nonfiction / philosophical / essays
a book for thinkers, heretics, and hermits
In 2014, after having decided that the current state of the world no longer interested him, writer Michael Vito Tosto withdrew from society and went underground. And there he has remained ever since. While living in seclusion (with his wife and two cats), Tosto recorded his thoughts, reflections, and personal discoveries about life and reality in a series of notebooks. Much of that material has now been turned into essays and published in this volume.
Letters From a Dissident Philosopher can accurately be described as a book about nothing and everything. Some of the entries here are the mundane ramblings of a severely discontented artist, while others delve into the deepest reaches of philosophy, science, and the human condition. Intellectual, lyrical, soaked in restlessness and finished with a light shine of humor, the writings found in this volume will no doubt resonate in the minds of readers for decades to come.
Excerpt from Chapter One of Letters From a Dissident Philosopher
In the thirty-seventh year of my life, on what was a warm day for the middle of December, I stood alone on my porch and looked out at the world before me. The view was hardly inspiring. I was, after all, living in an apartment in St. Louis, Missouri, so what I saw was essentially just another building with a few barren trees behind it. But that was okay, for I’m nothing if not intensely imaginative. So, as I stood there and examined the reddish bricks of the adjacent building, and the lifeless trees behind it, and the gray sky behind those, I used my brilliant creative skills to imagine much more than that…
I saw the blood vessels of society—sidewalks and streets and highways and hallways and railways—those arteries by which the masses hurry to and fro in their daily frenzy to hasten death. I saw the multitudes scurrying about through them, meeting deadlines, racing home, or racing away from home, chasing this and that, running errands that lined the pockets of their bosses, fleeing from this and escaping that, speeding toward bondage, doing anything and everything to stay busy, stay occupied, and stay distracted…
I saw the blinking lights of temptation, the Sirens, that relentless assault of ads and images that flash before the sheep as they plunge through those blood vessels—ads and images designed to keep them wanting things they don’t need, lusting after experiences that never fulfill, blind to the fact that true life is actually passing them by, or rather that they are passing it by. I saw a race of people addicted to mindless information, not knowledge.
I saw both joy and pain, but it was all too obvious to me which one weighed more. The heavier of the two, and thus the more effective of the two, was by far the pain. I saw marriages, families, communities, and entire nations reacting to the collective ache that resides deeply within our species, and I saw the carnage that ache always leaves in its wake. Everywhere the great collective voice of humanity was calling out into the air an existential groan so loud and so universal that there was no place to go where it could not be heard.
I saw warfare being waged in all corners of the globe as humans fought one another over pennies and scraps of land. Buildings were on fire, cars were turned over in ditches, and dead bodies lined the streets. Everywhere people were lost, displaced, forced out of their homes, wandering, living underneath bridges, starving to death. The landscape was one great graveyard, as though the entire surface of Earth was covered with more tombstones than even God himself could count.
I saw all the swarming centers of government: towering buildings like fingers reaching into the sky, buildings hewn from stone and marble wherein invidious leaders conspired in dark rooms to keep the masses enslaved. I saw men and women in suits and uniforms, holding limp nooses in their hands, all clamoring together their demands for order and power and control. I saw dishonest deals being brokered by wicked, impish-looking agents of oppression. And sitting on a throne in the background, watching all of this take place, was an obese man dressed in hundred-dollar bills, smoking a fat cigar and cackling with great pleasure.
I saw the spidery web of lies that connects everything to everyone. And no one was free of that web—not even me. Its sinister strands reached everything, and half of the victims didn’t even know it. People were born, lived, and died under the oppression of infectious deception that bound all things together in a perverse and dysfunctional amalgam of greed and manipulation and abuse.
I saw a great dining table upon which a decadent feast had been laid out, and at that table sat finely dressed people who were stuffing their fat faces with whatever their hands could lift to their mouths, and standing—no, trembling in the background were millions and millions of starving children so thin a stiff breeze could blow them over. They were all crying and very near death.
I saw lives being wasted, lives being skewed, lives being destroyed, and lives being exploited. I saw people harming each other and harming themselves. They were driving metaphorical nails into their own hearts and the hearts of others with insensitivity. Everywhere I looked I saw people killing themselves in massive numbers. I saw shotguns shoved into mouths, blades drawn across wrists, and pill bottles falling to the floor.
I saw young girls huddled up in dark corners, crying and hating themselves. I saw young men carrying the weight of their fathers and collapsing under it. I saw old men staring in the mirror, asking themselves how life went by so quickly and why they never stopped to enjoy it even for a moment. I saw old women sequestered away in their spinster homes, cursing life and God for their loveless existence. I saw trembling children hiding in closets and beneath beds, hoping and praying that maybe today their dad won’t touch them “down there…”
I saw games being played, as though everyone is merely a chess piece to be moved about upon some global board by an invisible hand. Husbands were playing wives, mothers were playing daughters, sons were playing their fathers, and no one being truthful about their agendas. There were shifty angles everywhere, and everyone used them, even unto the destruction of his neighbor… even unto the destruction of himself.
I saw throngs of men and women living out the entirety of their lives without ever once having told another person what they thought or how they felt. There was widespread silence, a global epidemic. No one was communicating with anyone else, at least not about anything that truly mattered, and the reason people couldn’t open their mouths was that they couldn’t open their hearts. They had no idea what they thought, or how they felt because when they looked within themselves all they saw was… nothing.
I saw the planet Earth itself, rotating unsympathetically, apparently having no idea of the repugnant shit that unfolds upon its surface on a daily basis, or else not caring about it. I saw the Universe through which this planet is moving and the indifferent mechanics and laws that allow it to go on existing, and I wondered who or what was/is orchestrating those laws. Whatever or whoever that person or persons may be, I wondered if they knew about the situation here on Earth, and if so, what they thought about it.
And I saw myself standing on my patio, fully immersed within the bowels of all that, seemingly at the mercy of its inevitability, not a part of a solution but rather a willful partaker of the problem. I saw myself caught up in the game, caught up in the cycles, caught up in the wretched system, and marching along with a billion others toward a demise that would probably come too soon and without my having earned the right to embrace it. I saw myself not as a living thing who was making the most out of existence but rather a corpse that had long ago given up any hope of anything better. And the worst part was that I had actually accepted that. I had resigned myself to such an existence, as though the thought of anything else was preposterous. I was living my life, if you can really call it that, not for myself but for everyone else, being and doing exactly what I was told to be and do, a dutiful, pliable, acquiescing victim of that thing we all call the way things are. I saw myself as a tiny cog in a sinister wheel, a peg holding up his small share of the yoke, a man going everywhere and getting nowhere, a man doing much but achieving nothing worthwhile, a man who had forgotten or who maybe had never really known exactly why he was alive or what he was supposed to do with that gift.
I saw all of these things in the span of a mere instant, and they devastated me. Turning away, I went inside, fell down on my bed, and wept so hard I thought it would kill me.
Over the next few days, I thought a lot about this vision (for lack of a better word). I felt as though the weight of it was reclining heavily on my shoulders and lodged deeply within the corridors of my mind. “The world,” I kept saying to myself, “is so fucked up, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.”