existential crisis

How do we know that any one way is better than any other way?

“That’s a good question. The postmodern answer was, ‘we can’t.’ That’s not a good answer, because you drown in chaos under those circumstances. You can’t make sense of anything, and that’s not good, because it’s not neutral to not make sense of things. It’s very anxiety-provoking and depressing. If things are so chaotic that you can’t get a handle on them, your body defaults into emergency preparation mode. Your heart rate goes up, and your immune system stops working. You burn yourself out; you age rapidly because you’re surrounded by nothing you can control. That’s an existential crisis. It’s anxiety-provoking and depressing—very hard on people. Even more than that, it turns out that the way we’re constructed neurophysiologically is that we don’t experience any positive emotion unless we have an aim and we can see ourselves progressing towards that aim.

It isn’t precisely attaining the aim that makes us happy—as you all know if you’ve ever attained anything. As soon as you attain it, the whole little game ends, and you have to come up with another game. So it’s Sisyphus, and that’s ok. But it does show that the attainment can’t be the thing that drives you, because it collapses the game. That’s what happens when you graduate from university. It’s like, you’re king of the mountain for one day, then you’re like serf at Starbucks for the next five years.

Human beings are weird creatures: we’re much more activated by having an aim and moving towards it than we are by attaining it. What that means is that you have to have an aim, and that means you have to have an interpretation. It also means that the nobler the aim, the better your life. That’s a really interesting thing to know, because you’ve heard, ever since you were tiny, that you should act like a good person—you shouldn’t lie, for example. You might think, ‘well, why should I act like a good person? Why not lie?’ Even a three-year-old can ask that question—because smart kids learn to lie earlier, by the way—and they think, ‘why not twist the fabric of reality, so that it serves my specific, short-term needs?’ That’s a great question. Why not do that? Why act morally if you can get away with something, and it brings you closer to something you want? Well, why not do it? These are good questions. It’s not self-evident.

It seems, to me, tied into what I just mentioned. You destabilize yourself and things become chaotic, and that’s not good. If you do not have a noble aim, you have nothing but shallow trivial pleasures, and they don’t sustain you. That’s not good, because life is difficult. There’s so much suffering and complexity. It ends, everyone dies, and it’s painful. Without a noble aim, how can you withstand any of that? You can’t; you become desperate. Things go from bad to worse very rapidly, when you become desperate. And so there’s the idea of the noble aim, and it’s something that’s necessary. It’s the bread that people cannot live without. It’s not mystical bread: it’s the noble aim. And what is that? It was encapsulated, in part, in the story of Marduk: it’s to pay attention, speak properly, confront chaos, and to make a better world. It’s something like that. That’s enough of a noble aim so that you can stand up without cringing at the very thought of your own existence—so that you can do something that’s worthwhile, to justify your wretched position on the planet.” – Jordan B Peterson – Biblical Series I: Introduction to the Idea of God

Source: VideoTranscript