MARCH 9 2010 13:04h

The Prison of Identity





So what is it that makes people truly happy? It’s apparently not money, it’s not sex, drugs, or rock’n’roll, and it’s not material objects.

Times are bad. The world economy is in ruins, and on our continent, Greece is going bankrupt, which affects the Euro, which naturally affects your Euros, which makes you wonder if you should exchange the piddling amount you have put away into kunas, but if Rohatinski resigns, the kuna could plummet, so perhaps you ought to hang on to your little pile of Euros, although a band of speculators headed by George Soros (who has already destroyed several currencies around the world to satisfy his megalomaniacal desires and sheer gluttony) is staging a diversionary attack on the Euro in order to strengthen the dollar, so maybe it should be kunas into dollars after all, and, and, but, and… …..Makes you want to cry.

As far as your social life is concerned, you see that everybody but you seems to be having a good time, which you are brainwashed by the inane media into believing means drugs, parties, fast cars, and Gucci, accompanied by non-stop, indiscriminate satisfaction of physical desire. Makes you want to tear your hair out.

The fashion alerts forced upon your already overburdened consciousness, day after day, month after month, year after year, indicate that your entire wardrobe is due for the garbage bins, your coat, last year’s “way cool”, is this year’s “fashion disaster”, you can’t afford a new one because of all the greedy, piggish George Soroses of the world, so even if you did have the slightest possibility of non-stop, indiscriminate satisfaction of physical desire, you would have nothing “way cool” to wear (and then take off), so you wouldn’t be able to leave the house, anyway. Makes you want to put your head through a wall.

Martina Horvat-.--.-Don’t do it! Because if you make a little effort, you’ll see that there are a lot of great minds around to free you from your chains. To put things into proper perspective, one might first turn to Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor-Philosopher who was a genius at it. On the subject of the “physical satisfaction” that the media has persuaded us should take precedence over all other existential pursuits, he asks us to imagine it in this way: “as for sex, it is the rubbing together of two pieces of gut, following by a spasmodic secretion of a little bit of slime.” Hippocrates and Democritus defined it as “a little epilepsy”. Contemplating it on these terms, it seems considerably less than what we, as intelligent, emotionally mature human beings, should be placing at such a high premium.

And on the subject of wealth, property, and material objects, we might seek enlightenment in Ambrose Pierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary”. In his collection of satirical definitions of English words, in which he lampoons hypocrisy and double talk, we find that money, or Mammon, is now “the god of the world’s leading religion…..the chief temple is in the Holy City of New York”. Those that have become addicted to the accumulation of ever more money and material objects find only, in Bierce’s view, “an unlocked door in the prison of Identity. It leads into the jail yard.” And today’s researchers are confirming what religious thinkers and philosophers have preached for centuries: materialism is bad for the soul. In a contemporary formulation, materialism is bad for your emotional well-being, because it leads to damaged relationships and self-esteem, a heightened risk of depression and anxiety, less time for what the research indicates truly makes people happy.

So what is it that makes people truly happy? It’s apparently not money, it’s not sex, drugs, or rock’n’roll, and it’s not material objects. Perhaps the deepest insight can be gained by the last words of those facing imminent death, when all illusions and artifices are stripped away and one is confronted with the terrifying prospect of eternal Nothingness. Under these circumstances, these words express a truth that even courts of law consider irrefutable.

If this is so, then the legendary Vukovar journalist Sinisa Glavasevic supplied, from his dark shelter, the answer to our timeless question. He wrote it down in a story “Prica o porodici”, only days before his death, as he listened to the artillery pulverizing his city into dust: “the only thing that remains for man, the best thing he can do, is raise a family and devote every free moment to his world, this is the future, there’s no question about it, and the more you give to your family, the happier, livelier, and fuller your future will be.  If you have nothing, if you have lost everything, your car, your house, if everything seems grim and pointless, then search inside yourself for an answer that makes you happy. “Don’t be surprised”, he writes, if you find behind it all just one sacred thing, one untouchable thing, one that belongs only to you: the family…it’s hard to create a family, and war, especially such an ill-fated, protracted war, has shown how easy it is to lose a family. Don’t fool yourselves; it’s not just luck, it’s more, a lot more, than that.”

And then he was killed. But he left behind a profound truth: we already have what makes us happy, the only thing that truly belongs to us, our family, who we are, and we need search no more.