Friday, September 28, 2007

A Lesson In Pessimism: Part II

Continuing from 'A Lesson in Pessimism: Part I':

Granting the strong points in the pessimists’ claims, it is still possible to detect certain confusions and dubious inferences in their arguments. To begin with, there is a very obvious inconsistency in the way writers like Darrow and Tolstoy arrive at the conclusion that death is better than life. They begin by telling us that death is something terrible because it terminates the possibility of any of the experiences we value. From this they infer that nothing is really worth doing and that death is better than life.

Ignoring for the moment the claim that in view of our inevitable death nothing is “worth doing,” there very plainly seems to be an inconsistency in first judging death to be such a horrible evil and in asserting later on that death is better than life. Why was death originally judged to be an evil? Surely because it is the termination of life. And if something, y, is bad because it is the termination if something, x, this can be so only if x is good or has positive value. If x were not good, the termination of x would not be bad. One cannot consistently have it both ways. To this it may be answered that life did have positive value prior to one’s realization of death but that once a person has become aware of the inevitability of his destruction, life becomes unbearable and that this is the real issue. This point of view is well expressed in the following exchange between Cassius and Brutus in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (III.i.102–105):

CASSIUS. Why he that cuts off twenty years of life—
Cuts off so many years of fearing death.

BRUTUS. Grant that, and then is death a benefit:
So are we Caesar’s friends that have abridged
His time of fearing death.

There is a very simple reply to this argument. Granting that some people after once realizing their doom cannot banish the thought of it from their minds, so much so that it interferes with all their other activities, this is neither inevitable nor at all common. It is, on the contrary, in the opinion of all except some existentialists, morbid and pathological. The realization that one will die does not in the case of most people prevent them from engaging in activities which they regard as valuable or from enjoying the things they used to enjoy. To be told that one is not living “authentically” if one does not brood about death day and night is simply to be insulted gratuitously. A person who knows that his talents are not as great as he would wish or that he is not as handsome as he would have liked to be is not usually judged to live “inauthentically,” but on the contrary to be sensible if he does not constantly brood about his limitations and shortcomings and uses whatever talents he does possess to maximum advantage.
Okay, I'm going to have to interject right there. Morbid, and pathological seems a little harsh (ha) and certainly I am often troubled by the concepts of authenticity and integrity. Since everything is pointless, what do they really matter? Am I cutting my nose off, to spite my face? Having watched quite a lot of reality-TV singing competitions, I think most people do believe that they are the best, not fat, not ugly, and not stupid. Whereas in reality, most are stupid and ugly (or combinations thereof). I've mentioned before on this blog, that depressive people may be more realistic in their views of the world. Understanding that death is the end of everything, that we're not going to see our loved ones again, after they and we have died, and that everything that you get out of bed for in the morning, is pointless; that hard fought knowledge about the universe, cannot help but have an influence on behaviour. I won't argue that delusion isn't happier, but then science is about the truth, regardless of whether the answer is to the liking of humanity.

Think about a mother losing a child. It's all very well telling her that time will heal, that other people get over loss and grief, and that she'll see her child again in heaven. But reality is, that something treasured, is lost forever. It is understandable that some people never get over life events like that.
There is another and more basic objection to the claim that death is better than life. This objection applies equally to the claim that while death is better than life it would be better still not to have been born in the first place and to the judgment that life is better than death. It should be remembered that we are here concerned with such pronouncements when they are intended not merely as the expression of certain moods but as statements that are in some sense true or objectively warranted. It may be argued that a value comparison—any judgment to the effect that A is better or worse than B or as good as B— makes sense only if both A and B are, in the relevant respect, in principle open to inspection. If somebody says, for example, that Elizabeth Taylor is a better actress than Betty Grable, this seems quite intelligible. Or, again, if it is said that life for the Jews is better in the United States than it was in Germany under the Nazis, this also seems readily intelligible. In such cases the terms of the comparison are observable or at any rate describable. These conditions are fulfilled in some cases when value comparisons are made between life and death, but they are not fulfilled in the kind of case with which Tolstoy and the pessimists are concerned. If the conception of an afterlife is intelligible, then it would make sense for a believer or for somebody who has not made up his mind to say such things as “Death cannot be worse than this life” or “I wonder if it will be any better for me after I am dead.” Achilles, in the Iliad, was not making a senseless comparison when he exclaimed that he would rather act… as a serf of another, A man of little possessions, with scanty means of subsistence, Than rule as a ghostly monarch the ghosts of all the departed. Again, the survivors can meaningfully say about a deceased individual “It is better (for the world) that he is dead” or the opposite. For the person himself, however, if there is no afterlife, death is not a possible object of observation or experience, and statements by him that his own life is better than, as good as, or worse than his own death, unless they are intended to be no more than expressions of certain wishes or moods, must be dismissed as senseless. At first sight the contention that in the circumstances under discussion value comparisons between life and death are senseless may seem implausible because of the widespread tendency to think of death as a shadowy kind of life—as sleep, rest, or some kind of homecoming. Such “descriptions” may be admirable as poetry or consolation, but taken literally they are simply false.
There is no afterlife. Is death better than life? From the MacMillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying (a cheery read indeed):
The World Health Organization estimated that approximately 1 million people commit suicide annually. Suicide is among the top ten causes of death and one of the three leading causes in the fifteen-to-thirty-five-years age group worldwide. In the United States, where suicide is the ninth leading cause of death (and where the number of victims is 50% higher than the number of homicides), the Surgeon General in 1999 issued a Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, labeling suicide “a significant public health problem.”
So you're more likely to kill yourself, than be killed by another person. Whether some people find life enjoyable and worth living, it is inarguable that some people don't. If you spend every second alive, in pain, it is understandable that you might seek the cessation of that pain, through death. For some people then, wishing that they had not been born in the first place, seems like a reasonable conclusion (if not a personal one). More importantly, one day the question will be moot. When the universe is dead, there will be no life, and with it, nobody to remember that you hung yourself or not.
Irrelevance of the Distant Future

These considerations do not, however, carry us very far. They do not show either that life is worth living or that it “has meaning.” Before tackling these problems directly, something should perhaps be said about the curious and totally arbitrary preference of the future to the present, to which writers such as Tolstoy and Darrow are committed without realizing it. Darrow implies that life would not be “futile” if it were not an endless cycle of the same kind of activities and if instead it were like a journey toward a destination. Tolstoy clearly implies that life would be worthwhile, that some of our actions at least would have a “reasonable meaning,” if the present life were followed by eternal bliss. Presumably, what would make life no longer futile as far as Darrow is concerned is some feature of the destination, not merely the fact that it is a destination; and what would make life worthwhile in Tolstoy’s opinion is not merely the eternity of the next life but the “bliss” that it would confer—eternal misery and torture would hardly do. About the bliss in the next life, if there is such a next life, Tolstoy shows no inclination to ask “What for?” or “So what?”But if bliss in the next life is not in need of any further justification, why should any bliss that there might be in the present life need justification?
Ifs and ands. Pots and pans. Everything always has, and always will be pointless and since we're not dumb enough to even entertain the nonsensical idea that a super-alien somehow created the universe for you and me, talk of what ifs, is just doubly pointless. Any meaning that you would like to come up with, is essentially the pointless ponderings of a pointless biological machine, constructed by natural selection, and hence of no great importance.
The Logic of Value Judgements

Many of the pessimists appear to be confused about the logic of value judgments. It makes sense for a person to ask about something “Is it really worthwhile?” or “Is it really worth the trouble?” if he does not regard it as intrinsically valuable or if he is weighing it against another good with which it may be in conflict. It does not make sense to ask such a question about something he regards as valuable in its own right and where there is no conflict with the attainment of any other good. (This observation, it should be noted, is quite independent of what view one takes of the logical status of intrinsic value judgments.) A person driving to the beach on a crowded Sunday, may, upon finally getting there, reflect on whether the trip was really worthwhile. Or, after undertaking a series of medical treatments, somebody may ask whether it was worth the time and the money involved. Such questions make sense because the discomforts of a car ride and the time and money spent on medical treatments are not usually judged to be valuable for their own sake. Again, a woman who has given up a career as a physician in order to raise a family may ask herself whether it was worthwhile, and in this case the question would make sense not because she regards the raising of a family as no more than a means, but because she is weighing it against another good. However, if somebody is very happy, for any number of reasons—because he is in love, because he won the Nobel Prize, because his child recovered from a serious illness—and if this happiness does not prevent him from doing or experiencing anything else he regards as valuable, it would not occur to him to ask “Is it worthwhile?” Indeed, this question would be incomprehensible to him, just as Tolstoy himself would presumably not have known what to make of the question had it been raised about the bliss in the hereafter. It is worth recalling here that we live not in the distant future but in the present and also, in a sense, in the relatively near future.

To bring the subject down to earth, let us consider some everyday occurrences: A man with a toothache goes to a dentist, and the dentist helps him so that the toothache disappears. A man is falsely accused of a crime and is faced with the possibility of a severe sentence as well as with the loss of his reputation; with the help of a devoted attorney his innocence is established, and he is acquitted. It is true that a hundred years later all of the participants in these events will be dead and none of them will then be able to enjoy the fruits of any of the efforts involved. But this most emphatically does not imply that the dentist’s efforts were not worthwhile or that the attorney’s work was not worth doing. To bring in considerations of what will or will not happen in the remote future is, in such and many other though certainly not in all human situations, totally irrelevant. Not only is the finality of death irrelevant here; equally irrelevant are the facts, if they are facts, that life is an endless cycle of the same kind of activities and that the history of the universe is not a drama with a happy ending. This is, incidentally, also the answer to religious apologists like C. H. D. Clark who maintain that all striving is pointless if it is “without final consequence” and that “it scarcely matters how we live if all will end in the dust of death.” Striving is not pointless if it achieves what it is intended to achieve even if it is without final consequence, and it matters a great deal how we live if we have certain standards and goals, although we cannot avoid “the dust of death.”
And so here is where the hedonists fall flat (in my opinion). Agree that everything is pointless; that without god, everything is permitted. There is no morality, only the rules of a minority, which attempt to control and restrict the behaviour of other human beings. And so I ask, striving for what? What standards and goals did we all sign up for? Who decides? The world today is a battleground of stupid ape descendants, who have carved up the land, and the people and riches in it. Every day people die. Every day people are born. War, disease, pain and misery. On one hand you have rich people, flying around in jets, with their obese children, and obese pets, working, spending, energy, energy, energy. And then they wonder why the world might be fucked up. If human beings really do ruin the one place in the universe they know can keep them alive, isn't that an absurd joke? And the piece argues that it's okay striving for today, even if there isn't a tomorrow. Fuck it if the oil runs out tomorrow, today we get our buck and fuck! All well and good for the people who prosper, but look around humanitarians and show me the world where everybody has enough to eat. We are all related, cousins from thousands of years back. And like a dysfunctional family, we're not ever going to get along. Live for today and be happy, is fine advice (seeing as everything is pointless). But I understand why some people choke trying to swallow it...
The Vanished Past

In asserting the worthlessness of life Schopenhauer remarked that “what has been exists as little as what has never been” and that “something of great importance now past is inferior to something of little importance now present.” Several comments are in order here. To begin with, if Schopenhauer is right, it must work both ways: If only the present counts, then past sorrows no less than past pleasures do not “count.” Furthermore, the question whether “something of great importance now past is inferior to something of little importance now present” is not, as Schopenhauer supposed, a straightforward question of fact but rather one of valuation, and different answers, none of which can be said to be mistaken, will be given by different people according to their circumstances and interests. Viktor Frankl, the founder of “logotherapy,” has compared the pessimist to a man who observes, with fear and sadness, how his wall calendar grows thinner and thinner as he removes a sheet from it every day. The kind of person whom Frankl admires, on the other hand, “files each successive leaf neatly away with its predecessors” and reflects “with pride and joy” on all the richness represented by the leaves removed from the calendar. Such a person will not in old age envy the young. “‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past’” (Man’s Search for Meaning, pp. 192–193). This passage is quoted not because it contains any great wisdom but because it illustrates that we are concerned here not with judgments of fact but with value judgments and that Schopenhauer’s is not the only one that is possible. Nevertheless, his remarks are, perhaps, a healthy antidote to the cheap consolation and the attempts to cover up deep and inevitable misery that are the stock in trade of a great deal of popular psychology. Although Schopenhauer’s judgments about the inferior value of the past cannot be treated as objectively true propositions, they express only too well what a great many human beings are bound to feel on certain occasions.

To a man dying of cancer it is small consolation to reflect that there was a time when he was happy and flourishing; and while there are undoubtedly some old people who do not envy the young, it may be suspected that more often the kind of talk advocated by the prophets of positive thinking is a mask for envy and a defense against exceedingly painful feelings of regret and helplessness in the face of aging and death and the now unalterable past.
I must admit, that everyday I find myself thinking that another day has gone, That the earth has spun around once, on that slow journey around the sun. It is scary. Apes, huddled together on a rock, spinning in space. With no destination, but the grave. Okay, so some people can enjoy their time on earth. I get that already. But when you understand that life formed randomly, that humans are not inevitable, and that everything is pointless, it kinda sucks all the fun out of life, (because fun = endorphin release, and so what?). We are descended from creatures that survived and fucked. Thinking didn't factor into the equation until recently. No wonder that we intrinsically may feel that we have to do things. The heart and lungs don't need a reason to do their job. But a thinking brain, that has been taught science and learnt to see value in understanding the universe, cannot help but understand that having sex is just putting a weird body part into an orifice; that love is just a chemical state of the brain. And then, so what? Yeah you like it. Yes it's your drug. But other people are condemned for taking drugs. They are judged and their freedom is taken away, because they want to cut out the middle man and the bullshit and go, chemical drug > here is my brain. I certainly understand that particular strategy. But again, so what? Hedonism, and feelings are all so very physiological. And feelings are just these weird twinges you get, your body influencing your consciousness. So you get out of the bed, to feel weird? Absurd.

Perhaps you can see why I use these terms to describe myself:
Atheist. Nihilist. Anarchist. Pessimist. Misanthrope.
There is no god. There is no meaning. No one has the 'right' to dictate to another. Nothing will change. Human beings are idiots. :P
Part III soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Best Use for the Good Book

Here is a small clip I edited together, from the film 'Monkey Warfare'. It's about a couple of anarchist scavengers, and their protégée pot dealer. Very funny, and certainly the best use for the good book, I've ever seen.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Lesson In Pessimism: Part I

A while back, I was browsing through the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, when I happened upon a short section called 'Life, Meaning and Value of'.

Lo and behold, it is a detailed rebuttal to the position to which I seem to have become entrenched - that is, it is a discussion and dismissal of pessimism.

Over four parts I will present the main arguments, and where appropriate chip in with my own comments. Enjoy. ;)

Schopenhauer's Arguments

The most systematic and probably the most influential, though in fact not the gloomiest, of the pessimists was Arthur Schopenhauer. The world, he wrote, is something that ought not to exist: The truth is that “we have not to rejoice but rather to mourn at the existence of the world; that its nonexistence would be preferable to its existence; that it is something which ought not to be.” It is absurd to speak of life as a gift, as so many philosophers and thoughtless people have done. “It is evident that everyone would have declined such a gift if he could have seen it and tested it beforehand.” To those who assure us that life is only a lesson, we are entitled to reply: “For this very reason I wish I had been left in the peace of the all-sufficient nothing, where I would have no need of lessons or of anything else” (The World as Will and Idea, Vol. III, p. 390).

Happiness, according to Schopenhauer, is unobtainable for the vast majority of humankind. “Everything in life shows that earthly happiness is destined to be frustrated or recognized as illusion.” People either fail to achieve the ends they are striving for or else they do achieve them only to find them grossly disappointing. But as soon as a man discovers that a particular goal was not really worth pursuing, his eye is set on a new one and the same illusory quest begins all over again. Happiness, accordingly, always lies in the future or in the past, and “the present may be compared to a small dark cloud which the wind drives over the sunny plain: before and behind it all is bright, only it itself always casts a shadow. The present is therefore always insufficient; but the future is uncertain, and the past is irrevocable” (ibid., p. 383). Men in general, except for those sufficiently rational to become totally resigned, are constantly deluded—“now by hope, now by what was hoped for.” They are taken in by “the enchantment of distance,” which shows them “paradises.” These paradises, however, vanish like “optical illusions when we have allowed ourselves to be mocked by them.” The “fearful envy” excited in most men by the thought that somebody else is genuinely happy shows how unhappy they really are, whatever they pretend to others or to themselves. It is only “because they feel themselves unhappy” that “men cannot endure the sight of one whom they imagine happy.”

On occasions Schopenhauer is ready to concede that some few human beings really do achieve “comparative” happiness, but this is not of any great consequence. For aside from being “rare exceptions,” these happy people are really like “decoy birds”—they represent a possibility that must exist in order to lure the rest of humankind into a false sense of hope. Moreover, happiness, insofar as it exists at all, is a purely “negative” reality. We do not become aware of the greatest blessings of life—health, youth, and freedom—until we have lost them. What is called pleasure or satisfaction is merely the absence of craving or pain. But craving and pain are positive. As for the few happy days of our life—if there are any—we notice them only “after they have given place to unhappy ones.”

Schopenhauer not infrequently lapsed from his doctrine of the “negative” nature of happiness and pleasure into the more common view that their status is just as “positive” as that of unhappiness and pain. But he had additional arguments that do not in any way depend on the theory that happiness and pleasure are negative. Perhaps the most important of these is the argument from the “perishableness” of all good things and the ultimate extinction of all our hopes and achievements in death. All our pleasures and joys “disappear in our hands, and we afterwards ask astonished where they have gone.” Moreover, a joy that no longer exists does not “count”—it counts as little as if it had never been experienced at all:

That which has been exists no more; it exists as little as that which has never been. But of everything that exists you may say, in the next moment, that it has been. Hence something of great importance in our past is inferior to something of little importance in our present, in that the latter is a reality, and related to the former as something to nothing. (“The Vanity of Existence,” in The Will to Live, p. 229)

Some people have inferred from this that the enjoyment of the present should be “the supreme object of life.” This is fallacious; for “that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly, like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort.”

The final “judgment of nature” is destruction by death. This is “the last proof” that life is a “false path,” that all man’s wishing is “a perversity,” and that “nothing at all is worth our striving, our efforts and struggles.” The conclusion is inescapable: “All good things are vanity, the world in all its ends bankrupt, and life a business which does not cover its expenses” (The World as Will and Idea, Vol. III, p. 383).

The Pointlessness Of It All

Some of Schopenhauer’s arguments can probably be dismissed as the fantasies of a lonely and embittered man who was filled with contempt for humankind and who was singularly incapable of either love or friendship. His own misery, it may be plausibly said, made Schopenhauer overestimate the unhappiness of human beings. It is frequently, but not universally, true that what is hoped for is found disappointing when it is attained, and while “fearful envy” of other people’s successes is common enough, real sympathy and generosity are not quite so rare as Schopenhauer made them out to be. Furthermore, his doctrine that pleasure is negative while pain is positive, insofar as one can attach any clear meaning to it, seems glaringly false. To this it should be added, however, that some of Schopenhauer’s arguments are far from idiosyncratic and that substantially the same conclusions have been endorsed by men who were neither lonely nor embittered and who did not, as far as one can judge, lack the gift of love or friendship.
If everything wasn't so pointless, I think I'd look forward to reading a lot more from Schopenhauer. Two questions though. Is life worth living? I for one still cannot answer this question. Finding ourselves alive is only a temporary situation anyway, but certainly a life filled with pain and misery would be worse than no life at all. Is happiness negative and pain positive? Like the author of the piece, I must admit this looks false, but as I've discussed before on this blog, happiness is a chemical state of the brain (the action of endorphins if you will) and as such is merely akin to a drug user getting a fix. Whether you think that is an admirable way to spend your time, is of course a personal opinion...
Clarence Darrow

Clarence Darrow, one of the most compassionate men who ever lived, also concluded that life was an “awful joke.” Like Schopenhauer, Darrow offered as one of his reasons the apparent aimlessness of all that happens. “This weary old world goes on, begetting, with birth and with living and with death,” he remarked in his moving plea for the boy-murderers Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, “and all of it is blind from the beginning to the end” (Clarence Darrow—Attorney for the Damned, edited by A. Weinberg, New York, 1957). Elsewhere he wrote: “Life is like a ship on the sea, tossed by every wave and by every wind; a ship headed for no port and no harbor, with no rudder, no compass, no pilot; simply floating for a time, then lost in the waves” (“Is Life Worth Living?,” p. 43). In addition to the aimlessness of life and the universe, there is the fact of death. “I love my friends,” wrote Darrow, “but they all must come to a tragic end.”Death is more terrible the more one is attached to things in the world. Life, he concludes, is “not worth while,” and he adds (somewhat inconsistently, in view of what he had said earlier) that “it is an unpleasant interruption of nothing, and the best thing you can say of it is that it does not last long” (“Is the Human Race Getting Anywhere?,” p. 53).
Darrow was an interesting fellow, and from what I've read of him, he seems to have understood life quite well.
Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy, unlike Darrow, eventually came to believe in Christianity, or at least in his own idiosyncratic version of Christianity, but for a number of years the only position for which he could see any rational justification was an extreme form of pessimism. During that period (and there is reason to believe that in spite of his later protestations to the contrary, his feelings on this subject never basically changed) Tolstoy was utterly overwhelmed by the thought of his death and the death of those he cared for and, generally, by the transitory nature of all human achievements. “Today or tomorrow,” he wrote in “A Confession,” “sickness and death will come to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort?” Tolstoy likened the fate of man to that of the traveler in the Eastern tale who, pursued by an enraged beast, seeks refuge in a dry well. At the bottom of the well he sees a dragon that has opened its jaws to swallow him. To escape the enraged beast above and the dragon below, he holds onto a twig that is growing in a crack in the well. As he looks around he notices that two mice are gnawing at the stem of the twig. He realizes that very soon the twig will snap and he will fall to his doom, but at the same time he sees some drops of honey on the leaves of the branch and reaches out with his tongue to lick them. “So I too clung to the twig of life, knowing that the dragon of death was inevitably awaiting me, ready to tear me to pieces.… I tried to lick the honey which formerly consoled me, but the honey no longer gave me pleasure.… I only saw the unescapable dragon and the mice, and I could not tear my gaze from them. And this is not a fable but the real unanswerable truth.”

These considerations, according to Tolstoy, inevitably lead to the conclusion that life is a “stupid fraud,” that no “reasonable meaning” can be given to a single action or to a whole life. To the questions “What is it for?” “What then?,” “Why should I live?” the answer is “Nothing can come of it,” “Nothing is worth doing,” “Life is not worthwhile.”

What ways out are available to a human being who finds himself in this “terrible position”? Judging by the conduct of the people he observed, Tolstoy relates that he could see only four possible “solutions.” The first is the way of ignorance. People who adopt this solution (chiefly women and very young and very dull people) have simply not or not yet faced the questions that were tormenting him. Once a person has fully realized what death means, this solution is not available to him. The second way is that of “Epicureanism,” which consists in admitting the “hopelessness of life” but seizing as many of life’s pleasures as possible while they are within reach. It consists in “disregarding the dragon and the mice and licking the honey in the best way, especially if much of it is around.” This, Tolstoy adds, is the solution adopted by the majority of the people belonging to his “circle,” by which he presumably means the well-to-do intellectuals of his day. Tolstoy rejects this solution because the vast majority of human beings are not well-to-do and hence have little or no honey at their disposal and also because it is a matter of accident whether one is among those who have honey or those who have not. Moreover, Tolstoy observes, it requires a special “moral dullness,” which he himself lacked, to enjoy the honey while knowing the truth about death and the deprivations of the great majority of men. The third solution is suicide. Tolstoy calls this the way of “strength and energy.” It is chosen by a few “exceptionally strong and consistent people.”After they realize that “it is better to be dead than to be alive, and that it is best of all not to exist,” they promptly end the whole “stupid joke.” The means for ending it are readily at hand for everybody, but most people are too cowardly or too irrational to avail themselves of them. Finally, there is the way of “weakness.” This consists in seeing the dreadful truth and clinging to life nevertheless. People of this kind lack the strength to act rationally and Tolstoy adds that he belonged to this last category.
Ha. Me too. I've quoted that Tolstoy story before, and it really is a very good description of human existence.
Strengths of the Pessimist Position

Is it possible for somebody who shares the pessimists’ rejection of religion to reach different conclusions without being plainly irrational? Whatever reply may be possible, any intelligent and realistic person would surely have to concede that there is much truth in the pessimists’ claims. That few people achieve real and lasting happiness, that the joys of life (where there are any) pass away much too soon, that totally unpredictable events frequently upset the best intentions and wreck the noblest plans—this and much more along the same lines is surely undeniable.
Although one should not dogmatize that there will be no significant improvements in the future, the fate of past revolutions, undertaken to rid man of some of his apparently avoidable suffering, does not inspire great hope. The thought of death, too, even in those who are not so overwhelmed by it as Tolstoy, can be quite unendurable.

Moreover, to many who have reflected on the implications of physical theory it seems plain that because of the constant increase of entropy in the universe all life anywhere will eventually die out. Forebodings of this kind moved Bertrand Russell to write his famous essay “A Free Man’s Worship,” in which he concluded that “all the
labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.” Similarly, Wilhelm Ostwald observed that “in the longest run the sum of all human endeavor has no recognizable significance.” Although it is disputed whether physical theory really has such gloomy implications, it would perhaps be wisest to assume that the position endorsed by Russell and Ostwald is well-founded.
Enough pessimism and reality for one day. I'll leave you to think about that for a bit. Part II will follow shortly...

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Line of Spectacular Proportions

So I like this clip. When I think about human evolution, I often use this type of sweeping imagery and it really does help you comprehend the mind-boggling timescales involved. Just think of it. All those generations of stupid apes, sitting around not doing very much (think, eating and fucking). Maybe we were better off when we couldn't even string a sentence together.

And what came of it all? We sit around and bash our keyboards and trot out our self-important bollocks. Fuck the world. Fuck humanity. I think I'm just about ready to take my vow of silence, and never utter a single word again. If it was okay for my ancestors, then grunting and snarling is just dandy by me.


Saturday, September 01, 2007


This clip is from Woody Allen's film "Manhattan", which I watched last night. It's nowhere near as deep and existential as "Love & Death" but it's still very charming and good for a laugh. Funny that Allen should provide his opinion as to why life is worth living. I've been sitting on a series of posts which deals with pretty much the same topic. And my delay in posting the thing, is because I don't know whether I think life is worth living or not.

Though I'm not convinced by Woody Allen's list, the fact that none of us asks to be born must certainly warrant consideration. And then the question becomes not, is life worth living, but, finding ourselves alive, is it better to commit suicide or continue living? And I think I'll only be able to answer that question on my death-bed (and depending on whether the intervening years/months/days/hours are filled with happiness or sadness, the answer will probably be different).

Anyway, I wish I had a friend like Woody. A pain shared is a pain halved (so I'm told - though I've yet to empirically test it). ;)