“‘I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,’ he said. ‘On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.’” —Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Let’s face it, I am irresistibly drawn to investigate the dark underbelly of the world, and nothing seems to ever change that. But there’s no end to the underbelly, so if I am forever shedding light on what is fearsome and loathsome to me, when do I get to write about what I love?
Graham Greene once said something about how those who love humanity have no time for human beings. I locate myself on the opposite end of that spectrum. As much as I loathe “humanity,” I seem to have quite a lot of time, interest, and love for my fellow human beings. This has been my “philosophical position,” at least, and lately I have been forced to put it to the test and leave my armchair and pipe behind.
This is not from any conscious preference or choice. In fact there is resistance in me to writing about this, but there’s also resistance to not writing it. There is a feeling of urgency, a desire to nudge myself out of a habitual groove into new tunes, besides just recycling—or perfecting—old familiar ones.
This suggests that there are two of me. There is the soul of me, and there is the false identity. The false identity always has fish to fry. He has important pursuits—no matter how trivial—and sees anyone and everything as either a means or an obstacle to whatever ephemeral, elusive end he is currently chasing (always the same end, really, to feel validated and appreciated—to feel loved).
The soul of me, on the other hand, never closes. It is always open to whatever is arriving, always seeking an encounter with it. It is always eager to experience a connection to other souls (and even objects have souls of a sort). There is only room in any given moment for one of these to meet and greet the new arrivals; either my soul or my false identity gets jurisdiction over my awareness, and of those it interacts with.
When I go to work at the thrift store, feelings of irritation and resentment quickly arise within me. As the first customer comes through the door—What do they want?—or the first pile of unwanted donations arrives, I feel overwhelmed. Like most people with day-jobs, I’d rather be somewhere else, doing something different. I bring a little laptop in so I can do something else. But as soon as I begin reading emails or writing a response, reading a PDF or doing research, an interruption comes, even if only the interruption of “Hi, how are you?”
In comes drummer Bob for his regular morning shop. I ask Bob how he’s doing, knowing I risk becoming a hostage to his misery. “I haven’t been sleeping lately,” he says, followed by all the reasons why. Then he begins to talk about how much he wants to move to somewhere better. Bob is always moving (or claiming to), and as soon as he gets somewhere new, he starts complaining and saying how much he needs to move.
Disheveled and rumpled, Bob’s thinning hair is combed back over his head into a ponytail, and he has less of a beard than the random sproutings of laziness and lack of upkeep. His red eyes peer out, like a maltreated dog, from a facial expression that hangs perilously between sadness and resentment. Bob is waiting to glom onto whoever gives him just enough attention to get his hooks into them. His unconscious need to be loved makes him repellent. He’s the tragedy of Man, in a single, plodding husk.
Though Bob doesn’t really come to shop, he makes a weak imitation of it. “Oh well, I’ll buzz around and see if there’s anything I can’t live without,” he says, before schlepping slowly from one end of the store to the other. If he sees an opening before leaving, he will make lamenting sounds about his dire future: “Oh well, I’ll carry on my way now and walk around some more before going home,” he says, as if describing a cruel and unjust sentence.
Oozing self-pity and dejection with every word, I know Bob is silently begging me to say, “Stick around, Bob. Tell me some more about how miserable you are!” But I don’t. From the moment he enters, I am waiting for him to leave. He is the saddest embodiment of how not to get love.
All the lonely people. I don’t know where they come from, but I know where they end up, sooner or later on their lonely trails: standing in front of me. Drummer Bob once told me he played with Buddy Holly and Elvis. He’s old enough that it could just about be true. The saddest thing is, he makes it impossible to care.
When I said I loathe humanity, this is closer to the truth: I loathe the superficial, over-socialized behaviors that make “humanity” a more or less homogeneous collective of neurotic, self-serving, self-indulgent, self-destructive, and mostly unconscious behaviors passing, sadly, for individuals. It’s ironic, then, that I ended up working a job that requires constant exposure to, and interaction with, the most notoriously superficial and neurotic aspect of human behavior: consumerism!
People shop to fill the void and distract themselves from their internal despair, confusion, and alienation. But underneath that, they are seeking some kind of connection, an experience of love and community. Everyone who comes into the space comes into it with two agendas, one “conscious” (volitional but also automatic), the other “unconscious,” instinctive and intuitive. Paradoxically, it is the unconscious motivation that’s closer to true consciousness, to the soul that’s seeking love through any and every interaction.
And the same is true of me.
P.S. This may or may not be the first in a series of pieces which I hope to alternate with my investigative analyses deconstructing the hideous false identity of humanity (the world). These pieces (if they continue) will offer simpler, more intimate descriptions of the everyday (and unavoidable) emergence of soul life, via the removal of all unwelcome “add-ons” of social distortion that prevent our true natures from being experienced and expressed, in a moment to moment way.
 Actually the quote is: “One can’t love humanity. One can only love people.”