Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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Work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.

—Voltaire (from Candide)
Further Reading

You may want to check out this essay at Philosophy Talk.

Heaven is No Place for People

Welcome to History of Philosophy 45 as examined by someone with absolutely no clue about philosophy. That is why this course is being taught by the Comedy Dept. Regardless, I would like to continue with the dialog from last week, but without the disruption of class due to the chair being hurled in my general direction.

You'll remember that we were discussing some dead white dude named Leibniz. While he was quite keen in matters mathematical, he was quite the poofter in his philosophy. For his attempt to get around the issue of how could a perfect God create evil, he came up with an idea that this is the best of all possible worlds that divinity could.

Even non-philosophers had a great time sticking needles into that statement, for why would anyone kill themself in this, the best of all possible worlds?

Then along comes the ultimate downer, another dead white dude, named Schopenhauer, and he attempts to prove that this is the worst of all possible worlds. For if anything from the orbit of the earth or loss of a limb can bring the house down, then clearly, this is just a step above extermination, and therefore, this is the worst it could be. Q.E.D.

Personally, I don't go for Leibniz, but Schopenhauer and his pessimistic philosophy, requires a heavy dose of Prozac. However, because I noticed a doodling last week of of me with a label of "masochist", I've decided to assign for reading, Schopenhauer's essay, The Emptiness of Existence. It is pretty depressing… unless read while wearing my patented, Mystical Zen Glasses. Only $14.95 at the bookstore. Allow me to give you some ideas from the essay. Let's begin with my favorite quote:

That human life must be a kind of mistake is sufficiently clear from the fact that man is a compound of needs, which are difficult to satisfy; moreover, if they are satisfied, all he is granted is a state of painlessness, in which he can only give himself up to boredom.

People are quite peculiar. They are never pleased. They are convinced that if they just had a better car, a new job or bigger boobs, they would be happy. So, they struggle with two jobs to get enough money to get the better car, and when they finally have it… it becomes just a car. That car they dreamed of for so long is now just the car in the garage. They are now bored of their dream car.

But our existence would not be a joyous thing unless we were striving after something; distance and obstacles to be overcome then represent our aim as something that would satisfy us-- an illusion which vanishes when our aim has been attained; … and this it is we call boredom… Even the pomp and splendour of the rich in their stately castles is at bottom nothing but a futile attempt to escape the very essence of existence, misery.

He was quite convinced that humans were incapable of happiness. We are either striving and struggling … or we are bored with what we have, and the desire for a new struggle resumes. Due to this fact, he was convinced that life is absolute misery.

Check out this little gem of his:

The nature of life throughout presents itself to us as intended and calculated to awaken the conviction that nothing at all is worth our striving, our efforts, and struggles. That all good things are vanity, the world in all its ends bankrupt, and life a business which does not cover expenses. To be happy, one must be as ignorant as youth. Youth thinks that willing and striving are joys, it has not yet discovered the weary insatiableness of desire and the fruitlessness of fulfillment. It does not yet see the inevitableness of defeat.

Yes, I'm sure he was great to have around at parties.

Now allow me to gleefully rub my hands together and with great condescension, question how you are going to get up tomorrow morning? Last year, when I was teaching this course (and incidentally, every year prior), a student answered my rhetorical question by saying that the answer is Heaven.

Ah, I see a few brightened faces in the room. So, tell me, what does Heaven consist?

You there, in the back… I'm afraid your mumbling may not have been heard, so allow me to repeat your comment. You said that Heaven consists in peacefully contemplating the Goodness of God.

And you think this is supposed to get anyone excited to go there? I mean, sitting on a cloud, playing the same harp with the same limited song arrangements, and have to do this for how long? That sounds awful.

At least the Mormons have it better that if you get into Heaven, you get to be the god, and can toy with your creatures and kill millions of innocent people and still demand that they worship and respect you. Sounds like a great idea for a video game‡‡See Black and White to me.

So, you see, I don't think Heaven was made for actual people. If people aren't striving, they're bored and miserable. Of course, when they are striving, they aren't too happy either. So, maybe the Buddhists can get you out of bed tomorrow with their philosophy that if you get rid of your desire to strive, you can alleviate your suffering. And while that may or may not be happiness, it sounds a wee bit better, no?

What was that question? Oh, how do I get up in the morning? I have specially colored glasses… Yes, I'm kidding. Not too long ago, I read this book called Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, and in the book, the main character meets these funny little blue men. And at one point, they had a big fight with some hell hounds and some of the little blue men were lying motionless on the ground. She is sad that they died, and the leader of the blue men corrected her, and said that they were already dead.

"But you are alive!" she said.

"Ach, no mistress," said Rob, helping another pictsie to his feet. "We wuz alive. And we wuz good boys back in the land o' the livin', and so when we died there, we wuz borned into this place."

"You mean … you think … that you sort of died somewhere else and then came here?" said Tiffany. "You mean this is like … heaven?"

"Aye! Just as advertised!" said Rob Anybody. "Lovely sunshine. good huntin', nice pretty flowers, and wee burdies goin' cheep."

"But there's bad things here!" said Tiffany, "There's monsters!"

"Aye," said Rob, beaming happily. "Grand, isn't it? Everythin' you could ever ask for, even things to fight!"

Personally, I hope there's a Heaven where my thoughts can continue, but I don't have any evidence of such a state. But I don't need such hope to enjoy my life here. Sure, I'm going to die, and every white hair in my beard is like a count-down towards that end. But when you go to the carnival, do you mope about because they are going to close the fair down that evening? No, you run around as fast as you can having as much fun as you can before the end.‡‡Can someone tell me where I read this thought before? I'd like to give proper attribution.

Let me end with another observation. Each of us lives many lives within the 80 or 90 years alloted the creature assigned our name. I lived a life once as a child, but the child died when I became a geeky, awkward teenager. This teenager died too when he got out of college and moved to the Pacific Northwest. To this adult, it was as if he was in heaven compared to where he was. But this adult died as well when he got married and had a couple of babies. He thought the previous heavenly paradise was wonderful … until he entered this new heaven.

That's right. I feel that I'm in heaven right now. My children are at this great age where they want to be around me and tell me things. I have a job that isn't torturous. I even have a wife that loves and appreciates me. You see, there isn't a "point to life" in the general sense, or any absolute, inherent "meaning" for each person. But for this person, I'm quite lucky to be living in heaven.

Yes, I do realize that heaven is not eternal, and that paradise will be lost. But every day I try to enjoy it while it is here.

So you see, it is easy for me to get out of bed every morning… and usually that includes a smile.

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Another great quote from Schopenhauer's Emptiness of Existence:

If one turns from contemplating the course of the world at large, and in particular from the ephemeral and mock existence of men as they follow each other in rapid succession, to the detail of life, how like a comedy it seems!

It impresses us in the same way as a drop of water, crowded with infusoria, seen through a microscope, or a little heap of cheese-mites that would otherwise be invisible. Their activity and struggling with each other in such little space amuse us greatly. And it is the same in the little span of life-- great and earnest activity produces a comic effect.