Monday, July 24, 2006

midnight philosophizing

I know this is long but bare with me- it gets to the whole meaning of life thing, and I want opinions.


I've written before about the fact that I often avoid watching movies because I worry that whatever I watch may well be two hours of wasted time as, like I said earlier, most of what comes out these days is mediocre to bad. But it's not always the case. The theaters I frequent most often, namely the Sunshine and Angelika, show a good deal of quality work.

So I decided recently that I am going to commit to seeing one film a week, come hell or high water. Now something happened yesterday (nothing tragic, just unexpected) that left me feeling a bit somber and awash and I decided tonight was the perfect night to take myself out for a movie, turn off my phone, and enjoy my own company.

I went to see a film called Crossing the Bridge. Not great but interesting. It's a documentary covering the wide spectrum of music in Istanbul today, from Turkish rock to rap to traditional Kurdish ballads. It's fairly unfocused as a film, but some of the music in it is sumptuous.

I'm going to make a band someday that is heavily grounded in this traditional Turkish and Egyptian sound, with western melodic structures laid over, and the vocal and lyrical influences of Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan holding it together. I've always had a curious love affair with the sound and culture of that part of the world. It's so rich and emotional.

Back to the movie. So I thought I avoided movies because I was afraid of wasting my time, but it goes deeper than that. The truth of the matter is movies just plain frustrate me: if they're good, they leave me wanting to create something equally as effecting; if they're bad, they leave me to wanting to make something better. Either way, I they leave me feeling fired up.

You know what's great? Being 25, having lots of interests, a desire to do good (as in deeds, not the improper use of good to mean well) in the world, and living in New York.

You know what sucks? Being 25, having lots of interests, a desire to do good in the world, and living in New York.

It comes back to that Paradox of Choice thing from yesterday's blog: when there are many different roads ahead of you and they're all fascinating, it's hard to choose one, so you end up laying down in the middle of the intersection, motionless.

I call it a quarter-life crisis, but really it happens to some degree all the time because life is always in transition; it's just more apparent at certain times.

When I go through these times of crisis, I try to relax and get some perspective on things, which usually leaves me feelin all philosophical an' stuff.
I love to think about and discuss these things (I'm home on a Friday night writing about this- hello...), and I know there are a l holes in my train of thought, some that I just don't take the time to fill in but that are clear in my mind, and others that I have no answer for or that simply haven't occurred to me yet. Indulge me, if you will, and then join in the conversation because I'm hoping I'm not the only experiencing a a bit of crisis or the philosophical meandering that accompany it.

Ok. Here's my theory:

Life usually feels urgent, pressing, and significant during times of crises. No surprise there.
Now, obviously we want to have good lives, so when we freak out during crisis, we experience a lot of unpleasant stress. This is usually because we've set up, in our mind, structures of absolutes, assigning the values of absolute right and wrong to choices and believing that our decision, if it is the "wrong" one, will lead to absolute and indefinite doom, but of course nothing is that black and white in reality. Things are naturally ambiguous and inherently dualistic; nothing is all good or all bad but rather a bit of both (as the beautiful yin-yang symbol emblemizes), even when it comes to politics and political parties (I know. Crazy, right?).

Now as far as significance is concerned, we'd love to think we, as individuals, are really important and that our lives "mean" something. Understandable; we are human, after all.

If we step back from the microscope we spend our lives looking through, though, we may see that we're actually pretty small in the grander scheme of things. Now some people find this perspective depressing and start to approach life with a sense hopelessness and apathy because nothing "means" anything any longer, in the big picture at least.
That's too bad.

Though this is entirely valid as an experience, I think it is a less than optimal choice of interpretion. Let me explain:

The one only thing we can probably all agree on as the human race is that we tend to disagree: my religion is right, your religion is wrong; my political party is right, yours is wrong; my race is right, yours is wrong; my nation is right, yours is wrong.
There's a pattern here... ah, there it is: "based on my subjective experience, I'm right and you're wrong."

If so many people can disagree on the same thing, I think it's fair to assume that the common denominator is subjective experience of right and wrong, rather than the objective existence of right and wrong. In other words, there is no objective right and wrong, just our experience of right and wrong based on our assigned judgments.

Now, if there is no absolute, objective right or wrong (if there were, you'd think we could all agree on them a bit more), then it's also fair to say that we must be the creators of our subjective experiences; we are the ones assigning judgment of right and wrong to innately neutral properties.

So if we create our own subjective experience, then why not create fun, cool, and groovy experiences rather than despairing and helpless ones, even if neither one ultimately "means" anything?

And if nothing means anything (I'm speaking on the broadest scale), should that be cause for celebration rather than suicide? Doesn't that mean we cut ourselves a little slack and stop taking things so seriously? What a relief!

Now you might be thinking, "Alexis (you whack-job), if there is no ultimate meaning in life, we would live in anarchy!"

Fair enough- what is anarchy? I'm not trying to be semantically picky here but it's relevant- anarchy relative to what? Isn't the experience of anarchy subjective as well, in which case, who's to say we're not living in it already? That's a whole other can of worms, though, so I'll leave it alone because there is a point to be made that things could always be worse, but if there is no ultimate meaning and what we're left with is only conscious choice, then anarchy, in a perfectly conscious world, would be a perfectly conscious choice, right?

So if it's our choice, then so be it, but I have a hard time believing we would choose anarchy if we completely understood that that we create our experiential existence.

Now finally, I should clarify that just because I think life has no ultimate meaning doesn't mean that I don't think we need to make choices in life, and our choices are bound to conflict with other people's choices- that's just the nature of the beast- but with broader perspective and acceptance of this view that there is no ultimate right or wrong, we would have the humility, compassion, and acceptance to realize that someone else's choice is just as valid as our own, and because neither of us are truly right or wrong, we wouldn't feel the need to prove or impose ourselves to or on anyone anymore. If life had no meaning, no right or wrong, we wouldn't have to kill people to show that we're right and they're wrong any longer, would we? That would be pretty darn cool, wouldn't it? To be able to just co-exist? Sounds good to me.

So I guess all this would kind of put me pretty much in line with Sartre and moral relativism, but I think there are a lot of spiritual traditions that are compatible with this philosophy when you transcend the literalism of them. Buddhism and Hinduism, for instance, speak at length of making choices and acting with non-attachment (objectivity/perspecitve, rather than subjectivity/meaning).

I've waxed on long enough for tonight- it's late and i'm tired- and I really wrote this more for myself than anything, so I apologize for my self-centered need to pontificate and sort out the pieces of my mental before you, but I would genuinely enjoy hearing alternate, or similar, opinions and viewpoints from others.

This a conversation I never get sick of.

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“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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