Debating the holidays with existentialist gingerbread men

existentialist gingerbread men“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

What is the true value of any holiday? To strengthen and celebrate social bonds through shared ritual and tradition… D’uh! But wait a sec. What happens when we untether ourselves from our anchoring connections? How can we rank true value in the context of a raw genetic singularity? And if said singularity is coded to produce a system with no patience for pageantry, small talk, or foreplay (just give me a good man with a nice bit of fur), can there be any definitive ‘true hierarchical value’ inherent in the pomp and circumstance of human tradition?

Brains driven to philosophical reaching devote energy to the project not because it’s a laugh-a-minute-joy-ride, but because their rasping against reality becomes insistent, incessant, and incapacitating.Yes, ritual sets a shared stage and defines a common language of experience, but when that stage and language feels so incongruent to our individual system truths (or rather ‘working solutions’), do we just suck it up and play along?


None of us can thrive (or even survive!) as systems in isolation. Insanity can be defined as a system no longer compatible with a larger shared model of reality. A fine line in the sand? Maybe, but a very definitive one. So how far can we push into independent explorations of existence before we risk alienating our most precious resource, our extended system, our loves?

gingerbread cookiesExistentialism posits that personal freedom and conscious value assignment are axiomatically human. But take a closer look at the (decidedly male) brains behind the theory. In their time, with their DNA and experience, existentialism was a perfectly Viable World (What is Viable Worlds Theory?). Schopenhauer got off on music. Kierkegaard rejected the woman he loved, while the only woman Nietzsche loved rejected him (so what if she was already taken). And Sartre, don’t even get me started on Sartre! I can just see Simone De Beauvoir rolling her eyes as Sartre tried to brush off another affair as “not ‘meaning’ anything.”

As a woman, hopelessly romantic and impassioned by ideas, yet equally seduced by sensation and terrified of loss, can I risk that same freedom of intellectual ideation to find my own Viable World? Of course! And I did – when I made the unprecedented decision this past year to skip the holidays (and December’s blogging) and dedicate myself, through a concise set of thought experiments, to compatibility testing a long gestating philosophical framework with current neuroscience in a globalized human community. Miracle of miracles!! After ten long years, on December 27th, at 8:20am (while folding laundry – go figure) the rasping finally stopped!

But what about Christmas? I had to have faith that my loves would welcome their prodigal daughter back into the fold come 2014 – and, graciously, they have. But plugging myself back into a broader system is as frightening as it is comforting. What if I’ve pushed my Viable World too far? I was at the hair salon celebrating the start of this new journey (one in which I hope you’ll share!) when I overheard the woman in the chair next to me say, with full genuine emotion, “…and I just loooove Christmas.” I was suddenly, ridiculously jealous that there are people on this earth who can happily snuggle under the warm blanket of symbol and habit, while so many of us are coded to keep asking “why?”

My back went out when I stood up from that hair appointment – a week and a half later and it’s still hurting like a bi-atch. I can’t help wondering whether, on the verge of massive conscious neural rewiring, my brain/body is trying to hold on to its past, and its struggle. It’s such a girl thing, isn’t it, worrying if something new and wonderful is simply too good to be true? F*ck it! I’ve got the balls to find out!

Nietzsche’s assumption of a ‘true hierarchy’ of values is the ultimate in human arrogance. If you find yourself rasping against your own reality this January, risk asking “why?” and dare to engage with your personal system’s intuitive hierarchy without judgement or hubris. Because, it’s only after honest acknowledgment and acceptance that negotiations can begin.

back painNote: Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, my back relaxed to a state of near bliss (literally overnight!) after first drafting this post. We are truly fascinating, mysterious beings, us humans.

8 thoughts on “Debating the holidays with existentialist gingerbread men

  1. wow, hurray Blank Canvas Living is Back! and wow, you poke a nerve, and I’m no longer folding laundry but wondering, how can we truly reach out to each other, past the tinsel and presents, each day of the year, each moment….we are in the thoughts of others even when they are not even aware of it – a reciprocal witnessing and caring in presence and absence….next year girl, you and the furry guy are coming skiing! We just undressed the Christmas tree last night…I’m still wearing the vestiges of red nail polish from a Christmas spa present….I’m hanging on to dear life to family, love and memories….old and new, and those to be created…Christmas is an invitation, a celebration, an awakening…..your absence and presence matters. Love you! ps I will consider this posting your annual Christmas chard!!

    • I’m trying to picture you with red nail polish lol! Seems so wildly out of character, but when I think about, scarves and nail polish are both about flourish, so there we go. I’m so with you about the skiing next year!! Thank you so much for understanding my absence, and even more for caring more about my presence than presents.

      We need to break through the idea that there is a gilded, tinseled script for family/love closeness and instead move towards an existence where every day is a new opportunity for honest naked (sooooo not literally! – except for a certain G lol) human connection. Thank you, Lynn, for your beautiful comment!

  2. Asking why is not merely important, it is essential. We live in a world of layers, of ever-wider meanings which we struggle to break through or even perceive. But perceive them we must. The existentialists were not just prisoners to male thought; they were prisoners to male thought framed by the cloying Germanic culture from which the movement came. Ouch! (Well, ‘autsch!’).

    The best thoughts always float in unannounced while the conscious mind is on idle.

    • “I couldn’t agree more!”
      “On which point,” you ask.
      “All of them!”

      To escape our own personal prisons of thought we must be brave enough to sit patiently through the cognitive dissidence that inevitably accompanies any expansion of consciousness. The brain wants so badly to hold on to its beliefs and suppositions. Like so many convicts who are scared to leave the cycle of incarceration, we hold so tightly to our equally limiting, overly humanized conception of reality. Let’s let go… Let’s let those new lovely thoughts and ideas float around up there to mesh and meld before we pull them down into conscious thought to try them on for size.

      It’s not at all surprising that so many Germans flocked to the solid, simple, sadism of the Nazis after 19th century German thinkers like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche deconstructed their personal realities. Of course, Versailles, inflation, and Hitler may have had a wee bit of an impact too ~wink

      As for France’s Sartre (and I’m so unabashedly profiling here – I’m part French so I’m allowed), I’m a little suspicious that the motive behind his existentialism was to create a Viable World that would give him carte blanche (hmmm blank slate?) to get laid as much as possible lol.

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