Monday, July 25, 2016

The anguish of existence

I recently watched a shitty horror B-movie with a friend (The Forest for anyone interested). Having been a shitty and mostly uninteresting film, I wasn't too engaged with it and rather started to analyze the various emotions and feelings the characters experienced.

Fear, extreme pain, guilt, worry, anxiety, suspicion, despair, the list goes on.

What struck me the most about these feelings is that nobody in their right mind would want to experience them. If you asked someone if they wished to start their life if they knew they would experience these feelings at some point during their life, I doubt they would wish to start their life. These feelings are not just bad, they are really bad. People already alive are subconsciously aware that they will experience these feelings in the future, but never put two-and-two together and realize that this reasoning should extend to before they were born.

Now, Antibullshitman recently commented on one of my previous posts, criticizing my idea that the pains of existence might be justified if there is a blissful teleological end-goal. Although I still accept the general idea presented earlier, I will admit that ABM has a valid point: there do seem to be some pains that cannot be ethically redeemed by a teleological end goal. I will explore this below:

The aforementioned feelings the horror characters experienced are what I would label terminal experiences. By terminal, I am obviously referring to death, albeit in a slightly looser sense as will be shown. It's why they are really bad - it's not just the run-of-the-mill tedium and aches that people understand to be transitory and merely uncomfortable, it's a kind of anguish, a feeling of meaninglessness. They are inherently connected to death.

Fear results from a person realizing that they are in a situation that they perceive to be life-threatening. Extreme pain usually accompanies incidents that threaten the life of the individual. Guilt haunts a person forever. Worry, anxiety, suspicion, and despair are all inherently tied to the idea that life may not go on, that this may be end. All of these feelings result from a lack of knowledge: the individual does not know if they will make it out unscathed or even alive.

A key point that I passed over in my previous post on teleological end-goals is that, if we knew that the teleological end-goal was known and guaranteed to exist, life as we know it would largely be quite different from what it is currently.

We can clearly see this when we analyze the lifestyles of religious monks, nuns, priests, and the like. You don't typically see the drama, the deception, the anguish of secular life in a religious setting. In a religious setting, your fellow devotees believe, just as you do, that there is a redemption at the end of the road. There is no need for all the drama, deception, or anguish of secular life - why would there be? Such happens when people lose sight of the end-goal, whether that be heaven, nirvana, or a hedonistic alien machine from Planet Xenu. There would be no horror films to which this post is inspired from!

There's certainly something to be said about this. If you're a Christian, then you likely will believe that if everyone just believed in Jesus, the world would function much better and life would be more peaceful. If you're a Hindu or a Buddhist, then you likely will believe that if everyone just adhered to the teachings of Brahman or Buddha, then world would be much better and life would be more peaceful. Thus, any kind of religious belief worthy of being called religious is going to include some desire to escape, to transcend the mundane world in pursuit of the heavenly redemption.

I have my own issues with Western monotheistic religions (they use lack of faith as a reason for the human condition, as well as victim-blaming), but my own sympathies rest in Buddhist belief. One need not adhere to all the various metaphysical ideas transposed upon the original teachings of Buddha by monks later on to understand that life is suffering, life is dukkha, and that we meditate and follow the dharma so that we are not re-born (this is not re-incarnation as the Hindus believe; think like a candle passing its flame to another candle).

The secular life, the anguished life, is not worth living and not worth starting. The life of virtue, the life of understanding, the ascetic life, is worth attaining, but this does not mean it is worth starting. For this lifestyle is not "natural" in the sense that it is easily committed to. It is fundamentally a reaction to a state of affairs. Why would it be a good thing to impose this burden upon someone, even if the virtuous life is worth living? The Buddhist teleological end-goal is known to be death; the ascetic life is one that tries to deal with life as it is, trying to transcend life while it's being lived, unlike Christian or Muslim ascetics who deal with life so they may go to heaven. (note that while I have sympathies with Buddhist belief, I do not believe it is a cure-all to all of our problems - it merely diagnoses the problem similar to that of the European pessimists, and its solution - asceticism, can only go so far).

So, back to the main point of this post: these terminal experiences are incompatible with a knowledge (hell, even just a belief) of a positive teleological end-goal in the usual sense.

If it were the case that the only way to get to heaven was by a torture chamber as ABM brought up, then I agree that it would be wrong to put this person into that situation. I think a better example, though, would be to say that the only way to get to heaven is by going through a series of violent rapes. These violent rapes are horrible. In fact, any heaven the exists afterwards is going to fundamentally have to erase your memory for you to even enjoy the heaven. And it's clearly wrong to harm someone even if they don't remember it.

So the overall point being made here is that a known, good teleological end-goal can only justify birth if the preceding life does not include terminal experiences. And a life without a known, good teleological end-goal (belief does not count, it needs to be knowledge) cannot be justified at all, regardless of whether or not there are terminal experiences.

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