The Illusion of Separation

Genuinely pumped for this blog and genuinely pumped for you guys to read it. I had this predetermined idea in my head about what this blog could be, and along the way, I fumbled hard. I fumbled over trying to find the right words to help get my message across in the most compelling way possible. But knowing me, simplicity is not one of my strong suits, so this turned into a roller coaster ride. Kind of like most of my blogs though, right? Anyways, we fucking did it, and I’m pumped. But I’ve said that already, so I’ll stop talking now and just get to the madness.

For this blog, we’re going to take a trip through time. We’re going to start at present day, 2018, where shit is currently hitting the fan all over the world. I repeat, there is currently shit on almost every fan across the world. (Check your fan because there’s probably some shit on there.) We’ll then work our way all the way back to the very beginning. And by very beginning, I mean the Big Bang. It doesn’t get more beginning than that. Or does it . . . ?

Along the way, we’re going to look at a massive problem that the world is currently facing. The illusion of separation from one another. Everywhere you look, the division is transparent. I’m better than you; my tribe is more superior to your tribe; my, fill in the blank, is nicer than yours. Even though this is nothing new and tribe mentality has been around since our earliest ancestors––and it does have its pros and cons which we’ll get into––but why are we still dealing with the negative side of tribalism on the level that we’re currently seeing here in 2018. I should point out a pretty big caveat before I go any further; the world is actually the best that it has been regarding the decline of violence and the horrors of where our earliest ancestors came from. It may not look it, but this is the truth. Not long ago, within the last 500 years, which in actuality is a blink of the eye when you think of the 13.8 billion years that we’ve been here (but more on that later)––people were straight up savages! I’m talking gruesomely torturing people in public just because. So, when you think of where we’re coming from, we’re ain’t doing too bad, my friends. But, this doesn’t mean that we’re entirely free of our barbaric, darker side of human behavior. As a species, we can do better.

I’m not sure if we’re ever going to get to a point where the world won’t be experiencing some form of turmoil. I’m sure in the next five hundred years it’ll be team people versus A.I. Or at the rate we’re destroying the earth, team people will be wiped of the map thanks to mother nature getting fed up with our shit and pulling a system reset. Can we blame her? Until then though, it’s definitely in our best interest to work on getting the world to it’s closest version of homeostasis as possible. We’ve got a lot of  ground to cover, and this is a long one so let’s get started.

The Others

oth·er
adjective & pronoun
pronoun: others
  1. used to refer to a person or thing that is different or distinct from one already mentioned or known about.

When I say “the others,” who’s the first group of people to pop into your head? Germans? Canadians? Russians? Yeah, Russians definitely qualify as “the others.” Fuck it; anybody non-American is getting thrown in that box. There we go, I think that settles it. Anybody other than Americans are officially now “the others” in my book. Actually, while we’re at it, seeing as I’m a Democrat (not really a fan of politics but for the sake of the story let it rock), toss those no-good Republicans in the box as well. But I mean, we can’t stop there––right? Why exclude this to only politics, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What about black people? Or how about gay people? Feminist? My neighbors? Maybe vegans? Or if you’re a vegan, what about meat-eaters? Let’s go ahead and keep the division between the upper class and lower class going strong cause, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Am I right? Who’s left? Brooklyn hipsters? We can stick them in the corner, put outdoor enthusiast to the side, and then that should leave us enough room to stick the cross-fitters in the back. We can put the Jets fans . . . Actually, they’re worse than the Russians, so we might keep those ones out of the box for right now.

Okay, triggered? Did I cover everybody?

This was not me calling any specific group out; I love all y’all. (Might be a hard pass on Jets fans though.) This was me wanting to illuminate that there are people throughout the world who find each one of these groups as the others. Trivial as some of them may seem. Why are we not past this darker side of tribalism yet? Are our biggest concerns really whether or not someone sees eye to eye with us? Whether or not their way of life lines up with ours? And if it doesn’t, why should we even care? Shouldn’t it be as simple as you do you, and I’ll do me?

Oh, you’re gay? Cool, man. Shouldn’t be any more different from reacting to someone who’s straight. African-American, Asian, or Mexican? Guess what?! First and foremost, you’re still a fucking human being! Is that no good liberal Jerry from work cramping your conservative style? Let him. You may not agree with everything he has to say, but this doesn’t mean you need to attack him over a political ideology. Or how about instead of attacking someone because they’re eating meat, let them eat meat if that’s what they choose! But Justin, it’s more than that. I get it (clearly doesn’t get it, you think) I know it’s more for the animals than anything and it’s not cool to watch someone eat meat when that’s the very thing you’re fighting for. But chances are you’ll be more likely to get someone to try out a vegan diet simply by letting them take an interest in the diet inspired by you. Through realizing that “oh, he’s been eating a vegan diet for a couple of years now and he looks healthy, always has energy, and at the end of the day, he’s not contributing to the murder of animals. Maybe there is something to this vegan diet.”

Think I saw it on a Hallmark card, something about, “be the change you want to see in the world?” Not let me berate someone until their views line up with mine or in the more extreme cases, physically attack someone over an ideology. And why do we do this? We do this because we want people to do exactly what we’re doing to reinforce that what we are doing is correct.

Time for the rebuttal. “Justin, you’re living in a fantasy world. This is the way people are. We’re not meant to see eye to eye.” Which in all fairness is true. It’s ok for people to have their differences, it’s part of what makes this world so intriguing. It’s not ok, however, for us to discriminate one another over these very differences. Should we continue to choose to look at one another as the other, we run the risk of losing sight on a deeper aspect of human nature. We risk the chance of missing out on this weird symbiotic flow that links us, humans, together. If all we’re doing is trying to make sure we’re superior to others, then little by little we start to disrupt that flow. This needs to be team people first no matter how cheesy it may sound.

“Love is the answer.” – Elon Musk after his first hit of marijuana

The Time is Now

One thing that I’ve noticed after rock climbing for two years now is that almost everyone that I’ve met through climbing is pretty much on the same page. Same thing I noticed when I was going through my music festival stage in life. Makes sense, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. In time these like-minded people slowly start to become part of our “tribe.” It hasn’t always been this easy to link up with the right tribe though. Cue the technology of today making its grand entrance.

Never has there been a time in history like there is now. Never has there been a time in history where we have instant access to everyone throughout the entire world, at any given time. This alone has its own pros and cons but the major pro that we’re going to look at is the ability to link up with a like minded tribe in literal seconds.

In minutes we’re able to hop on the internet and find a tribe of our choosing to now be a part of. Like having sex while wearing animal costumes? Next group meeting is at 7:00 P.M. at your local Motel 6. Upset because you’re the only person you know who’s into Botany within a five-mile radius? Hop onto Facebook, and within minutes you can find yourself surrounded by Botanist throughout the world who live and breathe for Botany the same way you do. Still like having sex, while still wearing the animal costume, but you’re looking to let your inner freak flag fly high and want to upgrade to the BDSM package? Well, thanks to the technology of today; next meeting, Joe from Craigslist house, 8:00 P.M. Don’t be late.

So, why even bother looking for a like-minded tribe though? Why am I even bringing this up? If you’re a loner, you’re probably telling me to piss off right now. Well, guy, telling me to piss off, the reason that I’m bringing this up is because this is what humans are designed for. Contrary to what some of you may think––myself included should I have read this a few years ago (again, we’ll get into this later)––we’re not better off alone. We’re literally designed to communicate, touch, fuck, play, and interact with one another. We’re mammals; proof is in the pudding that we need one another to help make it through this crazy ride. We’re going to continue to take a closer look in this next section.

Tribalism at its Finest

Sebastian Junger, my dude, devoured the whole area of tribalism in his book Tribe. This section is going to be a tribute to that book as well as pulling out, what I believe, to be vital information about the importance of community, and the lack of that we’re starting to see here in 2018 and why that may be a problem.

Why is it whenever there’s a war going on or natural disasters—times where humans are forced to work alongside one another––there’s a number of positive benefits. We see a drop-in suicide rates, depression goes down, murder rates also go down, and psychiatric disturbances drop immediately. Across the board, mental health improves. You even find people wishing that they were back in war or struggling through the devastating aftermath that natural disasters are well known for.

Let’s go ahead and jump back to the Belfast Riots of 1969. Irish psychologist H. A. Lyons found that during the Belfast Riots, suicide rates dropped by 50 percent and other violent crimes also went down. This notion seems counterintuitive when we stop to think about it. But if we take a look at a piece taken from the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 1979, Lyons goes debunks his theory a little further:

“When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose . . . With a resulting improvement in mental health. It would be irresponsible to suggest violence as a means of improving mental health, but the Belfast findings suggest that people will feel better psychologically if they have more involvement with their community.”

So, there’s our first example of mental health and suicide rates dropping during a civil war, but let’s keep this party going because I know I haven’t got you quite sold.

Taking our time machine back to 1992 to the siege of the capital of Bosnia. Also known as The Siege of Sarajevo. Here we see survivor and Bosnian journalist Nidzara Ahmetasevic actually reminiscing on her time during the war:

“‘I missed being that close to people, I missed being loved in that way,” she told me. “In Bosnia––as it is now––we don’t trust each other anymore; we became really bad people. We didn’t learn the lesson of the war, which is how important it is to share everything you have with human beings close to you. The best way to explain it is that war makes you an animal. We were animals. It’s insane––but that’s the basic human instinct, to help another human being who is sitting or standing or lying close to you.'”

I asked Ahmetasevic if people had ultimately been happier during war.

We were the happiest,” Ahmetasevic said. Then she added: “And we laughed more.””

Ahmetasevic obviously didn’t miss the actual war itself––and she goes on to say that––but what is it about these hard times that make them almost romanticized? Junger addresses this issue by talking about an American scientist pioneering disaster research during and following the Second World War, Charles Fritz. “Fritz’s theory was that modern society has gravely disrupted the social bonds that have always characterized the human experience, and that disasters thrust people back into a more ancient, organic way of relating. Disasters, he proposed, create a “community of sufferers” that allows individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others. As people come together to face an existential threat, Fritz found, class differences are temporarily erased, income disparities become irrelevant, race is overlooked, and individuals are assessed simply by what they are willing to do for the group. It is kind of a fleeting social utopia that, Fritz felt, is enormously gratifying to the average person and downright therapeutic to people suffering from mental illness.”

All of these stories––and there are countless examples like this throughout the book––at their core revolve around one central theme; lack of community. A lack in interdependence on one another. As we get more modernized, the need to rely on one another drastically diminishes. We now have the opportunity to isolate ourselves like never before. We can block out our neighbors by buying more property than we’ll ever need. Or we can buy the house that has those hedges making sure Marge and Wayne stay the fuck out of our business. Which don’t get me wrong, kind of the route I’m feeling as I have my lone wolf tendencies––even as I write a blog about separation. Oh, and my urban folks, I didn’t forget about you. Want to experience true isolation? I give you, New York City. Where you can be surrounded by 8.6 million people and still feel like you’re the only person alive thanks to the modernization of cellphones

I don’t think anyone’s complaining about having a decent size of property or literally having the world in the palm of our hands. But, while it may seem like a good thing to get more modernized, we have to stop and look at the reality that this might be the very reason that depression, anxiety, and suicide rates are at an all-time high. “Every dark cloud has a silver lining, but lightning kills hundreds of people each year who are trying to find it.”

“What catastrophes seem to do––sometimes in the span of a few minutes––is turn back the clock on ten thousands years of social evolution. Self-interest gets subsumed into group interest because there is no survival outside group survival, and that creates a social bond that many people sorely miss.” – Sebastian Junger, Tribe

The Desolation of Washington

“He was right in saying that the only certain happiness in life is to live for others. . . .” – Leo Tolstoy, Family Happiness

Remember those lone wolf tendencies that I said we’d get into later? Now is later. Let’s preface this by jumping back to my earlier days for a bit. Side note: I do realize I’m jumping all over the place throughout this blog even though I said I was going from present day back to the beginning. Welp, you now know what it’s like to have a first-hand look into the life of the neurotic. Cheers.

It’s all fun and games to play the card of the loner and think that you’d be better off without people until you’re actually alone. Allow me to explain . . .

Up until my twenties, I had told myself a story, and if you’ve read my last blog The Stories We Tell Ourselves, then you know where I’m about to go with this. That story specifically was that nobody gets me. Nobody understands me. For years I told myself this. Even to this day this story still has some of its roots burrowed deep within me. Slowly but surely, this story started to construct this perception of self that I was unable to relate to anyone. Over the years, little by little, I was failing to realize that what this story was actually doing, was slowly crafting an armor fit for the likes of a Greek god. And what does every Greek god need? Walls to keep the mere mortals out, of course. Matter of fact, walls so high that they make The Wall from Game of Thrones look like a mere picket fence. (Game of Thrones is trash by the way. Lol.) The combination of the walls and armor made it near impossible for me to ever authentically open up to anyone. Friends, family, and forget even trying to think about taking on a serious relationship.

Now, let’s tie this into my time on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The months leading up to my hiatus, I was a mental wreck. If you followed my blogs back then, then this is no news to you. My social anxiety was so severe that I couldn’t look a single person in the eye while talking to them. Even my family and friends I wanted no part of it. Even to have a simple conversation with them made it feel like my world was turning upside down. Dramatic, but the absolute truth because up until that point I had never once had social anxiety in my life. This idea of getting away from people for six months to go hike in the wilderness on my own sounded fan-fucking-tastic. And it absolutely was; until I got to Washington.

Throughout the course of my thru-hike, I went from someone who was loving every second to themselves out in the wilderness, to someone who was slowly starting to crave human interaction of any kind. Shit, it was so bad that it got to the point where I didn’t even have to talk to the person. Just knowing that I had another human being in my campsite after spending countless nights alone was like a drug fix that allowed me to get through another couple of days on my own.

The loneliness of Washington made me realize that I had thought that I’d be fine without people. But the truth was, at the end of the day, I’m still a human first. Shocker. It took countless lonely days of no social interaction for me to finally realize that I did need people in my life. In a weird way, it was almost like a form of rock bottom that I could only experience once the option of socializing with people was taken away from me. And maybe there are those rare occasions where you find the people living by themselves miles away from their closest neighbor and are perfectly content. Some people are just wired differently and are fine without others. I do get down with this notion. But even then, it’s my theory that underneath all the bullshit, fear is deeply rooted in that mentality. Too afraid to open up and start shedding their armor because once the armor is off, they’re now fair game to our good friend, vulnerability.

My time out on the Pacific Crest Trail, for better or for worse, had completely rewired my entire outlook on how I perceived people and made me . . . do I dare say it? A people person, sort of. I’m sure if you ask someone about me they’ll tell you I’m a crabapple.

For so long, I had been telling myself that no one understands me that in this weird way it actually started to feel good to say that. But, guess what? That was all ego! Compared to the typical boasting of one’s self normally associated with ego, this was the other end of the spectrum of ego. This was the ego working its fuckery, like it does, making it seem like my problems were more significant than any other problems known to man. So significant that no one could ever truly understand me. How could they? Their problems weren’t nearly on the same level of my problems. They weren’t nearly as fucked up as I was. With that mentality, I was slowly creating an illusion of separation between me the people around me and myself. This is becoming an ever-common theme amongst our generation and I won’t dare associate myself with the M word. That’s why I’m telling you this story. It’s become this cool narrative to act like we don’t need people, but if you look closely, it’s not hard to see how the ego works in this insidious way to put you right back on top of the superiority food chain.

What I’ve come to learn through doing these thru-hikes and taking time to travel alone is that while yes it may be a rush at first, and maybe even necessary for the character development of certain people. But after you visited that twenty-first country, or you’re on your fifth thru-hike by yourself, and you’re looking out at another gorgeous view that can only be rewarded by putting in the work of grinding out a seven-mile up-hill battle, and you look over only to find that you’re by yourself. Again. What’s really there? I can only speak for myself, but when I had to answer this question, the answer was nothing. Literally and figuratively. That all of my time traveling alone means nothing if I can’t share those experiences with the people closest to me or the people I meet along the way.

“HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.” – Christopher McCandless, Into The Wild

The Platinum Rule

So, is there any way to get past looking at one another as the other? I mean, psychedelics might not be the worst place to start. But, for a subtler approach, the platinum rule might be a more plausible place to start.

We all know the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would do to yourself. Welp, we’re going to take a page from Aubrey Marcus’ “platinum rule;” treat others well because they are you living a different life. I’m pretty sure the first time that I heard this I just brushed it off. Hippy nonsense I told myself. “That’s Aubrey being Aubrey.” But like thinking that the fifth time around between you and your ex is going to be different, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was one of those things you hear offhand, and for whatever reason, it sticks with you. Maybe subconsciously a part of me knew that I needed to thoroughly digest it.

The second we start to look at each other through this filter we a plant a seed within us. A shift starts to take place. Slowly we wake up and realize that underneath it all, you are no different than I. The best part is, this is nothing new! This is grade school knowledge. But somewhere along the way, we lost it. We got stuck.

I genuinely believe at the core of everyone are good intentions. But, with the curveballs that life tends to throw at us, those good intentions start to fade into that of a distant memory. With each new trauma––and trauma can range on a scale from being bullied as a kid, negative programming, to abuse, to sudden death, to rape on the extreme end––we start to harden against the world. Why do you think someone comes across as a dick or extremely weird? It’s because they haven’t gotten it right yet. Let’s just say that you’ve made it to level ten, that doesn’t mean that they have. Maybe it’s been a couple of years, and they still haven’t figured out how to get past the fourth level. No one wants to be a dick (and none of this excuse a douchebags behavior) or socially awkward. I mean just think about that. Think about every time that you’ve been a dick––myself included. Usually, within a few hours, you feel fucking terrible! Unless you’re a sociopath or an extreme narcissist, that is. Or think about every time that you’ve gone out and experienced some form of angst as you’re begging the big guy upstairs to make it go away. With each failed experience, rejection, trauma, or set back, these walls continue to grow, but underneath every one of us is a scared child who’s trying their best to get it right.

So, if all you do is look around at people trying to pick out our differences from one another, you bet your ass that you’ll find something to set you apart. But, when you look around trying to find where we are similar, what you’re going to find is extremely important. You’re going to find a bunch of people, just like you and I, who are scared and don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, but they’re trying their best to figure it out. Remember, I am you, living a different life.

“People are strange when you’re a stranger” – The Doors

The Big Bang

And you’ve made it.

Here we are at the very beginning like I promised. I’ll tell you right now that this next section is nothing more than me having fun with an idea, but underneath that idea holds some credibility. So, without further ado (weird word), let’s wrap this bitch up.

13.8 billion years, there was the big bang. The “singularity” as we like to call it. Well, actually not you or I, but scientist. Actually, let me just shut the fuck up right there and how about I don’t speak for you. You might very well be a scientist or someone who’s on top of their shit. I don’t know your life. Sorry, I go on tangents a lot. Up until that point, there was absolutely nothing. No universe, no time, no planets, no stars, no matter, no Joe from Craigslist house to meet up at for the Furry BDSM extravaganza.

Everything that we know today, even the things that are still unknown, at one point, was all squeezed into a spot so infinitesimally compact that it had no dimensions. Also known as a singularity. Huh? Imagine a black hole. I’m just as lost as you are, don’t worry. Regardless, outside of this singularity was complete nothingness so that when it was time for the “Big Bang” (the expansion of the singularity into the universe that we know today) there was nowhere for it to expand into because outside of the singularity was no where. Did I confuse the fuck out you? Awesome. None of this is super relevant anyways and if you want someone who actually knows what they’re talking about and can put this into a coherent package wrapped in silk, check out Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything. (Do yourself a favor and grab the audio version of this book and you won’t regret it.)

So, why did I give you a crude little history lesson? Why did I end here? Welp, I’m choosing to end here because of this; everything that we know today, has all come from the same place. That dark void, the singularity. Yup, you guessed it; I came from there, you came from there, Mars came from there, the dinosaurs came from there, our sun came from there. At one point everybody’s atoms were all BFF’s having one giant sleepover or if we’re going to be adults about it, one giant orgy. Hello.

But yet we have forgotten this. We continue to look at the person walking down the street with disgust; our grandmother’s would be disappointed. We’re experiencing some scary times right now with everyone trying to find their way by fighting for what they believe in. That’s fine, man, as long as we can drop these preconceived notions and abandon the prejudice and discrimination in the process.

I’m the last person who should probably be writing a blog about separation. I truly enjoy my own space and could be content going M.I.A. for a few months. But, through all these tools I’ve come across over the past couple of years––psychedelics, meditation, the platinum rule, podcast, books––I’m learning that maybe these, lone wolf tendencies, aren’t the best way to make it through life. I’m not going to become the next Tony Robbins jumping in your face any chance I get, but why make this life any harder than it has to be?

“When the Big Bang happened, all the atoms in the universe, they were all smashed together into one little dot that exploded outward. So, my atoms and your atoms were certainly together then, and who knows probably smashed together several times in the last 13.7 billion years. So my atoms have known your atoms, and they’ve always known your atoms. My atoms have always loved your atoms.” – I Origins

 

Edited by: Patrica Hendriks

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