The mental pain that I experience during and following a panic attack is always the same. There’s a sense of anguish, a physical reaction that’s not far removed from the reaction to physical pain. It’s frightening to know that thoughts can sear as effectively as any fiery brand.
What I believe is happening is a clashing of philosophies. Throughout my life, I’ve attempted to juggle two diametrical modes of thought. I’ve considered describing them as “conservative” and “liberal,” but I think a more accurate terminology is “Shore” and “Ocean.” They are armies at constant odds, columns of artillery continually shelling each other, but there’s never any attrition. One side or the other merely retreats and regroups, and then makes another charge with full force. The only possible casualty in this conflict is myself.
I charted some of this out. Perhaps I’m naive to think that I can make sense of it, but if there’s anything I can make sense of in this world, I’d like to think that it’s my own mind. There are many rivers of thought and possibility flowing through both sides, so I’ve had to filter and condense many of them. Here’s how I broke them down:
The “Shore,” or “Western” nation, fights on the side of culture. It is masculine, hierarchical, goal-oriented, and irrevocably sold on the immortality of the human empire. The motto of the Shore-dweller is “Suck it up, Nancy!” On the shore, you put your head down, you accept your position as it’s assigned from birth, and you collect things (artificial ones) to soothe yourself. The mark of success on the Shore is the accomplishment, or the creation, or the purchase of something “valuable,” as determined by the Shore’s inhabitants. By the Shore’s standards, if you labor long on a work that only has value to yourself, you die a failure, a sad little person who is soon forgotten.
Sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it? Yet, this is the mode that many people not only accept, but embrace. It thrives, not because it is the truth, but because it only needs money to keep it going. The more money that is pumped into it, the bigger and more intrusive it gets. It analyzes us, seduces us, and makes us feel secure. The Message is so pervasive, at all phases of our lives, that it becomes familiar, and therefore comfortable.
Recent events prove that this mode is outdated and dying. Once-sacred institutions are undergoing entropic failures, but more importantly than that, we are aware of these failures. We know that our idols are false, and yet we continue to erect new ones, because we don’t know how else things can work.
We’re scared to leave the Shore.
The “Ocean,” or “Eastern” nation, fights for the individual. It doesn’t believe in boundaries or categorization. It doesn’t believe in grinding and burning one’s life away in a box for a machine. It seeks opportunity and fights for it, usually at great material risk. Money is a minor concern to those on Ocean; meaning is what matters to them. Any activity that doesn’t reap fulfillment or personal satisfaction is wasteful and pointless. Instead of seeking to collect, the Ocean seeks to prune. It asks, “What can I do without? Where can I simplify, reduce my encumbrance? What shall I release, and what shall I nurture?” The Ocean does not trust in artificial structures built to corral large groups. It takes pride in refusal.
Most profoundly, the Ocean-dweller accepts the possibility that there is no “real” answer, no promise to be kept at the end of life. It clings to nothing, and fluctuates at all times. It knows that humanity and all its creations are finite, and that life is a cycle of birth and destruction. It does not need the opinions of culture as they relate to “lasting” or “enduring” value. The “why” of the universe may never be revealed, so the Ocean-dweller simply hunts for occupation and joy wherever it might occur.
This mode of thought sounds pleasant and idealistic, even heavenly, but the rub is that it demands immense, unshakeable courage. The Shore-dweller dismisses the Ocean-dweller as a loser, a looney, a whack-job…unless he or she makes a lot of money.
The root of my anxiety lies in the conflict between these two ideologies. I’m sure that a philosophy major would tell me that I’m not making any revelations here. I’m sure that I’m just inadvertently repeating the positions of Nietzsche or Heidegger or Plato or some such person. Still, while I’m sure that studying the works of these gentlemen would improve my articulation, I also think that I’d do better to develop my own ideas, basing them on my own personal experience.