The Unexamined Life

If you Google “blog” the first result (other than ads and Wordress) is “Seth’s Blog”. Impressive. The most successful blog in the world currently. Who is “Seth”? I looked around. It was hard to tell. I went to one of his other sites and it read “author, marketer, speaker, etc” – he speaks on “everything” – but in reading all this I realized one thing: he is a philosopher. A modern-day philosopher. We don’t have much bearing in modern society, in the sense of, we don’t really know why we’re alive or what to do with our time. I got this idea more clearly as I walked San Francisco this week, thousands of tourists brushing me by. What in the world do you do with your time? If society has already removed enough illnesses that you’re going to get past age two, and then well past age ten, and it has also created such a peaceful world that the immediate pressure of war does not give you an identity and a cause, and the urgency of finding food and protection is gone since we have done such a damn good job at, well, everything (compared to previous civilizations), then we are left with one big glaring and simultaneously unbelievable question: why am I alive? Surely it’s the question we should have always been asking, but if you’re busy just staying alive with no time to think, this is inevitable. Would Socrates be proud of us, the author of the phrase “the unexamined life is not worth living”?

Seth, in his own modern way, answers this. I say “modern” to point out the fact that he doesn’t really answer this. Instead, he addresses tactics, you know, he talks about living day to day, makes 10,000 assumptions, and doesn’t go into such messy territory as, uhm, religion. I suppose now that God is dead, and you can meet just about every need however you want, and all you really have to do is make enough money to stay alive the requisite amount of time, a transcendent emptiness descends.

I should clarify that I speak out of the Christian worldview. I have been doused in the idea that this world is not all there is, and I have been secondarily doused in the idea that most people think this world is all there is. The gap between physicalists and dualists/spiritualists is large. I don’t feel a pressure to make this world perfect. In fact, I operate under the premise that it can not be. It is the afterlife that I have sure belief in. Which makes absolutely no sense from a perspective. The “afterlife” is the thing for which I have the least proof (none to be exact) and yet I am banking on it more than anything. And second, the faith that teaches me this thought (Christianity) at one time had no knowledge of this thought. Weird, isn’t it? The Jewish worldview (from which sprang the Christian worldview) had no believe in life after death. Then along came Jesus, Paul, the pharisees, and I believe Greek thinking, and that changed.

So enough of that history lesson (mostly because my knowledge has now been depleted, not because it is no longer interesting or relevant). We are, as they say, technologically rich but spiritually poor. We do what we do very well, but no one really knows if it’s worth doing. That’s certainly getting the cart before the horse. Albert Camus once said the primary question of philosophy is whether to commit suicide. While I feel at this point the need to apologize for introducing such darkness into these thoughts, I am also absolutely compelled to say: he’s right.

Kids have to think life is about looking better (better clothes, better looking boyfriends, better iPhones, etc), feeling better (happiness, great sex, validation), and pleasure in general. This is so good (up to a point), and from my Christian worldview, so unbelievably empty. I guess I too can go running around looking for more Pokemans. But this “smallness of your world” which is created by thinking that “the value of my life is determined by whatever I want it to be determined by” has got to raise its ugly face over time. I can’t be the only one to see it. In my own life, when I pleasure-seek too much, the pleasure turns on itself, the whole thing becomes counterproductive and sick, and I go “oh, yeah, I’ve done this before, I know exactly what’s going on, there actually is more to the world than what meets the eye”, and I am comforted. (It’s one of my favorite truths about the universe which can be summed up in one of my favorite metaphors: donuts. While two donuts is better than one, and three is likely better than two, four will not better than three, and five will be worse than zero. Could depend on your usual intake of donuts…)

Donut philosophy aside, I am sad for those with no richness in their life, and there will be no richness if you truly, deeply believe that all value in your life sources itself directly in you and probably also in your friends and society. Has not humanity failed itself enough to prove what a dead end this is? A very genuine friend of mine, a coworker, told me once – in the midst of his sincerity and somewhat Eeoyre-looking facial expression – that most people were depressed, most of the time. I’ve undergone enough pain in recent years to believe this, but always there was something very real, larger, and more valuable than I at play: a transcendent truth. When you remove the transcendent, what do you have? It only looks like emptiness to me.

San Francisco

I walked the city tonight. About 3 miles of it. Sun setting, fog spreading, tourists and children and accents of all types chaotically pleasure-seeking, as was I. Other than New York City, this is the most densely populated large city in the U.S., and tourists only deepen that density.

What’s odd about San Francisco is it is home to both nature and technology. Steve Jobs has loudly proclaimed that no tech company can start outside Silicon Valley, or some such bold and likely untrue claim. And I’m here for the tech – attended a Computer Science workshop today. Nerdville. Yesterday I attended an Advanced JavaScript Fundamentals all-day workshop at The Microsoft Reactor. A cool place, more nerds, tech, code, all things artificial and severely human. Code and its power are a direct product of our hands. It is almost a measure of our minds. But back to nature. You could say nature is everywhere, and I couldn’t disagree, but when I say San Francisco is a home to nature I mean it is a home to some of the most stunning views on earth. San Francisco is a collision of mountains and ocean, bays, inlets, and brazenly large and vivid flora.

It’s people are no less brazen and vivid. I’m from Chicago so I can compare: I don’t remember seeing this many, uhm, shall we say “characters”? Sadly, I also don’t remember seeing this many homeless.

The hotels are opulent and loud, the fog makes you believe you’re in another world, a city in the clouds, but the broken-souled teens on the street, the drugs and public masturbation ruin ideas of perfection and purity. If you look in the right places – like the second-story corner Italian restaurant resting above a steeply sloping-away hill, filled with wine glasses and beautiful people, the pacific sun casting an evening hue through the glass-enclosed room – it’s magic. Maybe the world, or at least this corner of the world, is perfect.

My Uber driver tonight played upbeat, relaxing new-age music during the climb up Jones street – a street so steep that it’s actually a bit scary. Last night my Uber driver took the same street but played sexually explicit music. I rolled down my window to try to drown out the words I didn’t want to hear. He flew through the city. I kind of wonder what his ticket history looks like.

And at the sushi restaurant I ate at, a beautiful young Asian waiter paid me more attention than what was needed. His body language spoke mild intoxication – I imagine he couldn’t tell my age – and his last few sentences didn’t make sense. As I was leaving he wanted to know where I was from. Chicago. It appears I can at least I can attract someone. Actually, the entire staff paid me lots of attention – maybe they don’t get a lot customers?

Technology and nature. Hippies and businessmen. Homeless and the stratospherically rich. I have to say it feels kind of, well, lost. But also free. I know this culture bucks restraint, but so often what ends up replacing too much restraint is too much freedom, the next-door neighbor to emptiness. I don’t see a coherent culture, or really a place of hope. I do however see grandeur to the heights, both technologically and in the foggy beauty of the bays, inlets, bridges, mountains, and ever-expanding ocean.