Wednesday, August 10, 2016

avidyā sukha

It is easier to sell a solution to people when they feel they have a problem, but in Plato's iconic allegory of the cave, it's not well-being that is being peddled, but truth.  Leaving the cave is even described as painful.  One might imagine the denizens of the cave are largely so accustomed to it, that many are actually quite happy there.

The mind is very adaptive.  Unburdened by the chemical imbalances of depression, skewing a person's baseline, people can be happy despite all sorts of damp and fetid darkness.  Is this a reason to justify staying in the cave, though?

That depends.  I've always been wary of the truth.  How much it really matters.  How attainable it really is.  How trustworthy anyone is, to claim they even know which direction it might be found.  These all seem like reasonable questions, but it's interesting that I find myself taking it so far as to forget to consider it's value at all.  Such an ambiguous abstraction as to be entirely irrelevant.

What good is it, if people are happy without it?  Who am I, or anyone else, to even claim the cave is any less true than the unmitigated sky?  If an ant happily believes that his pile of sand is the most important work in the universe, is there any value inherent to believing him wrong?  If another ant wanders lost and confused in its search for something more, can we really defend that as the wiser path?   Just for being closer to some concept of truth?  A truth that taken in any direction, seems further from someone else's truth?

If that someone else's truth clearly undermines well-being, this suddenly becomes a much easier question.  If that person's truth justifies the infliction of suffering on others, we might not care about the philosophical relativism of defending their way as being no less objectively true.  If someone only immiserates themselves, we might let it go.  Or we might try to sell them on our version of the truth instead.  We might even sell them on things we believe to be patently untrue.

It is difficult to make the case that well-being should ever really come second.  That facing the reality of what we're dealing with seems at times self-evident, and yet the interplay between reason and well-being is interesting, one alternately obscuring the other, as I consider their relative value.

How can we honestly expect to deal any better, with much of anything life throws at us, if we're in denial, mired in delusion, ignorant of the very walls that entomb us?  Fair enough, but anyone dealing even worse, with whatever they're dealing with, is going to find it difficult to make much of a case for having found a better way.  We might assume the happier person is choosing the wiser path to have attained their happiness.  It's easy to forget, difficult to compare, and impossible to quantify, the vastly different places from which we all start.


Anonymous said...

Pondering which ant is closer to the truth is like pondering which one of it's arms is more a part of an octopus.

Joshua Abell said...

The problem is that such a view isn't helpful for deciding which paths we should take in life. Which ant should I follow? Do we embrace all delusions, science and superstition, philosophy and propaganda, all equal components of some overarching truth? All equally appealing, in the decisions we make, as to which ideas might best guide us?

I'm about to drag myself crying and whining out of this chair to go for a run.. would I be just as truthful to myself, to believe that eating a box of donuts would make me feel better, instead? There is truth to anything we do.. but that doesn't mean it's all an equally good idea.