Most people seem to secretly believe that the purpose of life is to gather as much resources as possible in order to secure their well-being. The actions of the vast majority betray this hidden agenda, although some are more frank about this than others. In this way, the purpose of life becomes a personal one, as though the creator had charged each one of us to engage in this vicious struggle and to compete against one another for the scarce resources of our common planet. But what a loveless and pitiless God it would be that plunges us into this state of being wherein the misery of the majority is essential! It is evident that something is amiss with the common conception of Life which assumes it to be GOOD as God’s creation and made to be enjoyed. As we emerge from the bliss of childhood, our first major complaints are of the form “that’s not fair!” to which the infuriating response “well, life’s not fair” is always doled out. But, perhaps even then, in the deep corners of our immature brains, we recognised the inconsistency of this with the conventional optimistic view of life. If life’s not fair, as we are reminded every time we demand this of it, then how can we maintain a subconscious belief that it is good, rational, purposeful, and sacred?
Perhaps there is another way to look at life. If we understand “life’s not fair” to be a fundamental rule, and acknowledge that misery is the lot of each one of us, an alternate purpose to our existence can perhaps be maintained. Rather than seeing the universe from the limited point of view of our own selves, and structuring all importance therein according to this, by means of which our suffering would be perpetuated, we can choose to see it instead as a sort of temporary pit into which we have fallen, so to speak, and assign ourselves the task of getting out. Since suffering seems to be the rule rather than the exception, and since it is NOT AT ALL balanced by the joys of life, as the deluded would assert, all that remains is for us to embrace this as our lot rather than continue to struggle against it blindly repeating our motto “life is good” in the face of all the trials and tribulations of life. We can all comprehend the claim that life is not fair and most of us agree with it. Arguably, this claim alone entails the negativity of life because this unfairness automatically ensures that our desires will not always be met, in which cases we suffer. But perhaps what is not established by the claim is the extent to which life is not fair. It is not merely that some of our desires will not be met, but rather that the majority of our desires will not be met. This is so because of the scarcity of natural resources.
So, life is a trial. But this seems to presuppose again a creator who fashioned the difficulties of life with this aim in view, and to whom we are tasked to return, fallen as we are from the Garden of Eden. Maybe so, but this metaphysical speculation is not what I wish to pursue here. Rather, I wish simply to point out that our ordinary understanding of life is inadequate and even harmful to us and to others given the empirical state of affairs that we are all able to observe. The question of whether there is a God or not, on the other hand, is not something that can be determined from the mere observation of empirical reality, and so is to be put aside for the moment. This discussion concerns itself only with what is presented to us in the external world and with what we all know to be true directly from our own experience.
The fundamental mental force in human life is Habit. In its higher pitches this force is called addiction. I want to argue that it is precisely this force which traps us in the pit, locking us into this form of existence which brings only suffering. The purpose of life then is to overcome the habitual mind, in order to transcend the comfort of familiarity and to emerge from the numerous attachments which keep us clinging to this and to life in general. This is why we face so much trouble in understanding and treating our addictions, whether we label them ‘disease’ or ‘weakness of character’ or ‘moral depravity’. It is also why the most successful treatment for addiction that our society has yet to come across is that in which the religious plays a major role. The addict is asked to submit to the will of God, to surrender into the grace of God, and to pray for deliverance from the bondage of habit. However, we are wrong to suppose that addiction is only possible with drugs, and to trivialize other instances of addiction as belonging to a different, weaker, meaning of the word, and that this only becomes serious when it involves psychoactive substances. It becomes serious when it involves pleasure, which is the real common denominator of all addiction, and not substance, which is a special case of pleasures. But pleasure is surely not restricted to drugs – the greatest pleasure attainable in life is arguably the sexual, and it is clear that addiction to this is possible, and even widespread. The battle an addict wages against addiction thus becomes emblematic of the fundamental battle we all must wage in our time here on Earth, because in truth, we are all addicted to pleasure. Where we are content to source this from a wide variety of activities, the drug addict seeks just one, but at the root is our common desire for pleasure. It is this desire, nay craving, which characterises the struggle of the addict, and insofar as this craving is present in us, our struggles as well. The crucial point here is that we are all addicts, each with a drug-of-choice, some favouring ‘substances’, others preferring ‘shopping’ or ‘working’ or whatever. ‘Shopaholic’ and ‘workaholic’ are not just weak allusions to ‘alcoholic’, but rather direct references to the state of being addicted. Although shopping or working or going to the gym are not perfectly comparable to substance abuse in that the latter generates pleasure by direct action on the nervous system whereas the former generate pleasure indirectly and within the mind, the result is identical, namely pleasure. But the legality of the former and the illegality of the latter lead us to believe that there is a fundamental difference in between our relationships to these, and that while one can be justifiably called an addiction, the other is not on the same level and is better called habit or way of life. I refuse to delineate the structure of my comprehension by such arbitrariness as legislation, the laws of men and women, each of whom walks with a head full of confusion. When I observe closely the mechanism of action of my own addictions, I clearly perceive that it is on account of my habits and no more. I am USED TO doing activity X at time A and place B, and so whenever I find myself at time A and place B, my mind immediately produces the thought of doing activity X. The mere arising of the thought, coupled to the established habit, is sufficient to make the prospect of doing X an exceedingly tempting one, irrespective of the particular class of activities that X belongs to.
A difficult question which has just emerged from this: how can this habitual mind be reconciled with the novelty-seeking mind that we also undeniably possess? In other words, how can I explain the phenomenon of novelty-seeking within the paradigm of addiction I have just proposed? Later…