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Old 03-19-2009, 06:21 PM   #55
Richard the Lionheart
Krenzel/Owen Wilson 2008
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This is an interesting conversation. I'd like to jump in to make a few points as well...

First of all, I don't like this idea of boiling down everything to people attempting to "attain happiness" in the highest degree, or whatever you want to call it. When you look at the lives of the true geniuses our world has produced, it seems almost perverse to say a search for happiness (or contentment, or pleasure...) is what drove them. Unquestionably it was something deeper and more mysterious than that.

Not only is there a dangerous connection between genius and mental instability (often, what non-geniuses like to call genius, but that's a digression), but there is even more clearly a connection between genius and profound, deep melancholly and despair. That's pretty much the opposite of happiness or pleasure. You take someone like Fitzgerald, who I wouldn't consider a genius, but he produced a classic novel, who said something to the effect of "When you're writing you're not living" and then you look at the complete dissolution of his later life, and you can't say he was driven in his work by happiness...take Hemmingway, Woolf, almost all of the great artists in any field share this melancholly. It's hard to say whether the pain is the cause of the art, or their singular pursuit of their art caused the pain, but in any event they don't exactly seem to go hand in hand.

Here's Stefan Zweig's description of Nietzsche and his surroundings I found in Walter Kauffman's Foreward to Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra: "And up again into the small, narrow, modest, coldly furnished chambre garnie, where innumerable notes, pages, writings, and proofs are piled up on the table, but no flower, no decoration, scarcely a book and rarely a letter. Back in a corner, a heavy and graceless wooden trunk, his only possession, with the two shirts and the other worn suit. Otherwise only books and manuscripts, and on a tray innumerable bottles and jars and potions: against the migraines, which often render him all but senseless for hours, against the stomach cramps, against spasmodic vomiting, against the slothful intestines, and above all the dreadful sedatives against his insomnia, chloral hydrate and Veronal. A frightful arsenal of poisons and drugs, yet the only helpers in the empty silence of this strange room in which he never rests except in brief and artificially conquered sleep. Wrapped in his overcoat and woolen scarf (for the wretched stove smokes only and does not give warmth), his figners freezing, his double glasses pressed close to the paper, his hurried hand writes for hours--words the dim eyes can hardly decipher. For hours he sits like this and writes until his eyes burn." Does he sound happy to you?

Whatever drives the genius, it is not simple happiness or anything like it. Of course, there is a reason for their action, and they couldn't live without doing it, but there are easier paths to contentment and personal satisfaction. Some few men are driven down a different path. To compare their pursuit to that of the man who drinks some beers and goes fishing is like compairing writing a symphony to masturbating. As J.S. Mill said, it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; and you cannot doubt that the truly dedicated pursuit of truth or beauty brings, at the very least, as much pain as it does happiness, and it's cheap to compare it to the pursuit of the baser pleasures.

If you want to deny the existence of a higher power outside of human existence (which I get the impression most of you would want to do), it seems the only way of determining which life is more valuable than another is through your own subjective opinion. There is no agent outside both lives and no standard to compare them, so you're only left with the question: which life would you rather have? Personally, between the choice of the man who dedicates himself to one academic field and throws himself into it, shutting out all other life, and the man who goes fishing, drinks a beer, and doesn't think too hard, I'd take the former, but I would rather live in a different way than either of those men.
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows...

Last edited by Richard the Lionheart; 03-19-2009 at 06:57 PM.
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