Friday, July 14, 2006

to minus infinity and back

('ware and be warned: this is highly academic people - watching! i'm thinking aloud again.)

someone is down in the dumps about the state of things in his/her life. too many problems, too few solutions, not much in their control. they decide to immerse themselves in something else with far greater problems in order to acquire a sense of perspective about their own life.

the "other thing" to be involved in must be picked carefully, you understand... it should be miserable enough to help relegate one's own troubles to the background - preferably a life with so many more complex problems than ours, so that that sense of infinity is stronger: the expanse of the scale of misery should be sufficiently long to make light our troubles.

but at the same time, we should not be able to relate to the misery we see. it shouldn't be personally relevant. there should be nothing that will draw that misery too close to us, because that would only swamp us again in despair and not help inculcate a sense of perspective.

so we well-off people volunteer in non-profit work for that week or two. we with loving families visit an orphanage. we with fine, healthy bodies spend time with the disabled. the highly well-read spend time with those who have not had the privilege of education...

i daresay quite a few of you have come across this phenomenon. it puzzles me. these aren't people who are doing the pity thing. these aren't people who get some perverted pleasure from others' pain or misery. they're most of 'em seemingly normal, nice people. and there are so many!

what kind of conditioning have we undergone that so many of us find it so hard in times of misery, to think of happy things? to think of all the moments of absolute happiness, the simple gladness to be alive that we have felt ourselves on other days? why can we not draw perspective for our troubles from the plus infinity side? i'm sure it makes zero equally small and transitory (if not more effectively) when seen from plus infinity as from minus infinity. when seen from how good life can be, as when seen from how awful life can be.

the focus is always on how bad life can be.

we seem to think we are all fundamentally miserable creatures, that we must needs forever chase happiness - an ephemeral elusive concept. we have the belief so deeply ingrained in us that even many intellectuals - maybe them more than anyone else - get bogged down in minus infinity and think the most profound thought comes from misery. (or dyou think it was some logic along the lines of "look, we have it, let's at least glorify it"?! :D)

it again smacks of consumerist culture brainwashing to me. why would you kill yourself trying to earn for that sleek car or hitech gadget if it weren't for the hope of happiness to be found in owning it? the markets wouldn't survive if they couldn't slave-drive us thus. who would bother with hair straighteners, fairness creams and trips to the moon if they were perfectly contented, already happy beings in love with life?!

scotty, i think we're being suckered here!

my life



Anonymous b. said...

very nice, though one doesn't quite see the consumerist culture bit. one would think it's just human nature, made worse perhaps by ralph lauren. then again, maybe i'm just too old to be true-blue left-winger :-) keep at it.

7:11 pm  
Blogger m. said...

b.: why are all things lousy "just human nature"?! why must any vice come naturally and inherently, while virtue floats externally like dust?
it seems to me a very convenient way of disclaiming having any control over matters, and therefore excusing ourselves from doing anything.
how is that we are such meek obedient sheep helplessly obeying capitalist dictates, but rebels and agnostics when it comes to obeying moral dictates? i think we've more choice in the matter than we'd like to admit! :)

11:23 pm  
Blogger Rabin said...

i agree with the last point...we're being suckered big time!

BUT m. m. m., if the world had contended people, (read dinosaurs) we would have been extinct as a species long time ago.

2:41 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

one feels you'll like the above, though one doesn't agree with it. moral self-flagellation, particularly in the liberal west, is a tiresome business. but on the whole one is convinced one should just lump one's disagreements. so there goes.

8:17 pm  

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