“Except this one mattered and I felt it had a spirit
And I shot the story because I didn't hear it that way
And it's hard to be a human being
And it's harder as anything else”
1 “Baby Blue Sedan,” Modest Mouse’s Building Nothing Out of Something, Songwriters: Eric Judy / Isaac Brock / Jeremiah Green

“For the gods keep hidden from men the means of life. Else you would easily do work enough in a day to supply you for a full year even without working.”
2 Hesiod “Works and Days” https://www.theoi.com/Text/HesiodWorksDays.html

"You know, the gods never have let on
How humans might make a living. Else,
You might get enough done in one day
To keep you fixed for a year without working.“:
3 Hesiod “Works and Days” Trans Stanley Lombardo

Hesiod 750 BC is who we think of as the first author. His poems come to us by means of transcription instead of an oral tradition, and there is no confusion when comes to attribution. He was a farmer, not a king or sage, and he wanted to share his thoughts with people who wanted to read them.

Over two and a half millennia ago, he had a question that was so worth answering that he wrote it down for distribution, “why is it hard to be a human.” Around the same time, Siddhārtha Gautama 563 BCE- 400 BCE and the Author(s?) of the Book of Job Between the 700 BCE and 4BCE spent a good deal of time pondering more or less this self-same question. The three attempts at answers are unimaginably deviser exasperated by thousands of mainstream interpretations of those attempts.

I purpose to attempt my own answers to the question. I know that it will not be the definitive or best answer to the question. It may not be the right question. I will attempt to come to an answer that is meaningful, not useless, and honest. At the start of this project, I will be maintaining as much forward moment as I can. I will be avoiding revision and limiting citations to things I absolutely need to look up.

As a point of order, I should warn you that footnotes are either Wikipedia or bullshit unless otherwise noted, and almost all of the “how we know what we know” (epistemology) is half-remembered Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

The motives behind my decision to tilt at this windmill are as good a transition from what is roughly the preamble to what will serve as an introduction. I have had over a dozen jobs in as about as many industries since I completed my master’s thesis https://dspace.sunyconnect.suny.edu/handle/1951/44804, and I haven’t done anything with my degree. The decade I spent studying philosophy from the summer of my Junior of high school to the last rejection letter from a doctoral program, has resulted in almost nothing tangible or durable. Emotively tangibility and durability are conflated with legacy and accomplishment.

The notions of tangibility and durability are very human. Object permanence is a key stage in development but further than that the notion of tangibility and durability are essential parts of how we foreground objects of knowledge as objects. Before I can get to the humanness, there are three metaphors I am grasping around. The Oak tree in the Acorn. The Ocean in the Wave. And the left taillight on that one blue sedan on your commute to work last Tuesday. Essentially tangibility and durability are not properties they are scales. At the extreme edges of the scale, tangibility appears to vanish. And this vanishing is on both sides of the observation. We don’t see the hummingbird’s wings in flight or a single raindrop in the storm. At the same time, the tangibility of a pebble is almost meaningless in geological time. Still, the pebble's tangible durability is an almost inescapable fact when it is in your shoe.

This brings me to the Wave in the Ocean, the Ocean in the Wave, and Humanness. Being a midwestern my first impression of the Ocean was the sheer tangibility of the waves. The motion on a choppy lake or a flooding storm drain seemed to have a self-sameness that the distinct rolling waves that formed out at the far end of the horizon and came rolling in lacked. I have a similar recollection of staring up at cumulus clouds as a child but that could easily be something from a half-remembered movie. In a static image Clouds and Waves compete for real estate with Cliffs and Mountains. This sort of tangibility is dissipated by the very ephemeral nature of in actual cohesion of the phenomena. It is not just scale of time in the sense of the oak/acorn there is also a scale of perspective and the foregrounding of objects as objects.

There is an intersection here between Epistemology, Aesthetics, and Ethics. My focus on tangibility and durability has largely been about what can be known and how it is knowable. I have been treating the questions of Humanness and Legacy as largely aesthetic. The ability and inability to comprehend scale is in space and time is a loadstone. This true north will be very important when I will circle back to Morality and the Aesthetics of Spiritual Nihilism. Before I do the groundwork to build toward Morality and Spirituality we are already a foundational paradox of ethical pursuits.

The distinction I draw between Ethics and Morality is by no means canonical but I find it helpful. By ethics, I mean the study of how people should behave. The search and development of rules of behavior that strive to be universal. It tends to be analytical and or structural. Morality mostly covers the same set of behaviors, but I want to frame it as how people ought to behave. In contrast to an ethical imperative, Moral imperative has a surplus that it imparts. I read Kierkegaard’s use of gods command to Abraham to kill his son, as an example of a moral dilemma that is clearly in opposition to anything that could be framed as an ethical dilemma. Morality is less antagonistic to the aesthetic and the mystical. For now, this distinction is only a way of segregating questions of moral imperatives from surface-level ethical anxieties and attempts at absolution.

The scope of an ethical life is also an edifice of tangibility and durability that disappears as one approaches or recedes. It is important to avoid getting bogged down in iterations of the trolly problem, whataboutism, or what Terry Pratchett called “dreadful algebra of necessity.” Here I want to limit questions about the ethical life to the question of why life is hard. Not in the sense of how people’s inhumanity to people makes life hard. Rather I want to focus on what is involved in the impulse to not be the bad guy. This feels universal enough to indicate the possibility of a universal call to morality.

Not everyone wants to be the best version of themselves, or always attentive to moral imperatives, or one with the will of the universe. However, everyone seems to want to not be morally deficient.
Relativism is the purest ideology to try to thread the needle between a call to morality and an aversion to personal immorality. The point of arguing for relativism (the literal imperative to advocate for it) is completely lost on me. I am unsure how a relativistic universe is noticeably different if people believe in Relativism or do not. I would argue that very similar problems exist with Determinism, Libertarianism, and Textual Fundamentalism.

Textual Fundamentalism is a truly interesting example. Things like Hermeneutics the Rabbinical tradition of debating the commentaries of the commentaries of text are excellent ways to dig into the phenomenology of truth, beauty, and morality. But, they cannot defend or describe the foundational nature of the texts itself. For example, we can learn a lot about debating the constitution. Yet there is nothing an originalist can say about the fact that it was written by a rapist and child molester who believed the text would continue to let his cosigners continue to have the option of profiting from rape and forced birth.

I bring up what I feel are mostly pointless defenses of a handful of ideologies because they all have a very real secondary point. They all offer the possibility to absolve the adherent from asking deeper and possibly more challenging questions. It seems to give them permission to not worry that they might be morally deficient. But I think they indite their own ability to provide this relief in their own very moral pointlessness. There is a circularity if you need your very super special book to assure you that you are not morally inferior to your neighbor and her different very super special book. The call to not be morally inferior has not been answered, life will still be ambiguously hard because there is still a drive to reach for a moral imperative that will make your Text or your superior Libertarian or Marxist ideology better than the alternative.

I don’t believe the anxiety of this drive to morality is merely speculative on my part. Someone on twitter wrote, “Imagine being so ashamed of your history that you make it illegal to teach it.” The strong emotional response that any Fundamentalist or Ideological Dogmatist to any sense of challenge, speaks to a background insecurity that seems as much a source of emotional distress as that caused by living with an active awareness of moral uncertainty. I am not here to argue that one-way living is superior to the other. I am here to point out that call of morality is something that seems to make everyone’s life harder almost all the time.

Enough on what claims to be morally unambiguous. I argue that the hardness of moral ambiguity is that the ethical life as an edifice of tangibility and durability that disappears as one approaches or recedes. Textual Fundamentalism is an extremely relevant example because its moral tenants are calcified. I don’t accept that claims of Mysticism of Mystically Revealed Logos remove Scared Texts from history anymore or less than claims of Solipsism which is itself the only more pointless assertion than Relativism or Determinism. Interacting with calcified moral tenants gives us a macro view of the micro morally ambiguity of lived life.

We are given three accounts of the Cleansing of the Temple probably written between thirty to ninety years after the event is set, and canonized thee hundred years at the demand of a Roman Emperor who was considering the idea that Christianity might not be a crime against the state. The story was initially an oral tradition among people who mostly had religious, cultural, and family histories with Israel going back to before anything like the modern sense of recorded history. Before most of them were written down before the possibly thousand-year-old Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed ending the Priestly Tradition of Judaism.