SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Existential Troubleshooting
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Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
It’s hard not to feel like the world is sinking deeper into chaos with each passing week. Whether it’s catastrophic weather events like fire and hurricanes, a pandemic, violence, or just good old climate change, we have a lot of options for fueling our end-of-earth anxiety.
People have been worried about the world ending since before they could blog about it. Our doomsday prophecies have been updated to match the times; rather than angry gods causing a flood, we fear angry governments causing a nuclear war. For an unpleasant idea, we eagerly fantasize about the world’s end, from fear-mongering news stories to a constant stream of disaster movies. The truth is that our preoccupation with the end of the world is both natural and enjoyable, but the cost of this hobby is an increase in the very vulnerability that preoccupies us. The author Eric Zencey explained:
There is seduction in apocalyptic thinking. If one lives in the Last Days, one's actions, one's very life, take on historical meaning and no small measure of poignance.
Apocalypse anxiety is a “break glass in case of existential emergency” option. Nothing will imbue your life with more meaning than triggering the instinct for survival. When a clear, visceral threat appears, our priorities are forced into balance; protecting our family and health takes precedence over work or a new car.
Stirring up our apocalyptic anxiety to enjoy that urgent sense of purpose has a cost. Like the boy who cried “zombie!”, eventually all that survivalist paranoia loses its edge. You might have already found yourself in a pandemic-induced, YOLO state of mind; it’s hard to care about little things like exercise or hobbies when the world is ending. Worse yet, when we’re overloaded with apocalyptic scenarios, we’re less likely to focus on the issues we can actually affect. Instead, we spin our wheels and doomsay.
If you’re dealing with apocalypse anxiety, remember there are lots of humans just like you. There are also lots of humans just like you who’ve lived for millions and millions of years without experiencing an apocalypse — you probably won’t be that special either. The difference today is our ability to know about a fire in one country, a famine in another, and crime in our country all in the same 5-minute news segment.
To combat the chaos, check in with yourself the next time your apocalypse senses tingle:
If the event were to happen in the future, how would worrying about it now help?
What evidence do you have that a catastrophic event is going to happen?
What is the difference between cautious, fearful, and worried? How do you define each of these? Which would you most want to feel?
What is the information that is being presented and how valid is the resource delivering the information?
If you feel the urge to prophesize the world’s end, you’re probably craving a deeper sense of meaning in a world that bounces between “this shampoo will bring you confidence” and “your entire family might die” within 10 minutes of TV. Turn it off.
Viktor Frankl is a regular to The Güd portion of this newsletter because his work is the kind that only becomes more prescient with time. Don’t buy into the outrage-mining clickbait title of this clip; Frankl talks about young people in the 1970s and 80s not as spoiled softies, but as deeply deprived.
In a society that constantly encourages consumption of the superficial, its citizens are deprived of the meaningful. Frankl survived the Nazi concentration camps, where he saw that one thing mattered above all else taken from prisoners — meaning. Without food, without clothes, without safety, prisoners that retained a sense of meaning to their lives, whether through helping others or simply surviving, still fared better than people today with every material need met who are consumed by emptiness as faithfully as any oppression.
Humans need a sense of purpose to their lives before they need the comfort or security that our modern societies provide, but instead we’re given a steady stream of distraction, vaguely aware that something’s missing but too busy to question our lives.
Frankl’s interviews might not make for the most shareable clips with his angry-Austrian-grandpa rhetorical style, but his message has never been more shareable. Our societies have become dispensaries of pleasure, like a parent who lets the child pick their dinner, only to end up serving candy and fries every night.
Society is a great barometer for what we want and less so for what we need. The sense of meaning that we need is often directly in contrast to the comfort and security we want. Frankl echoed the existential idea that life has meaning only when actively imbued with it; meaning is a choice made again and again, not an endpoint or state of being.
The next time you’re faced with the attractive illusion of security and a choice to struggle with a challenge, remember angry grandpa Frankl.
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. — Nietzsche
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.