“Kant” Revisited: Arthur Schopenhauer

I was most certainly drinking while writing most of Kant. But there’s a reason why some of the best writers were, and are, complete drunks.

I don’t remember writing a single sentence for this episode. However, some things were obvious: when I was on, I was ON.

Not everything that I wrote during the course of the series worked. Yet there were times when I surprised even myself. I’d like to say that I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’d be lying. There were times when my writing and thinking soared between poetic and enigmatic. While I’m not a fan of Hegel, I was intrigued by his method of purposefully trying to make his writing difficult to understand. To a degree, I was trying to do the same…and there were times that I succeeded.

I don’t know if THIS exact episode is a perfect example of that. BUT when re-reading this, a certain dread came over me: have I taken a step back in my writing? While you might not be a fan of it, there’s a part of me that wishes that I can return to this form of enigmatic style.

Now that I’m sober, is it gone? Can I ever “re-discover” it?

I don’t know.

Really, I couldn’t even follow what I was talking about. I suppose the question I was trying to ask was: is free will found in unimpeded passions OR is it found in not becoming a slave to them?

With Thanksgiving coming up, I’ll probably be unloading a lot of these “Kant Revisited” posts. So look forward to that.

But as usual, I don’t edit or spellcheck these. Please forgive those errors. Enjoy!

What could art be, if it’s not the diversion from the phenomenal conditions of life?

As much as Zizek still finds Hegel relevant, he remains a minority. But while Hegel was at the height of his powers, while lecturing at the University of Berlin…he did manage to attract rivals. One such rival was none other than Arthur Schopenhauer…who would schedule his lectures during Hegel’s. But despite Schopenhauer’s animosity, Hegel managed to attract more followers in his time, leaving Schopenhauer bitterly frustrated…a characteristic that very much shows through his writing. Even though he didn’t find the attention he deserved in his OWN time, Schopenhauer seems to have bested Hegel among thinkers in our era. With his obvious crankiness resonating with modern audiences.

But as much as we become confronted with the nothingness that’s set before us, there’s a deep-seated concern for purpose. Why continue on? In his work “The Wisdom of Life, Schopenhauer introduces what he calls “Eudaemonology”….or how we can structure our lives, so that we may maximize our success and happiness. The key point here, being that existence should become preferable to the alternative…that of non-being. So, “The Wisdom of Life” for our practical purposes today…can help us navigate through the void.

But it would be interesting to speculate, how…someone like Schopenhauer would be received if he were alive today. In our Golden Age of self-help books and uplifting quotes, in order to be cherished in this era, one must appeal to the liberal democratic optimism of progress. There are few thinkers today that would deliberately take a contrarian or cranky perspective. Slavoj Zizek seems to come close, but he seems to take a scatter-minded, loosey-goosey approach, which may come across as contrarian, but in actuality…his writing is just a representation of his inner monologue. The writer and podcaster Bret Easton Ellis comes the closest to Schopenhauer, with his unfriendly views towards current entertainment and disdain for the thin-skinned millennial generation. But this attitude towards current times is hard to come by. Us liberals have been spoiled by the eight years of Barack Obama, that we ended up choking on our positivity when Trump got elected. Whatever sort of creative drives that are bourn out of disdain, will hopefully return under the Trump years.

But what would Schopenhauer HIMSELF think of these times? Even in his own era, he held contempt for the seemingly innocent activity of card-playing. Such distractions only took away from one’s own inner constitutions. Even though he would marvel at our technological advancements, notably the internet…but he would flip his lid to learn that we were using it for social media and vanity, rather than for knowledge and education. To him, social media would be a mindless distraction that would only reinforce our dependence on an interconnected world.

For Schopenhauer, real happiness is found in self-sufficiency. The mind shouldn’t have to rely on the stimulus of the outside world ONLY, in order to find happiness. As the cliché goes, one could be surrounded with material gains, but still be poor in spirit. Not that the external world and the body aren’t necessary. Schopenhauer would even state that physical health is necessary towards happiness. But for a genuinely happy person, that individual would have the power to generate meaning from their own intellectual faculties…or the world of the mind would be found to be infinite and sufficient.

Therefore, it is the intellectual pursuits that are held in the highest regard. The pursuits of the material world are nothing but empty drives of the will, aimlessly propelling the self forward without meaning. So it would be safe to say that Schopenhauer wouldn’t be supportive of the lifestyle decisions of James Bond…or even a Charles Bukowski. Although, these would be considered intelligent and self-sufficient men, their ambitions don’t go farther than the material world. Theirs is the acceptance of the nothingness and absurdity of the world, that they would find it unnecessary to live a self-sufficient life of intellectual pursuits alone. They primarily favor the physical extremes of sex, violence, drugs, and alcohol.

And it is here, where we come to a crossroads within the Schopenhauer system. If we accept our representation of the world as our will, and we reject the metaphysicism of dogmatic religion (like Christianity)…we have two choices. Possibly more, but I want to focus on two of them: we can adopt stoic-like practices, either through pure stoicism or other self-disciplinary practices like Buddhism (as Schopenhauer likely did), OR, we can engage in our animalistic/nihilistic tendencies and engage pursuits of the material world…or the path of James Bond.

Now must of us choose the happy medium in between. We realize that by failing to play by the rules, the external world will enact ITS WILL against us. To find cooperation, we adapt our will, so as to not piss off the Medusa of the outer world…one that can strike at us with its many snake heads. This path is the most comforting one…we acknowledge the beast within us, but to not agitate the large beast outside of us…we quietly take our prey, even if just in imagination, because keeping up appearances (despite knowing the falsity of the outer world) is the true gift from the gods…the blanket of conformity, to keep the world turning.

Perhaps the acknowledgement of both the blanket and the animal beneath it, is the true path towards self-contentment, if not happiness. But happiness itself is a far loftier goal. Ultimate happiness, or the perpetuation of unlimited gratification, can be considered unachievable. The mind carries excessive baggage from its journey from the pond…towards a self-aware being, that continual happiness would work against the purpose of the mind, therefore making the pursuit of it unwise. While ultimate happiness is unachievable, sustainable self-contentment makes itself a far more worthwhile goal. And this is done by making a truce between the nihilistic ghost driving the will, and the external beast ready to pounce at any moment.

Schopenhauer seems to see the intellect as being a releasing energy, made to liberate the soul from the material body. This is a gift to mankind….what elevates us from the animals that co-habitate the planet with us. But what if we took the contrarian view? The view that the intellect is not a blessing, but a curse? Life has been existing on this planet for millions of years. Life lives, it eats, it fucks…or it doesn’t, but nevertheless it procreates…and so the system goes on…millions of years without a hitch….species going extinct as nature dictates. Then blossoms the human intellect, taking us to places life has never been before. So mother nature, with millions of years of experience under her belt, then here we come, circumventing the process…going into space and fucking up the planet. Then, after years of reflection, we become aware of our destruction and impending doom.

What have we achieved with this superior intellect? We might have uncovered the mysteries of the universe, or we are well on our way towards doing so, but to what purpose? So that we can alleviate the pains of death and uncover the nothingness that awaits us? Everything comes at a cost, to include the intellect. Are we really better off knowing about our impending demise? Are we that much happier for knowing the justness and injustices of the world? Perhaps Eve was better off not eating the fruit of knowledge. We have been cursed with our knowledge, and we continue to pay the price for our great leap forward….with our continual deliberations on what it means to be happy.I guess, as the old saying goes…ignorance is bliss….or, it’s more bliss than knowing. Look no further than your pet; living a sweet blissful life, unknowing of the struggles of what it means to be human. Your dog, happily moving from one moment to the next…overjoyed at the prospect of getting a scrap of food, or a pat on the head. You take comfort in having an animal that gets the simplest joys in the most mundane things. You suspect that your animal could wish itself to be human, that you pity it in the most innocent of ways. But with this consistent blissfulness, perhaps its your dog that pities you.

Schopenhauer invokes Aristotle when says that life devoted to philosophy is the happiest. But how true has that proven to be? A life of philosophy has the burden of knowing the true conditions of reality. Knowingly believing in falsities is not a practice that the philosopher usually condones. If we took any philosophy out of history (say, Schopenhauer), and put them into a room with any religious cleric, I would wager to say that the cleric would be the most cheerful of the two. The belief that the nothingness of death are actually alleviated by venturing to the afterworld, is such a powerful nonsensical idea, that it disguises or obstructs the true pain of being. The believer is able to go through life without any burdens of the philosopher, because their questions have been answered…and they take comfort in the lie.

But what Schopenhauer is trying to reach towards, is the freedom we receive from being unobstructed from our pursuits. And a person with deep intellectual capabilities will find that their pursuits will spoil the other necessities of life, namely relationships with others…which they will find shallow and unrewarding. This person might, as a result, find themselves alone or bored, due to their unquenchable thirst for knowledge and wisdom. Schopenhauer acknowledges the burden of the intellectual, but on the flip side…the person that only pursues the joys of physical reality, (whom he calls Philistines), will also soon find themselves bored. But this specific boredom and restlessness, is of a much shallower variety. Their restless pursuits could never compare to that of a true intellectual.

So where does that leave those with deep inner worlds? Without the assistance of drugs, alcohol, and other substances, is true happiness attainable? Or perhaps a more suitable question should be…is happiness the ONLY worthwhile feeling? The burden of knowledge cannot be put back into the tube; Eve cannot attach the fruit back to the tree. We are, for better or worse, doomed with the reality of our knowledge. How does one move forward with this burden? The pursuit of happiness is the cornerstone on which liberal democracies are based. But is it the cornerstone on which existential meaning is based? It makes sense for governments to cherish this pursuit…but why must there be a pursuit of it at all? From a mental health perspective, the only obstructions to our happiness are the ones we place in front of it. If we adopted the way of the stoics, we can theoretically be happy in any situation, therefore negating the use of the pursuit. But is true happiness possible? With our awareness of uncertainty, and time, and the realities of the world, perpetual happiness is an unrealistic goal. At best, the greatest that we can achieve is perpetual solitude, a la the path of the stoics and Buddhist enlightenment. But what’s the mechanism behind this solitude?

In the last episode, Zizek explained to us that the real objective of philosophy, is to not explore the nothingness of the thing-in-itself, but to explore the veil of perception that covers over it. The human mind has been jostled from one extreme to the next…it’s far better suited for managing catastrophe (which is a better tool for survival), than maintaining any sort of grounds for perpetual contentment. Our actions of completing one objective to the next is not motivated by ONLY pure survival, but driven by a conception of the IDEA of happiness. It’s the carrot that dangles in front of us. We might get a nibble every now and then, which keeps us hungry for more…but the idea of living in a world with an endless amount of easily accessible carrots, is an empty one. Yet, that’s what moves us forward, despite us understanding that such a world is unattainable. It’s the temptation of the carrot, the veil over the nothingness, that keeps us wanting more. So it’s the idea of happiness, and not happiness ITSELF, that’s the valuable tool. It’s The PURSUIT of happiness that’s the real key towards eternal self-contentment.

But with this burden of knowledge, we know that a state of persistent pleasure is only a myth. When we look at the condition of life, we realize that happiness and pleasure are seldom applied. Most of our lives are spent in sleep or operating functions that might bring about pleasure, but are, in fact, not pleasurable in themselves. Yet while a life might be full of happiness…does that happiness bring about meaning? Has the one that has spent their entire lives in the solitude of pleasure…brought about meaning upon themselves? This pointless existence, in Schopenhauer’s terms, is just an aimless drive of the will…seeking pleasure because that’s what the machine demands. A blind allegiance to happiness is not, in purely self-aware terms…not a full utilization of the free will. By giving way to pleasure at every turn, then it is the pleasure that owns you.

Indeed, seldom do we find meaning in happiness, outside of its own sake. Usually, we find the excessive dwelling in it, to be precious time wasted. To construct meaning, to possess the burden of knowledge, is to live beyond pleasure and pain…and not to become a slave to them.

Have I argued in favor of Schopenhauer? I have no idea because, once again, I failed to make it through the entire book. But that’s okay, because that gives YOU the opportunity to explore this subject on your own. I’m not asking and answering questions so that you don’t have to, I’m asking questions because I want you to be up late at night, like me! The ball’s in your court, buddy! Go read the damn book yourself!

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