By Chia Jeng Yang
Is the pursuit of ignorance a legitimate philosophy? I assume I’m speaking to either dissidents of this theory or hypocrites. I would prefer to have been ignorant about the nihilistic nature of life. I would prefer to have been ignorant about many things. I would have the highest quality of happiness I would have known.
In Alain De Botton’s book, The Social Status, he talks about how the presence of greater wealth and information have directly lead to a greater level of unhappiness. When we know what others have, and what we can have, we find ourselves yearning, he argues very convincingly. Surely then, happiness can lie somewhere in the lines of a more spartan and remote life.
Interestingly, we have another perspective we can consider. Seneca was a Roman politician and philosopher living in the early ADs. Seneca believes that we should naturally be aware of the entire plethora of possibilities that may possibly occur as part of the natural life. To do otherwise would leave us open to shock and despair at otherwise entirely imaginable outcomes.
Let’s put this in practical terms. If one takes part on a weekend farm stay, one should anticipate the possibility of having dirty clothing and intruding smells. To expect a pristine weekend would be unrealistic and any grief that results from said expectations would likewise be illogical.
But hey! That’s something I can control! Of course, that logic makes sense there! Why can’t I feel sad about things I can’t control, for example, being born in the wrong place?
We can extend this philosophy to situations beyond our control too. For example, if a woman gives birth in a warzone, surely she must temper her expectations of the future possibilities of her child. Any hopes for a bright future, while encouraged, should be buoyed by the understanding of all probable outcomes.
That’s bloody depressing. Who can live like that?
Actually, the point Seneca makes is actually quite optimistic. If you accept that Seneca’s view that we know shitty things can happen, then all we have to accept is that the present, in all its beauty, could have been much worse. Our dreams of the future have actually been startlingly unrealistically optimistic. We see a future where nothing has gone wrong, but we do not live in a world that matches the world your future lives in. Be glad for all that we have, now, and be glad for all that could have happened but did not.
What is happiness?