Friday, September 08, 2017


Crowley seems to have won the field. "Do what you will" seems to be the dominant touchstone for ethics. He meant, or at least professed to mean, that your true self would make appropriate decisions, but the simpler way (and I hope I may be forgiven for thinking it Crowley's true meaning) is to follow your impulses. We measure how strong we are by how strong our feelings and impulses are.

And in the society that resulted, the most valuable things are experiences. To see the Shire in New Zealand, or ride a hot-air balloon, or free climb El Capitan--OK, most of us aren't eager to take on the years of discipline to manage El Capitan, but watching the GoPro video is almost as good. Right?

A cruise in the Bahamas, see the pyramids of Egypt, a trip to Machu Picchu--what is on the usual bucket list? For that matter, what's on the unofficial bucket list--the things you want to experience but would be embarrassed to tell your friends?

The most valuable experiences are those that demand training and skill. The pinnacles of experience would be free-climbing K2, surfing a tsunami, sky-diving from orbit. Most settle for less. But after you've sky-dived, you will have to try to sky-dive while balancing on a skate-board, or while playing the accordion, or while trying to have sex.

Lots of people covet celebrity, which can be very decoupled from any accomplishment.

"Getting stuff" doesn't seem quite so fashionable, but I suspect that's because we're rich, we have most of the stuff we want anyhow, and we noticed that it wasn't making us happy enough. But next year's iPhone--that'll be the ultimate!

What doesn't seem to be so popular is writing a symphony or the next Moby Dick, or building cabinets that the Smithsonian displays. (Or becoming a saint, but that's never been popular) Accomplishment is harder than simple experience--is it also less popular? Accomplishment may be "what you will" but it involves a lot of grunt work or doing what other people want. And following rules--which conflicts with the "what you will" theme.

Maybe you can keep experiences longer than stuff, though dementia can steal those too, but at the end of the day you don't get to keep anything, unless you've invested with Someone in the resurrection business.

Can you tell I read Ecclesiastes recently?

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The very existence of a bucket list hints at a person who believes this is their only life - or that the second is less important, at any rate. It's a revealing phrase.

As for Crowley, his philosophy is not that different from the Germanic "will to power" or the existentialist elevation of decision as self-creation.