Somewhere, in a notebook from when I was maybe 12 or 13 which, if the fates are merciful, has gotten eaten by Portuguese rats (last found in the potato cellar at mom’s house, with a ton of my other stuff from that time. In a box. Note I didn’t bring it with me. No complaints) was a phrase penned with great solemnity by adolescent Sarah: The important thing is not to be happy. The important thing is to be useful for something.
Now, look, it wasn’t even a bad idea for a creature caught in a vice grip of hormones to fixate on. I mean, not so long as I only applied it to myself (and I only did.) It gave me something more useful to do than focusing on what made me happy, particularly since at 13 happiness is a moving target, and a thing of passing state of mind. Something that doesn’t last, and has nothing to do with what adult-me comprehends as happiness.
It was also a key to … becoming who I wanted to be. After all to be useful, you have to have practical skills, right? It probably led me into languages, when I could easily have studied something I could do in my sleep, like philosophy. Mind you, languages haven’t been impressively useful in my life, but that’s because I took a sharp sideways turn and chose another fate. If I’d stayed in Portugal, it was a practical and useful degree. (Even if I didn’t like it.)
It also led to things like learning to keep house (more or less in the face of mom’s baffled protests, since I was on a college track and college track means “never having your hands in dishwater.”) and cook, and how to make at least some things.
No, the problem with that maxim is when you take it out of the real of trying to shape your own character. Or of course when you take it to excess. (Excess, me? Don’t be ridiculous. Moderation is my middle name. My very occluded middle name. Spelled in invisible ink. At midnight. In an alien alphabet.) When you take it to excess, you’ll torture yourself trying to be useful, get upset when you have to take a day off because you’re sick/tired/depressed, and generally treat yourself like crap. Maybe it’s better than being useless, but speaking for a friend — a very close and personal friend who shares the space behind my eyes — you’d have to look at it from outside. Because being a neurotic mess who routinely fails at self-care has its own price. As do my occasional total depressive shut downs when the bitch who runs my subconscious decides that writing isn’t important and won’t change anything, and I’m a useless waste of breath, because that’s all I know how to/can do. (And no, the bitch isn’t amenable to my pointing out that on various occasions books — written by others — have saved my sanity and once or twice my life. She’ll just sneer I’m not Heinlein or Pratchett or any of those other “real” writers. They might be good for something, while I’m mostly good for occupying space.)
However the real evil of it is when you turn it outward and start applying it to… well, everything else.
Today I read one of the most shocking headlines I’ve ever read. “What are pandas good for?” And then the entire article went on to evaluate how each species isn’t or isn’t good for the “environment.”
What in the name of holy fandago is that shit? pardon my Scroladian. First of all, when has the “environment” become something away and aside from the species inhabiting it, and some ‘scientist’ or idiot with too much time on his hands and a bureaucratic job gets to decide what is good for it or isn’t? It’s like they imagine themselves priests of the “environment” interpreting its needs.
Which is the other side of this: when you or anyone else in power decides what is good for something, and what is good for nothing, it’s going to end in tears. When the purpose of everything — particularly living things — has to be justified, it means the default mode in your head is non-existence, and everything that exists has to justify its existence.
It means that your “environment” ideally is nothing. Not even rocks, because rocks exist.
At which point I have to ask…. Where precisely do you come from? The void, without form or being? May we request you go back there, then?
The worst regimes of mankind came from people who decided who was useful and what they were useful for.
In the entire sorry history of tyranny, mass graves and suffering caused by such regimes, there is one thing that was never recorded: a decision that made sense or was justified by its results. Unless of course, the results desired were death and “void without form or being.”
It doesn’t matter what they considered useful, or preferable, or what philosophy they used to justify giving someone the power to choose, the result is always death in batch lots, both for those slotted to die, and for those who die later, because those people knew how to do things like raise food, and int he dark ages that come after the massacre, no one knows that.
Utilitarianism has been applied to people for my entire life. And those of us who know history and have more than one functioning brain cell, have screamed against it. Because sometimes, someone’s entire life might seem like a waste, until that crucial moment when their being there keeps a car from running over the much shorter kid they’d never see; or their lending a helping hand keeps someone alive another day, who in turn keeps someone alive another day; or their lending a ear makes someone’s life burden a little easier, and allows the other person to create something that improves lives for millions.
The world and life is a complex tapestry. There is no one who has perfect knowledge of it. And no one who can decide who needs to be here and who doesn’t, who is useful and who isn’t.
Heck, we saw during the covidiocy that the decision on what was essential and who was essential were a comedy of errors. The dairy plants were essential, but the factory that made the essential filter to make that milk legal to sell wasn’t, for instance.
How much more difficult is it to decide if someone should be alive at all or not. And why should anyone?
Over a lifetime of arguing with friends who are abortion advocates, the most hilarious of arguments adduced by their friends is that it’s better for an unwanted baby to never get to be born, because they’d be unwanted, which means unhappy and probably criminal and destructive. (My husband and I would very much like to show you our middle fingers. We have TWO complete sets. Sure our life is not unalloyed bliss, but by and large we do better than most. And better than a lot of extravagantly “wanted” children.) Coming down on “these people aren’t useful because they won’t be happy” is perhaps the most hypocritical weasely position in the history of weasels. Who are you to judge who is happy? Or what leads to happiness? Or even what is happiness for someone else. There have been times when sitting on a sunny chair by the window and reading a not totally repulsive book was happiness to me.
But applying that to entire species?
I’m used to the insanity of applying it to humans. “Humans are bad for the environment” say the half educated morons, as though humans weren’t natural creatures and as such part of the environment. (Yes, natural. Last I checked I’m not even a tiny bit unnatural. No preservatives or colorants went into making me, last I checked.)
But now apparently the crazy idiots (do they still call themselves greens? I don’t think they like plants very much) who want to kill the environment in order to save it are extending this to other species.
I will make a prediction that before another year passes we will see articles on how some species should be “eliminated” to “save the Earth.”
And of course it will be species like pandas which are cute, and relatively inoffensive. Though I suspect they’ll start with apes first, because they’re most similar to humans, and we know these asshats hate humans most of all.
We’re going to swing from “ALL SPECIES AND THINGS THAT LOOK LIKE SPECIES MUST BE PRESERVED AT ALL COSTS” to “ANY SPECIES THAT ISN’T USEFUL MUST DIE.”
I have no idea who they think they are to decide whether a species is needed or not, or whether in the vast, unimaginable panoply of the Earth or even the Universe it might not be a panda, or a naked mole rat, or perhaps a sloth who provides the final piece of the puzzle, be it psychological or physical that propels humans (and with it all of Earth life) to the stars, perhaps filling a desolate and empty universe with life and purpose.
I suggest next time they start intoning in polysyllabic words about how a species is or isn’t “necessary” for “the environment” we take them to the nearest zoo and tip them into the tiger pit, thereby allowing them to attain their highest purpose in life.
And if there is no zoo in your area, a landfill will do. The rats are small but very industrious.
Or at least I suggest we take them to that location and suggest this could be their utility. Make them wake up before it’s too late.
Because the poisonous idea that one person, or even a group of them gets to dictate what person, what animal and what rock has purpose, and what should be destroyed is obscene.
And it consumes everything till nothing remains. Because in the end, in the vastness and emptiness of chaos, nothing is useful for anything.
Sure. Perhaps they are tools, and as such only good for one thing. But anyone else, including pandas has purposes they can’t even guess. Even if it’s (just) sitting in a patch of sun, gnawing on bamboo, while a little kid watches them enthralled.