Jonathan Dodd: Thinking – Always a dangerous occupation

Jonathan Dodd returns with his Sunday column and this week he’s been thinking. Thinking about the meaning of life. And thinking about the people who think about it, and those who don’t.

Statue of the thinker

Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed

I have a view of the world that involves everyone at one time or another asking themselves what it’s all about, what they’re here for, and whether it’s all worth it. I’d be very interested in meeting any people who have never been bothered by thoughts like that. My world view does allow for tyrants and dictators and criminal psychopaths, and maybe a few Tory cabinet ministers (and cabinet ministers-in-waiting) to suffer from a lack of such thoughts.

Some people I know get very jumpy whenever this subject arises, because they’re scared about it. I can understand that, because it’s one of those classically scary things. As far as I know there are no members of any other sentient species on this planet that think about their own mortality or their actual purpose, so we’re on our own here. There may be billions of sentient species, wracked or unwracked by such self-scrutiny out there, but they may just as well not exist if we haven’t met them yet.

Maybe we haven’t understood the manner of their communications
Perhaps they do exist, and they’ve been telling us for eons all about what makes the universe tick, and how important we are in its workings, but maybe we haven’t understood the manner of their communications. Perhaps it’s there in the formation and movement of the clouds, or written in the ocean currents, or broadcast on a frequency we haven’t discovered yet.

Fields and sky

This is quite possible. After all, radio waves and electricity were always there, like America. We didn’t invent them, we noticed them, and then found ways to use them, that’s all. And that’s one thing we’re very good at. We can make use of things around us with astonishing brilliance. Perhaps that’s what we’re here for – to make things. But I’m not convinced by that idea, because we make things that are very good for us, but we’re just as busy making things that destroy us and our planet at the same time. Sometimes we’re not even aware of the side-effects at all, and sometimes we just ignore them and hope they’ll spontaneously go away.

They all fall off or get pushed off after a while
I can’t believe we’re here to invent stuff, because we have no control over this impulse. One of the things we invented was the company, or the nation, or the political party, where the inventive people get on with their jobs, but have no control over what their inventions are used for. That’s handled by people whose particular brilliance is in out-arguing and outmanoeuvring other people so they get their own way. We call them leaders, and they’re the ones who’re convinced that they know what we’re here for.

saddam hussein on tv

I’m inclined to disbelieve these leaders, because they never answer questions properly, and I believe they’re not interested. They just want to climb to the top of their particular pile, and stay there for ever. If they were truly intelligent, or right, one of them would have managed to achieve this by now, but they all fall off or get pushed off after a while, only to be replaced by a younger simulacrum.

They alone understand the absolute truth
Perhaps there are less material ways to find out what we’re here for. There have been countless religions in the history of personkind, and the only thing they all insist on is that they alone understand the absolute truth about what we’re here for. They all work really hard to convince themselves that they’re certain, and then they think they can prove it by killing anyone who disagrees with them. And this isn’t something that only happened in the past either. We have just as much religious violence taking place as there ever was, right now.

Sistine chapel by Michaelangelo

Sadly, I’m unable to take up any invitations from any of these groups, partly because they expect my total submission to their creeds, and, frankly, because I don’t believe anything they say about what’s so special about their particular brand of holiness. I’m also going to have to include in this group all those political beliefs that aspire to provide some kind of ideal life here on this planet. There’s always a huge chasm between what they start out saying they want to do, and what we end up with.

I can’t fall back on some simple formula
What I’ve been leading up to here in my usual long-winded and meandering way, is that I personally get no relief when I wonder what it’s all about, because I can’t fall back on some simple formula, as in ‘It’s all part of God’s ineffable plan’, or ‘I’m just being tested in this life, and if I do well, I’ll get harder tests in the next one’ (that one that the English football manager got so terribly wrong in an interview once). I can’t decide that ‘it’s all for the best’, because I usually start wondering what it’s all about when things are going particularly badly.

Buddhism relief

I know some people who take refuge in religion at such times. I notice they get no answers, but the warm feeling of being with people who are sure it’s all right makes them feel more comfortable, even though they can’t find anyone who actually has actual proof or evidence that this is so. You always have to believe without being given any evidence. I also know people who take refuge in substances that aren’t good for them, but which provide emotional relief through their effects. I’m talking here about the use of alcohol or pills or other substances, taken not for pleasure, but for the purpose of stilling those inner voices.

The thoughts about what we’re here for slide in under the fence
There’s a noble tradition, stretching back to the beginning of human time, of taking substances that have this effect. Sometimes this has been dominated by crime, or religions, or even used by governments, as in the Opium Wars in the 19th Century, when we, the British, forced China to import enormous amounts of opium, until they had to go to war with us to make us stop. These substances are also useful in other ways than stopping us worrying about things, of course, and further discussion of that would need another column.

Keep calm poem

I can keep to the point – just about. Sometimes I get carried away in the flow of my ideas and thoughts, but if you’re still reading this, and heaven knows I have no idea why you should, you’ll be used to it by now. Here’s my point. I think it’s very unfair of life, or whatever is organising things, to allow everyone else to shrug their shoulders and carry on whenever the thoughts about what we’re here for slide in under the fence, when I’m not.

If indeed there is a grand scheme of things
I used to think that anyone who didn’t take unnecessary risks, or get drunk, or take interesting substances, or get to go to some church and feel better by someone chanting in some weird robes, was just living a boring life. But now I don’t do any of those things any more, I’m left with the responsibility for actually having to think about these questions. And it’s not fair.

Weather system painting

Why should you (if it is indeed you) get away with not having to think about these things, when I’m stuck with them? I spend an inordinate amount of time pondering whether there’s a plan or not, whether there are indeed multiple lives, whether there is justice, so those who misbehave do really get punished by some celestial being with a powerful eyeglass, eventually, or not. I find myself behaving well (sometimes), and not wanting anyone to know, and I feel good about myself then, and I wonder whether it’s worth it, if nobody knows. And I wonder if my feeling good is anything at all in the grand scheme of things, if indeed there is a grand scheme of things.

I wonder where this word ‘should’ comes from
I also, obviously, do things badly, or just not as well as I should, and I wonder where this word ‘should’ comes from. Who owns the other ends of all those torn pieces of paper which say ‘should’, and which come to bother us all the time, when we haven’t lived a perfect life, even though there’s no such thing, and everybody who talks about it is obviously as completely ignorant about it as I am? And I know they talk as if they really believe it, and I know they all have their doubts, and I know that they don’t really know, it’s just a giant betting ticket on the afterlife they’re clutching.

theresa may

Of course, when this mood hits me, I spin round in my own thoughts until I’m like a fly in a giant spider’s web. Thank goodness there are no divine spiders, or I’d have been long gone. But I always end up with the one thing I know, which has nothing to do with history, or genetics, or religion, or philosophy (Don’t know much about Philosophy…), or any other ‘thing’ that’s out there. There’s that thing that happens inside me, that becomes my truth.

Nothing to do with anything I’ve learned, or anything I believe
When I do good, I know when it’s good, in the same way that I know when the air I breathe is pure, or the view I’m looking at is beautiful, it has nothing to do with anything I’ve learned, or anything I believe. It exists as a form of truth, somewhere in the core of my being. When it’s good, I’m adding to the sum total of human happiness, and that feels right too. I have the corollary feelings about wrong, or not good enough. I think that we all have this very thing inside us, and we know when we fudge, or do the wrong thing, and any amount of excuses or justifications won’t ever take that away.

plan a t-shirt

I wish we had a light on the top of our heads, which lights up, green or red, or whatever colours you prefer, to show how we feel about ourselves, and how we feel about what sort of life we’re leading, because that would make the world a better and easier place to live in and to look after. I wish we could learn to recognise this, and use it as our own personal resource and compass, instead of falling back on the lazy old so-called certainties provided by other imperfect prophets, who want to do our thinking for us, or who we pay to do our thinking for us.

Right_brain illustration

But then, if God had meant us to think about things, He wouldn’t have given us television.

If you have been, thank you for reading this.

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Opinion Piece

Sunday, 26th November, 2017 10:01am



Filed under: Island-wide, Isle of Wight Opinion Pieces

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