"When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.” -Bertolt Brecht
"The individual has to protect himself against the world, and he can do this only as any other animal would: by narrowing down the world, shutting off experience, developing an obliviousness both to the terrors of the world and to his own anxieties. Otherwise he would be crippled for action. We cannot repeat too often the great lesson of Freudian psychology: that repression is normal self-protection and creative self-restriction—in a real sense, man's natural substitute for instinct. Rank has a perfect, key term for this natural human talent: he calls it "partialization" and very rightly sees that life is impossible without it.What we call the well-adjusted man has just this capacity to partialize the world for comfortable action.
In other words, men aren't built to be gods, to take in the whole world; they are built like other creatures, to take in the piece of ground in front of their noses. Gods can take in the whole of creation because they alone can make sense of it, know what it is all about and for. But as soon as a man lifts his nose from the ground and starts sniffing at eternal problems like life and death, the meaning of a rose or a star cluster—then he is in trouble. Most men spare themselves this trouble by keeping their minds on the small problems of their lives just as their society maps these problems out for them. These are what Kierkegaard called the "immediate" men and the "Philistines." They "tranquilize themselves with the trivial"—and so they can lead normal lives.
The neurotic is having trouble with the balance of cultural illusion and natural reality; the possible horrible truth about himself and the world is seeping into his consciousness. The average man is at least secure that the cultural game is the truth, the unshakable, durable truth.
For the neurotic however, as Camus said, "the weight of days is dreadful."
Ernest Becker Fragments
Not everyone is as ho nest as Freud was when he said that he cured the miseries of the neurotic only to open him up to the normal misery of life."
It is questionable whether humans are capable of really empathizing with global suffering. To put it plainly we humans are limited in our provincial moments of awareness. Rudiger Safranski in his biography of Nietzsche wrote, “Nietzsche stressed that life carries injustice with it and everyone is a prisoner of self-preservation. Only because the individual considers himself more important than the rest of the world can he endure it.”
Like the movie “The Green Mile” not even a big strong character can take all the suffering upon him-self without crushing him. This prison of self-preservation can be even a more horrific experience if one is torn due to the human mind and imagination. This human complexity is one that makes a person feel guilty because of the necessity and limitations of the body combined with the emotion and imagination of the mind. Humans respond with compartmentalization and partialization to have the illusion of control in a world indifferent to human fate. The question that I believe is whether the imagination is only able to conjure up feelings of guilt or is it powerful enough to produce consistent action? The human species seems prone to guilt and religion and this can be explained by the tension of its nature of suppression and consciousness.
On the other hand humans find ways to escape this burden of awareness through cultural trappings like work and entertainment. Cicero the Roman statesmen declared that if you provide the people with food and games the masses will be content no matter what foreign policy Rome’s government chooses. It seems that as long as people are not impacted personally the food and the games will keep their imagination idle. And even if they do imagine the suffering it is but a fleeting moment. Marquis de Sade declared, “What are all the creatures of the earth in comparison with a single one of our desires!”
After enormous tragedy the individual is left with this “life goes on” mentality where one must feed the stomach and get some sleep. Necessity overrules the enormous tragedy. As one statement goes, “A stubbed toe takes precedence over a genocide going on somewhere else.” Nietzsche described this as the tyranny of the actual. The stomach triumphs over the imagination. This harsh conclusion has come from many survivors of the Nazi death camps. One survivor declared, “In the camp you could never pretend; you could never take refuge in the imaginary.”
The refuge of the imaginary is no match for the tyranny of the actual. Here is where imagination fails and if it does succeed it is in an attempt to escape reality. We have to eat, go to sleep, brush our teeth, and go to work—let the dead and dying take the burden of suffering with them. We have to live so we choose to imagine the unreal over the real. We do not use our imagination to touch reality but rather to hide from reality. This mix of the tyranny of the actual combined with the illusions of the ego adds to the complexity of the human animal. That is that the success of imagination is that it shelters us from horrors that our ego can’t handle due to the tyranny of the actual and the necessity that everyday life carries with it. This complexity I believe is the root of the problem when it comes to lack of awareness and indifference.
During the sniper shootings I was watching the news when a reporter was interviewing a woman who had just escaped a bullet but a man next to her had been hit. Her response to the reporter was filled with a euphoric joy and she stated that her God had saved her and led her not to be shot. Humans have a hard time encompassing the reality of all human experience and instead focus on their own immediate experience. This woman’s miracle was the other mans murder. Aristotle’s luck. Recent events have brought this to mind as well. A woman named Ashley Smith was under the thumb of a fugitive killer and she explains how her faith and a book called “The Purpose-Driven Life” helped save her and lead the fugitive to justice. This saved her life and now she has fame to go along with it. But about the same time there was a little nine year old girl named Jessica Lunsford who was being raped and murdered. She was buried in a shallow grave. One claims to be miraculously saved because of her faith and a book and the other is ruthlessly murdered. We know what Ashley is telling the media but what would Jessica tell us? What would she have to say about purpose? We do not know because she has no personal voice but Ashley does along with fame and a best selling book. Our altruism should be tamed with the knowledge that the dead have no voice. The illusion sells and lives on but the reality and voice of suffering die with the victim. Sontag wrote, “All memory is individual, unreproducible—it dies with each person.” That is why even the Holocaust itself has become a word and not a living reality. The dead do not speak and even the survivors realize their own impotence at explaining suffering that seems incomprehensible.
Death is the weather. Death is the only thing certain in a life governed by biology in the Universe. Death annihilates everything. Nietzsche stated that, “without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all.”
The universe itself will forget in order to continue to live without humans. Susan Songtag wrote, “To make peace is to forget.” I think the Universe will be at peace no matter what tragic end awaits humankind. This explains the indifferent universe that still spins on no matter how much suffering goes on in this world. The human response does not have to be indifferent it can use its moments of awareness to comfort those who suffer as much as possible without drowning in an ocean of pain. Do not despair but be aware enough to help those in the valley of death.