a guest May 17th, 2018 258 Never
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- i keep thinking about how there is this idea of a "correct" or "authentic" or "best" or "ideal" way to live ones life even if not especially in philosophers i generally like? That like. Means well, is there to help people be happier but it. always lands so wrong to me because. I don’t think that there is A Way to be happy? I guess this is a bit of what the Epicurians/hedonism were getting at, that maybe its less about doing the right things or having the right experiences or whatever and just. Coming to some vague idea of happiness in whatever it is you do have? At least thats one explanation of the point of view that I like.
- But like. It’s also the hedonic treadmill, which has some good data backing it up, that happiness or at least reported happiness and satisfaction, and the reverse - reported unhappiness and dissatisfaction return to the same levels after huge changes in circumstance or fortune most of the time. And I’d have to do more reading but I imagine what that baseline is varies from person to person - its probably lower happiness in people with perfectionism, for instance - and i also imagine moving the baseline happens most of the time independent of the other stuff barring like. actual abuse and chronic pain and such. like apparently they’ve done this on lottery winners and quadriplegics and you’d think those would be big ones but nah, hedonic treadmill takes over. but like. i don’t know if they’ve done it on people before and after chronic pain or like people who get out of abuse i imagine thats a situation change that moves the baseline.
- but i guess what ive been thinking about is this idea that i’m “missing out” that there is some “better” life out there that includes the things a life “should” have as if any life can really be called “well spent” or “poorly spent” like there is some universal system for assigning value to the ways a person ends up spending their short time on earth at all. Which is so tempting to have because even systems of thought that don’t explicitly claim to be moralist give you these and obviously society has this and obviously we as people see other people doing things and want to also be doing those things. But like. There is no overarching value system for how one spends ones time. One is not objectively better or worse and the only metrics that even make sense to use are if that person enjoyed themselves - this entire rant is assuming a world view that in some fundamental way sees some kind internal sense of things - be it enjoyment, satisfaction, or something less easy to name but still in that vague category, as our metric or “utility” here and we’re talk individuals rather than in terms of societies which is all kinds of tricky i don’t want to even go into - in a system that discusses worth of a life in how much it contributed to a whole rather than on its own merit needs a million and one caveats and isn’t really what im getting at.
- So then we just have “was it enjoyed.” And then we have all these models that want to assign a… purity? authenticity? worth value to specific types of enjoyment. Adding conceptual frame works over visceral and pre-logical sensations that are either pleasant or unpleasant - before even getting to wanted or unwanted and that before any ideas of worth or authenticity.
- Like. No one, especially as technology progresses and the world shrinks, is gonna get to do EVERYTHING they wanted to do, but some people find peace with what they can do, or what they have done, or else they delude themselves into thinking they have, and I guess I wonder if there’s really that big a difference between those two things - can one really assign a truth value to subjective assessments of ones own brain states or beliefs? If there’s distressed caused by the delusion or if it runs up against reality in a way that causes distress then maybe, but if its just. convincing yourself that you are content and happy? I don’t know. There are layers and layers of different parts of yourself and I’m not sure that there are really ever any ways to be sure you’ve gotten them all on the same page and that none of them are being delusional, whatever that even means. I think there is a certain level of inherent delusion in just. consciousness. thought in general. after all what are we really but emergent processes telling ourselves a story about ourselves and pretending that the term “ourselves” makes any goddamn sense, that a person continues at all from moment to moment in anything other than narrative. Everything is narrative and every narrative requires suspension of disbelief.
- People get so sad - or at least they get hand-ringing - at the idea of someone being bed bound or of never finding love or of not being able to eat x or y or of being color blind or missing out on family or etc. etc. and that comes from this idea, I think, that there is a “good” or “best” Platonic Idea (probably a bad word to use as plato had his own versions of this im sure and those are not what im talking about) of what life SHOULD be and everyone ought to strive to match that Ideal and any way in which someone does not (or at least does worse than you at it) is “sad” or something.
- And it’s really tempting to think that way, and natural even, and I’m not saying that everyone just ought to take their lot in life and deal with it, i’m not trying to invoke the wrathe of nietzsche’s ghost, but i think there is a difference between constantly striving to keep growing, keep improving, keep making your own life richer and better for you and trying to do so against an Ideal.
- But also I think there ought to be a distinction between wanting to do something (even after factoring out all the social pressure and constructs that make us imagine we ought to want to do something) and not doing that thing being some mark against a “worthwhile” “good” “authentic” or “well spent” life. The authentic bugs me a lot because it comes up a lot in existentialists and i usually like them. The human mind is crazy. The placebo and nocebo effect prove as much. We have an entire chunk of our brain dedicated just to imagining things in as much detail and as accurately as possible. And the capacity to even trick ourselves into believing or sensing or remembering things that aren’t, objectively, true, from false memories to delusions and hallucinations to hypnosis and beyond.
- So the idea of authentic seems absurd (another weighted word here i don’t entirely mean like that but also don’t… not mean like that because really, its a term attempting to assert meaning where, fundamentally, there is none.)
- If a means of living causes distress, then it should, as much as possible, be remedied. But I’m not buying this idea that the remedy is always about bringing ones life closer to some abstract ideal of what a good life is, because if life is just about actually having fun, experiencing happiness, not suffering - and anything beyond that is a meaning one should be free to construct but also just as free to abandon, then why not live vicariously through fiction, how is that any worse? No matter how hard people try, there are sensations they may long for, deeply, they will never feel, things they want badly to do they will never do, and instead of labeling that a failure or a mark against ones life I think it makes more sense to think of life as just what it is. Not good or bad, not wasted or squandered or well spent. That way lies, I think, more regret than any kind of motivator.
- Maybe its a lie worth telling children, and that’s how it gets in all our heads, because when your six or seven and each moment seems so much longer the idea of doing things for the future isn’t innate and the idea of spending your time studying or training or learning and instrument, things that later in life might lead to joy, only make sense with this idea that there is a life “worth living” and you are building towards it with these moments of unpleasantness, with delayed gratification. I don’t know for sure.
- But the idea has great sticking power and it sneaks even into philosophies that eschew universal meaning or things like purpose. Life just is. That’s all. Find positive sensations/emotions where you can, construct meaning if that helps, seek to achieve goals if they serve this meaning or these sensations, but only if they do. The wills greatest regret, says the same nietzsche who pushes us to live by our wills, is that it cannot will backwards. What is the point of measuring up ones life against everything that isn’t, wasn’t, and can’t. You will never live on jupiter, you will never be a lizard, you will never see the entire electromagnetic spectrum as color you will never have an “authentic” experience of your hand coming apart atom by atom or of what its like to be a plant undergoing photosynthesis but in your head you can get pretty damn close to most of those and so much more. If you want. But not doing so, in your head or otherwise, isn’t good or bad.
- My instinct, which is a silly word because instinct is built of so many atavistic impulses, indoctrination, bias, culture, learning, formative experiences etc. - but my personal, individual instinct is that there is some inherent value in truth, in knowledge, and by extension, in experience - in so far as Mary, in her room, does not know red and cannot imagine it - enough experience to allow a fuller range of imagination and thus, in my own totally arbitrary and constructed worldview, more of some fundamental knowledge and thus, even more arbitrarily, more “good.”
- None of this helps the visceral reactions to sitting alone in your bed at 27 listening to stories of the lives other people have led and feeling like you “missed out.” but what i’m trying to unpack is where that idea comes from and where the validity in it is within my own arbitrary framework. One could just as easily construct a framework by which worth is measured exclusively in flowers you have touched or in how many stars you can see in the night sky or how many beanie babies you collect before you die as how many days of your life you have been deeply and intimately in love with another real person. The idea that there is a right or ideal way to live, a good rather than bad, authentic rather than inauthentic just doesn’t hold up.
- The problem with someone spending 12 hours a day doing office work isn’t that they are spending that time doing office work instead of meditating on the beauty of nature. The issue comes if that person is miserable. To claim that the office worker is missing out on the beauty of nature doesn’t inherently make more sense than saying the man sitting in the middle of the field is missing out on the beauty of spreadsheets. And in fact people will accuse both of just that - missing out on the sense of productivity, or the satisfaction of a hard days work or overcoming a difficult problem or the feeling of having others rely on you or be proud of you or achieving a specific goal or having the financial freedom to make impulse purchases or whatever as much as the man in the office is missing out on watching the way sunbeams reflect off dew or in dwelling on their place in the cosmos or in the smells and sounds of nature. My gut instinct is to say the man in the office is missing out. But why?
- I suspect its because we imagine the man in the office is miserable and actually wants to be the man in the field, or at least the man watching netflix on their couch. If the office worker is not miserable, if they find joy in organizing papers, then the idea that they are “missing out’ is nonsense. I suspect the idea of the authentic and the idea that any happiness this person finds is fake in some way - and that pretending or deceiving oneself into thinking that it is “real” happiness will cause future pain - is both an overactive and underacting imagination. Heidegger could not imagine himself happy reading only books and thus, for him, happiness achieved this way was deemed “inauthentic.” Keirkagaard could not himself disregard the angst of living, and thus anyone who could was somehow either doomed to eventually or will cause some unintended psychic injury to themselves in continuing too. Sarte could not imagine an office worker content, and thus any contentment an office worker feels is in bad faith. But i am unconvinced that happiness in bad faith or denial or inauthenticity in these frame works has some value level lower than the reverse in so far as it does not cause those proposed psychic injuries or others.
- its a hard idea to fully express and in part because it goes against my own gut instinct for truth and my own experience with some but not all of the less ideal forms of living these philosophers describe. It’s easy for me to dismiss heidegger’s claim that imagination is a poor substitute for direct experience of nature and a lot harder for me to dismiss the claim that an unexamined life spent simply at the surface level and following rules unquestioningly is a poor substitute in some fundamental way, for the reverse. But i think it has to be said, or at least asked, if maybe both are equally a problem of assigning arbitrary value and an arbitrary system of meaning onto what is ultimately an absurd and short and paradoxical existence, most of whose outcomes, assuming free will exists at all, are still predicated on chance not choice.
- And so the dilemma is how far can or should one go in, when faced with something one wants to do, and after one has examined the extent to which this desire comes out of something other than actual desire (whatever that even means) - the extent in which this desire comes from systems of meaning one does not want to subscribe to - in assigning value to doing or not doing that thing. Does it make sense to, if you want to skydive, consider not skydiving a kind of failure - and should that failure have a moral weight within your system of meaning and should it mean anything in the larger context of an overarching meaning to life.
- The idea that at the end we get some kind of grade on some kind of rubric for how “well” we lived is inherently theological - and thus has some kind of intuitive appeal as most things that are theological do. There is no score card. there is no rubric. You can write one for yourself, you can live by one written by someone else, but there is no “goodness” or “truth” value one can assign to any such scoring metric and i think maybe the issue is our insistence on a coring metric at all instead of just a rambling and unstructured list of what was, without worth or comparison or judgement, which, in the end, disintegrates into dust regardless of what it says.
- It can’t answer for the visceral pre-logical feelings of regret and its not an instruction for doing nothing and not seeking to further any meaning - choose a meaning! it can be very helpful in experiencing pleasure of any kind! But if the score card starts creating more negative experiences and thoughts and sensations than positive ones, i think its important to remember that the score card, even one you wrote your self and want to live up to, is, fundamentally, arbitrary bullshit.
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