Saturday 12 November 2022

But what shall I Do?

Our culture - even at its best - cannot come-up with any better vision of the Good Life than the short-sighted adolescent desire to "do whatever I want to do - so long as it doesn't hurt other people"; 

Which is, in the first place, an arbitrary ethic (why believe this rather than its opposite?); secondly oxymoronic (because everything - including my existence - hurts other people in some way); and thirdly - it is a recipe for nihilism and despair.

"What I want to do" boils down to the idea of a life ruled by impulse, whose satisfactions are momentary and do not add-up to any meaning - let alone a purpose. 

The underlying convictions seems to be that - if I am feeling happy and fulfilled at this moment in time; then my life is justified

Of course, it is difficult to avoid the inference that the opposite is also true: i.e. that if I feel miserable and despairing here-and-now; then that is the real truth about my life. If we regard the present moment as decisive, then our first downturn of mood will be grounds for suicide... 

The best case (never actually achieved by anyone) is a life when I do this fun-thing, then that fun-thing - on-and-on in an endless series; until (presumably) I keel-over and die instantly and without suffering - in the middle of doing something fun

Aside from its being apparently unattainable in practice; the deep problem is that such a life is a horrible thing to contemplate and to live! 

It just is! A life of endless distraction, a life of trying not to think about how futile it all is.  

The futility of the arbitrary life goal of gratifying my short-term whims, is not cured by the alternative of living in accordance with external dictates. In a world where there is nothing deeper or more coherent that "What I want" then there is no hope of finding meaning by doing instead "what other people want". 

Altruism is equally futile to selfishness when there in no deeper motivation than short-term satisfaction; because adding-up or averaging selfishness, only leads to more of the same; and does not lead to higher or deeper motivations. 

Indeed, a world where everybody is trying to gratify every-body-else's passing whims is something of a nightmare even at best; and is most likely to degenerate into a world ruled by those selfish/ cold-hearted/ lying/ sadistic psychopaths who most-effectively exploit the altruistic impulses of others. 

What is needed, it seems, is for the world to have larger purposes than my own, so that my life can have meaning in terms of working towards those larger purposes; and also that there is a direct and personal relationship between the larger purposes and myself as an individual person. 

That is: the larger purposes must be relevant to me; and also I personally must be relevant (make a difference) to the larger purposes.

Yet if we are still talking about the difference between our experience of the immediate short-term (here-and-now) and the more remote longer term (several hours/days/ weeks/ months/ years ahead...); then this is just a difference in emphasis. 

We can either focus on the actually-happening, or (to varying degrees) on what we predict will happen, or hope will happen. 

But neither of these work as a basis for life. 

Meaningfulness here-and-now is where we started and does not work; but meaningfulness sometimes down-the-line may be 'pie in the sky' - and is, anyway, of the same nature and validity as here-and-now (which does not work)... only much less certain... 

The whole thing begins to seem like a weird and arbitrary mathematical-hedonic calculation, trying to treat human gratification as if it were quantitative and incremental...


It seems to me that - for this to 'work' - requires not just 'long-term' purpose; but eternal purpose. 

In other words; ultimately, long-term and short-term amount qualitatively to the same thing; and the only real distinction is between temporary and eternal

My conclusion is that life needs to be understood as eternal for it to be genuinely worthwhile; and that we need a system of values that includes both our-self and our personal experience - and also the Big Picture of other people and the rest of the universe.

And - there must be purpose everywhere, and at every level

Note: The above reflections were derived from watching the movie Free Guy (2021) - which I found enjoyable and worth while (except for the usual Hollywood too-long-drawn-out ending); but which - exactly because it was deeper than most mainstream movies - thereby revealed the shallowness and inadequacy of its own moral framework. The ultimate ethic - stated more than once, and towards-which the plot was aiming - was to make a world where each person could do... whatever he or she wanted to do (as contrasted by being merely the tool of a computer game played for thrills). In other words: the ultimate ethic was merely negative: i.e. not to be a controlled-slave. 

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