Rejecting the notion that people come with a predestined life purpose, Anton LaVey once said; “people don’t ‘find’ themselves, they ‘create’ themselves.” His corollary of course, might have been that if they don’t create themselves, someone else will do the creating for them. There is considerable truth in this. All human concepts and cultures are manufactured, pre-packaged, and sold to children who put them on and wear them as if they natural to the human condition. But most of the things we blindly assume are innate and natural are in fact inventions and fictions, no more or less valid than the inventions and fictions of other peoples. It is unfortunate that so few people realize this fact, because the first step towards enlightenment and liberation is the recognition that truth is entirely relative.
When you get right down to it, all Truth is Art, and I mean this in the most basic sense of the word, as something manufactured, “artifice” and “artificial.” Truth—to shamelessly paraphrase a wonderful line in True Blood--like “morality” and “money” exists only in the human brain. This is neither to say that it is worthless nor in some way not real. Rather, it hints at the great secret of the human condition. If we say with the 12th century Isma’ili mystic Hassan-i Sabbah, “nothing is true, everything is permitted,” we are not necessarily being nihilists as much as grasping the concept that each and every life is a completely blank slate, an unwritten book, an undiscovered country. The purpose of human existence, if there is such a thing, is Art; the process of imbuing experience and sensation with “meaning.”
This is as natural to people as breathing. Consider children lying on their backs looking up at a summer sky. In the clouds they see horses and elephants, great castles and leering faces. What they are doing in fact is taking an experience—in this case, a mass of water vapor—and given it meaning and definition. This is the human condition in a nutshell. The world around us may in fact be a swirling cloud of minute particles, but we ourselves shape it into trees, and mountains, and microwave dinners.
To my mind, the key difference between science and tradition is that the former understands this fact and the latter denies it. Science is well aware that its truths are artificial and temporary, which is why when new data or experiences come along it is able to revise itself and change. Tradition—and I include religion in this category—makes the mistake of assuming the truths it clings to have any intrinsic reality, weight, or value. They may of course be meaningful or beautiful to the individual, but they are not half as universal as one might wish to believe.
Take for example the notion that women are subservient to men, and that their place is in the home, raising children. For countless generations this was assumed as fact, but all along, of course, it was merely “fashion,” like thin neckties or disco. But where disco, despite all of ABBA’s best efforts, was never forced upon children as Truth, the inequality of the sexes was. And this is especially apt when it comes to religion. The differences between Christ, Allah, the Buddha, or Krishna are all of the same character as those between jazz, hip-hop, the blues, and classical music. The only difference being that the parents do not raise children to believe 70s Easy Listening is the One True Music.
I can think of nothing more profound or important as this fact. That humans create their gods, taboos, laws, rules, and fashions, that all these things are transitory and artificial, is the single most powerful notion any person can grasp. Where traditionalists may see this as nihilism, I see it rather as license to create ex nihilo. By recognizing the essential meaninglessness of existence, one is given permission to create meaning that has real value for them. It is to be given the conscious choice of being the artist or the consumer, rather than simply being forced into the latter category.
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