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Spooky Action At A Distance

The Rant of a Hypothetical Slave

By Pavel Kravchenko

Is it better to be a happy slave or a spiteful one? Is it better to embrace slavery and be blind to it and rejoice in what one has and try to live happily, or to stare it stupidly in the eye, to spit in its face until your mouth is parched, to grumble and chuckle in disdain until you die? This sounds as though it is a matter of choice, when it’s not. There’s no real choice involved, as one cannot choose between the two attitudes any more than one can choose between parents, lives or souls. Rather than a matter of choice, it is a question of judgment; but who is fit to judge?

It seems obvious that this judge-person cannot be anyone belonging to either of the two types, because they occupy opposite wings of the same iron prison, or barracks, or padded psychiatric ward, and are equally distressed and puzzled by the other wing’s existence. They also share the key reason for their existence: the refusal to accept the impossibility of freedom. Both sides must reject it, although they do it differently. The happy say, “There’s no one more free than I am, therefore I am free.” The spiteful say, “There’s someone more free than I am, therefore I can be free.”

assassin bug eating stinkbug

It follows then, that in order not to belong to either camp, in order to be fit to judge, one needs only to accept as fact the very idea that is so abhorrent to all other slaves. That freedom is impossible, that odds are simply too far not in one’s favor. Let’s imagine I am that hypothetical person and return to the original question.

So who is crazier, one who does not see the walls of his cell or the one who sees the walls but hears footsteps outside that are not there? What is more important, happiness or search?

But now I am suddenly more interested in myself, the hypothetical person.

If the prison is in fact solid and inescapable, if those who see and hear nothing besides what is there are sane, aren’t they the most pitiful of the lot? Truly, if I wasn’t hypothetical, I wouldn’t last long. It is obvious that to continue existing, I could not remain honest. I would have to lie to myself. I would have to beat my head against the smooth walls of my room until I became crazy enough to join one of the two camps.

So maybe the original question needs to be changed. Instead of asking stupidly which attitude is better, one may have a better chance of answering it if the question was: which camp is it better to deceive yourself into joining?

For an average hypothetical person like me the answer to this version of the question comes easy. It feels more natural to join the spiteful crowd, and deluding myself into hearing footsteps seems a lot less straining than pretending not to see the walls at all. It’s possible that hypothetical persons with mightier intellects would be able to join the happies and actually succeed in attaining happiness, despite having once been aware of the walls, but already I feel distrust (or is it envy?) towards them that is sure to turn to hostility and disdain shortly.

So it seems it’s search for me. And just to make myself feel better, the spiteful will henceforth be known as the hopeful. But now the new question looms. What does one teach one’s child?

caged songbirds, Guadalajara market

© Pavel Kravchenko 2010