Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Pursuit of Peace of Mind

I was fishing with a good friend the other day, babbling on about this or that philosophical idea. After I let up for a moment, allowing a short pause for a rebuttal, my friend (Bill) says, “you know, your just doing this to make life more interesting.” In other words, what I’m saying is ultimately meaningless, I’m just bored and should give it up. My response was swift, “Well Du-u-h!” and then continued with, “You know, the only reason you go fishing is to make life more interesting.”

With that, the conversation was over, at least with regard to philosophy. So I simply cracked open another beer, swallowed my thoughts, and we entered into a shallow male discourse about the various fuckable women we both work with. How tragic, how bittersweet, yet how humorous…..

So I’d like to make something clear with regard to my disposition/view on philosophy. Sure enough, it seems to me, there are plenty of people out there who view philosophy and religion as a frantic pursuit of [T]ruth. Eventually, they suppose, they’re going to fall upon the language that puts the whole of being into perspective, and the pursuit can stop. Of course this never happens; the conversation that is the whole of philosophy and religion throughout the ages continues just a confusedly today as it did 2000 years ago. People cling to the various dogmas, whether it is Religious, Positivistic, Pragmatic, Humanistic, so on, as if they’ve found the ultimate source of all things – that which all things flow from.

My take, on the other hand, is quite different. Suppose one’s thing is restoring an old car. Suppose that, in the middle of one’s restoration project I stroll into the garage where one is working and say something like, “why are you doing this, it’s completely meaningless?” I imagine that individual would look at me quite peculiarly, wondering what the heck I was talking about, what’s my point. He might say to me, “So what, I enjoy it, now bug off.” He has no problem with the fact that it’s ultimately meaningless, and anyway, meaning has nothing to do with the reason he’s doing it in the first place – he just enjoys it.

So I think to myself, what is it that exists between a man and his philosophy that doesn’t exists between a man and his restoration project? Why do we confuse the one as having meaning and the other as just having Quality, as just being something we like? Certainly philosophy isn’t any more or less an obsessive venture then any other hobby, and both can become the constant obsession of our lives and consume all our waking thoughts. Yet still there seems to be a difference (perhpas meaning)? There too, you don’t tend to see hobbyists of varying ilks arguing with each other over which hobby is best at achieving such and such a pleasure, peace of mind, enjoyment, meaning, whathaveyou. We simply all know that certain people like certain things, have certain hobbies, so on, and we accept that. In other words, we’re all content with the fact that there isn’t one ultimate hobby that will inspire the intellect and the senses in the same way with everybody. We’re different, period.

For me, philosophy is simply that old car sitting in my garage. The old car is nothing more then the current dogma/paradigm which I live my life by; it’s rusty, gets horrible gas mileage, burns and leaks oil, has a hole in the muffler, a broken radio, rips and tears in the seats, broken door handles and windows, a dirty air filter, old plugs, so on and so on. What makes up that dogma (or so I’ll say for this analogy) are the words I utter to describe it. Philosophy then, (and religion) in the form of the books that fill my shelves, are nothing more then the various new tools and parts I’ve purchased to polish up and fix this old car to make it feel new and exiting. Every new question I have is analogous to a part of the car that isn’t working, sometimes I manage to patch up the question with a shinny new part (answer), and then find new problems/questions lying underneath it, then, I consult the vehicle manual.

Side thought:
One who’s into such a hobby may never complete the task of restoration to ones satisfaction. He may even scrap the entire project and start over from scratch. I did this years ago when I scrapped Christianity; of course I’ve since come back to it, but it doesn’t look anything like it used, it’s hardly recognizable to most mainstream Christians.

I suppose one could rightly ask, “How do you know anything is broken or needs fixing?” And the honest answer is, I don’t. One never knows there’s anything wrong unless he starts poking around in the matter. On the other hand, there is nothing really “wrong” with a broken down old car; what’s ultimately wrong with the car doesn’t exist in the car itself, but in one’s disposition towards the car. We see it and either leave it as it is by paying it no mind, or it creates a poor quality situation that effects your disposition to such a degree you take meaningless action - if only to alleviate your poor quality situation. So wrong is this case is not a matter of universals, it’s just a reflection of one’s own peace of mind.

The point is this:
My good friend Bill is a proud gun owner and loves to go to the range. I’ve often used the analogy with him, “You know that feeling you get when you’re at the range lining up a shot, your breathing becomes shallow, your thoughts are reigned in, you squeeze the trigger and the bullet finds its mark? That’s the same felling I get when another piece of kant’s Critique becomes clear to my mind.” It’s not about meaning, there isn’t any meaning, its about the pursuit. Both the philosopher and the hobbyist share that same drive, the difference is, the prior thinks it means something and the latter knows he is just doing what he likes, establishing a peace of mind.

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