I started to write this post with a point to make and a structure to work around it but part-way through I gave up, the events of last week took away my focus (both in the news and personally.) So yes, I gave up and just typed stuff. Here it is:
We all search for meaning in life, whether or not we know it. Logotherapy provides, when meaning is elusive or nonexistent, an attempt to restore it, to restore an individual’s human spirit.
From the Wikipedia article, a basic description:
“Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones. Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life. We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stance we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.”
It’s a branch of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is, I’ll admit, not my forte let alone within my experience. So, again quoting directly from the article, ‘we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways:
- By creating a work or doing a deed;
- By experiencing something or encountering someone; and
- By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” and that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”’
Pretty straightforward stuff it seems: some find meaning in the job they have, others in the sports teams they support, their friends, the pain of loss, or fundraising for those less-fortunate. Meaning can be found in scenarios from the passive involvement watching a television series, to the total immersion of running a country. Logotherapy provides a mechanism to make sense of life and to restore an individual’s sense of meaning, when all seems otherwise lost.
No, I’m not undergoing any form of externally-sourced therapy, I arrived here during a study of Totalitarianism, Authoritarianism and Inverted totalitarianism this last being, by the way, the most relevant to our times:
“In inverted totalitarianism, every natural resource and every living being is commodified and exploited to collapse as the citizenry is lulled and manipulated into surrendering their liberties and their participation in government through excess consumerism and sensationalism.”
First coined 14 years ago to describe the tendency of United States governments to increasingly ignore the best interests of all that country’s citizens in favour of the few at the top and those who shout the loudest, the description is eerily accurate now. 2016-2017 brought new lows: voter suppression, the rise of the far right, the rise of populism and nativism. The removal of essential healthcare protections in what was previously easily the world’s most expensive healthcare system is particularly disconcerting for those condemned to an uncertain fate by it, and must be utterly terrifying for those condemned to a certain fate.
I’m particularly interested right now in the bit about ‘intolerable suffering,’ especially my observations of the grades of what people imagine the term ‘intolerable’ means to them. We do after all live in times of hyperbole and instant gratification.
I’ve a list. It’s uncomfortable to write, but I’m in the mood:
- Syria and Iraq are currently experiencing unimaginable death tolls, Syria currently engaged in a 6-year-old war. A site I’ve linked to elsewhere indicates that 470,000 have been killed in Syria alone since 2011. That’s not just the destruction of essential infrastructure and then the devastation of entire towns and cities, it’s the senseless killing of men and women and children and babies. It’s all because human beings don’t want to talk to other human beings.
- The USA, is presided over by a man almost universally seen as unfit for government, unable to understand diplomacy, a bully, and even telling the simple truth seems beyond him. The office he holds was once termed as ‘the leader of the free world.’ And yet he needs a legacy. A US military re-entry into Afghanistan is again on the agenda. The real possibility of a use of nuclear weapons scares me. The US’s approach to foreign policy fills me with dread.
- Brexit. Yeah, Brexit is, quite simply, a process that should never have been allowed to happen. Factions within the Conservative Party insisted and the Prime Minister agreed to put the choice to the British people: In or Out of the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have offered another referendum on the deal the government of the day negotiates with Europe, the choice of approval or disapproval: The 3 larger political parties reject this, and the British electorate rejected it in the General Election just gone; “too much politics, we’ve had enough!” How odd; they’re rejecting a chance to influence the future of our economy and world standing. They’re throwing away the chance of a future based on real democracy because scratching an ‘X’ in a box is too hard.
- The British Prime Minister is attempting to form a government reliant on the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), without any form of agreement between those parties. Ulster, a province profoundly factionalised on fundamentally religious and nationalistic grounds whilst somehow remaining a part of the United Kingdom, is one in which, for instance, abortion is still illegal. The DUP, a party with 10 MPs in theory represents an electorate fundamentally opposed to gay and womens’ rights, and some seem to believe the world is 6,000 years old. It’s a party retaining links to terrorist organisations loyal to the UK, and a profound divide exists between them and those who wish to rejoin the Irish Republic. Presumably a side of the divide acceptable to the Conservatives. Of course loyalty to the UK is somewhat more nuanced now Brexit is imminent. The DUP, with a total vote share of 292,000 holds the balance of power within a nation of 65 million.
- Perhaps the most uncomfortable fact from the last two elections - in the USA and UK - is that people will vote for things that disadvantage them if they believe the politician has created talking points simply to gain office. (Of course this is based on both pre-election and exit polls; though an individual’s vote is secret and it’s unlawful for anyone else to reveal them, a voter can freely state who they voted for.)
- Older voters in particular seemed inclined to vote to reduce protections designed to look after them once unable to care for themselves. During a pre-Election BBC Question Time broadcast, a third of the panel’s questions were put by obviously angry old men intent on destabilising the lives of future generations. Their universal condemnation of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, as someone fundamentally opposed to the use of nuclear weapons, as a decent human being and thus presumably unqualified to lead a government, all of it appalled me.
- The very worst of it all is perhaps the most predictable. It’s universally acknowledged that politicians lie, that the businesses lobbying for influence encourage it, that the newspapers and news media organisations shape public opinion to please their financial backers. But ordinary people don’t seem to care, and are simply too lazy to check the facts.
- No, I was wrong. The very worst thing to emerge is the words ‘normalisation’ or ‘normalised.’ We’re so accustomed to hearing of hardship elsewhere in the world, so used to hearing of death tolls in far-away places that their significance escapes us until, albeit on a smaller scale, it happens here. And once it’s happened a couple of times and Facebook temporary profile pictures have been pulled down, the root cause is basically ignored. We remain extraordinarily lucky that the reach of xenophobia and all the other things into our modern societies barely touches our comfortable existences, we simply accept that there’ll never be an end to world poverty 32 years after the ‘Live Aid’ concerts.
I could go on, but thinking about things is hard, you see. I’ve enough on my plate just reaching the end of each day right now.
There’s a saying, purportedly Chinese, which is appropriate on so many levels. It’s this:
“May you live in interesting times.”
At first it seems a positive phrase, in this context however ‘interesting’ means unsettled, chaotic, even dangerous. It’s a curse.
We live in interesting times.