All is vanity…

Schopenhauer’s great intuition: human existence is a constant vacillating between pain and boredom. The existence of boredom is more than just evidence of a disagreeable state; it is proof that man is fundamentally unhappy.

“If life possessed in itself a positive value and true content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us. As things are we take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something..”(Essays and Aphorisms 53 – 54)

The default reaction to bare conscious continuity, being awake but not doing anything, is boredom. This awareness disappears once we institute and pursue a goal, thereby distracting ourselves from the empty or illusory nature of our lives. During those fleeting moments of satisfaction, we return to raw existence itself.

The final irony of pessimism: even if our desires are satisfied, although imperfectly, the outcome is naught but boredom.

Pure consciousness, framed by space and time, consists of nothing, nothing at all. That nothingness allows us to become most intimately aware of the der Nichtigkeit des Daseins, the Schopenhauerian nothingness of existence, i.e., better known as vanity.

While boredom is not as wounding as sheer pain, it is a form of suffering unique to conscious beings. It is the byproduct of an intuitive understanding of the metaphysical situation of man – the existence in time.

Vanity is not to be confused with the Christian view, where all things are empty as opposed to the heavenly. The phenomenal, temporal and conscious world is illusory because it conceals the real yet transcendental world of the will, and Schopenhauer says “the way in which this Nichtigkeit (vanity) of all objects of the will makes itself known and comprehensible to the intellect that is rooted in the individual, is primarily time. It is the form by whose means that vanity of things appears as their transitoriness, since by virtue of this all our pleasures n enjoyments come to nought in our hands” (WWR II 574)

Because the fundamental element of all individual wishes, for Schopenhauer, is the will, then this Nichtigkeit is “the only objective element of time, i.e., that which corresponds to it in the inner nature of things” (ibid)

Consequently, boredom is the correlate of this essential emptiness of conscious experience, something we become aware of once we quit the striving for individual goals and return to the bare model of existence. While boredom is not a byproduct of reason, it is a cognizance of the evanescent quality of all physical goods.

There is an explanation for why the achievements of our individual goals fail to satisfy: our normal/default condition is active suffering, and since pleasure lacks positive existence, the temporary relief of pain results in boredom, which is but merely a lesser form of suffering. In order to escape boredom we institute fresh new goals. Hence, the constant vacillation between pain and boredom where each extreme sends us in a rush toward the other.

Although our constant yearning, striving, struggling is on the face of it futile, it actually achieves a completely different result other than what we hoped for. Even if we do arrive at our goals, they fail to bring us satisfaction, if at all. But during the process, there is a subtle, yet true achievement: the understanding of the futility of our actions. We can perceive and understand the vanity of existence, once the ongoing effort to keep and maintain physical objects turn out to be utterly pointless. Consequently our illusions about the purpose of life is replaced with the shattering truth.

The predominance of boredom only confirms that it is understood. Look at the countenance of virtually every elderly person, Schopenhauer says. It is an expression of disappointment. If the “fundamental characteristic of old age is disillusionment; the illusions which hitherto gave life its charm n spurred us to activity have vanished. We have recognized the vanity and emptiness of all the splendors of the world… We have learnt that there is very little behind most of the things desired and most of the pleasures hoped for; and we have gradually gained an insight into the great poverty n hollowness of our existence. Only when we are seventy do we thoroughly understand the [second] verse of Ecclesiastes.” (Parerga and Paralipomena, p. 494)

Conclusion: for Schopenhauer, boredom is the outcome of the illusions of conscious life.

Why things fall apart, or all that’s solid melts in air…

The insights in this entry are based on my readings of two 18th century thinkers of cultural pessimism: Jean Jacques Rousseau and Giacomo Leopardi.

Why things fall apart

Beyond the structures of knowledge, past the artifices of ideas, and beneath our concepts is a chaotic mass of change, where all is flux, nothing remains constant, including our affections or attachments to these inconstant things – for they also vanish and change as well. Our desires or dreams or wishes are elsewhere; tomorrow, yesterday, but not today. Dour pessimists credit the source of suffering with existence in time, for man is a time-bound species. Although it is possible to experience brief, fleeting glimpses into transcendence – timelessness – only animals experience constant timelessness, and perhaps the preconscious ancestors of the human race as well. While animals do experience age and death, they are blissfully ignorant of this. They do not change – and with much simpler lives, they are also much happier. Their ignorance of time wards off thoughts about the future or the past. The ability to compare ourselves to our memories or visualized future allows us to reflect and invent plans to improve ourselves. Being conscious of time, however, turns us into slaves in our dissatisfaction with ourselves, constantly comparing us with others, competing consciously or unconsciously. Continue reading Why things fall apart, or all that’s solid melts in air…

As things fell apart…


A Pantheonic dialogue

LAKSHMI: Can you tell me how everything went wrong?

GANESHA: I have gone through the events over and over and I remain at a loss how my plans crumbled, and I ended up 180 degrees from where I began.

LAKSHMI: Tell me.

GANESHA: After i acquired a Genesis planet, with the most advanced template I set out to create a race of sublime mortals. I learned from the mistakes of the elder gods and I intended to fulfill all the dreams of these mortals, satisfy their desires and ensure that happiness was a reality, not a mere ideal. My stratagems were put in effect to produce a perfect race that lives comfortably in utopia, and I would become the envy of all other pantheons.

LAKSHMI: That is why you created them as children – all the better to enjoy the world, live in the present and be carefree.

GANESHA: No matter how advanced my template was, these mortals were flawed . They did not remain idyllic for long. Much to my surprise, they grew… sophisticated.

LAKSHMI: They tired of being children?

GANESHA: Yes. They gained the ability to reason, and that caused a general mood of disappointment. Their childlike hopes disintegrated rather quickly.

LAKSHMI: But – the suicides?

GANESHA: That was my first sign. Through reasoning, they figured out how to kill off themselves. Once their hopes were dashed, they could no longer bear living. My ambitious project turned out to be a greater failure than any of the elder gods!

LAKSHMI: Weren’t you successful for several centuries of your rule?

GANESHA: Actually, I did try short-term solutions to solve this existential malady – I added more land to the world, and introduced more variety in nature with animals and plants. These changes did work for a while, and they distracted the mortals. As the years passed, the novelty faded, and they grew bored with life again. Even contemptuous! I could never return them to their original state as children.

LAKSHMI: Hmmm. Nothing new can outlast the invincible sequence of time.

GANESHA: I didn’t stop there. I tried introducing more obstacles in order to challenge them, force them to expand their reason and find solutions. I also proliferated the mortals into different factions, so they could not intermingle as easily and casually. They were strangers to one another, constantly misunderstanding each other, and that led to discord, violent conflict.

LAKSHMI: Wasn’t that Yahweh’s original error?

GANESHA: No, he did it too early, when the population on Earth was much smaller. Never mind that. Despite all the obstacles, and the increase in their intellectual activity, they lapsed back into boredom. Ennui seemed ineradicable.

LAKSHMI: Perhaps your template was not flawed.

GANESHA: Indeed, perhaps it was too advanced. Despite all their intellectual development, they are demanding for the presence of Truth!

LAKSHMI: No, it isn’t the template. It is time to abandon your original plan. Your problem is an excess of mercy, and that makes it easier for your mortals to take you for granted. I recommend you to answer their demands: Send them the Truth.

GANESHA: You’re mad. By doing so, won’t that turn them into gods?

LAKSHMI: Not exactly. Not even Truth could do that. In fact, she will pull off the opposite. She will destroy all their illusions, and become the Tyrant of the race.

GANESHA: Preposterous! Truth is Beauty. She reveals our beatitude.

LAKSHMI: Sure, but she shall reflect the mortals’ wretchedness instead. Not their beauty. For them the only truth is the falsity of all things, for they all are temporary, merely transient, and all their griefs are empty. These mortals will always remain dissatisfied, and their dissatisfaction continues to crucify them for all time…..

To be born without reason, prolonging myself out of weakness and will die by chance*

I am a contingent being; that which is not logically necessary, i.e., something doesn’t have to be that way. This contingency is the fundamental ontological feature of existence.

Continue reading To be born without reason, prolonging myself out of weakness and will die by chance*

We are all objectified by the Other

The objectification of women is generally a problem of the Other in philosophy. Many philosophers, idealists and realists both, attempt to generate the Other from the self or began their analysis by assuming the existence of the alter ego. The former tries to erect an epistemological bridge from consciousness to consciousness, and the latter tries to assert that one consciousness is already “in touch” with another within the social reality of human existence.

But either way leads to an impasse because they are limited by the assumption that knowledge is the sole means to the discovery of the other. Rather, there is a third alternative: instead of knowledge, being is the ground of our relationships to others. Ontology, not epistemology is the appropriate level of discourse regarding the Other. Continue reading We are all objectified by the Other

Praising Prostitutes

Prostitute in Paris by Adrian Borda

I think prostitution is a private business transaction, and should not be considered in other terms. The prostitute (male or female) is free to enter into contracts. The claim that it is merely an exploitative service where the client is interested only in the prostitute’s services, not them personally is tantamount to the claim that the client seeks only the services of a professional (lawyer, doctor, professor) and not them personally. The prostitute is not a victim, nor a wage laborer – the contract is with a client, not an employer. Continue reading Praising Prostitutes

Belief

Typically, a person does not believe that her belief is a belief. If she does come to believe that a belief is a belief, she will recognize it for what it is, a mere belief, and no longer wholeheartedly believe in it. “To believe is to know that one believes, and to know that one believes is no longer to believe… every belief is a belief that falls short, one never wholly believes what one believes.” (Being and Nothingness, p. 69) A person is able to suspend disbelief in a belief because she fails to spell out to herself the fact that a belief is merely a belief. Spelling out the policy of not spelling out undermines the policy. Coming to believe that a belief is merely a belief undermines the belief. If a person comes to believe that a belief is a belief, then she ceases to be convinced by it and loses faith in it, because by its very nature, belief implies doubt. Continue reading Belief

Camus and Kirilov

I will discuss Kirilov’s dilemma within the context of Albert Camus’ attempt to solve the problem of suicide.

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The Myth of Sisyphus was Camus’ philosophical attempt at a solution for suicide. We all already know the un-philosophical refutation of suicide – that is to keep on living, keep on kickin’ n breathin.’ Death will come for us all, eventually. Well, like a good existentialist, Camus notes that people get in the habit of living before they acquire the habit of thinking. Continue reading Camus and Kirilov

Sartrean atheism

Sartre walking away
Sartre walking away

Some comments on Jean-Paul Sartre’s stance on God (or lack of). Sartre never meets the problem of God’s existence. Nowhere does he discuss the traditional arguments from religious epistemology. Interestingly, Sartre does not arrive at atheism after undergoing a philosophical expedition, in the rationalist fashion of the thinker who presumes every position he holds must be the solution to a philosophical problem. Continue reading Sartrean atheism