Whatever else differentiates us, everyone reading this is fairly likely to be human. As humans, we share certain traits, usually including the use of language, the use of tools, participation in culturally-based rituals, and other things as described by anthropologists. One of the characteristics which people usually consider a defining aspect of humanity is that we are self-conscious, which will be discussed at a later time. The aspect of humanity that I would like to focus on first is that we are pretty damned self-important.
It is characteristic of we humans to see everything as it relates to us – first, as it relates to ourselves (egocentricism), then as it relates to our cultural group (sociocentricism), and finally as it relates to humanity in general (anthropocentricism). Historically we have believed that we were the universal chosen ones – God’s pets, so to speak. For a long time we believed that the universe revolved around us. Then we thought that there could not be life anywhere else. Then we admitted that there was some chance that there was life elsewhere, but not intelligent life. When we did begin to think of intelligent life on other planets, we inevitably imagined it to be humanoid. In the West, we even created God in our own image, although we tried to pretend it was the other way around. And some people believe that God sent his one and only son to hang out with us – how much more special could we be?
Belief in magic of any kind is obviously egocentric – why should it be that you are the only one to whom the laws of physics don’t apply? Belief in telepathy or precognition is anthropocentric – can earthworms foretell the future? The idea that we have angels looking out for us is equally anthropocentric – is no one looking out for the slugs? Or the tapeworm that needs to live in you? When a lioness downs an antelope, does this mean that her angel was stronger than his? Or are we humans the only ones with angels as bodyguards? All of this brings us to this premise: Human beings do not occupy a special place in the universe.
All of this brings us to this premise: Human beings do not occupy a special place in the universe.
It is easy to see that this premise is tightly connected with my earlier statement that the universe is populated by random events – it is hard for anything to hold a special place in a random universe. In fact, this premise can almost be said to be corollary of that earlier statement. I have “promoted” it to a premise since it is holds an important place in the nature of the discussion.
If we recognize that humans do not occupy a special place in the universe, it is an easy next step to realize that you and I don’t either. We aren’t born with a special purpose to fulfill, or born to be great, or born losers – we are simply born. Remember: sometimes shit just happens. If we expend a large amount of energy searching for the preordained meaning of our life, we will have precious little left for fulfilling it. Therefore, we must make our own meaning – no one is going to do it for us.
We must make our own meaning – no one is going to do it for us.
In a similar way, luck does not exist. This is not to say that I believe that chance doesn’t exist – I do. However, in the way that most people use the term, luck is something which one has, not something that happens. This is a subtle point and bears explaining by way of example. If someone loses his job, then perhaps he was on the losing end of a random selection (e.g., a “downsizing”). If we would like to call this “bad luck” then I have no quarrel with that. However, if this same guy continually loses jobs, then we must start to look for another explanation; perhaps he has chosen a bad field in which to work, or perhaps he’s simply a poor worker. To say of someone: “Gee, Fred is so unlucky – none of the jobs he gets ever seem to work out” is to pathetically hold on to the notion that somehow Fred’s having gone through twenty three jobs inside of two years is outside of Fred’s control. This may be good friendship, but it is certainly not rational. Fred needs to take a good look at his goals and methods, reevaluate what he is doing, and stop blaming the universal bad luck lottery.
However, the often misused concept of Karma is a different story. Translated into 21st century-ish American societal English, Karma is often mistaken for bad luck. This is a misinterpretation. Karma is the harvest of the crop one sows; if you have a large store of bad Karma, you have brought it on yourself (according to the theory). One does not need to resort to any grandiose metaphysical principles to explain this phenomenon; one need only look around. If someone constantly drives like a nut, cutting in and out of lanes with barely a car length’s space and taking exit ramps from the left lane, is it a surprise that they store up a reserve of “bad car Karma” until being seriously hurt in an accident? If someone is constantly surly, is it any wonder that the world is surly in return? Yet, we are all so quick to complain about how nasty every one is, and at how often other drivers nearly kill us as we try to exit the expressway (from the left lane!).
We must also rid ourselves of the infantile idea that what is good or bad revolves around how it effects us. For example, if the federal government cuts a program which funds your job, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, we would like to believe that the US Congress was not concerned with your particular job when they made the cut, but with some higher principle, such as cutting the deficit. So, running out to set up a picket sign and organize a petition campaign may not be the best response. This is not to say that just because the Congress decided something that it was necessarily right – the point is that the act is good or bad on its own merits, regardless of how it effects you specifically.
The problem is that most of us are self-absorbed. This, as it turns out, is a mistake, because the self does not exist. More on this another day.