One of my previous posts touched off a stack of questions (all from one person). Since I answered them quickly, and rawly, and as honestly as I could… and since I’m working on the Ralph Waldo Emerson Trust30 prompts, which seem to be largely about being just so, I asked whether I could post the questions and my responses on the blog. Seeming apropos of all this thinking about the meaning of it all.
So, without further ado, the kind of answer you will get if you ask me tough questions through email (which you can do at seonaid at thepracticaldilettante dot com.)
If life is a game, are we playing it as individuals or as cultures or as collections of genes?
In a belief system where we have more than one kick at the can, is inequality necessary for a sufficient variety of learning experiences? Aren’t there lessons in every life? What other than “unfairness” is wrong with inequality of starting position, with ‘playing the hand you’re dealt’?
Why is it wrong to destroy the planet? (I’m not taking the stance that it isn’t, but why is it wrong — do you have anything that isn’t “sentient beings will suffer” or “it just is?” or “imposing our will on others”? )
Is it wrong to impose our will on others? Ok — why? You know, we all do it *all* *the* *time*, and find reasons that it’s ok in that special case.
What’s so bad about suffering anyway? I’m not going to go and seek it, and I’m going to spend some energy personally on avoiding it, because life is more pleasant with less suffering – but you know, there’s the 69 problems thing.
Are our lives about reducing/avoiding suffering, and it’s just a matter of whether we act on the individual or successively larger collective level?
Why does it have to make sense?
And my completely incomplete answer:
I don’t know. I don’t know the answers to ANY of those questions. I’m not sure that they even have answers. But an awful lot of where my thinking is going is towards the ideas not of what is right and wrong, but the question of what is effective. Yes, you CAN impose your will on others. But if what you are looking for is a stable solution, or coherence, or love, it is probably more effective to learn to listen and compromise. You CAN make your children do what you tell them to do (at least I’ve heard that it’s possible), but you can’t also make them love you. You can use force to stabilize your society, but you can’t also get the best work out of your citizens.
If life is a game, I suspect that Richard Dawkins is right, and we have moved on to playing it as collections of memes, stories, if you will.
“Why is it wrong to destroy the planet?” you say. And this one, I just don’t have an answer for. I find myself saying, “Well. We’re all going to die someday, right. What difference does it make if we all go at once?” (nobody’s had a good answer for that one). All I can come down to is this: the universe likes being alive, and wants to keep being alive. We’re jeopardizing that… but only insofar as complex life forms are involved. We’re not going to sterilize the planet, and the universe has nothing but time. Even if it takes 100 million years, something else intelligent will evolve. Just look at apes, cetaceans, octopuses, ravens, parrots… we don’t have the monopoly on intelligence, we just got the jump on technology (and possibly language, although even that is in question these days.) If we’re a dead end, something else will come along. I just don’t particularly want to live through that. And I don’t want to bequeath it to my children. It seems likely that some generation in the not-too-distant future is going to go through a great die-off. I hoped that something my generation did would prevent it.
I’ve become pretty seriously Buddhist in recent months, so an awful lot of it is about releasing. The problem with suffering is that… it keeps the illusion in place. It IS the illusion. It has to do with the imagination thinking that in some way we can control what is going on around us. The issue of inequity is that in attempting to reduce our own suffering (through ineffective means) we increase the suffering in the universe as a whole. And since separation is part of the illusion, the shifting of suffering onto others increases the suffering in the world, and indirectly in ourselves. We can stop. That’s the fourth noble truth: we don’t have to do this. We don’t have to assert our separation and ego in the world, we can experience directly, and by doing so, stop contributing to the suffering.
I think that there is a striving towards beauty that is inside each of us, but we have become cynics. We don’t really believe that true beauty is possible, that freedom and liberation are possible, so we attempt to content ourselves with the illusion of beauty. Perfectly manicured lawns, tidy kitchens, pest-free fields of wheat and corn. We have learned to equate beauty with control, because the riot of life and complexity that is the natural world frightens us so deeply.
I don’t think that it HAS to make sense. But I come back again and again to my Great Agnostic Claim… which is, “At least some of the universe wants to know why it is here, at least some of the time.”