At one point 2 weeks ago, alone in my car, I realized I had listened to Katy Perry sing “Let’s go all the way tonight. No regrets, just love” to me 5 times in a row.
Normally I listen to NPR or Queen or Booker T or the Wells Cathedral Choir sing “Favourite Hymns”, but that week, I devolved. I did not touch Pop, I wallowed in it.
I bottomed out.
We all bottom out: There is no donut without a hole, no joy absent sorrow, yin sans yang, light requires dark – no yada without yada…sure, but Katy Perry? I manually forced her to sing to me amid tub-thumping computer generated Brain Stem Bass with each pushed-button on my Honda Fit’s CD player. This was not ironic contrast – it was self-destruction.
Bottoming out is not limited to embracing the reptile brain and the 8 cookies soaked in milk gobbled at 11:52 (AM or PM), or that hour spent on the internet you now realize the NSA has a record of, – it’s clear that our regular giving up on self-respect now seems to be a broad basis for cultural flow. Our isolated acts of self-loathing are enabled, shared and celebrated by the huge connectivity of the 21st century.
“Competitive Eating” renders gluttony into achievement. “Sexting” makes horniness a social condition. “Reality TV” makes everything we are all ashamed of ecstatically present to show a darker, dumber bottoming out than the rest of us are wallowing in.
What was hidden shame has become giddy oversharing: yet almost everyone who is still sober knows that they want to get away from each bottoming out event. It just seems harder to avoid the lure of giving up.
The struggle to get beyond where we are in a crushingly inert economy fraught with fear is exhausting on every level. Technology proves us fools with every crash. Politics and religion have entire limbs of clay. There are fewer and fewer “can’t miss” life paths – find a spouse/have 2.3 kids/live in a Split Ranch on a 1/4 acre is as dead as a Dodo.
With higher risk, less assured reward, the unending pull of the dark side: the bourgeois nihilism of meaningless distraction has greater gravity. People spend entire weekends binge watching dozens of TV episodes as a point of honor, creating an expectation of a “On Demand” culture. Video gaming has simultaneously gone viral and Big Business – following in the footsteps of porn creating an economic engine of ick. Fall Sundays have, no lie, 6 hours of TV pregame – concussions are not the only brain damage caused by football.
We are told, endlessly not to eat food that sedates and comforts but we mindlessly gorge crap, inducing an intellectual coma that leaves us fat and guilty upon awakening. Beyond food, we buy crap we never use, because we can’t have what we really want: a life that meets our hopes. Inconspicuous consumption helped create Wal Mart and Costco, – our ever-responsive free market has become an enabler of dissipating behavior.
While Big Box facilitation and technological goosing has made bottoming out easier than ever, the sweat pants default impulse has been around far longer than 24 hour fast food drive-thru windows and millions waiting hours to see a NASCAR pile up.
By all accounts, especially his own, Saul of Tarsus was a righteous dude. 2,000 years ago his freakish devotion to telling the world that anyone, everyone was infinitely loved by God virtually branded Christianity – to this day the world’s best selling faith. He was so righteous he was dubbed Saint Paul – and prosthelytizing became his sole life function.
But Paul/Saul was not speaking from on high – he was a messenger from the bottomed out. In one of his First Century blog posts/podcasts/tweets he noted “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
And I listened to Katy Perry for about a week in my car.
Whatever you believe about the focus of St. Paul’s later life, it’s clear that humanity’s one saving grace is instinctive humility. Without a sense of where we aren’t, we cannot aspire to a better place. When things go our way, we naturally leap to “I Am King of The World!” – but instantly, automatically, humans sense the flip side, and sense it might be all a sham – and then ingest 8 cookies soaked in milk.
I know I will eat those cookies, with my reptile brain in full control of my hands and mouth: but that undeniable failure, like the dozens of unachieved benchmarks I experience every day, are not Satan – they are just the casualties of self respect in a greater, lifelong struggle.
I wish I knew what “victory” means in that struggle – but I do not: https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/mission/ but having seen one true and abiding bottom: https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/extremity/ I know the small but grotesque failures of any given day are not revealed evil, but punctuating laziness amid the mission.
That’s because bottoming out is not about self-destruction, it’s about self denial.