Why I write so much about immortality, significance, and injustice.

In the past couple of years, I’ve been more active on Twitter than here. But I miss being here. I want to round up my notes and do a little explaining.

What follows are links to threads that seem relevant:

Where I linked Terror Management Theory to diet culture (more) explicitly (than before.) This was the rough draft of the article that later appeared in The Atlantic.

Where I shared my (sketchy and preliminary) thoughts about
neoreaction, politics in the US, and more Terror Management Theory. There was also a Metafilter thread about it, and people said nice things, which is particularly nice for reasons I don’t have the words for…yet. (You know me, it’s only a matter of time.)

After the van attack here in Toronto, before we knew the motive.

And a follow-up.

There are probably one or two more, but they are submerged in the sands of Twitter and it will take some digging to find them.

So, if you’re wondering what the endgame of all of this tweeting about significance and immortality is for me, it’s this: it is my personal believe that no one can do anything that will mark them with lasting significance.

No book, no building, no work of art, no hospital wing with their name on it, no great fortune, not even the destruction of the entire planet will leave a legacy that marks out an individual person as significant on a truly cosmic scale.

Certainly, no amount of hierarchy-building or climbing will do it. (I could go into why, but instead, refer to this standalone tweet.)

Now, the explanation.

Many of my young years were wasted by the idea that certain bodies are inherently superior to other bodies. I gave over years of my life to shame because my body was supposed to be bad and undeserving of its basic needs and existence, and as a result, I missed time and life experiences that will never be returned to me.

And I know this is true for many, many people who live caught up in the same hierarchy, under the same system of ideas that certain bodies and certain people are worth less than others, and many, many people have had smaller or larger fractions of their lives wasted more or less violently, as a result.

This bothers me. Which is why I started this website, and why I chose this career.

People who cannot admit their own insignificance or mortality seem to think that spoiling other people’s time by shaming or oppressing them will somehow add to their lives, and while it does succeed in creating misery and even shortening some people’s lives, it doesn’t make the perpetrator immortal or even significant. It’s a fool’s errand, a waste of one’s time, and involves the wasting of other people’s time without their consent.

Life is fragile, short, and precious. The best any of us can do is make our time good and meaningful. We do that by creating things, feeling and experiencing things, and bonding with other people in a way that acknowledges their inherent and unchanging value.

If I can clear obsession with food and shame about having a body out of people’s way so they can get down to living, then I have done a good job. If I can help chip away at some of the structures that unjustly limit people’s use of their finite and precious lives, even better.

In some form or another, I have been writing about this stuff for six years, and thinking about it for twenty-five. I figure why stop now.

As always, the after-party happens in comments. Bring snacks.

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17 Comments

  1. Vicki
    Posted June 7, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    “Men die, horses die, the gods themselves will someday die.”

    The next bit of that contrasts it to “word-fame,” which will last–but that’s in a Norse context where the gods themselves will die because the world is mortal,

    • Posted June 7, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      I love that, what is it from?

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 3:34 am | Permalink

      I love it too..it reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods..

      “Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”

  2. Posted June 7, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    “Life is fragile, short, and precious. The best any of us can do is make our time good and meaningful. We do that by creating things, feeling and experiencing things, and bonding with other people in a way that acknowledges their inherent and unchanging value.”

    Brilliant and true. In my Jewish tradition, one of the early rabbis, a man named Hillel, said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone. That is the whole of the Torah – all the rest is commentary. Go and study.”

    Living a good life is an accomplishment. Living a good life is all we can do.

    Thank you.

  3. Jennifer
    Posted June 7, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Michelle for sharing! I <3 You!

  4. jsj
    Posted June 7, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Eudaimonia
    is lateral, not hierarchical
    <3 <3 <3

  5. Posted June 7, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I miss your writing here, too. I’ve never been able to find a way to “follow” or use Twitter that wasn’t as absolutely massive waste of time. Not only is the two-sentence “discussion” format childish, the entire set up encourages wasting the whole day on trivialities. Thanks for this “summary,” but it’s nowhere near as valuable as the Atlantic article turned out. Bottom line, please don’t assume your fans are Twitter users.

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Kell, why insult all of twitter because it doesn’t work for you? No format works for everyone. I disagree about the depth and profundity twitter can reach, but what I care about most is this: if you appreciate Michelle and her work, let her choose her own format. She didn’t assume anything; she simply explained where her work has been lately.

      • Kell Brigan
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        By “assume,” I mean “assume that everyone who reads her here would also read her on Twitter.”

    • feminazgul
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      There’s a lot of serious and significant criticism and thought that exists on twitter, and since you determine everything you see, I don’t know how you can say it “encourages wasting the whole day on trivialities.” It’s entirely self-curated. How is reading your twitter feed different than reading an article on the Atlantic in terms of time spent if you choose who to follow?

      • Kell Brigan
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

        I entirely disagree that there is “serious” though on Twitter. Do you really think anyone can communicate an in-depth argument — one that would take 2-3,000+ words — in two sentences? When reader a complete word, the writer can make the case for a claim, can define terms, can summarize or expand upon a previous stated idea, or analyze a series of ideas. NONE of that can happen in two sentences. Try to imagine the Declaration of Independence (~1,500 worsd) as a Twitter post, or even a series of Twitter posts. A big chunk of the Declaration consists solely of what we would call “bullet points” demostrating England’s oppressive acts. If they existed as individual Twitter posts, it would just look like random England bashing with no overall purpose.

        As Robert Cramer puts it, people who choose to avoid in-depth thought “influenced easily by short messages or strong images, engage in biased thinking and partisan news sources, and fall victim to other ill sources of information. They can also become overwhelmed by complicated, layered information, instead favoring mental shortcuts to make decisions. So what’s the harm? In short, the strong potential for bad decisions. Low need for cognition can lead down paths of following stronger personalities (see below), contributing to prejudice and interpersonal conflict, and, at worst, serving as a precursor to some of the most tragic human rights issues in modern history. Don’t think? Then don’t expect the best to happen for you or society!” http://altdaily.com/on-the-death-of-facts-logic-and-critical-thinking-a-social-science-perspective-on-twitter-and-fake-news/

        And, not BTW, even though I’m specifically addressing your question, how many times did your mind wander? Were you tempted to go into TLDR mode? I rest my case.

        • Kell Brigan
          Posted June 8, 2018 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

          That should be “When reading a complete essay…” Not sure how auto replace got in there.

        • Ashlie
          Posted June 9, 2018 at 5:15 am | Permalink

          When you understand how to use Twitter correctly, it’s not hard at all to engage in deep and constructive academic conversations. There is something called “threading,” which allows a reader to follow a series of Tweets from beginning to end. Individual tweets within a thread are marked as part of the thread, so even if you come across them on their own, you’re prompted to see them in context (the thread) and it’s hard to mistake them for randomness. Additionally, padding arguments with complex sentences and fancy words doesn’t actually make your stance superior. Twitter forces people to distill their point and summarize clearly. For many readers, this makes discourse much easier and opens up conversations to a wider audience. If you *really* love articles, people link to them alllll the time on there.

          Of course there’s crap on Twitter, but no one makes you read it. And it’s also totally fine to say, “Not a fan!” without discounting the entire platform because of your personal preferences.

    • Posted June 9, 2018 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Thanks. I don’t assume all my blog readers are on Twitter. I just use Twitter because I like it, and because I enjoy the readers there. I started my writing life writing poetry, and the short format works well for me.

  6. Jackie
    Posted June 10, 2018 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you.

  7. Oscar
    Posted June 17, 2018 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Enjoy your thoughts, your singular perspective though I most often only get a tantalising hint of it here and there it works well in the longer format.

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