The Tao: Chapter 50 – Death


Men flow into life, and ebb into death.

Some are filled with life;
Some are empty with death;
Some hold fast to life, and thereby perish,
For life is an abstraction.

Those who are filled with life
Need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds,
Nor wear armour and shields in battle;
The rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn,
The tiger no place for its claw,
The soldier no place for a weapon,
For death finds no place in them.

------ divider ------

And by “men” Lao Tze means “people.”

I began to feel that the Taoists are right about life and death: we are never fully alive nor are we fully dead. When we are newly born infants we are vibrantly alive but all we are capable of is pissing on ourselves and spitting up our breakfast. By the time we’ve got ourselves together and have decided who we are, and collected a bunch of skills and friends, we are halfway through life. And then we stop living and become memories in the minds of our friends, and a few handfuls of dirt. But the memories are a form of life – as Richard Dawkins, the great philosopher, reminds us: we have become “memes.” Sorry, that’s just a little Taoist humor. Who gives a fuck what Richard Dawkins thinks about anything?

What does Lao Tze mean “Some hold fast to life and thereby perish”? It seems to me that he is saying a similar thing to Epicurus: if we seek safety and comfort, the means by which we try to achieve safety and comfort may become ends in themselves. Someone who uses inherited wealth or power to protect them self from having to confront the ups and downs of life may wake up one day, dead, realizing they never truly lived.

Comments

  1. John Morales says

    Someone who uses inherited wealth or power to protect them self from having to confront the ups and downs of life may wake up one day, dead, realizing they never truly lived.

    Leaving aside the poetic conceit of waking up dead, I doubt that to truly live one must perforce avoid using their inherited wealth or power to protect themself from having to confront the ups and downs of life.

    But, for the sake of argument, how is so doing supposedly living life other than truly?

    (Isn’t truth concordance to reality?)

    Aside: Doing something to avoid confronting something is not confronting that something, I grant. But are you really going to claim that, for example, someone using their inherited wealth to get very expensive treatment for some malady that affects them which is out of the reach of ordinary people means they’re not truly living? Because that’s what you’ve written.

    Sorry to be so literal, but concepts are concepts, poetic as they may seem.

  2. says

    John Morales@#1:
    I doubt that to truly live one must perforce avoid using their inherited wealth or power to protect themself from having to confront the ups and downs of life.

    I think the point is more that they will have to encounter those ups and downs, anyway. Money and power don’t shelter you from ups and downs related to money and power (which can be severe). I’m not saying that there is a true life, an ideal life, but rather that it’s important not to remove some things from consideration. Especially because those things will re-inject themselves, anyway.

    We are constantly treated to the spectacle of rich people trying to deny that they are ageing, with plastic surgery, botox, and photoshop. Ageing and death are not optional, however, no matter how much money they spend in denial of this. Thus, an attempt to deal with a problem can bring more problems in turn.

  3. Raucous Indignation says

    Push the boulder uphill as long and far as one can, remembering to take time out for those you love and a nice beverage with a good meal. And maybe turning some rubber into smoke. Or beat hit metal with a hammer. Or whatever.

  4. says

    we are never fully alive nor are we fully dead

    This one seems to me like one of those phrases that sound profound at first, but, after thinking about it more carefully, you realize that there’s nothing really smart or profound about it.

    By the time we’ve got ourselves together and have decided who we are, and collected a bunch of skills and friends, we are halfway through life.

    Here I’m not sure if you meant “halfway” literally or figuratively. If it’s meant literally, then I disagree—it’s not halfway, it’s not more than a third. Halfway would be around 40 years, and I’d like to think that I won’t have to wait another 15 years until I figure out who I am, find friends, and learn any useful skills.

    What does Lao Tze mean “Some hold fast to life and thereby perish”? It seems to me that he is saying a similar thing to Epicurus: if we seek safety and comfort, the means by which we try to achieve safety and comfort may become ends in themselves. Someone who uses inherited wealth or power to protect them self from having to confront the ups and downs of life may wake up one day, dead, realizing they never truly lived.

    In rhetoric there’s a tactic where a speaker makes their speech abstract and vague. This way each listener hears whatever they personally wished to hear. Politicians employ this tactic when they need to simultaneously appeal to voters who wish for opposing policies. Just say something vague, and each listener will interpret your words to mean whatever they wanted to hear. This is exactly what Lao Tze is doing here (whether that’s intentional or not, I cannot know). The poem you quoted could be interpreted in various ways (I can think of also other possible interpretations different from what you offered here). It uses abstract, vague and profound-sounding language, and you are filling in the blanks, imagining the poem to mean whatever you want it to mean so as to ensure that it has a message, a deep thought that you like and can agree with.

    I have read part of the books from your recommendations list, and so far “Tao Te Ching” was the only one I didn’t like (I didn’t get very far with it). It’s not like I mind poetry with vague language where each reader is expected to fill in the blanks. It’s just that on its own that’s not enough to impress me—I know how such profound-sounding stuff is written.

    “Like a moth flies to a flame, a human seeks that which will destroy them”—the cool thing about lines like this one is that it’s so vague that each reader will interpret it so as to mean whatever seems important for them. A Christian will assume that it is about Satan’s temptation and enjoyable sins like lust. An alcohol addict will think it’s about their problem. Somebody stuck in an unhealthy relationship with an abusive partner will assume it’s about their problem. A lazy sloth like me will think about procrastination and how I periodically fail to do what I should, because I don’t feel like getting my lazy ass up from the couch. Nice and beautiful wording also ensures that people perceive something like this as profound. But it really isn’t. It could also be translated into everyday language—“occasionally humans do things that are harmful for them.” Well, duh, of course they do. There’s the problem with long term vs. short them interests. Then there’s also the problem that we cannot always correctly predict the consequences of our actions. There’s nothing profound or wise about this statement, it’s just trivially obvious. But with the right words, a poet can make any trivial fact about human life sound wise.

    Those who are filled with life
    Need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds,
    Nor wear armour and shields in battle;
    The rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn,
    The tiger no place for its claw,
    The soldier no place for a weapon,
    For death finds no place in them.

    This passage literally says that “humans who are alive and kicking don’t have to fear deadly accidents.” What? That’s stupid. But, wait, the magic of poetry is that the reader is expected to come up with some cool interpretation which will make these words mean something profound. And, sure, I can think of plenty ways how to interpret this passage so as to mean something wise and cool.

    Anyway, I should emphasize that I don’t mind poetry with vague language that’s open for personal interpretation. In fact, I like reading something vague and seeing what it will make me think about. The real reason why I didn’t enjoy “Tao Te Ching” was because vague and wise-sounding langue is not enough to impress me, I have seen plenty of just as abstract poetry but with better metaphors, more clever wordplay, interesting rhythmic structures of the verses, rhymes, etc. (“better in my opinion” probably is more accurate than simply “better”—I know that perception of what is beautiful poetry differs and is highly subjective).

    realizing they never truly lived

    Oh, now that’s a question I find fascinating. What does “truly living” versus “not truly living” even mean? People talk about this distinction (and the necessity to “truly live”) all the time, yet there seems to be no consensus among humans about what “truly living” even means. Anyway, a definition I can accept would be to “spend the time you have on this planet so as to have as few regrets as possible by the time you die, do the things that you perceive as valuable and important, don’t waste time on whatever you perceive as trivial.” For me personally this means pursuing pleasure and having as much good time as possible.

    Another aspect of “truly living” (at least in my perception) is about doing meaningful jobs. I perceive many of the jobs that humans do as Sisyphean. For example, if you paint a picture, you have done something, made something new. If, on the contrary, you are the janitor sweeping dirt from the museum floors, your job is Sisyphean—you do the same thing again and again and again and you don’t get anywhere, you are working just to maintain the status quo, the moment you finish sweeping the floor, it gets dirty again and you have to start over. Of course, I know that all the “maintenance jobs” are necessary (unlike in the original Greek myth where the job was pointless), but I feel like I want to create something new, to actually achieve something instead of just maintaining what’s already there.

    I have also heard plenty of quotes about this whole truly living thing, my favorite is probably this one: “Most people work in jobs they hate, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like,” which describes one of the most common ways how one can fail to “truly live.”

    We are constantly treated to the spectacle of rich people trying to deny that they are ageing, with plastic surgery, botox, and photoshop. Ageing and death are not optional, however, no matter how much money they spend in denial of this. Thus, an attempt to deal with a problem can bring more problems in turn.

    Hmm, I always photoshop my photos that I allow anybody else to see. Is that really denying the reality, namely, that in real life my body looks not as amazing as photoshop can make it appear? I don’t think so. If I have a possibility to make my photos look better than reality, why not use it? What’s so bad about it? It’s not like I don’t know how my body looks like (in fact, spending some minutes in photoshop fixing skin blemishes makes you pretty damn aware about the fact that you have those). If I had the money, probably I’d also hire a surgeon to get rid of my breasts. Why not? I don’t see a problem with using plastic surgery in order to make wrinkles less noticeable. What is supposed to be the correct reaction about ageing? Embracing it and convincing yourself that wrinkles are beautiful? That’s bullshit—ageing objectively sucks, there’s nothing great about it. Contorting your mind so as to accept ageing as a good thing is just a way how to delude yourself. Sure, ageing and death are inevitable, and getting obsessed with your looks and plastic surgery is unhealthy (because it won’t make you any happier), but there’s nothing particularly harmful about a moderate amount of this stuff. If dyeing your grey hair or getting some surgery makes you a little happier with how your body looks like, why not do that? Moreover, how does getting botox injections makes somebody not “truly live” their life (whatever “truly living” even means)?

  5. ridana says

    This thread reminds me of “If you immediately know the candle light is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago.” :D

  6. John Morales says

    I think the point is more that they will have to encounter those ups and downs, anyway.

    Ah. This is pithier:

    “Life is a shit sandwich. But if you’ve got enough bread, you don’t taste the shit.”

    ― Jonathan Winters

  7. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#4:
    This one seems to me like one of those phrases that sound profound at first, but, after thinking about it more carefully, you realize that there’s nothing really smart or profound about it.

    Sometimes phrases depend on their supporting statements for their full meaning. When you’re writing something, you might engage in a bit of hyperbole, or be a bit vague, and then try to explain it, afterward (or after words…) So, for example, when I wrote:
    we are never fully alive nor are we fully dead
    it is perhaps a “deepity” but the next couple sentences explain what I meant:
    When we are newly born infants we are vibrantly alive but all we are capable of is pissing on ourselves and spitting up our breakfast. By the time we’ve got ourselves together and have decided who we are, and collected a bunch of skills and friends, we are halfway through life. And then we stop living and become memories in the minds of our friends, and a few handfuls of dirt.

    It’s easy to pick a sentence out of some writing and say “that sentence is pointless” but it may actually not be.

    Shorter form: grouping sentences to elaborate on an idea is what we have paragraphs for. The rest of the paragraph explains the sentence that you are objecting to. Whether you agree with the whole, or not, is a different topic.

    Here I’m not sure if you meant “halfway” literally or figuratively. If it’s meant literally, then I disagree—it’s not halfway, it’s not more than a third. Halfway would be around 40 years, and I’d like to think that I won’t have to wait another 15 years until I figure out who I am, find friends, and learn any useful skills.

    If, someday, you find yourself surprised to realize that maybe I was more or less right – it won’t matter to me because I’ll probably be dead by then.

    The idea that we “find ourselves” is, as I’m sure you want to point out, vague and idealistic. If you want to expand that in your mind to something like “come to understand, to our own satisfaction, our interests and capabilities, and how we want to behave when alone and with others […]”
    Of course it’s vague. It’s a great big over-generalization.

  8. says

    Ieva Skrebele:
    Oh, now that’s a question I find fascinating. What does “truly living” versus “not truly living” even mean? People talk about this distinction (and the necessity to “truly live”) all the time, yet there seems to be no consensus among humans about what “truly living” even means. Anyway, a definition I can accept would be to “spend the time you have on this planet so as to have as few regrets as possible by the time you die, do the things that you perceive as valuable and important, don’t waste time on whatever you perceive as trivial.” For me personally this means pursuing pleasure and having as much good time as possible.

    Socrates famously asked what it means to lead the good life. Lao Tze offers some opinions* of his own, about that question.

    I like your definition. I am not sure how I’d shoehorn it in there but, to me, “truly living” depends on a certain amount of authenticity. One cannot be living a meaningful life (to oneself or others) if one knows it is a lie. That’s what brings in, for me, the matter of being truthful to oneself and others: authenticity. Suppose you had someone who was living a life as a notable public intellectual but they knew and kept secret that they had a doctorate from a degree mill? Are they truly living? There’s an opposite to “truly living” which I would say is “living a lie” – or what Sartre would call “living in bad faith” Is a person who is living a lie capable of unalloyed happiness? I would say they are not, since they know that one of the sources of their ‘happiness’ is that they stole it, that they do not deserve it.

    If I have a possibility to make my photos look better than reality, why not use it?

    If you’re presenting the photos as representing some kind of reality, then you’re not being authentic. If you’re representing the photos as being idealized constructs, then you’re being authentic about being inauthentic. It’s like stamping “authentic replica” on a product. Sartre would have had something trenchant and vague to say about that but I approach it as a question of authenticity, and that brings in the whole question of its purpose: are you marketing yourself as a product? By all means polish it up and make it look great. But, like with all marketing, it is a knowing lie – representing a thing as different than you know it to be.

    (* assuming Lao Tze is not as much of a construct as Socrates, which I suspect he is)

  9. says

    John Morales@#6:
    Life is a shit sandwich. But if you’ve got enough bread, you don’t taste the shit

    A very neat rejoinder to the “money doesn’t buy happiness” trope.

  10. thud says

    Marcus&leva@#8:
    My thought is not to worry about authenticity, live responsibly, take care of your self (eat well, work out, get out of the house, dress clean and neat (maybe stylish or idiosyncratic even), challenge yourself with study, athletics, travel, participate in a joint effort to add value to the community, accept appreciation and appropriate reward (e.g., a good job or self supporting productive enterprise), and your dependents (provide them with clean safe shelter, good food and meds, companionship nuturance guidance, good education and socialization), and your community (vote, pay taxes, contribute a few words &/or $ to the better representative, support some committees of interest).
    All else will fall into place. Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. You and your friends will get through this somehow (with few regrets, but there are always missed opportunities).

  11. says

    I like your definition. I am not sure how I’d shoehorn it in there but, to me, “truly living” depends on a certain amount of authenticity.

    Yes, of course you can shoehorn that into my original definition. I’m not sure whether it was noticeable, but I intentionally picked very vague wording. “Do the things that you perceive as valuable and important, don’t waste time on whatever you perceive as trivial” does not state what are those things that humans ought to perceive as valuable. Thus each person is free to fill in the blanks and pick whatever they value. If you value authenticity, then that’s what you will insert into my definition.

    The reason why I intentionally picked such vague wording is because humans seem unable to reach a consensus about what we ought to value in life. Each person values different things. I can certainly see why authenticity could be perceived as valuable (after all, if you get stuck in a situation where you have to lie all the time, you will experience some serious drawbacks), but I don’t think that everybody values authenticity as much as you do. I know some people who appeared perfectly happy while living a lie (sure, it’s possible that they only pretended and weren’t truly happy, but I don’t think that I have a right to dismiss somebody’s claim “I am happy despite. . .” which is why I will have to accept that a happy life that’s full of lies might be possible).

    Are they truly living?. . . Is a person who is living a lie capable of unalloyed happiness?

    This is not for you to decide whether some other person is truly living or not. When humans ask whether they are truly living, they are basically asking whether they are satisfied with their life. Each person should answer this question for themselves based on whatever criteria they choose (each one of us has to figure out for ourselves what it is that we value). It would be better if people didn’t go around pointing their fingers at others and saying “this person isn’t truly living.” The reason why I’m now saying this is because I have had transphobes and Christians pointing their fingers at me and saying that I cannot be happy, it’s inherently impossible for somebody like me to be happy. And when I insisted that I really am happy with my life, they just dismissed my words as lies.

    I’m not completely equating the sentence “somebody who is living a lie cannot be truly happy” with “an LGBTQ person cannot be truly happy.” Personally, I couldn’t be happy living a lie, but I’m perfectly happy being queer. Yet I do see some similarities between both these claims. My attitude is that I’m going to decide for myself what I value in life and how I want to live, but I’m not going to force my opinions upon others, I won’t claim that everybody ought to value the same things that I value.

  12. Dunc says

    Hua-Ching Ni translates this rather differently… I’m not going to transcribe the whole chapter on my phone, but this more-or-less equivalent to the section Marcus has quoted:

    People of awareness value normalcy and for sake seeking special opportunities which hold the promise of increasing the strength of living.
    Such things are eventually only ways to speed up one’s life.
    One who can enjoy his natural life is content with the life of simple normalcy.
    As I was told, one who knows how to tend his life with simple normalcy, does not meet wild animals on the road or know the touch of weapons during war.
    The mighty horns of the rhinoceros, the powerful claws of the tiger, the sharp blades of weapons, find nowhere to pierce him.
    Why is this?
    Because his mind holds no uncanny thoughts he gives death no opportunity.

    Which all seems much more straight-forward: seeking excitement, adventure, fame, or the like, only invites trouble. Be content with a life of quiet simplicity instead, and you are unlikely to meet a sudden and violent end.

  13. Dunc says

    Or to put it even more simply: the best way to avoid getting killed in a fight is to not be the sort of person who gets into fights.

  14. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#11:
    The reason why I intentionally picked such vague wording is because humans seem unable to reach a consensus about what we ought to value in life.

    I wonder what the world would be like if we all agreed? Suppose that all anyone (and everyone) wanted was a sports car? Ugh. The world would revolve around sports cars and people clambering over eachother in order to get them. Then, once they had attained sports car, they would wander around, bereft, or perhaps they would fall into what Epicurus called ‘error’ and decide that if one was OK a dozen was better, etc. Then they would become depraved car collectors.

    I don’t think that everybody values authenticity as much as you do.

    I am sure of that.

    I know some people who appeared perfectly happy while living a lie (sure, it’s possible that they only pretended and weren’t truly happy,

    Well, obviously they would not have pretended if they were happy, so to pretend they would have to know that they were pretending (unless they were delusional) – it appears to be a contradiction to me, that one could actually be happy by pretending to be happy.

    There’s also a possible argument that there might be some absolute value to truth, but I’m not Kant and I won’t attempt it.

    This is not for you to decide whether some other person is truly living or not.

    Of course it is! I get to decide what truly living means – for myself, and for others. That doesn’t mean that they agree with me, but I get to decide for myself, they get to decide for themselves, you get to decide, etc. It is perfectly reasonable for me to look at someone who is lying to themself and the world at large about who and what they are and think they are not truly living. Case in point, Donald Trump. He seems to me to be pretty close to a Nietzschean nihilist – a creature of pure will and ego, unrestrained by society and the weak, etc. But he also seems to be pretty unhappy. He’s the President of the United States but he wishes he was a punk like Hitler or Bonaparte. (and I say that as a Bonapartist)

    Each person should answer this question for themselves based on whatever criteria they choose (each one of us has to figure out for ourselves what it is that we value).

    Yes.

    It would be better if people didn’t go around pointing their fingers at others and saying “this person isn’t truly living.”

    There’s a problem, which is that there are some opinions in which part of the opinion is that it should be expressed. I’m fortunate that I don’t hold many of those opinions – though there are a few. For example, it is my opinion that my opinion about US Government war crimes should be expressed. That means that if someone were to show up here and start insisting I “support the troops” by making approving mouth-noises, they will get a lecture on the immorality of military service – whether they like it or not.

    I see lots of people that I consider to be living lives that are lies. I do not always confront them with that observation, but I think it. Which means that, in suppressing my thoughts in order to avoid conflict with them, I am being less honest myself. I justify this as follows: 1) at least I know what is going on 2) therefore I am being honest with myself, which is what matters most 3) fuck them.

    The reason why I’m now saying this is because I have had transphobes and Christians pointing their fingers at me and saying that I cannot be happy, it’s inherently impossible for somebody like me to be happy. And when I insisted that I really am happy with my life, they just dismissed my words as lies.

    Christians often seem to mistake their opinions for facts. That’s a pretty typical flaw in thought among the religious; it makes sense because religion is mostly that: mistaking tall stories (opinions) for facts.

  15. says

    Dunc@#13:
    the best way to avoid getting killed in a fight is to not be the sort of person who gets into fights.

    My karate sensei when I was in college, used to say “the best way to win a fight is by not being there.” I think that was close to Bruce Lee’s “art of fighting without fighting.”

  16. Dunc says

    My karate sensei when I was in college, used to say “the best way to win a fight is by not being there.”

    Funnily enough, mine said something very similar. ;)

  17. says

    I know some people who appeared perfectly happy while living a lie (sure, it’s possible that they only pretended and weren’t truly happy,

    Well, obviously they would not have pretended if they were happy, so to pretend they would have to know that they were pretending (unless they were delusional) – it appears to be a contradiction to me, that one could actually be happy by pretending to be happy.

    I agree that one cannot be happy by pretending to be happy. But that’s not what I meant. I cannot know for certain what’s going on in somebody else’s head. I can only observe how they appear to feel. I know for certain that there are some people who are unhappy but hide that fact and pretend to be happy instead. Thus, whenever I see some person who lives a lie yet still appears to be happy, I cannot know for certain whether they really are happy or whether they are unhappy and just pretend to be happy. Still, I’m reluctant to dismiss somebody’s claim that they are happy with their life. Thus I have to assume that it is possible to be happy while living a lie.

    It is perfectly reasonable for me to look at someone who is lying to themself and the world at large about who and what they are and think they are not truly living.

    It looks like we define “truly living” differently. The way I understand the phrase, it’s about whether somebody has a good life or no. “Good life” is another term that’s tricky to define—humans cannot reach a consensus about what’s necessary for some person to have a good life. Hence, let’s go further—if you are satisfied with your life, then you must be having a good life. In my opinion, “truly living” is a matter of life satisfaction, meaning that if a person is satisfied with their life, then they are truly living. Life satisfaction is something entirely personal and subjective. On many occasions I have spoken with people who led, in my opinion, absolutely miserable lives; I knew that I could never be happy in circumstances similar to theirs. Yet they were happy and satisfied with their life, hence I perceive them as truly living. Of course, I have also seen opposite examples: some person was having a life that I perceived as amazing and I would have loved to be in their place. Yet this person wasn’t happy with their life, because their criteria for what constitutes a good life differed from mine. Thus, because they were unhappy, they were not truly living. When developing less vague and more precise criteria for what constitutes truly living, I apply these criteria only to myself. For example, I value freedom, for me being free is essential to truly living. But this criterion of mine only applies to myself. I never apply it to other people. This way, under my definition, it’s perfectly possible for some other person to be truly living despite not being free (as long as they, unlike me, don’t value freedom). I know that humans are unable to achieve a consensus about what constitutes a good life. This is why I don’t even attempt to apply my personal criteria universally.

    For example, it is my opinion that my opinion about US Government war crimes should be expressed. That means that if someone were to show up here and start insisting I “support the troops” by making approving mouth-noises, they will get a lecture on the immorality of military service – whether they like it or not.

    I perceive this as completely justified. After all, somebody showed up at your blog and started this conversation with you. I would dislike it only if you were rude about it (for example, showing up at some dead soldier’s funeral and telling his grieving mother, “Your son was such an idiot if he volunteered to serve in the US army.”)

    I see lots of people that I consider to be living lives that are lies. I do not always confront them with that observation, but I think it. Which means that, in suppressing my thoughts in order to avoid conflict with them, I am being less honest myself. I justify this as follows: 1) at least I know what is going on 2) therefore I am being honest with myself, which is what matters most 3) fuck them.

    Yes, that makes sense. I also judge other people’s behavior and the lives they lead. When they engage in behaviors I disapprove of, then that’s exactly what I will be thinking. I justify this as follows: I keep my mouth shut and I’m not being rude, and in the privacy of my mind I am free to think whatever the hell I want to. (Well, I keep my mouth shut most of the time because I prefer to be polite, but, if somebody provokes me, I’m perfectly happy to tell them everything I think about them.)

    My karate sensei when I was in college, used to say “the best way to win a fight is by not being there.” I think that was close to Bruce Lee’s “art of fighting without fighting.”

    I have never taken karate lessons, but my Krav Maga trainer said the same thing. His definition of what it meant to “win in a fight” was “to get out of it alive and with as few injuries as possible.” If you see a potentially dangerous situation unfolding in front of you, run away. If a mugger demands your wallet, surrender and give them the wallet. He told us to fight only when it’s absolutely impossible to solve the conflict without fighting (the problem being that during a fistfight you always risk getting injured or even killed).

    thud @#10

    Well, here we have it—I already disagree, my personal criteria for how I want to live my life are different. I value freedom, hence I prefer not having anybody who depends on me (yep, I’m not planning to have children). I don’t want to depend on anybody else either. As for community, my opinion about the future of humanity is very pessimistic (climate change, depletion of natural resources), and I don’t think there’s much hope for humans on this planet. Making the world a better place is hard work and I don’t feel like doing that. I only care about not making the world a worse place—I don’t want to worsen any problems, I don’t want to leave a trail of trash behind myself. And voting, well, it’s seriously pointless. Oligarchs are already sponsoring every single one of those candidates who are participating in some election—whoever gets elected will make whatever laws the rich want. Besides, politicians have a tendency to promise one thing before elections and do the exact opposite once they get elected. Sure, occasionally there are elections where one candidate is better than others, and then it really makes sense to vote, but that’s not always the case.

    Anyway, the main thing I care about in life is pleasure. Whatever I do is being done for the sake of increasing my personal happiness and enjoyment of life. For example, I do value authenticity, but only because living a lie makes life less enjoyable; I value the relationships I have with my friends, but only because I enjoy spending time with them and their presence makes my life more happy. I enjoy being free, hence I seek freedom. I don’t like babies or responsibilities, hence I’m not planning to have a family. Challenging yourself, learning new things, reading books etc. are things I value, but only because I happen to enjoy doing all that. Eating well and working out is also important for me, but because life is more enjoyable with a healthy body. Even my job as an artist is something I chose, because I enjoy making something out of nothing, I like the idea that my artworks will stay in this world after I’m gone.

  18. thud says

    Leva @#17:
    You’re not totally irresponsible, if I understand you correctly. Your choice to not have dependents is your choice, responsible.
    What’s the “pleasure” about? Aside from or in addition to orgasms and delicious food and engaging music and dancing, I enjoy the pleasure of fellowship in community, adding value (e.g., like throwing a great party, but also cleaning up!).
    There really is something beyond my own personal gratification.

  19. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#17:
    Still, I’m reluctant to dismiss somebody’s claim that they are happy with their life.

    Why? You’re a skeptic. It seems unlike you to simply accept what someone says as truth, instead of withholding judgement.

  20. says

    @#19

    Why? You’re a skeptic. It seems unlike you to simply accept what someone says as truth, instead of withholding judgement.

    Largely this is because on many occasions people have dismissed my claims about how I feel, and whenever that happens, it is seriously unpleasant. When I say that I don’t like children and don’t want to have any, most people disbelieve me, they insist that I’m delusional, that I don’t understand what’s good for me, that, as I get older, I will regret my decision to remain childfree. When acquaintances say this, it’s mildly irritating. When a doctor chooses to disbelieve me, and refuses to perform the surgery I requested, then that’s a huge problem. I also know many transphobes who are convinced that it’s inherently impossible for a queer person to be happy. I have had many people inform me that I must have had an unhappy childhood, because a child who wasn’t abused by their parents could never grow up to be queer. I really dislike it when other people dismiss and choose to disbelieve the claims I make about how I feel. This is why I try not to dismiss other people’s claims.

    I have to say that to some minor extent I do suspend judgment. When somebody tells me, “I believe in God that sends sinners to hell where they burn for an eternity, and I am happy,” my reaction is approximately like this: “They are probably telling the truth and it’s likely that they really are happy as they claim; however I cannot know for certain. For now I’m going to accept their claim as true and believe them, at least until any further evidence demonstrates the opposite.”

    Besides, for practical purposes, it’s not always possible to suspend judgment. Let’s assume I meet some person whose body is covered in bruises and they tell me, “I’m a masochist, I enjoy this, I’m perfectly happy with how my relationship with my abuser functions.” If I decide to believe them, I should encourage them to have fun. If I decide to disbelieve them, I should encourage them to seek help from some institution that offers support to domestic violence victims.

    Then there’s also the wider matter of policies various states make. When trans people say that they want to change their sex, when people on the autism spectrum say that they are happy with themselves and don’t want to receive medical treatment and prefer not to get labeled as mentally ill, when masochists say that they enjoy the abuse and want it to be legal to arrange for themselves to be beaten up, when people who want to engage in incestuous relationships say that they are not mentally ill and are perfectly happy having sex with their family members, when intersex people say that they don’t want doctors to surgically alter their sex organs without their consent, when a person demands for voluntary sterilization and insists that they don’t like children and don’t want to have any, when a woman insists that she really wants an abortion and won’t regret it afterwards, in all these cases the state has to make a decision about whether to believe this person or no. In my opinion, it’s better to make it a matter of policy to believe people, even when they make claims that appear weird for majority of the society.

    For example, where I live it is not legal for a woman to choose to become a surrogate mother. Then there’s also that law which forbids women who haven’t had babies of their own from becoming an ovary donor. This one is a very recent law, the justification politicians offered was as follows—there are some women who so far haven’t had babies of their own, but they want biological offspring. If we ban them from becoming egg donors, they will be forced to have babies of their own instead of becoming a donor and foregoing having a pregnancy. WTF? Why can’t the society simply believe people when they make claims about their own desires? Oh, and euthanasia is also illegal here. Voluntary sterilization is severely limited and hard to obtain. Incest is completely illegal. OK, I know that babies born from such relationships have a higher risk of being sick. Still, why the fuck should a state make it illegal for adult and consenting siblings or cousins to have sex even when they are using contraceptives? Oh, and why the hell I’m not legally allowed to donate my dead body to some necrophiliac who would enjoy getting it? I’m legally allowed to donate my dead body to scientists or doctors who will cut it up and take the organs. Why shouldn’t I be able to instead donate it to some association of necrophiliacs?

    The point is, when people choose to disbelieve each other’s claims about how they feel or what they desire, it tends to get ugly.

    thud @#18

    Your choice to not have dependents is your choice, responsible.

    Yes, that’s certainly better than accidentally getting pregnant, and afterwards deciding that having a child is not for you.

    What’s the “pleasure” about? Aside from or in addition to orgasms and delicious food and engaging music and dancing, I enjoy the pleasure of fellowship in community, adding value (e.g., like throwing a great party, but also cleaning up!).
    There really is something beyond my own personal gratification.

    Human bodies aren’t made for having sex all the time, there’s a limit of how often you can have an orgasm. Same goes for food, you cannot eat too much and too often. So, yes, we have no other choice but to seek other sources of enjoyment and different forms of entertainment. And I agree with you here—many activities that I enjoy doing also happen to be beneficial for other people (for example, in past I have done some voluntary work as an unpaid teacher). In my case, I do these things because I happen to enjoy doing them. Other people benefiting is a side effect.

    My lifestyle is actually pretty different from how the stereotypical hedonist would be living—I don’t even like parties or consuming lots of alcohol, I rather read books or make artworks instead of drinking in a party.

  21. John Morales says

    leva S

    Largely this is because on many occasions people have dismissed my claims about how I feel, and whenever that happens, it is seriously unpleasant.

    Makes sense emotionally — logically, not-so-much.

  22. says

    John Morales @#21
    I’m not so sure. One of the things I value is consistency, namely people ought to behave in the same way regardless of the side they are on. The most obvious example of inconsistent attitudes and behaviors would be this one: “when my country’s soldiers drop bombs on civilians, they are freedom fighters; when your country’s soldiers drop bombs on civilians, they are terrorists.” Anyway, it would be inconsistent for me to believe somebody’s claim when I like what I hear, but to disbelieve their claim when I don’t like what I hear or when I disapprove of their words. For example, there is no reason why I should be more inclined to disbelieve “I am a Christian, and I’m happy” compared to “I am an atheist, and I’m happy.” The fact that I happen to dislike the first statement is not a valid reason for deciding not to believe it. Thus my decision is to believe everybody’s claims about how they feel. That’s better than disbelieving everybody’s claims about how they feel. Selectively believing some claims and not believing some others based on my personal preferences would be inconsistent behavior. I don’t like that, I prefer applying the same rules to everybody.

  23. John Morales says

    leva, well, yes.

    Anyway, it would be inconsistent for me to believe somebody’s claim when I like what I hear, but to disbelieve their claim when I don’t like what I hear or when I disapprove of their words.

    You initially claimed “I really dislike it when other people dismiss and choose to disbelieve the claims I make about how I feel. This is why I try not to dismiss other people’s claims.”, to which I noted that it’s essentially an emotional, not a rational claim.

    I think that the technical term for what you describe is ‘bias’, and for the apportioning of credibility based on how it makes you feel constitutes an instance of argumentum ad consequentiam.

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with that)

  24. John Morales says

    PS FWIW, I’m inured to people disbelieving my own attitudinal claims, so I don’t share your bias.

  25. says

    John Morales @#23

    to which I noted that it’s essentially an emotional, not a rational claim.

    When people care about something, it’s usually because of emotional reasons. For example, a trans person or somebody who has a loved one who is transsexual is more likely to care about transphobia. That’s just how human brain works. And, yes, I’m also definitely subject to this bias. It actually goes also the other way—if you haven’t personally experienced some injustice or some problem, you might even not notice that it exists at all. For example, before watching an interview with a disability rights activist, I had no clue whatsoever that inspiration porn is an issue. On my own, I just couldn’t notice that such a problem even exists in the world, because I hadn’t personally been subjected to this particular form of exploitation and dehumanization.

    That being said, even though my reasons for caring about this problem might be emotional, I do believe that my attempt to treat everybody equally when it comes to believing or disbelieving their claims is a rational thing to do. Unless I have additional evidence about whether I should believe or disbelieve some particular claim, I treat all claims (and people who make them) equally.

    I’m inured to people disbelieving my own attitudinal claims

    Have you ever been denied something just because another person didn’t believe (or pretended not to believe) your words? When strangers or acquaintances refuse to believe you, that’s mildly irritating, but usually there are no significant negative consequences. When people actually refuse your requests, it can turn into a huge problem. I don’t see how anybody could become inured to this. It’s outright harmful for the victim (just like any other form of discrimination). For example, when I requested a doctor to sterilize me, she refused (even though it was illegal for that doctor to do so). That was a huge problem for me, but it can get even worse than that, for example, “I don’t believe that you really don’t want to go on a date with me, your request to leave you alone cannot be sincere; you are only pretending to be hard to get, and you want me to fight for your attention.”

    I suspect that some people experience this more often than others. Firstly, due to certain prevailing misogynistic attitudes, women are more likely to be disbelieved than men. Another group of people who are frequently disbelieved are all those people who choose to lead non mainstream lifestyles. Are you single and childfree by choice? Do you have any highly unusual hobbies? Have you made any weird career decisions (for example, not having a career at all, and choosing to lead a simple life with minimal income)? Are you LGBTQ? Well, if that’s the case, then you can expect people to disbelieve you each time you have a conversation with somebody. Disbelieving people often goes together with old-fashioned discrimination. Often it’s just one of the ways how people get discriminated against.

  26. John Morales says

    leva,

    I don’t see how anybody could become inured to this.

    Do you disbelieve me? :)

    (I was rather explicit about that to which I believe I’m inured, and it’s not based on consequences, but to habituation and perhaps some philosophical Stoicism)

    Now that the thread is moribund, I will note I think the claim, such as it may be, is neither warranted nor credible.

    My translation: some people are much luckier than others. Well, yeah.

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