Chronicles of Existential Dread, Volume IV: Moral Culpability of Chance
Before I dive into the latest manifesto, I shall note that I got the ingenious idea to ask a Catalonian what the difference between “serrat” and “serra” is. “Serra” is a hill; “serrat” is a smaller hill.
Secondly, I will note that I labeled my Chronicles incorrectly in installment III. It is Existential Dread, not despair. I personally attract to despair, though in keeping with a modicum of literary integrity, I am modeling this ongoing fusillade after bleak German philosophy, so I will use their Angst-fueled sentiments (You may note the capital A in Angst. German nouns are always capitalized, including midsentence. The German word for angst – Angst – is a far more powerful, guttural, melancholic, and existentially bleak concept than English angst, hence I use the uppercase A, even though I am probably the only one that would understand what I am doing).
Before diving into the philosophy of apparent and illusory moral culpability, I must draw a line in the sand between Chance and Risk. Conceptually, they appear to be interchangeable, though emotional and cultural complexities are powerful. Risk is a more mathematical term, which is indeed correct, as all actions or inactions in life carry an anthropologically agnostic mathematical probability. Insurance companies know this fact, hiring super nerds (which I envy greatly) to create actuarial tables clearly denoting risks and probabilities, making them an engine of profit at the behest of society’s illnesses, accidents, catastrophe, and best of all, mortality (don’t get me started on my fetish for janitor life insurance pools, or firms that specialize in buying out existing life insurance policies on prospective, soon-to-be-dead sellers). Culturally, we identify with this mathematical meat grinder by referring to the acceptance of risk as a deliberate act: skydiving, driving fast, thrill sports, general aviation (hey, imagine that!), and a host of other things that we choose to do and generally do not need to do, though need can muddy the waters.
Chance. Chance, my fickle mathematical mistress. How we all caress her in our minds, hoping the good lady of Chance won’t bend us over the barrel and ruin everything about our lives at some unpredictable, vulnerable, emotionally weak moment. Chance is raw emotion – it is our perspective as to why we think things happen along with the vain need to create meaning when the shit hits the fan. For millenniums, Chance was either a literal god itself, or the concept of chance was spread into a pantheon of them, taking on seemingly specific and intentional roles in the lives of humanity. Oh, if only your cherished relative that got eaten by a bear was for the good of the Universe – mathematical risk unfortunately says that he was bruin cuisine and now is fertilizing the soil in the forest. Risk sucks. Chance at least holds futile if not pseudo-spiritual hope.
Chance reflects items we tend not to hold people to account for, either. The “freak accident,” “act of God,” “wrong place at the wrong time,” “accident prone,” or, best of all, “bad luck.” As I write these sentences, I am brimming with feelings that chance has a cultural identity – it is as though it is a living, breathing, thinking force that gives or takes in a whimsical, yet superstitiously purposeful way, acting enough like a leaf in the breeze to behave like risk, yet leaving us wanting just enough to find out who or what lies behind the curtain and is pulling the strings. Luck, superstition, hope, delusion are all relatives in the same family, part of our deep need to identify meaning behind what happens in our existences which, truth be told, end in death. There is no risk, chance, or luck operating in this spectrum, with the exception of timing and method, for which in a moment of macabre glee, I must confess that most of my friends and family think it is inevitable that I will smash into the side of a mountain someday. While I don’t have this as a goal, it would be a far more efficient way to turn my biological mass into plant food. I have always imagined a catastrophic self-pancaking to be more enjoyable than an orderly and traditional funeral after a stupid period of geriatricism.
The attempt to personify Chance as a purposeful entity does one thing that ensures our lives are more likely to be a product of chance: deflects attention away from multiplicitous cumulative micro decisions in our lives. The theory of a “butterfly in the Amazon” flapping its wings which sends a chain reaction in motion which results in you being late for work has some popularity to it – and makes the butterfly responsible. What about our own butterflies? When do we make a “puff of wind” in the ripple of our personal space-time continuum, for which it is part of a brutally complex yet ideologically simple concept called decision-making and personal responsibility? If we accept that we made the puff of wind and not the Brazilian butterfly, then we can flap our butterfly wings in another direction.
How utterly freaking novel.
Wait! Stop thinking too hard. Go back and blame whatever group of people you hate, tell me I am lucky to live how I do, and try to catch that Amazonian butterfly if you have the chance.
Back to book marketing (I’m not passive aggressive. Nope.). I got slapped with more nice weather in short order, so it was time to head southwest into the western-style sections of Catalunya, then off into Aragón, only to land in a really cool place in Coscojuelas, before returning back to Cerdanya where the weather went to pot with high wind, clouds, and rain, and the audacity of a giant vulture to try to smash into my airplane in flight. Shall I call the close encounter of the vulture kind chance and shift the blame? Or is it risk because I am a “crazy” that flies a “death trap?” Or should I just blame the bird? Or was it fate and it was supposed to happen (really? I had to bring up fate, didn’t I?)?