In Tristitia Veritas*

It has been observed, by someone, recently, that the depressed see reality more clearly. When I first read it it had ignited in me a ferocious sense of resistance, I had to debate that notion into dust. Then I realized it was true, but it had already been too late to go looking for that Canossa. Facebook has a short memory.

So, why is this true? Simply put, the human condition makes no sense, and in order to maintain sanity and to function in this completely irrational and inhumane reality, which we have evolved to take for granted, we need to be constantly lying to ourselves. A depressed person is a person who’s failing to function well in this reality anyway (the only one there is, mind, barring the virtual ones we’ve been escaping into from our overcrowded world), so they do not have a vested interest to be lying to themselves about it, in fact, the interests of the depressed person lie in the acknowledgement of their condition, so it is within their interests, to a point, and in certain cases, to look reality straight in the face and to say that it is bad.

This sort of covers the topic, but it’s too short. How can we elaborate on this?

Memes. Don’t confuse these with the captioned pictures making statements and trying to spread ideas throughout the internet – they are also carriers of memes, but the term itself refers to all ideas we have about reality, especially in the cultural context: the ideas we share as a culture, but also our own, personal ideas and our own personal versions of common memes. All are part of this game.

What are they for? Brain programming. Our ideas sum up our attitudes towards various issues that concern us. If we need to be fighting a certain group of people, useful ideas about those people and about the situation, in general, would be that they are a bad, unsavory lot, and that if we don’t kill them / chase them away they will do horrible things to us.

Just a short example: during the rebellion of the Jacquerie in 14th century France the nobility was spreading several horror stories about the things the Jacques (derogatory for ‘peasants’) did to noblemen (and noblewomen) they had captured. The stories included cannibalism and, to me, they seemed to have the slight tint of propaganda to them. Now, we can’t say for sure, but we can probably say that had these atrocities never taken place it might have been in the interests of the nobility to have invented them (at this point all my tenses are mere improvisation, please forgive me). You see, the repression of this rebellion had been brutal, and the stories of the atrocities, true or false, convinced the noblemen who heard them that were engaged in the manhunt for the escaping rebels (or just for peasants, as retaliation) that it was just to be so murderously brutal, that they were fighting rabid animals and not people.

The idea defines how we will act upon it. Action requires certainty. If you’re not certain, your action will be hesitant, because you’re not really sure you need to be doing it. Of course, you’re not supposed to be thinking forever, there’s a time to think and a time to act, and the first must end for the second to begin. So, the way we are wired, we will not tend to deliberate forever on the right course of action. A ritual takes place, all express their ideas, some conversation, then certainty, then action.

But we cannot really be certain about so many things, and some we don’t really want to know about, we’d rather hear a lie – constantly thinking you’re life will end one day is a pretty paralyzing thought. One would do well to replace it with stories of an underworld or an afterlife, to push this nagging thought out, so that one can go about one’s day. It cannot be just switched off – not good to be able to just switch survival instincts off, when they become inconvenient. It needs to be plugged by a satisfying story that explains, solves the problem, so that our mind can go to rest on this issue. Religion and ideology is just the sum of all these ideas shared by a society.

How do you distinguish memes like bears might attack you from if you say this word you will be angering that spirit from one another? The practical ones you use everyday (fire burns, etc) are just that – practical, you use them every day and your brain grows around them like a club foot (to use the words of the great Doug Stanhope). The impractical ones are further removed from your reality and their effect on your actions is indirect: they generate the social programming.

Memes are made of this mixture of truth and fantasy, but they all have very real effects: they drive action, they define our general attitudes towards the world. It is very inopportune not to be lying to yourself about the reality of what these memes are saying, for if you do, you will loose the word of action, so to speak. This is why, when I try to explain how things really work to people I talk to, they refuse to understand it. It’s not because they are not intelligent enough – these ideas are not that complicated. It’s because their brains are safeguarding them from realizing things that might harm their sanity.

I’ve spent most of my life depressed, and I have an active brain that needs its outings, so it’s opportune, for me, to be seeing this reality, to play at trying to analyze it, understand it. I guess I feel strong enough to deal with it, too, and I guess I have created, for myself, a set of memes to justify my choices and make it easier for me to act upon them – a personal religion to replace the ones I scorn and criticize.

This is just how our brain works. Even a depressed person will not be able, usually, to look reality straight in the face, because even a depressed person is still alive and is still shooting hope up their veins 3 times a day, at least. Hope dies last, gentlemen and ladies, and my voice also will be the last to die, echoing out of my shriveled head that would be floating over nothing, just like Kurtz’s voice was, talking insanity, just before the end, in the Heart of Darkness.

Until then, good night and good luck.


Recommended reading:



(Next: Repression and the Birth of Religion; Previous: Life, Evolution & Consciousness)


* – This is a play on the phrase in vino veritas (in wine there is truth). Tristitia means, roughly, ‘depression’, or ‘intense sadness’.


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