What makes us good? The subtext, each time we ask the question, is that we also want to know what it is that makes us bad? Which then brings us squarely into the thorny subject of morality and the question of how should we lead our lives.
And just like that, in such a short opening paragraph, we have one of the most enduring questions of our age or, most probably, of any age not just from a materialistic point of view but also a psychological one.
Being good seems to be part of our inevitable evolution towards a more civilized society and a re-examination of our past is an inevitable part of gaining perspective. Manav Ratti explores a lot of this in a brief talk on how to be a better version of yourself.
In “The Sniper Mind” an indirect argument is made that being “better” is the direct result of the effort involved in becoming more self-aware and directly responsible for our actions. When everything is a matter of the triple motive-access-opportunity, when it is conditions that create responses that govern behavior which is interpreted as emotion, we could argue that ‘evil’ is mostly a matter of circumstances and perspective with the odd exception of pathologies which are also circumstances in themselves.
None of this helps us get closer to the answer to the burning question of how we should live our lives. We have some ideas of course and technology itself is helping us through connectivity and the sharing of more philosophical approaches.
Robert Waldinger suggests that happiness and satisfaction are points which, should we aim for them, can provide a good sense of direction. Maybe at the end of life we have the answer we most needed while living.
The world is not fixed. It is changing at a pace that could even be impossible to truly keep track of. W. H. Auden in his poem “Law Like Love” accurately depicts the chain of associations that creates emergent phenomena and the apparent irrationality of our connection with them.
In an ideal world this column would provide a definitive answer. Point the way at the very least and help dissolve some of the doubts we have as we go through life. In a way this is exactly what “three Rules for Living in the 21st Century” is designed to do. But that isn’t enough. Each of us is a universe in flux. The world is a construct made out of our interactions and while the underlying raw material is (most probably) independent of us our different perceptions, motives and desires create arcs whose intersection structures our reality.
Complexity is the sense that we can’t understand something because it is not obvious to us. We may never satisfactorily answer the “why” of our life but the “how” stands a much better chance of being defined if we do what is hard for us to do: be openly social, be open to new ideas and suggestions, try to evolve, try to improve, seek the help of others and offer our help in return. This may sound idyllic but in truth it is what our brains have been designed to do in order to help us survive long term. “Live long and prosper” and, in order to be happier, do the hard things.
I know, you’ve done what’s right. Your coffee pot is brimming and your sweet tray is overflowing with donuts and cookies, croissants and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.