Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cold Winter Nights Are A Great Time To Think About Philosophy: Thoughts On Suffering & Morality

As I've gotten older I've grown into a deeper appreciation of winter. There is a certain aesthetic beauty to the suspension of life that nature has acclimatized to handle the cold. From a very early age I was fascinated with earth-science and learned that the seasons were caused by the earth's axis being tilted 23.5 degrees. So during the winter months in the northern hemisphere the land is tilted away from the sun and so it receives sunlight at an angle. This dilutes the sunlight because it has to travel through more atmosphere before it hits the land. Nature in turn responds to the seasons as only it could, by suspending its animation for the colder months until it warms. The ability for life to adapt to such extreme measure astonishes us and it's a testament to the perseverance of evolution.

I used to get very depressed during the seasonal approach towards winter. I don't think I ever once looked forward to a winter. Not even Christmas as a kid and the prospect of getting toys could change my mind. I always looked forward to summertime when the days were long, the weather was warm and most of my pleasant memories were created. This reminds me of summertime memories of happiness. What could be greater than being in a state of happiness? To be content with one's self and one's surroundings seems to be to reach an emotional plateau few of us reach and even fewer of us stay on. Life for me has had its ups and downs like anyone else's, but true happiness has escaped me for the most part. I have had moments where I felt I was truly happy, both with myself and my situation, but it always seemed so short lived.

Thinking about religion and how happy it makes some people feel, I don't exactly envy them, but I'm happy for them. I personally would much rather accept the truth even if it were uncomfortable than live in fantasy world of wishful thinking. The greatest state of happiness is to be content with reality, and although there is no empirical way of discerning what reality really is, the state of affairs held up by the evidence is our best way of knowing it. Even if joining a religion could truly make me happy, I could never allow myself to believe in things antithetical to science. So rather than adopt some wishful thinking based metaphysical worldview just to be happy, it is much more noble in my view to except reality as it is and make it as pleasant and as accommodating as possible.

When I think of conscious life, I always think of its potential to suffer. Suffering to me is something that I acknowledge exists as the result of an unavoidably imperfect world. We must therefore come to grips with suffering by trying to alleviate it. If only human beings can respond to changing the conditions which cause conscious beings to suffer, than it is our responsibility to change them. Let there be no arbitrary limits to our compassion.

Why am I so passionate against the greed of corporations, or the religious tyranny of theocracy and religion in general? Because they all cause unnecessary suffering towards conscious beings affected by them. No one denies that if we can reduce suffering, we will live in a better world. You have to in a sense be sensitive to your actions and know what their consequences are towards other conscious beings in order to fully be a moral person. Through my own moral progress I have realized this and have since regretted a lot of things that I did during my youth. Whenever I act, I ask myself if this action will create unnecessary harm towards anyone. If the answer is no, than it is a good or neutral moral action. If the answer is yes, I must recognize that is a wrong moral action and ask myself what are my justifications for doing so. If we could all do this, the world will be in a much happier place for everyone to live in.

Now this doesn't get us out of the woodwork. We all have to compete with one another for limited resources, so we will inevitably harm one another. For example, if you and I are competing over the same job position and I get it and you don't, I will have just harmed your life. But we have to recognize in all practicality, that in a competitive world of limited resources, this is something that must occur, and it is therefore a necessary harm.

Much like the changing of the seasons, the earth must necessarily harm nature during its cycles. Since much of our conflict exists around competition, it is of great moral importance to us. I've lost many competitions over the years and although the jealousy that results from losing is inevitable, the anger towards the winner is best contained when it is channeled into bettering your talents for the next time around. Use every negative experience to better yourself and the world around you and come roaring back like the lifeblood of nature on a warm spring day.

A moral world is a happier world, there's no doubt about it. All the harm we see in society is largely the result of human beings failing to care about their impact towards conscious beings. It is moral ignorance that perverts goodness from flourishing. Let us please consider what kind of future we want to live in, and we can only do that if we dare think about it.

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