Day 17: How Do I Want to Get Old

The architect Louis Kahn once said that good architecture “age beautifully.” And that’s it — that’s how I would like to get old. The ideas about what life is are very diverse. Religious people believe that life has a much larger purpose, such ass about paying off your debts, cleansing away your sin, and about living every minute to pay respect to the supreme divine power.

Ancient philosophers seem to be convinced that the purpose of life has to do with maximising the quality of life, i.e., how to live one self in accordance with some basic rules that make life worth living and fulfilling. Modern, especially Enlightenment, philosophers tend to see life in two separate spheres: one is all about duty (AKA the deontology camp) therefore a good life is a life that lived in accordance with a set of rules created for the pleasantry of the universal whole, and the other is about maximising the happiness of the majority (AKA the consequentialist).

These two camps may have very different ways of thinking about life, but both of their ideas are based on the same systematic reasoning process called “reason.” Even more modern philosophers go as far as to say that we should forget about what others have said about life, and start from the drawing board. “Life is absurd,” quoted the father of Existentialism Søren Kierkegaard. To him, who one might also call “the master of pessimism,” whatever we choose to do, we will be regretting of our action, yet we still have to do it. There’s also no consolation for Kierkegaard, whatever you have chosen to do, you’d have to live with us. There is no point of going back to re-think the alternative and how the consequence may unfold otherwise. The master novelist and Existentialist Albert Camus goes as far as to say that the only philosophical question in life not only should begin but must also be entered with the question of whether or not one should exercise one’s own life to exist.

That is, the only philosophical question worth asking is whether or not we should commit suicide — it’s the only true question that encompasses both the rational exercise of the mind, and the practical process of choosing between “to be” and “not to be.” In a way, Camus is very right. Because we have the free will to exercise, therefore we do have the power to emancipate, and bypass it all. Shall we do it? Later existentialists, though in the standard of the modern time seem as pessimistic as Kierkegaard, offer much more convincing arguments. Although they are on the same page with Kierkegaard that life is absurd, they are pointing us to a much more interesting and less, quite literally, suicidal direction. After Kierkegaard, we may be able to say that it’s Friedrich Nietzsche who is kind enough to tell us that “God is Dead,” and what he means by that is that we shall no longer look for a single model of goodness because the model itself, even though if we could imagine one, would be nothing but a fraudulent. Goodness is not something we should strive for, because goodness should not be universal.

True; there’re some universal goodness, but the sense of morality, as I mentioned in my previous posts, has to come from the sense of shared collective goal. The people behind the effort of making Christianity a universal religion are trying too hard to make Christianity a universal morality, which, in the sense, is a failed project from the beginning in Nietzsche’s logic. We shall not live by the standard provide to us. We should only live our life based on the standard that we ourselves have created. Who can really say the Cynics of Ancient Athens were not smart. They knew exactly what they’re doing, and just because they had no interest in the material sophistication of the urban people doesn’t mean they’re stupid, barbaric, or primitive. They chose to do what they did precisely because they wanted to sustain their life with what “life really needs” — nothing more and nothing less.

Jean Paul Sarte has made his belief in how we should scrap all the old books of philosophy very clear. According to him, we should live our life as a free man whose emotion could take us to places that our reason alone can’t; that we should care less about how other people think of us but how we would like ourselves to be understood from within; that we should re-think social conventions and re-define them in the way that satisfy both of your sense of having the freedom to leap beyond the norms and traditions into the realm of “existence.” We exist because we live in the moment. I think Sarte is right. We should life both a free and intense life; “free” in the sense that we shall follow no nonsense order to continue doing work that we hate even if that work pays bill; and “intense” in the way that we must put all efforts into doing things we want to do without holding anything back. “We only live once,” Sarte would have said this has he known the idiom, and that we should be clear how we’d want to live it. To me, I take what Sarte means as to eat a lot of spice, travel as much as you’d like, share with as many people who care, and drink as much as your body could possibly process (by the way, Nietzsche never liked alcohol which have , for years, made me puzzled about he derived so many great ideas — while sober). Life is absurd, as it’s about getting to Point A to Point B, and through the process we’ll experience many unpleasant experiences. Our bodies are made to ache, to feel the pain, to smell, and so on, so the dilemma of having to live in a temporary body is already one that makes life, to many, more painful and plentiful. As for me, all I want is to get to Point B smoothly, but not too smooth that there’s nothing life to feel challenged by.

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