Thursday, January 14, 2010

Living Badly is the Best Revenge

Because it is difficult, nigh impossible, to accept the inevitability of death, we do things to deny this reality by overestimating the importance of trivial things. It is not the Ding an sich, as Kant called it, that is important. It is the fact that the Ding has been elevated to a privileged level. Are you willing to die to prove that you will not be prodded by some tailgater out of the lane you are driving in? Are you willing to become so agitated about a steak coming out well done when you ordered it black and blue that you risk having a heart attack due to persistent type-A personality behavior? The answer is yes, if you are in complete denial about the existence of an aging process in which the hard wiring of the body is eventually bound to falter.
We could take a more philosophical view about many things that happen to us, under the notion that life is short, and it pays to create as much happiness as possible for oneself and others on any given day. On the other hand, creating happiness for oneself and others might be an admission that life is short, while having a horrible time and making life miserable for everyone around you might be a way of waving the banner for immortality and invulnerability. After all, isn’t the greatest insult to the individual’s importance the fact of his or her total insignificance? Even the biggest loser in the world, nearing his last day, holds the faint hope that he will triumph and endure against all odds. Even the human being who has contributed next to nothing to society lives with the delusion of self-importance. Living Well is the Best Revenge is the title of a book about the lives of Gerald and Sara Murphy, expatriate Americans who were part of the Hemingway and Fitzgerald crowd. But maybe living badly is the best revenge.  No matter how bad today is, there’s always tomorrow.

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