Thursday, December 01, 2005

Feeling Good and Living Well (with zombies).

Meet Joan. Joan’s life is going well. She’s has lots of friends. They love to spend time with her. She’s got taste. She knows how to enjoy good food, good music, and good art, and enjoys them frequently. Joan is good at her job, and she spends her time in fulfilling work that really helps others live a good life. Joan lives well.

Meet Jane. Jane thinks she lives like Joan. She thinks her friends like her, but really they can’t stand to be around her. She thinks she has taste, but really she likes bland food, Motley Crew and Norman Rockwell. She thinks she’s good at her job, but, really, her boss gives her menial tasks and she regularly screws them up. Joan thinks she helps others, but things are worse when she leaves, not better. Jane knows nothing of this and she never will. Jane feels good and thinks she is living well.

Meet Jerry. Jerry resolves to do the best he can. He thinks about what is good. He thinks, makes up his mind, and does what he thinks is best. He is successful. Jerry feels good but he is deeply mistaken. He condemns actions that aren’t wrong. He works to defeat proposals that would really help people, though he believes the proposals are immoral. Jerry thinks he is good, but he isn’t.

Meet Jeff. Jeff once held mistaken views about what was bad, but he’s since changed his mind. He knows he was mistaken, he does the right thing now, but sometimes, when he does something that he used to consider bad, he feels guilty. He doesn’t endorse his feeling. He cannot change it either.

Meet Ted. Ted is a slacker. He watches re-runs. He plays video games. He avoids work, and never puts in the time to do anything well. He never hurts anyone. He is never mean. Ted feels good. He never has the desire to amount to anything. He never even asks if he is living well.

One day, quite unexpectedly, evil scientists kidnap Joan, Jane, Jerry, Jeff and Ted, replacing them with zombies who live their lives just as they would. (Note: zombies act like normal humans but without any conscious experience. Zombies don’t feel good, or bad, or anything at all.)

How would you judge each of these people’s lives? Is he or she living well? Does it matter how she feels about her life? Is how she feels about her life all that matters? (If you have a hard time with these questions, ask yourself these: Which person would you rather be? For each person, ask how you’d judge your life if you knew you where person X. (Of course, some of them don’t know how they are living, but suppose they found out.))

Best poem/song I could find for this topic: They Might Be Giants: Dead.

Why zombies? I must credit a discussion on PEASoup. Beyond that, ideas for this section are loosely taken Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, though worries about what makes for a good life goes back to Aristotle and Plato. ( Jonathan Coulton's Sibling Rivalry got me thinking about Joan and Jane, but that was entirely gratuitous.)


Blogger Mike_Schwalke said...

Psychologist approach this by talking about self-actualization. If you find out what you're "put on this world to do" and do it with a modicum of success (a subjective term), then you'll die happy (another subjective term). It seems to me that by this definition, the zombies would do just fine since they're not concerned with happiness and self-actualization.

The other side to this self-actualization trope is that if you approach life lazily or never achieve this rarefied state, you will face the end of your life as a bitter, crumudgeonly (sp?) old fart.

I'm sure that most people would like to be the enriched, helpful, good, wise and experienced type. Whether that's a reality or what someone thinks about themselves may or may not be important. Most people wouldn't like the idea of reflecting back on four score or so years and thinking what a waste while their grave is being dug.

And not to be picky, but it's Motley Crue (with umlauts over the o and u).

more later

6:24 AM  
Blogger Mike_Schwalke said...

Another song relevant to this topic is "Time" by Pink Floyd of the (gag) classic album Dark Side of the Moon. Omar Kayam has some interesting things to say about this in the Rubiyat

6:26 AM  
Blogger CSC said...

The question is whether awareness is necessary. From what you've said, Mike, zombies couldn't be happy or sad. They do stuff. They are successful, but they are never aware of their success. Of course, they don't feel good (or bad) either. Jane, on the other hand, is mistaken about her success. She feels good, thinks she is successful, but she isn't. My feeling is that awareness is necessary, zombies aren't happy, but it cannot be the whole story. But justifying that is going to be hard. . .

And of course I know it Motley Crue has umlauts! I also know that they put the umlauts on there because they were drinking lowenbrau (which also has umlauts) when they came up with the name. Oh, and I chose the TMBG song because it was on my iTunes as I wrote the essay.

1:04 PM  

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