Schopenhauer tell us that, ‘every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.’
Imagine then the problem that stares each human in the face. Objectively viewed the individual has no meaning, no value for the Cosmos. It existed for an infinity without him and will continue when he dies.
Each human must fool himself into believing his existence is essential. The best illustration of this falsehood comes in attending a funeral. If it is someone close to us we feel that the world should stop, that there can be nothing outside the funeral home. But when we open the doors and the sunshine pours in we hear laughter, children playing, see couples kissing and cars speeding past. Nothing has changed except that the person we knew is now dead.
It is the conscious mind that drives the person on. This mind is best described as the ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs,’ it is the liaison between the human and the outside world. It’s job is to keep the organism in the fight to procreate at all costs–and this means deceiving it. ‘You will be famous, you will be great and rich, just keep going.’
The world comes across as a kind of giant production line, constantly producing organisms all the while busy on the other side destroying them. To a being who lived an unimaginably longer period than a human this incessant birthing and annihilation would appear only as a kind of throbbing or vibration. This is represented by the sublime ancient Hindoos in the God Shiva who is both creator and destroyer.
Every young man and woman secretly believe they will achieve fame, that they will make their mark, so quickly do we fall under illusion in this world. Billions of egos contest with each other for the prize. It must follow that few attain it and that the masses must be disappointed in the quest. We can imagine that such a situation will lead to widespread fighting, for society is only a subdued war of egos, but as the Sage notes:
‘The state fits muzzles on the beasts of prey and although this does not make them any better morally it renders them as harmless as a grass-eating animal’
For what is Law except a necessary barrier against the inequities of men? Spinoza said that if all men were reasonable, laws would be superfluous.
We should not see war as something different from what goes on in ‘normal’ society every moment. To be sure it is different in degree, but not in kind. War breaks out when the basic necessities, generally easily available, fall away. There are those that say we must end war, but it can never be ended because underlying all existence is struggle. ‘Society’ is a flimsy shroud that can quickly be pulled off.
Gore Vidal stated, ‘when a friend succeeds something inside me dies.’ That’s very honest. For when someone we know achieves something we say, ‘I’m glad for you,’ but in reality it makes us reflect on our own failures. ‘There is no better way to cheer up your best friend than to tell him of your recent misfortune,’ says the genius La Rochefoucauld.
Lucretius tells us that we enjoy seeing mariners in trouble during a storm at sea while we are safe watching from the shore. It’s not because we hate those in the ship, or wish them bad, but that watching them in trouble makes our own situation seem better. Thus we find the pleasure in TV programs that show others misfortune.
In a vulgar man the ego is most pronounced. He is closest to the animal, for no animal cares for another in the wild.
‘Everything outside themselves they notice not at all or at most as a dim shadow. Thus for the ordinary, everyday man the value of life rests solely on the fact that he regards himself more highly than he does the world. The great lack of imagination from which he suffers means he is unable to feel his way into other beings and thus he participates as little as possible in their fortunes and sufferings.’