April 16th, 2020

The song of my (nonexistent) people

A widely-quoted line from George Bernard Shaw's play Man and Superman declares: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man".

Some people feel the need to change themselves according to their circumstances in order to survive. It seems to me that such a creature is hardly a human being, but rather an animal, worried only about its own survival, and willing to compromise its integrity in any way necessary to be able to live one more day. A creature like a real human being, with its own will and conscience, is not so much concerned with biological survival, but with doing what it knows to be good and proper, even if death be the result.

I wonder if I have ever met a person like that. I'm not sure that I have. I want to be a person like that. I'm not sure that I am.

When I die, I want to know that I've lived for something. Infinitely more important than quantity of life is quality of life: I would rather die at 40 having lived 40 good years than at 80 having lived 80 wasted years. The worst feeling in the world must be to die with the realization that you went through your whole life without having ever actually lived.

These are not new ideas for me. I have held them for years. And so I thought that I would do something nice for the world, for humanity, to try to make the world a better place before I left it. But the question is how to do this. As I mentioned here yesterday, the only real way to make people's lives better is through money; what people need is not empty politeness or random gestures of thoughtfulness, but money, because that is where the real substance of life comes from. And I don't have much money; I never did. And when you study humanity, it becomes apparent that even when people do have money, they don't really have much to do with their lives other than survive. Yes, you can keep another person from starving or getting sick through financial support, but what do people do then? Most people settle down to watch television or go to parties, or else they travel around the world, because seeing streets and trees in a foreign continent is more interesting to them than seeing streets and trees in the place where they live. If you have money, you can help people survive, but since I didn't have money, I thought I would help humanity by inspiring it with ideas, by giving people the idea of something better to live for than just dumb entertainment and luxuries that exist only to entertain bored people with no reason to be alive.

So many times, I've gone back and forth on the decision of whether I should try to focus on humanity as a larger whole, or only a small group of humanity. I always hoped that I could reach most of the world's people and somehow do something for them, whether it was something substantial like financial or agricultural aid, or something more artistic like making movies or music. But when you look at the large masses of humanity and the kinds of movies they watch and the kinds of music they listen to, it becomes apparent that people only like stupid things. In order to have mass appeal, you'd have to be stupid enough, or at least do something stupid enough, to appeal to the masses.

Whom I really want to meet are people who are willing to do something with their lives: Not people who pathetically go through life like machines or animals, just experiencing whatever they can experience along the way and hoping to survive, but people who want to actually change the world to suit a better set of values. There are a lot of things you can do with the world: You can build things, you can write things, you can change things, you can say things. Because of this, I thought that I might try to change people, the thing that most needs changing in the world, but this was my big mistake, because I ended up choosing the one thing you can't change; you can change almost anything else worth changing in the world, but the one you can't change is human nature. And that being the case, trying to make something which appeals to all people, or even the majority of people, is generally a waste of time: If you make something good and intelligent, most people won't appreciate it; the only way to make something with mass appeal is to make something so thoroughly stupid that even regular people like it. And that's no way to go if you're an intelligent person of any kind.

One story which often haunts me is the story told by Don Lancaster about a flute player he once witnessed, and the moral Lancaster drew from this story. I've mentioned this story before, but I'll repeat it here because I feel like its message is important:


Many years ago, I was at a rock concert. The opening act was a single flute player standing solo in front of the closed stage curtains. His job was to warm up the audience for the high priced talent that was to follow. He was good.

But as he went along, the musical vibes got stranger and stranger, then totally bizarre. He was playing chords on his flute. Combined with utterly unbelievable riffs. Much of the audience got impatient and bored at what seemed like a bunch of gawd-awful squawks.

Then I happened to notice a friend beside me who had both been in and taught concert band. He was literally on the edge of his seat. He turned to me and slowly said "you … can't … do … that … with … a … flute".

Of the thousands and thousands of people in the theater audience, at most only five realized they were witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime performance of the absolute mastery of a difficult and demanding instrument.

Always play for those five.


At times, I have thought that Lancaster's moral here is wasteful: Are we really to go through our lives focusing only on a tiny subset of people which we have arbitrarily chosen because we imagine them to be the only people who can understand us? Wouldn't it be better, rather than focusing only on the tiny number of people who are enough like us that they can appreciate our values and activities, to broaden our horizons so that we can appreciate the larger spectrum of humanity and what other people do? That seems like a fuller way to live one's life.

The problem is that most people actually aren't very diverse or interesting. The vast spectrum of humanity is a bunch of organisms that were born arbitrarily, live arbitrarily, and die arbitrarily, extras in a movie scene where only a handful of people are the main actors and everyone else is anonymous and without identity. You can't change that about people, because most people want to be anonymous: They want to be nothing more than experiencers who experience life but lack any larger purpose than that. It is in their nature to be this way. They will only change their behavior if they feel that their lives are threatened, because people pathetically cling to their worthless lives and will do anything to prolong that worthlessness. If you really want to change another human being for good, there is only one way to do it: Once you kill someone, they will remain in the state you have put them in forever. Everything else is temporary, because the human being is mercurial and fickle, and will change its color at a moment's notice out of fear or greed.

Now, you may say that this is the mentality not of a human being, but of a monster, someone who believes themselves entitled to judge who lives and who dies because they are somehow above other people. Many people have hit upon this idea and imagined that they are somehow justified in killing whomever they want just because the idea pleases them. A real-life example was Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, the two scumbags who, in 1924, murdered a young child just because they thought they were clever and wanted to show how they could get away with "the perfect crime". Such objects are not even worthy of the respect that animals deserve, because they are worse than animals: Animals usually only kill out of necessity, not because they feel the need to assert their own vulnerable egos. Indeed, even calling them "objects" or "things" is an insult to objects and things, because some objects, in direct contrast to Leopold and Loeb, are good for something. If any human being is ever justified in killing another, it is not out of convenience or the possibility of personal gain, certainly not because they feel insecure enough that they need to kill to affirm their own agency as human beings; killing could only be justified as a way of making the world a better place. So, while what Leopold and Loeb did can never be justified, it would have been justifiable to kill them before their crime, because the world would have been better off without them.

I think that many people understand this idea, but how many people are actually willing to take responsibility for their own lives, not just living like dumb animals but actually living for an intentional, planned purpose? What I need in my life is not people who are "just here to have a good time", people who think that the whole world is just a playground for them to amuse themselves in whatever way strikes their fancy, but people who can really understand me, and people whom I in turn can understand. Trying to interact with any other type of people just inevitably results in disappointment, both for me and for them.

I feel like I have wasted much of my life by trying to figure out what most people want, when what most people want is just to be blissfully stupid. I need to learn to stop trying to appeal to the masses. It's a waste of my time and theirs, because I wouldn't actually be able to make something that appeals to them anyway. My kind of people are few; in fact, I'm not sure that I can say with confidence that I've ever really encountered one in my life. But I know they are capable of existing, even if none of them exist in the world right now. And I can make something which speaks to them, even if it doesn't speak to the vast, vast majority of human beings.

I know that most people will never read or hear my words, and fewer still will understand them. But some people will--if not now, then in the future, and for them it will have been worth it.