I remember when I had my first existential crisis. I was sitting on the toilet in first grade with a row of urinals in front of me. We were too young for doors or gender to matter. Staring down at my knees, I thought about myself for a while. Then I thought about my family and friends, and their families and friends, and I just kept going until I reached nothingness. “Who am I?”, I thought. “What is earth, and what the hell am I doing here?”
When one arrives at the first plateau of intellectual maturity, one thinks in extremes. We encounter that ever-quoted Socratic assertion that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing, and it seems like a death sentence. We think to ourselves, “Well, that’s that. All learning is a fruitless act”, and go smoke a bowl. We stagnate. But then we start thinking again, and we realize that although Socrates said that, he didn’t quite have the same reaction as us. His whole life was dedicated to the art of the logos, the art of intellectual dialogue. He knew he would never reach an answer he was satisfied with, but he acknowledged an undefined product that was pleasurable. It was this middle earth that he resided in, between ignorance of the unknown, and the embracing of it. It is here, in this undefined middle place, that art is born. Life in itself is a death sentence, but humanity has an uncanny ability to stay unwaveringly positive in spite of this truth.
Here we encounter another true-ism. We are only able to conceptualize the good because we have been exposed to the bad. We hear this all the time in Intro to Psych, Philosophy, Film, Literature, what have you. However, there is more to be made out of that concept than the simple stating of it reveals. Not only does the bad allow us to appreciate the good, it has formed our idea of what good is.
Ever since we were thrown out of paradise, we have been assaulted with opposites. Our idea of paradise is the place we left, where all was good, just and beautiful. However, in reality we have no way to conceptualize what that would be like. In our reality, in our dasein, good has a fleeting, elusive quality.
If pain can be equated to bad, then it must be said that bad is not only the opposite that allows good to be, but an ingrained part of the good. Everything good in life comes with some pain. That is not in reference to the platitudes of mothers everywhere; hard work goes far, no pain no gain. It is in reference to the beautiful fatigue after a great work out, the stress of doing your life’s work and the tightness in your chest when you love someone. Our goods, the goods of the people, of the earthbound, are inseparable from the bad, formed from that constant lack we feel in ourselves.
And here we come back to the idea of extremes. To be human is to question, is to always be asking, “what’s next?” “I’m happy, but couldn’t I be happier?” This is the beauty of humanity, the undying positivity, desperation and willingness to suffer for a paradise that nobody has ever been able to conceive or conceptualize.