Reflections 2006

The Truth Will Set You Free

Htoi Lahpai

“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity - designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man.”
-Ernest Becker.

One of the many ways to avoid something from actually happening is to believe it is not going to happen the way you fear it to be. And since death is not avoidable and all humans naturally fear it, most people believe that death is actually not the end. Thanks to philosophy and religion, death comes to us as a goal. Some may see death as the goal of finding enlightenment, finding hope for the next generation, or even finding the truth to each of these theories. Whatever these goals are there is a reason for them and Schopenhauer gives a good explanation for it. He expresses to us that the very reason we have philosophy and religion is so that we can deal with the sense of knowing that death is heading nearer toward us. Through this, he implies that our fear of death as it approaches us closer and closer only makes us long for some kind of hope. These hopes then extend a short life to infinity; to a higher scale, and give us a chance to fulfill our duties just like our ancestors. The times we do try to avoid it by busying ourselves in daily life will not cure us from worries. A goal is necessary in order to maintain our sanity and to keep us from committing suicide or abusing ourselves. If to know that death is all that there is, then what point is there to continue living when nothing lies for you afterwards? Why try harder than you should to gain a closer seat to the “grim reaper“? Can we instead exclaim Carpe Diem! And act as reckless individuals while not caring for the safety of one’s self or of others? Feeling that death is the goal seems dull and incomplete. Thinking positively and hoping for the best is essential to the state of philosophy. Whether intentional or non-intentional these goals are made through our conscience mind and with that we enter the state of philosophy.

Accordance to Arthur Schopenhauer, the fear of death is the ultimate thing that separates us from animals. If animals knew that death was coming to them, there would be no cow farms, chicken farms, pig farms, slaughter houses still standing. Animals having knowledge of death approaching might rebel against their captors or even become suicidal and destroy the chances of being involved in mass murder of their kinds. However, unlike humans having not this particular sense of death, animals live a day at a time not fearing the end of their lives. What a peaceable life that would be. A peace we lack since we do have the knowledge that death is dawning and it surrounds us everyday. Our activities are truly affected by this fear of death drawing into our comfortable lives filled with loved ones, BMW cars, and that house in the maple shade. And to be doubly sure that our efforts fall into the right hands, we invest in life insurance to give those loved ones something out of our hard-earned life. A motivation to plan this far is part of the study of philosophy. Philosophy is what makes us human and animals a lower form of animal, and this science of thinking is motivated by our desperation to find the truth; of what is right and what is wrong. Animals have a means for survival and humans go a step further by thinking and planning for survival. Our daily lives always have a purpose, whether or not we are aware of the foreshadowing of death we are living for something. How do we know we are living for the right thing? That is why we must question ourselves.

“What if?” is the most fundamental philosophical question for most philosophers to ask themselves. Controversies are controversial because of that question of reason. An example of this is when in discussing abortion, we might ask “what if when the woman is ill because of the child, she has no choice but to abort it in order to save her own life?” or “what if the woman was raped and does not want a stranger’s offspring?” or “what if abortion is indeed morally wrong?” and so forth to better get a point from all views. If we do not then we would create a fallacy that will only create more bias in our society. Questioning ethics and culture is to question the morality of a situation under all possible circumstances. The question “what if” doing just that is also used in logic, politics, business, mathematics, and the world of science. Other questions could be:

“How will an ideal philosophy positively change the world?”
“What views does the majority agree upon?”
“Can religion be one of the factors of this ethical stand point?”
“How much can a society influence the individual, and how much of that influence can we use to create a standard philosophical mentality for those individuals?”
“What is the main objective of philosophy?”
These are just a few questions we can try to figure out before we interconnect the human race with one language of thought.

My past experience with liberal individuals, religious conservatives, and passive persons has given me a view of all kinds of different people which philosophy tries to break down. The similarities of individuals are so few, from our biological fingerprints to the way we pronounce “tomato”. And when it comes to being biologically identical, being a clone does not necessarily mean being raised with the same experiences as the original source. A Human being’s traits and habits are undeniably unique of one another and that is why it is so hard to find common philosophical standards of morals and values. As Schopenhauer has realized, the end that we all have to face is death. So even Kant’s theory of satisfying the means will not have any affect without religion or philosophy since death itself makes our ends unavoidably empty. Death is a similarity between all humans like none other that we are sure to face even if we live for a few minutes or a hundred years. What else unites us other than the thought of death?

We live, we breathe, we communicate, we eat, we think, we die. All those are things we do as average, everyday humans. So why is it so hard for us to find an everyday thought we can all relate to? This I believe is because of our experience, which is the source of our truth. Society as we know it influences the individual both mentally and physically and in doing so creates our experience. An example of this is when my four year old male cousin who loved the color pink, started preschool. His hobbies were to wear his pink boxers around the house, to watch “Elmo’s world” and to color. A few months after preschool had begun he hated the color pink, watched “Spiderman”, and wrestled his dad. His friends he said, thought pink is for girls, that “Spiderman is cool”, and that wrestling gives you muscles. What my cousin’s little friends do not realize is that one day Spiderman will die, our aging eyes will make the colors fade, and our muscles will be replaced by fat. His truth of what color he liked and what he liked to do was affected by the majority of his class’ own hobbies. So at what age do we start being influenced by society? How do our truths change? Those are other fundamental philosophical questions to ask. Arthur Schopenhauer’s statement “this creates a feeling of uncertainty over his life, even for him who forgets in the business of life” explains to us why we search for the unknown. The unknown creates so many emotions for us and with those emotions we stay active. There was Van Gough because he was sad, isolated, and suicidal. There is Donald Trump because he is competitive, willful, and aggressive. And death is the unknown. People publish stories of dead people coming back to life all the time. Scientists have tried experiments with death. Death is fascinating because we do not know for sure of what goes on after it. Our study of religion helps us to discover those kinds of unknowns.

Someone once said “Philosophy will not matter when we die.” This explains how meaningless our values, beliefs, and morals are when we are not even in existence. So why do we care? Schopenhauer’s statement is logically very agreeable because it is true that knowing leads to believing. When one knows one’s destination is to be one with the dead dirt, one would want to get all the juice out of life as possible. The most affective way to accomplish that goal is to set a belief that doing something in life will either pro-long one’s life or it will get you somewhere after life. Persons do keep busy with the little things in life, like going to school, working five days a week, playing with their children, trying to finish a project, catching the train. They see those activities that are indeed trivial compared to the big issue of death and they treat it as something worth striving for. When we are busy with work, school, and family we are not really doing trivial things because these actions actually contribute to a less stressful life. Waiting for the day you die and just worrying and praying you won’t die is what takes too much time and too much energy out of a person. The thought might even cause one to die earlier from a heart attack or a tense headache. So the balance is needed, not to think about death all the time and not to live like we’ll never die. A balance between both is like that famous saying: “Live as though you will die tomorrow, but plan like you still have 30 years”. Productivity is hope for the future, and making use of our body that is active and of our brain that is still functioning is the ultimate activity we as humans have adopted into our daily lives. What kind of world would we rather leave behind for the generation? Would we prefer a polluted planet with nuclear warfare, or a utopian like planet with peace and companionship? There are so many plans we can accomplish in our short span of time on earth and this is all thanks to the knowledge of death approaching us.

In my opinion, philosophy is the subject that produces a universal thought, a goal of finding an answer to the human mind’s capacity for an ideal connection to one another through logic and understanding. One ultimate interconnectedness is mentioned in both Confucius and Buddhism religions as the ultimate goal and as a kind of enlightenment. The different religions we study reveal that there is sacredness in being one with something, someone, and some-being. Humans knowing that they share the same ends, create new theories to unite themselves to one cause. Stories of immortality, re-incarnation, renewal, rebirth, freeing from the body and so forth come through a form of new life. But to get to that new life we must encounter a transformation to be part of something greater. Being interconnected and twinned into the wonders of all the world helps us feel safe, hoping that maybe the world itself will come along with us to our deaths or whatever is beyond death. A lonesome dark sleep does not seem as pleasant as a heaven full of friendly angels. Our fear of being alone after death leads us to want an intertwining of other things or person to the situation. Buddhists believe in being one with the universe. The Hindu religion suggests that the wife go along with her husband when he dies to be one with him. In Confucius teachings, the society’s duty is the individual’s duty, and in Christianity the believers are one in the body of Christ. All these religions have some sort of unity between society, relatives, nature and the saint. And the studies of these different religions all say that one of our main goals after death is to be united.

An ideal truth is what we seek. It is the truth about life, death, and the beyond. Some philosophers even conceptualize nothingness as being the truth, to be neutral and thinking from all views. Knowing that there is no answer, with no theories to explore seems to me a lack of motivation in finding the truth. Whether or not everyone has their own truths according to their own experiences of life, there is a truth and so there is hope to find one that suits all. Death has been one of our only connections to each other, however we forget about life. Death only helps us to live our lives more fully with a hint that it could be taken away from us at anytime. And what better way to appreciate something only when you have felt a threat of losing it. Death, I agree with Arthur Schopenhaur is the reason for philosophy and religion. Death does unfortunately bring about uncertainties over our lives, however, having faith that with using whatever we have will make a difference in the world to come reveals hope. Hope should be one to outnumber the uncertainties over our lives because a mind with out hope is a mind not open wide enough for the truth.

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