Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Laziness: An Intellectual's Apology V

'All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.'


What I don't wish to talk about here is apathy. That's very different. And - since I'm avoiding my work in writing this - it would be somewhat hypocritical.

But our society today is intrinsically lazy. We do expect everything to be served to us. And for happiness to be the sole object. I've touched on our hedonism before, but I don't think that I need to expand on it here. I'm sure you all understand my ideas.

The problem of Laziness

What is the problem? Well, laziness has never been a good thing. Sloth is one of the Seven Capital Sins. But our self-serving sloth simply procastinates our problems. Take energy - the over-discussed topic of our age.

We could sort out the problem of our energy crisis. It wouldn't take all that much effort in the greater scheme of things. A few years of high taxes to provide capital to build vast new renewable energy sources. And the crisis would be over. And global warming would be mostly fixed as well. But why don't we do it? Because it's hard. No government could suggest such a measure. They'd lose office within a year. Simply because no-one is willing to tightne their belts. No-one takes collective responsibility. And we must; there is no-one else to do so.


We too must not be lazy. But so many people do not realise this. This is where I return to my perennial theme: thought. We must think. As I wrote in one of my first posts:

'Surely, we must wake up. If we actually realised, as a whole race, that we can think, we could also achieve something useful.' (i)

I have had an interesting debate with Mr Watson recently.(ii) Some of you may have read it. Do we have an obligation to fulfil our potential? I venture to suggest that we do. This of course necessitates some form of moral law. But if we can serve humanity, we should do so. Those who can act need to do so; because otherwise, one is being exceedingly selfish. 'I will not act - I will block improvement - because it takes too much effort to act. It would detract from my happiness. Mr W - to his credit - noted this: 'Perhaps one could say that my approach is selfish in that by aiming to only be happy, I am only looking out for my own happiness and failing to make sacrifices for others.'(iii) However, I think his fundamental assumption is wrong. He claims that 'my happiness comes soully from the happiness of others, then one appreciates that my goals are not at all selfish. The only selfishness comes in deciding what I believe true happiness actually is and allowing that to override other people's ideas.'

I think that the assumption underneath this is one of relativism- that there is no absolute standard of happiness, and its causes. I suggest that there is. One is happy if one is not poor; one is happy if one is not ill. Obviosuly these are extreme examples. Happiness is not always the same for everyone. But this misses the point. I have never meant personal happiness.

Nick's point - to which we both replied - was this:

'I like to think that we are somewhat unusual; that is to say that we are thinkers. We ponder, consider and reflect on anything and everything, some of us 24/7 (I, admittedly, not being one of those). I do not think of us as some sort of intellectual elite, but rather suggest that we have, in some small way, already escaped from that dreaded mediocrity, or God forbid, mediocracy.What do you all think? - am I being snobbish? Complacent? Arrogant?......or do I just state the blindingly obvious? Please be frank and honest: as that same esteemed thinker said in his post a few weeks ago, all I ask you to is one thing: think.' (iv)

I do not quote this for self-serving purposes. Merely to give you the context of our debate. My exortation to thought was an exortation to 'help to get things going'. It was never personal happiness. It was always absolute happiness.


Is over-rated. It's nice. But it is not the sole aim and purpose of our existence. I'll go into that if you force me. In blindly pursuing our own contentment, we stumble and fall on the narrow path, which is stony and crooked. Those who find the path are few, now that society has rejected it.

Whether or not you walk the path, act.

'Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.' [Paulus PP. VI]


(iii) Ibid.
(iv) Ibid.


Tom said...

Perhaps further clarification is required...in fact there is no perhaps about it. But initially I must praise you for drafting this up into a full publication Phil.

Perhaps we are not disagreeing, but simply focusing on different parts of the same opinion. It is my opinion that happiness is attainable by an absolute standard. That standard is the execution of good deeds.

You would consider furthering yourself by the nurturing of your talents to be a good deed (I assume this is your opinion), and I must agree. Perhaps where we appear to be disagreeing is whether this is the path that takes precedence over all other good deeds. Or maybe even it is that we are both failing to realise that the talent some choose to nurture is one that cannot be seen with ease. Or, further still, it could be that our definition of happiness is different. I'll provoke and say that happiness is consequential. There are many paths to happiness, but not all paths are the righteous path, and perhaps it is the choosing of the righteous path that has become so difficult for people in todays society. What incentive is there for a "non-thinker" to take the long winding righteous path, when the seemingly ironically named "bad path" is shorter and straighter (it is only ironic to those who think that false simplicity doesn't reflect evil)? This is perhaps the laziness of which you speak. I'd be interested to see if you could come up with an argument for a "non-thinker" that would make them want to take the righteous path. I'd also be even more impressed if you knew what the righteous path definitively was :)

I find it curious that you have not mentioned my views of happiness being of different types owing to their method of attainment. I have explained it more imaginatively in the last paragraph of this response. I do not condone the fact that pursuing happiness by the lazy method is wrong.

An argument I put to you earlier was that of focusing on a single talent, or developing many. What say you to that? Perhaps, like yourself, I choose to develop many talents. I aim to excel in all my areas of skill. Yet it is this diversity that prevents me focusing on one talent, and using that for the greater good at a closer date. Maybe my error is in being too balanced and choosing not to prioritise any one talent over another. Call that a failure to select one if you will. I don't think I've ever encountered someone who was only talented in one way. Perhaps then we are all nurturing many talents.

What I think I'm trying to say (and I'm not even entirely sure myself), is that we are limited to so many years on this Earth. If we had but one talent each, it would be clear to see that we should nurture that talent as far as we possibly could, so that we could use it to greater effect (for the greater good if you will). However, we are graced with many talents each. Are we to nurture all of our talents and attempt to execute them all, even at the risk of confliction between talents and allocation of attention, or are we to pick but one talent and closing the proverbial doors on all others?
(Clearly there are other options, but I give you two to ponder on)

I apologise for discussing personal happiness, but I enjoy the fact that it has led back to happiness in general.

Again, so much more to say, and so many more loose ends left untied. We'll either have to commit a free period to discussing this in person, or, dare I say it, brave the realms of an MSN conversation. I prefer the first option to the second as MSN doesn't allow for nearly so animated a debate.

(Just a quick plea. Please don't assume in any way that what I write entirely reflects my opinion. I believe you can understand that my writing is intended for debating purposes and also that there is forever room for misinterpretation and poor writing on my part, thus not truly reflecting my thoughts).

Francis said...

Goodness me Phil - I enjoy reading your posts, but I'm never left knowing what I want to say!

What I would say is that in my experince, happiness is not something that you can have by yourself. If those around me are unhappy, so am I. Oddly, I often feel very unhappy when those around me seem to be perfectly content.

As I said, I haven't a clue what I think now.

Gavin said...

Stephen Fry once said that he is quite envious of bears. They wake up, they be a bear for a day, and then they go to sleep. They don't worry about whether they have been a good bear today, or if they've eaten enough food, of they could be more beary, or indeed if they have fulfilled their full potential for beariness.

Take that as you will.