Sunday, May 22, 2005

177. Continuation of Post 169

Back again. Thought I'd forgotten, didn't you? Well, you'd be right ....

Where were we?

"Well-meaning friends often ask a senseless question (your enemies couldn’t be bothered): “Are you happy?” There is no possible answer to this. Happiness is as fleeting as spring weather in the offshore Atlantic islands and just as evanescent."

The notion of the "pursuit of happiness" is a product of pre-revolutionary France -- allow me to give that nail another whack, a product of the FRENCH Enlightenment -- and it only later, as a knock-on, became so famously enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, a peculiar and impressive document in more ways than one. Nothing about that Declaration is self-evident, and most emphatically not at the time it was written. Now, you can pursue happiness all you like, chums, but you will never catch this elusive little thing, much less possess it. Happiness flows through our clutching fingers like water through a sieve.

Does happiness exist? Definitely. But far from we being the ones who "pursue" it, happiness actually stalks us and creeps up behind us, all unbeknownst, to swoop down suddenly in surprising and very fleeting raids of pleasure: your child takes his first two or three steps, your work is praised by colleagues you respect, the girl you pine for suddenly throws off her clothes, a thousand and one dizzy, silly, wonderful things ....

The fact that we take so many photographs on family and other occasions and the way we endlessly award certificates and medals to the somewhat worthy amongst us is the final and incontravertible proof that happiness cannot be quantified, cannot be measured, cannot be pinned down. The old, in particular, surround themselves with photographs and other mementos of the past. We all do. But what is this, if not an acknowledgement that none of us can hold on to the moments that give us pleasure?

Well, we can hold on to the "things" that give us pleasure -- land, houses, horses, cars, jewellery, subordinate human beings. This appears to be not so difficult but descends inevitably (slowly, then rapidly) into a pit of bottomless sorrow.

We come naked into this life, and naked we leave it.

Where is this essay going? I don't know. That, in itself, is hardly untypical since I have grown used to living with a brain that doesn't often tell me what it's doing.

Herodotus mentions in his Histories that the Persians of his day (circa 400 BC) would make all important decisions twice. First they would consult with their elders and friends, consider all the pros and cons, and have a really good think. Then they would go out and get roaring drunk. If the two "decisions" coincided -- sober and drunk -- they would go ahead with their plans, otherwise not. And the drunken decision took precedence. I have to say this made a tremendous and lasting impression on me when I first read about it (I was probably about 14) and I have never made a decision since without getting drunk seven or eight times -- just to make sure, you understand.

It's not a fool-proof system. Look at me.

Now is when we can start talking about dreams but we are not going to. That would take us off the trail, across the river, and halfway up the mountain.

Another question one gets asked (I do) is "what is the most important thing in your life?" On occasions I have received questionnaires on this ridiculous subject from inquisitive high school students and crocodile corporations. Generally, you are given a list of things -- in no particular order -- which you are then meant to sort out and assign priorities to: family, friends, career, money, health, hobbies, religion, obsessions, and so on and so forth.

Strangely enough, all these lists tend to leave out the most important thing of all -- freedom. Total, sheer, and absolute.

Freedom doesn't mean you can behave like an asshole, mind you. Well, you can. But somebody will shoot you, and you'll probably deserve it.

Freedom -- and by this I mean the intelligent and creative use of freedom (don't ask, still in beta testing) -- is the most important and essential gift life offers. It's a gift we are constantly trying to get rid of, too, if standard human behaviour is anything to go by.

All of us, by definition, are social beings. Even our thoughts about individuality and uniqueness are determined by the understanding of our relationships with others -- including the warped decision to stop having such relations. Language is a case in point. We learn the language of the society and culture we grow up in. Everybody does. How do we learn our first language? Nobody really knows; perhaps our brains are hardwired for what is essentially an intensely social process. Try learning a second or third language -- and I mean learning to speak another language well -- and you will discover with a flash of insight that the way you think is totally conditioned by the language you speak. A monolingual person is a mental cripple who just doesn't realize it.

More later. Maybe.