Friday, October 30, 2009

Dangerous adoration

We read a terrifically absurd story in the New Yorker last night, about a man (Viana) who films his girlfriend all day, every day, because he adores her and "she'll die one day." He also tells someone he has just met that he plans to kill his girlfriend precisely because he adores her:

"I would rather kill her than allow my adoration to die, you understand. I would rather kill her than allow her to leave me, than allow my adoration to continue without its object. I can delay it for as long as possible, but it’s only a matter of time."

We found this an interesting exposition of a problem explored elsewhere in this blog--namely, the question of why one cannot agree that the universe is ultimately meaningless, but still create "meaning" for oneself. The reason, as we see it, is that in creating this "personal meaning," one also creates conflict and strife, since to favor one set of events over another is (by definition) to lead down a very slippery slope.

It is easy to view Viana as ridiculous, but is his vanity really so different from that of most people? We would argue the difference is mere shades of gray--anyone who believes "his" world has meaning (and is thus, to him, more important than others' worlds) must then be prepared to do whatever it takes to defend it. This is why the family members of heads of state are so closely guarded--we realize that presidents would make objectively irrational decisions (eg, release terrorists who would do great harm to others) if forced to decide between this and the loss of a child.

Of course, we all shake our heads at such an example and say "Well, who could blame them?" But that is exactly the point! The protective nature we feel toward our offspring (for example) is simply a mirage propagated by the fact that we are, at root, gene replication machines. Thus, we all understand how a president would sacrifice thousands of lives to save his own child--who would not do so? And is this different from Viana?

The fact is that everything we feel is a fraud; more importantly, the quest for "self-created meaning" is the most dangerous of mirages. For once we begin to stratify people and events, we are all Vianas. Viana is willing to kill to preserve his adoration. Would you be willing to kill to save your wife? How about your children? How many "other people's children" would equal one of your own?

We are not saying these are easy issues--we wrestle with them every day. But the fact of the matter is that one who believes in "self-created meaning" must also believe his personal universe is "different," and "special," and (most importantly) "more meaningful" than those of others. (How could it be otherwise?) We all feel this way; it is an integral part of our nature, genetically handed down through thousands of generations. It feels as natural as anything in the world.

It is also a lie.

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