The Common Denominator of the Universe

While in the jungle Werner Herzog commented on what he thought was (as he puts it) “the common denominator of the universe.” He insisted it was, “hostility, chaos and murder.” Stating, “There is no harmony in the universe, there is no real harmony as we have conceived it.” Instead he says, “[the harmony] is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.

I must say that I agree to some an extent with Herzog. I see harmony in this world, I see a common denominator but it certainly isn’t what we think of as harmony. nor is it quite Herzog’s harmony of collective murder. Instead the harmony I see in the world, or at least my world, is the harmony of despair. To me despair, anguish, pain and suffering is a necessary and defining feature of life. Without it there wouldn’t be peace, harmony or even joy (at least not as we know it).

This despair creates harmony in the world, it makes the world work, it makes the world function and go round. Despair is what shapes us, it creates us and moves us to be who we are. We are not defined by the joy in our life but the pain and suffering. This pain is what establishes us and what creates harmony and order in our world

Without the contrast of pain and despair the joy one experience in one’s life lacks meaning and will have no real impact. A world filled only with joy is a truly bland world, a world that I would say is significantly more painful than our own world (This idea is explored in Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World). I’m arguing that what is necessary is a negative emotion in any world, without it you have nothing to contrast you have nothing to define or shape people. Despair, pain, anguish or in Herzog’s case hostility and murder are needed to balance out the world, they are equally if not more important than joy and happiness.

It’s hard for me to figure out what is true for me and what is true for others, but I am sure this is true for myself and assert that it is true to some extent for everyone else.

For me, despair has been ever-present in my life, especially in my teenage years which were dominated by despair. Despair for me is a necessary contrast to any good day. Whether it be a sad movie, physical toil, or a full-out cry and mental breakdown where I ask myself what I’m doing with my life. Despair balances out my positives and defines my life. Despair is essential at establishing and maintaining my equilibrium.

I must point out that like any emotion (in my opinion) in excess it’s just that, excessive. Too much despair can and will paralyse and trap you. Meanwhile too much joy will make your life bland and unenjoyable and scare you away from experiencing discomforting emotions and allowing yourself to return to equilibrium.

For me I am in need of cycles, cycles filled with despair and joy. Without both I long for the other. Too much joy leaves me drained and exhausted. I’m left needing pain to energize me and return me to feeling true joy. Without a period of despair to punctuate my life my joy begins to become bland and tasteless. But despair is much more important than that. It is what defines us, what shapes us. Despair is the harmony in the world, it is in my opinion the common denominator of the universe.


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