Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Meaning and self-help - meandering thoughts.

This actually started out as a comment on the Observers post atheism-and-meaning-thinking-out-loud.html but it grew into an exploration of a long winded mess about self-improvement/winner-loser culture, hence the two largely unrelated sections. You should probably give his post a look to know what I am babbling about.

On God providing meaning:
Even were you to grant a God, even one with a human-like mind, this is insufficient for God to provide meaning. If such a God existed and didn’t care a fig for humans or what they got up to and took an entirely lassie-faire/absentee landlord approach to humanity, how would any individual human life be made meaningful in light of this God?
In order to find meaning in theism, it must entail the narcissistic assumption that God cares about me personally. My opinion and actions are of such import that even the omnipotent, eternal creator of all things sits up and takes note. Nevermind my opinions, the creator of everything is very interested in my penis and what I do with it. I'm kind of a big deal. Just sayin'.

Sounds great!

Sounds like a condition
Oh, ok. Thanks for clearing that up.

It is the taking of the ubiquitous human desire to be important, even necessary, to its most wishful extreme. Education seems to diminish people’s ability to believe this. Time for some other form of wish thinking!

On the self-help, self actualisation, self improvement shtick:

I am not so sure that this is necessarily borne out of a fundamental search for meaning, though I would agree that this search is in there. I see a lot of winner/loser thinking in the whole industry. Mostly these guides are aimed at an end. Be more confident! Be more successful! Etc. Etc.

Most people harbour the secret conceit that they are better in some way or measure than the general mass of “other people”. There is a vague notion in most people’s heads that everyone has an equal total of ability but that this ability is variably apportioned to different skills/talents in different people. It is just a matter of finding the thing you are exceptional at. So closely do we guard this conceit and this illusion that it is a faux pas to notice that some people are inherently better than others. That some people clearly are better than others is so obvious that we work very hard to convince ourselves that most of how we turn out is a choice. The better people simply used what they had better. The lesser people just aren’t trying hard enough. This allows us to believe that even if we are not better than other people today, we can be tomorrow. Not only this but we are really already just as good or better than these other people, it is just a matter of realising our potential.

American media is permeated by the idea that you fit into one of two categories. Winner or loser. There is a near karmic sense that losers deserve what they get for not having that special something, or not attaining it by main force of will, that makes some people winners. In recent years, losers have become objects of contempt. The idea of being gracious in defeat or magnanimous in victory are dying ideas. It is as though all contests, even life, is to be approached like you are a smack talking professional boxer.
The notions of fair play and giving it your best are now derided as weakness. An example of how even rife cheating is more and more seen as kosher, consider this defense of Lance Armstrong. The argument boils down to "all the other kids were doing it" coupled with "ignore all the lies and cheating, look at the nice thing he did over here"

Consider the decades long war on introverts. Inside every introvert there is an extrovert trying to get out. They just need to "come out of their shell".  I'm sure you know what I mean.Introverts are seen as broken to some extent and need to be fixed. Winners are extroverts you see. You can't really succeed as an introvert and you must succeed. You have to be confident, even arrogant, to succeed.Of course, you also have to be attractive and informed and x and y and.... Helping people overcome each of these possible deficiencies is an industry in its own right. The idea that maybe some people just aren’t interested in the game in general would be seen as a loser’s excuse. Everybody wants success, this kind. Wealth and fame are the two most revered things. Sure, that person is horrible but they are rich and famous. This sentiment is often expressed with the sense that because the person has achieved wealth or notoriety that criticism of their personalities somehow doesn’t count or in some cases, if the person making the criticism isn’t wealthy or famous, the criticism doesn’t count. So extreme is the bias, I would be very curious to see how the following question would be answered by most people:

“If you had to choose between being a good person of moderate means or a bad person of great wealth and fame, which would you choose?”

Success is defined almost exclusively as the accrual of wealth and or fame. I wonder how many people in even a few decades time, possibly some do already, will look back sneeringly at the likes of Jonas Salk and laugh at his do-gooder naivety. This is assuming culture continues along the same trajectory it is on now.

Feeding into this reverence of wealth and fame is the relentlessly promulgated message that success or failure is entirely a function of desire. The winner in a foot race will not be the person who was gifted with a greater natural fleet-footedness, it will be whichever of the competitors most desires to win.
So deeply ingrained has this ludicrous notion become that we can watch talentless X-factor contestants who have just been ejected from the competition (coliseum style) proclaiming with genuine confusion that “I want this more than anything”, “this is my dream”.... etc. as though the desire they have in any way, shape or form influences their ability or should in some way be considered in their evaluation.  This seems an appropriate time to mention that punctuation is for losers!

Possibly the most vacuous and disturbing manifestation of this horrible idea was “The secret”. I will admit that the packaging and marketing of this particular debasement of gullible adults was pitch perfect. The conspiratorial angle was genius. One thing most people who are stupid enough to buy into crap like the secret share is the willingness to buy into a conspiracy theory. Add to that the irrational view most people have of "wisdom". The more ancient the wisdom the more super wise it is. Every century older a piece of wisdom gets, you can add 10% additional wiseness to it! That's a true fact! Those exceptional people throughout history did not achieve what they did by a mixture of advantage by birth (very few of history’s most noteworthy people were poor), native talent and hard work. No, none of that. They knew “one neat rule”, “one amazing old trick” to getting everything they wanted. They simply wished upon a star!

Ooooh look, it's all ye olde and stuff. That means it's true!

One of the most amusing and most efficient rebuttals of the "the law of attraction" was a comment by TheMessianicManic* when he put it something like this:

“If the law of attraction were actually true, most teenage boys would be having more sex than Caligula”

The gross issues and blatantly obvious fact that the secret is nonsense did not prevent a lot of people buying into it. I find this fact incredibly depressing.

I won't start on the whole "personal journey" crap. I'd be here all day. I also don't want to vomit on my keyboard. If you don't immediately know what I mean, just watch a reality tv program where the people on it are doing something entirely mundane like losing some weight. Almost all of them will be balling their eyes out in no time on account of how profound and epic and difficult their personal journey is. Don't worry, they will usually find a deep well of Herculean determination and drop a few pounds. Harrowing tales all!

Now, to get back to improving myself. Learning just a little about punctuation and writing composition seems like a good place to start.

*The MesssianicManic is a you tube channel. If you like short videos that make clear, and often humorously phrased, points (mostly on philosophy/atheism/relevant social issues) you should check out his channel.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...