The more I learn, the more I know how much I don’t know. The academic history just over the past 2,500 years, despite the fact that likely more is lost than has been retained, is overwhelming. Studying it is like digging a hole in the sand. So often, just as things appear to become clear in a moment, the moment is gone. I started this quest, in a formal academic sense, late in life, but in reality those haunting questions and the search for understanding has always been with me. Today, that fire is burning brighter than ever.
The frustration is part of the journey, but at some point small segments will begin to crystallize. Indeed, in many respects they already have. And there is something to be said for experiencing much of life’s brutality without any prior theoretical knowledge. Many facets of my unscripted life were experienced unfiltered by any great framework by which it could be analyzed, rationalized or contextualized. It just was. From that, however, a more global perspective has both aided and confounded my post-graduate experience… a brutality of a decidedly different variety.
Core to my inquiry are answers to the questions that cannot be answered empirically. Science is of no use here; it is all about finding meaning and more often than not that meaning is elusive. It’s not just in words or language, communication is part of our everyday lives – it is part of every part of our everyday lives. Nothing happens outside of communication. That is not to say that if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to see or hear it, that it did not happen. I am not interested in such sophomoric philosophical diversions. I am, however, interested in what those diversions mean.
It speaks to a much deeper and, for me, personal quest. Purpose. And that leads to quality, for the way to determine if a thing is good or not is by determining how well it serves its purpose. And that goes for us, too. But it begs the question; before I can judge the quality of my life, first I must determine its purpose. And that is a question I never stop asking myself. For a very long time I never consciously thought about it, though it was always lingering at a subconscious level. From purpose, we get morality, we get ethics, we get beauty - very basically, the ideas of right and wrong have been largely static for the collective history of humankind. It is not a matter of perspective despite what postmodernism would tell us. There is no individual truth: right is right and wrong is wrong – always.
But in the postmodern age, we seem to be able to justify the most egregious behavior - in the name of justice, in the name of religion, in the name of democracy, in the name of nationalism, in no name whatsoever – because we are free to interpret circumstances in a very personal way. And that way is easily manipulated. Yet even the institutions that we hold to dear, that ostensibly take the moral high road in their stated ethos, do not live up to the standards they profess even when they accept a moral obligation to embody them (some even claim to have delivered or created them) – and the global brutality of just the past century is witness to that fact. And often the amoral justification is simply whether or not we can get away with it.
Too often, I’m afraid, we do.
Thankfully, another timeless truth survives: virtue is its own reward.
Author's note: I know this piece is scattered and more than a little unclear - it very much reflected my state of mind when I wrote it.