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The Guilt of Being Alive

The particular event and the particular ways in which it made me feel even more acutely guilty of being alive and of the inherent negative impact of this is a matter for the next personal post, but I kept thinking of writing something about this guilt in itself and this is a good time to try. I’m sure most will disagree, that’s the case for nearly everything I stand for, but I think things would be much better if people in general would feel just as guilty, struggle just as hard to justify this impact, to themselves first of all, especially with the system as it is, without each person being granted their fair share, knowing what that is, without damaging the environment or harming or taking away from others, including other species. Or, of course, in case of the childfree, and even more so in case of those who are militant, without at least knowing what the share they should be entitled to in order to have a comfortable life, a decent standard of living, would be, regardless of the current overpopulation problem that would make offering everyone that utterly unsustainable.

There’s also the fact that life inherently causes pain and suffering and unmet needs, not to mention desires, for the person being alive, all of it getting worse the more that person thinks and feels, but that’s a different topic. This is about the negative impact being alive inherently has on the environment and on others: The resources used, including others’ time and even this completely virtual “resource” called money; the pollution and the harm caused; taking away resources and products from others who may need them more, or perhaps even deserve them more; creating demand and causing even more resources to be used in a certain manner when it might have been far better to use them otherwise, or better yet not exploit them at all in order to allow the environment to regenerate and create better conditions for other species. It’s a zero-sum game and using something in one way, for one person, takes it away from some other potential use, or uses something the environment, other species or other people can’t spare, or at least shouldn’t be made to do without.
This isn’t about any need of “earning a living”, of “being a productive member of society”, in order to somehow earn or deserve to have such an impact, to justify it in such a manner. Quite the opposite, being “productive” generally means having even more of an impact, using even more resources, often generating even more pollution, taking even more away from others and other potential uses, adding together the impact of the product or activity itself, that of recovering from the effort, that of trying to make up for the time used in that manner by saving time when it comes to other things, and that of feeling entitled to gain and use more due to having supposedly accomplished something. This society and this system only worsen this negative impact not only by offering people easy ways to justify it, but by pretty much forcing them to do so, and rewarding them for having an ever greater one, and for competing to take ever more away from others and other potential uses.

Much would be fixed by a different system, one that would determine each person’s share in such a way as to avoid environmental damage and ensure that none would take anything away from another, directly or indirectly, without a very good reason, and that would find the most efficient ways to exploit and use the resources, produce the goods and offer the services in order to maximize each person’s share and cover as many desires as possible, on top of the needs, while minimizing the negative impact in every way. There would still be the problem of numbers, and until and unless that will be solved either the total impact will remain far too great or people will be allocated far too small a share, or too many will be allocated much reduced shares without such a measure being sufficiently justified, or, most likely, all of these will happen at once, but at least it’d be clear what each person’s reasonable, rightful impact should be and those not guilty of adding to the numbers could be allocated that much, while the rest would pay the price for their part in worsening the world’s worst problem until such a measure would no longer be necessary.
As it is, however, challenging people not to find justifications for what they earn, or otherwise obtain by whatever means, for themselves, but to truly see and understand the negative impact they have, what they take from others, what damage and harm they cause, could go a long way. Moving the focus on the negative, on taking instead of obtaining, and on others and the world as a whole instead of oneself, generates the awareness which in turn results in this guilt, at least for those capable of analyzing things to a sufficient extent and of some degree of empathy. And I truly believe that many things would be much better if more would feel this way, as it would lead to an inner drive to minimize one’s impact, make up for the harm you do cause and demand changes to society and to the system in order to ensure that this will happen without the burden lying on the individual.

Should probably also mention that, perhaps paradoxically, this guilt for being alive does not lead to one wishing to die. Definitely should make everyone want to not put another in this position, which obviously means not have children at least until and unless all those changes would be implemented, and possibly not even then, but when it comes to one’s death, on top of the fact that we can probably agree that it, and the process of dying in particular, is in itself generally undesirable once one is alive, this guilt makes the prospect of dying even more disappointing, for lack of a better term. For the individual, there may perhaps be ways to make up for the pain and suffering and unmet needs, not to mention desires, that are inherent to being alive, to say that it was all worth it, even if that’s only true for very few. But there’s no way to make up for at least some parts of this negative impact, for some of what one took away, and while it’s true that being alive longer will almost certainly only worsen this balance, dying while being aware of it means dying with the terrible guilt of not having done more, for the world and for others, and thinking that maybe you would have found ways to do more if you’d have had more time.


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