Over at Troutsky’s blog, I ran into a blogger named KulturCritic who is concerned that we, human beings, that is, have lost something valuable from our paleolitithic kin-relationship days and are the slaves of our own creation, the time-production-history schtick. I like to make fun of him for being a wild-eyed utopian, but I share a bit of his sensibility, as any reader of my posts on the “International Work Machine” can tell. Well, I found myself feeling more sympatico with his posts as I walked home from work on the sidewalks of lower Manhattan yesterday.
Wordsworth thought of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of emotion recollected in tranquility.” I am no poet, so what can I do to communicate my occasional epiphanies? Should I bother, or will I simply produce some tired, trite prose? Brace yourself…
Why does anyone do anything, I often ask myself. All the effort people expend, physical and emotional, on stuff, things I just can’t invest in. People want to build something, or accumulate something, which is a sort of building, building a pile. Money, power, sex, a string of lovers, an organization at your beck and call, an enormous portfolio of funds? In the end…
What do they do with it? How does it make them feel? How would it make me feel? You can only buy so much, and one thing at a time. Eat one dinner, drink one wine, make love to one woman at a time. (Even a menage requires attention to one at each separate moment.) When all is available to you, is there any thrill in acquisition? When we grow old and feeble, do we look back on our glory days as manager-honcho and think, “Those were great days, they made me..,” what??? It just passes away. It’s as if it never happened.
So, as Pascal might have pointed out, everything we do to accumulate is based on the illusion that things, in our lives, do accumulate, that there is more than the fleeting moment. Really, everything we do is just motion and action to pass the time of day, divertissement, to make the trip from birth to death more pleasant. Just as we might, if we care, try to make the lives of our pet dogs and cats pleasant.
This is no cause for despair or sadness – it’s just how it is. Things like culture, art, literature, philosophy, which some see as having transcendent value are simply more “entertainments.” Most people live without them. That is, everyone has culture, but not high culture, and what is culture in the general sense, other than a framework for helping us get through the day?
We might as well recognize this, and when we do, most things in our world seem pretty shallow and stupid, and what’s left to hang onto is the other people around us, the similarly lost souls, drifting on the sea of time, mindless of its true nature. So we might as well be nice to one another. We might as well expend our mental energy on fathoming the minds around us, instead of planning ahead, scheming, working, and building silly intellectual systems that pretend that there is some ultimate meaning to any of our ideas. The future does not matter, in most essentials, it’s like the past. The basic structure of life never changes. Progress, or history in that sense, is a mistaken idea.
Is it easy to think these thoughts when I am comfortable and well fed? Easier than being poor in this world, certainly. But long ago, those ancient humans for whom acquiring food, clothing and shelter was not so simple…Maybe these thoughts came more easily to them since it was so obvious what was important. Maybe the complexity we have created for ourselves has made it harder, globally, to think these thoughts.
Well, that’s what I thought, anyway, although it seemed more important at the time. And below, you will find links to some related posts of mine, if you have more time to waste: