I have seen all the things that are done under the sun
all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind
If you missed this Hell World the other day you should read it as I’m reliably informed it was “one of the good ones.”
Please give me some money!
There’s a wall in my parents’ house that is covered in photos of dead people. Some of the photos are big and some are really small and they’re all mounted in ornate looking frames although I imagine they are actually pretty cheap yard sale shit like wood painted gold. My grandmother whose name I definitely know used to love to go to yard sales and she would bring me along sometimes and I’d dig through the weird people’s sad shit and get depressed about it. How much for this once cherished reminder of your brief stay on earth people would ask and the seller would think about it for a second and say I can do that for one single quarter and the other person would go like hmm I don’t know how about a nickel?
The photos are arranged like a creepy shrine it looks kind of like some shit you would find in the drawing room of an insane magician’s haunted mansion and you’d be like did that one’s eyes just move what the fuck meanwhile the magician is sneaking up behind you and he thinks he’s invisible.
I wrote about the wall another time in this piece about what we do with the digital artifacts of our dead loved ones and if you never read that one you should it’s pretty good! I’ve been thinking about it all weekend because I read something that fucked me up and made me try as hard as I can to remember the names of the people in the photos most of whom are my great-grandparents. I can’t really do it and it’s stressing me out.
To be sure I know the names of a lot of my great-grandparents because once a year usually at Christmas I’ll ask my parents to tell me who the people in the photos are again and explain what they know about them and I’ll think about them for a while like ah the rich tapestry of our shared ancestry is a marvel indeed and then I’ll leave and almost instantly the information will leak out of my porous sieve-like brain and then be gone until the next time when I have to ask all over again. The guy from Memento except it’s not my own life I forget every day it’s the lives of the people who came before me.
There are lots of things like that right where you know them but you don’t know them like someone could ask you what the capitol of Uruguay is and you’d go shit shit hold on then they’d say Montevideo and you’d go I knew that. And you did know it you just couldn’t access it.
One of my great-grandparents is named… Nora I want to say. Nora O’Neil? Or is Nora the one on my mother’s side? Lillian?
I asked people on Twitter how many of their great-grandparents they could name and the results aren’t exactly soothing.
In that passage up above from the book The Happiness Myth which I haven’t read and don’t know anything about the author writes “Koheleth was right. We are not going to be remembered.”
Koheleth is one of the names for “the teacher” in the book of Ecclesiastes. Some people think it’s supposed to be King Solomon and other people don’t think it is and who is to say certainly not me I don’t know anything and even if I did I wouldn’t remember it. The Bible was basically a Google doc where everyone had editing permission turned on.
In any case he is described as a king and the son of David and it’s essentially some heavy existential shit that can be summarized thusly:
It’s also written in a surprisingly ironic tone which is weird to think about that they had irony 2,500 years ago but then again the general point of the whole thing is that nothing about human life ever changes and it’s all one long slide toward oblivion and that there is nothing new under the sun so I guess it’s not weird that this fella would be any different than you and I now that I think about it.
That phrase nothing new under the sun is one of many things from the book that have lingered in our collective consciousness by the way. It’s also where the whole “for everything there is a season and a time for very purpose under heaven” bit came from that you hear people read at funerals sometimes or in that one famous song.
Everything we do is meaningless and life is nothing but striving after wind the guy writes. Better to have never been born he writes. At least I think that’s what he meant. Just between you and me it honestly feels sort of weird to be sitting here reading passages from the Bible on a Sunday morning like some kind of fucking pervert.
Here look at some of it:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.
I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”
Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
Then it says some other shit like this and I think I’m pulling from different translations of it for some of these quotes here but that seems thematically appropriate because who fucking cares?
I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I thought in my heart, "The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?" I said in my heart, "This too is meaningless." For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!
For what profit comes to mortals from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which they toil under the sun? Every day sorrow and grief are their occupation; even at night their hearts are not at rest. This also is vanity.
And some shit like this:
For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man has no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
And like this:
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed-- and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors-- and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.
A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man.
In any case he’s basically saying this which is my philosophy for everything now:
It all sounds really bleak and nihilistic I guess but then at the end there’s a conclusion tacked on which is basically and that’s why you gotta love God and follow his rules! and I am no Bible scholar but I think maybe someone else added that part in at the end like in post-production like when a really dark movie doesn’t test well with audiences and the execs are like ah let’s make this a little more appealing to consumers.
This is unrelated but it’s not but right after I saw that tweet from earlier up above about how no one is going to remember their great-grandmothers I saw someone else posting passages from a book called Capital: The Eruption of Delhi about the explosion in growth in the Indian city which looks pretty great and this part struck me:
“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever,” the teacher in Ecclesiastes wrote.
Sri Lanka is not India obviously but it’s very close so here’s a transition where I talk about going to a barbecue at my old college friend’s house yesterday. His extended family are lovely kind people and I’ve been seeing them every couple of years or so for about twenty years and in all that time they’ve always treat me like a sort of mix between a respectable newsman and a tattooed circus freak agent of chaos which is a pretty honest reading of me in retrospect. My friend’s father seems to find my working in the media interesting and we were talking about it yesterday he knew about my whole thing with the Boston Globe and I told him about some of things I’d been writing in fancy newspapers and magazines in recent years and that I have a book coming out in the way you do when you want parents to be proud of you even if they aren’t your own parents and then he says to me he goes do you ever think you’ll get a job? And I was like ah pretty sure it’s probably too late for that and then my buddy cooked this lamb and I ate it with mint sauce.
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad,” Ecclesiastes reads. “Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.”
Singapore is not Sri Lanka of course although it is an island just off of a much bigger country which has served for all manner of tensions and headaches over the years but I just read this fascinating piece about how dissent is treated there which I had not really spent much time thinking about and it turns out it’s just like many other ostensibly democratic but repressive countries have always been. Weird how that works. There are only so many ways to fuck up a country. Nothing new under the sun.
Read this part:
Taking every criticism as an affront, and insisting that everything is already awesome, inevitably protects those in power, since a defense of the status quo is also a defense of the system over which they preside. This toxic patriotism allows authoritarian politicians to conflate their own party, even their own personalities, with the idea of the nation, making criticism of their rule seem like a direct attack on the nation itself. Dissent is no longer treated as part of a healthy culture of debate, but as evidence of treason and treachery. In this climate, only acquiescence and applause can be tolerated. Public discourse suffers, but no authoritarian who ever rose to power ever really cared about discourse—only domination.
Shortly after he was elected I wrote this piece about how easily Trump had already managed to hijack the country and indeed many of our own brains into his way of thinking and how he had effectively driven us all insane in the very specific way he is also insane. This part came to mind reading that passage above:
Political scientists have been busy looking for historical and contemporary analogues for Trump’s ascendancy, and parsing whether or not a more applicable model might be of totalitarian or authoritarian rulers. At the moment, there’s a little to pick from both. On the one hand, the authoritarian tends to use power for his own personal enrichment, and rule through a mixture of fear and appeals toward fealty. But thematically speaking, the totalitarian works through the annihilation of the individual ego into the overarching teleological concept of the ruler. Salvation not only comes through the formidable power of the head of state, but also requires that each citizen is absorbed into that framework. This is a line of reasoning that comes regularly from Trump’s supporters, surrogates, and regular voters alike. We’ll all fall in line. To be against Trump is to be unpatriotic. The mere act of dissent is akin to treason. To being outcast from membership in the very United States.
There is a quote I read recently that I think encapsulates the worldview of Trump and conservatives in general perfectly and it goes like this:
“There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”
As an example think about how the Trump administration is waging war on “law breaking” undocumented people while at the same time doing absolutely jack shit to the powerful and rich who employ them. The piece of shit who runs the poultry plant in Mississippi where the raid was carried out last week is a “law breaker” too but he is one of the members of society whom the law protects but does not bind so he gets away with it and the rest of the poor can just go and fuck themselves.
Here is another perfectly illustrated example of this type of thinking:
The quote which I think is one of the most astute pieces of political thinking I have read in a long time comes from a random message board discussion and was written as best as I can tell by a contemporary composer named Frank Wilhoit who confusingly has the same name as a political scientist but that guy died years before the comment so it’s probably not him unless it is which would be really impressive!
Here is the whole comment the quote is taken from:
There is no such thing as liberalism — or progressivism, etc.
There is only conservatism. No other political philosophy actually exists; by the political analogue of Gresham’s Law, conservatism has driven every other idea out of circulation.
There might be, and should be, anti-conservatism; but it does not yet exist. What would it be? In order to answer that question, it is necessary and sufficient to characterize conservatism. Fortunately, this can be done very concisely.
Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:
There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.
There is nothing more or else to it, and there never has been, in any place or time.
For millenia, conservatism had no name, because no other model of polity had ever been proposed. “The king can do no wrong.” In practice, this immunity was always extended to the king’s friends, however fungible a group they might have been. Today, we still have the king’s friends even where there is no king (dictator, etc.). Another way to look at this is that the king is a faction, rather than an individual.
As the core proposition of conservatism is indefensible if stated baldly, it has always been surrounded by an elaborate backwash of pseudophilosophy, amounting over time to millions of pages. All such is axiomatically dishonest and undeserving of serious scrutiny. Today, the accelerating de-education of humanity has reached a point where the market for pseudophilosophy is vanishing; it is, as The Kids Say These Days, tl;dr . All that is left is the core proposition itself — backed up, no longer by misdirection and sophistry, but by violence.
So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.
Then the appearance arises that the task is to map “liberalism”, or “progressivism”, or “socialism”, or whateverthefuckkindofstupidnoise-ism, onto the core proposition of anti-conservatism.
No, it a’n’t. The task is to throw all those things on the exact same burn pile as the collected works of all the apologists for conservatism, and start fresh. The core proposition of anti-conservatism requires no supplementation and no exegesis. It is as sufficient as it is necessary. What you see is what you get:
The law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone; and it cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.
I wonder what the fuck type of politics our great-grandparents had probably not great!
My mother finally called me back just now and told me their names which were things like Maude Mulqueen and James Madden and Friedrich Backstrom and Lillian Glenn and Nora Driscoll and Patrick McCarthy. She didn’t know my biological father’s grandparents’ names maybe Charles and Margaret she said.
She only knew one of her own great-grandparents’ names offhand which was Amanda Glenn on account of she named my sister after her which is one of the only guaranteed ways of carrying on someone’s memory.
She also told me she recently found a toy wooden truck that someone had apparently given to me when I was a child and on the bottom of it it read To Luke from Dick Callahan, Round Pond, Maine and she said she realized she had no idea who Dick Callahan was anymore and what was even sadder than that was she said she had no one left who she could call to even ask about him they were all dead now too.
What’s worse than that is I don’t even remember what toy truck she’s talking about. I don’t remember ever even having a wooden toy truck never mind who the hell Dick Callahan was.
Thank you for the truck though Mr. Callahan. I don’t know if you’re alive or dead but that was a nice gesture on your behalf and someday I’ll be dead too and we can float around in the nothingness together.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
The Byrds also sang about feeling a whole better when you're gone.
Richard Callahan: https://lcnme.com/obituaries/richard-orvis-callahan/