05 March 2012

A view of the world

The passing of Breitbart, the absurdity of Rush, and so on, have led me to reflect on a couple of conclusions on life.

This is the meaning of life boiled down to two parts:
a) Be curious and try to understand the world around you as best you can.
b) In general, the reason to do "a" is to, as best you are able, reduce the amount of pain and suffering inflicted on other beings. Anything beyond that, friendships, happiness, joyful experiences, are likely just bonuses one accrues from inhabiting a world which has limited suffering or are means by which one attempts to reduce pain and suffering.

(oh and that religious nonsense about afterlives and heaven and hell, mostly just a method we use to convince ourselves that our lives have larger meanings and arcs to them but it often does have the impact of reducing pain and suffering, so have at it religious folk. Just don't bother me about it because it annoys me as a nonsensical argument.)

This is to say that Americans, by privilege of being born here in America, get to have relatively good lives with limited suffering. Most of them anyway. We don't experience abject poverty and starvation and threats of major debilitating diseases and even wildlife (mosquitoes alone kill millions through spread of disease, but we could also nominate tsetse flies, jellyfish, or large predatory cats or fish for the handful of people they kill or maim each year) the way the poor of most of the world must. Cancer is about the worst most of us get and that does not, generally, afflict us in our youth or most of our working lives. I'd say we have done reasonably well at avoiding suffering as a result, relative to most of the world. We are not perfect, and we have much room to work on it. But we've done really well compared to the arc of human history.

People who don't follow either point a or point b still tend to have what they experience as very satisfying lives however. For example, both Breitbart and Rush to me experience(d) the world as a Manichean conflict not over truth or other curious examination of the world, but as a contest between teams for which their role is to satisfy the conditions by which their team would be able to win. So long as they are allowed to play, the game goes on. Where these conditions no longer exist, where they cannot ever win, they have a major problem. By which I mean they must then be able to convince enough people who aren't interested in playing in the first place (to say nothing of their opponents) that their team is right, but have no means to do so other than team flag waving and other forms of useless signaling rather than constructing meaningful or persuasive arguments. This is perfectly fine as a business model, in so far as whipping up people who already share your views to be pissed about something works to rake in money. It has little functional utility however as a means of argument or understanding.

Short term gains for themselves and their associates are likely personally satisfying and that's fine for what that is worth, but the methods required to protect them are increasingly creating aggrieved parties to inflicted suffering in the cause of their otherwise useless team building exercises (that is: that they preserve and promote the team not out of any hard ideological, intellectual or even religious exercise as to its utility to others, but rather simply because "red is better than blue" or vice versa, without any necessity to argument over actual effects and intentions therein). Breitbart, from what I can tell, never apologized for publishing a misleading story on ACORN and doubled down on an utterly false set of assertions in the Sherrod case, a story that he basically manufactured for political purposes. I'm glad he extracted an apology from Anthony Weiner for correctly covering a meaningless story, but he never offered any of his own on stories that inflicted much larger suffering to innocent people whose crime was, essentially, being associated with liberal causes. Rush hasn't apologized either. Whatever that post was on his website was weak sauce. He has a radio show on which he has called women, and one in particular, sluts and whores for taking birth control and proffered that if we are to pay for their birth control through public funds (something we already do to some extent), then we should get free sex tapes of the purported sexual exploits that he imagines must be related to some sort of non-martial sex lives for women (but not men, for which he has no illusions that men are permitted). No real apology has been offered for either of these opinions and none will be. (Unlike Breitbart, Rush can claim he was merely an entertainer and was "joking". But I personally struggle to find circumstances under which these would be amusing jokes and there were innumerable ways to structure arguments against public-funding of birth control or employer mandates of said funding through the present bizarro world of health care insurance without resorting to calling women whores or sluts as a first line of defence as he did. Fortunately it is costing him money, as inflicted suffering should take away somewhere from our lives when we cause it).

(Update: Rush took to his show. He did not improve his lame apologetics on air by continuing his focus principally on the idea that his choice of words was the problem. Words are not and were not the problem, but rather the attitudes expressed behind them and the, repeated, insinuations concerning a private woman's sex life which she in fact had not invoked in her testimony to Congress but rather HE invoked by expressing his lack of attention span and lack of functional scientific education concerning birth control pills. Further, I am perfectly fine when people are called upon to apologize on the left for stupid and insulting personal commentaries for say, Sarah Palin, regarding her sex life. I'm not sure that anyone of his stature however has said something stupid and insulting publicly, maybe Andrew Sullivan's bizarre quest concerning Trig? except he's not of the left...but I will admit the possibility. Thus the point is valid. This is also a reason I find, say, Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC or Keith Olbermann utterly useless and repellent most of the time. I don't see how it applies to some sort of double standard. Perhaps it should not be required that conservatives and conservative political figures should have to respond to offensive and ridiculous things that you say, but they should also not be required to kowtow to your utterances either in a way that liberal political figures answer to no one).

I find that kind of life sad as it relies, ultimately, on reveling in the sorrow of other human beings. It seems empty and hollow and it lacks the ability for reflection or observation. 

I also find this kind of life sad. 
There are two conditions typically for the attainment of "happiness", whatever that means.
1) That you don't set out to do things that you think will make you happy, largely because what you think will make you happy typically is not as satisfying as you imagine, particularly in the form of short-term attainments. Serendipity, the surprise of life, tends to be much more satisfying than satisfying imagined goals. Note: this does not mean goals are irrelevant, but it means that we should place less value on their effects on our overall life value in the form of "happiness". In general people who satisfy long-term goals or who are able to set and achieve goals will be "happy" too, in some sense of the term, but they won't place much value on happiness in and of itself and are often personally miserable because they tend to be perfectionists who are constantly striving against their own misconceptions of self.
2) That you focus somewhat more on experiencing life rather than accumulating stuff. This is evident from the amount of value people place on vacation time from work or from having a fulfilling career or from having and raising children or from forming relationships with other humans and even pets.

Life does not revolve around valuing happiness in and of itself as a goal within life. Happiness, such as it is, is a result of these two things. Placing it above other things will likely lead one to reflect on its causes, and to observe that one is not experiencing the company of desirable companions at all times as but one downfall.

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