Indifference Between Life and Death
April 1, 2018
Author: Bianca Yang
I haven’t blogged these past many days (not past few) because I’ve felt such a sense of disgust towards my blog. I think most of this disgust blends into boredom and apathy. Some of this disgust really comes from my conflict over purpose.
I’ve been steeping myself in a lot of Alan Watts these days. After I opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibility with James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games, I delved into Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity. The Wisdom of Insecurity seemed to resolve most of my general lack of motivation and general feeling of dissatisfaction with life, especially his teachings on letting life run like you would let water run. One cannot listen to music any harder by extending any one piece of a song. You can only appreciate music by letting each moment be ephemeral and dissipate into the atmosphere. I felt like I had understood his teachings and that by giving up on the conventional assumptions of living a purposeful life, I would no longer feel so useless and bored.
So I delved even further and casually flipped through Alan Watts The Book and then read a transcript of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s “Can we Together Create A Good Society?”. By the way, all these documents, except Carse’s, can be found in the organism.earth library. Jiddu’s teachings were rather vague, but I felt I understood his question about what happens to two people when they start thinking together. I think the answer to that is exactly the answer Alan Watts gives in The Book: We are all the same, that is, we are the universe. Once we think together, there is no division between the two of us, thus we must be the same thing. If we extend further, then we unite with Watts’ viewpoint and encompass everything. Rather than coming into the universe, we come out of it, as a part of it.
Beautiful, isn’t it, this view of universal unity? Well, it was until it wasn’t for me. At some point, I started to feel that if I truly believed what Watts was saying, then I would be completely satisfied. There would be no difference in my being dead or alive, because there is no longer anything in this world left for me to do. I could, supposedly, play hide as the God in Watts’ The Book. Perhaps my conflict here is erroneous because I still assume purpose in this life. To accept Watts’ philosophy is fundamentally to accept that life is purposeless. Only by doing things for the sake of doing them can we truly understand those things. Thus, only by living for the sake of living can I understand living. And that satisfied me for a bit, but I still felt like accepting this philosophy made me indifferent between life and death. So why bother living? Why bother preserving my life?
So I lived, unhappy with my life, and without an answer to that , for a while, until I finally got frustrated enough to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And that book really helped clear some of my frustrations about the futility of life. One of the ideas discussed is that fanatacism can only occur when there is doubt. One can only be fanatic about Christianity if there is doubt about the legitimacy of Christianity. If you are certain, nothing can shake your faith, so there no reason for you to go off your rocker fighting people of other faiths or false prophets or false believers. You can calmly and rationally and clearly explain your position to those who are confused because you know truth will eventually find those people. I can only be fanatic about life if I am uncertain of my life. And I really am uncertain. I am uncertain as to whether I will still live tomorrow; I am uncertain as to whether my life will be worth living. So I had better be fanatic about life until I satisfy that uncertainty. And that uncertainty is impossible to be resolved, so I will remain fanatic about it until the day I die. And that’s a wonderful thing, that I have such energy about a necessary reality, because it means I will do great things in my time on this earth.
One other concept Prisig discusses which I found wonderfully freeing was his dichotomy of romantic and classical thinking. Pulling from the book: “A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance.” I think the hole I had dug myself into regarding my life was that I had begun to look at life too romantically. Life was just life. What was everybody so confused about? But the really interesting parts of life come when you try to dissect it and understand it and come to terms with all the contradictory ideas that emerge when you get deep into the weeds of it. That was the part of my life that I was missing. I had given up too much of my natural inclination for classical thinking, what people commonly term “curiosity” or even “childlike curiosity”, for a laid back, superficial view of life. I don’t want to view life; I want to appreciate it. I don’t need to understand it to appreciate it, but I need to value it more than superficially.
Another idea I like that’s from Prisig’s book is that imitiation is inherently bad. He has this whole section on Phaedrus, this mythical being who I believe is him, running a no-grades experiment at the college where he’s teaching English. The purpose of this experiment is to reintroduce real education by cultivating knowledge-motivated people. Those kinds of people are absolutely unstoppable because they have real reasons to want to know and can’t stop themselves from satisfying that want. Another motivation for this system was to encourage people to become more creative by breaking free of their imitation-shackles. He wanted his students to realize that they could see freshly without worrying about what had been said and done before. He wanted his students to decide for themselves what was good and bad, what was worthwhile and pointless. He wanted everybody to follow their internal creative goals. He eventually gave up this experiment because most of his students were struggling to escape from the vacuum where they were told what to do. I haven’t finished the book, so I’m not exactly sure how things resolve, but I know that he will eventually discover a satisfying metaphysics on Quality.
Why do I find imitation bad? Because it shackles the mind. Peter Thiel is famous for the question “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”. Those who imitate will never have a good answer. Then again, Thiel is in support of Rene Girard’s mimetic theory. I’m not sure how to resolve this conflict because I don’t know enough about mimetic theory, but the surface level intuition suggests a significant conflict between his desire for contrarian thinkers and his support of mimetic theory. Regardless, contrarian thinking is refreshing and satisfying and is necessary for the progress of society. Perhaps progress isn’t necessary, you say. I’ve certainly thought this myself, especially because I was once confused about why economic growth was necessary (as measured by GDP). It soon became obvious that economy was a flywheel. The more economic activity there is, the more economic activity will be produced. The more people get on the economic growth bandwagon, the more people will be inspired to jump on and keep pushing forward. So it is not that economic growth or progress is necessary, but that it is an attractive alternative to a world of stability. Will anyone really argue that our lives today are worse than those of the hunter-gatherers or of 18th century royalty? Perhaps we are philosophically more empty, but we are surely not physically or economically any worse off.
So now my mental woes have been sung to sleep by the lullabies of economic growth and Prisig’s Zen and Watts’ universal unity. Write me if you have questions, comments, or concerns. Until next time.