I didn’t expect to still be writing about Louis C.K. this week, but a number of people responded to my last post by sending me Louis links they wanted me to check out. Three different people sent me links to the clip where Louis is telling Conan O’Brien about why he thinks cell phones are bad, especially for kids.
I don’t own a cell phone, and my friends correctly anticipated that I’d appreciate much of what Louis had to say on the subject, which was that prolific texting and app doodling are a distraction from our deepest human feelings, particularly existential sadness and loneliness. Or as Louis put it, “Underneath everything in your life there’s that thing, that empty . . . forever empty. You know what I’m talking about? The knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re all alone.”
He went on to tell a story of hearing a song on the radio that brought up depressive feelings. He reflexively reached for his cell phone to text someone so he wouldn’t have to feel his sadness, but then decided: “Don’t. Just be sad.” He pulled over to the side of the road and “cried like a bitch,” and found that his sadness was in fact a beautiful, poetic feeling, and that after surrendering to the sadness he “had happy feelings, because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has, like, antibodies that come rushing in to meet the sadness . . . with true profound happiness.”
I would agree this is a valuable message, for kids and adults—the message that if we allow ourselves to feel our feelings as deeply and completely as possible, rather than running away from them, we live a healthier, fuller life and more often than not, we even feel better. And also that cell phones and their various features are an addictive distraction from a here-and-now vitally lived life.
At the same time, this all raises a question, doesn’t it? What is the “sad, forever, empty” thing that Louis cavalierly states is at the core of the human condition? Is it really true that “it’s all for nothing and you’re all alone”? I’m not saying he’s wrong; I’m just posing the obvious (I think) question.
And if feeling deep sadness allows “true profound happiness” to arise, is this merely the product of some defensive survival mechanism “like, antibodies” or is the “true profound happiness” as central and intrinsic to our nature as the “forever empty”? Are both of these feelings equally basic? If not, which of them is an illusion, and why does it work that way? Just asking. Anybody out there know?