New year expectations always seem to be somewhat unrealistic. We seem to want to change ourselves so much over such a short period of time that when we realise that our hopes and expectations are not becoming a reality in the time we wished, everything collapses and we fall back into the old habits we so desperately wished to remove or replace. Heraclitus, one of the most notorious pre-Socratic philosophers, wrote that everything is in a state of change except change itself. We ourselves will change, whether we will it or not, and so it is not whether we change, but how we change. You can never become the person you once were, yet what is possible is that you begin to become the person you want to be, yet to do this it is necessary to start directing change in a positive direction at a pace that is realistic and attainable-‘once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed’ Schopenhauer. A sprint will not get you to the top, but a steady jog will, and once you reach the summit, things will become easier and easier.
Change is inevitable. As long as time exists, change will exist too. We will, as people and as beings existent in the universe, change constantly. We must determine not that we change but how we change, for good or for bad. As the New Year draws near, change is at the forefront of many people’s minds. Change can involve planning, hard work and sacrifice, yet it can also involve laziness, impulsivity and apathy. Change can be active or passive-we can let ourselves be changed, or we can change ourselves.
It is not enough to plan positive change-it must be actively pursued and ascertained. Perhaps one of the greatest aids to positive change is that of the goal (the telos, the end, the purpose). A goal provides a ‘why’ for what you are planning, and therefore gives reason and purpose to your actions, so when asked ‘why are you doing X?’ you can reply ‘because Y’. Without knowing why you are doing what you are doing it seems almost inevitable that change will become passive.
‘Every human activity is a tack for killing time.’ Thomas Ligotti
Time passes inevitably. Change occurs whether we like it or not. That is what time is-a measure of change. The way we use and manipulate time determines how our lives turn out. Time, then, is the greatest resource for a human life.
Ligotti’s idea is one of existential nihilism, that everything is essentially useless, and that human activity leads to nothing. Objectively this may be to some extent true: time does pass and eventually all human endeavours will come to nothing. But that is not all. While the human race exists, our endeavours are still meaningful. They still affect ourselves and the people around him-what happens now and the effects that current events and actions have, must not be overlooked. Everything becomes redundant at some point, but human activities still have meaning while they are around to be experienced. Life is not merely killing time, it is using time which is passing and perishing in the best way you think.
Tribal warfare seems ingrained in nature. Humans, like other animals, divide into packs in the form of nations. The two world wars are a clear example of the potency and destruction of tribal warfare. It seems that in today’s world, war has been replaced with sport, and that sport is a less violent form of war. Perhaps sport is a form of war. Anyhow, the way in which groups of fans collide in city streets and pubs is hugely reminiscent of the battlefields in war, though considerably less brutal or destructive. It is not to say that sport is anything like much war in its consequences, but that sport, particularly the fan-bases of sports, may reveal that violence is something innate in humans, or at least division and tribal separation are present. One could argue that sport has replaced war. Like war, groups of people may fight other groups simply because they support a different team to their own-very much like the nation divide which causes this and that person to fight on different sides of the trenches. Sport seems to have replaced war, certainly for the better, yet the conflict in sport may tell us something about the nature of the human being.
‘Yes, much bitter dying must there be in your lives, you creators!’ Thus Spoke Zarathrustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
Creation is one of the unique things about human existence-without creation existence becomes difficult and tiresome, perhaps even completely pointless. Marxist theory suggests that a life devoid of creation is the reason why people turn to religion. Many jobs involve little or no creation, and Marx believed that this lack of creation leads people to religion as a form of consolation, an idea developed later by Freud. Nietzsche said ‘Creating-that is the great redemption from suffering’. Creation is painful in itself, but through this painful creation there is a salvation from suffering. Nietzsche combats the way which people turn to religion for salvation, and entreats that we should rather create in order to save ourselves. Why, though, must creation involve ‘bitter dying’? Because that which precedes creation is self-destruction. Sacrifice must be had if we want to create. Pain and death, then, can give rise to a redemptive and greater form of life.
Can we know whether anybody else exists? Are we the only conscious being that exists? Is everything else a projection? Some say so. Solipsism is the belief that everything external to our mind is unsure, and that it is impossible to know whether anything outside ourselves is real.
Gorgias the Sophist was the first philosopher to entertain solipsism and scepticism, and Descartes, in his meditations, wrote that we can only know that we ourselves exist. Solipsism can lead to depersonalization disorders and indifference to the world-if it doesn’t exist, why care for it? However, a solipsistic world view is bound to crumble when surrounded with other people, otherwise permanent detachment, and maybe even madness, will ensue.
The rise of human consciousness can be interpreted in different ways. Some hold that human consciousness is a huge development in evolution and is greatly beneficial, being a fundamentally good thing, but others hold that consciousness causes suffering and that we would be better off without it.
Thomas Ligotti, like Arthur Schopenhauer, believes that consciousness is a dangerous and pain-inducing part of human existence. Consciousness causes us to be aware of what we are-creatures that are slowly dying, born for nothing, and destined to die, ultimately, for nothing. He says that ‘most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness’, and this is rather obvious today-the phone is the most common way of achieving a state of non-thinking, and people are straight on them as soon as they are awake, throughout the day until before they go to sleep, every day. The phone allows us to limit our consciousness, since a phone user ceases to think. One of the biggest reasons why phones and technology are so widely used is because they are a means which can be used to stop thinking.
Consciousness no doubt has its benefits as well as its flaws, yet perhaps the greatest use of consciousness is to create comedy. Comedy is the use of our reason to create absurdity, and comedy allows us to use our consciousness to laugh at the very thing we are using. Again Ligotti speaks:
‘To my mind, a well-developed sense of humour is the surest indication of a person’s humanity, no matter how black and bitter that humour may be.’
What is art for? Is it to reflect reality or to create something different from it? Is art a way of appreciating what exists, or is it a means of escape, a way out from the real world?
Nietzsche was hugely appreciative of art, particularly music, being a composer himself, and said that without music, ‘life would be nothing’. This idea of the power and importance of art comes from Schopenhauer, and stems originally from Kant, although Kant thought music was a low form of art, opposing Nietzsche who held music in high esteem. It is not clear why we make art, though it seems a necessary part of life, something that most people cannot avoid doing. In some ways it is a form of self-expression. Yet what has occurred to me is that art portrays one thing: a desire for liberation. In this it seems that art is frequently used as a way of escaping reality and taking oneself elsewhere, not as a distraction as such, but more as a will to be someplace else which is, ultimately, purer. Music offers at least a moment of some kind of perfection, even if that perfection is temporary and man-made. And how, then, does one go about the creation of art? Again, Nietzsche must be quoted:
‘For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.’
This is a question which has been asked for centuries, but is there any definitive answer even now? The most common debate is that of relativism and absolutism, whether there are things which are universally right and wrong at all times for all peoples, making morality objective, or whether everything is relative, either culturally or individually, and therefore subjective.
Morality presupposes freedom. If we are not free, then there is no actual morality, just an idea of what it should be like. There is no doubt that societies cannot function without this idea of freedom, otherwise the judicial system would collapse, since nobody could be blamed for anything, since no actions are made freely. However, just because societies would not be orderly without the concept of freedom and objective morality, this does not necessarily mean that freedom and objective morality are actualities. Free will may just be an illusion, and merely provides a basis for responsibility and a system of justice, as well as our brains tricking ourselves into thinking that we are making choices when really we aren’t.
Again, the objectivity of morality seems somewhat absurd. How does one know what is actually right and actually wrong? The general claim is that morality comes from God, thereby making it objective, but what kind of morality is it that comes from God and how do we find this out? There are so many different interpretations of scripture, and religions differ and oppose each other constantly in moral beliefs, all claiming that their own morality is the divine one. It seems to me impossible to reach past our subjective nature to any objective truth about morality. Even if there was a right answer as to what to do, how would we attain this answer without the trouble of subjective interpretation arising?
Morality keeps society orderly and maintains a system or justice, but this system of justice seems based on a set of subjective principles which are then proposed as objective from a standpoint of power. A moral statement seems to be a preference or opinion put forward as a fact. Yet this solves nothing, and the question of what is right and what is wrong may go forever.
The thought of dying can make life seem bitter. Death can propose itself to us as a struggle to be coped with, but only if we let it. The reality of death is inevitable, so it is how we deal with this eventual reality that is crucial, for this may influence our actions now and in the future. If being dead seems terrible, it is because we are clinging onto life, and to hope, too much. Being dead is a tragedy if we expect an excessive amount from life. We are fortunate to be alive at all, let alone forever.
Life is but a break from the state of being dead, and it is an opportunity to explore existence before we return to the ground we came from. Life only becomes bitter if we expect too much from it.
‘To hope is to contradict the future.’ Emil Cioran