9.30.2009

Life.

Sometimes I like to imagine that the way I choose to live my life, the counter-culture, interested in things like art and philosophy and nature and trying to to sincere in what and why I do things. Trying to do things for the 'right' reasons, rather than because of societal expectations. All of these things and others that go along with them. Sometimes I imagine that this sort of living is somehow better than others. That in some real, objective way it matters if people live this way, or if people live their more ordinary lives of suburbs, television, celebrity culture, chain stores, cliched speaking and catch phrases. That their way of living is somehow a lesser than mine.

But in reality, I imagine it is probably just a matter of taste. And that these tastes are based on our disposition. Because our tastes and dispositions lean a certain way, we then develop reasons to justify and explain why these ways are better or more 'meaningful'.
But when it comes down to it, it seems more of an aesthetic choice. Something entirely subjective. Even seemingly noble traits like sincerity or fortitude are just aesthetic preferences. And if they are just aesthetic preferences it would mean that for me to feel as if me and my friends or people who are like me are superior for being holding these particular interests is no different than feeling that same way because someone doesn't like a certain song I like. Or a certain food I like.

Ultimately, isn't that what rules so much of our lives? Taste? Suppose we could be happy, completely totally fulfilled happy if we took a drug and sat alone in an empty room for the rest of our lives. Most people don't like the idea of that and I suppose I don't either. But what if the end results could be the same, what would be the difference between that and achieving complete totally fulfilled happiness through having lived a fulfilling life with hard work and family? The difference is merely aesthetic. Of course, on a practical level, at this point in time, we do need certain behaviors to achieve certain mental states. But what if we didn't? If something seems like it took hard work to achieve, we admire the results, but if those same results were achieved through fortune or laziness, then we don't. I imagine that we admire hard work because we evolved in an environment where hard work was necessary for survival. People who were lazy would have made our lives more difficult, brought the tribe down and us in the process. Because of this, we would have evolved a negative feeling towards that type of behavior so as not to reward it. And this feeling manifests itself as an aesthetic preference, which becomes a value.

I guess what I am trying to say is that more and more I am coming to realize that much of what I value, while it may have some practical value, is largely based on an emotional pull in the same way aesthetic or food preferences are. And it is the rational explanations which comes later. In many ways, the overall idea of the life I would like to live and the person I would like to be is mostly just based on an aesthetic preference rather than something objective. It can sometimes be a disheartening thought to feel like the primary driving force of my and our lives is nothing more than aesthetic taste. For some reason, I like the idea of their being some way to live that is objectively better than others. Probably because of my Mormon upbringing I am conditioned with a desire for their to be an ideal way to live that is based on some objective measure. Which isn't to say their are not things which will not improve the quality of our lives and things that will not. But as I talked about above, an optimum state of well-being is not something people value above all else. If that were the case, people would feel no discomfort with the idea of us all taking a pill which would make us happy for the rest of our lives while sitting in a blank room alone, even if it were guaranteed to work.
I have several more thoughts on this. and more specific examples to explain the idea more clearly. Maybe I will end up writing those additional thoughts and examples. Maybe not. Hopefully I will.

9 comments:

Vincent said...

It's for posts like this that I come here, Chris; well especially posts like this. & funnily enough came to the computer this early morning with the intention of writing something if not similar at least overlapping your thoughts.

But for now I want to raise a kind of associated idea (whether or not the connection seems obvious).

That mostly it is hard to consider such things because there's a gulf between our self-image of what we think and how we actually think as demonstrated in our behaviour over time.

So it is possible for an intellectual (such as you or I) to write an essay in which we see differences in the way people live as the result of aesthetic preferences. We gain a certain satisfaction from it because we have reduced life to a manageable model that fits in our heads - even if only temporary - because of course we don't spend our entire day noting people's (let alone our own) aesthetic preferences. So in practical terms we immediately abandon our own philosophies, as the day's needs progress.

However, whenever we ask ourselves or are asked by others what principles we live by, we can as it were "wheel in" our favoured philosophy, which spends most of its life in a cupboard gathering dust, and convince ourselves and the others this this is the principle we live by.

I believe this is the case with everything we identify ourselves with, including religion, politics and loyalty to our profession, the product we are selling and so forth.

Behind the masks of what we think we think lies an uncharted mystery, extending to infinity, of our actual experience.

You've given me plenty to think about while I stare at the wall in an empty room and I look forward to more!

Chris Almond said...

Thank you vincent, glad you liked it. and I appreciate your thoughts in return.

Marissa N. Paolacci said...

this is because i won't eat lettuce

Cooliosaurus said...

I think it's asthetic if you're consiously thinking about it or choosing how you want to be. But the word doesn't really work if you're not consiously evaluating yourself and instead just living how you like. I also think either way of living is perfectly fine.

Chris Almond said...

Cooliosaurs, I'm not sure I'm following what you are trying to say. It seems that not consciously evaluating yourself and just living how you like would also be based on aesthetic preferences, I would say even more so than if it were a conscious evaluation. With art, for example, most often we are drawn to certain pieces not through a conscious evaluation of the piece, but because of our aesthetic preferences operating below our consciousness, which evoke positive emotions within us.
Consider a person who might feel repulsion towards the idea of eating a dog but not a cow, or a brother and sister having sex even if the female had no chance of ever becoming pregnant. The revulsion a person may feel towards these ideas likely would not have a conscious, rational basis, but would be more along the lines of an aesthetic aversion.

Cooliosaurus said...

I could just be using the word wrong but I've always thought "aesthetic" implied some sort of artistic critique

Chris Almond said...

It can be used in that sense, but it can also be used much more broadly to relate to beauty in general. My computer's dictionary gives this definition: 'concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty'.

And one of the definitions of beauty is: 'a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense.'

Chris Almond said...

since the moral sense is often not based on conscious reasoning and being pleasing to the moral sense can be considered beautiful, and aesthetic refers to appreciation of beauty then aesthetic appreciation need not be based on conscious deliberation.

Vincent said...

Read Kierkegaard for example, who distinguishes the aesthetic man - who does things because they appeal to him - from the religious man, who does things because he's conscious of what God wants. (Due to the influence of his guilt-ridden father, Kierkegaard considers the religious man to be a higher breed in terms of moral evolution, from which judgement I beg to differ; but that's not the point here. I'm just trying to indicate the breadth of meaning that aesthetic embraces.)