Condemned to be Free

“Professor Levy: We’re all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions, moral choices. Some are on a grand scale, most of these choices are on lesser points. But we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, Human happiness does not seem to be included in the design of creation. It is only we, with our capacity to love that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and even try to find joy from simple things, like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.”

quote from Crimes and Misdemeanors

Dostoevsky once wrote “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted”. That, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to. He can’t start making excuses for himself.

If existence really does precede essence, there is no explaining things away by reference to a fixed and given human nature. In other words there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom. On the other hand, if God does not exists, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct. So, in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us. We are alone, without excuses.

That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless free; because from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything that he does.”

quote from Jean-Paul SartreThe Humanism of Existentialism

****

I don’t know if this is happening to other people but the older I grow, the more stupid I feel. Everyday I grow more and more stupid. I sink into my routine and my circle of intellectual curiosity becomes smaller and smaller, and I find that my general knowledge is also becoming pathetic – besides the few things that I like and am passionate about, I dont seem to know – or put it more correctly, I don’t seem to be that interested in other things anymore like I used to when I was say, about 10 years younger.

When I was 10 years younger, I thought I was more intellectually curious – I dig into philosophy, history, literature, science and has built entire websites accumulating these knowledge with hard HTML codes using Notepad – each command self-learnt. Pages on the website will include a study on Chinese History and Philosophy (which I self studied using the UCLA course syllabus which was pubslished online last time), Western Philosophy, World History, Tagore, Emerson, Mahler, etc. etc. During the Mahler craze period, for example, I studied scores, read all available materials that I can lay my hands on, talk to experts, invite Maestro Benjamin Zander to give us a talk (read section two of the article linked), write articles that was published in various Mahler-related websites and one was actually used as a programme guide, get in touch with Mahler’s existing family and do up their paternal family chart, etc.

That was all before the Weiqi craze period but after the Chinese classical music period but no matter what, the point is 5-10 years back, I always had something on, something intellectually and spiritually stimulating and I find that I am dumbing down now. I am a lot less intellectual, a lot less eloquent, a lot less pushy and aggressive, a lot less energy – but perhaps a lot more elephant grace.

In this past year, there are many changes to my life, including a lot of travelling and of course working in India for almost half a year. I have certainly gained something, but I am not really sure what. But I am still very intellectually dull and I need to work on my general knowledge but what do I do now? How do I start? Do I have the time or is this merely an excuse? Or am I destined to go downhill from now on and become more and more a stubborn and pathetic old fellow clinging on to whatever is left inside this ageing, deteriorating shell? I really don’t know but I must do something as I am beginning to despise myself for being such an intellectual sloth!

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