It strikes me sometimes as I wander through this high-tech wasteland just how puny almost everything is.

I am supposed to be awed by the giant buildings, the vast technology and the massive power of our industry, but I can’t find praise in my soul for them. Most products are barely usable, unreliable, inefficient and inelegant. Our technology can’t go a day without screwing up, crashing, exploding, or otherwise failing. The buildings, unlike their forbears, decay in a matter of decades.

Even more the purposes of individual lives are puny. It is great that some are rich, but with most it is a question of putting the rest of life on hold to get through the education, get a business or career started, and then plug away until it succeeds. It doesn’t speak to a particular elan or exceptional intellect — in fact it rewards the obvious, venal and clever but not intelligent — and leaves a sad discoloration to reality when encountered. “Success” often means dedicating yourself to the crowd, to think as it does, and then at the height of pandering to become mercenary.

There are many respectable professions. Who will scorn the community doctor, the honest lawyer, or the reliable business leader? Even that however in itself is the finding of a slot, the insertion of oneself in it, and then following the indicators to pick the “better” option over the “worse” option. Even some of the giants of industry seem to have succeeded through a lack of imagination and purpose, not from it. It seems they often regretted that later in life and showered money on others as their surrogates, or their hired “meaning” emissaries like artists and other cultural types.

In fact, most of what this life rewards is singularity. Pick something, dedicate to it, keep on it and stay with it for most of your conscious hours, and then good things happen. By that point, you are rounding out middle age into the senior years, and have a fascinating three decades of shufflepuck before heart disease, cancer or dementia carry you off. When you look back on it, what do you see? A role, like a product on a shelf, and a grade. It’s high school all over again.

What is not puny seems to me to be the whole person. For this person, a career is part of the goal, but is beaten back as not a noble expenditure of time but a necessary one. In their greater amount of free time, they conquer their own lack of self-discipline, improve their wisdom and focus, become valued members of the community and lead moral lives. They are not focused on singularity, but on many things being true at once. That’s a balancing act. It does not have the rewards of singularity, which like a vending machine produces an equal and opposite reaction, but it has a reward over all else which is the sense of a full life and time well spent.


  1. Jul210s says:

    Icarean composition, soars then whimpers down. True though.

  2. Joe Coffee says:

    He who thinks most lives most- not sure who said that. My dad always told me that no one can take away the calculus you learn.

    1. crow says:

      Do you remember the endless days of childhood?
      That was before the adult world prevailed upon you to fill your head with thoughts. Once your mind developed a taste for such activity, it never stopped. And see how fast time speeds by, now.
      Thinking isn’t living.
      But it takes learning how to suspend thought, in adulthood, to appreciate that. And very few ever regain the ability to interact directly with life, rather than internalize it by thinking.

      1. Joe Coffee says:

        I remember! Beautiful days, the most beautiful. And I agree that there is some time and place for this suspension of thought. At the same time, thinking is one of the beautiful things in life. Exercising new ideas and looking at old ideas with some fresh eyes, this is spicy for me.

  3. hattip says:

    Of course, the problem is we have to survive. Most of us do not have the leasure to do what you ask. A lot of people’s retirement funds have been wiped out.

    For many of us it is drudgery just to make it to a retirement that is not absolute poverty.

    It is, however, good advice for the young.

    1. Doug Vance says:

      What we need to be asking: is this way what they claim as modern progress?

  4. ferret says:

    “There are many respectable professions. Who will scorn the community doctor, the honest lawyer, or the reliable business leader?”

    This reliable business leader belongs to the consumerist society with the economy, where “Most products are barely usable, unreliable, inefficient and inelegant”, as you put it. The same about the majority of services.
    This community doctor is strictly following the approved textbooks and prescribing expensive drugs in order to survive as a part of the medical industry. Even if he has a different opinion about the treatment.
    The honest lawer also has little chance to survive.

    But all these are not a real problems. The problem is that man has no purpose that can be articulated, understood, and then agreed upon.
    No purpose, no goals.

    1. Ted Swanson says:

      I’ll take a shot at articulating a purpose/goal. In a word: supremacy. Conversely, the de facto purpose/goal, today, is something along the lines of: happiness/contentment/peace. The concept of supremacy or mastery as a purpose/goal is distinct from happiness. And it is broad enough to be applied to different individual’s and different groups’ specific situations. Supremacy can motivate the individual and larger units like families and countries. When your goal is supremacy, you don’t just want your family to do well, you want them to be doing well 1000 years from now.

      In America you have cross town “rivalries,” you have cross state rivalries. On Friday my town will beat your town, but on Saturday the two towns team up, and together we say, my state will beat your state. So there are levels of rivalry and teamwork, but when you play, you play to win the game. If we celebrated supremacy, we would know better when is the time to be friendly rivals and when is the time to drop the rivalry altogether and team up to defeat a greater rival. As a byproduct we would be much happier and content. You can extrapolate this any number of ways.

      What do you think?

      1. ferret says:

        An old joke:
        One cow says: Sometimes I have a feeling our purpose is to be milked and eventually killed for meat; that’s why men are feeding us.
        The other cow: don’t tell it to anybody, or you’ll be ridiculed by the whole herd for this conspiracy theory!

        This supremacy is just a part of the natural selection, and it is not a distinct trait of men: all animals do the same. Saying that the purpose of man is to compete in order to survive, doesn’t provide an answer to the question “what the existence of man is for?”

        I believe, the purpose of something may be known only by something of a higher order. In this joke about cows – by men. In our case – by what we call God.

        For those who believe man is a pinnacle of the world, many answers to the question would fit, e.g., to be wealthy, famous, and the like.

        1. Ted Swanson says:

          Not refuting the point you’re making, but I want to clarify that I envision supremacy to be more than “competition in order to survive.” I want to emphasize both team-work and competition. And I want to emphasize something more than survival, although I’m not sure what I would call it. All I can think of is “luxury” although I don’t like the connotation of frivolity associated with it. But let’s use luxury and say that an individual or group can use its surplus free time and resources frivolously or not frivolously at all (at which point you essentially get back to survival) and any number of increments in between. I think a supremacy minded individual or group is looking to strike a solid balance and is happy to do something like throw a private party for the group, or a town throws a town festival every summer or every fall, and of course we can get more refined and talk about national culture, music, great composers and poets, etc. All of these are a sort of luxury. Beethoven is like a luxury that Europe could afford itself because survival was covered. Maybe if you want to know the purpose of human life from the perspective of God listen to Beethoven ;). I must admit, in a roundabout way these more refined expressions of luxury, like culture, one could argue, lend themselves to survival in the sense that they create a sort of national solidarity. But I just think it’s important we don’t look at life as merely survival, if we can afford it. I think my article “Ritual Sacrifice” explains how I see this to some extent.

  5. Gary says:

    What we need is simply more time and we do this by funding Aubrey de Gray’s SENS project AND the Mprize project (both scientific research charitable organizations in the US and UK)….Aubrey estimates that 1 billion spent over a 10 year period funding the current breakthrough theroy’s could control aging in a mouse model,then humans thereafter….the current rapid pace of advances in biotechnologies and nanotechnologies will make this possible, DARPA, the hi-tech US military research institute has identified the we need to rapidly develop nano/biotechnologies such as nanoassemblers an medical nanobots for such perposes (medical repair of injured soldiers etc.).
    Did you know that the world’s militaries easily spends over 1200 billion (1.2trillion) per year on th worlds war machines…Reagans Star wars program ate up close to a trillion (1000 billion) dollars on it’s own.
    We have plenty of money….we could easily reverse aging in just 2 or 3 years with a crash funded program (just 100 billion funding?)…..what have we got to lose, a few months of the Iraq war funding, or a couple of months of the new, upcoming Iran war?
    Did you know that just the amount of money alzheimers costs is over 1trillion (1000 billion) per year using 20th century medical tech…we do really need 21st century nano/biotech to solve these problems!

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