Gerardo Abreu Pederzini
Ironically, when I was growing up, I always thought that numbers where my best friends. If anything, I remember hating my Spanish lessons, and when I eventually started learning English, it was probably the worst experience of my life. For a really long time, I found language so boring, messy and inconclusive. It was until numbers betrayed me that I started to see the power of language. I guess that in the end, this was me simply discovering what most critical and self-reflective people eventually realize, that life does not always add up to a beautiful and elegant set of equations, which could ultimately describe something as magnificent and endless as the (multi-)(uni-)verse. Particularly, sooner or later we are all doomed to understand that when it comes to human experience, there is far more to it than what precise models of our own behaviours could ever capture. Ironically, but it was like that, that language became my best and last great friend.
If it was the word that subsequently made me, then, it makes sense that it is through it that I would also say goodbye. Human mythology, storytelling and literature are plagued by what is probably the most traumatic of all existential conundrums: saying goodbye. The pain associated with such an act emerges perhaps from our incessant stubbornness to pretend that we understand everything around us, while the only thing that we understand is what nature, through its super biological computer –the human brain and its senses– allows to get, to grasp, and to comprehend. I remember reading once a wonderful book by Stewart Williams, Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life. In there, at some point, he claims that our problem is that life, for us, can only be conceived at the scale of space and time that is accessible to us. Hence, and needless to say, it makes sense that when facing that horrific moment of someone dear to us dying, the dissipating energy from what now is only a corpse, and its eventual decomposition, makes us wonder whether this is the last time we would ever see them. Yet, we fail to grasp that what we witness, is bounded by a ridiculously constrained scale of time in which live. Whatever exists, exists and might have existed far beyond our lifetime, and to think that because of what we witness, we could extrapolate reasonable conclusions about what might only be an infinite future, is just nonsense. Perhaps, then, all those myths and stories of the great heroes that, having said goodbye, nevertheless, sooner or later came back, are not so farfetched as one would originally seem to believe. So, I don’t want to say goodbye here, but simply acknowledge a moment of departure that, in our limited perception of space and time it might seem irrevocable, but that in the plenitude of everything that is, might come back to its original state of being at some point, where I will look forward to seeing you all again.
If there is something I have learnt and that I wish to share with you now, so that I could contribute to that powerful process of human and cultural evolution –you know, the one that takes place as words and their magic travel through time and by becoming immortal pass from one generation to the next– that would be that I have come to learn that I really know nothing. Paradoxically, the latter entails, contrary to what I many times believed myself, that I was born as a man of faith and left deeply faithful once more. Actually, I should say that the periods of my life that I cannot understand, are those idiotic moments of time, when I arrogantly thought that I got it, that I understood everything and that that made me so superior than everyone else. How lost I was back then, of that I am certain now. I think that my time as an intellectual, defying faith, defying dogma, defying everything, taught me that the most I could learn about me and the universe would be that I would never really learn everything, that I would never actually understand it all, and that for most of my life, I would need to settle with being a romantic ignorant dreamer. It is funny that after so many years since Socrates allegedly first claimed this, this is irrevocably still the only certainty in a person’s life: that as much as we learn, it will always remain nothing compared to everything that there is to know.
If there is something, then, that I always found quite amusing of academia, was this complete delusion and insatiable arrogance of truly lost men and women, whom nevertheless were so convinced that they knew it all, to the point of thinking that symbolic as well as real violence were justified in the name of what they thought to be the truth, but was actually simply a construction of a perpetually partial and escaping reality. I think that in the end, the only thing that this shows, is that deep down we are all so fragile, and those that look toughest, are probably the most fragile of all. Žižek captured this in a wonderful way by referring to it as the Fragile Absolute. In short, it is quite interesting that despite our incapacity to find an absolute truth, having one is so essential for us to survive. Yet, when facing that moment, when either consciously or not, we realize that we will never actually know what we really wanted to know, the only option left for us, is to build the chimera of a qua absolute truth, which only capacity to survive is through intolerance. This is probably what Sartre referred to, when he argued that the main problem of human civilization is our obsession to universalize. In a word, it is not enough to think that for me this is true and this is false, I need to make sure that everyone accepts it too, so that the fragility of this phantasmagorical worldview, in which I live, is never exposed.
If there is, ergo, an unrelentless élan vital behind human existence, that, I would dare therefore to conjecture, is faith. Faith is very simple to understand, it means that something is true even if you cannot epistemically grasp it. There is no sufficient or definitive evidence, and there is no categorical support for it, but for some reason you know it is true. I would be tempted, then, to agree with Harari that this is probably the (or at least one of the) key, dominant and unique characteristics of being human. If you believe in a God you have never seen or talked to, you have faith, but if you believe in a Big Bang or evolutionary process taking place over thousands and thousands of millions of years that we will never be able to fully reconstruct, you also have faith. At the end of the day, people are simply entities of faith. The problem is not our faithful development, but our relationship to faith. Particularly, the problem is when, in the name of our faith, we cross lines that interject others’ faiths. It is here that Sartre’s dilemma becomes relevant. We can only believe in what we believe if we see it reflected everywhere around is. Yet, everyone who might disagree with us might be also a reminder that perhaps what has given order to my world is not necessarily proven, socially accepted, or ultimately true. It is this too, nonetheless, what shows how precisely the toughest are actually the weakest. I remember Bourdieu actually arguing about the West and its modern obsession with universalizing its beliefs. This, I have come to see, as the unique weakness of the cultures that paradoxically present themselves as the leading and strongest ones today. By contrast, dominated cultures like our México, might seem very weak and subjugated on the outside. Nevertheless, it is those cultures where you will find the most resilient people of all. I would never cease to be impressed by my México and how people in there, despite the Anglo-Saxon world having undermined their beliefs and worldviews, remain faithful to what they believe in, because what they believe in does not depend on whether actually others approve of it or not. This, my friends, is the nub of our strength.
If faith is all we have, then, what do we have faith for? Well, I would be tempted to suggest that our ultimate faith is in our caring. Yet, many times, especially today, we forget about this, and substitute it for many other things. As much as I am grateful to the Western world for everything that it did for me and everything that it taught me, I was always amazed about how modern Western cultures emerged out of a desire to transcend our humanity, while expressing in safe ways our most diabolical sides. For instance, in the West today, being professional (i.e., an emotionless robot) is considered a great achievement, and learning to control (or better said ignore) your feelings is lauded by many. Additionally, people seem to think that there should be rules for every single type of human relationship, and that human relationships should supposedly only succeed insofar as they follow such ridiculous scripts. It is like this that the Western world, and particularly the Anglo-Saxon world, has built implicitly in us this desire to transcend our humanity. Paradoxically, it also seems that, nevertheless, spaces remain for us to express our most inner natures, but only inasmuch as they refer to our diabolical sides. For example, it is fine to express our greed, deluded desires for dominance, and excessive materiality, by buying endless stuff that nobody really needs. It is also fine to fulfil our desires to feel like we are superior than everyone else, by spending excessive amounts of money on actually quite cheap clothes, only because they have a certain brand or logo on them. You have to repress all your feelings at work, but then, at night, don’t worry, you are entitled to your privacy and to let out all your demons, drink as much as you can, fuck whoever you want wherever you want, brag about it as if it was some sort of achievement, while getting high on some drugs that were produced somewhere where a lot of people had to die for you to get them. Yet, of course, if families are disappearing, or if religions are evaporating, nobody seems to care. Now, this is in no way a critique of the West only. If Western ideology has propagated so successfully throughout the world, it is because it resonates with all of us, and all of us, regardless of where we come from, have been complicit on this Nietzschean religion of comfortability in which we live nowadays. I have always thought that we got it wrong. Many historical events traumatized modern humanity by evidencing what humans were capable of doing. And, in some twisted ways, it seems like we evolved a global culture that enabled such diabolical selves to thrive in much more pacific ways through libertine behaviour or consumerism, among many other things. But, the thing is, if we could build much more controllable societies by providing safe spaces to release our diabolical selves, couldn’t have we built as well societies that thrived on providing safe spaces to release our ideal selves?
If there is something that is uniquely romantic, enchanting and idealistic of our human natures, is our capacity to care for others and to be taken care by them too. This is why I have always been a strong supporter of the ethics of care. I do believe that, at the end of the day, it all comes down to our human relationships, what needs to be done to sustain them, and what needs to be done to protect them too. We are all we have, just each other, that is it. The problem with caring emerges when this instinct transgresses lines that allow you to care for your own, while destroying others’ capacity to care for theirs. It is this, the missing component of modern Western civilization. We seem to have found ways to control our diabolical selves, yet we have not found ways to express fruitfully our ideal selves, without losing control of them. Instead, we have settled with trying to supress our humanity and our idealizations. That is why, today, for example, young people would in many places even be ashamed to say that their dream is to get married, or to find the love of their lives, or to raise a family, or to give their lives for what they believe in. Because nowadays, all of that seems to be considered human weakness, the rational, emotionless, Western robot has become an archetype of the destruction of our humanity. Science and technology, in many ways, have enabled this, because by making life more comfortable and allowing us to control much of our human needs, they enable this delusional escape from our humanity. For example, today if you feel sad, it is completely fine to say that your GP has put you on a lot of very aggressive and probably unnecessary anti-depressants. But, if you tell anyone that you are taking psychoanalytic or existential or humanist psychotherapy, they would probably mock you. Actually, if you want to take therapy the only one allowed, of course, is CBT, which is pretty much about how to reprogram you, so that you could be a more obedient robot once more.
If there is something I have learnt in my life, that is that I am a human being, and I do feel ashamed of all the time and all the years that I wasted, trying to overcome my human essence. That, my friends, was probably the biggest mistake of my life. For a really long time, I hurt so much because I knew that I was different –I thought different, I felt different– and that perhaps I would not ever naturally fit in anywhere, that idiotically, because of that, I decided that my life’s mission was to destroy everything human about me. I, like Freud did in his Future of an Illusion, always proclaimed Logos (reason) as my God, and my path became a path towards an existence liberated from the struggles of being human. Like this, my childhood faith in the Christian God, seemed to evolve to a faith in an inhuman God, science. Don’t get me wrong, I love science, I think it is one of the greatest achievements of the human race, but it should have not come at the expense of undermining our humanity. Perhaps, in the future there will be AIs that will be far more evolved and sophisticated than us, and which will transcend human essence and its shortcomings. That would be wonderful, but good for them, for those AIs, because you and I will still remain human. Human is what we are and it is how we were born. Human is also how we will die. There are many tricks, problems, challenges and threats, when it comes to being human, and it is wonderful that we have strived so much to get over those things, and become better. Yet, we cannot do that by destroying everything that is human. Simply living in a society where, today, you will spend far more time at school and at work than with your family and friends, is absolutely stupid. It is a really good example of a Marxist camera oscura that simply distorts our own natures. This is why these last couple of years of my life were so representative for me, because all of my life’s journey came to a beautiful end by taking me to a similar, but not exactly same, place from where I departed originally. I realized I needed to believe again, and that there was nothing wrong in having faith, and actually, guess what, surprise surprise it turns out I never stopped having faith. I came to realize that life is mathematically modelled by numbers, but emotionally felt by words and actions, and by the ways in which others have touched your life and perpetually changed it, as much as you have changed theirs. I came to realize that there is nothing wrong with being human, and my humanity is not something to be ashamed of. And clear, it finally became to me, that the greatest achievements in life are not material, rational, intellectual or symbolic, but relational. I came, too, to be at peace with being who I was. Perhaps, I was not the average human being, perhaps I didn’t fit in naturally, but I was as human as anyone else, and it was then that I allowed myself finally the leeway to enjoy that.
If there is something, finally, that I could guarantee you, that is that life is not perfect, it will never be, and actually we should not want it to be so. Obviously, as much as I learnt in my life, and as much as I accomplished in my final years, I also kept making massive, repeated and ginormous mistakes, again and again. And no, I’m not going to say that I made those mistakes because I’m human, because I’m not looking for an excuse. I made them because I made them, and I can only hope that those that I know (or don’t know) that I affected by making these mistakes, could one day forgive me for them. Sadly, in my case, this journey towards this final state of clarity came perhaps with a big price to pay. It took me, eventually, to understand that there was not much more for me to do here. I will always remember that day when I was a little kid, watching Ernesto Alonso’s magical La Antorcha Encendida. It was a brilliant soup opera that captured the independence movement in México in the 1800s. Needless to say, it was perfect, no wonder why they called him, Ernesto Alonso, Mr Telenovela. Of all the things, I could remember of La Antorcha Encendida, perhaps the one that I remember the best, is that scene of a defeated Agustín de Iturbide, telling his second in command, that there was no better skill in a commander than the skill to identify and accept the moment to withdraw. As much as I never actually liked Iturbide as a historical character, I have to say that that phrase really got stuck with me forever. And now, today, in this final text, it seems like the perfect moment to remember it. I cannot explain it, but as much as I reached all this clarity these last couple of years, I eventually also reached a point, where I could not carry own. Little by little, I came to see the limits of my human experience, which clearly delineated within them as well, the moment to withdraw. Like this, many things started to malfunction in my mind and my body, to the point that I understood that this was it. What I could have done, I had done it; what I could not do, I definitely tried as hard as I could, and if it did not happen, it was because it was never going to happen, because sometimes some things are simply not meant to be. Acceptance, my friends, is perhaps the most difficult skill to develop. Yet, it is essential. I know that for many, perhaps, what I did would be reproachable. That for others, it would be a source of pain and suffering. And that, probably for most, it would not make much sense. In this regard, I think the only thing left for me to say is that I really hope that you forgive me. I guess that despite the limited time that I have in this final train ride on which I am at the moment, this desire for your forgiveness has been the main reason why I have decided to write this final melody, hoping I could leave it to you as a gift of repentance. I always loved that song by my ultimate grand hero Juan Gabriel, He Venido a Pedirte Perdón. The song is about someone who has come to ask for forgiveness, by having written precisely this song. Hence, evoking JuanGa’s words, I would like to leave you these last words, in this brief final melody of mine, as my song to ask for your forgiveness too: “Con esta mi canción, he venido a pedirte perdón. Qué nunca llores. Qué nunca sufras así.” All that I can say about my life, is that as imperfect as it was, it was utterly perfect. I do not leave in hopelessness, suffering, or depression, but in faith, just as I came into this world originally. I believe that for all of us, our time eventually gets here and that it usually happens sooner than we wished. Yet, there is nothing wrong with surrendering to an unexpected end. Because ends are necessary. Because if there were no ends, no beginnings would have never been either. Saying goodbye is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world, it is because of it that perhaps saying goodbye has become the most emblematic element of the greatest myths and stories of human history. Nevertheless, I won’t say good bye, because I don’t have to, I have faith. Sooner or later, we will all come back to where we belong to, and when that happens, I know that I will see all of you again…