Many are acquainted with Dan Piraro’s day job as an artist/satirist who tries to make sense of our world through his cartoon images. However, in real life, he’s a philosopher who motivates us to… are you sitting down… actually think.
What has this got to do with ethics? During times of high-stress, we all need to be responsible for our mental as well as physical health. His latest commentary reminds us of what’s important and why.
“I’ve heard more than a few people recently, some in my own family, express anxiety and depression over the uncertainty of the world going forward. I get it. You’d have to be a fifth-degree black belt Buddhist monk not to have some concerns at this point.
“So I want to share with you some ideas that are gelling for me, partly as the result of a book I’m reading, The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein.
“This sounds simple but hear me out. ‘Play’ is essential. Play can be defined as any activity in which you create something with your hands or mind, or preferably both. I love this definition from Eisenstein’s book: ‘Play is the production of fun. Entertainment is the consumption of fun.’ That’s a huge difference.
“For millions of years we humans relied entirely on our own bodies and minds to occupy ourselves. We created everything in our lives from clothing, pottery, tools, and shelter, to stories, music, art, and games. And we did it together, as communities. But over the centuries, one by one we have begun paying others to do these things for us. We literally pay others to have fun for us; Netflix writes and performs the stories, Beyoncé plays the music, Banksy creates the art, the Yankees play the game, Ikea makes the furniture, etc. Most of us consume fun, but rarely produce fun. And during the pandemic, we’re not doing much of anything together.
“But even long before the current period of isolation, this was a large part of that hole we all feel in our hearts; we’re almost never doing anything that feeds our nature. We’re just doing what the societal machine tells us we must to earn enough imaginary bank credits to continue to go shopping and live indoors. But it isn’t LIVING, and that’s why so many people feel there must be something more to life than ‘this,’ whatever their personal ‘this’ might be.
“You may find yourself saying, but I’m raising my kid—that’s important. And you’re right, it is. And that’s why aspects of parenting can be so rewarding; you’re actually doing something important that feeds your nature and is building community. But a deeper look may make you realize that a big part of raising a kid today is teaching that kid to obey and compete in the same system that has robbed you of your Life. That’s hard to accept. So we tell ourselves that our kid will be different. They’ll be talented and successful and avoid the miseries and burdens we’ve struggled with. But success doesn’t fill that hole if you’re still just playing the game. Neither does money. Those things are merely distractions from the empty feeling, they don’t feed our nature.
“I don’t have a big-picture answer for how to fix civilization, of course. It’s going to take a society-moving revolution and those can be a tad unpredictable. And this is the only system there is, so it’s hard to just walk away and live life differently. But in the meantime, it is possible to find greater peace and meaning in your own life while waiting for change.
“I believe a key element to happiness in this stressful mess we call civilization is not to give up creating and connecting. That’s the ‘play’ part. Make stuff and share it. Create something and give it to a friend. Write a poem and email it to someone. There is a fundamental, primal satisfaction that comes from the simple act of imagining something and then making it real. And it gets even better when you share it. We came from villages, after all, where people cooperated, created and shared, not competed and hoarded.
“Think about it—this is what our stories of Gods are about: a being who can think of something and make it so. Whether you believe a god created us or we created gods, humans naturally assign the highest importance to a being who can create. That is how highly humans naturally consider this act.
“And for God’s sake, we must encourage our kids to create and imagine! Researchers have been noticing for some time that children are less creative and imaginative than they were only a generation ago. They are consuming so much fun that they need not produce it. Creativity is an innate human ability, so it will not disappear entirely but it must be nurtured.
“So if the unpredictability of life at the moment is giving you anxiety, keep in mind that our ability to control the world and build predictable lives was always an illusion. A microscopic virus dismantled that notion effortlessly. But as difficult as the pandemic has been and will continue to be, people are learning something important and for the first time in my entire adult life, I’m actually optimistic about humans as a species.
“A lot of people are beginning to think these days that this thing we’ve built isn’t sustainable. And that’s how revolutions start.”