Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yes or No

Without our permission or our input, we are dropped into this world in whatever state it happens to be in at the time of our birth. Life, with all of it's grandeur, misery, harshness, and absurdity, is now thrust upon us despite whatever we may will. We, however, have an advantage over the beasts. We grow and one day we may realize we have the choice to say 'Yes' or 'No.'

A thinking man must make judgments on fundamental questions, that is a duty of a philosopher, isn't it? We have an opportunity to make such a judgment when we mature and look at life; we get to choose whether or not we say 'Yes' to life or 'No.' Saying 'Yes' means accepting life, accepting what it is and agreeing to play it. Saying 'No' indicates that you have no interest in life and you reject it.

Is one better than the other? Is there an objective choice? A matter of taste? Questions for another time.

What do these choices mean? What are their implications?

To say 'Yes' is to say that I find life worth living, and I wholeheartedly desire to live. It says that I accept life even with its horrors and harshnesses. Faced between a hard life and an easy death I will choose life, not because of a fear of death, but because I have chosen to live.

To say 'No' is to say that I will not live life, for whatever reason.

What is more fundamental than this? The question of what is good means nothing if you reject life, the question of the meaning of life is one reserved for those who have chosen life. All things come back to this question; this question is the foundation for all other questions because this question determines whether or not other questions are worth pursuing.

If a man says 'No' what does he do? I suppose this can manifest in different ways. The purest and most obvious way would be a shotgun in the mouth, a slash of the wrist or something of that sort. Still, a man may say 'No' without having the courage to actually exit life. In which case he would be a man trying to escape life while existing within life. His life will consist of mostly of pastimes, because his goal is simply to pass the time. He does not embrace life, he tolerates it, and tries to keep his mind off of it.

What about the man who says 'Yes?' He will be the man who attempts to excel at life because life, to him, is worth excelling at. He will be the man who considers the way he lives his life and asks himself the important questions about life, because to him life is worth examining.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On the Will to Stupidity

To close your ears to even the best counter-argument once the decision has been taken: sign of a strong character. Thus an occasional will to stupidity.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

I have always found fascinating the will to stupidity, from the examples I found when I first became interested in internet debate to the examples I find around me in that world outside of the monitor. Those men who are of such strong (stubborn?) character that nothing can shake their foundations.

I have chosen Nietzsche's aphorism because thinking about the aphorism brought my mind to this topic; I do not doubt that there may be people far more familiar with Nietzsche than I who might have a more accurate view of what Nietzsche meant, but this is where it led me so that's what I'll write about.

First I want to talk about the will to stupidity as found in men of "strong" character. These men are not hard to find, they are the ones who are not particularly concerned with whether or not a thing is true, even to the extent of dismissing any opposing argument or evidence to the contrary of whatever it is that they believe. Perhaps a pious man who says science is only good in so far as it confirms his particular religion, perhaps a liberal man who insists that all who do not share his politics should be dismissed as greedy warmongers? We can find all sorts of examples in all camps.

There is great pleasure to be had in dismissing doubt and reclining with the notion that you are correct in all your beliefs that matter; disregard pleasure and consider the fact that doubt leads to an inability to act. Consider James' insight on this matter:

. . . the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

James 1:6

Are there any objections to this insight? You may doubt that James had a good thing for us to put our faith in, but I find it very easy to believe that he was right when he said the doubting man is "driven and tossed by the wind." Doubt restrains us, keeps us from moving; the will to stupidity is the thing that keeps us marching forward, but the will to stupidity may blind us to the fact that we're marching toward something that we ought not march toward.

Doubt is paralyzing, but isn't that occasionally beneficial? If we're marching toward a pit we would want to be paralyzed, if we're marching toward streets of gold we would want to keep moving with as much vigor as possible. The problem is that we cannot always determine what we're heading toward. This is why doubt is valuable, and we should choose self-inspection over a will to stupidity. Doubt paralyzes us and in order to proceed we must examine ourselves and our surroundings.

Is faith then to be done away with, or does it have a place.

Faith, in it's purest sense, would be acting or believing without any regard for evidence one way or the other. Doubt, in it's purest sense, would be refusing to act or believe without any regard for evidence one way or the other. Naturally, no one deals with these things in their purest senses, we deal with mixtures of them. We must have a little faith to say, perhaps, that we can reasonably trust our eyes to get us through the day. We need doubt otherwise we are merely the disciples of whatever charismatic leader we happen to bump into.

Without faith we cannot move forward, without doubt we march to our deaths.

What of the strong man who does not consider anything opposing him? Well, fortunately for him he'll probably turn out alright. Chances are that he will cling to whatever morality he was given by those around him (he is not known for innovation) and chances are that he will be able to operate well in society with the morality he was given, pity if he was raised by Westboro Baptist or a suicide bomber, though.

What about his opposite? The man so open minded that he has no real beliefs? He is worse off. He may never march to his doom, but that will only be because he does not march anywhere. He makes no progress because every new objection or new idea sends him right back to the ground, paralyzed.

The strong man doubts all but himself, in whom he places all of his faith. The weak man has faith in all but himself, in whom he places all of his doubt.

Once again the golden mean between these two paths is the ideal. Have faith in yourself so that you may progress, but doubt yourself so that you understand when it's best to go in a different direction. The proper balance of faith and doubt in relation to outside influences would be to consider their claims and give them enough consideration that you can confidently reject, accept, or respect them.