Why it's awesome to live in a vast, uncaring universe

In a comedy, the protagonist’s flaws make it clear they are a total idiot, but it all works out. They are clearly ridiculous, and yet, they get the girl, win the contest, make it to the promised land – barely, and probably only through the benevolent intervention of some more competent force. But they do it, and they somehow kind of deserve it just enough, and everybody lives happily ever after.

In a tragedy, the protagonist has so much potential but squanders it due to a bunch of flaws – personality flaws, societal flaws, a bad flip of the cards. Romeo and Juliet were amazing. They had it all – money, strong families, good looks, character, true love. They could have been the inspirational power couple uniting Verona, but! One thing after another, and the next thing you know everybody’s dead. Goddamn, the world sucks.

So which protagonist do you want to be?

It’s true that tragedy seems more serious, more poignant, more meaningful than comedy. It’s tempting to choose to be the gifted, tragic genius that was too good for this world.

But wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to be the good-hearted oaf that everyone helps?

To go from tragedy to comedy, you may need to give up some stuff.

  • A view of yourself as superior to others (or the victim of a bad hand)

  • The need to control what happens to you

  • The need to prove yourself a competent lone wolf - that you can do it, whatever it is, without help

And, most importantly, for folks attracted to tragedy: The desire to use your life to prove that the world is stupid and wrong.

The syllogism goes like this:

  1. I am good.

  2. I suffer (or the world causes suffering for people I care about).

  3. Therefore, the universe is stupid and wrong.

Yep. The world is really stupid sometimes. People are often self-involved assholes. Children, especially, treat each other like dirt, and parents are sometimes neglectful or taking their own bullshit out on you, and social hierarchies and oppression, don’t get me started. Whatever it was, you didn’t deserve it. All those things that happened to you shouldn’t have happened.

But that injustice is not the only truth of the world. 

I’m not saying the world was right to hate on you. 

The world didn’t hate on you because you were bad, and it didn’t hate on you because you were good.

The world was indifferent to your suffering. 

The physical, material world outside your control is not in a relationship with you. Yes, there seem to be some systematic physical laws to it, but these do not extend to caring who you are, what you think or what you want.

That might sound like a horrible state of affairs. But it’s actually good news. 

It means you don’t have to twist yourself into something that measures up to the world’s stupid standards.

(It doesn’t have any standards. It’s indifferent.)

It means you don’t have to trick the world into loving you and overlooking your flawed little wrongness.  

(It doesn’t have any consciousness. It’s indifferent.) 

It means that in general, the world is not responding to the core of your being on some deeper level.  The world isn’t evaluating you. It doesn’t even know you exist. It doesn’t even know it exists, because it doesn’t have a consciousness.

Think about that for a moment. What do you feel?

Alone. Yup.

Scared, maybe. No rules, so how would I know what I’m supposed to do if I’m not beholden to, or in relationship with, some kind of “it”?

But if there’s not an “it,” isn’t that kind of interesting?

If there’s no one to see and cares who you are, what you decide to do, or how you go about it, it means the oppressive rules you came up with long ago are not the real rules! Isn’t that kind of cool? All options are on the table. Holy shit! It’s wide open!

You have no idea what’s going to happen, or how to control it!

If there’s no “it,” there may not effectively be any rules at all!

No rules! That means you can’t be wrong. But also that you can’t be right.

So you don’t have to try to be right! Because who fucking knows? No one.

The world is not wrong or right. You are not wrong or right. Everything is on the table, and the pressure is off.

So here you are, a conscious being in an indifferent universe, with at least a modicum of free will. (Let's assume you have free will because if you don’t, there’s definitely nothing to be done about it, therefore: no problem.) 

How do you know what to do?

You don’t. You’re in the dark. Your knowledge is useless. It’s like you’re an idiot.

And so is everyone else.

Given the flaws of humanity and the indifference of the universe, it’s actually amazing that anyone manages to get their way or do anything useful or good or workable for themselves or anyone else, ever.

And yet they do. Someone wins the contest. Someone gets the girl. Someone changes the world.

Which means…

(Whispers) You could too.

All while being an idiot. While not really deserving it, but not really not deserving it either.

What if all this bullshit you have to go through, all your suffering, weren’t a judgment? What if it was just pure motherfucking comedy?

I mean, ouch, but isn’t that the way it works in the movies?

The protagonists, the good guys, they suffer. They take shits in public in fancy wedding dresses. They fall for the antagonist’s totally obvious dirty tricks. They lose everything, sabotage their friends, get exiled, have to go sleep in the pig pen. And these are the good guys! They weren’t courting this suffering, but they got it, and they have no real reason to think it’s ever going to get any better.

One of my friends did a psychological research study about peak performers – interviews with people who defy the odds and do amazing things. (As a competitive skater, I was lucky enough to be among them.)

As it turned out, the peak performers had one big thing in common. They all told stories of being completely stranded up shit’s creek without a paddle, often in ways that were at least partially, arguably, their own fault. And while they told these stories, they told them while laughing their asses off.

“So there I was, all alone 20 miles from the north pole, 3 days behind schedule, bleeding profusely from the elbow, and my dog was sick and all the food was frozen and it was midnight and the radio was broken, and the only thing I could use to splint my arm was the American flag I’d brought for the pole-bagging selfie. HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

If they were tragic heroines, they would believe this was proof that the world was shit, and/or they were wrong, and/or nothing was ever going to work.

But because they are comic heroines, they don’t see all this suffering as judgment upon them. So they just keep going.

They totally don’t deserve the bad stuff they are getting, but of course, because there are no rules and who fucking knows, it’s not like they exactly “deserve” to win, either.

They don't take what happens in the world as proving a larger point about the nature of the world.

They just keep going. And if you keep going long enough, through random chance it is likely that at some point, some weird shit will appear at seemingly just the right moment and the cards will fall the way you want them to.

The vaster the set, the more random patterns it has in it. And from everything we do know about the universe, it is definitely vaster than a human can even imagine.

The indifference of the universe inevitably causes suffering. But its randomness inevitably causes beauty - grand swooshes of such deep random rightness that you can feel, for a moment, connection to a larger meaning, an organizing principle. Something that goes beyond your own little suffering and desires, something that connects you to joy, even if it’s just a flash of peaceful, ecstatic loveliness.

If you’ve got even just a smidgen of natural curiosity, that randomness is what makes life interesting and zestful - bizarre, fascinating, worth sticking around for.

The vast, indifferent, random universe is beautiful and stupid and who even knows what it will do next?

And that my friends, is the makings of some comedy gold.

Kim Perkins

Kim Perkins