Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Between Schopenhauer and Christianity

My view of the world is decidedly pessimistic, mostly on account of my low opinion of human nature, but I think it contrasts interestingly with two of the most pessimistic views of the world I know of: that of Schopenhauer and that of Christianity. I think I am positioned somewhere between the two: I think things are somewhat worse than what Schopenhauer describes, but substantially better than the offerings of Christianity, which represent a worst-case scenario.

For Schopenhauer, people are bad by metaphysical necessity. In fact, all of existence is. There is no hope for a future devoid of conflict and suffering, simply because this is metaphysically not possible. For me, in what may initially seem a paradox, things are worse precisely because I don't think utopia is metaphysically impossible. I don't believe people must remain corrupt; I believe merely that they will, in fact, remain corrupt. This is more unfortunate than the situation Schopenhauer presents, because I have to live with the belief that humanity will fall short of a greatness which it does not have to fall short of.

However, I don't think things are nearly as bad as Christianity sketches, because at least however far we fall short of utopia, we will not fall infinitely short of it. Christianity, by contrast, assures us of a future in which most people, though only finitely corrupt, end up condemned to a state of eternal and infinite torment—an injustice compounded by the further granting of eternal bliss (albeit in shackles) to a lesser number of equally corrupt people on the force of their sheer willingness to kneel before an insane sky-tyrant. It is difficult to think of many worldviews outside of the Abrahamic religions that are that mad or full of despair.

Of course, there is one respect in which my view of the world actually is better than either Schopenhauer's or Christianity's: death is permanent and unqualified. Materialism promises an ultimate balance in the end—not by any means the best-case scenario, but one that offers at least the consolation of not having to believe in eternal and limitless suffering.

I suppose I should also point out that my pessimism about how humanity actually will turn out, although hard-won for me, is less than mathematically certain, and I do not begrudge anyone the spirit of humanism. I would also suggest that perhaps sometimes even hopeless battles are worth fighting.


Becky said...

Some hopeless battles are worth fighting? Interesting.

Mark I. Vuletic said...

I think perhaps there are times when it is the act of resistance itself that is important, even when nothing outward will come from it. It may just be a matter of the internal effect it has on you. Consider: (1) if your only options were slavery or death, would you fight and die, or would you live your remaining days knowing that you have chosen slavery? (2) If you were attacked with overwhelming force, and someone you cared about could not be moved, would you stay to defend that person and die, or would you flee, and live your remaining days with the knowledge of how the person you cared about died alone?

Scotlyn said...

Hi Mark,
Just rediscovered your site, it was a revelation years ago when I first discovered it. Thanks.

Re the above comment, the set of options you offer - submit to being a slave vs fight and die, I think you paint the options too neatly - this is seldom how people see experience this scenario.

The third option, which many people take in this type of situation (rape vs death, etc) is submit, in body, WHEN the only other option seems to be death, but fight like hell (at the risk of death) if and when the merest chance of achieving freedom appears.

Nevertheless, I agree with the point that the act of resistance is important, often, because of the changes it makes within the resistor.