“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterward. These are games; one must first answer. Albert Camus
Tough guy isn’t he?
I don’t disagree with him tough, but fear not, his answer towards life is positive, very, and yours is and will be as well I’m sure but you have to have your own answers, your own conclusions, because no one can do your thinking for you.
Why bother? Why even bother living at all? This is a very scary question indeed. It is a journey of the mind that we must all take, certainly not for the light-hearted.
The deeper you go into the rabbit hole, the better the insights you will get. In the rabbit hole, you’ll find what you’re looking for, but you have to be brave enough to ask and ask, and ask. Fortunately, a lot of thinking has already been done, specially by the stoics and although you have to do your own thinking, there is no reason why you cannot use ancient wisdom to better understand the issues at hand. So let’s deep into the matter using existing knowledge.
Pragmatism, stoicism and it’s practicality
Pragmatism: an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.
Stoicism is a practical philosophy, and exactly that is the beauty of it. Seneca even discourages you to read a lot of books if they will not aid you immediately in living a good, virtuous life. In this sense, Stoicism is a pragmatic philosophy.
There is a great book written by Simone and Malcolm Collins called The Pragmatist Guide to Life.
The Pragmatist Guide to Life begins, just like Camus’s book Myth of Sisyphus, with a sadistic humorist question, personally, I think I found it funny as a defense mechanism against the jokingly darkness of it, but judge for yourselves.
Why is genocide bad?
The obvious answer, the one I thought first, was: absolutely not! It’s just obvious! Killing people is terribly wrong! And to this they answer:
Our society tells us genocide is wrong, that killing innocent people is wrong, and that racism is wrong. However, if you believe these things only or primarily because the culture in which you grew up told you they were obviously true, then you hold little moral authority over someone who participated in genocide, because the culture in which they grew up in told them genocide was a moral imperative.
If you took an average of cultures across human history—the things that most people in most places were raised to believe were true—you would have a culture that believed women were lesser beings than men, that some people are born better than others, that freedom of thought is not a right, and that when you conquer a city, it is perfectly moral to rape, kill, and enslave as many civilians as you want. Why were most cultures in human history wrong, whereas the time and place that you just happen to be born into correct? If you want to believe, with any intellectual integrity, that the culture you were born into or the counterculture that accepted you is more correct than others, you need to develop your own reasons why. What you believe is a choice you can make—independently, for yourself.
And while we’re on it, why even bother answering these questions, and not “just live”? It seems that just going with the flow works doesn’t it?
Again, you are welcome to do as you want, but if you start to wonder and ask just a tiny bit more your reasons little bit more about the whys of your motives and develop an idea of why you do what you do and why you are who you are you will start to develop better informed idea about your behavior.
You will gain power over your identity (because it is a choice, and it is certainly malleable) you will become in every sense a better person.
You will no longer be a blind human just doing what culture, your parents, your peers and so ask you to do, just because “it has always been done this way” or because it is convenient to somebody else.
Understanding gives you power.
You can develop your own morality based on your own assumptions and live a better, more informed and fulfilling life.
So what happens when you start to ask the “why” question more often?
As human beings, we naturally follow value. Value is like the north in a compass for our minds, we just follow it and we know just know what it is. We act how we act and do what we do because we found whatever it is that we are doing, valuable.
For example. Suppose you’ve just gone to the beach, Cancun, Ibiza or whatever. Then suppose that you’ve been training in the gym hard the entire winter, so now by summer, you are pretty ripped. When you get to the beach the first day after a perfect evening chilling with some new friends on the beach, you find yourself in the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever been in your life. Obviously, you take your phone out and take a picture. You then upload the coolest sunset photo you’ve ever seen to your Instagram account and within an hour you take your phone out and realize that your photo got thousands and thousands of likes.
We can infer several value assumptions here. Let’s see.
First, we could say that what you find valuable is experience. The simple act of discovering is what moves you.
Another could be your health, you’ve been working the entire winter so clearly, health is valuable to you. You went to the beach to get some relaxation, maybe the spa as well.
And lastly, it may be praise what you are after, and everything you do, you do it for the fame and followers you may be able to get by visiting cool places.
Now, if I ask you, which of the three values just mentioned, do you find the most value in? Health? Fame? or experience?
Now we are getting somewhere.
What you found the most valuable could be defined as a core value of yours. A value from which other values spring. But what happens when you ask why enough times?
Imagine values as a tree, your strongest values are the strongest branches and from those branches, other branches emerge. Now imagine the trunk of the tree. That is your core value, your most important value. Do you know what it is? If not, you’ve got some questioning to do.
Asking “why” enough times will start unveiling some quite uncomfortable truths.
It will feel like peeling an onion. What if you discover your values are pretty shitty? What if you discover that your core value is not even something under your control, like being liked by other people? This is where the situation gets messy, and this is where stoic advice fits just perfectly.
Shitty values, usually, are things that are not under our control. Like popularity (you are a slave to others), pleasures (slave to them) and so on.
The proposal of supreme value in stoic philosophy is virtue. As you very well know the motto: “Virtue is the only good”. But why? Are you just going to accept what I or the Stoics say? Or are you going to put it to the test of your reason?
I know it’s quite a bit to process and I’m sure you’ll need (as I did) some time to process and question your life a bit. So let’s leave it here so you can do some questioning and I’m the following article I’ll continue with some more wisdom.
To be continued…….
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