Philosophical pessimism is the philosophical position that assigns a negative value to life and existence. Philosophical pessimists commonly argue for an empirical prevalence of pains over pleasures, that life is ontologically or intrinsically adverse to living beings, and that existence is fundamentally meaningless or without purpose.
- We laugh, but inept is our laughter,
We should weep, and weep sore,
Who are shattered like glass and thereafter
Remolded no more.
- Consider the capacity of the human body for pleasure. Sometimes, it is pleasant to eat, to drink, to see, to touch, to smell, to hear, to make love. The mouth. The eyes. The fingertips. The nose. The ears. The genitals. Our voluptific faculties (if you will forgive me the coinage) are not exclusively concentrated in these places, but it is undeniable that they are concentrated here. The whole body is susceptible to pleasure, but in places there are wells from which it may be drawn up in greater quantity. But not inexhaustibly. How long is it possible to know pleasure? Rich Romans ate to satiety, and then purged their overburdened bellies and ate again. But they could not eat for ever. A rose is sweet, but the nose becomes habituated to its scent. And what of the most intense pleasures, the personality-annihilating ecstasies of sex? ... Even if I were a woman, and could string orgasm on orgasm like beads upon a necklace, in time I should sicken of it. Yet consider. Consider pain. Give me a cubic centimetre of your flesh and I could give you pain that would swallow you as the ocean swallows a grain of salt. And you would always be ripe for it, from before the time of your birth to the moment of your death. We are always in season for the embrace of pain. To experience pain requires no intelligence, no maturity, no wisdom, no slow working of the hormones in the moist midnight of our innards. We are always ripe for it. All life is ripe for it. Always. ... Consider the ways in which we may gain pleasure. Consider. Consider the ways in which we may be given pain. The one is to the other as the moon is to the sun.
- Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta, The Eyes: Emetic Fables from the Andalusian de Sade, (1996), pp. 52-53 ISBN 978-0952328834
- Sadness, more than an emotion, is a discovery. It is the discovery that we have no power over the world, that we are at its mercy.
- Life is movement. Stillness is an exception, because an individual who does not move is always in danger. That is why stopping is a risk. And when we stop, it is mainly to become aware of what we are doing, what is happening to us and what is happening out there in the world. By staying still we become an easy target. An easy target for all those thoughts and ideas that invade our mental tranquility, that frighten us and sometimes paralyze us. Existential anguish invades us and can take over our being until we are completely disarmed. Our defenses and rationalizations fall. At that moment of complete disarmament, we have no choice but to look at life and watch as the great chain of death unfolds before us, sweeping away and ending everything that exists. Some of us panic. Others of us look for some order or pattern in the world to cling to. Then there are those of us who give ourselves completely to the irrationality of existing (which means living without knowing what for and with an ever-present sense of anguish).
- As a philosophy, pessimism needs no defense. If anything needs a defense, it is life itself. And there is no shortage of defenders; it is enough to take a walk around any bookstore to see that there are entire sections dedicated to positivism and self-help. Thousands of books and millions of words that seek to convince us that happiness is possible, that success and well-being are in our hands. That we have power. That we can achieve what we want. That we can succeed and we can win at life, because life is good and worth living. Look closely at what they tell us: life can be won. It seems to me that, without realizing it, these optimists do nothing more than confirm what every pessimist already knows: that life requires effort and that it is a constant struggle and sacrifice; that it is a contest, a confrontation, something that must be won. On this point, Schopenhauer's sentence is overwhelming: if life was designed for our happiness, then it was poorly designed, because everything in life seems to shout loudly: death, pain, illness, sacrifice and endless struggle.
- Following Schopenhauer, Julius Bahnsen said that we are will, but a will in conflict with itself, always in tension, always in contradiction. There is no eternal and indivisible will. It is not that the will wants one thing. It wants both. It wants everything, all possibilities. It wants to go and it wants to stay. But we cannot go and stay. We have to choose, which leaves the will forever dissatisfied, because the only way for it to be satisfied is to obtain everything it wants, even what is contradictory, but this it cannot obtain.
- The night. The pessimist dwells in the night of existence, in the twilight of our lives. Where reality hides so that we do not see it as it really is. Where death, pain and cries of suffering try to hide themselves, the pessimist is there. He is afraid. Sometimes he feels sadness; other times he feels anger, disbelief or existential terror for everything that he has witnessed and everything he imagines. And if you look closely, you can see the pessimist trembling in that darkness.
- The Syndrome. In August 1973 a group of robbers entered the Swedish Credit Bank in Stockholm and took hostages for six days. What no one expected was that the hostages would end up identifying with the robbers/kidnappers. Suddenly they were more afraid of the police and felt that those who were holding them hostage were precisely the only ones who could now protect them. The victims identified with the perpetrators. That event was a small-scale recreation of what happens on a cosmic level. Life is a torment and a curse from the day we are born, but at some point we identify with it. Life is the cause of all our ills. But now we defend it.
- A unique life. For some pessimists, part of the human tragedy is explained by how insignificant and irrelevant our individualities are. We think we are special, but we are not. And because we are irrelevant, we have all the more reason to suffer. This seems to me to be true. But it seems to me that existence is tragic, too, for the opposite reason. That is, because we are important. In the end one can ignore what is irrelevant and trivial. Doing that (ignoring the trivial) is not only easy, but to be expected. What is certain is that there is no time to waste on superficialities. But ignoring what is relevant, important and unique is different. Doing so is painful and can be humiliating for the ignored. One of the many tragedies of life is precisely this: that my precious life, my poignant, fragile, unrepeatable and unique experiences are ignored by the world. Life has given origin to my existence, has applied the principium individuationis to me (i.e., has placed me in a space and a time). And now it is the same life that disowns me, ignores me, leaves me alone, and will destroy me. Created to be ignored. That is our existential reality.
- It is no more. That conversation, which was so true and intense, ended and now it is nothing. That life, which was lived so intensely, ended and now it is nothing. We are as ephemeral as words.
- A photograph of life. Kevin Cárter was a South African photojournalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for an iconic photograph that captured the meaninglessness and cruelty of life as, perhaps, it had never been captured before. It is an image of a child in Sudan during a famine that occurred in 1993. The photograph shows an emaciated child, with ribs easily visible, hunched over on the ground and unable to lift their head. That in itself should be enough to move our emotions, but what is really terrible and hellish about that scene is that behind it, a few meters away, there is a vulture watching intently, waiting for the death of that child. If life could be captured in a photograph, this would be it. Moreover, if the will that Schopenhauer, Mainländer and Bahnsen speak of could be photographed, it would be this photograph. In that image we see a small and helpless life that suffers, that has reached its limit. We do not know why this child came into this world. Why they were born. They just were. They were born, they suffered and now they are waiting for death to take them away so that the vulture can feed himself, so that the vulture can live. But let the vulture not think himself lucky or powerful! Let him not be deceived, for death is also stalking him; it will also come for him and take him away without explanation. We are all victims.
- Indifference. On the day of your death, the sky will be blue. The birds will be singing. Somewhere in the world there will be a rainbow that will bring joy to a child. A warm breeze will kiss the smile of a happy person. On the day of your death the cruel coldness and indifference of the universe will be revealed.
- Life gets tired of you. Existence is so tedious and unbearable that not even God could stand it. That is why, says Mainländer, God committed suicide (giving rise to the universe), because he preferred non-existence to existence. And that is why, says Schopenhauer, we get bored (giving rise to suffering), because we do not tolerate being, that is, simply existing in the world. But the problem of tedium and boredom is even greater. That is to say, even if you do not get tired of life, life does get tired of you. It is life that puts an end to your life and eliminates it. Hermann Burger in his book Tractatus Logicus-Suicidalis says that nobody dies, that there is no such thing as natural death. What happens is that biology kills us. We are eliminated. Therefore, every death is a murder. Even if you don't get tired of life, death is proof that life gets tired of you.
- Defense. We live in the world and are part of it, but we are always on the defensive. Diseases, bacteria, viruses and pandemics are always around the corner. We create antibiotics, antivirals, analgesics and drugs of all kinds to defend ourselves, to protect ourselves. We also protect ourselves from betrayals, impossible loves, disappointments, risks. We close our hearts, we erect defense mechanisms. A whole life dedicated to defending ourselves, to protecting ourselves. But what are we really defending ourselves from? From life. Yes. In the end we spend our lives defending ourselves from life.
- One can regret not having done something and one can also regret having done something. Doubt, dread, and fear of deciding are life's way of telling us: don't decide, stay still, silent, immobile. Stay like this and life will take care of everything. If you are patient enough, death will come and will free you from that indecision, from that fear. You just stay there and wait.
- If one finds it. If the meaning of life is to seek meaning in life, then to find meaning in life is to remain without meaning, without reason to live.
- What does one do when one has a question that is so difficult to answer? One tactic employed particularly by analytic philosophers is to ignore the question altogether; to call it useless, ill-posed, or meaningless. But reducing the question to a linguistic dilemma is akin to a psychological defense mechanism where one does not want to face the underlying problem. And in doing so, curiously enough, the question of meaning is transferred from life itself to language, and in the field of language it is finally possible to pass sentence: there is no meaning (because the question is meaningless). In the end, according to certain philosophers, although it is true that we do not know if life has meaning, at least we do know that the question itself has no meaning. And knowing one thing is, they would say, better than knowing nothing. This analytical tactic can only convince those who already have a certain optimistic predisposition towards life. This is because to think or believe that a profoundly human longing (the longing for meaning) can be ignored is to think that the human being can live relatively well without knowing why they live. The teleological pessimist is, on the other hand, a pessimist who sees the lack of meaning in life as one of the great sources of suffering. And if it were true that the question cannot be answered or that there is no point in asking about the meaning of human life, then that would only exacerbate the sense of weltschmerz rather than appease one's inner torments.
- The longer I live, the more I feel that the simplest formula for the constancy of my fate is: on a lost watch.
- Julius Bahnsen, quoted by Harry Slochower in Julius Bahnsen, Philosopher of Heroic Despair, 1830-1881 (1932), The Philosophical Review, 41(4), p. 372
- The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Various explanations such as diagnosticity and salience help explain some findings, but the greater power of bad events is still found when such variables are controlled. Hardly any exceptions (indicating greater power of good) can be found. Taken together, these findings suggest that bad is stronger than good, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological phenomena.
- Roy F. Baumeister Et al., Bad is Stronger than Good, 2001
- Let us briefly summarize the evidence. In everyday life, bad events have stronger and more lasting consequences than comparable good events. Close relationships are more deeply and conclusively affected by destructive actions than by constructive ones, by negative communications than positive ones, and by conflict than harmony. Additionally, these effects extend to marital satisfaction and even to the relationship's survival (vs. breakup or divorce). Even outside of close relationships, unfriendly or conflictual interactions are seen as stronger and have bigger effects than friendly, harmonious ones. Bad moods and negative emotions have stronger effects than good ones on cognitive processing, and the bulk of affect regulation efforts is directed at escaping from bad moods (e.g., as opposed to entering or prolonging good moods). That suggests that people's desire to get out of a bad mood is stronger than their desire to get into a good one. The preponderance of words for bad emotions, contrasted with the greater frequency of good emotions, suggests that bad emotions have more power. Some patterns of learning suggest that bad things are more quickly and effectively learned than corresponding good things. The lack of a positive counterpart to the concept of trauma is itself a sign that single bad events often have effects that are much more lasting and important than any results of single good events. Bad parenting can be stronger than genetic influences; good parenting is not. Research on social support has repeatedly found that negative, conflictual behaviors in one's social network have stronger effects than positive, supportive behaviors. Bad things receive more attention and more thorough cognitive processing than good things. When people first learn about one another, bad information has a significantly stronger impact on the total impression than any comparable good information. The self appears to be more strongly motivated to avoid the bad than to embrace the good. Bad stereotypes and reputations are easier to acquire, and harder to shed, than good ones. Bad feedback has stronger effects than good feedback. Bad health has a greater impact on happiness than good health, and health itself is more affected by pessimism (the presence or absence of a negative outlook) than optimism (the presence or absence of a positive outlook). Convergence is also provided by Rozin and Royzman (in press). Quite independently of this project, these authors reviewed the literature on interactions between good and bad, and they too concluded that bad things generally prevail. Our review has emphasized independent, parallel effects of good and bad factors, whereas theirs emphasized good and bad factors competing directly against each other in the same situation (such as contagion). Both approaches have confirmed the greater power of bad factors. Thus, the greater impact of bad than good is extremely pervasive. It is found in both cognition and motivation; in both inner, intrapsychic processes and in interpersonal ones; in connection with decisions about the future and to a limited extent with memories of the past; and in animal learning, complex human information processing, and emotional responses.
- Roy F. Baumeister Et al., Bad is Stronger than Good, 2001
- Yet, at the same time, as the Eastern sages also knew, man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973), p. 26
- Nature has protected the lower animal by endowing them with instincts. An instinct is a programmed perception that calls into play a programmed reaction. It is very simple. Animals are not moved by what they cannot react to. They live in a tiny world, a sliver of reality, one neuro-chemical program that keeps them walking behind their nose and shuts out everything else. But look at man, the impossible creature! Here nature seems to have thrown caution to the winds along with the programmed instincts. She created an animal who has no defense against full perception of the external world, an animal completely open to experience. Not only in front of his nose, in his umwelt, but in many other umwelten. He can relate not only to animals in his own species, but in some ways to all other species. He can contemplate not only what is edible for him, but everything that grows. He not only lives in this moment, but expands his inner self to yesterday, his curiosity to centuries ago, his fears to five billion years from now when the sun will cool, his hopes to an eternity from now. He lives not only on a tiny territory, nor even on an entire planet, but in a galaxy, in a universe, and in dimensions beyond visible universes. It is appalling, the burden that man bears, the experiential burden. As we saw in the last chapter, man can’t even take his own body for granted as can other animals. It is not just hind feet, a tail that he drags, that are just “there,” limbs to be; used and taken for granted or chewed off when caught in a trap and when they give pain and prevent movement. Man’s body is a problem to him that has to be explained. Not only his body is strange, but also its inner landscape, the memories and dreams. Man’s very insides—his self—are foreign to him. He doesn’t know who he is, why he was born, what he is doing on the planet, what he is supposed to do, what he can expect. His own existence is incomprehensible to him, a miracle just like the rest of creation, closer to him, right near his pounding heart, but for that reason all the more strange. Each thing is a problem, and man can shut out nothing.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
- The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
- We don’t want to admit that we do not stand alone, that we always rely on something that transcends us, some system of ideas and powers in which we are embedded and which support us. This power is not always obvious. It need not be overtly a god or openly a stronger person, but it can be the power of an all-absorbing activity, a passion, a dedication to a game, a way of life, that like a comfortable web keeps a person buoyed up and ignorant of himself, of the fact that he does not rest on his own center. All of us are driven to be supported in a self-forgetful way, ignorant of what energies we really draw on, of the kind of lie we have fashioned in order to live securely and serenely. Augustine was a master analyst of this, as were Kierkegaard, Scheler, and Tillich in our day. They saw that man could strut and boast all he wanted, but that he really drew his “courage to be” from a god, a string of sexual conquests, a Big Brother, a flag, the proletariat, and the fetish of money and the size of a bank balance.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
- We saw that there really was no way to overcome the real dilemma of existence, the one of the mortal animal who at the same time is conscious of his mortality. A person spends years coming into his own, developing his talent, his unique gifts, perfecting his discriminations about the world, broadening and sharpening his appetite, learning to bear the disappointments of life, becoming mature, seasoned—finally a unique creature in nature, standing with some dignity and nobility and transcending the animal condition; no longer driven, no longer a complete reflex, not stamped out of any mold. And then the real tragedy, as André Malraux wrote in The Human Condition: that it takes sixty years of incredible suffering and effort to make such an individual, and then he is good only for dying. This painful paradox is not lost on the person himself—least of all himself. He feels agonizingly unique, and yet he knows that this doesn’t make any difference as far as ultimates are concerned. He has to go the way of the grasshopper, even though it takes longer.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
- In the mysterious way in which life is given to us in evolution on this planet, it pushes in the direction of its own expansion. We don’t understand it simply because we don’t know the purpose of creation; we only feel life straining in ourselves and see it thrashing others about as they devour each other. Life seeks to expand in an unknown direction for unknown reasons.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
- What are we to make of a creation in which the routine activity is for organisms to be tearing others apart with teeth of all types—biting, grinding flesh, plant stalks, bones between molars, pushing the pulp greedily down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence into one's own organization, and then excreting with foul stench and gasses the residue. Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to him. The mosquitoes bloating themselves on blood, the maggots, the killer-bees attacking with a fury and a demonism, sharks continuing to tear and swallow while their own innards are being torn out—not to mention the daily dismemberment and slaughter in "natural" accidents of all types: an earthquake buries alive 70 thousand bodies in Peru, automobiles make a pyramid heap of over 50 thousand a year in the U.S. alone, a tidal wave washes over a quarter of a million in the Indian Ocean. Creation is a nightmare spectacular taking place on a planet that has been soaked for hundreds of millions of years in the blood of all its creatures. The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has actually been taking place on the planet for about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer. But the sun distracts our attention, always baking the blood dry, making things grow over it, and with its warmth giving the hope that comes with the organism's comfort and expansiveness.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973), pp. 282–283
- Beyond a given point man is not helped by more "knowing", but only by living and doing in a partly self-forgetful way.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
- Modern man is the victim of his own disillusionment; he has been disinherited by his own analytic strength. The characteristic of the modern mind is the banishment of mystery, of naive belief, of simple-minded hope. We put the accent on the visible, the clear, the cause-and-effect relation, the logical—always the logical. We know the difference between dreams and reality, between facts and fictions, between symbols and bodies. But right away we can see that these characteristics of the modern mind are exactly those of neurosis. What typifies the neurotic is that he “knows” his situation vis-à-vis reality. He has no doubts; there is nothing you can say to sway him, to give him hope or trust. He is a miserable animal whose body decays, who will die, who will pass into dust and oblivion, disappear forever not only in this world but in all the possible dimensions of the universe, whose life serves no conceivable purpose, who may as well not have been born, and so on and so forth. He knows Truth and Reality, the motives of the entire universe.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
- It doesn’t matter whether the cultural hero-system is frankly magical, religious, and primitive or secular, scientific, and civilized. It is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn a feeling of primary value, of cosmic specialness, of ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning. They earn this feeling by carving out a place in nature, by building an edifice that reflects human value: a temple, a cathedral, a totem pole, a sky-scraper, a family that spans three generations. The hope and belief is that the things that man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, that man and his products count. When Norman O. Brown said that Western society since Newton, no matter how scientific or secular it claims to be, is still as “religious” as any other, this is what he meant: “civilized” society is a hopeful belief and protest that science, money and goods make man count for more than any other animal. In this sense everything that man does is religious and heroic, and yet in danger of being fictitious and fallible.
- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
- And truly it little matters what I say, this or that or any other thing. Saying is inventing. Wrong, very rightly wrong. You invent nothing, you think you are inventing, you think you are escaping, and all you do is stammer out your lesson, the remnants of a pensum one day got by heart and long forgotten, life without tears, as it is wept.
- For in me there have always been two fools, among others, one asking nothing better than to stay where he is and the other imagining that life might be slightly less horrible a little further on.
- who may tell the tale
of the old man?
weigh absence in a scale?
mete want with a span?
the sum assess
of the world's woes?
in words enclose?
- Samuel Beckett, Watt (1953)
- dead calm, then a murmur, a name, a murmured name, in doubt, in fear, in love, in fear, in doubt, wind of winter in the black boughs, cold calm sea whitening whispering to the shore, stealing, hastening, swelling, passing, dying, from naught come, to naught gone
- Samuel Beckett, Watt (1953)
- They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1953)
- Description: The words of the character, Pozzo.
- Birth was the death of him.
- Samuel Beckett, A Piece of Monologue (1977)
- If there is no God to redeem suffering, and if there is no God to ensure that good triumphs over evil, the problem of existence poses itself anew. Is life really worth living if it contains more suffering than happiness, more evil than good, and if it promises no reward or redemption in some life to come?
- Above all, we cannot expect the state to make people happy. Even if it effectively protects the rights of everyone, it is still possible for them to be miserable. There are four fundamental evils of human life that are constant and that cannot be eradicated by political means: birth, sickness, age and death. Mainländer’s pessimism was immune to political change or reform, because no state, even a socialist one that cares for all human needs, could make life worth living.
- Disability rights advocates also correctly note that quality-of-life assessments differ quite markedly between those who have impairments and those who do not. Many of those without impairments tend to think that lives with impairments are not worth starting (and may even not be worth continuing) whereas many of those with impairments tend to think that lives with these impairments are worth starting (and certainly are worth continuing). There certainly does seem to be something self-serving about the dominant view. It conveniently sets the quality threshold for lives worth starting above that of the impaired but below normal human lives. But is there anything less self-serving about those with impairments setting the threshold just beneath the quality of their lives? Disability rights advocates argue that the threshold in most people’s judgements about what constitutes a minimally decent quality of life is set too high. However, the phenomenon of discrepant judgements is equally compatible with the claim that the ordinary threshold is set too low (in order that at least some of us should pass it). The view that it is set too low is exactly the judgement that we can imagine would be made by an extra-terrestrial with a charmed life, devoid of any suffering or hardship. It would look with pity on our species and see the disappointment, anguish, grief, pain, and suffering that marks every human life, and judge our existence, as we (humans without unusual impairments) judge the existence of bedridden quadriplegics, to be worse than the alternative of non-existence.
- The injunction to ‘look on the bright side’ should be greeted with a large dose of both scepticism and cynicism. To insist that the bright side is always the right side is to put ideology before the evidence. Every cloud ... may have a silver lining, but it may very often be the cloud rather than the lining on which one should focus if one is to avoid being drenched by self-deception.
- Some crass optimists attempt to justify procreation in the face of the risks by pointing to the option of suicide. Their argument is that if the person brought into existence finds the quality of his or her life to be unacceptably low there is a way of opting out of existence. These really are shallow words that belie the depth of suffering that precedes and precipitates suicide. The life drive is immensely powerful even when people are enduring unspeakable suffering. This is one reason why suicide is by no means an easy option. Another is that suicide causes great distress to the family and friends of the person who takes his or her own life. . . . One cannot be glib about that.
- David Benatar, Debating Procreation: Is It Wrong to Reproduce? (2015)
- The overwhelming urge to repeat the optimistic messages, especially in the bleakest times, suggests that they are not quite reassuring enough. It is as if the repetition of the “good news” is essential because it is so at odds with the way the world seems to be. While the optimists have answers to life’s big questions, they are not the right ones, or so I shall argue. Their answers are believed, when they are believed, because people so desperately want to believe them, and not because the force of arguments supporting them makes it the case that we must believe them.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- The (nonhuman) animal predicament is particularly revealing. Confronted with the awful spectacle of billions of animals being eaten, often alive, by predators, humans typically do not attempt to propose any cosmic meaning to those lives. Indeed, the usual monotheistic response is to say that the (or at least one) purpose of animals is to be eaten by others higher up the food chain. It is hard to reconcile that with the existence of a purportedly benevolent God, who surely could have created a world in which billions did not have to die each day to keep others alive.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- Moreover, it is thought that there is something absurd about the earnestness of our pursuits. We take ourselves very seriously, but when we step back, we wonder what it is all about. The step back need not be all the way to the cosmos. One does not need much distance to see that there seems something futile about our endless strivings, which are not altogether different from a hamster on its wheel. Much of our lives are filled with recurring mundane activities, the purpose of which is to keep the whole cycle going: working, shopping, cooking, feeding, abluting, sleeping, laundering, dishwashing, bill-paying, and various engagements with ever-expanding bureaucracies. Even if these mundane activities are thought to serve other goals, the attainment of those goals only yields further goals to be pursued. There is plenty of scope for questioning the significance of even the broader goals of one’s life. This (personal) cycle continues until one dies, but the treadmill is intergenerational because people tend to reproduce, thereby creating new mill-treaders. This has continued for generations and will continue until humanity eventually goes the way of all species—extinction. It seems like a long, repetitive journey to nowhere.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- The prospect of one’s own death, perhaps highlighted by a diagnosis of a dangerous or terminal condition, tends to focus the mind. But the deaths of others—relatives, friends, acquaintances, and sometimes even strangers—can also get a person thinking. Those deaths need not be recent. For example, one might be wandering around an old graveyard. On the tombstones are inscribed some details about the deceased—the dates they were born and died, and perhaps references to spouses, siblings, or children and grandchildren who mourned their loss. Those mourners are themselves now long dead. One thinks about the lives of those families—the beliefs and values, loves and losses, hopes and fears, strivings and failures—and one is struck that nothing of that remains. All has come to naught. One’s thoughts then turn to the present and one recognizes that in time, all those currently living—including oneself —will have gone the way of those now interred. Someday, somebody might stand at one’s grave and wonder about the person represented by the name on the tombstone, and might reflect on the fact that everything that person—you or I— once cared about has come to nothing. It is far more likely, however, that nobody will spare one even that brief thought after all those who knew one have also died.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- We are ephemeral beings on a tiny planet in one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe (or perhaps the multiverse)—a cosmos that is coldly indifferent to the insignificant specks that we are. It is indifferent to our fortunes and misfortunes, to injustice, to our hopes, fears, values, and concerns. The forces of nature and the cosmos are blind.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- Our lives contain so much more bad than good in part because of a series of empirical differences between bad things and good things. For example, the most intense pleasures are short-lived, whereas the worst pains can be much more enduring. Orgasms, for example, pass quickly. Gastronomic pleasures last a bit longer, but even if the pleasure of good food is protracted, it lasts no more than a few hours. Severe pains can endure for days, months, and years. Indeed, pleasures in general—not just the most sublime of them—tend to be shorter-lived than pains. Chronic pain is rampant, but there is no such thing as chronic pleasure. There are people who have an enduring sense of contentment or satisfaction, but that is not the same as chronic pleasure. Moreover, discontent and dissatisfaction can be as enduring as contentment and satisfaction; this means that the positive states are not advantaged in this realm. Indeed, the positive states are less stable because it is much easier for things to go wrong than to go right. The worst pains are also worse than the best pleasures are good. Those who deny this should consider whether they would accept an hour of the most delightful pleasures in exchange for an hour of the worst tortures. Arthur Schopenhauer makes a similar point when he asks us to “compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged in eating the other.” The animal being eaten suffers and loses vastly more than the animal that is eating gains from this one meal. Consider too the temporal dimensions of injury or illness and recovery. One can be injured in seconds: One is hit by a bullet or projectile, or is knocked over or falls, or suffers a stroke or heart attack. In these and other ways, one can instantly lose one’s sight or hearing or the use of a limb or years of learning. The path to recovery is slow. In many cases, full recovery is never attained. Injury comes in an instant, but the resultant suffering can last a lifetime. Even lesser injuries and illnesses are typically incurred much more quickly than one recovers from them. For example, the common cold strikes quickly and is defeated much more slowly by one’s immune system. The symptoms manifest with increasing intensity within hours, but they take at least days, if not weeks, to disappear entirely.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- Things are also stacked against us in the fulfillment of our desires and the satisfaction of our preferences. Many of our desires are never fulfilled. There are thus more unfulfilled than fulfilled desires. Even when desires are fulfilled, they are not fulfilled immediately. Thus, there is a period during which those desires remain unfulfilled. Sometimes, that is a relatively short period (such as between thirst and, in ordinary circumstances, its quenching), but in the case of more ambitious desires, they can take months, years, or decades to fulfill. Some desires that are fulfilled prove less satisfying than we had imagined. One wants a specific job or to marry a particular person, but upon attaining one’s goal, one learns that the job is less interesting or the spouse is more irritating than one thought. Even when fulfilled desires are everything that they were expected to be, the satisfaction is typically transitory, as the fulfilled desires yield to new desires. Sometimes, the new desires are more of the same. For example, one eats to satiety but then hunger gradually sets in again and one desires more food. The “treadmill of desires” works in another way too. When one can regularly satisfy one’s lower-level desires, a new and more demanding level of desires emerges. Thus, those who cannot provide for their own basic needs spend their time striving to fulfill these. Those who can satisfy the recurring basic needs develop what Abraham Maslow calls a “higher discontent” that they seek to satisfy. When that level of desires can be satisfied, the aspirations shift to a yet higher level. Life is thus a constant state of striving. There are sometimes reprieves, but the striving ends only with the end of life. Moreover, as should be obvious, the striving is to ward off bad things and attain good things. Indeed, some of the good things amount merely to the temporary relief from the bad things. For example, one satisfies one’s hunger or quenches one’s thirst. Notice too that while the bad things come without any effort, one has to strive to ward them off and attain the good things. Ignorance, for example, is effortless, but knowledge usually requires hard work.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- Even the extent to which our desires and goals are fulfilled creates a misleadingly optimistic impression of how well our lives are going. This is because there is actually a form of self “censorship” in the formulation of our desires and goals. While many of them are never fulfilled, there are many more potential desires and goals that we do not even formulate because we know that they are unattainable. For example, we know that we cannot live for a few hundred years and that we cannot gain expertise in all the subjects in which we are interested. Thus, we set goals that are less unrealistic (even if many of them are nonetheless somewhat optimistic). Thus, one hopes to live a life that is, by human standards, a long life, and we hope to gain expertise in some, perhaps very focused, area. What this means is that, even if all our desires and goals were fulfilled, our lives are not going as well as they would be going if the formulation of our desires had not been artificially restricted.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- Human life would be vastly better if pain were fleeting and pleasure protracted; if the pleasures were much better than the pains were bad; if it were really difficult to be injured or get sick; if recovery were swift when injury or illness did befall us; and if our desires were fulfilled instantly and if they did not give way to new desires. Human life would also be immensely better if we lived for many thousands of years in good health and if we were much wiser, cleverer, and morally better than we are.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- It is also suggested that the bad things in life are necessary in order to appreciate the good things, or at least to appreciate them fully. On this view, we can only enjoy pleasures (as much as we do) because we also experience pain. Similarly, our achievements are more satisfying if we have to work hard to attain them, and fulfilled desires mean more to us because we know that desires are not always fulfilled. There are many problems with this sort of argument. First, these sorts of claims are not always true. There is much pain that serves no useful purpose. There is no value in labor pains or in pain resulting from terminal diseases, for example. While the pain associated with kidney stones might now lead somebody to seek medical help, for most of human history, such pain served no purpose, as there was absolutely nothing anybody could do about kidney stones. Moreover, there are at least some pleasures we can enjoy without having to experience pain. Pleasant tastes, for example, do not require any experience of pain or unpleasantness. Similarly, many achievements can be satisfying even if they involve less or no striving. There may be a special satisfaction in the ease of attainment. There may be some individual variation. Perhaps some people are more capable of enjoying pleasure without having to experience pain and more capable of taking satisfaction in achievements that come with ease. Second, insofar as the good things in life do require a contrast in order to be fully appreciated, it is not clear that this appreciation requires as much bad as there is. We do not, for example, require millions of people suffering from chronic pain, infectious diseases, advancing paralysis, and tumors in order to appreciate the good things in life. We could enjoy our achievements without having to work quite so hard to attain them.
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- Finally, and perhaps most important, to the extent that the bad things in life really are necessary, our lives are worse than they would be if the bad things were not necessary. There are both real and conceivable beings in which nociceptive (that is, specialized neural) pathways detect and transmit noxious stimuli, resulting in avoidance without being mediated by pain. This is true of plants and simple animal organisms, and it is also true of the reflex arc in more complex animals, such as humans. We can also imagine beings much more rational than humans, in which nociception and aversive behavior were mediated by a rational faculty rather than a capacity to feel pain. In such beings, a noxious stimulus would be received but not felt (or at least not in the way pain is), and the rational faculty would, as reliably as pain, induce the being to withdraw. It would be much better to be that sort of being than to be our sort of being. It would similarly be better to be the sort of being who can appreciate the good things in life without having to experience bad things or without having to work really hard to attain the good things. Lives in which there is “no gain without pain” are much worse than lives in which there could be “the same gain without pain.”
- David Benatar, The Human Predicament (2017).
- Why does the Raven cry aloud and no eye pities her?
Why fall the Sparrow & the Robin in the foodless winter?
Faint! shivering they sit on leafless bush, or frozen stone
Wearied with seeking food across the snowy waste; the little
Heart, cold; and the little tongue consum'd, that once in thoughtless joy
Gave songs of gratitude to waving corn fields round their nest.
Why howl the Lion & the Wolf? why do they roam abroad?
Deluded by summers heat they sport in enormous love
And cast their young out to the hungry wilds & sandy desarts
- Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born;
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight;
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
- Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.
- Count o’er the joys thine hours have seen,
Count o’er thy days from anguish free,
And know, whatever thou hast been,
'Tis something better not to be.
- Our "love for life" is always, in some way, unrequited love.... Life does not care about us, nor does it know about our particular circumstances. Contrary to what is said, life gives nothing for free, and everything we manage to obtain is snatched away from us. Life does not need us, but we chase after it, we humiliate ourselves, we beg and accept everything it makes us go through, even the greatest sufferings. Many are capable of the worst moral acts just to preserve it a bit more.... To those who ask, "But, do you not love life?" we should answer, in a poetic way: "Of course I love life; I always did. I always wanted to live, but it is life that does not let me live, that limits me, that hurts me, that makes me ill and destroys me. It is not me who does not want to live, because life is everything I always wanted. I wanted to build things, but life demolished everything I built; I wanted to love others, but life killed everyone I loved. Do not say that I do not love life; it is life that does not love me, that does not love anybody."
- Julio Cabrera, Mal-Estar e Moralidade: Situação Humana, Ética e Procriação Responsável, 2018, pp. 350-351
- In a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body's judgment is as good as the mind's, and the body shrinks from annihilation. We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking. In that race which daily hastens us toward death, the body maintains its irreparable lead.
- Albert Camus, trans. Justin O'Brien, The Myth of Sisyphus (1955)
- Life is not worth its cost in pain. If we consider happiness as the goal of human existence, we will have to admit that we are definitely headed for failure. It would be much easier to defend the idea that suffering is the real goal, because we have many more sources of pain than pleasure. On a relative scale, our sensitivity to pain is several times greater than our sensitivity to pleasure. There are many more ways to be unhappy than to be happy. Our greatest pains are always more intense and lasting than our greatest joys. Finally, we do not need to cultivate our intellect, reflect on the world or make any effort in order to experience suffering: it is available at any time. To suffer, one merely has to live. Pain is like the essential element in which we are immersed, and happiness being only the moments when we manage to reach the surface and fill our lungs with air, only to be once again swallowed by the depths. This may sound unpleasant, but if we were to make a decisive bet with eternal happiness on the line, we would certainly place our trust in the ultimate victory of pain over pleasure. Faced with a bet of such importance, it is certain that we would quickly recover our lucidity and reconsider our silly opinions almost instantly about the dreams of personal happiness that we cultivate on a daily basis.
- Our situation is not so different from that of a donkey with a carrot hanging in front of it. Our carrot is called happiness. When pursuing it, we chase after something we will never obtain. We have the impression that we are born to be happy, but this is only because we are tied to the internal logic of our biological nature. The condition of being alive imposes pleasure and suffering as the supreme points of reference. However, pleasure is only a psychological mechanism designed to influence our behavior, not a reality to which we are heading. This will become clear if we consider the fact that, when we reach the satisfaction of some desire, we have only a few moments of pleasure as a reward and, afterwards, new needs begin to torment us and make us restless. It will not be long before we take action again, in a cycle of dissatisfaction that will only end with the death of the individual or with the acquisition of a grain of good sense.
- If, on the one hand, to desire is to suffer, on the other, not desiring is impossible. Therefore, be it due to the illusion of happiness or the tortures of boredom, we are forced to keep ourselves active, and with that we expose ourselves to suffering. In this process, reason can refute biology as much as it wants: it is biting the hand that feeds it and, sooner or later, will suffer reprisals for trying to put aside our instinctual needs. The brain is full of mechanisms that detect attempts to circumvent the rules of this game called life. In this game, we may believe that there is some chance of victory. As in a casino, everything is designed to lead us to believe that we really have some chance of success. Let us remember, however, the main premise: the house always wins. It was nature that made the rules, not us - and as our most primitive instincts prevent us from abandoning our gambling, the fate that awaits us is certain bankruptcy. The fact that we understand the mechanism that leads us to such an impasse does little to change it. As chronic addicts, understanding our addiction is tantamount to illuminating the gears of what controls us - just making our freedom an even more distant dream. We know why we are like this, but this understanding does not allow us to escape from our condition. In this situation, all we can do is play within the rules as intelligently as possible, in order to minimize the suffering of which we are constantly victims.
- If the universe were self-aware, the only reasonable conclusion one could reach about it is that it hates itself, as it has decided to manifest itself as a legion of survival machines that tear each other apart for a living.
- I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe.
- Nor is it clear to me, as people are born and die, where they are coming from and where they are going. Nor why, being so ephemeral in this world, they take such pains to make their houses pleasing to the eye. The master and the dwelling are competing in their transience. Both will perish from this world like the morning glory that blooms in the morning dew. In some cases, the dew may evaporate first, while the flower remains--but only to be withered by the morning sun. In others the flower may wither even before the dew is gone, but no one expects the dew to last until evening.
- Among the four great elements recognized by Buddhism, three--fire, water, and wind--are frequently associated with disasters, but earth is most often identified with stability. Still, in the Saiko era (540), I believe, there was an earthquake so severe that it damaged the neck of the Todaiji's Great Buddha so that the head fell off, and did unusual damage to many other things. But it was no match for the violence of the earthquake this time. Those who experienced this earthquake all talked about it that way at the time, that of all the miserable things in this world, it was the worst, seemed to be a thing of evil passions. But the days and months passed into years, and they came to deplore other things, so that you might go for a month now without meeting anyone talking about the earthquake. People respond to these disasters in terms of their own experience. Unless the disaster has struck them personally, their circumstances, their environment, it is dismissed as a superficial thing.
- Trophonius and Agamedes are said to have ... built a temple to Apollo at Delphi, offered supplications to the God, and desired of him some extraordinary reward for their care and labour, particularizing nothing, but asking for whatever was best for men. Accordingly, Apollo signified to them that he would bestow it on them in three days, and on the third day at daybreak they were found dead.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, trans. Charles Duke Yonge, Tusculan Disputations (1877)
- Haven't people learned yet that the time of superficial intellectual games is over, that agony is infinitely more important than syllogism, that a cry of despair is more revealing than the most subtle thought, and that tears always have deeper roots than smiles?
- Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair (1934)
- I too have a hope: a hope for absolute forgetfulness. But is it hope or despair? Is it not the negation of all future hopes? I want not to know, not to know even that I do not know. Why so many problems, arguments, vexations? Why the consciousness of death? How much longer all this thinking and philosophizing?
- Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair (1934)
- Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?
- Emil Cioran, Tears and Saints (1937)
- The moments follow each other; nothing lends them the illusion of a content or the appearance of a meaning; they pass; their course is not ours; we contemplate that passage, prisoners of a stupid perception.
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- Creator of values, man is the delirious creature par excellence, victim of the belief that something exists, whereas he need merely hold his breath: everything stops; suspend his emotions: nothing stirs; suppress his whims: the world turns to ashes. Reality is a creation of our excesses, of our disproportions and derangements. Rein in your palpitations and the course of events slows down; without our ardors, space is ice. Time itself passes only because our desires beget that decorative universe which a jot of lucidity would lay bare. One touch of clearsightedness reduces us to our primal state: nakedness; a suspicion of irony strips us of that trumpery hope which let us dupe ourselves and devise illusion: every contrary path leads outside of life. Ennui is merely the beginning of such an itinerary... It makes us find time long, too long—unsuited to show us an end. Detached from every object, having nothing external to assimilate, we destroy ourselves in slow motion, since the future has stopped offering us a raison d'être. Ennui shows us an eternity which is not the transcendence of time, but its wreck; it is the infinity of souls that have rotted for lack of superstitions, a banal absolute where nothing any longer keeps things from turning in circles, in search of their own Fall. Life creates itself in delirium and is undone in ennui.
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- The man suffering from a characterized sickness is not entitled to complain: he has an occupation. The great sufferers are never bored: disease fills them, the way remorse feeds the great criminals. For any intense suffering produces a simulacrum of plenitude and proposes a terrible reality to consciousness, which it cannot elude; while suffering without substance in that temporal mourning of ennui affords consciousness nothing that forces it to fruitful action. How to cure an unlocalized and supremely impalpable disease which infects the body without leaving any trace upon it, which insinuates itself into the soul without marking it by any sign? Ennui is like a sickness we have survived, but one which has absorbed our possibilities, our reserves of attention and has left us impotent to fill the void which follows upon the disappearance of our pangs and the fading of our torments. Hell is a haven next to this displacement in time, this empty and prostrate languor in which nothing stops us but the spectacle of the universe decaying before our eyes. What therapeutics to invoke against a disease we no longer remember and whose aftermath encroaches upon our days? How invent a remedy for existence, how conclude this endless cure? And how recover from your own birth? Ennui, that incurable convalescence...
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- If only I had a stone’s vocation! A heart: origin of every torment. . . I aspire to the object, to the blessing of matter and opacity. The zigzagging of a gnat seems to me an apocalyptic enterprise. It is a sin to get outside yourself. . . The wind—air’s insanity! Music, the madness of silence! By capitulating to life, this world has betrayed nothingness. . . I resign from movement, and from my dreams. Absence! You shall be my sole glory. . . . Let “desire” be forever stricken from the dictionary, and from the soul! I retreat before the dizzying farce of tomorrows. And if I still cling to a few hopes, I have lost forever the faculty of hoping.
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- To repeat to yourself a thousand times a day: “Nothing on earth has any worth,” to keep finding yourself at the same point, to circle stupidly as a top, eternally... For there is no progression in the notion of universal vanity, nor conclusion; and as far as we venture in such ruminations, our knowledge makes no gain: it is in its present state as rich and as void as at its point of departure. It is a surcease within the incurable, a leprosy of the mind, a revelation by stupor. A simple-minded person, an idiot who has experienced an illumination and grown used to it with no means of leaving it behind, of recovering his vague and comfortable condition-—such is the state of the man who finds himself committed in spite of himself to the perception of universal futility. Abandoned by his nights, virtually a victim of a lucidity which smothers him, what is he to do with this day which never manages to end? When will the light stop shedding its beams, deadly to the memory of a night world anterior to all that was? How far away chaos is, restful and calm, the chaos dating from before the terrible Creation, or sweeter still, the chaos of mental nothingness!
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- All truths are against us. But we go on living, because we accept them in themselves, because we refuse to draw the consequences. Where is the man who has translated—in his behavior—a single conclusion of the lessons of astronomy, of biology, and who has decided never to leave his bed again out of rebellion or humility in the face of the sidereal distances or the natural phenomena? Has pride ever been conquered by the evidence of our unreality? And who was ever bold enough to do nothing because every action is senseless in infinity? The sciences prove our nothingness. But who has grasped their ultimate teaching? Who has become a hero of total sloth? No one folds his arms: we are busier than the ants and the bees. Yet if an ant, if a bee—by the miracle of an idea or by some temptation of singularity— were to isolate herself in the anthill or the hive, if she contemplated from outside the spectacle of her labors, would she still persist in her pains?
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- By all evidence we are in the world to do nothing; but instead of nonchalantly promenading our corruption, we exude our sweat and grow winded upon the fetid air. All History is in a state of putrefaction; its odors shift toward the future: we rush toward it, if only for the fever inherent in any decomposition.
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- Show me one thing here on earth which has begun well and which has not ended badly.
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- Forever be accursed the star under which I was born, may no sky protect it, let it crumble in space like a dust without honor! And let the traitorous moment that cast me among the creatures be forever erased from the lists of Time! My desires can no longer deal with this mixture of life and death in which eternity daily rots. Weary of the future, I have traversed its days, and yet I am tormented by the intemperance of unknown thirsts. Like a frenzied sage, dead to the world and frantic against it, I invalidate my illusions only to irritate them the more. This exasperation in an unforeseeable universe— where nonetheless everything repeats itself—will it never come to an end? How long must I keep telling myself: “I loathe this life I idolize?” The nullity of our deliriums makes us all so many gods subject to an insipid fatality. Why rebel any longer against the symmetry of this world when Chaos itself can only be a system of disorders? Our fate being to rot with the continents and the stars, we drag on, like resigned sick men, and to the end of time, the curiosity of a denouement that is foreseen, frightful, and vain.
- Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)
- No one recovers from the disease of being born, a deadly wound if ever there was one. Yet it is with the hope of being cured of it some day that we accept life and endure its ordeals. The years pass, the wound remains.
- Emil Cioran, The Fall into Time (1964)
- I accumulate the past, constantly making out of it and casting into it the present, without giving it a chance to exhaust its own duration. To live is to suffer the sorcery of the possible; but when I see in the possible itself the past that is to come, then everything turns into potential bygones, and there is no longer any present, any future. What I discern in each moment is its exhaustion, its death-rattle, and not the transition to the next moment. I generate dead time, wallowing in the asphyxia of becoming.
- Emil Cioran, The Fall into Time (1964)
- To get up in the morning, wash and then wait for some unforeseen variety of dread or depression. I would give the whole universe and all of Shakespeare for a grain of ataraxy.
- Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born (1973)
- I used to ask myself, over a coffin: “What good did it do the occupant to be born?,” I now put the same question about anyone alive.
- Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born (1973)
- The only thing the young should be taught is that there is virtually nothing to be hoped for from life. One dreams of a Catalogue of Disappointments which would include all the disillusionments reserved for each and every one of us, to be posted in the schools.
- Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born (1973)
- Better to be an animal than a man, an insect than an animal, a plant than an insect, and so on. Salvation? Whatever diminishes the kingdom of consciousness and compromises its supremacy.
- Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born (1973)
- Everything that is engenders, sooner or later, nightmares. Let us try, therefore, to invent something better than being.
- Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born (1973)
- If everyone had seen through everything, if everyone had "understood," history would have ceased long since. But we are fundamentally, biologically unsuited to "understand." And even if everyone understood except for one, history would be perpetuated because of that one, because of his blindness. Because of a single illusion!
- Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born (1973)
- We do not rush toward death, we flee the catastrophe of birth, survivors struggling to forget it. Fear of death is merely the projection into the future of a fear which dates back to our first moment of life. We are reluctant, of course, to treat birth as a scourge: has it not been inculcated as the sovereign good—have we not been told that the worst came at the end, not at the outset of our lives? Yet evil, the real evil, is behind, not ahead of us. What escaped Jesus did not escape Buddha: "If three things did not exist in the world, O disciples, the Perfect One would not appear in the world..." And ahead of old age and death he places the fact of birth, source of every infirmity, every disaster.
- Emil Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born (1973)
- I do not struggle against the world, I struggle against a greater force, against my weariness of the world.
- Emil Cioran, Drawn and Quartered (1979)
- Then what is Life?—When stripp'd of its disguise,
A thing to be desir'd it cannot be;
Since every thing that meets our foolish eyes
Gives proof sufficient of its vanity.
- Life knows us not and we do not know life,—we don't know even our own thoughts. Half the words we use have no meaning whatever and of the other half man understands each word after the fashion of his own folly and conceit. Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore: thoughts vanish: words, once pronounced, die: and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of tomorrow,—only the string of my platitude seems to have no end. As our peasants say: "Pray brother, forgive me for the love of God." And we don't know what forgiveness is, nor what love, nor where God is.
- Life is subordinated to the laws of thermodynamics and destined to decay. Suffering is unavoidable because of accidents, defeats, illnesses and aging. Happiness is avoidable; it can be terminated at any point in time. There are genetic defects which cause immense suffering (e.g. Sickle-cell disease). No corresponding phenomenon is known which causes immense happiness. There are more cases of chronic pain than cases of long-lasting pleasure. Due to evolutionary pressure, creatures are capable of experiencing more intense pain than pleasure. The pleasure of orgasm is less than the pain of deadly injury, since death is a much larger loss of reproductive success than a single sex act is a gain [Shulman]. ... It is easy to make someone unhappy but much less easy to make that person happy again. It is easier to produce suffering than to produce happiness.
- Bruno Contestabile, Antinatalism and the Minimization of Suffering, 2005 (latest update in 2021).
- Nowhere in the universe is there evidence of charity, of kindness, of mercy toward beasts or amongst them, and still less consideration amongst men. Man is only a part of nature, and his conduct is not substantially different from that of all animal life. But for man himself there is little joy. Every child that is born upon the earth arrives through the agony of the mother. From childhood on, the life is full of pain and disappointment and sorrow. From beginning to end it is the prey of disease and misery; not a child is born that is not subject to disease. Parents, family, friends, and acquaintances, one after another die, and leave us bereft. The noble and the ignoble life meets the same fate. Nature knows nothing about right and wrong, good and evil, pleasure and pain; she simply acts. She creates a beautiful woman, and places a cancer on her cheek. She may create an idealist, and kill him with a germ. She creates a fine mind, and then burdens it with a deformed body. And she will create a fine body, apparently for no use whatsoever. She may destroy the most wonderful life when its work has just commenced. She may scatter tubercular germs broadcast throughout the world. She seemingly works with no method, plan or purpose. She knows no mercy nor goodness. Nothing is so cruel and abandoned as Nature. To call her tender or charitable is a travesty upon words and a stultification of intellect. No one can suggest these obvious facts without being told that he is not competent to judge Nature and the God behind Nature. If we must not judge God as evil, then we cannot judge God as good. In all the other affairs of life, man never hesitates to classify and judge, but when it comes to passing on life, and the responsibility of life, he is told that it must be good, although the opinion beggars reason and intelligence and is a denial of both.
- Whichever way man may look upon the earth, he is oppressed with the suffering incident to life. It would almost seem as though the earth had been created with malignity and hatred. If we look at what we are pleased to call the lower animals, we behold a universal carnage. We speak of the seemingly peaceful woods, but we need only look beneath the surface to be horrified by the misery of that underworld. Hidden in the grass and watching for its prey is the crawling snake which swiftly darts upon the toad or mouse and gradually swallows it alive; the hapless animal is crushed by the jaws and covered with slime, to be slowly digested in furnishing a meal. The snake knows nothing about sin or pain inflicted upon another; he automatically grabs insects and mice and frogs to preserve his life. The spider carefully weaves his web to catch the unwary fly, winds him into the fatal net until paralyzed and helpless, then drinks his blood and leaves him an empty shell. The hawk swoops down and snatches a chicken and carries it to its nest to feed its young. The wolf pounces on the lamb and tears it to shreds. The cat watches at the hole of the mouse until the mouse cautiously comes out, then with seeming fiendish glee he plays with it until tired of the game, then crunches it to death in his jaws. The beasts of the jungle roam by day and night to find their prey; the lion is endowed with strength of limb and fang to destroy and devour almost any animal that it can surprise or overtake. There is no place in the woods or air or sea where all life is not a carnage of death in terror and agony. Each animal is a hunter, and in turn is hunted, by day and night. No landscape is so beautiful or day so balmy but the cry of suffering and sacrifice rends the air. When night settles down over the earth the slaughter is not abated. Some creatures see best at night, and the outcry of the dying and terrified is always on the wind. Almost all animals meet death by violence and through the most agonizing pain. With the whole animal creation there is nothing like a peaceful death. Nowhere in nature is there the slightest evidence of kindness, of consideration, or a feeling for the suffering and the weak, except in the narrow circle of brief family life.
- There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
- It is better for the genes of Darwin's wasp that the caterpillar should be alive, and therefore fresh, when it is eaten, no matter what the cost in suffering. If Nature were kind, She would at least make the minor concession of anesthetizing caterpillars before they were eaten alive from within. But Nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering nor for it. Nature is not interested in suffering one way or the other unless it affects the survival of DNA. It is easy to imagine a gene that, say, tranquilizes gazelles when they are about to suffer a killing bite. Would such a gene be favored by natural selection? Not unless the act of tranquilizing a gazelle improved that gene's chances of being propagated into future generations. It is hard to see why this should be so, and we may therefore guess that gazelles suffer horrible pain and fear when they are pursued to the death– as many of them eventually are.
- The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
- Look at your body—
A painted puppet, a poor toy
Of jointed parts ready to collapse,
A diseased and suffering thing
With a head full of false imaginings.
- To be amid pain and weeping: the plaything of uncertainty, of error, of want, of sickness, of wickedness, and of passions—every step from the moment when we learn to lisp to the time of departure when our voice falters; to live among rogues and charlatans of every kind; to pass away between one who feels our pulse, and another who terrifies us; not to know whence we come, why we are come, whither we go; this is called the most important gift of our parents and of nature—life.
- While I could provide a series of portraits of each thinker, it will be more effective, and more likely to demonstrate their common endeavor, to proceed through a series of propositions that pessimists subscribe to in greater or less degrees. These propositions, which to some extent build on one another, are, in their bluntest form, as follows: that time is a burden; that the course of history is in some sense ironic; that freedom and happiness are incompatible; and that human existence is absurd. Finally, there is a divide between those pessimists, like Schopenhauer, who suggest that the only reasonable response to these propositions is a kind of resignation, and those, like Nietzsche, who reject resignation in favor of a more life-affirming ethic of individualism and spontaneity.
- Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit (2006) ISBN 978-1400827480
- Past are the Pangs of fear and doubt,
The Sun is from the Dial gone,
The Sands are sunk, the Glass is out,
The folly of the Farce is done.
- The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after. I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
- I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
- So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of "such as were" oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors "there was" power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better "is he" than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
- To my mind, the "big picture" is unfortunately fairly simple, if hard to stomach. We evolved haphazardly within a random universe; no purpose underpins us, no God watches over us, and no assured glorious future awaits us. We are saddled with a dualistic consciousness that weighs us down and plays tricks on us. We have built and seem unable to dismantle a dehumanizing and destructive civilization and mindset that perpetuates deceit and greed. We can make ourselves as comfortable as possible, as doctors tell their terminally ill patients, but we are sadly incurable.
- Colin Feltham, Keeping Ourselves in the Dark (2015), p. 55, ISBN 9780989697255
- It’s possible to argue that depressive realists are cursed with the kind of consciousness that isn’t automatically guarded against the horrors of life—that their consciousness sees a meaningless universe for what it is and apprehends the struggle of daily life with the jaws of death at the end. In other words, depressive realists may not be eccentrics or party-poopers but people who are born without the common anti-horror filter, who discern hopelessness—with all manner of denials produced against it—as our unavoidable lot. Their perception may not be due to clinical depression projected outward, but to an all-too-naked perception and understanding of what life holds.
- Colin Feltham, Keeping Ourselves in the Dark (2015), p. 74, ISBN 9780989697255
- It may be a blessing that most younger people regard old age as very far away for themselves, but it is certainly an illusion that it won’t happen to them. The gradualness of time passing means that we can feel shocked to find ourselves ‘suddenly’ so old, with many of the above-listed unfortunate features. Time tricks us, passing slowly during empty days but seeming to rush by in annual terms. It is a commonplace to warn the young of the importance of saving and preparing for old age but it really hits home only when the time actually comes, when the wrinkles, liver spots, cataracts, sarcopenia, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and other horrors are theirs. Only first-hand experience of the mixed difficulties of living and aversion to dying really cuts it. We now speak often of Holocaust denial and climate change denial but rarely do we speak openly of denial in regard to old age. But the young deny it in themselves, optimists often deny that it’s really so bad when it happens (exceptional cases are always available) and the depressing nature of the topic is generally skirted around: it will happen to you, it will probably entail some increased misery, it does mean that most of your life is behind you and you are closer to your own complete extinction. It may not be exactly a taboo topic but it is avoided or minimised in conversation, and precisely because it is universal, inescapable and depressing.
- Colin Feltham, Depressive Realism: Interdisciplinary perspectives (2016), p. 144-145 ISBN 9781317584834
- So we see, what decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle. This principle dominates the operation of the mental apparatus from the start. There can be no doubt about its efficacy, and yet its programme is at loggerheads with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as with the microcosm. There is no possibility at all of its being carried through; all the regulations of the universe run counter to it. One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of ‘Creation’. What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution. Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience. We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body; which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain and anxiety as warning signals; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to other men. The suffering which comes from this last source is perhaps more painful to us than any other. We tend to regard it as a kind of gratuitous addition, although it cannot be any less fatefully inevitable than the suffering which comes from elsewhere.
- To be human is finally to be a loser, for we are all fated to lose our carefully constructed sense of self, our physical strength, our health, our precious dignity, and finally our lives.
- If you are in enough pain, you may not remember who or what you are; you may know only your suffering, which is immense.
- Answer without flinching: if there existed a solution that could abolish the totality of all evils inflicted on disastrous humanity, if it was possible, by some simple remedy, incredibly cheap, immediately accessible, scrupulously inoffensive, of absolute and definitive efficiency, to stop all distress, all cries, all cries of pain, all pathologies, all protests of ill-being, all despair, all cataclysms, all anxiety, all unhappiness, in short all tortures afflicting the human species, would you have the macabre stupidity to reject such a remedy, to disdain such a miracle cure? No, that goes without saying. Well this solution does exist, and the mysterious is thereby delivered to us: it consists simply, in its saintly simplicity, to not procreate.
- It is incomparably easier to be unhappy on this planet of incessant struggles than to find happiness on it. Doing nothing is enough to overwhelm us with sufferings, while in contrast stubborn efforts are not always enough to guarantee us bliss! This law alone ruins, and definitively, any optimistic pretension.
- "Human nature," I continued, "has its limits. It is able to endure a certain degree of joy, sorrow, and pain, but becomes annihilated as soon as this measure is exceeded. The question, therefore, is, not whether a man is strong or weak, but whether he is able to endure the measure of his sufferings. The suffering may be moral or physical; and in my opinion it is just as absurd to call a man a coward who destroys himself, as to call a man a coward who dies of a malignant fever." "Paradox, all paradox!" exclaimed Albert. "Not so paradoxical as you imagine," I replied. "You allow that we designate a disease as mortal when nature is so severely attacked, and her strength so far exhausted, that she cannot possibly recover her former condition under any change that may take place. "Now, my good friend, apply this to the mind; observe a man in his natural, isolated condition; consider how ideas work, and how impressions fasten on him, till at length a violent passion seizes him, destroying all his powers of calm reflection, and utterly ruining him. "It is in vain that a man of sound mind and cool temper understands the condition of such a wretched being, in vain he counsels him. He can no more communicate his own wisdom to him than a healthy man can instil his strength into the invalid, by whose bedside he is seated."
- It is as if a curtain had been drawn from before my eyes, and, instead of prospects of eternal life, the abyss of an ever open grave yawned before me. Can we say of anything that it exists when all passes away, when time, with the speed of a storm, carries all things onward,—and our transitory existence, hurried along by the torrent, is either swallowed up by the waves or dashed against the rocks? There is not a moment but preys upon you,—and upon all around you, not a moment in which you do not yourself become a destroyer. The most innocent walk deprives of life thousands of poor insects: one step destroys the fabric of the industrious ant, and converts a little world into chaos. No: it is not the great and rare calamities of the world, the floods which sweep away whole villages, the earthquakes which swallow up our towns, that affect me. My heart is wasted by the thought of that destructive power which lies concealed in every part of universal nature. Nature has formed nothing that does not consume itself, and every object near it: so that, surrounded by earth and air, and all the active powers, I wander on my way with aching heart; and the universe is to me a fearful monster, for ever devouring its own offspring.
- As a way of living, ataraxia is an illusion. Epicureans try to simplify their life so as to reduce to a minimum the pleasures they can lose. But they cannot secure their tranquil garden against the turmoil of history. The Stoic sage insists that while we cannot control the events that happen to us, we can control how we think about them. But this is so only within a narrow margin. A fever, a tsetse fly or a traumatic experience can unsettle the mind at a crucial moment, or for ever. Disciples of Pyrrho try to establish inner equilibrium by a suspension of judgement. But sceptical doubt cannot banish the unrest that comes with being a human being. Even if ataraxia could be achieved, it would be a listless way to live. Luckily, deathly calm is not in practice a state that humans can maintain for very long. All these philosophies have a common failing. They imagine life can be ordered by human reason. Either the mind can devise a way of life that is secure from loss, or else it can control the emotions so that it can withstand any loss. In fact, neither how we live nor the emotions we feel can be controlled in this way. Our lives are shaped by chance and our emotions by the body. Much of human life – and much of philosophy – is an attempt to divert ourselves from this fact.
- John Gray, Feline Philosophy (2020)
- Unlike any other animal, [humans] are ready to die for their beliefs. Monotheists and rationalists regard this as a mark of our superiority. It shows we live for the sake of ideas, not just instinctual satisfaction. But if humans are unique in dying for ideas, they are also alone in killing for them. Killing and dying for nonsensical ideas is how many human beings have made sense of their lives. To identify yourself with an idea is to feel protected against death. Like the human beings who are possessed by them, ideas are born and die. While they may survive for generations, they still grow old and pass away. Yet, so long as they are in the grip of an idea, human beings are what Becker called ‘living illusions’. By identifying themselves with an ephemeral fancy they can imagine they are out of time. By killing those who do not share their ideas, they can believe they have conquered death.
- John Gray, Feline Philosophy (2020)
- Oh wearisome Condition of Humanity!
Born under one law, to another bound:
Vainly begot and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound:
What meaneth Nature by these diverse laws?
Passion and reason, self-division cause.
Is it the mark, or Majesty of Power
To make offences that it may forgive?
- Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, "Chorus Sacerdotum" from Mustapha (1609)
- So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around.
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
- But the disease of feeling germed,
And primal rightness took the tinct of wrong;
Ere nescience shall be reaffirmed
How long, how long?
- 'I know people say I'm a pessimist; but I don't believe I am naturally; I like a lot of things so much; but I could never get over the idea that it would be better for us to be without both the pleasures and the pains; and that the best experience would be some sort of sleep.
- [P]eople call me a pessimist; and if it is pessimism to think, with Sophocles, that 'not to have been born is best,' then I do not reject the designation. I never could understand why the word 'pessimism' should be such a red rag to many worthy people; and I believe, indeed, that a good deal of the robustious, swaggering optimism of recent literature is at bottom cowardly and insincere. I do not see that we are likely to improve the world by asseverating, however loudly, that black is white, or at least that black is but a necessary contrast and foil, without which white would be white no longer. That is mere juggling with a metaphor. But my pessimism, if pessimism it be, does not involve the assumption that the world is going to the dogs, and that Ahriman is winning all along the line. On the contrary, my practical philosophy is distinctly meliorist. What are my books but one plea against 'man's inhumanity to man' — to woman — and to the lower animals? (By the way, my opposition to 'sport' is a point on which I am rather in conflict with my neighbours hereabouts.) Whatever may be the inherent good or evil of life, it is certain that men make it much worse than it need be. When we have got rid of a thousand remediable ills, it will be time enough to determine whether the ill that is irremediable outweighs the good.
- The whole earth, believe me, Philo, is cursed and polluted. A perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures. Necessity, hunger, want, stimulate the strong and courageous: Fear, anxiety, terror, agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into life gives anguish to the new-born infant and to its wretched parent: Weakness, impotence, distress, attend each stage of that life: and it is at last finished in agony and horror.
- Observe too, says Philo, the curious artifices of Nature, in order to embitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker too, in their turn, often prey upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without relaxation. Consider that innumerable race of insects, which either are bred on the body of each animal, or, flying about, infix their stings in him. These insects have others still less than themselves, which torment them. And thus on each hand, before and behind, above and below, every animal is surrounded with enemies, which incessantly seek his misery and destruction.
- All the goods of life united would not make a very happy man; but all the ills united would make a wretch indeed; and any one of them almost (and who can be free from every one?) nay often the absence of one good (and who can possess all?) is sufficient to render life ineligible.
- Were a stranger to drop on a sudden into this world, I would show him, as a specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might justly think, that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow.
- Ask yourself, ask anyone you know, whether they would be willing to live over again the last ten or twenty years of their lives. No! but the next twenty, they say, will be better. . . . Human misery is so great that it reconciles even contradictions! And so people eventually come to complain about the shortness of life and, in the same breath, complaining of its pointlessness and sorrow.
- Pleasure, scarcely in one instance, is ever able to reach ecstasy and rapture; and in no one instance can it continue for any time at its highest pitch and altitude. The spirits evaporate, the nerves relax, the fabric is disordered, and the enjoyment quickly degenerates into fatigue and uneasiness. But pain often, good God, how often! rises to torture and agony; and the longer it continues, it becomes still more genuine agony and torture.
- Science ... cannot conceive of any means of achieving that escape from desires we call "contentment" otherwise than through the satisfaction of those desires; it has not yet learnt that there is no limit to the multiplication of desires, nor that, since different people's desires are often mutually incompatible, an indefinite multiplication of desires increases conflict as well as discontent.
- Walter James, 4th Baron Northbourne, "Intellectual Freedom," Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 5, No.1. (Winter 1971).
- Human suffering is so great, so endless, so awful that I can hardly write of it. I could not go into hospitals and face it, as some do, lest my mind should be temporarily overcome. The whole and the worst the worst pessimist can say is far beneath the least particle of the truth, so immense is the misery of man. It is the duty of all rational beings to acknowledge the truth. There is not the least trace of directing intelligence in human affairs. This is a foundation of hope, because, if the present condition of things were ordered by a superior power, there would be no possibility of improving it for the better in the spite of that power. Acknowledging that no such direction exists, all things become at once plastic to our will.
- We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours? And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell.
- What about contentment (acquiescentia) during life? - For the human being it is unattainable: neither from the moral point of view (being content with his good conduct) nor from the pragmatic point of view (being content with the well-being that he intends to secure through skill and prudence). As an incentive to activity, nature has put pain in the human being that he cannot escape from, in order always to progress toward what is better. . . . To be (absolutely) contented in life would be idle rest and the standstill of all incentives, or the dulling of sensations and the activity connected with them. However, such a state is no more compatible with the intellectual life of the human being than the stopping of the heart in an animal's body, where death follows inevitably unless a new stimulus (through pain) is sent.
- Immanuel Kant, trans. Robert B. Louden, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (2006)
- Marry, and you will regret it; don't marry, you will also regret it; marry or don't marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the world's foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world's foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it; believe her not, you will also regret it [...] Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don't hang yourself, you'll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.
- I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?
- Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth — look at the dying man’s struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.
- The whole order of things fills me with a sense of anguish, from the gnat to the mysteries of incarnation; all is entirely unintelligible to me, and particularly my own person. Great is my sorrow, without limits. None knows of it, except God in Heaven, and He cannot have pity.
- Your own death, or the death of your near and dear ones, is not something you can experience. What you actually experience is the void created by the disappearance of another individual, and the unsatisfied demand to maintain the continuity of your relationship with that person for a nonexistent eternity. The arena for the continuation of all these “permanent” relationships is the tomorrow—heaven, next life, and so on. These things are the inventions of a mind interested only in its undisturbed, permanent continuity in a “self”-generated, fictitious future. The basic method of maintaining the continuity is the repetition of the question, “How? How? How?” “How am I to live? How can I be happy? How can I be sure I will be happy tomorrow?” This has made life an insoluble dilemma for us. We want to know, and through that knowledge we hope to continue on with our miserable existences forever.
- The human being is endowed with a great sensibility together with a strong knowledge of his limitations and conditions: with this, one has the right "recipe" for a suffering being. That is to say, a being who is fully aware that he will die, that he will be regularly attacked by organisms, who gradually and inexorably advances towards decrepitude, who knows that he will most probably have to suffer the death of his parents, his father and his mother, as well as the death of other family members and friends, and who cares very much about all this, who wishes he did not have to go through those experiencies, who feels harmed by all these necessities of his life.
- Thiago Lenharo di Santis, Porque te amo, não nascerás! Nascituri te salutant, 2009, p. 108
- Rest for ever (heart) enough
Hast thou throbbed. Nothing is worth
Thy agitations, nor of sighs is worthy
The earth. Bitterness and vexation
Is life, never aught besides, and mire the world.
Quiet thyself henceforth. Despair
For the last time. To our race fate
Has given but death.
Henceforth despise Thyself, nature, the foul
Power which, hidden, rules to the common bane,
And the infinite vanity of the whole.
- O Death, thou one eternal thing,
That takest all within thine arms,
In thee our coarser nature rests
In peace, set free from life's alarms:
Joyless and painless is our state.
Our spirits now no more are torn
By racking thought, or earthly fears;
Hope and desire are now unknown,
Nor know we aught of sorrow's tears.
Time flows in one unbroken stream,
As void of ennui as a dream.
The troubles we on earth endured
Have vanished; yet we sometimes see
Their phantom shapes, as in a mist
Of mingled thought and memory:
They now can vex our souls no more.
What is that life we lived on earth?
A mystery now it seems to be,
Profound as is the thought of death,
To wearers of mortality.
And as from death the living flee,
So from the vital flame flee we.
Our portion now is peaceful rest,
Joyless, painless. We are not blest
With happiness; that is forbid
Both to the living and the dead.
- I found myself desperately bored with life, with a very strong desire to kill myself, and had an intimation of something bad, which frightened me at the very moment that I wanted to die, and placed me immediately in a state of apprehension and anxiety. I have never felt so strongly the absolute conflict of the elements that form the present human condition, forced to fear for its life and to seek at all costs to preserve it, just then when it was most burdensome, and when it could resolve to be ended by its own will (but by no other cause).
- All is nothingness in the world, including my despair, which any man who is wise but also calmer, and I myself certainly at a quieter time, will see as vain, irrational, and imaginary. Wretched me! Even this pain of mine is vain, nothing. After a certain time it will pass and turn to nothing, and leave me in a universal emptiness, a terrible apathy that will not even let me lament.
- The fact is that when the soul desires a pleasurable thing, when it desires the satisfaction of an infinite desire, it really desires pleasure, and not a particular pleasure; now, when it finds, in fact, a particular pleasure, not an abstract one, embracing the full extent of pleasure, the result is that, since its desire is far from being satisfied, this pleasure is scarcely pleasure, because it is a matter not of a small but of a vast inferiority to our desire, not to mention our hopes. And therefore all pleasures must be mingled with displeasure, as experience shows, because in the process of obtaining them the soul is desperately searching for something it cannot find, that is, an infinity of pleasure, or the satisfaction of an unlimited desire.
- The majority of people live according to habit, without pleasure or real hopes, without sufficient reason for continuing to live or doing what is necessary to stay alive. If they thought about it, apart from religion they would find no reason for living and, though unnatural, it would be rational to conclude that their life was absurd, because although having begun life is, according to nature, justification for continuing it, according to reason it is not.
- His future existence is materially very long and the vast empty space that he still has to cross horrifies him, especially if he compares it with the little way he has come with such difficulty. Faced with this consideration, a young man can become excessively afraid and desperate, and the future seems longer and more terrible than an eternity. What's more, his whole life consists in the future. His early years were no more than an introduction to life. So he was born without being meant to live. The young man feels mortal despair at the thought that he will pass this way only once, and that in his time on earth he will not enjoy life, will not live, and his unique existence will have been wasted and useless. Every moment of his youth that passes in this way seems an irreparable loss inflicted on an age that can never return.
- There is no human unhappiness that cannot increase. There is, however, a limit to what is called happiness. A man may be wholly fortunate, with nothing left to desire, whose happiness cannot be extended any further. This was the case with Augustus. But a man so unhappy that a greater unhappiness cannot be imagined, an unhappiness which is not only fantastical, not only possible, but very often actually realized in one individual or another, in one way or another, such a man does not exist. Fortune may say to many, "I have no greater power to bestow upon you," but no one can ever boast and say to fortune, "you do not have the strength to harm me further and to increase my troubles." One can fail to hope, but no one will ever fail to fear. Despair in itself is not enough to reassure man. No one can truthfully boast or say in anger: I cannot be unhappier than I am.
- Boredom is the most sterile of the human passions. Born of nothingness, it gives life to nothing. Not only is it sterile in itself, it also makes whatever it mingles with, whatever it draws close to, sterile.
- As soon as the child is born, the mother who has just brought him into the world must console him, quiet his crying, and lighten the burden of the existence she has given him. And one of the principal duties of good parents in the childhood and early youth of their children is to comfort them, to encourage them to live, because sorrows and ills and passions are at that age much heavier than they are to those who through long experience, or simply because they have lived longer, are used to suffering. And in truth it is only fitting that the good father and the good mother, in trying to console their children, correct as best they can, and ease, the damage they have done by procreating them. Good God! Why then is man born? And why does he procreate? To console those he has given birth to for having been born?
- No kind of activity or diversion gives any real pleasure to men. Nevertheless it is certainly the case that the man who is busy or being distracted in some way or other is less unhappy than the man who has nothing to do, or the one who lives an unvarying life without any distraction at all. Why is that? If neither the latter nor the former are any more superior than the other in enjoyment and pleasure, which is the only good for man? It means that life in itself is an ill. When it is busy or distracting, you are aware of it and recognize it less, and in appearance it passes more quickly, and for that reason alone, men who are active or distracted, without having any more good or pleasure than anyone else, are less unhappy. And men with nothing to do and without any distractions, are more unhappy, not because they have good things of less account in their life, but because of an increase of ill, that is more feeling, more awareness of life, and life is (seemingly) longer, although it is without any other particular ill. To feel life less and to make it seem shorter, that is the greatest good, or rather the greatest reduction of ill and unhappiness which man can obtain. Boredom is clearly an ill, and the experience of boredom brings unhappiness. Now what is boredom? No particular ill or suffering (in fact the idea and the nature of boredom excludes the presence of any particular ill or suffering) but simply life itself fully felt, experienced, recognized, life fully present to the individual and taking him over. Life therefore is simply an ill: and not to live, or to live less, whether in duration or in intensity; is simply a good, or a lesser ill, or rather absolutely and in itself preferable to life.
- Everything is evil. That is to say everything that is, is evil; that each thing exists is an evil; each thing exists only for an evil end; existence is an evil and made for evil; the end of the universe is evil; the order and the state, the laws, the natural development of the universe are nothing but evil, and they are directed to nothing but evil. There is no other good except nonbeing; there is nothing good except what is not; things that are not things: all things are bad. All existence; the complex of so many worlds that exist; the universe; is only a spot, a speck in metaphysics. Existence, by its nature and essence and generally, is an imperfection, an irregularity, a monstrosity. But this imperfection is a tiny thing, literally a spot, because all the worlds that exist, however many and however extensive they are, since they are certainly not infinite in number or in size, are consequently infinitely small in comparison with the size the universe might be if it were infinite, and the whole of existence is infinitely small in comparison with the true infinity, so to speak, of nonexistence, of nothing.
- This system, although it clashes with those ideas of ours that the end can be no other than good, is probably more sustainable than that of Leibniz, Pope, etc., that everything is good. I would not dare however to go on to say that the universe which exists is the worst of possible universes, thereby substituting pessimism for optimism. Who can know the limits of possibility?
- What is certain and no laughing matter is that existence is an evil for all the parts which make up the universe (and so it is hard to think it is not an evil for the whole universe as well, and even harder to make, as philosophers do, "Des malheurs de chaque être un bonheur général" ["Of the misfortunes of each being a general happiness"]. Voltaire, Épître sur le désastre de Lisbonne. It is incomprehensible how out of the suffering of every individual without exception, can come a universal good; how from the whole of many misfortunes and nothing else, a good can come). That is made manifest when we see that everything in its own way necessarily suffers, and necessarily does not enjoy any pleasure, because pleasure does not exist strictly speaking. Now given that that is the case, how can you not say that existence is in itself an evil?
- Not only individual men, but the whole human race was and always will be necessarily unhappy. Not only the human race but the whole animal world. Not only animals but all other beings in their way. Not only individuals, but species, genera, realms, spheres, systems, worlds.
- Go into a garden of plants, grass, flowers. No matter how lovely it seems. Even in the mildest season of the year. You will not be able to look anywhere and not find suffering. That whole family of vegetation is in a state of 'souffrance', each in its own way to some degree. Here a rose is attacked by the sun, which has given it life; it withers, languishes, wilts. There a lily is sucked cruelly by a bee, in its most sensitive, most life-giving parts. Sweet honey is not produced by industrious, patient, good, virtuous bees without unspeakable torment for those most delicate fibers, without the pitiless massacre of flowerets. That tree is infested by an ant colony, that other one by caterpillars, flies, snails, mosquitoes; this one is injured in its bark and afflicted by the air or by the sun penetrating the wound; that other one has a damaged trunk, or roots; that other has many dry leaves; that other one has its flowers gnawed at, nibbled; that other one has its fruits pierced, eaten away. That plant is too warm, this one too cold; too much light, too much shade; too wet, too dry. One cannot grow or spread easily because there are obstacles and obstructions; another finds nowhere to lean, or has trouble and struggles to reach any support. In the whole garden you will not find a single plant in a state of perfect health. Here a branch is broken by the wind or by its own weight; there a gentle breeze is tearing a flower apart, and carries away a piece, a filament, a leaf, a living part of this or that plant, which has broken or been torn off. Meanwhile you torture the grass by stepping on it; you grind it down, crush it, squeeze out its blood, break it, kill it. A sensitive and gentle young maiden goes sweetly cutting and breaking off stems. A gardener expertly chops down trunks, breaking off sensitive limbs, with his nails, with his tools. Certainly these plants live on; some because their infirmities are not fatal, others because even with fatal diseases, plants, and animals as well, can manage to live on a little while. The spectacle of such abundance of life when you first go into this garden lifts your spirits, and that is why you think it is a joyful place. But in truth this life is wretched and unhappy, every garden is like a vast hospital (a place much more deplorable than a cemetery), and if these beings feel, or rather, were to feel, surely not being would be better for them than being.
- Happiness is nothing more than contentedness with one's own being and with one's own way of being, satisfaction with, perfect love of, one's own state, whatever that state may be moreover, and even if it is the most despicable. Now from this definition alone you can understand that happiness is by its nature impossible in a being who loves himself above all else, as all living beings naturally do, the only ones furthermore capable of happiness. A love of self that cannot cease and that has no limits is incompatible with contentedness, with satisfaction. Whatever good a living being may enjoy, he will always desire a greater good, because his own self-love will never cease, and that good, however great it is, will always be limited, and his own self-love cannot have limits. However lovable your state is, you will love yourself more than that state, therefore you will desire a better state. Therefore you will never be content, never in a state of satisfaction with, of perfect love for, your way of being, or perfectly pleased with it. Therefore you will never be and can never be happy, not in this world, nor in another.
- My philosophy not only does not lead to misanthropy, as might seem to anyone who looks at it superficially, and as many accuse it of doing, but by its nature it excludes misanthropy, by its nature it aims to cure, to extinguish that ill humor, that hatred (not systematic but nevertheless real hatred) which very many people who are not philosophers, and would not wish to be called or thought of as misanthropes, feel in their hearts nonetheless toward their fellow humans, either habitually, or in particular circumstances, by reason of the ill which, rightly or wrongly, like everyone else, they receive from other people. My philosophy makes nature guilty of everything, and by exonerating humanity altogether, it redirects the hatred, or at least the complaint, to a higher principle, the true origin of the ills of living beings, etc. etc.
- The absence of any special feeling of good or ill, which is the most ordinary condition of life, is neither indifference, nor good, nor pleasure, but suffering and ill. This alone, even if ills did not exceed goods, nor was greater, would be enough to tip the scales of life and human destiny immeasurably onto the side of unhappiness. When man has no feeling of any particular good or ill, he feels in general the native unhappiness of man, and this is that feeling which is called boredom.
- It were more reasonable that you [Nature] made happiness a necessity; or this being impossible, it were better not to bring men into the world.
- I assert that man loves and desires nothing but his own happiness. He therefore loves his life only inasmuch as he esteems it the instrument or subject of his happiness. Hence it is happiness that he always loves, and not life; although he very often attributes to the one the affection he has for the other.
- And, whereas in sickness we endure new and extraordinary sufferings, as though our ordinary life were not sufficiently unhappy; you [Nature] do not compensate for this by giving us equally exceptional periods of health and strength, and consequent enjoyment.
- Old age, with all its bitterness, and sorrows, and accumulation of troubles, is already near to me. This worst of evils you [Nature] have destined for us and all created beings, from the time of infancy. From the fifth lustre of life, decline makes itself manifest; its progress we are powerless to stay. Scarce a third of life is spent in the bloom of youth; but few moments are claimed by maturity; all the rest is one gradual decay, with its attendant evils.
- Thus I reply to you [Nature]. I am well aware you did not make the world for the service of men. It were easier to believe that you made it expressly as a place of torment for them. But tell me: why am I here at all? Did I ask to come into the world? Or am I here unnaturally, contrary to your will? If however, you yourself have placed me here, without giving me the power of acceptance or refusal of this gift of life, ought you not as far as possible to try and make me happy, or at least preserve me from the evils and dangers, which render my sojourn a painful one? And what I say of myself, I say of the whole human race, and of every living creature.
- For whose pleasure and service is this wretched life of the world maintained, by the suffering and death of all the beings which compose it?
- If the sleep of mortals were continuous and identical with life; if under the star of day all living beings languished on the earth in utter rest, and no work was wrought; if the oxen ceased bellowing in the meadows, the beasts roaring in the forests, the birds singing in the air, the bees buzzing, and the butterflies skimming over the fields; if no voice nor motion except-that of the waters, winds, and tempests anywhere existed, the universe would indeed be useless; but would there be less happiness or more misery than there is to-day?
- It seems as though death were the essential aim of all things. That which has no existence cannot die; yet all that exists has proceeded from nothing. The final cause of existence is not happiness, for nothing is happy. It is true, living creatures seek this end in all their works, but none obtain it; and during all their life, ever deceiving, tormenting, and exerting themselves, they suffer indeed for no other purpose than to die.
- Those who say and preach that the perfection of man consists in the knowledge of truth and that all his ills come from false opinions and from ignorance are quite wrong. And so are those who say that the human race will finally be happy when all or the great majority of men know the truth and organize and govern their lives according to its norms. These are things said by almost all philosophers, ancient and modern. . . . I'm not unaware of the fact that the ultimate conclusion we draw from perfect and true philosophy is that we must not philosophize. From which we infer, in the first place, that philosophy is useless, for to achieve the effect of non-philosophizing, we don't need to be philosophers; in the second place, that it is extremely harmful, for that ultimate conclusion can be learned only at one's own expense, and once it has been learned, it can't be put in operation because it is not in the power of men to forget the truths they know and because one can more easily lay aside any other habit than that of philosophizing. In short, philosophy starts out by hoping and promising to cure our ills and ends up by desiring in vain to find a remedy for itself.
- Finally I laughed, and said to myself that the human race possesses a characteristic common to husbands. For a married man who wishes to live a quiet life, relies on the fidelity of his wife, even when half the world knows she is faithless. Similarly, when a man takes up his abode in any country, he makes up his mind to regard it as one of the best countries in the world, and he does so. For the same reason, men, desiring to live, agree to consider life a delightful and valuable thing; they therefore believe it to be so, and are angry with whoever is of the contrary opinion. Hence it follows, that in reality people always believe, not the truth, but what is, or appears to be, best for them. The human race, which has believed, and will continue to put faith in so many absurdities, will never acknowledge that it knows nothing, that it is nothing, and that it has nothing to hope. No philosopher teaching any one of these three things would be successful, nor would he have followers, and the populace especially would refuse to believe in him. For, apart from the fact that all three doctrines have little to recommend them to any one who wishes to live, the two first offend man's pride, and they all require courage and strength of mind in him who accepts them. Now, men are cowards, of ignoble and narrow minds, and always anticipating good, because always ready to vary their ideas of good according to the necessities of life. They are very willing, as Petrarch says, to surrender to fortune; very eager and determined to console themselves in any misfortune; and to accept any compensation in exchange for what is denied them, or for that which they have lost; and to accommodate themselves to any condition of life, however wicked and barbarous. When deprived of any desirable thing, they nourish themselves on illusions, from which they derive as much satisfaction as if their conceptions were the most genuine and real things in the world. As for me, I cannot refrain from laughing at the human race, enamoured of life, just as the people in the south of Europe laugh at husbands enamoured of faithless wives. I consider men show very little courage in thus allowing themselves to be deceived and deluded like fools; they are not only content to bear the greatest sufferings, but also are willing to be as it were puppets of Nature and Destiny. I here refer to the deceptions of the intellect, not the imagination. Whether these sentiments of mine are the result of illness, I do not know; but I do know that, well or ill, I despise men's cowardice, I reject every childish consolation and illusive comfort, and am courageous enough to bear the deprivation of every hope, to look steadily on the desert of life, to hide no part of our unhappiness, and to accept all the consequences of a philosophy, sorrowful but true. This philosophy, if of no other use, gives the courageous man the proud satisfaction of being able to rend asunder the cloak that conceals the hidden and mysterious cruelty of human destiny.
- And, furthermore, I tell you frankly that I don’t resign myself to unhappiness, nor do I bow my head to destiny, nor do I come to terms with it, as other men do; and I dare desire death, and desire it above everything else, with such ardor and such sincerity as I believe it is desired in this world only by a very few. I would not speak to you in this manner if I were not completely certain that, when the hour comes, the facts will not belie my words; for, although I don’t see yet an end to my life, I have a profound feeling which almost assures me that this hour is not far off. I am too ripe for death; and I think it to be too absurd and incredible for me—so dead I am spiritually, so altogether concluded as the fable of life is for me in all its parts—to have to last for another forty or fifty years, that is as many as Nature threatens me with. At the mere thought of this I shudder. But as happens with all those evils, which go beyond, so to speak, the power of imagination, so this seems to be like a dream and an illusion, impossible to realize. Indeed, if someone talks to me about the distant future as of something belonging to me, I can’t help but smile to myself—so confident am I that the space of life remaining to me is not long. And this, I can say, it is the only thought that sustains me. Books and studies, which I am often surprised I have loved so much, projects of great deeds, and hopes of glory and immortality are all things at which I can no longer even laugh. At the hopes and the projects of this century I don’t laugh; with all my soul I wish them the greatest possible success, and highly and most sincerely do I praise, admire and honor their good intentions; however, I don’t envy posterity, nor those who still have long to live. In the past I used to envy the fools and the stupid, and those who have a high opinion of themselves; and I would have gladly changed places with one of them. Now I envy neither the stupid nor the wise, neither the great nor the small, neither the weak nor the powerful. I envy the dead, and only with them would I change places. Every pleasant fantasy, every thought of the future in which I indulge, as happens, in my solitude, and with which I spend my time, consists of death, and nothing else. And in this desire I am no longer troubled, as I used to be, by the memory of the dreams of my early age and by the thought of having lived in vain. If I obtain death, I will die so peaceful and so content as if I had never hoped for, or desired, anything else in the world. This is the only good that can reconcile me with destiny. If I were offered, on the one hand, the fortune and the fame of Caesar or Alexander, pure of all stains, and, on the other, to die today, and if I were to make a choice, I would say, to die today, and I would not want time to think it over.
- Death is not an evil, because it frees us from all evils, and while it takes away good things, it takes away also the desire for them. Old age is the supreme evil, because it deprives us of all pleasures, leaving us only the appetite for them, and it brings with it all sufferings. Nevertheless, we fear death, and we desire old age.
- However great my sufferings may have been, I do not seek to diminish them by comforting myself with vain hopes, and thoughts of a future and unknown happiness. This same courage of my convictions has led me to a philosophy of despair, which I do not hesitate to accept. It is the cowardice of men, who would fain regard existence as something very valuable, that instigates them to consider my philosophical opinions as the result of my sufferings, and that makes them persist in charging to my material circumstances that which is due to nothing but my understanding. Before I die, I wish to make protest against this imputation of weakness and trifling; and I would beg of my readers to burn my writings rather than attribute them to my sufferings.
- For better or worse, pessimism without compromise lacks public appeal. In all, the few who have gone to the pains of arguing for a sullen appraisal of life might as well never have been born. As history confirms, people will change their minds about almost anything, from which god they worship to how they style their hair. But when it comes to existential judgments, human beings in general have an unfalteringly good opinion of themselves and their condition in this world and are steadfastly confident they are not a collection of self-conscious nothings.
- For the rest of the earth’s organisms, existence is relatively uncomplicated. Their lives are about three things: survival, reproduction, death—and nothing else. But we know too much to content ourselves with surviving, reproducing, dying—and nothing else. We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering—slowly or quickly—as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are— hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.
- As a fact, we cannot give suffering precedence in either our individual or collective lives. We have to get on with things, and those who give precedence to suffering will be left behind. They fetter us with their sniveling. We have someplace to go and must believe we can get there, wherever that may be. And to conceive that there is a “brotherhood of suffering between everything alive” would disable us from getting anywhere. We are preoccupied with the good life, and step by step are working toward a better life. What we do, as a conscious species, is set markers for ourselves. Once we reach one marker, we advance to the next—as if we were playing a board game we think will never end, despite the fact that it will, like it or not. And if you are too conscious of not liking it, then you may conceive of yourself as a biological paradox that cannot live with its consciousness and cannot live without it. And in so living and not living, you take your place with the undead and the human puppet.
- Some critics of the pessimist often think they have his back to the wall when they blithely jeer, “If that is how this fellow feels, he should either kill himself or be decried as a hypocrite.” That the pessimist should kill himself in order to live up to his ideas may be counterattacked as betraying such a crass intellect that it does not deserve a response. Yet it is not much of a chore to produce one. Simply because someone has reached the conclusion that the amount of suffering in this world is enough that anyone would be better off never having been born does not mean that by force of logic or sincerity he must kill himself. It only means he has concluded that the amount of suffering in this world is enough that anyone would be better off never having been born. Others may disagree on this point as it pleases them, but they must accept that if they believe themselves to have a stronger case than the pessimist, then they are mistaken.
- Perhaps the greatest strike against philosophical pessimism is that its only theme is human suffering. This is the last item on the list of our species’ obsessions and detracts from everything that matters to us, such as the Good, the Beautiful, and a Sparkling Clean Toilet Bowl. For the pessimist, everything considered in isolation from human suffering or any cognition that does not have as its motive the origins, nature, and elimination of human suffering is at base recreational, whether it takes the form of conceptual probing or physical action in the world—for example, delving into game theory or traveling in outer space, respectively. And by "human suffering," the pessimist is not thinking of particular sufferings and their relief, but of suffering itself. Remedies may be discovered for certain diseases and sociopolitical barbarities may be amended. But these are only stopgaps. Human suffering will remain insoluble as long as human beings exist. The one truly effective solution for suffering is that spoken of in Zapffe’s "Last Messiah." It may not be a welcome solution for a stopgaps world, but it would forever put an end to suffering, should we ever care to do so. The pessimist’s credo, or one of them, is that nonexistence never hurt anyone and existence hurts everyone. Although our selves may be illusory creations of consciousness, our pain is nonetheless real.
- Immune to the blandishments of religions, countries, families, and everything else that puts both average and above-average citizens in the limelight, pessimists are sideliners in both history and the media. Without a belief in gods or ghosts, unmotivated by a comprehensive delusion, they could never plant a bomb, plan a revolution, or shed blood for a cause.
- Not unexpectedly, no one believes that everything is useless, and with good reason. We all live in relative frameworks, and within those frameworks uselessness is far wide from the norm. A potato masher is not useless if one wants to mash potatoes. For some people, a system of being that includes an afterlife of eternal bliss may not seem useless. They might say that such a system is absolutely useful because it gives them the hope they need to make it through this life. But an afterlife of eternal bliss is not and cannot be absolutely useful simply because you need it to be. It is part of a relative framework and nothing beyond that, just as a potato masher is only part of a relative framework and is only useful if you need to mash potatoes. Once you had made it through this life to an afterlife of eternal bliss, you would have no use for that afterlife. Its job would be done, and all you would have is an afterlife of eternal bliss—a paradise for reverent hedonists and pious libertines. What is the use in that? You might as well not exist at all, either in this life or in an afterlife of eternal bliss. Any kind of existence is useless. Nothing is self-justifying. Everything is justified only in a relative potato-masher sense.
- If human pleasure did not have both a lid and a time limit, we would not bestir ourselves to do things that were not pleasurable, such as toiling for our subsistence. And then we would not survive. By the same token, should our mass mind ever become discontented with the restricted pleasures doled out by nature, as well as disgruntled over the lack of restrictions on pain, we would omit the mandates of survival from our lives out of a stratospherically acerbic indignation. And then we would not reproduce. As a species, we do not shout into the sky, “The pleasures of this world are not enough for us.” In fact, they are just enough to drive us on like oxen pulling a cart full of our calves, which in their turn will put on the yoke. As inordinately evolved beings, though, we can postulate that it will not always be this way. “A time will come,” we say to ourselves, “when we will unmake this world in which we are battered between long burden and brief delight, and will live in pleasure for all our days.” The belief in the possibility of long-lasting, high-flown pleasures is a deceptive but adaptive flimflam. It seems that nature did not make us to feel too good for too long, which would be no good for the survival of the species, but only to feel good enough for long enough to keep us from complaining that we do not feel good all the time.
- What meaning our lives may seem to have is the work of a relatively well-constituted emotional system. As consciousness gives us the sense of being persons, our psychophysiology is responsible for making us into personalities who believe the existential game to be worth playing. We may have memories that are unlike those of anyone else, but without the proper emotions to liven those memories they might as well reside in a computer file as disconnected bits of data that never unite into a tailor-made individual for whom things seem to mean something. You can conceptualize that your life has meaning, but if you do not feel that meaning then your conceptualization is meaningless and you are nobody. The only matters of weight in our lives are colored by rainbows or auroras of regulated emotion which give one a sense of that “old self.” But a major depression causes your emotions to evaporate, reducing you to a shell of a person standing alone in a drab landscape. Emotions are the substrate for the illusion of being a somebody among somebodies as well as for the substance we see, or think we see, in the world. Not knowing this ground-level truth of human existence is the equivalent of knowing nothing at all.
- This is the great lesson the depressive learns: Nothing in the world is inherently compelling. Whatever may be really “out there” cannot project itself as an affective experience. It is all a vacuous affair with only a chemical prestige. Nothing is either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, or anything else except that it is made so by laboratories inside us producing the emotions on which we live. And to live on our emotions is to live arbitrarily, inaccurately—imparting meaning to what has none of its own. Yet what other way is there to live? Without the ever-clanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know. The alternatives are clear: to live falsely as pawns of affect, or to live factually as depressives, or as individuals who know what is known to the depressive. How advantageous that we are not coerced into choosing one or the other, neither choice being excellent. One look at human existence is proof enough that our species will not be released from the stranglehold of emotionalism that anchors it to hallucinations. That may be no way to live, but to opt for depression would be to opt out of existence as we consciously know it.
- That there is redemption to be found in an ecumenical nonexistence is an old idea on which Mainländer put a new face. For some it is a cherished idea, like that of a peaceful afterlife or progress toward perfection in this life. The need for such ideas comes out of the fact that existence is a condition with no redeeming qualities. If this were not so, none would need cherished ideas like an ecumenical nonexistence, a peaceful afterlife, or progress toward perfection in this life.
- The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
- So long as the object of our desire is wanting, it seems more important than anything else; but later, when it is ours, we covet some other thing; and so an insatiable thirst for life keeps us always openmouthed.
- How could it have harmed us never to have been created? Are we to believe that our life lay groveling in murk and misery until the first day of creation dawned for us? All people, once born, must certainly wish to remain in life, so long as seductive pleasure detains them; but if one has never tasted the love of life or been numbered among the living, how does it harm one not to have been created?
- Consider too how a baby, like a shipwrecked sailor tossed ashore by the savage waves, lies on the ground naked, speechless, and utterly helpless, as soon as nature has cast it forth with pangs of labor from its mother's womb into the shores of light; and how it fills the place with its woeful wailings—as well it may, seeing that life holds so much sorrow in store for it.
- He saw that almost everything that necessity demands for subsistence had been already provided for mortals, and that their life was, so far as possible, established in security; he saw too that they possessed power, with wealth, honor, and glory, and took pride in the good reputation of their children; and yet he found that, notwithstanding this prosperity, all of them privately had hearts racked with anxiety which, contrary to their wish, tormented their lives without a pause, causing them to chafe and fret. Then he realized that the cause of the flaw was the vessel itself, which by its own flaw corrupted within it all things, even good things, that entered it from without. He became convinced of this, partly because he saw that the vessel was leaky and riddled, so that it could never possibly be filled, and partly because he observed that it contaminated with a foul flavor everything it had taken in.
- In the immense sphere of living things, the obvious rule is violence, a kind of inevitable frenzy which arms all things in mutua funera. Once you leave the world of insensible substances, you find the decree of violent death written on the very frontiers of life. Even in the vegetable kingdom, this law can be perceived: from the huge catalpa to the smallest of grasses, how many plants die and how many are killed! But once you enter the animal kingdom, the law suddenly becomes frighteningly obvious. A power at once hidden and palpable appears constantly occupied in bringing to light the principle of life by violent means. In each great division of the animal world, it has chosen a certain number of animals charged with devouring the others; so there are insects of prey, reptiles of prey, birds of prey, fish of prey, and quadrupeds of prey. There is not an instant of time when some living creature is not devoured by another [...] Thus is worked out, from maggots up to man, the universal law of the violent destruction of living beings. The whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death.
- And who is and should be a pessimist? He who is mature for death and is in no condition to love life, just as the optimist cannot turn away from it. If he does not realize that he will survive in his children, his procreation loses its horrible character; but if he realizes it, he will recoil in horror from it, just like Humboldt noticing that it is paying dearly for a few minutes of pleasure with the torments that another being must endure perhaps for eighty years, and consider the procreation of children as a crime and justly so.
- The will must not only despise death, it must love it; for chastity is the love of death.
- The man who has known clearly and distinctly that all life is suffering; that, whatever the way in which it may appear is essentially unhappy and full of pain (even in the ideal state), so that he, like the Christ Child on the arms of Sistine Madonna, can only look into the world with eyes filled with horror, and who then contemplates the deep tranquility, the inexpressible happiness in aesthetic contemplation and, in contrast to the waking state, the happiness of dreamless sleep, whose elevation into eternity is only absolute death, - such a man has to be kindled by the advantage offered, - he cannot do otherwise. The thought of resuscitating in his unhappy children, that is, having to follow his way through the streets of existence, full of thorns and hard stones, without rest or repose, is, on the one hand, the most shocking and exasperating he can have; and, on the other hand, it must be the sweetest and most refreshing thought to be able to break the long course of the process, in which he was forced to walk by, with bloody feet, beaten, tormented and martyred, languishing in search of quietude. And once he is on the right track, the sexual instinct worries him less with every step, little by little becoming easier for his heart, until at last his inner being stands in the same joyfulness, blessed serenity and complete immobility as the true Christian saint. He feels in harmony with the movement of humanity from being into non-being, out of the agony of life into absolute death; he gladly enters into this movement of the whole, he acts eminently morally, and his reward is the undisturbed peace of heart, the "calmness of the sea of the mind," the peace that is higher than all reason. And all this can take place without the belief in a unity in, above or beyond the world, without fear of a hell or hope for a kingdom of heaven after death, without any mystical intellectual view, without incomprehensible effect of grace, without contradiction with nature and our awareness of our own self: the only sources from which we can draw with certainty, - merely as a result of an unprejudiced, pure, cold realization of our reason, "man's supreme power".
- What is the ideal state? It will be the historical form that encompasses all mankind. However, we will not define this form in more detail, because it is quite a minor matter: the main thing is the citizen of the ideal state. He will be what individuals have been since the beginning of history: a thoroughly free man. He has completely outgrown the taskmaster of historical laws and forms and stands above the law, free from all political, economic and spiritual fetters. All external forms are fragmented: man is completely emancipated. All driving forces have gradually disappeared from the life of mankind: Power, property, fame, marriage; all emotional ties have gradually been torn: man is weary. His spirit now judges life correctly and his will is kindled by this judgment. Now the heart is filled with only one longing: to be blotted out forever from the great book of life. And the will reaches its goal: absolute death.
- The kingdom of heaven after death, nirvana and absolute nothingness are one and the same.
- In accordance with the NU-assumption [Negative Utilitarian assumption], I presuppose that satisfying preferences is ultimately not a valid option, because of impermanence and a deep phenomenological asymmetry between positive self-model moments and negative ones (NSMs) [Negative Self-models]. First, physical embodiment, impermanence and transience prevent any more permanent satisfaction of preferences (or a stable state in the self-model). In addition, the phenomenology of suffering is not a simple mirror-image of happiness, mainly because it involves a much higher urgency of change. In most forms of happiness this centrally relevant subjective quality which I have termed the “urgency of change” is absent, because they do not include any strong preference for being even more happy. In fact, a lot of what we describe as “happiness” may turn out to be a relief from the urgency of change. The subjective sense of urgency, in combination with the phenomenal quality of losing control and coherence of the phenomenal self, is what makes conscious suffering a very distinct class of states, not just the negative version of happiness. This subjective quality of urgency is also reflected in our widespread moral intuition that, in an ethical sense, it is much more urgent to help a suffering person than to make a happy person even happier.
- We are systems that have been optimised to procreate as effectively as possible and to sustain their existence for millions of years. In this process, a large set of cognitive biases have been installed in our self-model. Our deepest cognitive bias is “existence bias”, which means that we will simply do almost anything to prolong our own existence. Sustaining one’s existence is the default goal in almost every case of uncertainty, even if it may violate rationality constraints, simply because it is a biological imperative that has been burned into our nervous systems over millennia.
- Had the inventor of conscious suffering been a person, we could describe the overall process as extremely cruel. Above a certain level of complexity, evolution continuously instantiates an enormous number of frustrated preferences; it has brought an expanding and continuously deepening ocean of consciously experienced suffering into a region of the physical universe where nothing comparable existed before.
- There is an ancient story that King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: ‘Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is—to die soon.'
- Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann, The Birth of Tragedy (1967)
- In every age the wisest have passed the identical judgement on life: it is worthless.... Everywhere and always their mouths have uttered the same sound - a sound full of doubt, full of melancholy, full of weariness with life, full of opposition to life.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Twilight of the Idols (1990)
- Take stock of those around you and you will … hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas on the matter. But start to analyse those ideas and you will find that they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover that there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of reality, of his own very life. For life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality, and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his “ideas” are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defense of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality.
- José Ortega Y Gasset as quoted by Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death.
- Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise.
- Life is quite unbearable for a human without the “risk and adventure” of a story-bound life. What we are looking for when we look for the “meaning of life” is the greater story. The unfortunate truth, suggested by science and vehemently denied by religion, is that there is no greater story. We may make up stories and allow them to shape our perceptions, but ultimately there is no story. We are all living in the epilogue of reality, or rather worse, because there never was a story. For many of us, our personal stories have run out—and it’s extremely difficult to push oneself into a new story once you see that all stories are vanity. It is like the difficulty of staying in a dream once one realizes one is dreaming.
- Sarah Perry, Every Cradle is a Grave (2014), pp. 209-210.
- Why are drugs, prostitution, gambling and suicide illegal, when they clearly give so much relief to suffering people? I think it is because, at a societal level, we are deluded into thinking that happiness is possible, maybe even easy or likely, without these things. I have called this “cheery social policy." The fundamental problem with this sort of cheeriness is the assumption that a good life—a pleasant life—is relatively easy to achieve. Cheery people are able to hold such a belief because they are able to ignore—and perhaps can’t even conceive of—the suffering of a significant minority of the population. A good life is not easily achieved for many of us.
- Sarah Perry, Every Cradle is a Grave (2014), p. 210.
- I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs, a very endearing sight, I'm sure you'll agree. And even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.
- (Eat your chocolates, little girl,
Eat your chocolates!
Believe me, there's no metaphysics on earth like chocolates,
And all religions put together teach no more than the candy shop.
Eat, dirty little girl, eat!
If only I could eat chocolates with the same truth as you!
But I think and, removing the silver paper that's tinfoil,
I throw it all on the ground, as I've thrown out life.)
- The Tobacco Shop Owner has come to the door and is standing there.
I look at him with the discomfort of a half-twisted neck
Compounded by the discomfort of a half-grasping soul.
He will die and I will die.
He'll leave his signboard, I'll leave my poems.
His sign will also eventually die, and so will my poems.
Eventually the street where the sign was will die,
And so will the language in which my poems were written.
Then the whirling planet where all of this happened will die.
On other planets of other solar systems something like people
Will continue to make things like poems and to live under things like signs,
Always one thing facing the other,
Always one thing as useless as the other,
Always the impossible as stupid as reality,
Always the inner mystery as true as the mystery sleeping on the surface.
Always this thing or always that, or neither one thing nor the other.
- Nothing of nothing remains. And we are nothing.
In the sun and air we put off briefly
The unbreathable darkness of damp earth
Whose weight we'll have to bear—
Postponed corpses that procreate.
Laws passed, statues seen, odes finished—
They all have their grave. If we, heaps of flesh
Quickened by the blood of an inner sun,
Must one day set, why not they?
We're tales telling tales, nothing...
- Everything is imperfect. There’s no sunset so lovely it couldn’t be yet lovelier, no gentle breeze bringing us sleep that couldn’t bring a yet sounder sleep.
- I asked for very little from life, and even this little was denied me. A nearby field, a ray of sunlight, a little bit of calm along with a bit of bread, not to feel oppressed by the knowledge that I exist, not to demand anything from others, and not to have others demand anything from me – this was denied me, like the spare change we might deny a beggar not because we’re mean-hearted but because we don’t feel like unbuttoning our coat.
- I envy – but I’m not sure that I envy – those for whom a biography could be written, or who could write their own. In these random impressions, and with no desire to be other than random, I indifferently narrate my factless autobiography, my lifeless history. These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it’s because I have nothing to say. What is there to confess that's worthwhile or useful? What has happened to us has happened to everyone or only to us; if to everyone, then it's no novelty, and if only to us, then it won't be understood. If I write what I feel, it's to reduce the fever of feeling. What I confess is unimportant, because everything is unimportant.
- It's not the cracked walls of my rented room, nor the shabby desks in the office where I work, nor the poverty of the same old downtown streets in between, which I've crossed and recrossed so many times they seem to have assumed the immobility of the irreparable - none of that is responsible for my frequent feeling of nausea over the squalor of daily life. It's the people who habitually surround me, the souls who know me through conversation and daily contact without knowing me at all - they're the ones who cause a salivary knot of physical disgust to form in my throat. It's the sordid monotony of their lives, outwardly parallel to my own, and their keen awareness that I'm their fellow man - that is what dresses me in a convict's clothes, places me in a jail cell, and makes me apocryphal and beggarly.
- I bowed out of life before it began, for not even in dreams did I find it attractive. Dreams themselves wearied me, and this brought me a false, external sensation, as of having come to the end of an infinite road. I overflowed from myself to end up I don’t know where, and that’s where I’ve uselessly stagnated. I’m something that I used to be. I’m never where I feel I am, and if I seek myself, I don’t know who’s seeking me. My boredom with everything has numbed me. I feel banished from my soul. I observe myself. I’m my own spectator. My sensations pass, like external things, before I don’t know what gaze of mine. I bore myself no matter what I do. All things, down to their roots in mystery, have the colour of my boredom.
- I aspire to nothing. Life hurts me. I’m not well where I am nor anywhere else I can think of being.
- The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd: the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence.
- I’m forever on the defensive. I suffer from life and from other people. I can’t look at reality face to face. Even the sun discourages and depresses me. Only at night and all alone, withdrawn, forgotten and lost, with no connection to anything real or useful – only then do I find myself and feel comforted. Life makes me cold. My existence is all damp cellars and lightless catacombs. I’m the disastrous defeat of the last army that sustained the last empire. Yes, I feel as if I were at the end of an ancient ruling civilization. I, who was used to commanding others, am now alone and forsaken. I, who always had advisers to guide me, now have no friend or guide. Something in me is always begging for compassion, and it weeps over itself as over a dead god whose altars were all destroyed when the white wave of young barbarians stormed the borders and life came and demanded to know what the empire had done with happiness. I’m always afraid others might talk about me. I’ve failed in everything. I didn’t dare think of being something; I didn’t even dream of thinking about being something, because even in my dreams – in my visionary state as a mere dreamer – I realized I was unfit for life. No feeling in the world can lift my head from the pillow where I’ve let it sink in desperation, unable to deal with my body or with the idea that I’m alive, or even with the abstract idea of life.
- Everything wearies me, even those things that don’t. My joy is as painful as my grief. I wish I could be a child sailing paper boats on a pond in the garden, with the sky above crisscrossed by the vine trellis, casting checkerboards of light and green shade on the somber reflections in the shallow water. A tenuous pane of glass stands between me and life. However clearly I see and understand life, I cannot touch it. Should we reason our way out of sadness? But why, when reasoning requires effort? And the sad man lacks the necessary energy to make any effort at all. I do not even abdicate from the banal gestures of life from which I so wish I could abdicate. Abdication takes effort, and I do not have enough soul to make that effort. How often it pains me not to be the captain of that ship, the driver of that train! To be some other banal individual whose life, because not mine, fills me with delicious longing and a poetic sense of otherness! I would not then be horrified of life as a Thing. The notion of life as a Whole would not weigh down the shoulders of my thoughts. My dreams are a foolish refuge, about as reliable as an umbrella in a thunderstorm. I am so inert, such a poor wretch, so entirely lacking in gestures and actions. However deep I plunge into myself, all the paths of my dreams lead into clearings of anxiety. Even though I am a prolific dreamer, there are times when dreams escape me. Then things appear clearer. The mist I surround myself with dissipates. And all the now visibly rough edges wound the flesh of my soul. All the hard surfaces bruise the part of me that knows them to be hard. All the visibly heavy objects weigh on my soul. It’s as if someone were using my life to beat me with.
- Fernando Pessoa, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, The Book of Disquiet (2017), text 16
- I have a sense that, for creatures like me, there are no propitious material circumstances, no situations that will turn out well. This sense is already enough to make me distance myself from life; indeed, it only makes me distance myself still more. The list of achievements which, for ordinary men, makes success inevitable, has, when applied to me, a quite different, unexpected and adverse result. I sometimes have the painful impression that I am the victim of some divine enmity. It seems to me that the only explanation for the series of disasters that defines my life is that someone is consciously manipulating things in order to turn any such achievements into something malevolent. The result of all this is that I never try too hard. Fortune, if it so wishes, may come and find me. I know all too well that my greatest efforts will never meet with the success others enjoy. That is why I abandon myself to Fortune and expect nothing from her. Why would I? My stoicism is an organic necessity. I need to armor myself against life. Since all stoicism is really just a harsher form of epicureanism, I want as far as possible to enjoy my misfortune. I’m not sure to what extent I achieve this. I’m not sure to what extent I achieve anything. I don’t know to what extent one can achieve anything ... Whereas one person triumphs, not by virtue of his own efforts, but because his triumph is inevitable, I never triumph and never would, however inevitable or however much effort I made. I was perhaps born, spiritually speaking, on a very short winter’s day. Night descended early on my existence. The only way I can live my life is in frustration and solitude. Deep down, none of this is very stoical at all. My suffering is only noble when I put it into words. Otherwise, I whine and whimper like a sick child. I fret and worry like a housewife. My life is entirely futile and entirely sad.
- Fernando Pessoa, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, The Book of Disquiet (2017), text 108
- The weariness of all illusions and of everything that illusions involve — the loss of them, the pointlessness of having them, the anticipatory weariness of having to have them in order to lose them, the pain of having had them, the intellectual shame of having had them knowing how they would end.
- Fernando Pessoa, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, The Book of Disquiet (2017), text 165
- Reading the newspapers, always painful from an aesthetic point of view, is often morally painful too, even for one with little time for morality. When one reads of wars and revolutions — there’s always one or the other going on — one feels not horror but boredom. It isn’t the cruel fate of all those dead and wounded, the sacrifice of those who die as warriors or onlookers, that weighs so heavy on the heart; it’s the stupidity that sacrifices lives and possessions to anything so unutterably vain. All ideals and ambitions are just the ravings of gossiping men. No empire merits even the smashing of a child’s doll. No ideal merits even the sacrifice of one toy train. What empire is really useful, what ideal really profitable? Everything comes from humanity and humanity is always the same — changeable but incapable of perfection, vacillating but incapable of progress. Given this irredeemable state of affairs, given a life we were given we know not how and will lose we know not when, given the ten thousand chess games that make up the struggles of life lived in society, given the tedium of vainly contemplating what will never be achieved [...] — what can the wise man do but beg for rest, for a respite from having to think about living (as if having to live were not enough), for a small space in the sun and the open countryside and at least the dream that somewhere beyond the mountains there is peace.
- Fernando Pessoa, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, The Book of Disquiet (2017), text 170
- Living seems to me a metaphysical mistake on the part of matter, an oversight on the part of inaction.
- Fernando Pessoa, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, The Book of Disquiet (2017), text 250
- Ah, now I understand! Senhor Vasques is Life; Life, monotonous and necessary, commanding and unknowable. This banal man represents the banality of life. On the surface he is everything to me, just as, on the surface, Life is everything to me. And if the office in the Rua dos Douradores represents Life for me, the fourth-floor room I live in on that same street represents Art. Yes, Art, living on the same street as Life but in a different room; Art, which offers relief from life without actually relieving one of living, and which is as monotonous as life itself, but in a different way. Yes, for me Rua dos Douradores embraces the meaning of all things, the resolution of all mysteries, except the existence of mysteries themselves, which is something beyond resolution.
- Fernando Pessoa, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, The Book of Disquiet (2017), text 343
- Everything is absurd. One man spends his life earning money which he then saves even though he has no children to leave it to nor any hope that a heaven somewhere will offer him a divine reward. Another puts all his efforts into becoming famous so that he will be remembered once dead, yet he does not believe in a survival of the soul that would give him knowledge of that fame. Yet another wears himself out looking for things he doesn’t even like. Then there is the man who ... One man reads in order to know, all in vain. Another enjoys himself in order to live, again all in vain. I’m riding a tram and, as is my habit, slowly absorbing every detail of the people around me. By “detail” I mean things, voices, words. In the dress of the girl directly in front of me, for example, I see the material it’s made of, the work involved in making it — since it’s a dress and not just material — and I see in the delicate embroidery around the neck the silk thread with which it was embroidered and all the work that went into that. And immediately, as if in a primer on political economy, I see before me the factories and all the different jobs: the factory where the material was made; the factory that made the darker-colored thread that ornaments with curlicues the neck of the dress; and I see the different workshops in the factories, the machines, the workmen, the seamstresses. My eyes’ inward gaze even penetrates into the offices, where I see the managers trying to keep calm and the figures set out in the account books, but that’s not all: beyond that I see into the domestic lives of those who spend their working hours in these factories and offices ... A whole world unfolds before my eyes all because of the regularly irregular dark green edging to a pale green dress worn by the girl in front of me of whom I see only her brown neck. A whole way of life lies before me. I sense the loves, the secrets, the souls of all those who worked just so that this woman in front of me on the tram could wear around her mortal neck the sinuous banality of a thread of dark green silk on a background of light green cloth. I grow dizzy. The seats on the tram, of fine, strong cane, carry me to distant regions, divide into industries, workmen, houses, lives, realities, everything. I leave the tram exhausted, like a sleepwalker, having lived a whole life.
- Fernando Pessoa, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, The Book of Disquiet (2017), text 354
- The idea of traveling makes me feel physically sick. I’ve already seen everything I’ve never seen. I’ve already seen everything I haven’t yet seen. The tedium of the constantly new, the tedium of discovering, beneath the transitory difference of things and ideas, the perennial sameness of everything, the absolute similarity between a mosque, a temple and a church, the absolute equivalence between a cabin and a castle, the same physical body in a king in all his finery and a naked savage, the eternal concordance of life with itself, the stagnation of everything that lives despite the constant changes to which it is eternally condemned. Landscapes are repetitions. On an ordinary train journey, I divide myself pointlessly and nervously between not looking at the landscape and not looking at the book that would be keeping me amused if I were someone else. Life already gives me a vague sense of nausea, and movement only aggravates that. The only nontedious landscapes and books are landscapes that don’t exist and books I will never read. For me, life is a somnolence that does not affect the brain. I keep that free as a place in which to be sad. Leave traveling to those who don’t exist! Presumably for someone who is nothing, life, like a river, is a simple matter of flowing ever onwards. For those who think and feel, those who are awake, the ghastly experience of sitting on a train, in a car or in a ship lets them neither sleep nor wake. I return from any journey, however short, as if from a sleep full of dreams — in a state of torpid confusion, with all my sensations glued together, drunk on what I have seen. I can’t rest because my soul is sick. I can’t move because there’s something lacking between body and soul; it’s not movement I lack, but the desire to move.
- Fernando Pessoa, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, The Book of Disquiet (2017), text 363
- Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night.
- Out—out are the lights—out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.
- So they were, and so they are; and as they came are coming others,
And among them are the fearless and the meek and the unborn;
And a question that has held us heretofore without an answer
May abide without an answer until all have ceased to mourn.
For the children of the dark are more to name than are the wretched,
Or the broken, or the weary, or the baffled, or the shamed:
There are builders of new mansions in the Valley of the Shadow,
And among them are the dying and the blinded and the maimed.
- Your fly will serve as well as anybody,
And what's his hour? He flies, and flies, and flies,
And in his fly's mind has a brave appearance;
And then your spider gets him in her net,
And eats him out, and hangs him up to dry.
That's Nature, the kind mother of us all.
And then your slattern housemaid swings her broom,
And where's your spider? And that's Nature, also.
It's Nature, and it's Nothing. It's all Nothing.
It's all a world where bugs and emperors
Go singularly back to the same dust,
Each in his time; and the old, ordered stars
That sang together, Ben, will sing the same
Old stave to-morrow.
- A spoonful of tar can spoil a barrel of honey, but a spoonful of honey does nothing for a barrel of tar.
- Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman, Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion (2001)
- Description: old Russian adage quoted by the authors as one of the best descriptions of negative contamination being stronger than positive contamination.
- On this vista the curtain may be drawn. Neither poet nor seer can look beyond. Nature, who is unconscious in her immorality, entrancing in her beauty, savage in her cruelty, imperial in her prodigality, and appalling in her convulsions, is not only deaf, but dumb. There is no answer to any appeal. The best we can do, the best that has ever been done, is to recognise the implacability of the laws that rule the universe, and contemplate as calmly as we can the nothingness from which we are come and into which we shall all disappear. The one consolation that we hold, though it is one which may be illusory too, consists in the belief that when death comes, fear and hope are at an end. Then wonder ceases; the insoluble no longer perplexes; space is lost; the infinite is blank; the farce is done.
- Fichte, Kant's immediate successor, declared, in direct contradiction to Leibnitz, that this world was the worst one possible, and was only consoled by thinking he could raise himself by the aid of pure thought into the felicity of the "supersensible." "Men," he says, "in the vehement pursuit of happiness grasp at the first object which offers to them any prospect of satisfaction, but immediately they turn an introspective eye and ask, 'Am I happy?' and at once from their innermost being a voice answers distinctly, 'No, you are as poor and as miserable as before.' Then they think it was the object that deceived them, and turn precipitately to another. But the second holds as little satisfaction as the first.... Wandering then through life, restless and tormented, at each successive station they think that happiness dwells at the next, but when they reach it happiness is no longer there. In whatever position they may find themselves there is always another one which they discern from afar, and which but to touch, they think, is to find the wished delight, but when the goal is reached discontent has followed on the way and stands in haunting constancy before them."
- The question, then, as to whether life is valuable, valueless, or an affliction can, with regard to the individual, be answered only after a consideration of the different circumstances attendant on each particular case; but, broadly speaking, and disregarding its necessary exceptions, life may be said to be always valuable to the obtuse, often valueless to the sensitive; while to him who commiserates with all mankind, and sympathizes with everything that is, life never appears otherwise than as an immense and terrible affliction.
- The crux of the terror management answer to the question, "Why do people need self-esteem?" is that self-esteem functions to shelter people from deeply rooted anxiety inherent in the human condition. Self-esteem is a protective shield designed to control the potential for terror that results from awareness of the horrifying possibility that we humans are merely transient animals groping to survive in a meaningless universe, destined only to die and decay. From this perspective, then, each individual human’s name and identity, family and social identifications, goals and aspirations, occupation and title, are humanly created adornments draped over an animal that, in the cosmic scheme of things, may be no more significant or enduring than any individual potato, pineapple, or porcupine. But it is this elaborate drapery that provides us with the fortitude to carry on despite the uniquely human awareness of our mortal fate.
- Jeff Schimel et al., Why Do People Need Self-Esteem? A Theoretical and Empirical Review
- TMT [Terror Management Theory] starts with the proposition that the juxtaposition of a biologically rooted desire for life with the awareness of the inevitability of death (which resulted from the evolution of sophisticated cognitive abilities unique to humankind) gives rise to the potential for paralyzing terror. Our species “solved” the problem posed by the prospect of existential terror by using the same sophisticated cognitive capacities that gave rise to the awareness of death to create cultural worldviews: humanly constructed shared symbolic conceptions of reality that give meaning, order, and permanence to existence; provide a set of standards for what is valuable; and promise some form of either literal or symbolic immortality to those who believe in the cultural worldview and live up to its standards of value. Literal immortality is bestowed by the explicitly religious aspects of cultural worldviews that directly address the problem of death and promise heaven, reincarnation, or other forms of afterlife to the faithful who live by the standards and teachings of the culture. Symbolic immortality is conferred by cultural institutions that enable people to feel part of something larger, more significant, and more eternal than their own individual lives through connections and contributions to their families, nations, professions, and ideologies.
- Jeff Schimel et al., Why Do People Need Self-Esteem? A Theoretical and Empirical Review
- Every grade of the will’s objectification fights for the matter, the space, and the time of another. Persistent matter must constantly change the form, since, under the guidance of causality, mechanical, physical, chemical, and organic phenomena, eagerly striving to appear, snatch the matter from one another, for each wishes to reveal its own Idea. This contest can be followed through the whole of nature; indeed only through it does nature exist: εἰ γὰρ µὴ ἦν τὸ νεĩϰος ἐν τοῖς πράγμασιν, ἓν ἄν ἦν ἃπαντα, ὥς ϕησίν ’Eμπεδoxλῆς. (nam si non inesset in rebus contentio, unum omnia essent, ut ait Empedocles. [“For, as Empedocles says, if strife did not rule in things, then all would be a unity.”] Aristotle, Metaphysica, ii, 5 ). Yet this strife itself is only the revelation of that variance with itself that is essential to the will. This universal conflict is to be seen most clearly in the animal kingdom. Animals have the vegetable kingdom for their nourishment, and within the animal kingdom again every animal is the prey and food of some other. This means that the matter in which an animal’s Idea manifests itself must stand aside for the manifestation of another Idea, since every animal can maintain its own existence only by the incessant elimination of another’s. Thus the will-to-live generally feasts on itself, and is in different forms its own nourishment, till finally the human race, because it subdues all the others, regards nature as manufactured for its own use. Yet, as will be seen in the fourth book, this same human race reveals in itself with terrible clearness that conflict, that variance of the will with itself, and we get homo homini lupus.
- All grades of its phenomenon from the lowest to the highest, the will dispenses entirely with an ultimate aim and object. It always strives, because striving is its sole nature, to which no attained goal can put an end. Such striving is therefore incapable of final satisfaction; it can be checked only by hindrance, but in itself it goes on for ever. We saw this in the simplest of all natural phenomena, namely gravity, which does not cease to strive and press towards an extensionless central point, whose attainment would be the annihilation of itself and of matter; it would not cease, even if the whole universe were already rolled into a ball. We see it in other simple natural phenomena. The solid tends to fluidity, either by melting or dissolving, and only then do its chemical forces become free: rigidity is the imprisonment in which they are held by cold. The fluid tends to the gaseous form, into which it passes at once as soon as it is freed from all pressure. No body is without relationship, i.e., without striving, or without longing and desire, as Jacob Boehme would say. Electricity transmits its inner self-discord to infinity, although the mass of the earth absorbs the effect. Galvanism, so long as the pile lasts, is also an aimlessly and ceaselessly repeated act of self-discord and reconciliation. The existence of the plant is just such a restless, never satisfied striving, a ceaseless activity through higher and higher forms, till the final point, the seed, becomes anew a starting-point; and this is repeated ad infinitum; nowhere is there a goal, nowhere a final satisfaction, nowhere a point of rest. At the same time, we recall from the second book that everywhere the many different forces of nature and organic forms contest with one another for the matter in which they desire to appear, since each possesses only what it has wrested from another. Thus a constant struggle is carried on between life and death, the main result whereof is the resistance by which that striving which constitutes the innermost nature of everything is everywhere impeded. It presses and urges in vain; yet, by reason of its inner nature, it cannot cease; it toils on laboriously until this phenomenon perishes, and then others eagerly seize its place and its matter.
- We have long since recognized this striving, that constitutes the kernel and in-itself of everything, as the same thing that in us, where it manifests itself most distinctly in the light of the fullest consciousness, is called will. We call its hindrance through an obstacle placed between it and its temporary goal, suffering; its attainment of the goal, on the other hand, we call satisfaction, well-being, happiness. We can also transfer these names to those phenomena of the world-without-knowledge which, though weaker in degree, are identical in essence. We then see these involved in constant suffering and without any lasting happiness. For all striving springs from want or deficiency, from dissatisfaction with one’s own state or condition, and is therefore suffering so long as it is not satisfied. No satisfaction, however, is lasting; on the contrary, it is always merely the starting-point of a fresh striving. We see striving everywhere impeded in many ways, everywhere struggling and fighting, and hence always as suffering. Thus that there is no ultimate aim of striving means that there is no measure or end of suffering.
- At every stage illuminated by knowledge, the will appears as individual. The human individual finds himself in endless space and time as finite, and consequently as a vanishing quantity compared with these. He is projected into them, and on account of their boundlessness has always only a relative, never an absolute, when and where of his existence; for his place and duration are finite parts of what is infinite and boundless. His real existence is only in the present, whose unimpeded flight into the past is a constant transition into death, a constant dying. For his past life, apart from its eventual consequences for the present, and also apart from the testimony regarding his will that is impressed in it, is entirely finished and done with, dead, and no longer anything. Therefore, as a matter of reason, it must be indifferent to him whether the contents of that past were pains or pleasures. But the present in his hands is constantly becoming the past; the future is quite uncertain and always short. Thus his existence, even considered from the formal side alone, is a continual rushing of the present into the dead past, a constant dying. And if we look at it also from the physical side, it is evident that, just as we know our walking to be only a constantly prevented falling, so is the life of our body only a constantly prevented dying, an ever-deferred death. Finally, the alertness and activity of our mind are also a continuously postponed boredom. Every breath we draw wards off the death that constantly impinges on us. In this way, we struggle with it every second, and again at longer intervals through every meal we eat, every sleep we take, every time we warm ourselves, and so on. Ultimately death must triumph, for by birth it has already become our lot, and it plays with its prey only for a while before swallowing it up. However, we continue our life with great interest and much solicitude as long as possible, just as we blow out a soap-bubble as long and as large as possible, although with the perfect certainty that it will burst.
- We have already seen in nature-without-knowledge her inner being as a constant striving without aim and without rest, and this stands out much more distinctly when we consider the animal or man. Willing and striving are its whole essence, and can be fully compared to an unquenchable thirst. The basis of all willing, however, is need, lack, and hence pain, and by its very nature and origin it is therefore destined to pain. If, on the other hand, it lacks objects of willing, because it is at once deprived of them again by too easy a satisfaction, a fearful emptiness and boredom come over it; in other words, its being and its existence itself become an intolerable burden for it. Hence its life swings like a pendulum to and fro between pain and boredom, and these two are in fact its ultimate constituents. This has been expressed very quaintly by saying that, after man had placed all pains and torments in hell, there was nothing left for heaven but boredom.
- The striving after existence is what occupies all living things, and keeps them in motion. When existence is assured to them, they do not know what to do with it. Therefore the second thing that sets them in motion is the effort to get rid of the burden of existence, to make it no longer felt, “to kill time,” in other words, to escape from boredom.
- The ceaseless efforts to banish suffering achieve nothing more than a change in its form. This is essentially want, lack, care for the maintenance of life. If, which is very difficult, we have succeeded in removing pain in this form, it at once appears on the scene in a thousand others, varying according to age and circumstances, such as sexual impulse, passionate love, jealousy, envy, hatred, anxiety, ambition, avarice, sickness, and so on. Finally, if it cannot find entry in any other shape, it comes in the sad, grey garment of weariness, satiety, and boredom, against which many different attempts are made. Even if we ultimately succeed in driving these away, it will hardly be done without letting pain in again in one of the previous forms, and thus starting the dance once more at the beginning; for every human life is tossed backwards and forwards between pain and boredom.
- Great sufferings render lesser ones quite incapable of being felt, and conversely, in the absence of great sufferings even the smallest vexations and annoyances torment us, and put us in a bad mood.
- It is true that we often see our pain result only from a definite external relation, and that we are visibly oppressed and saddened merely by this. We then believe that, if only this were removed, the greatest contentment would necessarily ensue. But this is a delusion. The measure of our pain and our well-being is, on the whole, subjectively determined for each point of time according to our hypothesis; and in reference to this, that external motive for sadness is only what a blister is for the body, to which are drawn all the bad humours that would otherwise be spread throughout it. The pain to be found in our nature for this period of time, which therefore cannot be shaken off, would be distributed at a hundred points were it not for that definite external cause of our suffering. It would appear in the form of a hundred little annoyances and worries over things we now entirely overlook, because our capacity for pain is already filled up by that principal evil that has concentrated at a point all the suffering otherwise dispersed. In keeping with this is also the observation that, if a great and pressing care is finally lifted from our breast by a fortunate issue, another immediately takes its place. The whole material of this already existed previously, yet it could not enter consciousness as care, because the consciousness had no capacity left for it. This material for care, therefore, remained merely as a dark and unobserved misty form on the extreme horizon of consciousness. But now, as there is room, this ready material at once comes forward and occupies the throne of the reigning care of the day (πρυτανεύoυσα). If so far as its matter is concerned it is very much lighter than the material of the care that has vanished, it knows how to blow itself out, so that it apparently equals it in size, and thus, as the chief care of the day, completely fills the throne.
- In art, especially in poetry, that true mirror of the real nature of the world and of life, we also find evidence of the fact that all happiness is only of a negative, not a positive nature, and that for this reason it cannot be lasting satisfaction and gratification, but always delivers us only from a pain or want that must be followed either by a new pain or by languor, empty longing, and boredom. Every epic or dramatic poem can always present to us only a strife, an effort, and a struggle for happiness, never enduring and complete happiness itself. It conducts its heroes to their goal through a thousand difficulties and dangers; as soon as the goal is reached, it quickly lets the curtain fall. For there would be nothing left for it but to show that the glittering goal, in which the hero imagined he could find happiness, had merely mocked him, and that he was no better after its attainment than before. Since a genuine, lasting happiness is not possible, it cannot be a subject of art.
- Every time a man is begotten and born the clock of human life is wound up anew, to repeat once more its same old tune that has already been played innumerable times, movement by movement and measure by measure, with insignificant variations. Every individual, every human apparition and its course of life, is only one more short dream of the endless spirit of nature, of the persistent will-to-live, is only one more fleeting form, playfully sketched by it on its infinite page, space and time; it is allowed to exist for a short while that is infinitesimal compared with these, and is then effaced, to make new room.
- If, finally, we were to bring to the sight of everyone the terrible sufferings and afflictions to which his life is constantly exposed, he would be seized with horror. If we were to conduct the most hardened and callous optimist through hospitals, infirmaries, operating theatres, through prisons, torture-chambers, and slave-hovels, over battlefields and to places of execution; if we were to open to him all the dark abodes of misery, where it shuns the gaze of cold curiosity, and finally were to allow him to glance into the dungeon of Ugolino where prisoners starved to death, he too would certainly see in the end what kind of a world is this meilleur des mondes possibles.
- For whence did Dante get the material for his hell, if not from this actual world of ours? And indeed he made a downright hell of it. On the other hand, when he came to the task of describing heaven and its delights, he had an insuperable difficulty before him, just because our world affords absolutely no materials for anything of the kind.
- Optimism, where it is not merely the thoughtless talk of those who harbour nothing but words under their shallow foreheads, seems to me to be not merely an absurd, but also a really wicked, way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of mankind.
- That exceedingly strong tendency of all animals and human beings to maintain life and continue it as long as possible . . . is by no means the result of any objective knowledge of the value of life, but is independent of all knowledge; or, in other words, that those beings exhibit themselves not as drawn from the front, but as driven from behind.
- The life of most insects is nothing but a restless labour for preparing nourishment and dwelling for the future offspring that will come from their eggs. After the offspring have consumed the nourishment and have turned into the chrysalis stage, they enter into life merely to begin the same task again from the beginning. We then reflect how, in a similar manner, the life of birds is taken up with their distant and wearisome migration, then with the building of the nest and the procuring of food for the offspring, and how these themselves have to play the same role in the following year; and thus all work constantly for the future that afterwards becomes bankrupt. If we consider the foregoing, we cannot help looking round for the reward of all this skill and exertion, for the end or aim which the animals have before their eyes, and to which they aspire so restlessly; in short, we cannot help asking what comes of all this, and what is attained by animal existence that demands such immense preparations. And there is nothing to show but the satisfaction of hunger and sexual passion, and in any case a little momentary gratification, such as falls to the lot of every individual animal, now and then, between its endless needs and exertions. If we put the two together, the inexpressible ingenuity of the preparations, the untold abundance of the means, and the inadequacy of what is thus aimed at and attained, we are driven to the view that life is a business whose returns are far from covering the cost.
- Junghuhn relates that in Java he saw an immense field entirely covered with skeletons, and took it to be a battle-field. However, they were nothing but skeletons of large turtles five feet long, three feet broad, and of equal height. These turtles come this way from the sea, in order to lay their eggs, and are then seized by wild dogs (Canis rutilans); with their united strength, these dogs lay them on their backs, tear open their lower armour, the small scales of the belly, and devour them alive. But then a tiger often pounces on the dogs. Now all this misery is repeated thousands and thousands of times, year in year out. For this, then, are these turtles born. For what offence must they suffer this agony? What is the point of this whole scene of horror? The only answer is that the will-to-live thus objectifies itself.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, trans. E. F. J. Payne, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 2 (1966), CHAPTER XXVIII - Characterization of the Will-to-Live ISBN 9780486217628
- The passage cited by Schopenhauer can be found in Brehms thierleben, allgemeine Kunde des thierreichs, 1886, pp. 523-524.
- Let us now add a consideration of the human race. . . . Here too life by no means presents itself as a gift to be enjoyed, but as a task, a drudgery, to be worked through. According to this we see, on a large scale as well as on a small, universal need, restless exertion, constant pressure, endless strife, forced activity, with extreme exertion of all bodily and mental powers. Many millions, united into nations, strive for the common good, each individual for his own sake; but many thousands fall a sacrifice to it. Now senseless delusion, now intriguing politics, incite them to wars with one another; then the sweat and blood of the great multitude must flow, to carry through the ideas of individuals, or to atone for their shortcomings. In peace industry and trade are active, inventions work miracles, seas are navigated, delicacies are collected from all the ends of the earth, the waves engulf thousands. All push and drive, some plotting and planning, others acting; the tumult is indescribable. But what is the ultimate aim of it all? To sustain ephemeral and harassed individuals through a short span of time, in the most fortunate case with endurable want and comparative painlessness, yet boredom is at once on the lookout for this; then the propagation of this race and of its activities. With this evident want of proportion between the effort and the reward, the will-to-live, taken objectively, appears to us from this point of view as a fool, or taken subjectively, as a delusion. Seized by this, every living thing works with the utmost exertion of its strength for something that has no value. But on closer consideration, we shall find here also that it is rather a blind urge, an impulse wholly without ground and motive.
- To the hope of immortality of the soul there is always added that of a “better world”; an indication that the present world is not worth much.
- We know, of course, of no higher gamble than that for life and death. We watch with the utmost attention, interest, and fear every decision concerning them; for in our view all in all is at stake. On the other hand, nature, which never lies, but is always frank and sincere, speaks quite differently on this theme, as Krishna does in the Bhagavadgita. Her statement is that the life or death of the individual is of absolutely no consequence. She expresses this by abandoning the life of every animal, and even of man, to the most insignificant accidents without coming to the rescue. Consider the insect on your path; a slight unconscious turning of your foot is decisive as to its life or death. Look at the wood-snail that has no means of flight, of defence, of practising deception, of concealment, a ready prey to all. Look at the fish carelessly playing in the still open net; at the frog prevented by its laziness from the flight that could save it; at the bird unaware of the falcon soaring above it; at the sheep eyed and examined from the thicket by the wolf. Endowed with little caution, all these go about guilelessly among the dangers which at every moment threaten their existence. Now, since nature abandons without reserve her organisms constructed with such inexpressible skill, not only to the predatory instinct of the stronger, but also to the blindest chance, the whim of every fool, and the mischievousness of every child, she expresses that the annihilation of these individuals is a matter of indifference to her, does her no harm, is of no significance at all, and that in these cases the effect is of no more consequence than is the cause. Nature states this very clearly, and she never lies; only she does not comment on her utterances, but rather expresses them in the laconic style of the oracle. Now if the universal mother carelessly sends forth her children without protection to a thousand threatening dangers, this can be only because she knows that, when they fall, they fall back into her womb, where they are safe and secure; therefore their fall is only a jest. With man she does not act otherwise than she does with the animals; hence her declaration extends also to him; the life or death of the individual is a matter of indifference to her. Consequently, they should be, in a certain sense, a matter of indifference to us; for in fact, we ourselves are nature. If only we saw deeply enough, we should certainly agree with nature, and regard life or death as indifferently as does she. Meanwhile, by means of reflection, we must attribute nature’s careless and indifferent attitude concerning the life of individuals to the fact that the destruction of such a phenomenon does not in the least disturb its true and real inner being.
- With its misfortunes, small, greater, and great, occurring hourly, daily, weekly, and yearly; with its deluded hopes and accidents bringing all calculations to nought, life bears so clearly the stamp of something which ought to disgust us, that it is difficult to conceive how anyone could fail to recognize this, and be persuaded that life is here to be thankfully enjoyed, and that man exists in order to be happy. On the contrary, that continual deception and disillusionment, as well as the general nature of life, present themselves as intended and calculated to awaken the conviction that nothing whatever is worth our exertions, our efforts, and our struggles, that all good things are empty and fleeting, that the world on all sides is bankrupt, and that life is a business that does not cover the costs; so that our will may turn away from it.
- Thus old age and death, to which every life necessarily hurries, are a sentence of condemnation on the will-to-live which comes from the hands of nature herself. It states that this will is a striving that is bound to frustrate itself. “What you have willed,” it says, “ends thus: will something better.” Therefore the instruction afforded to everyone by his life consists on the whole in the fact that the objects of his desires constantly delude, totter, and fall; that in consequence they bring more misery than joy, until at last even the whole foundation on which they all stand collapses, since his life itself is destroyed. Thus he obtains the final confirmation that all his striving and willing was a perversity, a path of error.
- We feel pain, but not painlessness; care, but not freedom from care; fear, but not safety and security. We feel the desire as we feel hunger and thirst; but as soon as it has been satisfied, it is like the mouthful of food which has been taken, and which ceases to exist for our feelings the moment it is swallowed. We painfully feel the loss of pleasures and enjoyments, as soon as they fail to appear; but when pains cease even after being present for a long time, their absence is not directly felt, but at most they are thought of intentionally by means of reflection. For only pain and want can be felt positively; and therefore they proclaim themselves; well-being, on the contrary, is merely negative. Therefore, we do not become conscious of the three greatest blessings of life as such, namely health, youth, and freedom, as long as we possess them, but only after we have lost them; for they too are negations. We notice that certain days of our life were happy only after they have made room for unhappy ones. In proportion as enjoyments and pleasures increase, susceptibility to them decreases; that to which we are accustomed is no longer felt as a pleasure. But in precisely this way is the susceptibility to suffering increased; for the cessation of that to which we are accustomed is felt painfully. Thus the measure of what is necessary increases through possession, and thereby the capacity to feel pain. The hours pass the more quickly the more pleasantly they are spent, and the more slowly the more painfully they are spent, since pain, not pleasure, is the positive thing, whose presence makes itself felt. In just the same way we become conscious of time when we are bored, not when we are amused. Both cases prove that our existence is happiest when we perceive it least; from this it follows that it would be better not to have it.
- That thousands had lived in happiness and joy would never do away with the anguish and death-agony of one individual; and just as little does my present well-being undo my previous sufferings. Therefore, were the evil in the world even a hundred times less than it is, its mere existence would still be sufficient to establish a truth that may be expressed in various ways, although always only somewhat indirectly, namely that we have not to be pleased but rather sorry about the existence of the world; that its non-existence would be preferable to its existence; that it is something which at bottom ought not to be, and so on.
- If the world and life were an end in themselves, and accordingly were to require theoretically no justification, and practically no compensation or amends, but existed, perhaps as represented by Spinoza and present-day Spinozists, as the single manifestation of a God who, animi causa, or even to mirror himself, undertook such an evolution of himself, and consequently its existence needed neither to be justified by reasons nor redeemed by results—then the sufferings and troubles of life would not indeed have to be fully compensated by the pleasures and well-being in it. For, as I have said, this is impossible, because my present pain is never abolished by future pleasures, since the latter fill up their time just as the former fills its own. On the contrary, there would have to be no sufferings at all, and of necessity there would also not be death, or else it would have no terrors for us. Only thus would life pay for itself.
- If the world were not something that, practically expressed, ought not to be, it would also not be theoretically a problem. On the contrary, its existence would either require no explanation at all, since it would be so entirely self-evident that astonishment at it and enquiry about it could not arise in any mind; or its purpose would present itself unmistakably. But instead of this it is indeed an insoluble problem, since even the most perfect philosophy will always contain an unexplained element, like an insoluble precipitate or the remainder that is always left behind by the irrational proportion of two quantities. Therefore, if anyone ventures to raise the question why there is not nothing at all rather than this world, then the world cannot be justified from itself; no ground, no final cause of its existence can be found in itself; it cannot be demonstrated that it exists for its own sake, in other words, for its own advantage.
- Life is then given out as a gift, whereas it is evident that anyone would have declined it with thanks, had he looked at it and tested it beforehand; just as Lessing admired the understanding of his son. Because this son had absolutely declined to come into the world, he had to be dragged forcibly into life by means of forceps; but hardly was he in it, when he again hurried away from it. On the other hand, it is well said that life should be, from one end to the other, only a lesson, to which, however, anyone could reply: “For this reason, I wish I had been left in the peace of the all-sufficient nothing, where I should have had no need either of lessons or of anything else.” But if it were added that one day he was to give an account of every hour of his life, he would rather be justified in first himself asking for an account as to why he was taken away from that peace and quiet and put into a position so precarious, obscure, anxious, and painful. To this, then, false fundamental views lead. Far from bearing the character of a gift, human existence has entirely the character of a contracted debt. The calling in of this debt appears in the shape of the urgent needs, tormenting desires, and endless misery brought about through that existence. As a rule, the whole lifetime is used for paying off this debt, yet in this way only the interest is cleared off. Repayment of the capital takes place through death. And when was this debt contracted? At the begetting.
- This world is the battle-ground of tormented and agonized beings who continue to exist only by each devouring the other. Therefore, every beast of prey in it is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of torturing deaths. Then in this world the capacity to feel pain increases with knowledge, and therefore reaches its highest degree in man, a degree that is the higher, the more intelligent the man. To this world the attempt has been made to adapt the system of optimism, and to demonstrate to us that it is the best of all possible worlds. The absurdity is glaring. However, an optimist tells me to open my eyes and look at the world and see how beautiful it is in the sunshine, with its mountains, valleys, rivers, plants, animals, and so on. But is the world, then, a peep-show? These things are certainly beautiful to behold, but to be them is something quite different.
- Nature flatly contradicts herself, according as she speaks from the particular or the universal, from inside or outside, from the centre or the periphery. Thus nature has her centre in every individual, for each one is the entire will-to-live. Therefore, even if this individual is only an insect or a worm, nature herself speaks out of it as follows: "I alone am all in all; in my maintenance is everything involved; the rest may perish, it is really nothing." Thus nature speaks from the particular standpoint, from that of self-consciousness, and to this is due the egoism of every living thing. On the other hand, from the universal standpoint, from that of the consciousness of other things, and thus from that of objective knowledge, for the moment looking away from the individual to whom knowledge adheres,—hence from outside, from the periphery, nature speaks thus: "The individual is nothing and less than nothing. I destroy millions of individuals every day for sport and pastime; I abandon their fate to chance, to the most capricious and wanton of my children, who harasses them at his pleasure. Every day I produce millions of new individuals without any diminution of my productive power; just as little as the power of a mirror is exhausted by the number of the sun’s images that it casts one after another on the wall. The individual is nothing."
- The pleasure in this world, it has been said, outweighs the pain; or, at any rate, there is an even balance between the two. If the reader wishes to see shortly whether this statement is true, let him compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged in eating the other.
- Human life must be some kind of mistake. The truth of this will be sufficiently obvious if we only remember that man is a compound of needs and necessities hard to satisfy; and that even when they are satisfied, all he obtains is a state of painlessness, where nothing remains to him but abandonment to boredom. This is direct proof that existence has no real value in itself; for what is boredom but the feeling of the emptiness of life? If life—the craving for which is the very essence of our being—were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing. But as it is, we take no delight in existence except when we are struggling for something; and then distance and difficulties to be overcome make our goal look as though it would satisfy us—an illusion which vanishes when we reach it; or else when we are occupied with some purely intellectual interest—when in reality we have stepped forth from life to look upon it from the outside, much after the manner of spectators at a play. And even sensual pleasure itself means nothing but a struggle and aspiration, ceasing the moment its aim is attained. Whenever we are not occupied in one of these ways, but cast upon existence itself, its vain and worthless nature is brought home to us; and this is what we mean by boredom.
- This vanity finds its expression in the whole form of existence; in the infinite nature of time and space as opposed to the finite nature of the individual in both; in the transitory and passing present moment as reality's sole mode of existence; in the dependence and relativity of all things; in constant becoming without being; in constant desire without satisfaction; in the constant interruption of efforts and aspirations which constitutes the course of life until such obstruction is overcome. Time and the fleeting nature of all things therein, and by means thereof, are merely the form wherein is revealed to the will-to-live, which as the thing-in-itself is imperishable, the vanity of that striving. Time is that by virtue whereof at every moment all things in our hands come to naught and thereby lose all true value.
- On considerations such as the foregoing, we can certainly base the theory that to enjoy the present moment and to make this the object of our life is the greatest wisdom because the present alone is real, everything else being only the play of thought. But we could just as well call it the greatest folly; for that which in the next moment no longer exists, and vanishes as completely as a dream, is never worth a serious effort.
- Our existence has no foundation to support it except the ever-fleeting and vanishing present; and so constant motion is essentially its form, without any possibility of that rest for which we are always longing. We resemble a man running down hill who would inevitably fall if he tried to stop, and who keeps on his legs only by continuing to run; or we are like a stick balanced on a finger tip; or the planet that would fall into its sun if it ceased to hurry forward irresistibly. Thus restlessness is the original form of existence.
- In such a world where there is no stability of any kind, no lasting state is possible but everything is involved in restless rotation and change, where everyone hurries along and keeps erect on a tightrope by always advancing and moving, happiness is not even conceivable. It cannot dwell where Plato's 'constant becoming and never being' is the only thing that occurs. In the first place, no one is happy, but everyone throughout his life strives for an alleged happiness that is rarely attained, and even then only to disappoint him. As a rule, everyone ultimately reaches port with masts and rigging gone; but then it is immaterial whether he was happy or unhappy in a life which consisted merely of a fleeting vanishing present and is now over and finished.
- The most perfect phenomenon of the will-to-live, which manifests itself in the exceedingly ingenious and complex mechanism of the human organism, must crumble to dust, and thus its whole essence and efforts are in the end obviously given over to annihilation. All this is the naïve utterance of nature, always true and sincere, that the whole striving of that will is essentially empty and vain. If we were something valuable in itself, something that could be unconditioned and absolute, it would not have non-existence as its goal.
- What a difference there is between our beginning and our end! The former in the frenzy of desire and the ecstasy of sensual pleasure; the latter in the destruction of all the organs and the musty odour of corpses. The path from birth to death is always downhill as regards well-being and the enjoyment of life; blissfully dreaming childhood, light-hearted youth, toilsome manhood, frail and often pitiable old age, the torture of the last illness, and finally the agony of death. Does it not look exactly as if existence were a false step whose consequences gradually become more and more obvious?
- If from contemplating the course of the world on a large scale and especially from considering the rapid succession of generations of people and their ephemeral mock-existence we turn and look at human life in detail as presented say by the comedy, then the impression this now makes is like that of a drop of water, seen through a microscope and teeming with infusoria or that of an otherwise visible little heap of cheese-mites whose strenuous activity and strife make us laugh. For, as in the narrowest space, so too in the briefest span of time, great and serious activity produces a comic effect.
- Our susceptibility to pain is wellnigh infinite; but that to pleasure has narrow limits.
- If we picture to ourselves roughly as far as we can the sum total of misery, pain, and suffering of every kind on which the sun shines in its course, we shall admit that it would have been much better if it had been just as impossible for the sun to produce the phenomenon of life on earth as on the moon, and the surface of the earth, like that of the moon, had still been in a crystalline state.
- We can also regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness. At all events even the man who has fared tolerably well, becomes more clearly aware, the longer he lives, that life on the whole is a disappointment, nay a cheat, in other words, bears the character of a great mystification or even a fraud.
- The conviction that the world and thus also man is something that really ought not to be, is calculated to fill us with forbearance towards one another; for what can we expect from beings in such a predicament? In fact from this point of view, it might occur to us that the really proper address between one man and another should be, instead of Sir, Monsieur, and so on, Leidensgefährte, socii malorum, compagnon de misères, my fellow-sufferer. However strange this may sound, it accords with the facts, puts the other man in the most correct light, and reminds us of that most necessary thing, tolerance, patience, forbearance, and love of one's neighbour, which everyone needs and each of us, therefore, owes to another.
- States of human happiness often resemble certain groups of trees which look very beautiful when seen from a distance; but, if we go up to them and walk among the trees, that beauty vanishes. We do not know where it was and are standing between trees. This is the reason why we so often envy the position of others.
- I cannot help but feel the suffering all around me, not only of humanity but of the whole of creation. I have never tried to withdraw myself from this community of suffering. It seemed to me a matter of course that we should all take our share of the burden of pain which lies upon the world.
- Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (1931)
- Why need we weep over parts of our life? the whole of it calls for tears: new miseries assail us before we have freed ourselves from the old ones. You, therefore, who allow them to trouble you to an unreasonable extent ought especially to restrain yourselves, and to muster all the powers of the human breast to combat your fears and your pains. Moreover, what forgetfulness of your own position and that of mankind is this? You were born a mortal, and you have given birth to mortals: yourself a weak and fragile body, liable to all diseases, can you have hoped to produce anything strong and lasting from such unstable materials? Your son has died: in other words he has reached that goal towards which those whom you regard as more fortunate than your offspring are still hastening: this is the point towards which move at different rates all the crowds which are squabbling in the law courts, sitting in the theatres, praying in the temples. Those whom you love and those whom you despise will both be made equal in the same ashes.
- Whithersoever he moves he straightway becomes conscious of his weakness, not being able to bear all climates, falling sick after drinking strange water, breathing an air to which he is not accustomed, or from other causes and reasons of the most trifling kind, frail, sickly, entering upon his life with weeping: yet nevertheless what a disturbance this despicable creature makes! what ideas it conceives, forgetting its lowly condition! It exercises its mind upon matters which are immortal and eternal, and arranges the affairs of its grandchildren and great-grandchildren, while death surprises it in the midst of its far-reaching schemes, and what we call old age is but the round of a very few years.
- What then, Marcia, is it that grieves you? is it that your son has died, or that he did not live long? If it be his having died, then you ought always to have grieved, for you always knew that he would die. Reflect that the dead suffer no evils, that all those stories which make us dread the nether world are mere fables, that he who dies need fear no darkness, no prison, no blazing streams of fire, no river of Lethe, no judgment seat before which he must appear, and that Death is such utter freedom that he need fear no more despots. All that is a phantasy of the poets, who have terrified us without a cause. Death is a release from and an end of all pains: beyond it our sufferings cannot extend: it restores us to the peaceful rest in which we lay before we were born. If anyone pities the dead, he ought also to pity those who have not been born. Death is neither a good nor a bad thing, for that alone which is something can be a good or a bad thing: but that which is nothing, and reduces all things to nothing, does not hand us over to either fortune, because good and bad require some material to work upon. Fortune cannot take hold of that which Nature has let go, nor can a man be unhappy if he is nothing. Your son has passed beyond the border of the country where men are forced to labour; he has reached deep and everlasting peace. He feels no fear of want, no anxiety about his riches, no stings of lust that tears the heart in guise of pleasure: he knows no envy of another's prosperity, he is not crashed by the weight of his own; even his chaste ears are not wounded by any ribaldry: he is menaced by no disaster, either to his country or to himself. He does not hang, full of anxiety, upon the issue of events, to reap even greater uncertainty as his reward: he has at last taken up a position from which nothing can dislodge him, where nothing can make him afraid.
- Nothing is so deceptive, nothing is so treacherous as human life; by Hercules, were it not given to men before they could form an opinion, no one would take it. Not to be born, therefore, is the happiest lot of all, and the nearest thing to this, I imagine, is that we should soon finish our strife here and be restored again to our former rest.
- To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd.
- Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
- O heaven! that one might read the book of fate,
And see the revolution of the times...
how chances mock,
And changes fill the cup of alteration
With divers liquors! O, if this were seen,
The happiest youth,—viewing his progress through
What perils past, what crosses to ensue,—
Would shut the book and sit him down and die.
- The flower that smiles to-day
All that we wish to stay
Tempts and then flies.
- Not to be born is the first choice,
the prize beyond any other.
But once he has seen the light,
the next best is to go back
to that dark place from which he came
as soon as possible.
In thoughtless youth
all seems well at first—
then suffering begins
and every blow strikes home:
envy, factions, war, and murder.
Troubles abound. And afterwards
comes hateful, feeble old age,
crabbed and friendless—
the evils compound.
- Sophocles, trans. Ruth Fainlight and Robert J. Littman, Oedipus at Colonus 1224–1238
- Description: Said by the chorus.
- Because I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is a catastrophe. The basic fact of existence – of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do – is a catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous ‘Our Town’ nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me – and I’ll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool. Sinkhole of hospital beds, coffins, and broken hearts. No release, no appeal, no “do-overs” to employ a favored phrase of Xandra’s, no way forward but age and loss, and no way out but death.
- Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (2013)
- But depression wasn't the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn't he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom.
- Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (2013)
- The problem of pessimism can be fixated in this way: does life stand above or below non-existence in terms of eudaimonological value, is the existence of the world preferable to its non-existence, or is the non-existence of the world preferable to its existence?
- Agnes Taubert, Pessimism and Its Opponents (1873), p. 22
- What if depression – reason’s failure to achieve self-mastery – is not the failure of reason but instead the result of reason? What if human reason works “too well,” and brings us to conclusions that are anathema to the existence of human beings? What we would have is a “cold rationalism,” shoring up the anthropocentric conceits of the philosophical endeavor, showing us an anonymous, faceless world impervious to our hopes and desires.
- Birth is metaphysical injury. Healing takes time – the span of one’s life.
- The world rolls round for ever like a mill;
It grinds out death and life and good and ill;
It has no purpose, heart or mind or will.
- What good, what use, what aim?
What compensation for the throes of birth
And death in all its frame?
What conscious life hath ever paid its cost?
From Nothingness to Nothingness — all lost!
- From a letter dated 19 October 1879, quoted by Bertram Dobell in The Laureate of Pessimism: A Sketch of the Life, and Character of James Thomson ("BV"); Author of the City of Dreadful Night (1910), p. 38
- For it may be very plausibly urged on their behalf, that it is impossible to extinguish evil until the origin thereof has been discovered and destroyed. This great river of human Time (rivers were expressly created to feed metaphors, allegories, and navigable canals) which comes flowing down thick with filth and blood from the immemorial past surely cannot be thoroughly cleansed by any purifying process applied to it here in the present for the pollution, if not in its very source (supposing it has a source), or deriving from unimaginable remotenesses of eternity indefinitely beyond its source, at any rate interfused with it countless ages back, and is perennial as the river itself. This immense poison-tree of Life, with its leaves of illusion, blossoms of delirium, apples of destruction, surely cannot be made wholesome and sweet by anything we may do to the branchlets and twigs on which, poor insects, we find ourselves crawling, or to the leaves and fruit on which we must fain feed; for the venom is drawn up in the sap by the taproots plunged in abysmal depths of the past. This toppling and sinking house wherein we dwell cannot be firmly re-established, save by re-establishing from its lowest foundation upwards.
- My life came to a standstill. I could breathe, eat, drink, and sleep, and I could not help doing these things; but there was no life, for there were no wishes the fulfillment of which I could consider reasonable. If I desired anything, I knew in advance that whether I satisfied my desire or not, nothing would come of it. Had a fairy come and offered to fulfill my desires I should not have know what to ask. If in moments of intoxication I felt something which, though not a wish, was a habit left by former wishes, in sober moments I knew this to be a delusion and that there was really nothing to wish for. I could not even wish to know the truth, for I guessed of what it consisted. The truth was that life is meaningless. I had as it were lived, lived, and walked, walked, till I had come to a precipice and saw clearly that there was nothing ahead of me but destruction. It was impossible to stop, impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death - complete annihilation.
- I could give no reasonable meaning to any single action or to my whole life. I was only surprised that I could have avoided understanding this from the very beginning - it has been so long known to all. Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? ... How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.
- There is an Eastern fable, told long ago, of a traveller overtaken on a plain by an enraged beast. Escaping from the beast he gets into a dry well, but sees at the bottom of the well a dragon that has opened its jaws to swallow him. And the unfortunate man, not daring to climb out lest he should be destroyed by the enraged beast, and not daring to leap to the bottom of the well lest he should be eaten by the dragon, seizes a twig growing in a crack in the well and clings to it. His hands are growing weaker and he feels he will soon have to resign himself to the destruction that awaits him above or below, but still he clings on. Then he sees that two mice, a black one and a white one, go regularly round and round the stem of the twig to which he is clinging and gnaw at it. And soon the twig itself will snap and he will fall into the dragon's jaws. The traveller sees this and knows that he will inevitably perish; but while still hanging he looks around, sees some drops of honey on the leaves of the twig, reaches them with his tongue and licks them. So I too clung to the twig of life, knowing that the dragon of death was inevitably awaiting me, ready to tear me to pieces; and I could not understand why I had fallen into such torment. I tried to lick the honey which formerly consoled me, but the honey no longer gave me pleasure, and the white and black mice of day and night gnawed at the branch by which I hung. I saw the dragon clearly and the honey no longer tasted sweet. I only saw the unescapable dragon and the mice, and I could not tear my gaze from them. and this is not a fable but the real unanswerable truth intelligible to all. The deception of the joys of life which formerly allayed my terror of the dragon now no longer deceived me. No matter how often I may be told, "You cannot understand the meaning of life so do not think about it, but live," I can no longer do it: I have already done it too long. I cannot now help seeing day and night going round and bringing me to death. That is all I see, for that alone is true. All else is false.
- Sakya Muni, a young, happy prince, from whom the existence of sickness, old age, and death had been hidden, went out to drive and saw a terrible old man, toothless and slobbering. The prince, from whom till then old age had been concealed, was amazed, and asked his driver what it was, and how that man had come to such a wretched and disgusting condition, and when he learnt that this was the common fate of all men, that the same thing inevitably awaited him - the young prince - he could not continue his drive, but gave orders to go home, that he might consider this fact. So he shut himself up alone and considered it. And he probably devised some consolation for himself, for he subsequently again went out to drive, feeling merry and happy. But this time he saw a sick man. He saw an emaciated, livid, trembling man with dim eyes. The prince, from whom sickness had been concealed, stopped and asked what this was. And when he learnt that this was sickness, to which all men are liable, and that he himself - a healthy and happy prince - might himself fall ill tomorrow, he again was in no mood to enjoy himself but gave orders to drive home, and again sought some solace, and probably found it, for he drove out a third time for pleasure. But this third time he saw another new sight: he saw men carrying something. 'What is that?' 'A dead man.' 'What does *dead* mean?' asked the prince. He was told that to become dead means to become like that man. The prince approached the corpse, uncovered it, and looked at it. 'What will happen to him now?' asked the prince. He was told that the corpse would be buried in the ground. 'Why?' 'Because he will certainly not return to life, and will only produce a stench and worms.' 'And is that the fate of all men? Will the same thing happen to me? Will they bury me, and shall I cause a stench and be eaten by worms?' 'Yes.' 'Home! I shall not drive out for pleasure, and never will so drive out again!' And Sakya Muni could find no consolation in life, and decided that life is the greatest of evils; and he devoted all the strength of his soul to free himself from it, and to free others; and to do this so that, even after death, life shall not be renewed any more but be completely destroyed at its very roots. So speaks all the wisdom of India.
- I found that for people of my circle there were four ways out of the terrible position in which we are all placed. The first was that of ignorance. It consists in not knowing, not understanding, that life is an evil and an absurdity. People of this sort - chiefly women, or very young or very dull people - have not yet understood that question of life which presented itself to Schopenhauer, Solomon, and Buddha. They see neither the dragon that awaits them nor the mice gnawing the shrub by which they are hanging, and they lick the drops of honey. but they lick those drops of honey only for a while: something will turn their attention to the dragon and the mice, and there will be an end to their licking. From them I had nothing to learn - one cannot cease to know what one does know.
- The second way out is epicureanism. It consists, while knowing the hopelessness of life, in making use meanwhile of the advantages one has, disregarding the dragon and the mice, and licking the honey in the best way, especially if there is much of it within reach. Solomon expresses this way out thus: "Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: and that this should accompany him in his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. "Therefore eat thy bread with joy and drink thy wine with a merry heart.... Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity...for this is thy portion in life and in thy labours which thou takest under the sun.... Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is not work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." That is the way in which the majority of people of our circle make life possible for themselves. Their circumstances furnish them with more of welfare than of hardship, and their moral dullness makes it possible for them to forget that the advantage of their position is accidental, and that not everyone can have a thousand wives and palaces like Solomon, that for everyone who has a thousand wives there are a thousand without a wife, and that for each palace there are a thousand people who have to build it in the sweat of their brows; and that the accident that has today made me a Solomon may tomorrow make me a Solomon's slave. The dullness of these people's imagination enables them to forget the things that gave Buddha no peace - the inevitability of sickness, old age, and death, which today or tomorrow will destroy all these pleasures. So think and feel the majority of people of our day and our manner of life. The fact that some of these people declare the dullness of their thoughts and imaginations to be a philosophy, which they call Positive, does not remove them, in my opinion, from the ranks of those who, to avoid seeing the question, lick the honey. I could not imitate these people; not having their dullness of imagination I could not artificially produce it in myself. I could not tear my eyes from the mice and the dragon, as no vital man can after he has once seen them.
- The third escape is that of strength and energy. It consists in destroying life, when one has understood that it is an evil and an absurdity. A few exceptionally strong and consistent people act so. Having understood the stupidity of the joke that has been played on them, and having understood that it is better to be dead than to be alive, and that it is best of all not to exist, they act accordingly and promptly end this stupid joke, since there are means: a rope round one's neck, water, a knife to stick into one's heart, or the trains on the railways; and the number of those of our circle who act in this way becomes greater and greater, and for the most part they act so at the best time of their life, when the strength of their mind is in full bloom and few habits degrading to the mind have as yet been acquired. I saw that this was the worthiest way of escape and I wished to adopt it.
- The fourth way out is that of weakness. It consists in seeing the truth of the situation and yet clinging to life, knowing in advance that nothing can come of it. People of this kind know that death is better than life, but not having the strength to act rationally - to end the deception quickly and kill themselves - they seem to wait for something. This is the escape of weakness, for if I know what is best and it is within my power, why not yield to what is best? ... I found myself in that category. So people of my class evade the terrible contradiction in four ways. Strain my attention as I would, I saw no way except those four. One way was not to understand that life is senseless, vanity, and an evil, and that it is better not to live. I could not help knowing this, and when I once knew it could not shut my eyes to it. The second way was to use life such as it is without thinking of the future. And I could not do that. I, like Sakya Muni, could not ride out hunting when I knew that old age, suffering, and death exist. My imagination was too vivid. Nor could I rejoice in the momentary accidents that for an instant threw pleasure to my lot. The third way, having understood that life is evil and stupid, was to end it by killing oneself. I understood that, but somehow still did not kill myself. The fourth way was to live like Solomon and Schopenhauer - knowing that life is a stupid joke played upon us, and still to go on living, washing oneself, dressing, dining, talking, and even writing books. This was to me repulsive and tormenting, but I remained in that position.
- "What is it all about?" Mitja (in Brothers Karamazov) felt that though his question may be absurd and senseless, yet he had to ask just that, and he had to ask it in just that way. Socrates claimed that an unexamined life is not worthy of man. And Aristotle saw Man's "proper" goal and "proper" limit in the right exercise of those faculties which are uniquely human. It is commonplace that men, unlike other living organisms, are not equipped with built-in mechanisms for automatic maintenance of their existence. Man would perish immediately if he were to respond to his environment exclusively in terms of unlearned biologically inherited forms of behaviour. In order to survive at all, the human being must discover how various things around him and in him operate. And the place he occupies in the present scheme of organic creation is the consequence of having learned how to exploit his intellectual capacities for such discoveries. Hence, more human than any other human endeavour is the attempt at a total view of Man's function— or malfunction—in the Universe, his possible place and importance in the widest conceivable cosmic scheme. In other words it is the attempt to answer, or at least articulate whatever questions are entailed in the dying groan of ontological despair: what is it all about? This may well prove biologically harmful or even fatal to Man. Intellectual honesty and Man's high spiritual demands for order and meaning, may drive Man to the deepest antipathy to life and necessitate, as one existentialist chooses to express it: "a no to this wild, banal, grotesque and loathsome carnival in the world’s graveyard."
- We are thrown into an absurdly indifferent world of sticks and stones and stars and emptiness. Our "situation" is that of a man who falls out of the Empire State Building. Any attempt at "justifying" our brief, accelerating fall, the inconceivably short interlude between our breath-taking realization of our "situation" and our inexorable total destruction, is bound to be equally ludicrous; i.e., whether we choose to say: (a) "This is actually quite comfortable as long as it lasts, let us make the best of it," or (b) "Let us at least do something useful while we can," and we start counting the windows on the building. In any event, both attitudes presuppose an ability to divert ourselves from realizing our desperate "situation," to abstract, as it were, every single moment of the “fall” out of its irreparable totality, to cut our lives up into small portions with petty, short time-span goals.
- During the Finnish-Russian War of 1939, the Finns caught a Russian spy behind their own lines. It was an obvious case. The spy confessed and was to be immediately executed. He knew that he would be shot at dawn, knew it as well as anything can be known. Therefore, he appeared stoically in court. He knew the outcome. There was not the shadow of a doubt. The court scene was a theatre, a bureaucratic performance, demanded in every community founded on the rule of law, but ridiculously superfluous in his case. And still the stage does not leave him entirely untouched. Against his own will he gradually gets involved in the proceedings. When finally the death sentence is pronounced, he collapses completely. What on earth had happened? He knew the outcome with absolute certainty. We should want to say the spy knows about his imminent death now, in a new and terrifying way. He has suddenly obtained an insight, a knowledge which penetrates him, goes through bones and marrow and violently shakes up the total personality structure into its deepest and darkest labyrinths. This difference, this change in the attitude of the accused is what according to a heart-philosophical suggestion for language, may be described as "an increased integration of the spy's knowledge of his imminent death." By the same token we should probably all answer the heart-philosopher's demand for facing up to our fate by saying: “Sure I know I am going to die! All men are mortal you know," and all that. When confronted with a questionnaire asking: Are you going to die?—we should, most likely without exceptions, all cross the box for “yes," and not for a moment consider “no," “I don't know,” or “refuse to answer.” But this question remains: Do we know about our death the way the spy knew it before or after the death sentence was pronounced. Unfortunately this "integration” (or "interiorizing," "internalization,” “empathizing”) of knowledge cannot be taught in any ordinary sense of teaching. The educator should have to resort to poetry and drama in order to break through the barrier of everyday prose, platitudinal small-talk and superficial chatter. And only if this is didactically possible shall I ever see myself as I am.
- With open, unsuspecting enthusiasm do the prelatics devote themselves to their undisputably commendable mission一to save their fellow men from such pernicious views of life that cause "ontological uncertainty" and "existential despair (frustration, vacuum)” by providing them with an impregnable metaphysical armour. The fact that a patient is classified as mentally or emotionally sick prevents the psychotherapist from enquiring into the possibility of whether, or to what extent, his patient may be cognitively right. It is perfectly possible that a person with "existential frustration," "ontological despair" or simply "sub-clinical depression" may, because of his abnormal condition, be in a better position to look through the camouflage of life that still is deceiving the "healthy" psychotherapists.
- Were (say) Frankl to attempt to cure (say) Zapffe from his "existential frustration," "ontological despair" or "metaphysic-melancholic clairvoyance," the chances are that Zapffe (rather than "cured") would be baffled by Frankl’s sophomoric philosophizing. "You may be psychologically healthier than I," Zapffe would gladly admit, "but I must insist that I am a better philosopher. A lifelong search for a meaning of life in general, and of my life in particular, has led me— reluctantly, but with cataclysmic consistency and sleepwalker’s certainty—to realize that it’s all fantasy and delusions, divinely subsidized to put us at peace with our ‘situation.’ You are certainly right that psycho-pathological explanations of my biosophical pessimism would be totally irrelevant; but I also fail to see what you can possibly accomplish with your naive, maladroit metaphysics, behind which—if you will permit me to speak your language for once—I see but the profoundest, most fundamental trauma, and that great universal repression which prevents all fatal insight into man and his ‘cosmic conditions,’ the mysterious, grotesquely absurd origin and genesis of body and mind, their inalienable interests, and their final and complete obliteration, the return of the synthesis to the absolute zero.” The biosophist is fully aware of the many marvellous metaphysics offering "peace in heart," "reconciliation with the world" and "atonement with the almighty," or the like, to anyone who is willing to join this or that suificating sect, and replace intellectually honest experience with fictitious world views. The spiritual vacuum is often so painful that if the fiction is sufficiently permanent, it does not seem to matter much if it should turn out not to be so terribly pleasant.
- Psychologists are themselves uncertain as to where the line should be drawn between “normality” and “abnormality”. Similarly controversial is mental "disorder." This does not imply that there are no obvious cases where "cure" or "treatment" is clearly suggested. If a student has difficulties in getting to the university because of fear of stepping on cracks in the pavement, this is not a problem to be taken seriously on the cognitive level; in other words, it doesn’t raise the problem: "Is it really dangerous to step on cracks in the pavement?" It is quite a different story if the student has "working inhibitions," because he has struck up against the stark problem of death and annihilation. His stomach is clawed to shreds, his breathing throttled by the anguish of nothingness, the dread of being no more. His behavior, his feelings and emotions may deviate so far from what is presently considered customary that there is no question of their abnormality, in at least one possible sense of "abnormality." But the reasons for his "deviation" may not be troubles in adjusting to narrow "social" aspects of his environment, as in the case with our first student, but caused by an unusual awakening to a clear and penetrating awareness of a vast "cosmic" environment to which there is no adjustment possible.
- To Peter Wessel Zapffe ... the only dignified exit for man is to die out, not through a messy, unsavory and unworthy suicide, but by deciding to abstain from propagating and to leave the earth deserted behind him. Not in despair, but in triumph over finally having realized “what it is all about,” and saying his final "no more.”
- Why did nature not ordain that one animal should not live by the death of another? Nature, being inconstant and taking pleasure in creating and making constantly new lives and forms, because she knows that her terrestrial materials become thereby augmented, is more ready and more swift in her creating, than time in his destruction; and so she has ordained that many animals shall be food for others. Nay, this not satisfying her desire, to the same end she frequently sends forth certain poisonous and pestilential vapours upon the vast increase and congregation of animals; and most of all upon men, who increase vastly because other animals do not feed upon them; and, the causes being removed, the effects would not follow. This earth therefore seeks to lose its life, desiring only continual reproduction; and as, by the argument you bring forward and demonstrate, like effects always follow like causes, animals are the image of the world.
- A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life. This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics; for is there anything more absurd than to wish to carry continually a burden which one can always throw down? to detest existence and yet to cling to one's existence? in brief, to caress the serpent which devours us, till he has eaten our very heart?
- If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?
- Life has so few charms!
And yet we desire it.
No more pleasure, no more power,
in the horrors of death.
A dead lion is not worth
a midge that breathes.
O unfortunate mortal!
Whether your soul is enjoying
the moment given to you,
or whether death is ending it,
both are torture.
It is better not to have been born.
- I am a puny part of the great whole.
Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
Suffer like me, and like me also die.
The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All's well, it seems, for it. But in a while
An eagle tears the vulture into shreds;
The eagle is transfixed by shaft of man;
The man, prone in the dust of battlefield,
Mingling his blood with dying fellow-men,
Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.
Thus the whole world in every member groans:
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o'er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, "All's well,"
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your mind's conceit.
- This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
This temporary blend of blood and dust
Was put together only to dissolve;
This prompt and vivid sentiment of nerve
Was made for pain, the minister of death:
Thus in my ear does nature's message run.
- At fitful moments in our pain-racked life
The hand of pleasure wipes away our tears;
But pleasure passes like a fleeting shade,
And leaves a legacy of pain and loss.
- A caliph once, when his last hour had come,
This prayer addressed to him he reverenced:
"To thee, sole and all-powerful king, I bear
What thou dost lack in thy immensity—
Evil and ignorance, distress and sin."
He might have added one thing further—hope.
- Happiness is but a dream, and only pain is real. I have thought so for eighty-four years, and I know of no better plan than to resign myself to the inevitable, and reflect that flies were born to be devoured by spiders, and man to be consumed by care.
- It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. ... It is very hard to realise that this is all just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realise that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.
- Thus, brought before the tribunal of ethics, the cosmos stands condemned. The conscience of man must revolt against the gross immorality of nature.
- George C. Williams, "Huxleys Evolution and Ethics in Sociobiological Perspective", Zygon, Vol. 23, Iss. 4 (1988)
- Once Darwin fathomed natural selection, he surely saw how deeply his ethics were at odds with the values it implies. The insidious lethality of a parasitic wasp, the cruelty of a cat playing with a mouse — these are, after all, just the tip of the iceberg. To ponder natural selection is to be staggered by the amount of suffering and death that can be the price for a single, slight advance in organic design. And it is to realize, moreover, that the purpose of this "advance" — longer, sharper canine teeth in male chimpanzees, say — is often to make other animals suffer or die more surely. Organic design thrives on pain, and pain thrives on organic design.
- But it had come to seem that there was no distinguishing between pain of the spirit and pain of the flesh. What was the difference between humiliation and a swollen prostate? Between the pangs of sorrow and pneumonia? Senility was a proper ailment of both the spirit and the flesh, and the fact that senility was an incurable disease meant that existence was an incurable disease. It was a disease unrelated to existentialist theories, the flesh itself being the disease, latent death. If the cause of decay was illness, then the fundamental cause of that, the flesh, was illness too. The essence of the flesh was decay. It had its spot in time to give evidence of destruction and decay. Why did people first become aware of that fact only as old age came on? Why, when it buzzed faintly past the ear in the brief noontide of the flesh, did they note it only to forget it? Why did the healthy young athlete, in the shower after his exertions, watching the drops of water hit his shining flesh like hail, not see that the high tide of life itself was the cruelest of ills, a dark, amber-colored lump?
- Mishima Yukio, The Decay of the Angel (1971)
- One night in long bygone times, man awoke and saw himself.
He saw that he was naked under cosmos, homeless in his own body. All things dissolved before his testing thought, wonder above wonder, horror above horror unfolded in his mind.
Then woman too awoke and said it was time to go and slay. And he fetched his bow and arrow, a fruit of the marriage of spirit and hand, and went outside beneath the stars. But as the beasts arrived at their waterholes where he expected them of habit, he felt no more the tiger’s bound in his blood, but a great psalm about the brotherhood of suffering between everything alive.
That day he did not return with prey, and when they found him by the next new moon, he was sitting dead by the waterhole.
- Man became fearful of life itself – indeed, of his very being. Life – that was for the beast to feel the play of power, it was heat and games and strife and hunger, and then at last to bow before the law of course. In the beast, suffering is self-confined, in man, it knocks holes into a fear of the world and a despair of life. Even as the child sets out on the river of life, the roars from the waterfall of death rise highly above the vale, ever closer, and tearing, tearing at its joy. Man beholds the earth, and it is breathing like a great lung; whenever it exhales, delightful life swarms from all its pores and reaches out toward the sun, but when it inhales, a moan of rupture passes through the multitude, and corpses whip the ground like bouts of hail. Not merely his own day could he see, the graveyards wrung themselves before his gaze, the laments of sunken millennia wailed against him from the ghastly decaying shapes, the earth-turned dreams of mothers. Future’s curtain unravelled itself to reveal a nightmare of endless repetition, a senseless squander of organic material. The suffering of human billions makes its entrance into him through the gateway of compassion, from all that happen arises a laughter to mock the demand for justice, his profoundest ordering principle.
- Why, then, has mankind not long ago gone extinct during great epidemics of madness? Why do only a fairly minor number of individuals perish because they fail to endure the strain of living — because cognition gives them more than they can carry? Cultural history, as well as observation of ourselves and others, allow the following answer: Most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.
- Depression, angst, a refusal to eat, and so forth, are taken without exception to be marks of a pathological condition, and are treated accordingly. In many cases, however, these phenomena are indications of a deeper, more immediate experience of what life is all about, bitter fruits of the genius of the mind or emotion, which is at the root of every antibiological tendency. It is not the soul that is ill, but its defense mechanism that either fails or is abjured because it is considered—correctly—as a betrayal of man's most potent gift.
- A central aspect of punishment by imprisonment is that most opportunities for diversion are denied the prisoner. And, there being few other means for protecting oneself against angst, prisoners are for the most part constantly on the brink of utter despair. Any measures he can find to stave off this despair are justified as an attempt to preserve life itself; for the moment he experiences his soul alone in the universe, there is nothing else to see but the categorical impossibility of existence.
- Nobody has ever managed to explain what it is they are longing after in religion, but it is quite clear what they are trying to escape from – this earthly vale of tears, one’s untenable existential situation.
- When a human being takes his life in depression, this is a natural death of spiritual causes. The modern barbarity of 'saving' the suicidal is based on a hair-raising misapprehension of the nature of existence.
- Man is a tragic animal. Not because of his smallness, but because he is too well endowed. Man has longings and spiritual demands that reality cannot fulfill. We have expectations of a just and moral world. Man requires meaning in a meaningless world.
- Life is a loan with which the borrower does but add more dust and dirt to the sum total of existence.
- Chuang Tzŭ one day saw an empty skull, bleached, but still preserving its shape. Striking it with his riding whip, he said, "Wert thou once some ambitious citizen whose inordinate yearnings brought him to this pass?—some statesman who plunged his country in ruin and perished in the fray?—some wretch who left behind him a legacy of shame?—some beggar who died in the pangs of hunger and cold? Or didst thou reach this state by the natural course of old age?" When he had finished speaking, he took the skull, and placing it under his head as a pillow, went to sleep. In the night, he dreamt that the skull appeared to him and said, "You speak well, Sir; but all you say has reference to the life of mortals, and to mortal troubles. In death there are none of these. Would you like to hear about death?" Chuang Tzŭ having replied in the affirmative, the skull began:—"In death, there is no sovereign above, and no subject below. The workings of the four seasons are unknown. Our existences are bounded only by eternity. The happiness of a king among men cannot exceed that which we enjoy." Chuang Tzŭ, however, was not convinced, and said, "Were I to prevail upon God to allow your body to be born again, and your bones and flesh to be renewed, so that you could return to your parents, to your wife, and to the friends of your youth,—would you be willing?" At this, the skull opened its eyes wide and knitted its brows and said, "How should I cast aside happiness greater than that of a king, and mingle once again in the toils and troubles of mortality?"