Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Divide By Zero

time Forgive me this long rant about myself, but I’m sure you’ve come to expect it.

I’ve always been a passionate person, for better or worse.  At work several people have made jokes that I’m a natural salesman because when I like something, I get so passionate about it I try to convince everyone around me of it, even if it’s something as mundane as, oh I don’t know, electronic cigarettes…

I’ve also always been a bit on the intellectual side.  While others may want to spend their nights having drinks and getting wild, or playing sports and being active, I always found a good debate to be my pass-time of choice.

And there was always much to debate.  Whatever beliefs I hold, I hold them strongly.  This has always been the case, and has gotten me into trouble more than once.  But this passionate advocacy of whatever side of the debate I was on has taken its toll over the years.

When you’re so behind something that you’ll go out of your way to debate it with anyone willing to not punch you in the face, you eventually hear many good arguments against it.  And as someone who respects truth more than any one opinion, I’d always do my best to overcome my personal bias towards my held belief and reconsider both options every time I received new information on the subject.

Eventually I couldn’t help but realize some of my beliefs were wrong.  Not wanting to be a stubborn ass, well no more than I’d already been, I suitably changed my beliefs accordingly.

But it doesn’t end.  Eventually I’d become passionate about this new belief, and get into as many debates as I could on the matter.  I’d debate against many points I myself used to hold.  Until eventually someone would make a good point that disproved the new belief I now held…

I’ve been a pacifist and a pragmatic.  I’ve been a socialist and a capitalist.  I’ve believed in free market, regulated market and all the shades in between.  I’ve believed in freedom over safety, and vice versa.  I’ve done almost all the things I once swore I’d never do, and taken back things I swore were intrinsically true.

Over time I was left feeling pretty disenfranchised.  I’d been so sure, so many times.  And being proven wrong was humbling.  But naturally I had to take humility to it’s extremity.  And now I’m passionately passionless.  I raise the white flag with pride.

Lesson133

The stance I now stand behind is a transparent one.  Nothing is intrinsically true.  Truth is a relative term.  While it may be the case that some combination of matter is accurate, we will never know it, not really.  We will perceive it, and file it away in the context of who we are, and where we were in our lives at the time of perception.  Some day it will need to be re-evaluated and filed accordingly by who we’ve become and how our perceptions have changed as a result of holding them.  Even if one of those times we get it right, we won’t even be able to tell it from all the mistakes we’ve made, and eventually we will inevitably re-evaluate and file it back into fallacy.  The truth will have no recognizable quality by virtue of itself, it will look and feel just like all the illusions.

Some people choose this moment to find faith.  I suppose once I see the inadequacy of intellect to find any lasting truth I can understand the inclination to faith.  But if you’re reading this, you know me, and you know the summary of this article is not going to be faith.  Nietzsche once defined Nihilism “as a condition of tension, as a disproportion between what we want to value and how the world appears to operate.”  Basically, when we realize what we want to be true isn’t, or at the very least, can’t be known for sure, we want to continue operating as if it were.

I will not make the argument that a life of faith is easier.  I’ve known enough people of faith to know their lives are just as difficult as anyone else’s.  But I will say that a life of purpose has direction.  So while it may not make the load easier to bear, it does give one a reason to bear it.  And so we’re down to the catch-phrase of nihilism.

“What’s the point?”

I’ve been at this crossroads for several years now.  It’s difficult to lead a life of value when you see how subjective value is.  How do you lead a just life if justice is just a word?  How can you do the right thing when righteousness is really just justification?  I don’t want to devolve into some animal, only in it for myself, fulfilling my base needs.  This, despite the fact that if you ask me what I believe we are, I’d answer “just animals, in it for ourselves, fulfilling our base needs.”

I have always considered myself a moral person.  I try to do the right thing.  But when morality is just a social construct, why do the right thing when no one’s looking? 

It’s that tension.  I believe in nothing, but to continue I have to believe in something.  It’s oft been said a true nihilist offs himself right there, the living are just posers.  Of course this is generally mumbled by emo teens wearing too much eye-liner, but they do point out a logical flaw of nihilism.  If there’s no point…  What’s the point?

And eventually you get tired of studying both sides to every coin.  The whole process starts to make you sick.  You search and study, but for what?  Everything is negated by something.  The easy thing to do would be just forget it and occupy myself with hedonistic pleasures, like tv, sex, drugs, alcohol, adrenaline, whatever.  And sometimes I fall victim to such distractions.

But at the end of the day, I’m still a passionate person.  And I’m still a bit on the intellectual side.  So time and time again I find myself back at the blackboard, hoping I’ve figured out the equation.  I try again and again to rid myself of that tension, to find a way to navigate that disproportion between what I want to value and how the world appears to operate.  Despite it all, I still want my life to have some sort of meaning.  I want there to be a right and wrong.

So for now, I’ll have to take that as truth.  I can’t say what is true about the world, but I can at least say what is true about me.  I don’t know anything for certain, and while sometimes that can be overwhelming, more often it’s just really exciting.

nihilism

5 comments:

Dave said...

You know, this article doesn't... completely suck. Your closing statements are the most humble thing I've ever heard/read you say. Odd.

Anonymous said...

Why do we feel inclined to do the right thing when nobody is looking?

I wonder if maybe it is because we ARE animals. Humans are social creatures and have been for many thousands of years. Maybe the conscience is an evolutionary adaptation to a social environment. After all, if you are a murderer how likely are you to start a family and pass on your genes?

Or maybe the conscience is not instinct, but is a learned trait, passed on by your parents.

Or maybe it is a product of our intelligence and self-awareness...

The only way we could ever determine the truth would be to run an experiment on humans... but that would be unethical :P

-Derek

kristina said...

Great Read Dale.

sometimes I think you Journalism is you niche :P

kristina said...

sometimes I think Journalism is your niche**

wow. fail there haha

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