We All Live on The Rack

By Jin-yeong Yi

Torture of Cuthbert Simpson

“Life is algid, life is fulgid. Life is what the least of us make the most of us feel the least of us make the most of. Life is a burgeoning, a quickening of the dim primordial urge in the murky wastes of time.”

—W. V. Quine

“LIFE: To be born in imbecility, in the midst of pain and crisis to be the plaything of ignorance, error, need, sickness, wickedness, and passions; to return step by step to imbecility, from the time of lisping to that of doting; to live among knaves and charlatans of all kinds; to die between one man who takes your pulse and another who troubles your head; never to know where you come from, why you come and where you are going! That is what is called the most important gift of our parents and nature. Life.”

—Denis Diderot, L’Encyclopédie

I think a lot of people would agree that life is neither sweet nor bitter, but bittersweet. But just about everyone would agree that to live is to suffer.

Life is a great tornado, a maelstrom. It is a monster that chews on you until your last days. You have no way of knowing whether you’ll still be in one piece when it finally spits you out.

One of my favorite songs by Asphyx is “The Rack,” which is the final song on their debut album. The lyrics are about medieval Christian torture, but to me the song means much more: both the lyrics and the music describe the human condition itself. The world is a torture chamber. The world is The Rack.

Asphyx – “The Rack”

In the dungeon
Deep under ground
A morbid fear
Palpitations, unbearable pound
Footstep outside the stairway
Executioners’s arrival
A sinister procession
Grim macabre tribunal
Heretical pervert
Inexorable judge
The sentence is death
By the grace of the church
Inside the torture chamber
The smell of blood and pain
Iron is glowing in pits of fire
Instruments of the insane
The Rack: Altar of blood
The Rack: Altar of pain
Suffocate in blood
Bones pulverized
Mutilated tissue
Evisceration
Sawed off limbs
Emasculation
Human leftovers
A smouldering mess
Atrocious perfomance
Methods of madness
Inside the torture chamber
Instruments covered with stains
The rack has taken his victim
Beyond the boundaries of pain

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Onward to World War III

By Jin-yeong Yi

World War III

“[War is] life itself…. We must eat and be eaten so that the world might live.

—Émile Zola

“Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.”

—Adolf Hitler

“War is sweet to those who have no experience of it, but the experienced man trembles exceedingly at heart on its approach.

—Pindar

“Dear predatory birds, prepare for war, prepare your children and all that you can reach, for how can a nation or a kindred without war become that ‘bright particular star’ of Shakespeare, that lit the roads in boyhood? Test art, morality, custom, thought, by Thermopylae; make rich and poor act so to one another that they can stand together there. Love war because of its horror, that belief may be changed, civilisation renewed. … Belief comes from shock…. Belief is renewed continually in the ordeal of death.”

—W. B. Yeats

Are we approaching the Third World War? It doesn’t seem to be an uncommon opinion. The fuse seems to have been lit long ago. Either way, if war really is an immutable part of the human condition, I expect it to come sooner or later. The question is, where will the battle lines be drawn? Will it be a war among religions? Will it be a war among races? Will it be a war between the first world and the third world? Will it be all of the above? Only time will tell.

Observes Baron d’Holbach:

“[T]he condition of the human species, as well as that of each of its individuals, every instant depends on insensible causes, to which circumstances, frequently fugitive, give birth; that opportunity developes, that convenience puts in action: man attributes their effects to chance, whilst these causes operate necessarily, act according to fixed rules: he has frequently neither the sagacity nor the honesty to recur to their true principles; he regards such feeble motives with contempt, because he has been taught to consider them as incapable of producing such stupendous events. They are, however, these motives, weak as they may appear to be, these springs, so pitiful in his eyes, is which according to her necessary laws, suffice in the hands of Nature to move the universe. The conquests of a Gengis-Khan have nothing in them that is more strange to the eye of a philosopher than the explosion of a mine, caused in its principle by a feeble spark, which commences with setting fire to a single grain of powder; this presently communicates itself to many millions of other contiguous grains, of which the united force, the multiplied powers, terminate by blowing up mountains, overthrowing fortifications, or converting populous, well-built cities, into heaps of ruins.”

Opines H. L. Mencken:

“War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands.”

Proclaims Winston Churchill:

“The story of the human race is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending.”

Asserts Sven Atle “Silenoz” Kopperud:

“Peace means reloading your guns”

Declares George Santayana:

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

I am inclined to agree with these gentlemen, while hoping they are wrong.

What dreadful and hideous mechanisms by which Nature operates! The thought that the horrors of Nature are an innate, eternal, and inescapable part of life is almost enough to drive one to terminate one’s existence so as to no longer be a part of it. Is there no way of rising above the logic of Nature? I may find out if I live long enough. For the time being, I take hope in these words of Joseph McCabe, written over 100 years ago:

“The future of humanity cannot be seen even darkly, as in a glass. No forecast that aspires beyond the immediate future is worth considering seriously. If it be a forecast of material progress, it is rendered worthless by the obvious consideration that if we knew what the future will do, we would do it ourselves. If it is a forecast of intellectual and social evolution, it is inevitably coloured by the intellectual or social convictions of the prophet. I therefore abstain wholly from carrying the story of evolution beyond realities. But I would add two general considerations which may enable a reflective reader to answer certain questions that will arise in his mind at the close of this survey of the story of evolution.

Are we evolving to-day? Is man the last word of evolution? These are amongst the commonest questions put to me. Whether man is or is not the last word of evolution is merely a verbal quibble. Now that language is invented, and things have names, one may say that the name ‘man’ will cling to the highest and most progressive animal on earth, no matter how much he may rise above the man of to-day. But if the question is whether he WILL rise far above the civilisation of to-day, we can, in my opinion, give a confident answer. There is no law of evolution, but there is a fact of evolution. Ten million years ago the highest animal on the earth was a reptile, or, at the most, a low, rat-like marsupial. The authorities tell us that, unless some cosmic accident intervene, the earth will remain habitable by man for at least ten million years. It is safe to conclude that the man of that remote age will be lifted above the man of to-day as much as we transcend the reptile in intelligence and emotion. It is most probable that this is a quite inadequate expression of the future advance. We are not only evolving, but evolving more rapidly than living thing ever did before. The pace increases every century. A calm and critical review of our development inspires a conviction that a few centuries will bring about the realisation of the highest dream that ever haunted the mind of the prophet. What splendours lie beyond that, the most soaring imagination cannot have the dimmest perception.

And the last word must meet an anxiety that arises out of this very confidence. Darwin was right. It is—not exclusively, but mainly—the struggle for life that has begotten higher types. Must every step of future progress be won by fresh and sustained struggle? At least we may say that the notion that progress in the future depends, as in the past, upon the pitting of flesh against flesh, and tooth against tooth, is a deplorable illusion. Such physical struggle is indeed necessary to evolve and maintain a type fit for the struggle. But a new thing has come into the story of the earth—wisdom and fine emotion. The processes which begot animal types in the past may be superseded; perhaps must be superseded. The battle of the future lies between wit and wit, art and art, generosity and generosity; and a great struggle and rivalry may proceed that will carry the distinctive powers of man to undreamed-of heights, yet be wholly innocent of the passion-lit, blood-stained conflict that has hitherto been the instrument of progress.”[1]

Notes

[1] The Story of Evolution

What is Freedom?

By Jin-yeong Yi

“Liberty? Why it doesn’t exist. There is no liberty in this world, just gilded cages.”

—Aldous Huxley

For me, the fundamental problem of life is not suffering or “sin.” The problem is unfreedom. From my perspective, this world is fundamentally a prison. Prison is not so much a place as a state, a state in which freedom is restricted in any way. In this sense, prison extends far beyond the gray walls of the buildings in which offenders of the law are confined. Schools are part of this prison. So are places of worship. So are offices. Supermarkets. Restaurants. Libraries. Movie theaters. Hospitals. Malls. Bars. Casinos. Airports. Roads. Beaches. Forests. Mountains. Tropical islands. Even home sweet home is, at the end of the day, a glorified jail cell. A free-range prison is still prison. No matter where we are or what we are doing in our waking lives, we are slaves to time and space, our imaginations shackled by the immutable decrees of nature.

This state of unfreedom is not limited to a particular geopolitical region or era. If the historical record speaks the truth, there was never any “Golden Age” in the past, and it seems most unlikely that there will ever be one in the future. While I am not indifferent to the earnest and unceasing efforts to improve the human condition, I recognize that the best I could hope for from the sum of all ideological, military, and scientific victories is a more comfortable incarceration. You can’t redeem a prison, even supposing that you manage to eradicate war, poverty, ignorance, and corruption and develop technology that is indistinguishable from magic. The invisible yet palpable metaphysical walls and shackles that deny us true freedom would still remain. The only real redemption is escape.

Along with everyone else, I am serving a prison sentence that will come to an end only when I die. Any sentence here is a life sentence. I recognize that in all likelihood nothing I do will ever change this. No matter how my fortunes change, those vicissitudes will always occur within the context of a metaphysical Shawshank. Even if all the world’s wealth were to fall into my lap tomorrow, the most I would be able to do is purchase a more luxurious corner of this prison in which I exist. I would be comfortable, but not free.

What is freedom? When we think of freedom, we often think of political rights or something along those lines, when real freedom would be existing in a state where there is no need to bother with politics in the first place. Indeed, per my definition, real freedom would mean existing in a state where there is no need to bother with anything at all, even the laws of nature. In other words, true freedom is being able to do anything you can imagine yourself doing–to be a God.

I don’t believe that we will ever know an existence outside of prison. But since hope, unlike belief, does not require justification, I continue to hope that liberation does not mean extinction, and that I and everyone else will one day live life as free men and women. I may be wishing for the impossible, but I don’t think I would be able to settle for anything less.