Desperate for certainty (Touch 11)

Sunday, 16. August 2009


One of the great drivers of the human soul is a hunger for certainty. This might be a lost-to-consciousness longing for the womb or is that a pre-conscious onto-physical yearning somehow copied into every repeating division of the body cells from before the time of emotion, before the time of pain… Whatever it is it is a) very much stronger than we normally notice and b) an addiction that will never go away.

Nothing feels better than a moment of perfect certainty, that you are loved or you love, that you won the bet, that you got the job, that the music lifts you, that your hunger is satisfied, that you’re about to orgasm, that your child is healthy, that you passed your exam, that you didn’t die in the car smash, that the mole on your arm is not cancer…

Few things feel worse than the tangled mass of uncertainties that we actually live with to the point of barely noticing yet another nagging doubt that causes who knows what emotional turmoil and stress to the physical systems: am I sick, why doesn’t my boss seem to like me, does he love me or her, am I still a celebrity, will I ever get the life I want, is the plane going to leave without me, is this finally the year that the economy collapses, does my ass look fat in these trousers, will the guests enjoy my soufflé, are my jokes not funny any more, why is the dog limping, what’s the matter with my guts that I feel so weak today… Uncertainty is simply endless, stressful, dis-easing and it eats at the soul, causing all kinds of urgent reasons not to love and care for other people because life is such a trial as it is. It also degrades the body because, as even scientists now realise, incomplete episodes of primitive fight-or-flight reaction create untold long-term stress damage to hearts, tissues, digestive tracts, nervous systems, probably spleens, autonomic breathing, skin health free of allergic reactions and ultimately the very sanity that enables a person to take care of themself.

The price of uncertainty is almost infinite and almost all of it bad. Eastern sages would have us embrace change and accept a world without fixtures but they have merely superimposed the artificial certainty of their meme and you need a sleight of mind and a lot of discipline to come anywhere close, though some pretend they have made it and will get nasty when challenged. For the rest of the population uncertainty is a huge elephant in the room, being ignored all of the time, in waking and in sleeping, like a low murmur of traffic when life is OK but turning into a scream of anxiety at times of obvious stress.

We demand certainty for ourselves to counter this and we demand certainty from others to prevent any chance of their fear infecting us. People who have cancer get the hardest time from well-meaning relatives who want a good solution packaged and then a second opinion and more as if it were that easy when dealing with a mysterious disease which inevitably sets the spinning top of total uncertainty by asking the lonely question: why me? Why does nobody understand what I’m going through? Why can nobody help me? Why am I having to reassure them when I’m the one who might be dying?What did I do to deserve this?

You could say that life is a competition for certainty, just as it is a competition for status, which is related because it is intended to secure the area of your environment, taking away need, doubt, obscurity, impotence, isolation, rejection and insignificance and rendering you a “somebody”. Certainty is definitely what the smug hope will become real and true when they triumph and dissemble about how they got there and exactly how much they have. In a Climate of Lie, where the good things are scarce, it is essential for society to maintain believable fictions about freedom and opportunity while actually channelling all the real benefits towards the special people who already have enough that would sustain countless others. Certainty for the many is deliberately destabilised, who are obliged to live in fantasies about what is and what is possible while the special people simply gambol like children in their playground, all needs met yet still looking for more. When animals do this it is called hierarchical and is assumed to be a competition for sex, food and dominance.

Into this mess come thinkers, creating revolutionary memes for the masses, political religions and fantasies about human rights and justice, welfare systems that rob the poor of responsibility and conniving means of taxation which the rich can easily avoid but which shackle the ambitions of those who have risen out of servitude to the greatest fantasy of all: the bourgeois life of the suburbs, lived everywhere in a pipedream so obvious that even Hollywood movie makers have managed to notice and mock it. Welcome to Stepford.

Meanwhile, back in the interior life, the moment to moment awareness of every single human being, the quest for certainty goes on insatiably, a counterpoint of truth to the illusion of wellbeing as the individual claws for whatever safe hold (s)he can get on life.

To the mind this might manifest as knowing for intellectuals, feeling untouchable for the ambitious, wholesome for mothers, attractive for teens, tough for men and clever for just about everyone – the variants are so infinite that some masochists even get their safety from knowing that they suffer more than anyone else and some Samaritans just can’t help chasing victims to rescue. We bond with people who match our sickest unspoken needs and vaguely resemble the families we grew up in; we reach for ambitions implanted by the culture; we adopt behaviours designed to keep the bastion of our personalities fireproof, experimenting until we reach the safe haven of feeling mature. It’s all bullshit. There is no safe place in the Step 1 reality we have now. You do not cure an itch by scratching. It does not help to ask the main question that everyone lives by: what will make me safe and happy…

previous parts of Touch are here

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