Erudite Primitivism

On Life

This entry will concern how our conception of death leads to specific choices made in life. Let's review our journey so far, briefly. We have looked at two general ideas about what happens when we die: either we are judged for our mortal actions and punished accordingly, or we are not. In analyzing these two ideas, we found that the idea of judgment upon death is so fraught with problems and unknowable truths that it simply cannot be the option we choose when we have a realistic alternative (Note: This could be a whole separate entry on how we can establish what we know, what we believe, what truth is, etc. which I plan to write eventually). Issues of a judgmental death include: How do I know which rules to follow? Can subjective experience exist without brain activity (the cessation of which is the definition of death)? Why should unfalsifiable statements of God and death be taken seriously, when other unfalsifiable statements are thrown out? And other, smaller issues that abound.

We have two options, one of which seems dangerously filled with errors. Is the other any better? I say yes, due to the general robustness of the claim. Simply, the idea is that when you die, you will not be judged for the actions you take on Earth. This is a statement that does not exclude much. Under this assumption, it is possible for there to be some form of Heaven/Elysium/Valhalla, but it will simply be open to all dead souls, not those who took 'good' actions during life. There could also be a hell that everyone goes to; again, as long as all dead souls go to the same place, it does not matter what that place is (Note, it matters a lot to your 'dead' self, but it not to your 'live' self, since it won't affect your choices on Earth, as there is no way to avoid it). You'll see that I've used the notion of a soul here. Importantly, we are allowed to do this because this claim of death does not necessitate the idea of a soul. Our claim of non-judgment works both if there is and is not a soul. In one case, your soul goes somewhere, perhaps to drift as a ghost. In the other case, there is no soul, and subjective experience immediately ends upon death. You simply cease to exist, much as you did before you were born. While ideas of a judgmental death need a soul component to function (the soul being something that can have a subjective experience outside your brain), claims of a non-judgmental death do not, although they do permit such an idea.

This idea of death is much more robust to fundamental knowledge than the idea of a judgmental death. Part of our problems with the judgmental death is that there are so many details you need to get exactly right if you want to be judged positively. Not only must you believe in the right God (or other deity, or simulation argument, etc.) but you also must believe in the right rules for that specific God; think about how many different sects of Christianity there are, all with differing rules. A non-judgmental death, however, allows our lack of foundational knowledge about anything to exist. Maybe there's a God, maybe there's a soul, maybe there's a set of rules, but we don't know. Whether or not we know or believe does not matter, since it simply won't affect us when we die, as, by definition, no judgment will take place.

A non-judgmental death means that there is a clean break between life and death. Previously, life and death were like going to high school and university in the same town. Your reputation follows you, and previous actions have a real effect on your experience. Now, death is like moving away from home, going to a college where no one knows you. Your previous actions don't follow you at all. A fresh start! Simply, we have no idea what death will look like for us, but we know that whatever we do on Earth won't affect our experience in the afterlife. Whether we all go to Heaven, we all go to Hell, or it just goes black for everyone, all dead people end up in the same place. What you do on Earth does not affect it.

There are two general implications of this conclusion, both of which I outline here. The first boils down to the idea that life is all there is. Life is an entirely self-contained unit of existence. It does not affect the non-existence that precedes it, and does not affect the non-existence that succeeds it. The second is that there are no rules. A better way of putting it may be that there are no knowable rules, since our discussion above does not exclude the idea of universal rules. However, the idea is the same: any rules on Earth will be created by humanity. These internal rules are all morally relative, not morally absolute. They exist as constructs of specific cultures and social structures. For things to be inherently right and wrong, they would need to come from an external, a priori set of rules, like the Ten Commandments or the Eightfold Path. So, we can say that killing is wrong according to our legal system, our social value system, and our religious systems, but we cannot say that killing is wrong without any qualifiers as to what moral system we are looking at. There are plenty more implications that follow from this idea of the lack of rules (especially when it comes to morality), but we will only focus on those implications that relate to how to lead a good life (for now).

These implications combine in powerful ways to structure how we should make decisions and choices in life. If there are no rules, it means, fundamentally, there is no essential meaning of life. The idea that we are put on Earth with a purpose would mean that we are put here to follow a specific set of rules. Since there are no rules, there is no purpose. Life is without inherent meaning. So, if life is a self-contained unit with no meaning, it stands to reason that we should just have a good time. Seriously, that's the grand conclusion. But it is a powerful one. This subjective experience called life is all we have, so we should maximize the enjoyment of that subjective experience while we have it. You won't be punished for leading a pleasurable life, and you won't be rewarded for living an unhappy one. So shouldn't we just be happy, damn everything else?

I will try and expand why happiness as the focus of life follows from the implications we drew. Imagine life like an afternoon of soccer in the park. If life did have external rules, that is, rules that did not come from humanity itself, then this afternoon would be like a regulated soccer game. There would be very clear rules about what you can and can't do, a referee to enforce the rules, and a distinct goal that you will be rewarded for achieving. However, we have established that there are no such absolute rules in life, since there is no judgment at death. So the afternoon soccer will not be a regulated game, but rather just a kick-around with your friends. There are no goals to be scored or matches to win, and no reward for doing so, either. The only reward you get from the afternoon will be the pleasure you get from the time spent at the park. Happiness is not just its own reward, happiness is the only reward. In light of this fact, we should focus our life entirely on being happy.

You, as an individual human, have no real responsibility, meaning, or purpose to do anything in life. We are so radically free that it probably scares a lot of people into following other people's rules for life, the bad faith espoused by Sartre. In this freedom, we can scratch out a happy life. But our main claim itself raises a whole multitude of questions. What does it mean to enjoy life? Can I create meaning in a meaningless world? Will this meaning ever bring fulfillment like true meaning would? Is it acceptable to commit suicide if I think my life will have more suffering than pleasure? Doesn't the most pleasurable life involve a bit of pain as well? While I hoped to make my entry on life a self-contained unit (much like life, in fact) it is clear I will need another entry to fully detail answers to these questions. However, the important conclusions to propel us forward have been drawn. In a succinct manner: Because life is a self-contained episode of subjective experience with no inherent meaning, we should seek to maximize the enjoyment of the episode.

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