Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Belly Wisdom

Years ago (decades) there was this book picked up at a used book store that has long gone out of business. I don't remember the title or the author, only that it was written by a first-generation Chinese immigrant, that it was the first philosophy book I'd ever read that didn't seem to be just pointless and trivial monologue and that the core message I remember was simple and beautiful and true.

The author wrote that everything about humans and philosophy could all be traced back to one simple truth: We have bellies.

Bellies need food. We get hungry. We don't do something about the hunger, we die. It's easy to lose sight of that in a world where the neighborhood supermarket has more food than a medieval peasant or a pre-columbian native American might see in their lives.

Bellies caused it all. Not just the agriculture and the science it requires or the delivery systems and the infrastructure they require but the sports and arts and performance all derive from attempts to increase a community's bonding and make the hunting safer and the gathering more efficient, all to feed the bellies.

We can talk about sex and aggression as primary drives and gods know I spend enough time here writing about fear and violence and destruction but all of those are accessories, add-ons, luxuries in the presence of real hunger. That hunger has been the background for almost all of human history and it has driven... everything.

Yet we never think about it, or think about it only in a context of "the homeless" or a famine on the other side of the world. We add a political slant. It may be the most basic need in biology, and we tack all of this on to it, all of this meaning, all of these stories: and only the hunger is real.

It seems to me right now that people don't like dealing with real things. With hunger. With pain. With fear. Not even with real love. They want to deal with the symbols and the attributed meanings. They can't let go and deal with the simple world as it really is. They want to deal with the complicated world they create in their heads.

Do they need the layer of buffer? Is the reality too stark? Too beautiful? Not complicated enough?

Is it simply that the real world isn't about them? Life isn't about you. It isn't about me. Life is and it will be whether you are there to see it or not. The stories, the symbols and the attributed meanings are, in the end, all about the story tellers. Is it that simple? Like a child saying, "Mine! Mine!" people need the world in their minds to be all about them?

Get over it.

Even if your internal world is all about you, so is everyone else's, and some of those people can be big and mean and dangerous and in some of their stories your story is only a chapter and you are only what you are: A one-night stand. A victim. The great lost love. What might have been. The nemesis. The father-figure. A guide. A brother. A piece of background. A toy. A tool. Nothing at all.

And all of this is artificial. How much of what we do, how much of our creativity and worry, how much of our fear and delight stems from this interaction between two imaginary things, your world and my world?

There are real things to do and experience and delight in. And there is real fear and real danger, too. And hunger.


Anonymous said...

I think that this issue is what drives the perennial doomsayers. Deep down inside, they can't grok the reality that the world will go spinning merrily on without them one day. The idea that one day they'll be as dead and anonymous as J. Random Caveman scares the hell out of them, so they imagine the world will end--or at least become a hellish nightmare that wouldn't be worth living to see anyhow.


Anonymous said...

McDonald's let's us become complicated.