Saturday, May 15, 2010

Driven by Demons

"It is impossible for us, in effect, to conceive of ourselves as not existing, and no effort is capable enabling consciousness to realize absolute unconsciousness, its own annihilation."

- Unamuno, in Tragic Sense of Life

Does life need the irrational in order to fill us with the "quickness" of being alive? If those who live to the utmost are driven by demons, will removing these demons make their life better? Are they trying to remove them by themselves, reaching towards a resolution that might only come in death?

I have known quite a few people in my life who were driven by demons. I always wondered what would happen to them if they suddenly received everything in life which they so earnestly wished for, and if every one of their personality conflicts, neuroses, etc. was suddenly resolved. Who would they be? How much of our personalities are items of behavior and belief which have come about because of insecurities and motivations that were planted because of other people, the social life itself? There are people who hate their past, and yet they…completely identify with the lessons that past has taught them, and look at the world through the eyes of a victim of that past, an identity they are comfortable within. I wonder about these people, about what would happen if that past was removed, if all their conflicts were resolved. There are people who are victims of their own identities. I wonder what it would feel like to completely shrug off one's own identity and personality and be reborn into the world again, as something new, as something yet unscarred, unstained. How many weeping victims cling to their pain because it determines who they are? How many people are haunted by their past, and yet would never let go of that past because it gives them excuses for being what they are, in relation to the world? How many people mourn their past and their way of viewing the world, but are secretly proud of their scars, their pain?

As many, I believe, as there are who define themselves, as a matter of basic identity, not by what they want out of the world [the external, the future, the "other'] so much as what they can do to the world in order to restore some kind of equilibrium that had been taken away from them very early. And yet out of all of us, how many have the equilibrium that we were supposedly born with? Is man, at any point in his life, ever a self-sustaining, self-sufficient creature? There are many psychologists, of course, who presuppose neuroses on the part of everyone, going all the way back to the movement's founder, Freud, who could not visualize man's activity [life itself] as anything other than a journey towards painlessness, although he later amended that simplistic foundation. This painlessness, though, what is it? Can any of use truly imagine a life without pain - what is more, without struggle, conflict, a reaching towards something or a fleeing away from something else?

There have been times when I have lamented my own past, but then I think about my identity now, or what I know of myself, and I reflect on how it is related to what happened to me years ago. If the pain in the past is removed, what is left to the personality? What lessons do we learn? What changes occur in one's life? What is one ever prompted to move towards? Does change in life ever come about except through pain, resolution, and a new way of viewing life? And yet…still, how many are there who are afraid of formlessness and the emptiness of a life without memory, so much more than they are of their own wretched lives? How many victims of life are there that yet cling to life, loving their lives in spite of everything that has happened to them? One of our first "instincts" it seems, is not only to preserve our own life, but to adjust our personalities towards regarding our past and what has happened to us as something from which to build new reasons for living. How many people only live as a form of revenge on life?

The ones who were driven by demons [and truly, I have not met many who weren't, if any at all] fell through life as though they were searching for an innocence that they had lost, even though they could not pinpoint the exact moment it had been lost or exactly what its nature was when it was lost. I wonder if that innocence ever existed, or if its existence was created afterwards, as a sort of motive, after the fact, for living in a certain fashion. Men try to justify everything to themselves, and their first audience for a lie is of course their own conscience. There are certain people who simply enjoy living as if they had been wounded by life itself. It gives them a large leeway in excusing their own behavior, because they see almost everything they see and do [preconditioned by the way they "see" the world, these perceptions being based on other motivations] as some sort of righteous war against what had stolen their innocence. They wage war on reality, as much in the way they interpret it through their consciences and perceptions as the way they act in regards to its actions upon them. Of course the first act of this belief is to perceive reality in a form that excuses, in some way, one's own aggression towards it. And yet I have to wonder…is there an essential "reality" at all? An objective reality which can be regarded as being any one thing? Is reality anything in itself, or is the reality one person sees truly shaped and formed by that person's perceptions, which may or may not be in conflict with the "abstract" notion of reality? All these questions are clichés, and yet worth thinking over again. If there isn't an objective reality, as so many idealists since Berkeley have claimed, then I have no grounds for criticizing anyone's version of that same reality, their perceptions of it. In the absence of an objectivity [or at least a majority subjectivity] there can be no room for discussion on interpretation unless - and this is the critical point - the perceptions act to harm the perceiver in some way. Even then there are moral problems.

I wonder that these people who live this way…when it comes, in the end, to an experience which may discharge their uneasiness, which may heal in some way their particular neurosis, will they embrace the experience or flee from it, afraid of stepping into a future where they can no longer feel their old familiar pain? How many live unwilling to be healed?

Are any of these demons…are any of them willing themselves to be removed? Or do they defy all the measures taken to exorcise them? The torment that they find in life, the constant pain and bitterness and disappointment - do they create it themselves?

I'm thinking in particular of one old friend of mine, whose demons were always glaringly obvious, even to himself. And I wonder what steps he ever took to learn how to control them. I don't know that he ever did, or if he ever saw the need, as his demons drove him in a direction that was lauded by the rest of society: short term gain and personal satisfaction over all. Materialism, greed, a sort of "burning" that took him through life as if he was on some kind of mission. I know that people admired him for his drive and his will, if not his charisma. They doubtlessly never saw the actual reasons behind his drive, or if they did they didn't mind as they judged it fit to make him "successful" in the majority sphere. This is an example of how people can harm us by wishing us what they consider to be the "best in life". People are always persuasive when they are desperate. Immense powers of seduction and magnetism, a sort of abstracted allure, can be harnessed by anyone if they are driven towards something that they feel they can't live without, especially when it's something that isn't that important to other people. The most charismatic people I have ever known were also the most dangerous, because they wanted an audience for the ego-drama that was their life. Their personalites raised oppressive measures to curtail the flexibility and freedom of other personalities. In the pursuit of that which will ease the pain, that which will pierce and remove the abscess of strong memories, these people will draw you in and magnetize you with a sort of death charm. And I say "death" in this instance not to be witty, or to be morbid, but because so many of these people - the ones driven by demons - can, in the end, only find peace in death. They run towards it with open arms, even as they are convinced, on their own, that they are pursuing life, or what quickens and deepens the experiences of life. Many of these people are convinced that dancing on the edge of death is the closest one can ever get to the pulse of life itself. This is a myth that runs throughout our culture, it is very old. I can not even begin to calculate how many people this falsehood has killed or crippled. This lament, however, is a cliché in itself. It is powerless.

What other basic grounds are there on which to build our sense of identity other than memories? And what are the strongest memories? The remembrances of pain. Pleasure is fleeting, as yet another cliché goes, the instances of pleasure can not easily be differentiated in the mind, and even the most perfect, or the most intense examples of pleasure in one's life quickly disappear into forgetfulness as the organism of the body resets itself to equilibrium. I have experienced many great instances of pleasure and satisfaction in my life, I know I have, but I can not remember that many of them distinctly. The pleasure itself, the sensation, is impossible to recall. Through talking to other people over the years I have come to appreciate the fact that pleasures must be repeated and increased or humans can not grasp their significance. The nature of the organism is that it tries to maintain a sort of emotional stability even when in the midst of the greatest pleasure or pain. A significant pleasure will quickly be reduced to boredom through a natural process. It has to be varied, increased, decreased, made new again. Pain, in itself, is much more immediate and considerable. Pain is stronger, longer lasting, sharper, more difficult for the mind to encompass and reduce. Emotional pain, also, tends to resonate and build upon itself if left alone, like an echo that only increases in volume. Pleasure fades - even the memories of pleasure, if visited and refreshed/rehearsed in the mind often, will fade in intensity almost immediately. After a while all that remains of them is a sort of intangible veil, a diaphanous web of events that may or may not have ever happened. If this process is concrete and continues unabated in the mind, and if one has also based one's identity and perceptions on one's memories of pain [so that those memories are often rehearsed, revisited, given new life] it must seem that if given enough time the only memories that will remain available to a person are the painful ones. An individual will be trapped between his painful memories and the perception of the world that is based on them, a perception and personality that only creates new pain.

This returns to what I had said in an earlier article, about how personalities only reflect a certain measure of the world back into the mind, namely the experiences which confirm its own existence, its own nature, based on the structures that they have evolved out of memories. The personality, set to derive only pain and disappointment from life's experiences [these are the only ones it can filter through, the only ones it "understands" or judges to be "truthful"], refreshes itself through this process, it feeds on itself, on what it produces. It is an ouroboros mechanism.

However, one has to wonder what this self-creating, self-sustaining process ultimately leads to. What is the function of the personality? What is the function of the self's awareness of its own nature? Is this "nature" something that is ultimately only learned behavior, based on one's memories? If so, can a personality be changed by changing memories, or changing one's interpretation of those memories? Is this an analogue of the same process by which people create fictitious memories that serve to sustain their personality? Is the personality an organism that fights for its own survival? Will it resist efforts to change it, even altering the way one perceives reality-in-itself in order to create more painful memories to feed itself and sustain its "viability"?

If these people who are driven by demons reach, at some point, the goal at which they aim, what usually happens? If they experience something, often against their own will that will fundamentally suppress, satisfy, or discharge their neurosis [going by the Freudian model], what happens then? What happens to their personality? Does it create new, more flexible neuroses that can sustain greater shocks without collapsing? Do they become even more trenchantly bitter and defensive, do they sink even deeper into denial? What price will they pay to keep their personalities and identities alive, unchanged?

Even more important: what will they do to other people in order to keep from changing?

U. Amtey
12 August 2003
08:46 EST