As a normal human male, I can’t help but want a bigger tv, and while I’m at it, make it better, too. I’ve recently been looking at tvs (dreamily, not as a prospective buyer at the moment) and have been intrigued by the 3d tvs. I tried to get my wife interested in it by mentioning how cool it would be to see any of the good 3d movies we’ve seen recently (the good vs bad 3d is a discussion for another day) and she said, “we have dvds of movies we’ve seen before and we never watch them.” Damn that woman, but she’s right. There’s a very small number of either movies or tv shows which I’m ever motivated to see again, even when I liked them the first time around. I suppose I’m like that with books as well.
So this got me thinking about two stories which I not only would and have enjoyed more than once, but which actually address the issue of revisiting stories. The first is Nietzsche’s demon tale from the Gay Science…
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”
Ever hear people say that if they knew they were going to die soon, especially if it was tomorrow, that they’d do some really amazing things? Well, what’s been keeping you? Why have you not been living the life that you suddenly would if you knew the end was at hand? Excuses can come quickly, I’m sure. This or that had to be done, you have responsibilities, blah blah. That’s all bullshit. If you have the means to do something, why not do it? Why wait or worse, shrug it off as foolish or a waste of time? I’d say this story has had a profound effect on me and my life decisions. There have been opportunities in my life to “advance”; jobs and careers where I could have had substantial prestige, income, and both. Almost always I’ve turned them down in order to do things which I felt were worth more to me to do, thing which I wouldn’t dread waking up to do (mostly) and which if need be, I wouldn’t gnash my teeth and curse over having to relive. Most of those options of “advancement” appeared to me to be things which would prompt such reactions.
The other story, which I actually read before Nietzsche, was Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. The idea of randomly slipping through your life’s timeline, reliving every event, fascinated me and it made me think that if such a thing happened to me, I’d want events worth reliving (although living up to some of Billy’s experiences would be quite challenging). Now at first that might appear as if I should be out base jumping every day or something. For me, that’s not the life I’d want to relive. I want to relive one which had some purpose and meaning. Ultimately that is what I find satisfying and joyful.
I’m going to say that I’m not alone in that desire for meaning and purpose in life, but I’d say far too few ever realize that desire, perhaps for excuses similar to the ones given for not living the life they would have had they known the end was near. I feel that for those folk they look for a life preserver which will give them that meaning and purpose, but some of those life preservers are better than others, and some are even quite the opposite. Religion, I believe, is an example of one of those opposites, or anti-life preservers. Religion makes false promises, its meaning is a fabrication and the purpose it provides is often empty. When I think about the arguments I’ve encountered by the religious for everything from denying equal rights to dangerous, life threatening actions, I can’t help but fine such meaning and purpose twisted, and ultimately a perversion as a result of repressed and unrealized meaning and purpose they could have had.
Our my opinions subjective? Probably, yet I think an objective comparison of life choices would show that meaning and purpose derived at the expense of others as well as part of yourself and your life’s potential are lacking, and not necessarily what one would want to relive. Don’t get me wrong, my days are often hard. I’ve always worked long hours, and have worked harder than I perhaps needed, but ultimately that has and continues to give me enjoyment. Were I to die tomorrow at my desk working rather than hiking the Himalayas, I wouldn’t have regrets because I’d know I was doing what I wanted to do at that moment, pushing myself to improve as an artist and create the best work possible. If I had to relive any of those arduous days or nights where I struggled to complete a task it would not be hellish because I’d know what the result of that effort was and take satisfaction and pride in knowing that I pushed through and did it. That’s providing meaning and purpose to my life, and it’s at no one’s expense. I honestly can’t see how you could compare such a life to one whose meaning and purpose relies on either dragging others down to their level or worse, holding others under their thumbs. I certainly wouldn’t want to rerun the latter.