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Wrapping up “Conspiracy”

So basically the case in Ligotti’s book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race as best as I understand it is:

“Free will is an illusion…

…and we are 100% puppets of destiny.”

This is something that doesn’t really gel with the multi-layered take on free will that I like.

“Life is meaningless and purposeless”

So one thing he doesn’t say is whether the Universe as a whole is meaningless and purposeless. But life is a part of the Universe. The Big U.♥

So the situation could be one of these:

(Or, if it’s more precise, the same list but with “Human-style consciousness” swapped for “Life”.)

But, similar to how “decisions” exist on a semantic layer separate from atoms and quarks, so does concepts like “purpose” and “meaning” in some sense.

“Conciousness is a monstrosity…

since it allows us to see how gross everything is.”

Since it allows us to see both the preceding points—points that I’m not really onboard with—and other things such as our own decaying bodies, our polluted planet, nature red in tooth and claw, our inevitable demises, the haunting eternity of time before we were born etc etc.

And, well, he’s not wrong on this.

Yeah, there are beautiful moments of existance and of being able to be conscious, able to express through poetry a butterfly wing or a flower or a fantastic scent or taste. Or even bad things can be experienced as wonderful things. A cold floor, a sore arm, a deep grief… can remind us that we are alive♥

But he’s right that things can also get, uh, pretty rough.

I’ve got to give the book huge credit for one thing. Whenever I’m thinking “Gee, what a dork, he has obviously never read such-and-such”… on the next page over he inevitably mentions such-and-such. One example is of course Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. Now, he doesn’t always refute the mentioned work in a way that satisfies me—the whole happy rock pusher thing he just waves away as a nothingness—but I’ve got to give Ligotti credit for being well read, and fantastic at anticipating a reader’s objections.

Even in that context, one of the things I eagerly anticipated for more than one page was Buddhism’s way out of this. Ligotti carefully (and in a pretty good way) describes his predecessor Zapffe’s four strategies of temporary dulling the existential agony of consciousness and I was kinda waiting for the zen experience which, while having some overlap with a few of them, really is its own thing.

And finally he did bring it up. His case is basically that yes, the first two of the Four Noble Truths—(which I’d phrase as “everything sucks” and “it sucks because we don’t want it to suck”) are jolly good, they’re bang on target on describing the same pessimistic universe that he sees, but the third (which I’d phrase as “if we stop clinging to a dream that things are gonna stop sucking, that’s when things are gonna stop sucking”) is hopeless and doesn’t work, or only works for like the rarest of the few Ultra Level 60 Bodhisattva Dorks.

So his dismissal of that third truth is where I don’t really agree. When you’re absolute beginners, it’s a panoramic view.

Zen mastery isn’t about reaching enlightenment and staying there like an unrivalled boss that no one should even try to approach.

Instead, enlightement is never further than three seconds away.
You’ll get it and lose it and get it and lose it and get it and… and that’s the process.
Polish the mirror.
It dims.
So polish it again.
Roll away the stone, roll away the stone!
And every now and then, some of those stinging bees of our buzzing brains will make honey.

Part of pessimism’s problem is that our consciousness is monstrous because it sets us apart from nature. Well, with enlightenment we can be part of nature again.♥ At least for moments here and there. “The crickets get it, and the ants get it…” “The pebbles forgive me, the trees forgive me…”

“The best way out…

…is for humanity to go extinct, to spare future generations all this.”

Well, here I think he falls for the secular afterlife myth. Instead, there is no “spare” or “relief”—death is, to his knowledge, at least as meaningless as life is. So his solution is a complete non-solution.

C. S. Lewis was a guy who I would have a hard time being friends with. He was a social conservative who defended patriarchy in a way that I see as absolutely wack. In addition to his wacked out values, many of his arguments make no sense. Such as the presumtion of a universal sense of morality, and that sense as an indicator of a common creator (which to me does not necessarily follow even if there was a common moral sense [and I’m definitely not convinced of that part]—humanity has a common family tree, after all). Another blunder is the famous Lewis’s Trilemma (a big topic for another day), which I feel miss out on how stories and legends can be cool.

That said, one thing C. S. Lewis wrote that I do find compelling is the Sixpence None The Richer argument.

I used to think that God (or the Big U if you prefer) had some nerve to ask to be loved by us, like a mom holding a Browning to her baby’s forehead saying “I made you and I have your fate in my hands—lightning and thunder are in my control—so now you’d better love me, love me!”

But Lewis’ take on this… even if we were as puppet-like as we are in Ligotti’s pessimistic view… even if “every faculty […] of thinking […] from moment to moment, is given you […]”, even so:

It is like a small child going to his father and saying, “Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.” Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present.

Pretty nice! So even if our existence would be just like a bunch of beeping, broken Tamagochis, pre-programmed robots on strings… we could still do good if we so wish. A meaningless good is good nonetheless.♥

I thought this argument was dumb when I heard it the first time but overtime I’ve grown to groove on it. I can’t argue for that by way of reason. It’s a feeling that has come with time and experience.

Thanks for reading♥