Monday, June 11, 2012

The Earthling Experience: Can I Get A Refund?

If you watched Star Trek TNG, you know that superhuman Q also regarded the human condition as an outrage.

Life is not what I wanted it to be.  I don't mean my life:  my life is almost perfect, given the parameters of human existence.  It's the parameters of human existence I'd like to lodge a complaint about.

I was hoping for something like The Sonny and Cher Show on LSD and meth.  What we've got is like The Biggest Loser hosted by Dr. Phil.  Dear Sirs, Can I get a refund on The Earthling Experience?

Just as a start, the physical apparatus is incredibly crude.  Not only are we absurdly fragile, needy, and physically weak, but even the most basic elements of the design frequently malfunction. 

You ever go to the physical therapist and have them haul out that fake skeleton to explain why your shoulder/back/elbow is bothering you?  I imagine your first thought is not "Gee, how could that get screwed up??"  It's more like "Wait, that's how it's supposed to work?"  I always end up leaving grateful and surprised that the rest of my body has functioned so relatively well for so long.

Then the whole pain thing is so stupid.  Are you telling me there's no way to motivate us to avoid things that would be better than this moronic yes-no system, a system that uses no thought, and that requires actual suffering?  What are we, animals? 

The pleasure idea is OK in principle, I guess.  But why is it implemented so stingily?  The hedonic treadmill ensures that even if you like something -- even if you like something AND it's good for you -- the pleasure you get from it will dwindle and fade. 

And the pleasures of life are so much paler and more fleeting than they have to be.  Evidence for this comes from first-person reports of drug users, who pretty much universally report pleasure that is way more intense and way sturdier than any sober pleasures.

Why so fucking stingy with the pleasures, Earthling Experience?

Arching over all of these is the Great Boredom Dilemma.  If you don't have what you need and want, you're dissatisfied.  But if you do have what you need and want, you're bored.  I remember as a kid being really confused by the idea of any kind of utopia.  I saw early that many of my most pleasant moments involved trying to do things and learning to do things.  But in a utopia, wouldn't you be able to do all the things you wanted to do?  Would utopia be a place in which I was trying to learn how to play the piano and frustrated by my failures?  Or would it be a place in which I could play effortlessly just as I wanted to, with no struggle at all?  Neither seemed to me particularly utopian.  The problems just seem inherent in being human.

OK, now these are my views.  And I am aware that there are people who do not share them.  They do not feel this way about human existence.  Sure, they hate pain and suffering as much as the next person.  But as long as their basic needs are being met, they find in human existence a source of contentment and happiness.  They bask in their pleasures, fret mildly about their frustrations, and don't worry about things that drive me crazy, like the ridiculous finitude of life.

These people do not want a refund on the The Earthling Experience.  Sometimes, when I'm in a difficult mood, I find myself wondering:  should I be more like these people?  To put it less contentiously, would it be better if the world were more full of people like these people and less filled with people like me?  I mean, if the earth can only support life for such-and-so many people, doesn't it make sense to ensure that the ones who arrive and the ones who are likely to have a satisfying experience?  To put it more contentiously, should there be people like me?

It's interesting to me how little philosophical attention there's been to the question of what we humans should be like (notable exception here).  I mean, there's a lot of answers to the more limited question, Given that we are human and thus have such-and-so qualities, what are the virtues we ought to foster and promote or the rules we ought to follow or the aims we ought to have or whatever.  But there are larger and more destabilizing questions lurking nearby.  What should we aim to be?  Should we even aim to be human?

I don't have a full answer, but obviously, I think there should be people like me:  people who don't have the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, and who frankly, wouldn't want such a thing; people who have complaints about the human set up; people who cannot accept the Positive Thinking Party Line. 

For one thing, maybe we're right:  maybe things suck and the rest of you are brainwashed.  For another, wouldn't earth be boring if we weren't around?

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