“The unexamined life is not worth living”, said Socrates, the most influential thinker of the fifth century BC, whose dedication to careful reasoning changed all of philosophical thinking. He sought genuine knowledge. His willingness to examine everything minutely and his determination to accept nothing less than a reasoned account of the nature of things make him the father of critical philosophy. I bet the neighbors thought he was a real pain in the ass.
Somebody did, because they put him on trial, for his LIFE. At his trial in 399BC, Socrates declared before the citizens of Athens that from his incessant questioning, he found that average citizens -- the average Joe, or in Greek, the average Ἰωσήφ -- spends his life pursuing various goals -- money, ambition, pleasure, and physical security -- without asking himself if these were important. And unless they raised such questions and seriously sought the answers -- through careful reflection, alert observation and critical arguments -- they would not know if they were doing the right thing, living the correct life.
They might be wasting their energy, time and money in useless or even dangerous pursuits. No shit, Sherlock...ur, Socrates!.
Socrates never paid a cable bill. Or cooked a gyro, or ironed his toga-thingie. Or took the kids to soccer practice, or hailed a cab in the pouring rain. Can't imagine why he looked...uh..."dead tired". Oh yeah, the hemlock deal. Well anyway...
Does our existence today allow for an examined life?
Religion does not encourage its adherents to examine their lives, at least not in the Socratic sense of questioning everything. Rather, we are remonstrated to examine our actions, to bring them into line with the religion's teachings, to follow some form of golden rule -- every religion has some form of it – and to live without lust and greed and all the other gritty faults that we actually exhibit – at least on every day but “the Sabbath”, whichever day we keep holy (if any). We are not, as a society, or as adherents of a particular belief system, enjoined to examine our beliefs. Many...most religions do not encourage questioning.
So if our religion does not require it, why not just do it because we should? Challenge our own intellect and examine our beliefs?
We are just too damned busy.
Well, here's the kicker. Now, now that I am in the throes of a life change, purportedly a change that will allow rest and reflection, the long slow stroll into the golden years if you will, can I, will I, do I even want to examine all that?
I read a paragraph on a blog (www.Bystander.homestead.com) by a Francis Chin. He said, “I would like to pause, linger and take a look at life's autumn foliage, before I move on..." (whatever that means, I sure don't like the sound of that "moving-on" crap).
It sounds romantic, in a non-sensual way. To sit in dappled sunshine, examining the color bursting from nature’s palette. To be like the Eloi in H. G. Well’s Time Machine: living an idyllic life of freedom from want, enjoying love and sharing joyful, if somewhat hippie-like, interactions…until the Morlocks below needed some more raw meat.
Do I really want to linger in the shade of the withering foliage, to examine and re-evaluate my own belief system? Is it even possible? Sure, there are those who experience the apotheosis of reinvigorated spirituality, who find themselves drawn into the frenetic tarantella of renewed vigor, fired by a new belief, a new intellectual hobby – for God’s sake – literally for God’s sake – often in hope of “making it right” on the way out the celestial door.
In our teens, we don’t have the wisdom. In our twenties, we don’t have the perspective. The thirties are out, because we don’t have the time. Our Forties are out because the consuming needs of a career keep us occupied, fifties because accumulation of wealth – the nest egg -- is the focus. So that leaves the sixties – of which I am smack in the middle -- but we’re all so damned tired of running, jumping, thinking, plotting, planning, kowtowing, and all, that it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.
I think I'll just examine a double martini with lunch, that’s what.
Tomorrow: "Prayer Flags..."