How Shall We Live?


In my last post, The Sorrows of the World, I covered some of the major areas of human-produced suffering that are part of our world. The point of this wasn’t to show what a horrible place the world is, or (like John Gray’s Straw Dogs) what loathsome, despicable creatures humans are.

Rather, my intent was to make it clear that despite all of our human success, our biological flourishing, we, jointly as humanity, continue to produce a world that is full of phenomenon that we, as single human individuals, find undesirable, objectionable and even repulsive. You might consider these the unfortunate consequences of humans being.

Consider war, for example. Most humans despise the idea of war. People aren’t born with the urge to slaughter other people. However, war is so deeply embedded in the current world system, that we perceive it as simply part of reality.

The Buddhist axiom is that all beings wish to experience happiness and avoid suffering. This seems to me as useful a principle as any I’ve found in my 57 years. It is part of the nature of life all the way down to simple single-celled organisms, as I mentioned in my post, Life as Purpose. Organisms move towards their good and away from their bad, that’s the essence of life. And organisms is what humans all are.

Human beings, by nature, would rather live in a world that is nuturant, rather than one that is hostile. No one wants to be the recipient of violence, but everyone is glad to be the beneficiary of kindness. We want the world to support us in our pursuit of happiness, not to abuse us.

Yet, our world continues to perpetuate widespread manifestations of suffering that humans either cause or could prevent or remedy. So, in essence, we create much of our own suffering.

One reason is that we tend to treat the human world as a given, as an existing fact, rather than seeing it as a social construction, as a made-by-us. The more vividly we see the world as made-by-us, the more we can approach it as a to-be-made, a what-might-be.

A consequence of totally accepting the world as it appears is that it leads to a greater focus on one’s self. We see the world as a maze and chasing the cheese is our only pursuit.

One of the great gifts of a science is that in explaining an ever-expanding range of phenomenon, that it frees us from mystical conceptions of reality. By dissolving the idea that some higher power is responsible for everything and that human purpose is strictly following the will of that power, it frees us to realize that the world is the product of human becoming and that human purpose is something we are fated with determing.

Considering human purpose involves asking: “How shall we live in this world?” which requires us to contemplate how we would like to live in the world, our wish for how we would like the world to be.

Currently, I’m reading the book, Do Fish Feel Pain? by Victoria Braithwaite. She mentions an approach to animal study that involves creating experiments that determine their preferences (what they will work harder to do).

I think it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that humans, if given a choice, would obviously to prefer to live in a world where humans treat each other with kindness and compassion, a world which  is caring and supportive of human flourishing, than a harsh, violent, dog-eat-dog, everyman for himeself world. In fact, if you consider hunter-gatherer societies as similar to our original ancestors, by nature, we are evolved to live in a co-operative relation with others.

You can look at the human world as a field that modulates our lives. As feeling creatures, our lives resonate with this field. Both positive and negative emotions radiate through the field. We experience negative emotions as a dissonance in the field, as being out-of-harmony with our desire for happiness.

War and violence cause not only physical sufferings but also propogate emotions of fear and anger. The unhappiness of others causes ripples of discomfort that permeate throughout society. But happiness is also contagious. When others have a positive experience of life, it creates the conditions for others to feel good.

Ultimately, the pursuit of happiness means striving for the happiness of all. Chasing that elusive butterfly means aiming towards a more harmonious world premised on the mutual benefit of all. My proposition for human purpose is the ambition of transforming the world into a field of human flourishing.






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