"Buddhism teaches that a craving of things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught."--Tiger Woods
"If this is true, he's one of the worst Buddhists of all time."--Bill Simmons
A couple of months ago we penned an essay about why Tiger Woods was not happy. Unfortunately, things seem not to have changed much in the interim. Not that we particularly care one way or the other about Tiger's state of mind, but the fact that he chose to invoke the tenets of Buddhism--which closely resemble our outlook--caused us to reflect on his situation once more.
One of the things we have discussed frequently in this blog is the perplexing fact that so many people are willing to go right to the edge of the absurd...but unable to follow through. For example: "Yes, I accept that all is meaningless, but family - that's what really matters." Or: "Material possessions don't matter, but having a robust network of friends is essential to a happy life." Etc.
With that in mind, go back and read Tiger's comment again. The first sentence is...well, we couldn't have said it better ourselves. Indeed, we have often written about this illusory (and counterproductive) search for security. And yet, it is clear from the rest of Tiger's speech that he has simply substituted one set of things that "matter" (his wife and children) for another (cocktail waitresses).
In short, he is falling into the well-laid trap of believing family occupies some special and exalted niche in this purely physical world--that our protective feelings toward relatives come not from evolution and simple biology, but are instead...well, somehow different.
A craving of things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security.
It seems pretty clear that Tiger's wife and children exist outside him, so why the double standard? Why do we delude ourselves into believing one set of things (family) is more meaningful than the other (possessions, or even other people not related to us)?
The answer, of course, is that for all our delusions of grandeur, for all the hoping, striving, and achieving we undertake on a daily basis in the vain hope of validating our nebulous and ephemeral self, we remain gene replication machines and nothing more. However, we want so desperately to believe this is not the case that we set up vast, elaborate structures to distract ourselves from our true nature, codified by established (and strictly enforced) social mores.
Think back to why Tiger got in trouble in the first place - he violated the terms of his marriage contract. But so what? As we once noted, the idea that it "matters" whether a spouse has intercourse with another person is merely an idea certain human civilizations have codified, for a variety of reasons. As we put it then, "such beliefs--drilled into us by society--are like religion, in that we accept them wholly and unquestioningly, despite the lack of any logical reason for doing so."
This commitment to family is so hard-wired into our nature that most people are unable to even converse about it. For example, we recently watched an episode of the (often absurd) television show House, in which a character questioned his wife as to why he should care more about his son than about others simply because they are biologically related. His wife looked at him with horror and replied: "Because he's your son!" (We, feeling mischievous, turned to our wife and commented that the patient had a point. We are still awaiting a reply.)
The problem, of course, is that there is no answer, but this concept is so overwhelming to most people that they retreat behind elaborate defenses ("He's your son!) to avoid dealing with it. There is no objective reason to favor one's family over other, unrelated individuals. It is not "better" for Tiger Woods to spend time with his family than with cocktail waitresses. Any and all preferences we think we have are mere manifestations of biological processes and millions of years of evolution, mixed together with our present and past environments.
To clarify: we do indeed have wants and desires, but we recognize their transient and ephemeral nature. We had a wonderful bottle of wine last night, and today we are at work in an office. But we are not wishing we were back enjoying the wine. We are content where we are, with what we are doing. It is this simple insight that continues to elude Tiger Woods.