Top of the morning, Rambling Masses,

An evening about a week ago saw a fine conversation between my two favourite sparring partners (Dave and Paul) and myself. There's a lot to be said for the intellectual stimulation that can arise from disparate views, and I am very fond of the fact that I have a number of fundamental differences of opinion to those of my erstwhile companions.

It is through conversation, discussion and consideration that we are able to not only discover how other people view the world in which we live, but just as importantly to put our own views under the microscope and test them in the cauldron of point and counterpoint. Since the days of the ancient Greeks, and probably a lot earlier than that, people have engaged in intellectual sparring in an attempt to broaden their knowledge and to better understand their existence.

One of the most important and humbling things in life is to realise that you don't know everything, that you are not correct in all the views that you hold so dear. I paraphrase a Buddhist ideal by saying that one's beliefs should be built as a house of cards, so that any valid wind of doubt can knock them down.

Through this constant process of construction and deconstruction, the aim is to never close your mind to new thoughts, ideas, concepts and beliefs. Never be too sure in your beliefs, people. Never be afraid to quest for further knowledge.

This is one of the principles that I hold so dear in science. The overall progress of the scientific method has been a constant process of hypothesis and refinement of theories. A true scientist will be just as pleased to be shown test results that disprove a theory they may have spent their whole lives on, no more or less so than if the results validated the theory.

Now I don't know how much time the average Joe or Jane out there in the Rambling Masses spends on the intellectual process of thinking about the verities of the world around us. I happen to spend a lot of time engaged in that particular pursuit, as I consider it one of the most important things in life. Much more important, in fact, than tearing through life at the breakneck speed that is so a part of the modern developed world, much more important than gathering material objects around me, much more important than counting my money. I try not to fall into the modern fallacy of preferring quantity to quality, and instead I try to deliberately slow my life down, because rushing around is never conducive to good and structured thinking, and that is what is required if you ever want to tackle the philosophical nature of our existence.

This is also why I have not been able to put together a blog post on the matters that Paul, Dave and I discussed. It's coming though, when I have had a chance to devote the proper respectful analysis to it, and constructed suitable words to present it to the two (or perhaps even three) people out there in Ramble Land who actually take the trouble to skim through my blog.

Until next time - take care, and remember to always question.

Hello Oh Rambling Masses,

What's that I hear you ask? Am I suffering from blog weariness, that great falling away after the initial flurry? It has been over a month since my last post (no pun intended for all you Anzac-ites). But here I am, back again with another collection of rambling words, vaguely attempting to reach that wonderful goal of communication.

The particular pearl of wisdom that I want to impart today is one that is very close to my heart, right next to the mass of muscles that keep my blood-pumping organ going.

What is it that we all seek in life? A simple question, with a surprisingly simple answer. We all want to be happy, don't we? Yes we do. I've now used up my quota of rhetorical questions, so I will refrain from using them further throughout the rest of this post... that would be a good idea, wouldn't it now?

Happiness, for better or worse, is the one goal above all else that we aspire to. We can become confused at times, and identify such things as material possessions, the quest for power, and other ephemeral pursuits as the raison d'etre of life that drives us. But this all comes to naught unless it gives us happiness, that deep sense of well-being and satisfaction that warms our souls and makes the day-to-day troubles seem so trivial.

Ah, happiness - such a simple concept, but at times so hard to grasp. The biggest problem I have in my life is an ongoing internal struggle between my emotional optimism and my intellectual pessimism. I have a vast amount of emotional optimism, a belief that all will work out right in the end, a naive core that is proud to be so.

But another tenant is housed within my heart, that of the intellectual pessimist. I cannot help sometimes to be carried away in streams of sadness, frustration and rage at the state of the world, unchanged for these many millennia, where we have the means to make everything right, but the will is missing. Wars, petty disputes, poverty, lack of education, destructive capitalistic opportunism, racism, sexism, religious differences, pollution, greed and ignorance, all run rampant in our world. The gift of life that we have been given is wasted on unfruitful, counter-productive toil that does not do much, if anything, to improve the lot of ourselves or those around us. By the expression "those around us" I mean every living entity on this planet.

So, what is the answer? (D'Oh, there's another rhetorical - I just can't help myself). Well, you don't have to be the brightest spark in the fire to realise that the current systems we have in place the world over are not exactly delivering the goods. Communism, yeah, well, that was a failed experiment that was never going to work. Capitalism, oh my god, how I wish you would die! Autocracies, totalitarianism, fascism, dictatorships, monarchies, religious despotism, feudalism - yeah, right - they sure make everyone happier...

The basic problem with all of these systems is the same - there's a bunch of fat cats who want to lord it over everyone else. Call it basic human nature, if you want, but in my opinion it is just another cancer that needs to be excised. Why do we assume that it is the natural order of things for people to want more than their fellows? Is greed the natural order of things?

It kind of reminds me of a rather excellent movie, the message of which was very poignant. Instinct, a movie starring Anthony Hopkins, raises the concept of "Takers". Hopkins talks about the people that inhabited the world 10,000 years ago, and how a tribe of "Takers" swept all before them. His speech about modern man's presumption that he has the right to a dominion over the world is searing and brutally accurate. The idea that somewhere in the dim dark dawn of prehistory, humans used what they needed as opposed to what they wanted is a powerful and sad indictment on our modern "civilised" world.

I often have problems balancing the negative and positive sides of my personality. There are times (all too often) when I dip over into the negative, and lose my sense of balance. Depression is a close but thankfully not yet realised danger during these times. But I always manage to snap out of it, eventually.

One of the things that has helped return me to a more positive frame of mind is the concept of the Happiness Principle. Put simply, I feel that in life we should be almost constantly guided by a simple test - does what I do/say/feel/make/contribute/whatever actually increase the sum total of happiness in the world? It needn't always be your own happiness that is paramount, for we can often do things for others that may not necessarily be in our own best interests.

As per the Happiness Principle, if the answer to that question is yes, then go ahead, knock yourself out, go for broke. If the answer to that question is no, then there better be a bloody good reason for it, otherwise don't do it.

I know it's very simplistic, but I hope that in some small way it is a step in the right direction towards reclaiming our rightful place on this planet as custodians of the life that we control. With great power comes great responsibility, something that our leaders often seem to ignore (and I mean not just political leaders, but business leaders, community leaders, and all others in positions of power to affect things around them). Hey, wait a minute, that's everyone. We all have the power to affect things around us. So, what are we waiting for?

One of the most powerful books I have ever read is one called "The Alchemy Of Happiness". Written by the great Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan. I would like to reproduce just one passage from the book, for your edification:

Sin and virtue, good and bad, right and wrong, can be distinguished and determined on this principle. Virtue is what brings real happiness. What is called right is that which leads to happiness. What is good is good because it gives happiness; and if it does not do so it cannot be called good, it cannot be called virtue, it cannot be right. Whenever man has found virtue in unhappiness he has been mistaken; whenever he was wrong he has been unhappy. Happiness is the being of man; that is why he craves it.

So, I now apply this Happiness Principle to the men in power, and I see them sadly lacking. How is the "War on Terror in Oil Rich Countries" contributing to happiness? How is this dumb-ass Australian (and all other capitalist lap-dog nations) political obsession with the Economy over all else contributing to happiness? How is poisoning the rivers, chopping down the forests and killing all the fish contributing to happiness? How is causing the greatest mass extinction rate since the big rock hit 65 million years ago (scientists estimate there are 10 to 30 million plant and animal species on the planet, most of them unidentified; each year as many as 50,000 species disappear; most die off because of human activity) contributing to happiness? Taken to its logical conclusion, will we be happy when it's just us, mosquitos, flies and cockroaches left on the planet?

And so we come to one last question - how is worrying about all of this contributing to happiness? Well, on the face of it, it's not. I am not a happier man because of it. But I would much rather be unhappy at times than to stick my head in a bucket of sand and be blissfully ignorant. If in some small way I can influence the great rape and pillage of this planet for the better, then all of my unhappiness will have been worth it for the greater happiness to come.

I leave you now, oh Rambling Masses, with a complex smile on my lips that is half happy, half sad.

Hello, oh Rambling Masses,

I must profess that as I grow older, I try to find ways to do it in as graceful a way as possible. I don't look forward to wearing my Y-fronts pulled all the way up to my armpits, but if that is the future that fate has planned for me, then so be it. I will wedge, and do it gracefully.

The art of growing old gracefully is all about the balance between disappointment and mediocrity.

This sounds like an inherently negative statement, but upon deeper inspection, this is far from the truth. The truth is that, as one gets older, the tendency is to lower one's expectations of life.

No one can say that they have achieved all that, in the fiery flush of youth, they set out to do. With our dreams coursing through our veins, we, as pert young things full of vigour and vim, attacked the mountainside of life with all of our vitality, and climbed for all that we were worth.

Experience, that great leveler, taught us many things as we climbed. Those who now have the wisdom of years have learned to respect their limits, for none of us is able to achieve absolutely everything that we set out to do.

All of us have goals that, as we age, we realise we may never achieve. This can't help but to breed a sense of failure and disappointment to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the individual. To protect ourselves, we lower our goals, and if this becomes too much of a habit, then we descend into mediocrity.

This is the great balancing act that we must play in our lives. Set our sights too high, and we are doomed to failure and the bitter taste of disappointment. Set our sights too low, and we condemn ourselves to a life of mediocrity, and we end up being so much less than we are capable of.

Finding the balance is, in my humble opinion, one of the hardest things in life, but a task well worth the endeavour. We should continually strive to test our limits, to not fall into that oh-so-simple trap of mediocrity. Don't settle for sitting in front of the TV with a bag of crisps resting on your laundry-greyed Y-fronts (again with the Y-fronts!), watching the latest regurgitation of reality TV posing as entertainment. Quite often, we are capable of more than we think.

Know your limitations, but never ever sell yourself short.

I choose life over mere existence any day. The difference is not just the challenge that you set yourself every day, but even more importantly, identifying that there is and should be a challenge.

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