Do you consider yourself a modern citizen in a modern world?
Enlightened and elevated above the base thoughts and needs of our carnal progenitors? No longer slaves to our lowly instincts and vices and shortfalls of our ancestors?
Were you brought up to believe that you could do anything, achieve anything in life, as long as you put all your heart and soul into it? You could live your childhood dreams, be whoever you choose to be, do what you love for the rest of your life?
And then you wake up twenty years later, groggy, alone, an electronic device dictating your life, your every waking and sleeping moment. Having spent the majority of your life lying on your sides or studying something you were only mildly interested in. And then your basic instincts kick in, creep into the back of your mind – you need to eat, you need to drink, you need to get laid.
Those around you do not see your plight. Day after day your parents and relatives inquire about your marital status, or if you’ve had the good fortune to shack up with someone permanently then when the 贵子 are going to arrive.
Your friends are “moving on” with their lives, most pairing up into units to continue on the evolutionary necessities and satisfy some societal requirement, signing the contract everyone craves, ticking off the big box of life, preparing to tick the next big item.
When will you tick off the big box of life?
Which one, you ask?
Are there that many to choose from?
And so we toil and slave, and if we’re lucky not so hard because our parents or predecessors saved up some for us. And we continue our hunt – our hunt for meaning, for purpose, for life.
We put our hearts and souls into our careers, into creating things of value, of meaning, into keeping our bodies healthy and fit. All by our own choice, our own cleverness, staving away the primal instincts that gnaw at our minds, either from sheer will or fear of rejection.
But at the end of it, we always come back to the same things: continuing on the family name, the bloodline, under the guise of finding happiness, achieving success.
Of course one cannot deny that happiness is intimately tied to interpersonal relationships of some spread or depth, being the deeply social creatures that we are.
But we have overcome that, have we not?
We are intelligent, able to control our urges, our innermost instincts with rational, logical reasoning!
We can overcome widescale devastation, largely initiated by our own hands, but still avert physical crises through reasoning and communication. We avoid nuclear annihilation, natural disasters, global pandemics with the power of logic and science!
And it’s true, we have adapted and conquered and overcome. And in the madness and chaos, we have sought out our clarity; in our desperate isolation, we have learned the meaning of togetherness; in the darkness we have learned to treasure the light.
And yet, as adversity unites us, as we fight illness and loss with logic, we realise that we are but base animals. When all is said and done, it is the same driving force and motivations that drove our forefathers thousands of years ago.
Are we that different from our ancestors? Have we changed?
Is it hardwired into us?
Making babies. Do people still need to do it?
I mean the process is great and all, but is it still necessary in this day and age?
Well, yes of course, otherwise who is going to take over once the elders pass? Who will care for the aging population of our broken world?
Perhaps procreating has been painted in a negative light with all the recent talk of climate change and overpopulation, of unsustainable living and dwindling resources.
While reproduction is evolutionarily obligatory, and to be fair it is the entire purpose of evolution, where exactly do we see ourselves in the evolutionary scale of things?
What is the point of continuing to spawn and evolve exactly? To populate the earth? Colonise beyond our borders, beyond our planet?
For what exactly?
Are we not akin to drops of bacteria in a petri dish full of nutrients? Akin to a virus let loose within a thriving, healthy host? The world is our oyster, and we will take all we can, multiply as far as we can reach.
Until our resources run out? Then let’s find some more!
Is there an end? Should there be an end?
Like a creeper plant stretching its limbs into the sun, across the soil, growing and growing until it reaches the boundaries? And then…going up, and up, like a beanstalk to the sky?
In the end, is it not all just a circlejerk, a fun little game to keep ourselves busy as our cells reproduce and rupture and return to dust?
So shall we get back to making babies?
So let’s talk about babies.
Say we yield to the fundamental cause of our species, of being alive, our supposed purpose and destiny – of making the babies and keeping the wheels turning. Say we decide we’re DTF and churn out a good one, we lock ourselves in with a bundle of joy with no refunds, no takebacksies.
Congratulations! Now what?
I can honestly say that evolution has not been kind to us sapiens. Seriously, how difficult can babies be?
Ask any parent – they’ll be happy to share with you their processes and their experiences of bringing up a child. Yes, I’m sure the whole thing is fun and full of fulfillment and satisfaction and new lessons in life. But it’s a fucking full time job, mate.
Evolution/intelligent design/the one true deity has not been kind to us humankind. Think about it – have you seen a new parent that is well-rested? Then they’ve clearly got lots of help.
Most new parents do not make a good case for having babies. It is a costly, cumbersome, challenging thing to bring up a baby.
From a business perspective, the ROI on these things is astoundingly low. They’re expensive, they’re time-consuming, they’re fragile, they’re high risk. They require a lot of attention, a lot of training; you don’t get to interview them beforehand, and you certainly can’t fire them from the position.
People tell you kids are an investment, a priceless asset. Well okay, what’s the appreciate rate on kids? You have to sink in at least two decades to get these starving sponges up to speed, not to mention countless dollars and sense, all while maintaining a happy facade lest the darn things develop a sour disposition or take on your bad values.
And once they’ve matured, what do you get? Some may pay you back in cash, buy you some nice things, or sometimes just in gratitude. But can they ever actually repay you for all you’ve done for them, all the sacrifices you’ve made?
Perhaps I’m missing the entire point of parenthood. Yes, parenthood is about pouring yourself into your offspring, so that they may have a better life than you ever did, so they can gain grander, greater things, surpassing all you’ve ever achieved. You shouldn’t care about getting anything in return, because the return is seeing them healthy and happy, right?
You will give your all, expend your time and energy, disburse your dividends all to them, because they deserve the very best, right?
Well what about you? Is it selfish to consider, to think about yourself for even one second? Our genes are selfish, are they not?
Oh, so our genes are alright with us giving all without any expectation for anything in return? Unconditional love, as they call it? That was a pretty clever marketing campaign. Generations of filial piety set in stone.
Well, even if our genes are gladsome and full of glee at the prospect of us popping out a few new ones, what about our logical selves? Our thoughts and feelings? Are we really alright with going through physical and social transformation and turmoil just for the privilege of hearing a little genetic mishmash of ourselves squeak out the words “mama” or “dada”?
What about spiritual children? What about having non-genetically related progeny? Pets? People love pets!
I’m not saying we should all get pets and forego having children. I’m just curious if there are people out there who have found a greater purpose in life than spawning children.
Yes, I’m sure creating pieces of art or music, or an app or software that changes our virtual landscape, or a business that benefits billions is a worthy cause, a righteous reason to fight and live on. But can it truly replace that evolutionary call, that urge deep within our souls, to replace something that we can biologically call our own?
Do I have an answer for you?
There are many, many answers out there, and in this day and age there are many voices and stories vying to be heard and adored.
All I have to offer are questions. Simple questions that you and I will have to answer for ourselves.
Pedalling past green pastures to the sound of my heartbeat, I mused about what a splendid and wild world we live in.
And then as so often occurs in the history of mankind, I pondered the meaning of our existence, our fragile fleeting existence upon this mortal coil, this cyclical spirally soiled coil.
Our genetics insists that we should procreate and conquer our environment and adversaries and be merry in the face of certain demise.
What about leaving a legacy other than progeny?
Our religions insist that we should do good onto others and interact with each other within the rules that govern our spirit and mind, and be merry in the face of certain demise.
What if the deities are just assholes and there is no afterlife?
A quote from Dead Poets Society has always stuck with me:
The full quote is this:
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
And the human race is filled with passion. What is this passion? According to evolution and religion, we are just meat-filled machines made to serve our instincts and base desires, to carry out our predestined duties in this preordained existence.
What is passion?
Some might say it is a device for us to procreate, a tool to create a legacy that will ensure the survival of our offspring, a divine gift to inspire others and bring about good in the world.
I feel passion is more than all that – it is closer to the thing we call our calling in life. The deep inner well that we draw our meaning from.
There are many I have seen who go through life without passion, a soulless meat drone going about the daily routine, a slave to the chores of life and the burdens of existence.
There is no passion there, there is no joy.
Having passion is more than just having a goal in life, something to strive towards. As the cliche goes – it is not just the destination, it is also the journey. And passion is the same – shouldn’t it be more than just attaining more wealth or more love or longer life?
Passions are ideas, relationships, dreams. The intangible made tangible.
Will the things I say awaken something in those who hear it? Will the lines I sketch alter reality? Will the words I write today change tomorrow?
But if it can even spark something in another person, implant the seed of future greatness, or make someone’s day, is that something?
What if evolution is right? What if all there is to existence is to make babies and ensure they go on to make more babies?
What if religion is right? What if there is an afterlife and all the good people get to have endless fun while the bad people are subject to eternal turmoil?
Both of these options seem rather meaningless to me. Both simply prescribe a means to an end, a way of life that does not help the present, that does not lead to progress or the true betterment of man.
But then again, what is progress? Doing things faster and more efficiently? Curing diseases so people can live longer?
For what? To continue to fuck for babies and fuck with one another until we fuck off this mortal coil?
Speaking with a friend about the meaning of life, he replied that it is up to the individual to determine the meaning of their own lives. And so I asked what he felt was the meaning of his life.
Was it to help his fellow man? To create and leave behind a legacy that would make the world a better place? To motivate, inspire and equip the next generation?
To do good works?
Is not our life’s work (or “day jobs” as some people refer to them) one of our defining purposes and major source of meaning in our lives?
A friend shared a story with me:
There once was a man who approached three construction workers and asked what they were doing.
The first worker replied simply: “I’m working hard to feed my family.”
The second worker responded proudly: “I want to learn and improve my skill so I can become a famous stonemason.”
The third worker stated humbly: “I am helping to build a grand cathedral for the church.”
All three workers clearly had different goals and ambitions (or lack thereof).
The first worker believed his work to be a means to an end – to feed himself and his family. Basic necessity, zero ambition.
The second worker believed in himself – he only saw his own future and what he wanted for himself, with no regard for the larger project that he was a part of.
The third worker’s response captured the true goal of the project at hand – he knew his own role in the scheme of things, and aligned his goals with that of his principal. He saw things not just from his own scope of work, but also from the perspective of the organisation, of the whole body of work. This type of worker is capable of seeing the end result and the value of the entire project. The third worker sees the big picture, and thus is believed to have the greatest chance of success.
Perhaps a somewhat dull tale about types of workers, but it does outline the different mentalities that people have. And if work is one of the greater purposes of our life, then shouldn’t we place more emphasis on it?
I imagine for much of the working class in today’s society, the work we do is simply a means to an end, akin to the first worker’s aim. We work to earn money so we can feed ourselves and our families and live happily ever after.
We work so we can make money so we can stay alive and perhaps travel every now and then.
Religion dictates that we work so we can provide not just for ourselves and our kin, but also to do good for the needy and less fortunate in our society, so we can store up karma and treasures in heaven.
So either way we have to work, right?
So we go through life working and working and making money. There is meaning in that.
But is it enough?
No? Then get better at what you do. Become the second worker.
Be the best that you can be, so the world will know you and acknowledge your amazing work. So you can get paid much much more for your work.
So I can live happily ever after with all that extra money I’ve made.
How’s that for meaning?
Do I need to be the third worker? Do I need to see the bigger picture?
And what, pray tell, is the bigger picture?
At the end of my days, when I am old and shriveled, when my joints ache and bones cry out in pain, when my mind is sluggish and my smile is all I have left to offer, will I have found my meaning?
Or shall I just keep living my life in a blurred haze of busy work to make ends meet? Never once pondering further the meaning of things. Thinking about what life should be like, instead of thinking about what life is?
And when I’m nearing my end, will my frail heart waver and rue my life’s choices? Will I turn back to the old things that brought me comfort in my life?
Will I call out to my deity when my time has come?
Perhaps I should have started this years ago, having made the decision to return to my roots, having changed my country of residence several years back. My continent of residence, I should say.
Yes, I’m currently residing in Asia.
However, that wasn’t always the case.
I had a somewhat variegated upbringing, being schooled in both Asia and Australia. This is clearly something quite commonplace in this day and age, but mine wasn’t just foreign exchange – I went back and forth, spending a chunk here and a chunk there.
Was it confusing? Disruptive? Detrimental to my development?
I don’t think so – if anything I got the best of both worlds, in a sense.
Perhaps I’d like to think my experience is unique, having been exposed more thoroughly to both sides of the coin: eastern and western, tropical and temperate, English and Chinese, noodles and spaghetti.
Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time abroad and had the pleasure of experiencing different cultures and indoctrin-I mean, education systems, can attest to this. By considerable I mean anywhere from six months to a year and beyond.
Different language, different styles of education, different attitudes and mannerisms. The culture shock does make some yearn and fall back on the comforts of home, usually in the form of congregating with those of the same background. Foreign student clubs and unions, study groups, living quarters.
I had that to some extent – I mingled largely with the familiar crowd, the minority, those with the same roots and ethnicity, even if they may not think or speak the same way as my original Asian brethren. It was close enough and as good as it got.
So background aside, I eventually made my way back to where I am now – in Asia. South-East Asia, to be precise (clearly still super vague – I’m being facetious).
What is it like being back here, seeing what you’ve seen? Knowing what you know? For those of you who have lived abroad and come back to your home country or to the same vicinity, how did you feel when you first returned?
Clearly everyone’s experience is non-identical and distinct. Many report feeling disenfranchised, like an outsider, hints of racism, but also feeling warmth and kindness and something they would never have found at home.
Yes, I admit on some level, I always felt like I never truly belonged. Being a minority in a country has its effects, not just in the pervasive racial undertones from external parties, but even internally within our own communities, our Asian gangs and gatherings (I use the term “gang” in a jocular sense – we didn’t actually go around extorting protection money).
I spoke and wrote the language, just as well as any of the born-and-bred locals (I’d like to think). Perhaps not all the way to the local lingo, but if I didn’t provide any indication, just from reading this, you might not immediately guess which country I hail from.
I paid my dues and did my job and didn’t take advantage of the system, a system that hands out freebies to the impoverished and needy, an imperfect system but one that tries to provide a standard level of care for all. It wasn’t a bad or poor system by any means, although rigid and unyielding in some ways. There was support and benefits, and for the most part people tried to be civil and kind toward me and each other.
Being back in Asia I see the disparities, how different things are, a comparison across the board. Some things are better, some are worse, pros and cons.
Recently I visited the equivalent of the slums here in Asia.
Think high density and small living spaces. Like Hong Kong, but not nearly as bad.
The first thing that hits you is the smell.
There was more than rain pouring down from the skies.
Slums exist almost everywhere in the world, I imagine. But seeing it in your own hometown still comes as a shock. Seeing the living conditions and meeting the people there is a sobering wake-up call.
And unlike Australia, the local government here doesn’t give so many handouts to these folk. Not to say they are entirely disregarded – there are institutes that care for the families and senior citizens that reside in these government built apartments.
What struck me (apart from the rubbish raining down) was the way of life of the people staying there, their outlook and attitudes. Almost like a caste system, mentally resigned to their fate, prisoners in their own minds.
For a lot of these people, there is no way out, no escape from their situation, no saviour or redemption or change. You can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices. The only way out is wrapped in a blanket or tarp.
And they will continue to subsist like this, day in day out.
And now in lockdown, they see no way of earning an income. Again, there is no way out. And so they wait – either for handouts, or for the sweet release of death.
Of course there are such places in Australia and other countries in the world, and the way they are treated and regarded is probably not so different.
At the very least, they tend to be more concerned about smells. Or it could just be the climate that enhances it.
Did you know that you smell better in a moister environment?
One cannot deny the power of education, but it is unfortunate that many spend a better part of their youth and prime in training, endlessly learning and honing themselves so they can spend what’s left of it catching up with the system and picking up the essential skills of life. And by that time, they wake up and their strength is fading and their hair is graying and they can’t help but feel like life has just been one big blur, one long difficult ride, one slow step at a time.
Many try for the big win, the one great gain that will set them up for life, and many fall short, disappointed and disheartened. Some keep trying, some give up, and some eventually get to a place where they are comfortable and happy, ready to repeat the cycle anew.
And so we continue to study for our lifetime, a life of learning and of longing for something more, never fully satisfied, always something new. Why do we spend most of our life learning how to live?
Upon the dawn did I venture out into the balmy outdoors following a long and dreadful deluge the night before. This journey into the wilderness provided me room and time for much ponderous contemplation on matters such as life and death and some cycling in between.
Why so morbid, you might ask? I admit it is not my natural predisposition to be preoccupied with such lofty and philosophical musings such as life and lack thereof and our human perspective of it all. However, my roaming this morning brought me into multiple close encounters with things that most people would rather not speak of.
There were three to be precise. Three of each.
Fortunately, it was not my own peril I speak of.
As I set out down a broad street I came across a shocking sight of a large, immobile monitor lizard sprawled in the middle of the street. It was almost as long as my bike, and clearly a hazard to motorists using said street. And mind you this was no back-alley, but a major motorway!
The thought of removing such an obstacle was immediate in my mind, but alas my hesitation led to inaction. Also, the thought of dragging something as heavy as I was did not bring me comfort.
The second encounter was somewhat more benign, but still rather saddening to me.
As I passed a large drain, a bright shiny object caught my eye. Gazing down I caught sight of this majestic fish that was lying stationary in a shallow gushing rivulet of rainwater. It looked a little too pretty and well-fed not to be someone’s pet, so perhaps it got washed away with the heavy downpour not long ago.
The forest was alive after the rain – birds were chirping, bugs were buzzing, ants were streaming every which way. And then I came upon my third and most unpleasant experience.
As if asleep, this poor little newborn lay upon the cold, hard bitumen. This time I stopped to inspect and found it to be deceased, so I carried it out of sight and returned it to nature.
All that cycling did work up an appetite, so I visited the welcoming little Gusto Cafe in the area. Got the special for the day!
Seeing all those casualties, most likely from the storm the night before, I thought about how seeing and coming so close to a thing that once lived could scar someone and serve as a reminder of our fleeting mortality. One can only hope that it is short and sweet. And yet we do not let it cripple us. We soldier on, we live knowing that the next may be our last.
And for what? So that we can have our very own plot of land for our remains to enter? So that we manage to churn out some progeny to continue their indifferent plight upon the earth? So that we can perpetuate the cycle of life and keep the wheel of fate spinning and spinning and spinning?
When I arrived back home, I was greeted by two very vocal and noisy individuals that demanded my attention. Here is one of them:
After giving them their due, I proceeded to clean up. That’s when I noticed the hitchhiker that had caught a ride with me: a little lively caterpillar that was ohm-ing its way across my back! By ohm-ing, I mean making little ohm shapes with its mode of locomotion.
It only had a set of little feet at the front and rear of its stringy body, so the rest just went up and down as it cantilevered most of its body forward every step of the way.
I delivered it to the nearest tree bark and watched it prod its way into the nearest nook in the wood. I wondered if it would grow into a butterfly. That gave me hope. Of course, most likely the cats would get to it, but c’est la vie, non?
That’s enough depressing stuff from me! Go out and live life, people!