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You Can’t Escape, But You’re Welcome To Try

Breaking news, lads and lasses: our world is flawed. That’s right. You heard it here first.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it isn’t made entirely out of flaws (yeah, prepare to see this word a lot). Sometimes it’s absolutely marvelous; the very fact of its (and our own) existence is astonishing if you think about it, and our world gets quite a bit of bonus points for complexity and variety, yet there are myriads of ugly things which constantly try to ruin it. I’m not saying that all these things are absolutely intolerable, but if they were gone, nobody would mourn their disappearance.

Some of these issues are connected with the very nature of our world. In other words, if humanity didn’t exist and some other species took our place (think batmen or something), our replacements would probably be troubled by these flaws as well. Cold, heat, gravity… I don’t know about you, but personally I’d love to tweak these things. I wouldn’t get rid of them entirely, but eradicating the extremes of these phenomena would be nice. Would you be discontent if such fates as freezing to death, burning to the ground and falling from high places to your doom were no longer, uh, available? I don’t think so.

Another bunch (and, my, it’s a hefty one) of problematic flaws are caused by humans. Ever see those filthy walking lumps of flesh? If you have, I suppose this is pretty self-explanatory.

Humans are assholes by design, everybody knows that: they can’t really live together, they tend to argue about things which often don’t really matter, they kill each other and do other nasty stuff. You’ve heard John Lennon’s “Imagine” (yep, not an original version, I know) no? That’s a utopia he’s singing about. It won’t happen.

John Lennon and Yoko Ohno

Yes, I hope as well that someday I’ll join you and the world will be as one…

A utopia would have to be a place blessed by the absence of flaws and problems. To put it simply, everyone is happy in the utopia. No exceptions. Is it possible to create one? Let’s think about it.

There are at least two types of the problematic flaws (warning: there may be more) we face: flaws which are an integral part of the world and all that ruckus caused by humanity. A lot of workarounds have been found to deal with the first category (note: mainly workarounds, not full solutions; people these days rarely die from cold – that does not mean that such deaths are impossible if things go wrong) but what about the second portion of them?

Humans are walking magnets for problems and never-ending sources of the new ones. They create problems and locate flaws by interacting with the world and its inhabitants. You don’t even need to have a whole lot of humans to see them create problematic situations: one person will suffice.

One person is perfectly able to interact with the world (oh, hey, what’s tha~ OH GOD IT BURNS LIKE HELL) and its non-human dwellers (oh, hey, that’s a cute lil’ kitte~ *neck snap*). Two individuals get an opportunity to fight and quarrel over stuff, three individuals may find themselves in even more heated arguments (Mexican standoff – please RSVP) and so on. The more people we have out there, the more complicated things are going to become.

By the way, three individuals also get an ability to form a love triangle, and love triangle seems to me like a perfect example of why humans are always going to have problems amongst them. A love triangle consists of two pretenders and the person they both desire (an object of desire). And… this looks like a dangerous situation to me. There are a lot of possible outcomes (lifelong depression for one or more of the apexes, shed tears and disfigured limbs, three-way suicide…) but none of them are good, unless one of the pretenders will agree (without any pressure from the other two apexes) to abandon his desire for some reason – or unless the object of desire will become unavailable or unreachable (again, without tragedies and pain).

I shall call it... the triangle of doomed utopias.

I shall call it… the triangle of doomed utopias.

Interestingly enough, we may replace the object of desire with pretty much anything (a valuable resource, a rare opportunity and so on) and add new apexes to our shape, thus allowing it to imitate almost any kind of conflict humanity has ever seen. It is hard enough to deal with nature – humanity’s problems are even trickier – and that’s before we factor in dissonant world views, the fact that resources (and objects of desire in general) are limited, and stuff.

So… I guess we can bid farewell to utopias.

Let’s travel back to the flaws of the world. What are they? Let me give you an example of a dialogue that never happened (just a bit of good ol’ reductio ad absurdum):

— Hey, folks, does anybody like hurricanes and earthquakes?

— Oh yeah, man, I totally dig earthquakes! I just don’t have enough words to describe how amazing it is when the earth is being torn asunder, the buildings are crumbling away, and the people are slowly dying, buried alive under debris without food and water! Man, I wish I were an earthquake, ‘cause there’s nothing more awesome in this world than earthquakes!

— So, you’re really fond of cataclysms, right?

— Hell yes!

— Then maybe you adore crime and injustice as well?

— But of course! Those are not my favorites, but they are still pretty close!

— And what do you think of terrible diseases, huh?

— Yeah, they are absolutely amazing! If there were no earthquakes, they would be the most astonishing thing in the whole world!

Flaws have two defining properties: the potential to inflict damage and our lack of control over them. In other words, they may cause harm (they don’t have to do that in every possible situation at every given moment, and in some situations they may be even considered to be helpful: the aforementioned cold is used to store food, and there’s definitely no harm in that) and they can’t be fully controlled. Our lack of control means that if some flaw decides that the time has come to wreak havoc and ruin lives, then nothing can really stop it. Flaws’ harmful impact may be lowered somehow, may be even completely nullified in some cases, but if there are no ways to do that or such ways weren’t applied in time… better brace yourself.

Things become worse if humans are involved. Are we able to inflict damage? Yeah, that goes without a doubt. Can we be controlled? Can we control each other? Trick question – it’s never so easy.

Our behaviour is governed by a great number of things, and that number is so great that I won’t even try to delve into this topic here and now (and maybe not even there and later). I can say, however, that we don’t have any direct tools of control over each other. We are able to communicate and, through communication, we are able to ask for favours, express gratitude, threaten, persuade, and interact with each other in a great variety of ways… but are we guaranteed, for example, we’ll always get an answer when we ask a question? (assuming the answer exists and is known by the person we are talking to)

What if that person secretly dislikes you and simply refuses to answer? What if answering the question would not be advantageous? Yeah – no direct control.

No sudo make me a sandwich command and certainly no “stop doing things that are crazy and potentially harmful to other folks, then go sit in the corner and think about your life” command.

It’s a strange situation. We all need to survive somehow, and it is easier to do so whilst cooperating with other people. Otherwise I don’t think people would come up with tribes, families, nations and other groups of varying size and purposes.

If you are a member of a society, you have some kind of role or position assigned to you: with it come your rights, responsibilities, available opportunities, and expected behaviour. The latter is very important, because we all live assuming that other folks will diligently cling to their roles and never violate the masquerade. To put it simply, we just hope that other folks simply won’t do anything stupid – not without a proper reason, at least.

And that's how you disrupt the normal flow of life with style. Just... just do it as far away as possible from me, all right? Thank you.

And that’s how you disrupt the normal flow of life with style.
Just… just do it as far away as possible from me, all right?
Thank you.

Am I trying to add humanity to the long list of flaws plaguing this world? Maybe, maybe not. You better decide if that needs to be done on your own. Let’s move on.

***

Unless you live at the top of some ivory tower, where you can observe beautiful sunsets and think about lofty matters without being disturbed, something or someone (I won’t claim to know which makes for the worse scenario) is going to sadden/annoy/terrify/anger you or, perhaps, even completely shatter your sanity (whatever is left of it), leaving your mind devastated and squirming like a toad.

Sometimes I wonder, “Who is the lucky bastard who lives up there at the top?” Whoever you are, I’m certain you’re not about to invite anyone in – until you do, we do not have an alternative to our lives. (spoiler: actually, we do)

Well, there’s death, but nobody really knows what’s beyond the veil, and I don’t think there are many folks out there who are willing to find that out before their time to go has come.

Death may lead us to the afterlife, to the glorious halls of Valhalla (or fiery pits of Gehenna, if you’re into that kind of thing), but it may as well turn out to be a one-way ticket into the oblivion where you cease to exist once and for all. If you ask me, both fates are equally terrifying. Death is a trip into the unknown, and unknown is always scary – too scary to be considered a real option.

But let’s get back to the flaws of the world. Flaws are bad and harmful by definition [I’ve given a bit earlier], right? Wrong.

You see, if a certain flaw is at least annoying enough to be noticed, then it needs to be mitigated or countered somehow. And that’s exactly what the humanity has been doing since the times immemorial, that’s exactly what has been driving us forward all this time.

But here’s a catch: we all wish to get rid of certain (if not all) imperfections of this world or to improve certain aspects of our reality, but only a small portion of us will manage to succeed. And, uh, did I say “small”? I meant “a single person per flaw”. Well, perhaps not a single person, but some kind of team of scientists or philosophers. Still, ain’t really noticeable if you compare this bunch of people with the population of the whole hep world; I think you have more chances to be struck by lightning and to win a lottery than to be a part of this group of folks who push humanity forward.

Consider: some folks come up with a cheap, effective and easily renewable source of energy. Who will benefit from their invention? I’m pretty sure all the people of the world will, if this new energy source is that good indeed. But until those folks unite their thought processes to invent it, we can only wish for an improvement in this department.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a single thing about energy consumption, sources of power and related things. The best I can do is put my smart face on and say something like “Solar power is a way to go, that’s the stuff our grandchildren will use to power their quantum computers, time machines, death rays and all that jazz, but, uh, don’t quote me on that, ‘cause in fact I don’t really know a thing, but this kinda makes sense for some reason, so… why not?”

I can try to share my thoughts about the problem at hand, but that’s about it. I can’t really do something to fix it – and I’m pretty sure something like this happened in the days of yore:

A caveman emerges from a… yeah, you knew it. From a cave.

— Oi, what a swell morn~ Gah, it’s mighty cold outside of our cozy cave! Man, if I were familiar with a concept of seasons, then I would totally say that winter has arrived!

Another caveman emerges.

— Man, why are you yelling so early in the morn~ Oh, for Christ’s sake, it’s cold indeed!

— That’s what I’m trying to tell you! And who is this Christ guy you keep talking about anyway?

— Uh, I don’t know. A figure of speech, I suppose?

— Oh, I see. So, what can we do about it?

— Well, I think there is the only solution. We go back into out cave and sit around the fire until it gets warmer or until we succumb to starvation, whichever comes first.

— Meh, this isn’t good. I wish we had, well… something like a portable fireplace, you know? Something to keep us warm outside of the cave.

— Yeah-yeah, dream on. Let’s go back inside.

It didn’t get warmer.

Sadly, the majority of us will not be able to rid the world of imperfections. If that wasn’t the case, I suppose we would be living in an ideal world for quite a bit of time already. But we must carry on somehow, right?

Let me tell you something: I still don’t have a slightest idea about who lives on the top of the ivory tower. It could be you, it could be anyone – and that’s the point.

Ivory towers do not exist outside one’s state of mind. They are an alternative to our lives.

Whenever your grip on reality weakens or the vision of another world replaces the vision of the current one, real one from your mind, you’re embarking upon a journey of a single sleight-of-mind. We shall call this journey by its destination: (as you have probably guessed already) escapism.

***

There are many floors in this ivory tower of ours, the tower of escapism. Perhaps even too many.

Humanity has had quite a bit of time to construct these floors, these tools of escapism. Here’s the tricky part: not all tools are created equal. Even if each one of them got a gift from Colonel Colt, they would still be pretty far from parity.

Here are some of the most common ones: alcohol (drown your sorrows in booze; they will return later, sure, they may even bring reinforcements and siege your weakened mind with a terrible headache, but, well, sometimes this method is good enough), literature (we’ll get to it a little bit later), music (replace your aimlessly wandering thoughts with sound waves you dig), video games (ever wanted to be a stylish assassin, a fireball-throwing wizard or something like that? Here’s your chance), cinematography (basically, literature plus music plus visuals, or video games minus interactivity).

Video games provide you with a new identity, a new set of rules, abilities and, most importantly, new reality (setting, if you will). You can't really ask for more.

Video games provide you with a new identity, a new set of rules, abilities and, most importantly, new reality (setting, if you will).
You can ask for more – just don’t hold your breath.

Most activities may, also, be used as a tool of escapism – perhaps even those which are not often seen in such a way.

Jogging in the morning? Sure, why not? What if those running fellows run from grim thoughts both literally and metaphorically?

What about work? Menial work keeps your body and mind busy, thus not allowing the latter to worry about other things. Intellectual work requires concentration, focusing on the task at hand, so it’s pretty much the same story. But let’s get to the interesting bit:

Literature can be seen from two points of view. The first one is simple: the consumer’s view. People read for various reasons (why are you reading this article?) but, if you think about it, reasons are irrelevant here. Only the process of reading matters.

Reading the text, trying to grasp what its author wanted to say, forming an opinion about what you are reading, looking for deeper meaning if you wish to look for it, if you think it’s there…

Sounds like quite a bit of work to me. Work that needs focus and must not be interrupted. To do it properly you need to, if not absolutely forget about the world that surrounds you, at least remove all the distractions or ignore the irremovable ones. So, what we have here in the end is escapism.

Again: reasons are irrelevant. You want to learn something new, get some food for thought? A noble goal, but escapism is still present in the core of the process. You read to kill time, to plunge yourself into the world constructed by the author? Pure escapism.

The second point of view is author’s one. Here’s what I see as author of this article: it doesn’t really matter what you write, how you write, or who your target audience happens to be (in fact, there may be no audience at all, if author is content with that); again, only the process matters. It is akin to the creation of a new world. Mine is small, only one person can dwell here: the narrator. And here I am (or, rather, here he is) with my monologue, which will be delivered to the readers by their inner voices.

When such worlds become bigger, when new characters arrive and various decorations are installed, it becomes more apparent that the process of constructing such a world withdraws its creator from the real one – thereby allowing the author to escape.

Some readers cut out the middle man: they become authors of their own fan-fiction. Those who write it usually do not want to create new worlds, because they are more than content with the ones created by others. Their only gripe is the fact that books/movies/video games/whatever have this ugly tendency to end, thus essentially destroying their place of refuge, the world they loved… the world they were not ready to leave. They seek ways to somehow squeeze more hours of sweet escape out of the world’s remains; it looks like writing stuff about that world is one of the ways to go.

***

All in all, the exodus to one’s ivory tower is a most curious – and telling – state of mind.

But it is too feeble and fragile: whether you like it or not, you just can’t sustain escape 24/7/365.

You will have to let it go sooner or later, otherwise… well…

Otherwise they will put an ominous looking thing on your head. And when they do that, nothing good happens.

Otherwise they will put an ominous looking thing on your head…
… and, when they do that, nothing good happens.

Categories: 2013 Winter Writing Contest, Long Form.

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One Response

  1. First, I wasn’t going to read this because I thought I already had as a submission to the writing contest. I hadn’t. You (Guys) have done so much with it. Whether or not I agree with where it’s landed, it certainly has come a long way.

    Second, this goes in so many different directions that I thought it might be kind of incoherent. There’s Girard, there’s Kant, there’s some Freud and gods know what else. The coherence of all those different ideas didn’t strike me until the end, where they provide kind of a unified foil to the existential/Hegelian idea that

    it doesn’t really matter what you write, how you write, or who your target audience happens to be (in fact, there may be no audience at all, if author is content with that); again, only the process matters. It is akin to the creation of a new world.

    which is really pretty awesome. The diversity of the other different characterizations of the world and utopias made the unity of the solution that much clearer.

    But kick away the ladder for a sec. You have your own world that you represent as X, and I have my own world that I represent as Y and the pope has A and Lindsay Lohan has B. Now is there really anything outside all of these representations? Is there something more to it than stories we are all telling ourselves? And if not, isn’t all communication a kind of escape, where we get to hang out in other peoples’ worlds, or at least get a peek from the window, for a bit? If so, then relative to the ‘real’ world, there’s nothing but escape. If not, then you are indeed stuck in a cage, but it’s not the cage of the real world as much as the cage of your own story.

Got insight?