That’s what we all do, isn’t it? Turn the crank, keep the system going, economically and biologically. Just like ants in their colonies, or termites in their ‘apartment’ complexes on the savanah. We think we know what we are doing, but we are just working to keep it all going. We have our little cranks, and we turn them until we drop dead. Sort of like those hamsters in cages. A Zen way of seeing this might be that it is just so, and the enlightened one knows it to be that way in his gut. I tend towards the more western-pessimist cum cynic interpretation. We all turn the crank of our little cog in the great big International Work Machine (IWM) because we have learned that we have no choice. Or think we don’t. Or do we? What are we supposed to do anyway?
Pascal’s argument with the ‘philosopher’ intellectuals of his days was just this point of wisdom of the common people, the mass, the crowd, on whom the educated looked down their noses. He said, in not so many words, “You think you are so smart to question all the conventions of the world, but you pretty much accept them when it comes to daily life. The common folk are way ahead of you. They know there’s no escape, so they accept it without illusion or intellectualizing. You pretend you have discovered something.”
Yes, hmmm…I guess mountains are just mountains, clouds are just clouds…Meanwhile, so what if we are all turning our crank?
I sat in a Japanese restaurant tonight listening to some guy next to me whooping with joy as he ate, expostulating, “This is some kick-ass wassabi!” To me he sounded like a vulgar idiot, but who is more the fool of the two of us…at that moment at least? He, who sounded like a numbskull? Or I, who waste my time wondering which of us is more an idiot, rather than just enjoying my food?
The place had two fish tanks with brilliantly colored fish swimming around, but the two tanks were identical. They were digital projections. Is life imitating art here? D’Esseintes might have liked it, and gotten one for his room with the flowers he bred to look like fakes. Is this an important development in the kitsch wave of destruction, or just another form of entertainment or decor? The latter I think.
We just have too much, or so much, free time. Struggling to survive focuses the mind wonderfully. No need to meditate on the meaning of it all, it’s quite clear. But surplus food and time brings culture and the meaning of that all is something that we create, that is not given to us. (Not one of les donnés, the ‘givens’, the datums, which Duchamp told us about.) We have to think about the meaning of it all, and we do, all of us. Some find the meaning in making more money, being powerful, buying stuff, collecting stuff, having sex with lots of partners, eating, and so on. Some dismal philosophers see this as a fleeing from the awareness of death, but I see it as a search for meaning. Nobody wants to accept that all we’re doing is turning a crank. If you do accept it then what is there that means anything? Just your loved ones, your friends, and your hobbyhorses which you indulge in the full knowledge that they are meaningless in themselves (stamps, coins, baseball cards…?!) but are a means to ease the passage of time as we turn, turn, turn the crank.
Or, you can chose to deny it all and follow some religion. Those people always have an answer.