Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

That’s What It’s All About! (General Philosophy)

Originally posted on August 2, 2010

This conclusion in the song, “The Hokey Pokey,” addresses the existential and widespread question: What is it all about? What is the purpose of the Cosmos? What is God’s purpose for Humanity? What is the Meaning of my life?

Happily, I have an answer. I’m not saying it’s the right answer, or the final answer, but it’s an answer that opens the door to some movement: The answer is simple on one level, and almost infinitely complex at another level: Help the world become a better place.

As an aside, it should be noted that there’s a childish and illusory mentality behind the existential questions like “what is it all about?,”  a fantasy that “answers” can be (1) expressed in understandable words and (2) that they will then offer meaningful guidance.  But neither assumption is so. It’s more true to say that there are several levels playing off of each other. At one level of seeming “truth” are the trite platitudes and cliches that seem plausible, yet their superficiality makes them difficult to apply to specific situations. Another “postmodernist” perspective questions—no, let’s go further—denies the possibility of any non-trivial statement or idea being true, applicable to all situations in all eras, and vivid enough to compel agreement from all people. Another perspective on the ntature of “truth” notes that any possible answer only opens the door to another cascade of questions: If X is so, then what about X + 1, or the implications of X, or the definition of X, or its definition if Y is also so, and so forth.  Thus, any deep “truth” statement must then be followed by questions such as,  if X is true, then: (1) what shall we do about it; (2) how shall we achieve it; (3) what do we need to know in order to decide whether and to what degree such-and-such is part of the deep truth of X,  and so forth.

Oh, yeah, there’s also the not-insignificant likelihood that few people will buy the proposition that what it’s all about is simply the challenge of how can we make this world a better place, for a variety of reasons:
– it is unfamiliar
– it is complex rather than simple
– it is risky
– it demands a great deal of responsibility, as well as faith and love
– there is little financial or status advantage
– it might well take work, courage, risk, discipline, and other imponderables
– there is no guarantee of immediate or even long-term success at several levels
– it might cost money, or at least work
– it would require my giving up of a wide range of childish desires and excesses, not-quite addictions and other lower consciousness distractions and short-term enjoyments that might undercut true responsibility, faith, wisdom, responsibility, or love.
– and so forth.

My reading of the nature of the most common attitudes in the population is that there’s a hope that “the answer” won’t require all these things, this maturity of stepping-up to the plate, this willingness to take on a fully adult level of responsibility. But that’s the problem, it does.
The answer is simple: You must mature, and you must do what you can to help others mature. We must collectively continue to distill and integrate the best insights of all the findings of psychology, sociology, medicine, other types of science; we must cook through and distill out the authentic wisdom in tradition, which takes a lot of work. We can accept nothing just because it is traditional, or with the illusory rationale that it seemed to work for thousands or hundreds of years. 92.5% of those things, it turned out, did not work, but there was nothing else to do, and so enough people survived to supply you and me with ancestors. We conveniently forget the fact that large numbers of people died, often in pain, because the traditional beliefs did not work—but their death was attributable to almost any other reason, or just not thought about.

Another part of this philosophy that also blends into practical psychology is this: You must discipline yourself to avoid innumerable pitfalls, seductions, temptations that would drag you into low-grade neurosis, addiction, and other kinds of folly. The more advanced you are, the more you become sensitive to the ways that more subtle seductions are still operating in your system.

You must keep your greed and grasping at bay, and not let slogans, words, narrow ideals, and the like substitute for a commitment to civility, being pleasant, helping others, practicing diplomacy, expressing gratitude, tact, kindness, and the like. (I’m not requiring “love,” because that term has become over-extended and cheapened by sentimentality. Like “wisdom,” the childish fantasy is that “love” can conquer all—but it cannot! One must also exercise imagination and thoughtfulness in how to apply kindness well. The old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” has a fair amount of truth.

One must further relinquish the illusion that any truth by itself will suffice. I agree with the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who noted that “all truths are half-truths.” As knowledge and our scope of what the cosmos is about continues to expand—and it will—all truths then find themselves relativized, applicable within certain contexts, but perhaps not so much in a larger or different context. Also, in my experience, all truths need to be understood and/or applied within the context of other equally important truths, and that balancing involves not only good judgment, but also a willingness to re-consider any opinions in light of the needs of the present moment.

This is because our world is changing at an ever-accelerating pace, knowledge is being surpassed, and this in turn requires new perspectives and creativity. So, the challenge of helping the world be a better place requires a deep, perhaps even spiritual commitment to developing all your abilities, all your knowledge, all your virtues, and struggling with all your weaknesses. Meanwhile, diversify your interests and pleasures, mix in loving relationships and time to enjoy them, and keep those role engagements prominent. They are your testing fields. I’m not sure I approve of people who stretch thin or abandon their real-life roles in order to pursue the illusion of spirituality. Maybe they’re okay, but maybe they’re copping out and hoping for a short-cut —and for that, I suspect they may be in for a dissapointment. Other-worldly endeavors may be more illusory than this-world’s life involvements. That’s what I think it’s all about so far. (But I may find I need to refine this or revise this further in time!  🙂 )

One Response to “That’s What It’s All About! (General Philosophy)”

  • John Hege says:

    Adam, Yours is the first blog I’ve responded to. Perhaps the first I’ve read. I enjoyed this discussion, and expect to check in again. I think the meaning you’ve put forth for our lives could also be called survival, of both the individual and of humanness, with maintainance of an accustomed orderlines. I didn’t read your every word but I don’t think you mentioned scientific study of the cosmos as a means of understanding ourselves better. What is the space our cosmos resides in? Is it bounded? there anything beyond? Perhaps your queries, what is X, What is X+1, etc. includes scientific inquirey. Thank you for your stimulating blog.

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