We live. We exist.
However, contrary to what some great thinkers have tried to assert, our senses are our only connection to reality. And whether we are within Plato’s allegorical cave or without, our senses are all we can rely on. We may not be getting the whole picture, but a picture we do get, and it is, however faulty, all we can be sure of. And since we do sense, and sense that we do sense, and so on to infinity, we must necessarily exist.
We are social animals.
A while ago, our distant ancestors decided they were better off living as a group in order to better their chances of survival, thereby blessing or condemning (depending on how you look at it) their descendants to the bonds of society, first as animals, and now as humans. The rightness or wrongness of this too, I shall pass over, as there is nothing we can really do about it now.
So, as it stands, we have determined two things, we exist, and we need to exist within the confines of society. Now, then, how are we to go about living in this society. Since mankind has discovered means of recording their thoughts in a more permanent and physically accessible way, we have seen them ponder this question. Are there any commandments that apply everywhere? Do we understand ourselves well enough to be able to come up with universal rules? Can our rules differ from Nature’s, or are we falling into the same trap of self-aggrandizement by assuming we have any control over anything? Can a Utopia exist?
Chuangtse, disciple of Laotse (of Taoist philosophy), believed that working of one’s mind and acting upon one’s wishes gave birth to evil thoughts and created worry in man. Inaction and detachment was preached. I beg to differ. The back-to-nature philosophers always based their philosophies on one tenet that was faulty to begin with. The assumption that mankind was ever “away from nature”. No matter what heights human intellect ever reaches, no matter what zeniths technology touches, mankind will ever be a slave to the whims of nature. We are Nature’s mistress, with absolutely no power over it, fully aware that we can be cut loose at any moment. This possibility scares us no end, and also serves to make us grateful of our tenure of existence.
When living in the midst of a metropolis, our senses so easily distracted by the whole arsenal of distractions we have invented for ourselves, the mind easily consigns to the back offices the memory of just how powerless we are. We obsess over controlling the things and people in our life as a constant overcompensation to pacify our latent feelings of inadequacy. But a single catastrophe anywhere in the world swiftly brings the folly of harboring any kind of hope back into prime focus. Investing too much hope into this world could be equated to investing in real estate on the Gaza strip. Experience indicates it will be end in misery and loss, and if you still go ahead with it, you cannot place the blame on any but yourself.
So, having established that we were never anything but slaves to nature, what is left to us is the question of how best to spend our time here.
Having observed mankind with a critical and objective attitude, admittedly leaning towards the harsher side, it is exceedingly clear to me that the inherent nature of man is too varied, too fickle, and too ignorant of itself to ever allow the possibility of a unified world or a standard law for all humanity. World peace is fiction and working towards it is an exercise in denial. Man never knows what he wants, and is therefore unsatisfied with anything that he gets. For the rulers, it becomes a question of constantly reminding the public of the invaluable service that is being rendered them. The second those services are no longer awe-inspiring, they are taken for granted, and before long derided and pushed out of power. Great dictators in the past have recognized this, often resorting to incredible deeds (whether glorious or terrible), not out of necessity, but to put up a show. It may be noted that this is another indication of our innate connection to nature. Show of strength as an alpha in a pack is a common trait throughout nature.
As to why we are this way, I shall not address that here. It too is out of our hands, and hence doesn’t concern me. However, having established that we are not a species that can be ruled by a unified law, and having seen no evidence of any form of government yet invented that has kept even a majority of a populace happy, I turn out of lack of options to modes of self governance by an individual.
Let it be clear from the outset, this is not a dictum for the masses. The masses usually need a blindfold and a leader leading them on, now with the whip, now with the bribe, to lead the best possible life a cattle can hope to live. I have no words for cattle. I address this to those who see humanity and the world as I do. Who harbor no illusions as to our existence, who do not hope.
So as not to be misinterpreted, I am not preaching depression and nihilism. Life, as terrible as it can be, is still a thing of wonder. Out of the known universe, we are the only species that can introspect and ponder the wonders we are allowed to experience. We are the only species to have risen above instinct, at least partially, so we may look down upon it and judge. Most importantly, we are the only species that has learnt to pass on information in other ways than hereditary instincts. With the result that we now draw on information both genetic and synthetic, when we ponder the universe. We still have much to learn, probably more than we could ever actually know, nevertheless we are also the most learned out of all the existing species known to us.
And so we, of all things existing, should know best to value life. To borrow from Nietzsche, we must not let religious moralities and decadent values kill our awareness of the wonder of life. We must not live this life in preparation of a possible afterlife. We must live this life first and foremost. To learn and to experience, these are the two pillars of existence. To turn away from these is to turn away from life.
Immediately upon doing so, however, the question arises in one’s mind. When at every turn of Fate we are assailed by woe and misery, how is one to enjoy life? How do we not turn to automatic defense mechanisms like religion or the other extreme like nihilism?
Personally, I am in agreement with nihilism insofar as they assert that there is no innate morality in man,
there is no higher meaning to our lives, and we are nothing special if seen on a cosmic scale. However, I stop short of asserting our lives are meaningless. We are not above or below the rest of existence, but that does not imply meaning does not exist at all. Going back to Nietzsche, viewing life as only justifiable as an “aesthetic phenomenon”, one arrives at the answer quite simply.
One must have experienced life to be able to hate or love it, and so complete detachment cannot be the answer. But if we get embroiled too deeply in the stormy seas of everyday existence, we stand no chance, we shall need mental crutches at every turn. After ignorance, this is the leading cause of the booming industry that is religion. The correct attitude is one of educated condescension.
We must educate ourselves relentlessly. The necessity of studying history can never be overestimated. Every tower we stand on today has been built from the rubble of our history. On studying history, only a closed mind would fail to see the truth about humanity. History does not repeat itself, it merely continues in one ceaseless torrent. If one knows history, one knows life.
When, by self education, the knowledge acquired succeeds in killing expectations, one will learn to regard life with bemusement. The futile endeavors of his fellow men to create “a better world” and to “make everyone love each other as brothers” will provide ceaseless entertainment.
Darwin, when he proposed his theory of survival of the fittest, must himself not have realized just how many aspects of our lives his theory was applicable to. The way of life I propose may not be very helpful where procreation is required, but the burden of survival in this chaos is greatly alleviated.
When tragedy strikes, he will nod in grim satisfaction as he will find himself better prepared than any around him.
When happiness comes his way, he will enjoy it without any notion of it lasting. Such a mindset preserves the best of what is offered while protecting against the worst.
He will make many friends, friends of the moment, who make him happy today and maybe will do so tomorrow. However none of them will be indispensable. The loss of any one, or even all of them together, will not result in his collapse. Merely another tragedy to be swept aside with that knowing smile.
A life such as this may be compared to that of the Mongol army under Genghis Khan. We plunder what we can from whatever we encounter, enjoy the fruits of his labor, whether our own or someone else’s.
And, having no expectations (which in this analogy may be compared to a base or homeland), we are not left vulnerable to attack. Genghis Khan, incidentally, lived to the ripe age of 68 and died in his bed after an easy post-retirement life.
What purpose does such a life serve, one may ask.
Having established there is no higher meaning to our lives, having recognized that we are one species out of many who live on a planet revolving around a random star in a random galaxy in a random outstretched branch of the universe, the purpose of life can only be a selfish one. To enjoy as much as one can while enduring the least possible amount of pain. All else must be subject to this scale of judgment. If woe outweighs pleasure, whatever it is must be cut loose ruthlessly. And conversely, when pleasure outweighs woe, every effort is to be made to retain it. And let not morality provide a barrier between one’s desire and its fulfillment. Morality is for the weak.
“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” – Friedrich Nietzsche