“Every head is a different world
Where mine is concerned
I boarded up the windows
A catatonic plateau
A backwards, black-faced minstrel show”
~Conor Oberst “A Machine Spiritual (In the People’s Key)”
I’ve come to be a firm disbeliever in the notion of The Individual. I simply cannot see the actions of one person as the product of a unique set of motivations, ambitions, longings, deficits and surpluses. Each of us is but one moving part in a vast machine. And I don’t mean this in the Rastafarian “there-is-no-you-and-me-we-are-one” sense.
I’m talking about the “every-action-has-an-equal-and-opposite-reaction” kind of interconnectedness.
Someone has all they need because someone else does not. Someone goes hungry because someone’s belly is full. It’s a balancing act that is fundamental to the physical world. Newton showed us this in the 17th century and it’s still the first thing you learn in any physics class almost 400 years later.
In other words our lives and our places in what some like to call “the grand scheme of things” are physical, quantifiable things with predictable, real-world results. I am of course not speaking on a micro level. I mean, whether you decide to go to work, or call in sick, whether you let the car in front of you in on the morning commute, whether you choose regular or decaf isn’t going to cause a rice shortage in Asia or a surplus of new births in Russia or something like that. I’m not talking about your day-to-day. The Butterfly Effect was an interesting movie and whether there’s a grain of truth to the notion is irrelevant because there’s no way to quantify it. But there are quantifiable results of the fact that you are a middle-class American citizen of Generation X, or an Italian teenager in a culture that’s not too old to forget the schizophrenic pull of fascism on one side and communism on the other, or you’re one of the last living speakers of a dead language, stamped out by imperialism. To paraphrase: who you are, your place in the vast, moving body of the human machine is no more or less than an equal and opposite reaction to the other moving parts.
So, yeah, we’re connected, we are one. We are each integral and we are each culpable. And yet we are, on the whole, desperately alone. We live inside our heads and I think we are often so appalled by what we see there, and so sure that nobody would understand it, nobody would accept it, that we are, by default, estranged. Or, worse, we are so baffled by the world in our heads we must surround ourselves with people who function largely as a sounding board for our existence. A little network of human mirrors that we train to reflect the things in ourselves we love. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to tell if those things were even lovable. Without them, we might not exist at all. You know, the whole tree-falling-in-the-woods thing.
So we seek human connections. After food and water, that’s probably our most fundamental drive. We create microcosms of friends, family, lovers, coworkers, and we use those to produce meaning in a world that is indifferent to us, to our victories, our failures, our strengths and our paucities. I’m often struck by how much we share ourselves, but even more so by how much we conceal. It’s the reason why Showtime’s Dexter is such a compelling character. We don’t love him because he’s an exception. We love him because he is us. Although very few of us are that good-looking and charming and clever, take away the Hollywood glam and glitter and we are all that alone, that lost, that strange, that monstrous. And still, somehow, we are strangers to one another, especially the ones we love.
Then again, I spend more time alone than almost anybody I know, and I’m probably not the world’s foremost expert on human relationships. This is just something I think (obsess) about a lot. What do you think? Let’s connect ☺
P.S. I’ve only made it through two seasons of Dexter, so no spoilers, please ☺