What the detractors of life have said is true, what the praisers of life have said is true. Pessimism is as viable an outlook as optimism. To die is no worse—and perhaps no better—than to live. To be or not to be: why shouldnt they amount to the same? How one sees things is how they are—whether in despair’s abyss or exultation’s mania. Joy and ecstasy matter only insofar as one is conscious of them; otherwise, they dont exist any more than angst and its various similitudes do.
A wise man said nothing matters very much and few things matter at all. A fool once said as much. The depredations of history, the anxieties of society, what are they but man’s neuroses married to his courage—oftentimes with pusillanimity his mistress?
We say too much and think too little. Or else we think too much and live too little by what we think. We lack not the courage but the stamina of our convictions, those insights that come to us in the dark night of our solitude or under the full moon of our loneliness. We know we were born alone and will die alone. We rebel against that fact even while we court it.
No man of good conscience loves his life—or his fellow man—unconditionally. Himself he treats like a freed slave; and no man of intelligence forgets his slavery or berates his freedom. His fellow man, society, in other words, he treats also like a freed slave, but does his best to forget its slavery as if it were an event that happened in a nightmare dreamed long ago and far away.
Civilization is the only slavery that benefits man’s freedom. But for the free spirit, his freedom and his spirit—or the spirit he calls his, which is bigger than his ego: animus mundi, perhaps—outrank the sickness called civilization, no matter whether he, in his perversity, promotes it or resists it, or both. Not his cynicism—for which he has only society to thank—but rather his spiritual freedom won—for which he has only himself to thank—determines his happiness.
(Note: I wrote the above after watching a cinematic production of G.B. Shaw’s “Heartbreak House.”)