This is a note on pointless suffering, one of main subjects of an essay I am writing. That post will stand as the last and ultimate addendum to my Adventures In Flatland essays. That addendum will be finished when I get around to finishing it. That essay will contain a theory of the origins of religion, a subject I avoided for a long time because I didn't understand what was going on. At this point, I wouldn't call it a "theory" so much but rather an obvious truth, a truth so obvious that it only took me 35 years to figure it out
I am writing this note because I ran across a new book called Seven Ways of Looking At Pointless Suffering — What Philosophy Can Tell Us about the Hardest Mystery of All. This book was written by a philosopher named Scott Samuelson, who gives us this brief summary (emphasis added, broken up for clarity).
Why do we suffer? Why do people die young? Is there any point to our physical and emotional pain? Do horrors like hurricanes have meaning? In Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering, I tackle the hardest question of all. My goal is not to wallow in misery but to be alive to existence.
James Baldwin, describing the “double-edged” power of the blues, says, “To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it.”
I have no desire to be grim. I just don’t want to eat tasteless foam rubber. My book is just as likely to draw lessons from Bugs Bunny as from Confucius, from my time teaching philosophy to prisoners as from Hannah Arendt’s attempts to come to terms with the Holocaust.
Ultimately, I claim to be fully human means to embody a mysterious paradox: we must simultaneously accept suffering and oppose it. When we do, we go on the terrific adventure of being alive.
Hence this post's title — "the terrific adventure of being alive". Regarding pointless suffering, one thing we know for sure is that there is plenty of it, as existentialist philosopher Gordon Marino points out in his book blurb (first link above).
You can keep your gratitude journals, but make no mistake about it:
this world is a vale of tears, a world of seemingly senseless suffering.
Humans must always qualify their acknowledgement of a world full of of pointless suffering—seemingly senseless suffering?
How we understand and relate ourselves to this suffering will shape our lives both morally and otherwise. A gifted author with a feathery writing touch on the weightiest of subjects, Scott Samuelson has succeeded in carefully distilling the wisdom of a wide array of philosophers on what St. Paul called 'the groaning of creation.'
Rife with engaging personal stories, Samuelson's meditation is both intellectually substantive and uplifting.
Uplifting? A book about pointless suffering is uplifting? Anyway, this world is indeed a vale of tears. though that's not all it is. For example, life has certainly been a terrific adventure for 10-year-old Noor Kalima.
SOUTHEAST BANGLADESH, NEAR THE MYANMAR BORDER — “Ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” are antiseptic and abstract terms. What they mean in the flesh is a soldier grabbing a crying baby girl named Suhaifa by the leg and flinging her into a bonfire. Or troops locking a 15-year-old girl in a hut and setting it on fire.
The children who survive are left haunted: Noor Kalima, age 10, struggles in class in a makeshift refugee camp. Her mind drifts to her memory of seeing her father and little brother shot dead, her baby sister’s and infant brother’s throats cut, the machete coming down on her own head, her hut burning around her … and it’s difficult to focus on multiplication tables.
“Sometimes I can’t concentrate on my class,” Noor explained. “I want to throw up.”
Me, too, Noor, though I didn't see my father and little brother shot dead, my baby sister's and infant brother's throats cut, and I didn't then get whacked in the head with a machete as the hut where I lived was burning all around me.
My addendum to the Flatland essays will also explain why humans could possibly find a book about pointless suffering uplifting, which is absurd. There are only four things you need to know about pointless suffering.
- Pointless suffering is senseless. It is therefore meaningless. That's what "pointless" means.
- Pointless suffering is ubiquitous. Human life is suffused with pointless suffering.
- Pointless suffering is inescapable. It is "built in" to the human condition.
- Evolution's goal is to get your genes into the next generation, but that would not be possible if the mind reeled from all this pointless suffering, both your own and that of your kin and other close social relations. There wouldn't be any reason to carry on with this farce called life. You might give up, or even kill yourself. Evolution's elegant solution was to delude you into thinking that pointless suffering was, in fact, not pointless at all, or make you believe that you can somehow escape all this suffering, or make you believe (among a myriad other solutions) that a book on pointless suffering could somehow be "uplifting," or that what we are going through is the "terrific adventure of being alive."
If you understood that last bit, you might also have a clue as to what my theory of the origin of religion is.
You might also bear this statement in mind, which I take as axiomatic.
Nearly all (if not all) philosophy is totally useless outside it being yet another way to bullshit our way through the so-called "terrific adventure of being alive," which is absolutely necessary to life's continuance given all this pointless suffering.
I'll have more to say by and by.