Against the Weltschmerz
We’ve probably all confronted this state of mind. Lately it’s been a rather stubborn pest in the back of my brain: anticipation followed by inevitable the disappointment of failure. It seems the imagination is never lacking for better pictures of the world.
And yet, I truly believe that this is all a misinterpretation. Weltschmerz is really the consequence of an emphasis on a contrast: a disparity between our idealized reality and actual experience.
But why does our attention focus on the most depressing comparisons? I can just as easily imagine a world that is significantly worse then the one around us: mass epidemics could be decimating humanity, an asteroid might be barreling down on us, the zombie apocalypse could finally happen. These things aren’t presently happening and probably won’t any time soon, so why isn’t that uplifting?
We’re seemingly compelled to compare the world to the most ideal scenario and upon seeing where life falls short, we make it our understanding that we have serious “problems” to fix.
Thus, we desire to mold the world to our own vision and it is precisely this desire that has been the source of all the world’s wars, environmental disasters, and human rights atrocities. When our design conflicts with those of someone else, that creates conflict. Sometimes we kill each other over these conflicts.
Reversing this trend is a matter is not a matter of fighting against it but of understanding that it exists. It is absolutely crucial to know that we are constantly battling ourselves when we attempt to proselytize our personal paradigm onto the world around us. It is like looking in a mirror and focusing on every feature of yourself that you could image being better. Considering where these ideal versions of you are actually coming from? Why should these concepts hold power over you?
Lets do a thought experiment:
Assume that you were given the power to completely control your dreams and that in these dreams you have the freedom to create any kind of world you imagine—you can create from scratch your ideal world and go live in it forever. Now, presumably you might imagine having special powers, any number of immaculate sexual partners, mystical experiences, conversations with historical figures, harmonized existence—everybody gets along!
How long do you think you could go before you got incredibly bored? Without challenge man loses his concept of himself because he no longer has anything against which to define himself. You become a foreground without a background. So maybe you change up the rules a bit. Throw a little conflict back in, just enough for seasoning.
And how long before you bored of that?
The point is that if we all had the power to create a world of our own design every night, we would be constantly changing what that world was as our desires evolve. Our ideals are a natural reaction to the world. It is impossible to achieve the ideal state because our ideals are always in flux. They evolve with us as our environment also evolves. It is cyclical. It’s a feedback loop. It’s a trap.
One can always “one-up” the situation by imagining things just a little bit better, and then a little bit better.
Lets look back on at that thought exercise for a moment:
What if, after a few million dream years, you imagined that you were just a normal human being with no powers at all. What if the world you created was precisely the one we have now? Maybe that’s already happening.
Instead of wanting things to be better, to be different, why not embrace precisely what’s in front of us? What if the world we lived in was the ideal from a dream perspective?
Just a thought.
(For more on the beautifully complex poetry that is the German language, see my earlier post)