“The only serious question in life is whether to kill yourself or not.” __ Albert Camus
“The only serious question in life is whether to kill yourself or not.” __ Albert Camus
Most of the questions we entertain are frivolous. It is the work of family, schools, employers, advertisers, friends, media, governments, and almost everyone else we meet . . . to keep us on a frivolous plane. But the question of whether to live this life or not — that question cuts close to the heart. Most of us avoid serious questions and their often irreversible answers.
Sometimes Killing Yourself is Not Actually Killing Yourself
It is easy to get off to a bad start in life. Maybe we were born into the wrong religion or into the wrong socioeconomic category. Perhaps we chose the wrong career way back when. Possibly our friends — and the habitual actions that keep us with those friends — are all wrong.
But even more likely, it is our moment to moment habits of thinking that are taking us down the long road of futility and ultimate emptiness. If that is the case, no wonder we fill our time with distractions and actions that only make us think we are accomplishing something.
We usually only see an “either or” choice. Either we buckle down and apply ourselves to this life, or we put an end to it. Perhaps it is necessary to step away from the life we are living, but there are more ways of putting an end to “this life” than to kill ourselves. Suicide is, in fact, just one of many approaches to ending a life. Suicide falls into the category of “running away,” but there are many ways of running away that do not involve dying.
Running away is not the best way to step out of a bad life and into a good life.
Consider a thought experiment: Imagine an infinite number of worlds almost exactly like this one — except that in some of the worlds you are happier and more fulfilled than in this one, and in some of the worlds you are unhappier and less fulfilled. Remember, the other “yous” are identical to this you genetically — they are your clones. It is only that somewhere in your mutual past, something happened to set all of you on different trajectories — some subtly different, others significantly different. The different versions of you developed different sets of habits that yielded different results.
Now this is the interesting part of the experiment — Imagine that a different version of you switched places with the current version of you. Would anything change about your life if the person making the decisions brings a different set of values and thinking habits to the choices he makes?
I suspect that when you are replaced by a less happy “you,” that he will bring along a set of dysfunctional thinking habits that would probably result in a less enjoyable life than the one you are living. And in the case that you are replaced by a more fulfilled “you,” it is likely that the new habits of thinking and choosing will result in a more enjoyable life here — at least once the changes are allowed to work themselves out in transition.
Of course it is always possible that when confronted with the mess that the current you has made of your life, the happier you would decide to kill himself. But with any resilience at all it is more likely that he would re-orient himself to the new reality, and set about improving things choice by choice.
Reality is A Little Like That
If you pay close attention, you can see your personal universe changing a fraction of a second at a time. Unfortunately most of us have spent almost all of our lives not paying close attention. By and large we have specialised in distracting ourselves in as many different ways as we can. This is unfortunate, because if there are some ways in which we want to change our lives, we will probably never master the skills to do so as long as we stay distracted.
But if we start paying attention to these fraction of a second duration changes in our universe, we may begin to find room to change little things about our lives. And over time and through practise, these small changes can add up to a new life altogether — for all practical purposes.
Suicide is a Tragic Shame
And yet, there it is for many, standing there like a rusty old stop sign every time we face a serious loss or reversal in life. It might be best to deal with it.
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. __ https://thefloatinglibrary.com/2009/04/20/suicide-the-one-truly-serious-philosophical-problem-camus/
The question may never go away completely — after all, life and the universe can seem cruel and ultimately absurd. But if we want to live, it is important that we develop a systematic and meaningful stance to the question — so that we can move on to building a better set of habits that let us solve tougher and trickier problems over time.
In fact, the difference between wanting to really live — and wanting to either die or drown in distraction — resides in those fractional spaces that connect one micro-habitual choice with the next one.
How Can We Wake Up to the Pivotal, Fractional Reality?
Learn to pay attention, and refuse to be distracted. The earlier one learns to pay attention, the finer the level of detail he can reach when building solid habits for a fulfilling life. If like most people one waits until well into adulthood before learning to pay attention, he should probably start with the breath. Breathing in, breathing out. There are many dozens of approaches to paying mindful attention to our moments of time. It is probably best to avoid the use of drugs if possible.
Some people may be unable to observe the fine-structured passage of time without drugs, and for them a supervised experience or two with one of the psychedelic drugs may be enough to convince them that worlds beyond their current habitual world do exist. Even more important, it may convince them that they can choose the world they want to live in — and give them some insights into how to reach that world.
Step Outside of Yourself
As Socrates said, the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.
If you stay curious, you are more likely to pay attention and see things that most others miss.
Actively Look for the Contrary Thing
Go out of your way to find evidence that contradicts ideas that you are attracted to.
The Brain Has Limited Space
The human brain cannot hold all human knowledge. This is a good thing, because most of what falls under the label of “human knowledge” is pure nonsense, and even what is rational is largely impractical to the individual person.
For the practical purpose of living a fulfilling life, an endless cycle of learning and unlearning is required. The most important type of learning and unlearning involves deep processing of thinking patterns or habits. Since almost all decisions are made unconsciously, our successful patterns of thought must be habitual.
First we have to continuously weed out destructive and wasteful patterns and habits of thought and unconscious decision making. Then we have to fill in with productive and fulfilling patterns and habits of thought.
If we only pay attention to our macro-scale goals and milestones of accomplishment, we are likely to miss the more subtle micro-scale changes that must be made for meaningful changes leading to genuine fulfillment. Even people “who have everything” sometimes kill themselves.
Legendary author Leo Tolstoy arrived at one crisis moment in his late forties, at the peak of his fame:
My mental condition presented itself to me in this way: my life is a stupid and spiteful joke someone has played on me. Though I did not acknowledge a “someone” who created me, yet such a presentation–that someone had played an evil and stupid joke on my by placing me in the world–was the form of expression that suggested itself most naturally to me. __ Leo Tolstoy
People of passion and intelligence can face moments like this as their lives unfold around them. If they have never confronted and dealt with the deeper questions of meaning — and if they have not instilled profound habits of fulfilling choice — some of them will not survive the crisis.
Nobody lives forever. But there is no need to die a thoroughly defeated death. We are the forerunners of the next level. We should give our descendants a reason to be proud of us.
Subtext to above article: I have long wanted to provide a profound and useful service to people who were on the verge of suicide. This would not be a Dr. Kevorkian style service, but rather an experience so life-changing that the person would feel that his old life was over — and he was now genuinely free to start a new life. This is a more profound idea than it sounds. Most people are too distracted to understand how deeply the threads of mind-habit weave, tying us to our former lives.
Two common experiences can achieve such a thing:
- Falling in love
- A deep religious conversion
Religion has been sidelined for most young people these days, and true love is under attack from all directions. Considering the laziness of modern man, we may be forced to consider the psychedelic alternative. I still prefer the “change of habit” approach, but that takes time and work.
For the record, I thought of this idea before I ever watched the original motion picture MASH.