Among my older friends there is an ongoing conversation about how to live one’s life. If you saw us conversing in our tea shop you wouldn’t notice anything particularly strange about us, except that each of us is obviously quite happy. But if you sat in on our conversation, you would soon discover that our life strategies are astoundingly different. As an opening generality, T is living in the conscious now, Artie is concerned with living a philosophically self-interested ideal, and C (me) — C’s current abstract interest is in performing kind actions which will scale from self, to humanity, to the Universe.
Artie asserts that everything we do is based on self-interest, and that when I give out free aspirin tablets to people I meet, to help save them from dying from a heart attack, I am doing it because it makes me feel good. Therefore, I am doing it for my personal self-interest. My protest is that it doesn’t do me much good to potentially save some person’s life I have never previously met. But that didn’t prove anything to Artie, because he asserts I did feel good when I was doing a worthwhile thing, and therefore it was driven by self-interest.
On a universal level I do believe that all life is struggling for its personal existence, its personal self-interest; even an amoeba or a dandelion, in this view, is always struggling for self-interest. Even a soldier in war going on a certain-death mission is struggling for his group’s self-interest which he individually perceives as his own extended self-interest. Of course this is right, but it seems so fixed, so like a rock embedded in the ground claiming its voluntary right to exist exactly where it is, but when being thrown, and finding its self skipping across a water pond, to be asserting it is skipping along because of its personal self-interest. It is what it is, and it is doing exactly what it wants to be doing. Our other interlocutor, T, will comment on these ideas as simply living in the present, and we do what we do because that is what we are doing. We should take pleasure in participating in the moment, in the day, in our lives, and in the wonder of consciousness of it all. We are lucky to be more conscious of our experiences than the rock, so go with that and experience it. That reminds me of my personal quote from back in the 60s, “Time and attention is all there is.” Use them well.
Okay, I don’t really have a problem with any of those ideas, but I do have additional aspirations. Beyond my personal self-interest, that of preserving my life, my health and my generally happy existence, I also want to support my species’ DNA, that is the well-being of all mankind, now and in the future. Beyond that living interest I have an abstract interest in promoting wisdom, knowledge, and reality-bound information that will expand into the infinite Universe. Those aspirations are not in conflict with Artie or T’s ideas, but they are different and so we have plenty to talk about while sipping our tea and chewing our crumpets.
There are many pleasant paths for us to explore, but we must choose to explore them.