Shi Tiesheng, a Chinese writer, says: “To write is to prevent suicide.”
He died on the last day of the year 2010, four days before his 60th birthday. Having spent 38 years in a wheelchair, making matchboxes with other unskilled workers for a living for over a decade, he knew what he was talking about. Shi is one of the most profound and unpretentious writers inChina.
He had not expected to live to almost 60. His illness had brought him to the verge of death more than once. Daily living was difficult. He had to rely on medical help to clean his blood every two days, after his kidneys failed. Energy was of limited supply. If a friend was to visit in the afternoon, he dared not move much the whole morning, in order to save energy for the visit. It was a thoroughly tortured life, a life without health and all the pleasures health bestows. How could you buy the pleasure of taking a walk? He found he could not even recall the sensation of walking. The memory was gone soon after the departure of the function.
It was not a life lived by common standards. There was no feeling well or looking well. Yet he lived. And he wrote.
He lived and died in abundant, genuine love, love from his wife, his friends, his doctors and nurses — some of these health workers were his lifelong caretakers and lifesavers. Instead of a funeral, his friends gathered and celebrated his 60th birthday, in their brightest and handsomest clothing. They brought him colorful fresh flowers. “This time,” said his wife to these friends, “he has plenty of energy for the party.”
In his work, Shi says, “Death is something we don’t need to rush to. Death is a festival that is bound to come.” It had finally come.
He donated every part of his body to anyone in need of a transplant and to medical research. He hoped an autopsy would finally discover what went wrong in his spine at age 21. At that time, everyone was praying it was a tumor, which would mean it could be removed and he cured. Yet whoever he prayed to with all his might did not grant him this favor.
People say his profession is writing. He corrected that view. “My profession is being sick. I write in my spare time.”
A hot-tempered youth who yelled at his doctor and threatened to chop the doctor up alive if he could not be made to walk again, he came to a profound peace with a fate that seemed most unjust. If such a life is the price to pay for a mature soul, he made the price worthwhile. His writing is free of pretense, of shallowness. The clear, simple, earthbound words awaken deep sorrow and love in his readers. It is the soul behind the words that his readers feel.
The masses take pride in being practical and scorn imagination. They have no idea that their whole lives have been shaped by imagination, and they fall for it all the time. The imagination of Homer alone created the foundation of Western culture. The tale of Creation still reins the crowd. They believe in a future state. They go to churches to worship. They spend money on festivals, games, rituals, fluffy movies, and escapist fiction. Yet they mock “imagination”. They mock their innermost longing.
The masses drink coffee to stay stimulated, take drugs to be ecstatic or free from anxiety and depression, but refuse to do any serious work to improve their minds. Shortcuts are always preferred. The outer quality of life always outweighs the inner quality of life. You can boast about a trip to the tropics, and get plenty of oohs and aahs, but your friends won’t envy you if you have just read a thought-provoking book. That’s simply not cool, man. You’ve got to go out more. Travel rocks.
I want to find out what screwed up the lovely and lively children the majority of adults once were. What in society, in education, in employment replaced their beauty with ugliness, depleted their spirit, made them mean and coarse? If we can find these things, can we change them? Can each person develop from a lovely and lively baby to a lovely and lively adult? Why not? Is society anti-human by nature? Does growing up have to be the death of the spirit? Why?
We are really still in a primitive stage, despite all our technologies and sciences. Despite the complexity of all the derivatives, we are basically still animals living a life of feeding and breeding. Everything else is just decoration.
The human side of us is still far from developed. Most people do not live a life of the mind. Most people cannot appreciate the finest poetry and music. Most people work for pay, not passion. Their jobs often bring neither satisfaction nor growth. Many of them blind their conscience to be able to do their job. Many people do not have the urge to live life in an honorable way. Look at all the spammers, and even worse, scammers.
Since this world we are not satisfied with
We will create another world for ourselves
Let the unknown force take us to the unknown path
Along the unknown path to the unknown grand entrance
— Translated from a popular book in China in the 1980s: The Fourth Generation
The old monk faced the wall of his cave for 10 years, meditating on truth. What we lack in today’s life is long span of silence and solitude. It is considered abnormal and unnatural, if at all available. If you are not working you are supposed to spend time with your family. If you are not married you are supposed to be dating. If you can’t find a date you are supposed to hang out with your friends. Strangers and acquaintances look at you as a weirdo when they hear you just want to be alone. Parents and friends worry about you. Few understand the needs of individuals for long enough spans of silence and solitude. Yet this is essential for us to grow to full human beings. Only with fully-grown human beings can true society come to existence. What we have now is a bunch of intellectual and emotional cripples depending on each other. If nobody is self-contained and self-reliant, there can be no true relationship. Independence must come before interdependence. Unless you are a true individual, you should not attempt to enter into any relationship on equal terms.
What society is developing is in the opposite direction. Social media networking websites make it possible for individuals to stay connected, while the connections grow extremely diluted and superficial. The individual receives endless stimuli from his connections, never needs to face himself. The short and easy exchange makes the telling of deep inside stories impossible. The many updates make one’s attention span very short. No thinking can be done. No deep conversion and thorough exchange of life experience take place. I don’t use Facebook much. If my friends need me, they will write me long meaningful emails. Meantime I don’t need to know the superficial side of their lives. They all appear to be happy and healthy on these media. What they truly want to reveal, they will only reveal to me, and they will find time to do so.
There is vast difference between what people think you should do and what you should do. More often than not, we take in the external standards, and develop wills we think are our own. For example, men should be rich and successful, women should be thin and beautiful. We constantly live for others, are constantly concerned about other people’s opinions. We forever seek approval and praise. A contemptuous look or gesture may destroy our self-esteem, especially in our young and tender years, and especially for those whose internal being never developed. At the same time, we use the same method unconsciously to destroy others.
All this is alright to do for a community to function (and honestly there is no escape from it), but only after we have figured out the two preliminary and primary questions: What do I think? What do I want? The ultimate task is to live and speak honestly. It takes courage and creativity. It takes a lot of work to undo the harm, to chase out the external impositions, to establish one’s own being through self-knowledge, knowledge of the world, and creative work.
The most pressing danger, for this human race and for each individual, is the lack of ability to understand, respect, pursue, and defend liberty.
On the individual level, this deficiency leads to voluntary dehumanization of oneself, to a life that is either mechanical or animalistic, to surrender of freedom and growth, to oppression on others in domestic or public life, to willing or acquiescent cooperation with crimes committed to fellow human beings.
The crimes an individual participates in can be completely lawful, such as killing civilians of another country, manufacturing a drug that research has proven to have detrimental side effects, producing food with legal but harmful ingredients to lower cost and improve flavor, or issuing financial statements in compliance with the letter of accounting standards but meant to deceive the public. These crimes are common practice today, performed by large groups of highly educated and qualified professionals.
Judging from such reality, schools have failed us on humanity, certifying professional bodies have failed us on ethics, laws have failed us on justice. The only protection we have is the few persons who refuse to participate in crime, who choose to act on their understanding of human rights. These are the protectors of liberty, for whom the punishment is severe, without whom mankind would be extinct.
On the largest scale, this deficiency has led to nearly all catastrophes to the human race, including but not limited to genocide, world wars, concentration camps, man-made famine, and epidemics. In each of these incidents, there have been either none or not enough qualified soldiers to defend mankind.
It is owing to those who understood liberty and fought for it that each of us lives to see the sunlight of this day and enjoys the rights we take for granted.
The future, whether it will be an era of hope and freedom or a new age of darkness, depends on the current and future soldiers of liberty.
For humanity as a whole, the problem is: how can we have enough soldiers of liberty to prevent future catastrophes? Unless the majority of the population has been orientated with the fundamentals of liberty, a livable future cannot be guaranteed. Relying on an enlightened few to defend mankind has proven to be risky business. Adolf Hitler knew this. He said: “The great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil…therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one…” The masses must be enlightened and truly educated in the human sense. The majority must become qualified fighters for liberty. Otherwise, we are not safe.
On the individual level, the question is: how can we enlighten ourselves, so we live our lives free from unjust limitations, aware of and resistant to mental manipulation, propaganda, brainwashing, and indoctrination that surround us every day and everywhere?
Autocratic or democratic, a system—be it a mechanism, hierarchy, organization, war machine, or society—tends to dehumanize, explicitly or implicitly, to different extents. It runs more smoothly on standardized, obedient parts, not on unique individuals with thoughts and edges. But more smoothly to what end?
If we agree that the ultimate end of every honorable human endeavor is the prosperity and freedom for all, then to achieve liberty by any means of depriving liberty cannot be justified as logical. However, the fallacy prevails.
A system dislikes a component that questions the purpose of the establishment. There are vested interests in any system, hence the inertia is strong and personalized. Therefore, such unwelcome components must be punished and silenced, if they cannot be made identical with the “good ones”.
Since punishment and censorship are only after the fact, it is considered much better to preclude the making of troublesome free-thinkers. As proactive methods, mass media and schools are charged with the task of making standardized and obedient citizens. School accomplishes this task by rote learning, by standardized tests, mass media by endless dumb entertainments, by constant feeds of sensational news, by luring insatiable consumers with exaggerated advertising. The underlying, inherent message is: Don’t think.
Culture helps by providing conventional opinions. Religion assists by diverting attention to a future state. Employment implements control by offering or denying livelihood. Government presents patriotism. Community imposes peer pressure.
From birth to death, rewards and punishments—mental, emotional, physical, but mostly material—mold our psyche, induce fear, determine behavior, condition the mind, shrink the soul. As long as you live, you are boxed; a number represents you to the system.
As result, a small life is satisfactory, inhuman conditions are acceptable. Society runs smoothly, fulfilling nothing but the basic mission: reproduction. The advance is only in technology, not in real evolution. In fact, it is quite the opposite: the degeneration in mind and body is alarming.
You have to be very attentive to personal conscience and capable of independent thinking to be able to see through the lies and bullying we receive every day, from TV and radio, from school, from peers, from managers, from government. The Collective means to assimilate you, make you not a human, but a tool. Is resistance futile?
We think not. The time has become too dangerous for pessimism. It is your life as a human that is at stake. Moreover, it is the future of human beings that depends on you.
There is no cause nobler than this, and no need more urgent.
Therefore we are calling on you, freedom lovers, come here, get the training, face life with an equipped mind, defend liberty on small and large scales wherever you are, enlighten the stupefied, encourage the frightened, promote independent thinking, fight for a future in which life is safe, dignity is respected, and individuality can flourish.
There is a larger truth behind the daily scene we see. What is it? I want to grasp it and live with it, and never be fooled or entangled again by the smaller truths.
No security can make us safe. The only way to feel safe is to put aside life and death. We must live on courage only, not security. Therefore all the misfortunes, though they may have tortured us, shall not frighten us. We must be ready to give up everything, life included. The future is unpredictable. Insurance is for the worldly and animalistic who have no other desire but to maintain their physical well-being. We are epochal creatures who must cast these aside in order for our mind to function on its intended scale.
There is no clue in this universe on how we should live. My life may be a complete mistake. If the right path is only one, then the chances we step on it are near zero, while the chances to go off-track are infinite. Therefore we must not worry about being right anymore, but be willing to be wrong and know we can almost never be right. Therefore life is about making mistakes, as creative, big, many, and meaningful as possible, to our best knowledge.
Therefore we must seek knowledge, and talk to other people about their lives, so we can come up with new ways to make mistakes akin to our own nature, worthwhile of our own life.
It’s the quality of our mistakes that counts.
The perpetual mask of eternity is conventional opinion. Follow it and you’ll be trapped in a routine path where every day is laid out for you without your thinking. The part of us that is human, that is divine, that is spiritual thus gets smothered, and thus dies the true meaning of our life.
We live between the threat of losses and the call to freedom. We are like zoo animals, caged birds, prisoners. Every day we are torn between our concern for a secure supply of food and shelter, and our longing for a wild, exciting life. In our hearts we know that a day lived in such an approved, conventional way is a day wasted of this precious life we are given only once, of this prime life energy that quickly passes. Every night we go to bed with the vague guilt and dissatisfaction that nothing of eternal value has been done during the day. Every day we go to our job, without contributing anything to our own goals, before the energy is exhausted for the day.
We look for ways to improve the condition of our prison. We devote a tiny and irregular amount of time to our intrinsic interests. However, most of all we live a life that is not chosen, but dictated by needs and obligations.
There has to be another way of living. Every generation asks this question and experiments through its own hippies and eccentrics. Some fall off the edge and serve as a warning for those who want to attempt to be free. Some live in a compromised way and become “successful”. Most are assimilated, back to the black hole of mainstream, unsuccessful, unhappy, grounded in mediocrity. Some are in fact corrupted. Their souls have gone rotten. Their expression, speech, movement, and manners stink of hypocrisy and evil.
To be able to relax takes not outer security, but courage. Nothing outside us can be secured, not love, not good fortune, not family, not job. To be able to truly live, one must be fearless for no reason; must live in danger, not in protection; must cast aside life and death. We must be liberated from all concerns of a normal life, of our long-term welfare. Tomorrow may be the end of the world. If we truly live, we might be able to build a heaven out of this planet, and save it from its doom. We are this planet’s doom. We are its pest, its skin disease, the slaughterer of all its other inhabitants. We consume all we can, and destroy what we cannot. Either we improve or we will be eliminated.
Live as if you are what God intended you to be: a daring, playful, upright intelligent being, nothing else. You are not just here to breed, to earn a living, to carry a mortgage. You must realize that you actually live in danger, because the future is unpredictable. Any perception of safety is but an illusion. Have the courage to discard that illusion. Live as if there is no tomorrow. Say things nobody else says. Do things nobody else would do. Be creative. We’ve dwelt in routines for too long. The fun of learning about and going through the conventional motions is over. We now need truth and new inventions. A new generation must occupy this earth, a far better one.
What would you do if you had no fear?
The fatal fallacy of living a felicitous life alone is that it is not up to you. Anyone who strives for personal happiness only will inevitably find this happiness hindered or destroyed by forces over which he or she has no control, including one’s environment. Your food may be manufactured with hazardous, genetically modified ingredients; the air you breathe may be polluted; your neighborhood may not feel safe anymore after break-ins, robbery, kidnapping, shootings, or gang violence; you might get hit by a drunk driver; your kids may receive a bad education at school, suffer from bullying, be subject to the temptation of legal junk foods/beverages and illegal drugs; everywhere you may be provided with services of poor quality by heartless incompetents, from your house builder, your government, to even your doctor and dentist; a person may curse you when you are taking a walk because you are of a different skin color; your country may decide to go to war; another country may attack yours for oil, land, ambition, or religious difference. The ozone layer is getting thinner and the sunrays are becoming more harmful, causing skin cancer; rain forests, your ultimate oxygen supplier, are being destroyed at an alarming rate; species that constitute the genetic repository are being extinguished; the oceans are being over-fished; the deserts are spreading; the glaciers are melting; terrorism is rampant; fascism is reviving; civil liberty is being compromised; and so on and so forth. There goes your felicitous life.
The sooner you become aware of the problems on a larger scale, the better. Otherwise when disaster hits, you are just one of the casualties.
There is really no good life on your own. All your inputs are coming from the environment—people and nature around you, and all your outputs go into it. You have to have relationships with your environment. Your relationships with other people and nature are less decided by your quality, more by their quality.
The world we live in is not a good one. It is not a world we want our children and grandchildren to live in. Since there is no self-contained, self-sufficient island of heaven to escape to, we had better work on changing at least one thing that does not make sense. Yes, one person cannot change the world. But it is not an excuse not to take action.
If we cannot live a felicitous life, at least let us live a meaningful one by striving to improve the possibility of individual felicity. Maybe we’ll have a better world in our lifetime. Maybe our children will, in a future too distant to us. Either is good. Our happiness will derive from our struggles and victories. Therefore it will be a happy life after all. We will have thus truly lived to our limits and answered the exigencies of our life.