Thursday, April 22, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part three)

("Aphorisms" carries with it a connotation of truthiness, hence the change in title)

Volitional acts are meaningful.

What is the meaning of "meaninglessness"? Seriously?

Meaninglessness is the absence of an end, of a drive, of a goal which one considers worthy of one's energetic engagement, an absence of attachment, an absence of passion, an absence of an aim for volition.

It can be averted by the introduction of a context.

Are you bored? Take Mario to World 8-4 and get the princess. Help the Haitians.

Some goals (fight corruption!) help others live longer, others (research at an ad agency!) not so much, still others (pillage Iraq!) lessen others' lifetimes.

A hierarchy of ends supposes a set of values. The question is, what is the source of those values, and since certainly the source is outside of you, what makes your intellect bow down to it?

Consider the quite universally held moral standpoints that beating a small infant to death is "wrong", that raping a baby girl is "wrong". The source of these morals is obviously sociobiological (what else can it be?), and if you say (rightly) that these acts are not "inherently wrong" (is there such a beast?), but merely counterproductive to achieve "the ends for the species", you lose the passionate force and taboo behind those morals. You may even reach a stage where a report of a criminal doing such things (or say, Bush invading Iraq) no longer arouse an emotional reaction and outrage in you. And I ask: is that such a good thing?

Meaninglessness is the absence of feeling, the absence of emotional attachment. Radical self-help (hard core spirituality, actualism) advocate taking it to the extreme and abiding in the void and detachment thereof.

(to be continued)

14 comments:

Modern Man said...

Harman,

You wrote: "Meaninglessness is the absence of an end, of a drive, of a goal which one considers worthy of one's energetic engagement, an absence of attachment, an absence of passion, an absence of an aim for volition."

I'd argue that feelings and emotions don't have an end (in and of themselves), but they can certainly be considered passions.

Consequently, just because one doesn't have a hierarchy of ends doesn't mean he can't despair over the killing of a baby or the invasion of a country. In other words, passions can still exist when there's a void of volitional acts.

-MM

Harmanjit Singh said...

Consequently, just because one doesn't have a hierarchy of ends doesn't mean he can't despair over the killing of a baby or the invasion of a country. In other words, passions can still exist when there's a void of volitional acts.

Passion dissipates under examination, correct? (see part four)

Modern Man said...

Harman,

That's correct. But it is not necessary to destroy emotions to understand or experience the meaninglessness of one's situation. Nor does a lack of a universal or external morality automatically negate emotions/passions. The very realization that nothing matters, that there is no meaning, should cause the astute individual (one who understands the ramifications of such a fact) enough despair for a lifetime.

It seems the spiritual guru or radical self-helper tries to do away with that despair. But that is a volitional act with an ends - one that is inundated with value and meaning - if there ever was one.

-MM

tazmic said...

"Meaninglessness is the absence of feeling, the absence of emotional attachment. Radical self-help (hard core spirituality, actualism) advocate taking it to the extreme and abiding in the void and detachment thereof."

Harman, what do make of the actualists claim that 'the universe experiencing itself' is somehow living the 'meaning of life' in its immediacy. Perhaps I have misunderstood but it seems several people have spoken this way. What I'm asking is what do you think is going on for them to settle at this interpretation?

Pankaj said...

To say passion dissipates or even disappears under examination is to see humans as conscious beings driven solely by intellectual forces. It ignores the subconscious and mental-biological part of humans.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@MM

But it is not necessary to destroy emotions to understand or experience the meaninglessness of one's situation.

I think tazmic has a point (in another comment) about meaning being an affective state. Let me comment on that in a while.

Modern Man said...

Harman,

I'm glad to see your response. These recent posts/discussions have been fruitful, and I hope they remain alive.

I read tazmic's post, and will be looking forward to reading your follow-up.

-MM

Harmanjit Singh said...

@MM

It seems the spiritual guru or radical self-helper tries to do away with that despair. But that is a volitional act with an ends - one that is inundated with value and meaning - if there ever was one.

What I meant was, they take away traditional meanings.

It is true that most seekers start from real-world despair (though many have other reasons, such as a feeling of inferiority, which a wholly narcissistic worldview can make vanish). They are unable to reconcile themselves with the world as it is.

I would argue that modern self-help (spirituality, actualism, etc.), instead of making one re-engage with meaning and context outside of oneself, instead of making one better adjusted, takes one "inside" and asks one to create a totally narcissistic meaning (nirvana, parinirvana) which has no benefit for the world. It leads to a disengaged life.

The problem is, radical self-help disengages from traditional meanings and creates an inner world (fantastical mental states). What happens to those who cannot sustain their belief/trust in the fantasy? They are neither here nor there. Unable to engage, and unable to disengage. The more radical a self-help paradigm, the more extreme one's disengagement from traditional contexts.

Consider the following quote from Krishnamurti:

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society"

If it is not adjustment that the spiritual seekers are seeking, and they certainly are not seeking a change in external conditions, what are they seeking after all?

Change "within". "I feel good." "I feel happy." That is the goal. I question whether the pursuit of happiness without external context is a healthy thing. Think about it.

All radical self-help says: be self-sufficient in your happiness (don't depend on "objects", "other people" etc.). This rejection of wider contexts is what I am talking about when I say that "Radical self-help (hard core spirituality, actualism) advocate taking it to the extreme and abiding in the void and detachment thereof."

This void is a void of external context, not necessarily an affective or a sensual void.

It is a rather complex theme to understand or to elucidate, and if I have time, I will develop it patiently in later posts.

Modern Man said...

Harman,

I certainly agree with your arguments against spirituality and self-help (to the degree that I understand it).

But how does one re-engage with "meaning and context outside oneself?" As you've noted previously, this seems to be a noble, yet ultimately futile effort (now that tradition, God, etc. has been blown apart by the intellect).

The constant cultivation of despair seems to be the only passionate source of morality and meaning. Happiness must be forsaken if there is to be any proper re-engagement with externalities.

-MM

Anonymous said...

Harman: And I ask: is that such a good thing?

#It is neither good nor a bad thing. It is you who makes it either good or bad. First you start off with meaninglessness of everything (i.e. neither good or bad) and then somewhere along the way ask the question if something is good or bad.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous

It is neither good nor a bad thing. It is you who makes it either good or bad. First you start off with meaninglessness of everything (i.e. neither good or bad) and then somewhere along the way ask the question if something is good or bad.

Well, there was a context for that question. Let me rephrase.

I said: "You may even reach a stage where a report of a criminal doing such things (or say, Bush invading Iraq) no longer arouse an emotional reaction and outrage in you. And I ask: is that such a good thing?"

What I meant was: "You may even reach a stage where a report of a criminal doing such things (or say, Bush invading Iraq) no longer arouse an emotional reaction and outrage in you. And I ask: is that a state you would want to pursue?"

People might say that anger and outrage is counterproductive, that sensible action is always preferable, but my theme is: an emotional push can deliver far "better" (once again, within this context) than an intellectual disapproval. Patriotism is useful to push the soldiers into combat. If they are just told the truth, that they are salaried, and that the politicians want to settle scores with each other through them, they might not feel that invigorated to fight, to put it mildly.

The modern soldier knows this to a greater extent, and that is why he is at a motivational disadvantage against, say, a terrorist who is heart-driven.

Anonymous said...

Ok, now I understood what you meant. It is far more complicated than it appears to be.

A response based on emotional reaction and outrage may be reciprocated with even worse response from the opposing party. For eg. Germans lost in WW I and in WW II their response was far worse. You must be aware of enmity existing in families for many generations.

In any case, did you begin the journey to meaninglessness knowing that it will be like this? It just happened, right? Did you have a choice? Even if someone told you that it will be like this, would you have been able to do anything to stop arriving here considering that words cannot let you experience what it would be like?

Harmanjit Singh said...

A response based on emotional reaction and outrage may be reciprocated with even worse response from the opposing party.

Well, such is the history of humanity, of nature. Affects are drivers of action at a primal level.

I am guessing you want to end fighting between human beings. What would you rather have them do? :-)

As for my journey towards meaninglessness, I think it is inevitable for many people once they are off the drugs of youth, metaphorically speaking. Most find some new form of drug which works partially, but never completely.

Anonymous said...

Harman: I am guessing you want to end fighting between human beings. What would you rather have them do? :-)

# I wish I could say that wanting to end fighting between human beings is meaningless but at this point, this is not the case. But certainly, I am moving towards that as the pendulum is settling in the middle.