to offer.
Overall, most people we know have lived a reasonable Life (considering the alternatives).
What if any Life you have is good enough (at a base level of acceptance) considering the infinity of worse alternatives, and your inescapable death?
I started this post with a thought experiment placing your beautiful body in beautiful nature so you could experience the bliss of Life without human support or innovation. My continuous use of the adjective “beautiful” was purposeful. I hoped to show the absurdity of the attribution to an insufferable existence within a real Nature environment. An environment and bodily experience that we’re rarely exposed to due to the comfort and safety of modern society and humanity.
The protection and safety of humanity against the predator/prey nature of Life is what’s fundamentally beautiful. It allows you the temporary fantasy that Life is beautiful. But Life without the help of your fellow humans would be a very short, brutal existence indeed.
As an extension of the Nature experiment, you discovered that for Life to exist (on Earth), it requires other life’s death. All life, feeds or consumes other life in order to remain alive. Even plants require the nutrients produced from decomposition to remain alive. Life not only requires other life’s death to survive but even if every need is met, a life-form will feed on itself, deteriorate and die. Therefore, Death is not only inevitable and inescapable but rudimentarily essential for Life to exist.
Finally, when I examine Life and Nature as it really is without flowery adjectives, I arrive at an incredulous paradox:
Life takes. Death gives.
The Life/Death cycle can be best illustrated through the Taoist Yin/Yang symbol. Life (white) is inseparable from Death (black). But each has a seed of the other within itself.
The symbol is a static representation of the fluid, ever-changing, morphing process. Below is the best animation I could find to show the dynamic Yin/Yang, Life/Death phenomenon.
Life dies. Death births!
Let that sink in for a while and contemplate the implications of that statement.
In the next instalment, we’ll explore the fundamental difference between Life and Death.
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