Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Reflections on Purpose

Some thoughts on the results of my questionnaire, to the left. I base them on the results given by twenty seven people (none of them me) that had answered the questionnaire by Friday.

Although we’re told we live in a materialistic age, you wouldn’t guess it from the zero approval rating given to making as much money as possible as life’s primary purpose. I suppose there’d be more enthusiasm if I’d suggested life is about making enough money; enough for your needs, or even your desires. Are all people, at least those not in control of major league financial institutions, similarly unmotivated by unbounded greed? Or is greed a minority concern only for the type of people who read my blog? Personally, I’ve only wanted enough – enough, that is, to be free of the system. For this reason, I do not have enough, nor, presumably, ever will, if I’m to be ‘realistic’. Enough that I can roam and soar through the world, the free spirit I’m prevented from being. Still, since ultimately money doesn’t exist – being as it is a mere social contrivance, a convention for organising the production and ownership of material and abstract objects that do exist - I’m glad heresy and dissension from the God of this World are alive.

It’s interesting that nobody is primarily motivated by the quest for the perfect career. Did the question routinely asked as a child – what are you going to be when you grow up –mean nothing to you? Maybe at the end of the day, you just don’t really want to work, such that even if you love your job, there are still better things you'd rather be doing. Or is it that you know that since people are not their jobs, but rather people that have jobs, we cannot define our essence in terms of the ways we fit into the system of the world.

Somebody out there just wants to cope, to keep things together. And why not? It’s what we do anyway, or fail to.

The perfect orgasm. I hope you find it. I shudder to think what it will involve, and how you’ll know it couldn’t be bettered. Were you joking? I was when I suggested it. Still, we’re noticeably keen on exploring the possibilities for fleshly rapture, so presumably it’s a viable concern.

It is said that Zeus, fearing our primordial androgynous potency, cut us into our two genders. So we pine and hunt for our severed other half. Does the same dynamic exist for homosexuals? Hmmmmm. Anyway- alas, I have grown cynical about the mythology of romantic love. Bitter experience has exacted its toll. If she’s out there somewhere, the clock is ticking. My grey hair proves my point. I wish you luck, the two who seek ‘The One’. You don’t have to listen to my doubts. You might be justified in your hopes. But in the meantime, if you ask me, you might want to seek completeness in yourself. It will take the pressure off them ‘to be your saviour’ when they arrive.

If reproduction is the purpose of life, the purpose of life is to keep life going so that life can continue to be life. But doesn’t that mean reproduction IS life, since it is obviously essential for life. How then can reproduction be a purpose of life? Doesn’t a purpose of life suggest something that life is for, something, then, that is more than life, more than its mere biological basis?

Three of you think the primary purpose of life is to worship your creator, which in non-Gnostic cosmologies means God, as opposed to the Demiurge. I shall presume, to be brief, you meant God, not the Demiurge. In this world, worshipping your creator can be a noble purpose. I salute you. In many ways this is indeed my purpose. In any case, I join you in spurning the anti-theistic trends of our rootless, rudderless world, in which worship is not absent but directed to lesser lights (or even lights that are not lights) that do not deserve our worship; and which, on account of our worshipping them, bring us down to less than we could be, and less than we are. But it is not, ultimately, my choice for life’s purpose. Why? Because of the meaning of worship: namely that as an emotion and stance it is a one way street. We are expected to worship God. Does God worship us in return? I think not. And if, ultimately, our destiny is to be intimately united with God, sharing his reality in a world permeated with his presence, then the preconditions for worship will have broken down - namely that God is distant from us and, essentially, both different from and superior to us, a different order of being on the other side of the abyss. In such a fraternal, equal relationship: the one depicted in Genesis 3 before the fall, the one strikingly, unmistakably desired by God in Jesus, worship has given way to love: humanity’s voluntary love for God, and humanity’s love for itself and the creation, energized, made possible, by God’s indwelling love in us for us and his creation. To absolutise God’s desire for worship is to deny God’s desire to draw ever closer to us. While it is necessary, now, as a means to focus on God in the midst of a palpably Godless, loveless world, to say that life’s purpose, in and of itself, is to worship God, implies, surely, that God is a narcissist, that he created us so that we could praise him, presumably because he was insecure in some way. Or that’s how I see it.

Your second choice for life’s purpose is that life has no purpose. I refer you to my previous post, in which I explore how having a purpose can have two different meanings and applications. After that, what can be said? If life has no purpose for you, I wonder how you get up in the morning. If you are depressed, your lack of purpose might be the cause. If you are not depressed, are you sure your life has no purpose? But if you mean, rather, that life in the grand scheme of things has no purpose, nothing given to it from the outside, by God for example, then it’s interesting to explore what this might mean. I imagine this cosmic purposelessness could be reflected upon in either a gloomy, limiting and pessimistic, or cheery, liberating and optimistic, light – depending on who you are. Maybe God’s grand, finely worked out, detailed scheme of things was your life’s best hope. Now you’ve come to reject it as a lie and are bitter and morose, if not resentful. Alternatively, for whatever reason, maybe you’ve always seen God and his metaphysical system as oppressive, both in and outside of the bedroom. Now you are overjoyed that neither he nor his system exists, except as a human fantasy. Or maybe you are indifferent to whether life has a grand purpose or not. But in that case, I’m curious why you chose the purposelessness of life as your primary understanding of life’s purpose. Why care so much?

The Gold medal of purpose is a Socratic one. While not most of you, at least the largest group amongst you, seek ‘knowledge, wisdom and understanding’. I also believe this would be nice. But, to me, far better than to know reality as a mental scheme, as a map or set of propositions, or ethical principles, placed against reality in an exact fit, would be to be united to reality in a more thorough, holistic sense than is suggested by these mediated qualities. Meanwhile, we must wonder: whose knowledge, whose wisdom, whose understanding? That which is known, acted wisely towards and understood may very well be reality as it is in-itself. But even if it is, even if our knowledge is accurate and truthful it is still knowledge seen and understood from our perspective, by way of the limited, contingent conditions and potentialities of our minds. A ‘pure’ knowledge uninfluenced by the fact that we are the knowers of it: a knowledge science supposes exists and seeks, is impossible. And a good thing too! Only by factoring out our humanity, by knowing the world as a void, could such a knowledge even theoretically be possible. But since such a knowledge is impossible we needn’t worry about such a humanity-excluding knowledge. So why bother with it even as a dream? Knowledge will always be our knowledge. This is why knowledge changes, because we change – in ourselves, and in our abilities to discover. This is not to attack science as a means to manipulate matter, to allow this virtual communication between us to happen, and to achieve its other accomplishments. It is only to criticise science's epistemological ambitions, especially with regard to what we derisorily call ‘metaphysics’ (which is only metaphysical because we can’t see it yet ). Seeing through a glass darkly is better than not seeing at all – and this is our knowledge. But when the glass is removed, the knower and known become one – we transcend the limitations of our condition and are reconciled with the infinite and the eternal. Humanity has often been a story of presumptive, premature, disastrously abortive self-apotheoses. But this does not imply we shall never merge with the Godhead, or that our desire to become God is misconceived. After all, these things go both ways. God wants to become human too. Why else do you think he created us? How else can the incarnation be explained?

Which brings me to my own choice. Number Ten. Ok, I phrased it eccentrically, but in this I agree with the great nemesis of gloomy metaphysicians, Friedrich Nietzsche: the only fundamental purpose that life can ultimately possess is joy. Presuming that God exists –and yes, you may have guessed, I presume this – and presuming again, as I do, that God is not so insecure and vain a narcissist that he felt a need to create an army of worshippers to help him feel better about himself, what other purpose could our existence have? Why else bring particularity into existence from the abundant ocean of the one? That something went wrong in the creative process, somewhere along the way, seems to be the case. While orthodox Christians accusingly heap the blame for this exclusively on our shoulders; and while Gnostics attribute the problem of life’s joylessness to the fact that our world was created by a lesser divine emanation, if not the Devil himself, they both agree that something went wrong. The question of life’s cure, of course, is a whole other issue; but without knowing what life should be: a non-suffering field of not boring delight, it’s impossible to know where we are headed, or should be.

Of course I could be wrong. There could be no God, and life could have no grand purpose. It could all be random strangeness, from the bottom up and sideways. But I have no reason to think so that convinces me and plenty of reasons, subjectively experienced, scientifically non-verifiable, I accept, for thinking otherwise.

By the way I'm composing this in a youth hostel in Shanghai. The humidity has beat a welcome retreat, along with the heat. A very welcome event. More from the Orient anon.


Selena Dreamy said...

It is the unfortunate destiny of any post approaching some 2000 words, particularly when of a philosophical nature, that it will remain unread forever. One reason is that every philosophical proposition invites further propositions, on and on, ad infinitum...

...and that it is all rather pointless!

The defence against fear of inadequacy can sometimes be fabrication and dissimulation, as it is in my own case. At least when you’re a female you can always rely on the odd lascivious commentary, but for a male, I’m afraid , the prospects are dire...

So, what else is happening in Shanghai, Jonathan - is the nightlife up to the standard of a beguiling 5ft 10in confection of honey-blonde hair, limpid blue eyes, baby-doll face, punching above her 5ft 7in in towering heels and supporting a cleavage beyond your wildest expectations...?

Selena awaits...

May said...

What is Selena awaiting?

Jonathan said...

Does this mean you haven't read it?

I didn't check the word count but it's good to think I have fallen within the limts set by my University tutors.

Do I fear inadequacy. I may be inadequate, but why should I fear being so? Who's judging, what criterea are they using, and why?

Again, I try to be cogent but I must be thorough. Is it the writer's fault if the reader can't stomach 2000 words; or did you mean 2000 words of only inferior prose?

I would have thought, given your other anti-modernist perspectives, you would not make such an apology for the modern reader.

Why should I care what the modern world thinks about philosophy, or whether it's only viable response to philosophic utterings is to automatically react in pointlessly point scoring fashion? Questions of ultimate significance will endure. The modern world, thankfully, will not.

I think, May, Selena is wating for salacious anecdotes from Shanghai. Alas there are none to report, though I did buy some Armani jeans which is a step up for me. I took to early nights, a point noted by my new friends as they put me down as a 'lightweight'. Not that I was looking for it, but there seems to be no red light districtto speak of at all. Well, nothing readily visible. Presumably, such aspects of the West do not conform to the Westernisation China allows itself.

By the way, I've just finished 'Lost Horizon' by James Hilton, which I heartily recommend.

Selena Dreamy said...

Thank you Jonathan, for your patient and comprehensive reply. No inadequacy implied - other than my own, indeed - except perhaps, that long posts tend to have a lonesome life...

I admire your sense of enterprise. Good luck, and keep us posted.


Jonathan said...

Well yes I can accept that the blog format lends itself to brief posts, so much perhaps that many now expect or demand this.

Ideally, if one doesn't feel one has alot to say, and if one is commeting on news or topics that arise, one should indeed be terse.

But, while not wishing to be overly defensive, commenting on a question such as life's purpose, and 'meaning', seems like an important enough subject to warrant at least 2000 words, even if those words are not particularly 'good', whatever that means. Especially since I was discussing a project that concerned others, since they had had gone to the trouble of participating.

Ultimately, please forgive me, but I write what I like. I can't worry too much about conforming to expectations of form.

If people don't like it, well, at least they didn't have to buy it, so I wasn't taking their money. As for time, well, there's a lot of it about, if only people would look.