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Ravenna Ravings

02/10/2020 Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna Ravings

Ever since I visited the residence in which Machiavelli spent ten years in exile writing The Prince just to get himself out of his dilemma, I’ve been asking myself a question I haven’t really been that interested in before: Is it better to be loved or feared? All my life, I’ve always thought it was the former power that was more practical in life, but during these past few months I realized the latter is definitely the quality I should be embracing; before I get too carried away with this, however, I would like to add that the argument I’ve just made only stands with the 99 percent, so to speak—the mass of “friends” and acquaintances that come in contact with you but ultimately make no real impact on your life; the argument, hence, doesn’t hold for the ones who actually love you, and, in turn, those very same people you love in return.

Throughout my life, I’ve met very few of those aforementioned individuals. In my 33 years on this earth, I’ve experienced true love—both in the platonic and romantic sense—probably less than five times altogether (not that I’m counting because the figure may be a little lower or higher, but, whatever the case is, it won’t be off by much); I don’t imagine my story being any different than what the majority of people have experienced, which really begs the question: How can an argument, which states that it’s better to be feared—all because the majority will take advantage of you the moment you let your guard down—make any sense when that very same line of reasoning includes the undeniable component that assumes those aforementioned 99 percent are also looking for something genuine and largely failing in their search? I don’t have an answer for that difficult question. All I have is empirical evidence, which might be true only for me—hell, it might even be the case that everyone else is running into these so-called “authentic” people all the time and I’m the crazy one, but that also can’t be right because of how much depression rates have risen (to an all-time high, at least for Americans, according to Newsweek), and also due to the way people often describe their own lives in negative terms.

Even as early as the 19th century, artists like Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh were already depicting the perverse toll that modernity was inflicting upon the individual; the former artist’s works have come to embody the raving condition of humanity perhaps better than those of anyone else. Although Munch claims he was inspired to create the painting after hearing “a scream passing through nature” near a fjord, most people who view the painting don’t really see that at all. I mean, look at it—does that portray what the artist describes? “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.” Maybe it does. I don’t know.

For a more mellow impression of the depravity that modernity inflicts upon the human condition, it’s always good to bring in the great Vincent Van Gogh, who, in terms of his own personality, embodied those traits that manifested themselves so strongly in his work. This particular piece, completed just two months before his death is called Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate) and unlike The Scream, there’s no terror—only resignation.

Well, anyways, enough kitchen sink philosophy. I’m neither angry, upset, terrified, nor resigned to fate—what I can’t deny to be, however, is cautious. Yes, I often drink a lot and laugh caution in the face. I say stupid things and forget stuff people have told me (sometimes I haven’t really forgotten anything), but don’t get it twisted—I never confuse carelessness with recklessness. Often, I even let my guard down on purpose just to see how people will act around me. I let modernity turn me into a madman but I never forget how loud I’m screaming or who is destined to hear my voice. And so, my supposedly rash and irresponsible nature confuses people, or, rather, to their very detriment, it doesn’t—in other words, they fail to doubt the fact that there’s something more calculated beneath the impulsive persona on the surface.

People are afraid of confusion because it’s the antithesis of clarity; they can’t deal with it because discomposure is like a sane man standing on the edge of the cliff, appreciating the danger he’s in, whereas clarity is the blind man right next to him, completely oblivious to the peril that makes up his surroundings; people, in most cases, prefer the latter. The world, however, is anything but clear—it can only be navigated with the help of doubt, argument, conflict, and anxiety. If the world was certain, there could be no faith because the very definition of the latter term implies a person’s ability to believe in something they can’t be sure of—prove that God exists and you no longer need faith to believe in Him. If there were no arguments or conflicts between people, there could be no understanding, much less make-up sex, because it’s precisely the resolution which we derive from tension that makes us happy—remove the antipathy and there’s no longer anything to solve or develop. There can be no progress without anxiety, friction, and even hostility, much less understanding. On of my favorite poems by Robert Graves, “In Broken Images,” talks about just that and is worth quoting in full here.

Besides their inability to deal with turmoil, I can’t tolerate being in the presence of people who say they can get along with everyone—that’s the quintessential sign of a person who’s unable to stand up for anything, much less for you. The people who attempt to fashion a society of perfect equilibrium, moving from social circle to social circle, thinking they can maintain this perfect state without ever upsetting anyone are the first ones who’ll withdraw their loyalty and commitment to you because of the fear that their position might make someone else unhappy. Fuck those people.

In my more forgiving youth, I could actually endure people’s mistakes much better, but as I’ve grown wiser, my tolerance has become shorter than the sentences Hemingway wrote when there was nothing exciting going on (when stuff was happening, boy, did he write some wordy prose, but that’s like talking to a real friend, I guess). Again, bear with me on the asides—all I’m saying is that every day I feel myself getting older, slowly running out of time, which is compelling me to take short-cuts with people, to test them, so to speak (not like a scientist in the confines of a lab, which is unethical, but, like a philosopher in the open range of society).

Now people will still say it’s unethical to “probe” people, to play games with them, and I agree with that; however, it’s difficult to function in any respect when the “game” is all there is—either learn to swim among the waves, or become the drowning man calling for a lifeguard on a planet that’s entirely covered by water; that’s society at large. Screw or be screwed. Again, however, there’s an exception. There are places on this magical planet where land exists—there are good people, but unless you learn the game of swimming, you’ll never reach these rare, remote places, and it’s exactly for this reason why I recently assayed some of the people I felt unsure about in my life.

These are individuals I accompanied to the emergency room, staying until 3 am; these are folks I did favors for, some of whom didn’t do so much as to offer me a drink at the bar and another who didn’t even bother wishing me a happy birthday (believe me—they were aware of it). As these people read the article (and surely they will), the all-too-important question will invariably pop into their heads: Is it me? In the end, they’ll never know for sure and it’s better this way because contrary to petty gestures, I won’t unfriend them on Facebook; I won’t ignore them in the halls; yes, I’ll continue smiling at them, and even shaking their hands, but the heart will no longer be in it. They’ll become ghosts to me—their presence I’ll feel but there won’t be anything “real” in it. There’ll be no more invitations on my end or offers to help—only the acknowledgement of their existence because, like apparitions, these people have ceased to have substance.

Indeed, I gauged their loyalty by acting in deceptive ways, but I did this merely to create the scenario which could give them the opportunity to display their forgiveness—to confirm the strength of our friendship after everything we had done together. I handed them that chance and they didn’t take it; yes, it was a “synthetic” opportunity but they didn’t know that. Indeed, I played the game, but it’s a game they play far better than I do. Their inability to forgive merely proved that they behaved no differently than I did—and what makes matters even more interesting is that my deeds were merely a masquerade designed measure their character, whereas their actions were authentic manifestations of their personalities.

It’s become quite apparent to me that people don’t really want the best for you; this may seem obvious to those with more practical personalities, but as someone, who, perhaps, possesses far too much of the traits that made Don Quixote so immediately recognizable, I’m probably just now starting to be the realist I should’ve been ten years ago. My life would’ve been much easier had I followed the advice not of countless philosophers who were preaching love and understanding, but of just one football coach—Lou Holtz—delivering some hard-hitting facts: “Never tell your problems to anyone. Eighty percent don’t care and the other twenty are glad you have them.” In my opinion, the statistics should be reversed, twenty percent don’t care and the other eighty are glad—the Germans even have a term for it; it’s called Schadenfreude.

Whichever numbers are correct, in the end, I’ve only realized this: The majority of people around me don’t want to be loved—fear is what they prefer and so let them wallow in their own doubt: Is it about me, or someone else? Strangely, at this moment, I have more respect for my enemies because, as already stated, they can be reasoned with, the tension between us can be removed, and subsequently friendship is possible, but friends themselves are capable of inflicting much more pain because they’ve received the keys to your thoughts, which no one else but you have handed to them.

As I look out into this cold Ravenna night, I know I’m not perfect, but I’ve given these people far more than they’ve ever given in return.

What more can I say but quote a line from “The Wrestler,” one of the most beautiful songs ever written by Bruce Springsteen: “I always leave with less than I had before.” It doesn’t matter because I’m finally free—in the course of two months or so I got the chance to see the very depths of these individuals and had I actually made my way further down, I would’ve never been able to come back. In Beyond Good and EvilNietzsche made a relevant statement for our purposes: «Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.» Well, I’ve stopped fighting. I’ve let my friends win. Let them believe they’ve gotten the best of me—that they played me. I don’t care because I’m free from their influence and I’m no longer allowing them to turn me into themselves. For them, it’s likewise better this way because their whole lives exist on the basis of such "victories."


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