Monday, July 27, 2009

The ultimate answer key

When we were younger, we used to lie awake at night thinking wistfully of the day when we would have true "security." Not that we had it all that well defined, mind you--it was more a vague notion of a life in order, with plenty of money to do whatever we chose; in short, a life free from worry.

However, a curious thing happened on our way to the promised land. Instead of finding that more money, things, and even friends made us happier, we often found the opposite. Whereas, for example, we used to be perfectly happy with a $10 bottle of wine, we suddenly found such wine unacceptable compared to the $20 wine we could now afford; meanwhile, we salivated at someday being able to enjoy even pricier bottles.

Interestingly, it was not that the end was not in sight at any given point, but rather that the finish line kept receding. If that $20 bottle tasted good, imagine how much enjoyment we would find in a $50 bottle!

We suspect we are not alone in this; indeed, the human desire for security is extraordinarily powerful, perhaps more so than anything besides sex. Yet the untold secret is that true security can be found only by abandoning your search for it. Mortal creatures being, well, mortal, will never find security in the things of the physical world.

Indeed, the more we search for security, the more elusive it becomes. If you believe a bigger salary, more extravagant house, or better-looking girlfriend is the "answer," you will eventually be disappointed. Moreover, the more stock you put in any particular thing, event, or person to "make your life complete," the bigger the disappointment when they inevitably fail to do so.

This is true even for things typically thought of as "really mattering" such as one's health, family, friendships, etc. We are often bemused when we discuss the absurd with people who tell us they are on board except for whatever they believe is "truly important."

The truth is that to assert one's family "matters" is no different from believing a huge house will provide the answer. All are part of the same mirage; some are simply more socially acceptable than others. Consider why family should be more important than (for example) a large house (or, for that matter, your neighbor's family). Why should we care more about those to whom we are genetically related than other people, or things such as houses? Is there some rational and objective reason to do so?

The answer, of course, is there is not, but we have been conditioned to believe such things through countless millennia of natural selection. Further, since the vast majority of people feel this way, there are enormous societal pressures to conform to such norms. Indeed, when we explain our vision of the absurd to others we are often met with blank stares and questions along the lines of "But how can you live that way?"

We ask the opposite question - once you have seen the absurd (taken the red pill, if you will), how could you not live that way?

It is hard to overstate the wondrously liberating feeling we experienced when we first grasped the significance of the absurd. In essence, the answer to the question we had been asking for as long as we could remember had been sitting there, unobserved, all along. Moreover, imagine our surprise at discovering that, in our frantic efforts to escape from uncertainty and worry, we had been unwittingly binding ourselves in ever-tighter chains.

True security lies only in accepting (and embracing) our ultimate and total lack of security.

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