Why Everyone is Sad yet Nobody Angry

Have you noticed that, by and large, few people get angry today? That few stand up for themselves and lash out? Get irritated? Yes. Ornery? Sure. Persnickety? No doubt. But blood boiling? No.

Have you also noticed how most people get–and are–really sad? They have the blues, they’re in a foul mood, they’re down in the dumps, they’re melancholic, they’re lying in bed, they’re feeling dreary, their outlook is bleak, they act like a wet noodle.

My question is: how come anger as a public expression (outrage, most notably) is mostly gone and how come sadness runs rampant?

I have no short answer to this question, but I believe that the difference between a cheerful, tough outlook and the dreary, downtrodden outlook holds the key.

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A review of Chapter One of Sam Harris, Waking Up: Preliminary questions

I recently read Chapter One of Sam Harris’s forthcoming book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion and found myself thinking, ‘This may not end up being an excellent book, but for all that it is an important and prescient one.’ (You can read Chapter One here on his website.)

Harris’s principal question, which goes unstated though is everywhere assumed, is as follows: how is it possible to experience a form of non-ordinary consciousness that is (a) ‘north’ of ordinary consciousness, (b) consistent with our best scientific understanding, and yet is (c) ‘south’ of religious doctrine and dogma? This seems to me one of the most pressing and vexing questions of our time. This is why I called the book important and prescient.

Based solely on what I’ve read so far, I believe there are three sub-questions that I’m not sure he can suitably answer:

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The good life and sustaining life: Early reflections on my fall course at Kaos Pilots

With special reference to the neighborhood dugnad


The subject of my fall course at Kaos Pilots is the connection between the good life and sustaining (or bare) life. Logically and chronologically, the question of the good life must come before that of sustaining life. It is not the case, I shall be arguing, that human beings first seek to secure their basic needs in whatever way this is possible, and then build up an account of their reason for living. Nor is perdurance identical with flourishing. Quite the contrary, human beings must begin with some kind of a conception of the good or of the good life and then seek to secure the goods required for their survival in the light of this conception. Of particular relevance to our time is the ‘thematization’ or ‘making explicit’ of this question:  in what way do I have most reason to live and, by implication, what sort of economic models would be not only consonant with but also an enhancement of this way? I doubt that this question would have so easily fascinated so many in other ages. In the modern age, the question spellbinds us.

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Our modern moral metaphysic: My basic set of questions

In the past weeks, I have been investigating the main assumptions that underlie our modern moral metaphysic. So far, I have examined arguments 4 and 3 (in that order).

1.) Because the world is lost and fallen, it needs to be changed or ultimately saved.

2.) Because the world is broken or out-of-order, it needs to be fixed or restored.

3.) Constituted by problems, the world requires solutions.

4.) In virtue of our being inherently weak and prone to suffering, we human beings yearn to be helped.

5.) Because the human mind, like the human body, tends to be sickly and ill, it seeks healing or cures.

In my investigations of these interlocking arguments, my theses are (i) that this metaphysic is quite pervasive (that is, many people believe these things whether they know it or not), (ii) that a certain ‘style’ of ethics is born out of a certain ‘style’ of metaphysics (if human beings are like this and the world is like that, then this is how we best treat each other), and (iii) that the picture is ‘decadent’–in Nietzsche’s term of art–as well as false.

Before I begin investigating the other three arguments, I believe it is time to articulate what my most basic questions are.

1. Nietzschean. How is the modern picture tantamount to life-and-world-denying? How is it degrading of persons? How is it a sign of cultural weakness? Nietzsche calls all cultures that cannot begin in affirmation decadent.  This Nietzschean question will lead onto the Daoist question.

2. Wittgensteinian; or, Ordinary Language. First, some ways of thinking are based on category mistakes. ‘Where is my mind?’ is one such. Second, some of our concepts we are better off without since they pick out nothing actual in the world: ‘mental illness’ and ‘stress’ are concepts without actuality. Consequently, we will need to learn to stop using them and to stop thinking with them. Third, there are concepts that have ‘grown beyond’ their proper linguistic setting. The point is to bring them back home. After we no longer believe that the world is full of problems in need of creative solutions, then what are the proper uses to which (e.g.) the concept problem can be put? Where is a concept’s ‘linguistic home’?

3. Daoist. How is it possible to affirm the world when it is understood in a three-fold sense as non-being (infinity), being (totality), and beings (finitude)? That is to say, how will it be possible to affirm the world first as good as well as beautiful in respects A, B, and C but also thoroughgoingly? And how, therefore, to put oneself in tune with this properly intuited good and beautiful world? 

4. Neoplatonic or Aristotelian. Somewhere or other, I will have to find a place for the concrete particulars that we call bad. Here, I will need to give an account of how bad things emerge in their particularity, in their particular instantiation. One path to take would be that of deprivation. Neoplatonists hold that bad (or evil) is lack: it is not or, more accurately, bad: not. Bad is a withdrawal from the good. The other path is Aristotle’s. I incline Aristotelian: that whatever goes beyond the bounds of ‘proper measure’ or ‘proper force’ or ‘appropriateness’ ends up manifesting itself as e.g., greed, poverty, sorrow, ecstasy, lethargy, crime, etc.

Humans as inquisitive creatures

A few days ago, I wrote about the metaphysical-ethical picture, which claims that human beings are weak. I believe this picture is widely held today.

I believe the picture is untrue. Below, I sketch a more accurate picture of human beings as inquisitive creatures.


Metaphysical-Ethical Picture 2: Human Beings are Inquisitive Creatures

1.) Human beings are irreducibly complex. (That is, there are many things that can be said of them: that they are funny and smart and boisterous and…)

2.) Human beings are training animals.

3.) Human beings are inquisitive animals (i.e., question-bearing animals).

4.) In such a linguistic community, the words they learn would be cognates of ‘fascination’ and ‘perplexity.’  

Ethical conclusions:  

Therefore, the speaker in such a community would seek to understand his placement in the world.

Therefore, the ethical virtues he would inevitably cultivate would be many, various: plainness, modesty, honesty, simplicity, humility, courage, patience, openness…

Therefore, the basic ethical attitude he adopts would be that of disinterested interest: taking a keen interest in understanding the speaker, taking a soft yet concentrated interest in understanding the world.