Not homeless yet, which is a good. If there is a God up there, I thank him, but I don’t believe there is one. I think we made him up, just like we made up everything else.
Experiencing a homelessness “scare” truly helps you to appreciate the progress which has culminated in what is now our modern society.
At least, it started off as appreciation. As someone who would soon in many ways slip off the edge of civilisation, I saw the world, society, humanity and even the contents of the flat we are renting anew. Without the economic system we have today, unfair though it is in many ways, life would revert back to a caveman-style existence, wherein the men hunted for food and the women wove and cooked and tended to the children, everyone pitching in to help build shelters.
Think about it. If you were forced to make or create or procure all the basic necessities required for living yourself, necessities which you currently purchase with “currency”, how very difficult a task it would be. Very few of us, for instance, grow our own food; we do not knit our own clothes, or have to walk down to the river to get water; we use gas-stoves which turn on at a flick of a switch rather than burn wood; and the very thought of building our own homes, complete with the requisite plumbing, rooms, buildings and windows, without training or knowledge, is laughable. Instead, as society has grown more complex, humanity has banded together, replacing bartering with money as the method of exchange, creating a grand super-tribe in which everyone is delegated a certain job or task in order to contribute to society and in return are able to keep food in their fridges and clothes on their back and a roof over their heads.
This system has enabled us to live lives of luxury unimaginable a century ago. It is a system, ultimately, of co-operation – even if the amount of compensation received for many occupations is not always commensurate to the value the work provides; in every system there will always be those who try to exploit it for personal gain – rather than complete exploitation, such as slavery.
The more deeply I delved into all this, the more the history of humanity opened up to me, petals unfurling in gloriously complex shades and colours, and I was stricken by how blind I had been to it all before. Man, because of his intelligence, has, throughout the ages, developed social systems and inventions and achieved feats the likes of which other animals cannot even imagine. Having crawled, slithering on vines, down from the trees (if evolution is to be believed), to stand upright, brain enlarged on a progressively meat-centered diet, natural animalistic urges expressed themselves in uniquely complex ways.
Like animals and insects, who formed herds or colonies, humans formed societies, at first simple ones, because co-operation leads to greater safety and increased chances of survival. As time went on and humans multiplied, spreading across the globe, our tribes grew larger and larger; eventually some tribes, like violence-hungry monkeys, sailed on ships across the world to attack other tribes, whom they then recruited as slaves, just as particular ants have been known to convert the insects of colonies they overtake into servants.
Eventually, after much death and bloodshed and madness, enslaved tribes fought back; certain humans instigated themselves as leaders of enormous tribes united by common languages, customs and cultures; and countries formed, each with their own unique government, a ruling class, created to govern the rest of the population, punish those who committed crimes and reward those who followed the system. Here mankind ran into other problems: corruption amongst those who sat at the pinnacle of society’s hierarchy, revolutions as people rebelled against the rich and the powerful for living in luxury while they could barely feed their families, power struggles and bloodshed. Death. Killing. Animals, all of us, trying desperately to bring some order to a chaotic world filled with unpredictable events and unpredictable people, with nary a God’s intervention as people died, suffered, screamed, wept. Once you live long enough you realise, very quickly, that suffering, though terrible, is perhaps no more than a biological mechanism; the cow slowly slaughtered at the abattoir, grunting in agony as the shears grind and the blood spurts, is no more liable to receive any help as, say, a woman being tortured, somewhere in history, her tongue torn out and her limbs slowly sawed off. Flesh is flesh; blood is blood; cruelty is cruelty; and suffering just trillions of cries left unanswered by the abyss.
Give or take a few centuries and a handful of worldwide conflicts, during which human ingenuity soared to unimaginable heights, capturing sound and images in machines, rocketing man up to the moon, creating products ranging from pencils to clothes in factories at an unimaginable rate, and you end up with where we are today: a booming, technological age, a time where you can access any information you want at a click of mouse, communicate with anyone you want, purchase whatever you want as long as you have the funds, where people are more open-minded and accepting of each other than ever and convenience and luxury, especially in developed nations, is the name of the game.
The true breadth and scope of human achievement is mind-boggling. It is. And I do not merely mean the pyramids, the Roman aqueducts, the incredibly complex skyscrapers gracing our cities, the Internet, the complicated factory systems all run by obscure computers and algorithms, the plumbing systems which provide water to a trillion homes, the airplanes and space shuttles – though such large-scale inventions are heart-explodingly impressive – but also the less conspicuous things, like records and sticky tape, even language itself, books, the toothpaste you use every morning, the streets you walk on, the traffic lights.
What I slowly began to realise, with growing awe, was that everything that currently existed in our lives, from the carpets we walk on to public bathrooms to windows, to the spoons and bowls we use for eating, the light-bulbs in our ceilings, was invented and manufactured, somewhere down the line, by another human, just like you or me, who sweated and toiled to bring them into being. Everything man-made object that exists, every man-made system, every chair, every piece of plastic, every screen, is the product of somebody’s sweat and blood, or the blood and sweat of many.
Initially my reaction to all this was, rightfully, one of awe and deep-seated appreciation; it was because of others, their work, their co-operation, their talent and intelligence, that the Internet existed, that I could sit here at my computer and type, that the city outside my doorstep was what it was and the world beyond it was what it was. It was because of others that we had films, movies, books, hair-ties, pyjamas, paper, cardboard, everything. The sheer complexity of it overwhelmed me; I was bloated with fascination, the world re-made before my eyes.
It took less than two seconds, however, for the despair to set in. A wolf’s jaw, clamping into my flesh. Where did I, little, talentless, anxious and, so far, disgustingly useless little me fit into all of this? Here I was, unable to complete university, jobless, crippled by anxiety and depression, who thought she might have a shot at being a writer, a good one, but had recently realised the full extent of her literary delusions – how was I going to contribute to society? How dare I eat the food others had grown, live in a house others had built, use items others had produced, even take the public bus to attend my free therapy sessions, when I had not paid an hour’s labor for any of it, all of it either funded through government assistance or my mother’s hard labor. While others had changed the tide of humanity itself by sacrificing their own comfort and working long hours, here I was, exploiting everyone who had benefited my life, no matter how small the contribution, by not doing my share of work for all the luxuries like clean running water and a roof over my head that I still currently enjoy.
Perhaps, some voice whispers, and still whispers, inside me, perhaps you deserve to be homeless. Perhaps you’ll be just getting what you should have gotten. Useless, stupid, talentless and mentally crippled people like you are a drain on a society, as much a parasite as the bankers who steal money, legally, straight from the populace; you do not deserve to have food, or a roof over your head, if you do not work for it; you do not deserve to live, when you are so pitiful and pointless, a waste of air, of space.
Another time, another post, it is at this point that I would wax lyrical on how I overcame this belief, finally, after much pondering, realising my own, true, intrinsic worth. Unfortunately, there will not be one. Even writing this, I almost felt bad for wasting the time of whoever might read this. Seven billion people and counting exist in the world – seven billion – and here I am, just one drop in a sea, not very important except perhaps to myself and my closest family members, and my friends, most of whom do not live in the same country as I do; what worth could I possibly have, as something so small and useless and insignificant? For that matter, what importance, apart from those who truly contribute to society and benefit the lives of others in tangible ways, does anyone have? Because the conclusion all this thinking ultimately brought me to is that human civilisation, in all its complexity and glory, is tenuous as a spider web strung between two tree trunks, fueled and fed by dreams and fictions, made up of beings who only pretend to know what they are doing and are really mostly scared and worried and lonely.
All it comes down to is two words: I don’t know.
I don’t know if my existence has a purpose or not, or whether I will be able to write and publish the stories that exist in my head. I don’t know whether I am just a leech, stuck to society’s skin, forever doomed to either homelessness or living in government housing and poverty because of my mental issues. I don’t know if I have anything unique to contribute, or if all my perceived creative talents are just a delusion. I don’t know if I can write, or if my writing will ever get better. I don’t know if I have the guts, grits and determination to be a success, because I mope away my time, and am filled with fear and despair for myself, for my family, for everyone, for the world. Other people just seem so wonderfully capable and talented and put together, with houses of their own, jobs, spouses and children, happiness and financial security – and I don’t know what I am doing wrong, what is wrong with me, that makes achieving those same things seem all the more difficult.
I just don’t know. You just wake up and cry and struggle and keep going, I guess. You just keep going.