What if ‘to be’ is to be without something? If I’m blue all over, I’m definitely not red. If I’m just me, then I’m not all the other things that could exist.
What if to exist in particular is to lack the wholeness that comes with existing as everything all at once?
If that was true, then it would make perfect sense that I feel empty some days. On those days, I’m just remembering that I exist, and I’m just remembering how I exist.
Anything that currently exists because something wanted it to. I don’t mean ‘wanted’ in the normal sense of the word wanted. In this sense, to ‘want’ something means to be such that you tend to create it. My parents wanted me in at least the sense that they tended to create me.
The universe wants to create what it creates in-as-much as it tends to create what it contains. Right now, that’s all of us.
I once heard a really interesting answer to a really interesting question. The question was ‘what does God lack?’ The answer was ‘limitations.’
That makes sense. So that’s why there are all these limited creatures going around. Something that tended towards being complete and ultimate would actually have to create incomplete non-ultimate beings because otherwise, the world would lack things that lacked.
So then my question is: would it be worse for the world to lack us? Though, my answer doesn’t really matter directly. We’re here after all, and I don’t want to change that.
St Augustin thought that suffering was absence from God. I think that makes sense, especially if you mix it with the more Buddhist idea that suffering is the result of unsatisfied or unskilful attachment. The sort of desire that leads to us existing in the first place has an emptiness built right into it: you can’t want to have what you already have. If you want it, you already have it.
But we exist because we lack something, which is to be as complete as the whole world is. We have to lack something, otherwise, we wouldn’t have been made by a world which already had everything else. It’s like the funny advertising line that gets trotted out around Christmas-time: ‘for the man who has everything.’
I like the album ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ by Neutral Milk Hotel. They really rock. In the titular song, Jeff Mangum sings the line ‘how strange it is to be anything at all.’ To be something in particular is pretty strange, because it is to be one singular thing and not anything else.
To be something and not anything else is always to be lacking something. To have come into being because of some prior desire is to be created to fill a lack. That’s an evolutionary idea, by the way. It seems like a general axiom of the universe that an unfilled niche will get filled.
There are two sorts of scary ideas that come of out of this discussion so far that I think are worth talking about. The first is if I’m right then it might be better to not exist. If that’s true, then it might be best to kill ourselves. The second is that we might exist just to suffer. If we exist to lack because of lacking, and to lack is to want, and to want to suffer, then don’t we exist to suffer? I want to argue about these ideas.
Maybe it would be better to not exist. But also maybe it was necessary that I existed as I did. In any case, it certainly isn’t better to end my existence under any amount of suffering, because there are people who love me. Even if there was nobody who loved me, if I were to ever do myself in then that still makes the world a worse place because it would be harmful to others.
Every time I hear about a suicide, it tears me up a little bit inside. There must be other people like that. I think it’s a fair assumption, and I don’t want to make the world worse by harming those people.
I do think that doing yourself harm can be bad for others. It seems to me like all conditioned beings are in this together, you know?
On the second idea, which is that we might exist just to suffer, I want to talk about how I understand the notion that life is suffering. It might be suffering. That would have to be okay, though. It seems like desire is a part of life and that you can’t have life without it. Because desire is what makes life maintain itself.
I eat because I’m hungry, I breathe because it’s nice.
I try to avoid lying when I can help it, because when I lie, it’s making an enemy out of the whole world. Or at least those bits of the world that are close to me and determine the truth of my speech. If you lie, then you make your goal contrary to the goal of the rest of the world. Which is silly. You’re going to lose. It’s not very smart.
To me, it seems better to go with the way things are flowing. Like, you’ll always be disappointed if you try to defeat the nature of being.
The reason I bring this up is because I want to explain why I think it’s okay that we might exist to suffer. My idea is sort of the Calvinist solution to the Problem of Evil, which is really what we’re talking about here.
It might not be particularly satisfying, but I really am happy with it, at least as of this moment. It doesn’t seem like a problem that I might exist to suffer because the fact that I exist seems to be a product of processes which are much larger, and vastly more complex than I am.
They might be more complex than I could ever understand. If my mind is my brain — and it might be — then my mind can never represent anything more complex than my brain, just because of computational limits. In order to represent something more complex than my brain, my brain would have to be more complex than itself. Which would be impossible. It’s a bootstrappy sort of issue.
Basically, I’m pleading ignorance and humility. Which might not be satisfying. But I’m not sure I can think of anything simultaneously more rigorous and more satisfying.
In case you really aren’t happy with that though, let me offer another idea. It might be the case that we can’t divide objects up as easily as we think we can. Or maybe things are much more dependent on other and earlier things than we usually think.
So by this I mean, maybe I’m not as distinct from my parents as I think I am. If that holds for my parents as well, then maybe none of the individual members of my familial line were as distinct from the total familial line as any of us thought. In reality, we might all be expressions of the same sort of wormy super-organism that constitutes my family line. If that’s true, then we’re all sort of fingers of the same total superorganism.
If this idea sounds weird, it’s probably just because you and I are likely to both be Westerners or at least conditioned by Western ideas of the individual. But I don’t see why it’s a priori unacceptable that individuals might not be as individual as we usually think, despite how unintuitive it seems.
Okay, I promise that wasn’t a tangent, and I’m going to explain why it’s useful for our conversation now.
If I’m not as distinct from the familial line that I’m an expression of, and if it’s because of the desire/tendency of that familial line that I exist, and if I exist to suffer, then I only exist to suffer because in some sense I — the big ‘I’ that really constitutes my entire familial line and maybe all of being — want to be like this.
In that sense, I sort of asked for this. Which is a cute idea.
To wrap up, I’ll give you two reasons I think Jesus is pretty cool. They’ll also help me summarize the discussion, I hope. The first reason is that he represents God willingly limiting himself, and becoming something limited for the good of the limited. That’s a might kind thing for an ultimate being to do, if you ask me. The second is that in the Bible, he doesn’t seem to think he’s any different from anyone else. He’s kind to everyone.
There seems to be something essentially empathetic about God becoming something in particular. It’s just a sweet idea. It redeems the fact that there are any limited beings at all. It can’t be so bad if God was willing to do it. Even if you aren’t a nominal Christian per se, the fact that there are any limited beings at all on my explanation seems to come from the fact that we are just inherently worthwhile. That sounds like a theoretical merit to me.
Don’t worry, we’re just here because something else is here. And we’re just miserable sometimes because we have to be, otherwise there couldn’t be anything at all.