DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN GOOD AND SOUND LIFE PRINCIPLES
I have always thought it important to live well. And I knew that this was more than simply being happy. I also knew that pursuit alone was a trap of sorts…not really…not really a trap; but a dead end. Not that really either. Happiness alone is like a veneer. Pretty to look at, especially on others, yet without much depth or substance of its own. We sense our living is shallow and ephemeral. Lacking anything of much goodness or meaning. Nothing that can last. And I think we all want to last in some way.
A good way to last. Or if you have outgrown this need, then a good way to have peace, is to live a life of purpose. A life devoted to more than just living, or even living well.
There are many ideas of purpose. Some say God or Gods. Many say this, actually. And it's no wonder why... For it is the easy answer. And a bit of the lazy answer. All the heavy lifting is done already after all. All we need do is believe. Such a seemingly small price to pay. Yet this price is everything. There is the trap. Especially if your god is not even real.
Philosophy is another route. No belief—or very little—is needed. We instead employ reason to the task. Now we are getting close. For reason is the tool we need. After all, what makes sense is all that makes sense. The rest is superstition, fear, precedent, authority, or dogma. With these you may as well prepare now your own unmarked grave. As your life will be as note-less as anonymity to both history and the far more important future influence and reverberation of the life you do now live.
So now, reason is your clear instrument. Put aside the rest: fear, superstition, dogma, tradition, instinct, comfort, peace even. Trust just your capacity to observe. And to make sense of what actually is. Noting and putting aside what is not. Weighting objectively what is true to find its real character and its qualities and its flaws. And then to accept these despite how they make us feel, or what they tell us of life and the universe, or ourselves and our place here however small or great, or fleeting or forever.
And when you have found there these things then note them as your record of truth. Do not be surprised or suspicious of plagiarism if your new ideas look or feel or sound like the ideas of other past thinkers who did arrive at the same end as you somehow. Consider this a boon. A confirmation of a sort from another life. Another coordinate and instance of triangulation upon the same sound conclusion made more solid still by the sighting of another. Catalog this observation. Maybe classify it as perhaps an objective or a principle for your life. Think on it more and remember it to yourself often. Test it always. Never let it become dogma. Speak of it with enthusiasm if you are so inclined. Yet always remember to cite any exceptions or suspicions you may have of its truth. And be ready to dispense with it the moment it proves false. Just as you would with claims founded on superstition, faith, or dogma, when you have good reason to believe your ideas has become one of them, or must be supported by any of these, or is simply clearly, no longer true.
So then, what you keep are your truths; held tentatively like something possibly dangerous, yet for now seemingly tame, true and safe to live with, use, share, and even love. Tentatively, carefully, always wary of falsity.
One-by-one gather your discovered and perhaps hard-won truths. Collect and compile these things as they make sense. Arrange them in some order to perhaps build one upon the other. This is your code. Your list of objectives and principles towards the well-lived life. First your objectives; the things you seek to do during the course of your life. Your reason for being. Not some fearful, superstitious shirking or hiding or dodging to avoid what we fear, or do not know, or do not want, even if it be right and true. Not the weighty prescription of dogma we neither vet nor question, nor the warm suffocating tapestry of tradition arguing always from "the way it is simply done." No. Yours is a prescription of your own hard work and design. A personal constitution of willful determination, formed and found of conscious thought and hard work, tested daily for truth, soundness and sensibility, and administered daily like summoned memory of the best we've yet ever been and an example to ourselves and others of the better man or woman we can yet become.
Making something of nothing
Nihilism's bad rap may stem from the idea's consequent necessity of doing something about it. As recognition that life has no apparent meaning comes with no ready answers whatsoever. We are left alone then to either stew in despair or resolve to create meaning in spite of the fact. The former option is unattractive, while the latter option requires very much work. It is no wonder then that nihilism has such a bad name and reputation; for it is a dead-end alley which becomes our existential end or from which we must climb with great difficulty to escape. No wonder few choose this path... How much better to select another road, a seeming ready-made high road to paradise, crowded with our friends and family and others who believe. Who would not select that other road–or one of the thousands like it–for the mere price of our credulity?
Nihilism isn't death
And it isn't despair
Or giving up
It's just the realization
That life has no apparent purpose
We must make some purpose up!
Make some purpose up... As if that were easy. But really, it is not too hard a thing to do. There are many models out there to look at: schools of thought, philosophy and religion which have given the matter good consideration and have produced premises, treaties, and dogma to communicate what their perspective considers "good”. Study these and bring on board the best of what you find. And then live... And while you live, take care to learn from both your success and mistakes, and begin a catalog of the best of what you find. These collected ideas will become your principles; your own rules to live by, in spite the universe offering no such objective guidance beyond mere survival and procreation; and then live your life by the seemingly virtuous rule of law which you have collected and formed.
Live your law and be always first to criticize your law. Share your principles with others. Ask their opinions regarding soundness, justice, and virtue. Be eager to hear and attend all criticisms of what you have made. Prepare not to respond first in defense, but let your initial words be utterances of gratitude to the person who has challenged your belief. And then ask questions seeking your own clarity - really strive to understand what your critic is saying. And then depart to think. Go away to ponder if your challenged principle is truly unsound. And if not, then discard it utterly to the rubbish heap of failed virtue, or modify it if adjustment might salvage perceived virtue. And then go on through life with your improved understanding. Always grateful to those who help us to see better. Always willing to change our minds, our ways and our ideas to better suit reality and the pursuit of what we decide constitutes a well-lived life.
I write these words now almost twenty years to the day since I completed my story of Eric and Joe-Bob, sharing the impact of their living and dying upon my own life. Their example, in fact, derailed my life; as I am confident I would be a quite different person now if not for the experience of knowing them both, and watching these men live and choose to exit life together on account of principles which they held and which I could not then understand—which perhaps I still do not understand. Just as I do not understand the principles which others also hold dear, such as the religious, who hold values which sometimes rest upon a foundation of something they call faith. This approach of belief and values based on faith is alien to me, and seems lazy, and dull, and an easy way out of the harder challenge of attempting to understand. Just as the structure of reality which Eric and Joe-Bob maintained as real was—and remains—alien to me. And yet, like the religious, my friends had set-up an entire plan and project of their lives together based on that alien reality which they maintained as real. This was the thing which struck me then... The idea of building a life model upon which we might base our living and apply value and meaning to our decisions and actions. Such as the decision Eric made to follow Joe-Bob into death, a decision founded upon principles which—regardless of what I might think—provided both of them with a sense of meaning to their lives…and their deaths. Their lives had purpose. They each had a reason to live and to die even. They had something larger than themselves to strive for. And this is what others also seem to gain from their own endeavors at organizing their lives around a plan, and perhaps a story, and maybe even a fairytale which may do no more than comfort and seemingly keep the believer safe from the night. The night which is real. The night which must always come—and against which we might build a fortress of comfort, despite the fortress not being real, or of much substance, or of much truth. For the fortress need not last any longer than us. The vain fortress is welcome to fail after we are gone. Our stories need last no longer than there is someone to remember and relate the tale.
And so, after the death of my friends I decided to set out to create and tell a story of my own. A story which must be based on truth. A story founded on what I take to be real. My story would tolerate no comforting nonsense—as I’d prefer the dark and the night and the cold, if this be true, to any artificial light, or day or warmth which may be false, and which might only distract and keep back the night and the sound of the howling out there further than I might ever have courage to go. I resolved then to not keep back the dark, and to go—alone—into the dark, and to not take any light, or flame, or anything of comfort, and to stay longer there than perhaps I should, and then to come back and consider, set down and tell the story of what I’d found—or hadn’t. A story which I maintain as true. A story of my Going Alone. And of The Good Life I now attempt to live.
Notes from my muse
While our distant descendants will likely look back on us as barbarians, while we’d probably regard them as weak, politically correct weenies. Isn’t it more likely they’re the ones who are right?