We make so many choices on the basis of ease. So much of the rationale for civilization is tied to this. We accept ease as a valid criteria and its consequences pile up unexamined. The price of ease is pissed away, so long as we continue to receive its warm dribble registering on the surface of our attention.
Of course these pseudo-rewards don’t cover the costs, but perhaps one mechanism leading us to this acquiescence might arise out of our confusion – a bait & switch, one of civilization’s great ploys.
What if what we’re intuitively motivated to avoid were futility, not the absence of ease? Futility is a lack of efficacy coupled with a lack of purpose. This is a deep biological motivator. Doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons leaves us open not just to squandering effort and potential destruction, but to missing opportunities that might otherwise present themselves.
How do we confuse the two?
Our immediate reaction on detecting the futility of an action is to perceive its weight, its difficulty overpowering our exertions with an overwhelming sense of fatigue. What is futile appears hard.
Unless we look into why this is, we can get caught up in a cycle of simply seeking to avoid anything difficult. We make a virtue out of the easy, valuing ease above all else.
When this happens in a culture that values predation on our fellows, seeking out advantage without concern for the consequences, there will be many who put considerable resources and ingenuity behind servicing this misunderstanding. There is profit in other’s misery and in keeping them disabused of its causes. A human weakness exploited for limited, narrow advantage. The perpetrators lauded and rewarded handsomely.
This does nothing to cure our sense of futility. It gets deeper, more profound. The stress this brings makes us weaker and easier to exploit. Remember that when lies are accepted as useful no one is immune to their corrosive powers. Everyone, including – if not especially – the predators among us come to not only rely on their distortions, but to believe them. This faux sincerity makes them more effective at causing further damage while it buries their own discomfort ever deeper and away from the possibility of exposure and correction.
A sense of futility, especially when profound and unexamined, leads to a process of shutting down.
Creatures all meet their ends, sometimes swiftly in a moment of violence, other times slowly in what can be protracted suffering. Most creatures, when they reach these situations shut down, allowing death to close over their suffering. There’s an instinctive triage, an ongoing assessment of one’s condition and viability. When the signs are all good we can be suffused by joyous well-being. When they are very bad we disengage, stop feeling, stop working to prolong life, and we may even subtly or actively begin to seek out our end. A chronic sense of futility drowns our system with foreboding. Everything is telling us that we are unwell and unable to get better. We call this state “clinical depression.”
This ties in with our confusion between wishing and hope. There is a strong parallel between these two confusions. Wishes are short term fantasies that mask over difficulties while making it harder to address them properly. Hope is almost completely misunderstood today, seen as simply a finer way of saying wish.
In both cases we shy away from difficulty and make a virtue of the easier path. All the while suffering the internal and external consequences.
There’s been a turn towards objectifying the state of insanity required to live this way. A lot of that has been aimed at the predators among us. I agree that there is a lot to be gained by seeing their behavior as diseased. As with any of the difficult, perhaps intractable problems and predicaments we face, it’s vital to know the degree of our difficulties.
The danger comes when we allow our diagnosis to distinguish us from those who wish us harm in ways that are comforting but not particularly helpful.
This is a difficult distinction to make. It’s not to say simply that “we’re all sick,”and we should “cut them some slack!” It’s not to say that it’s “unfair” to “victimize” our oppressors.
We are all sick. This culture doesn’t let any of us escape with our sanity. Sanity is usually measured by comparing a state of mind with a cultural norm, in that case the sickest among us are to be measured most sane! The measure I’d like to use is of a state of mind, a mindset, that is adjusted to conditions so as to achieve some sort of long term livability – squirming around the viper’s nest of the term sustainable….
By that measure we are all insane. Those of us attempting to live by this new measure are lumped in with the damaged souls that are the customary prey of the predatory psychopaths in positions of power. We are all “institutionalized.” Our world reduced to the dynamics of a prison or asylum.
It helps to know who has the whips, guns, electric prods. Who gets to “go home at night” and “enjoy” the “wealth” we’ve all helped them amass. But unless we hold onto the fundamental fact that we are all sick, we run the risk of, at best, replacing our jailers with ourselves for the next round.
I don’t have an answer to how this might be avoided, but the need to avoid it is the central conclusion, tentative, but still important I think, of Mastery, Not Control.
While we face all these intractable conditions, it’s important to keep in mind the nature of the price of ease. It’s so easy to fall into its many traps. To fall in and compound our difficulties by adding to our illness.
People seem to wonder why we Dark Mountaineers are so intent on focusing on our difficulties; we’re, “So, not Positive!”
The price of ease gets at why I, for myself, feel so much stronger and more capable as I’ve begun to wean myself of optimism and false hope. Shoal Hope is a long meditation on the difference between engagement in a life and life squandered in chasing after regrets or visions of ease. This path has brought me more joy and satisfaction than I ever had before while tortured by doubts of my own instincts and trying to accommodate myself to the wishes of those who see me as their prey.
Climbing is hard, but it does bring you to clear air, and the effort is exhilarating and health-inducing. Recognizing that in our efforts we resist the pull of futility is so much preferable to simply paying on the continuing costs of the price of ease.