By Q Continuum

I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless. ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?’ I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly […] I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
– Ecclesiastes, Chapter 2

We all stand at a precipice. Not the Chicken Little, world is coming to an end, “society” is falling apart, WHER MUH KUNTRY DUN GON precipice; but a personal precipice from which each and every one of us could step off and fall at any moment. This, of course, is true now, has been true in the past and will continue to be true forever. The human condition is a precarious one; one of constant challenge and grief and suffering and boredom. In addition to the standard, garden variety existential crises we continue to experience, sex, love, family, death, tribe, legacy, purpose; all have transformed rapidly while simultaneously not transforming at all. In fact, it is precisely because humans have not changed and cannot change at the same pace as their environment that we face unique challenges today our ancestors didn’t. At the risk of being overambitious (as well as sounding insufferably pretentious), I’m going to attempt to analyze one aspect of modern Western existence through the lens of my pathetically layman understanding of Kierkegaard. Buckle up buckaroo.

Preamble

“Who is Søren Kierkegaard and why should I give a shit?” “What’s with that stupid O with a cross through it? Seems vaguely communist…” “What the fuck am I reading this for? Show me some cheesecake pics, clown!” are all comments that are likely spinning in your head at the moment. Question 1: I’m getting to it, settle down. Question 2: In English it’s called a “slashed o” and it’s a diphthong “oe”-type sound. And it’s Scandinavian so it probably is a little commie. Question 3: How the hell should I know why you’re reading it? And don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll include lots of tits in the comments.

Despair, Not Just For Moody Teenagers Anymore!

Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher. He was THE Danish philosopher; Danes are crazy about the guy and I can understand why. He is generally considered to be father of Existential Philosophy. Existentialism in today’s world is typically associated with nihilism and emptiness. However, at its core it’s actually quite simple; it starts from the assumption that the individual is the beginning and the end of the philosophical question of what comprises a life well lived. It rejects that meaning can be derived from any collective, be it societal or religious. The nihilism enters when people are unmoored from these waypoints of existence. Freedom is profoundly uncomfortable, especially when it is the very meaning of your existence at stake. You must make and accept authentic choices of existence then live with those consequences. This is why over the years existentialism gained a reputation of being dark and meaningless; it wrestles with the question of what happens when you remove any bedrock metanarratives from an individual’s life.

It would be impossible, both in theory and in practice for a dolt like myself, to summarize the entirety of Kierkegaard’s philosophy in such a forum, but I will do my best to outline it for the purpose of this short piece. Suffice it to say that he is a man of great contradiction; he spearheaded a philosophy dedicated to liberating man from metanarratives and authoritarian diktat, but he was extremely devout and religious acceptance is key to his understanding of living well. He was passionately in love with and engaged to a woman. He also spoke very highly of marriage in his works as being a proper ethical duty to all people. Yet he inexplicably broke it off with her in a very callous way, causing her to nearly be institutionalized from the intensity of her heartbreak. In fact, much of his work shows he never got over it; he begged her for forgiveness for years, even after she had married someone else. Finally she and her husband fled the country. He was a recluse of towering intellect, but once got into the 19th century equivalent of a flame war with a third rate satire magazine for their unattractive cartoon of him. I personally find him to be one of the most fascinating figures in history.

In the smallest of nutshells, Kierkegaard’s theory of existence hinges on a metaphysical model of the human essence as two competing parts, the finite and infinite. The finite part encapsulates our mortal nature; physical, carnal, material, covetous and demanding. The infinite part is that touch of divinity endowed within us by our Creator; the transcendent, non-corporeal and eternal. Furthermore, his definition of the “self” is, as he calls it, “a self becoming itself” through the irreconcilable conflict between these two parts. The self is an ever-evolving thing that is utterly unstable and, frequently, miserable.

Kierkegaard was the first to explore the concept of existential angst or in his terminology, despair; the sickness unto death. Despair is a cornerstone of his philosophy in that every living human experiences it, and hardly anyone ever resolves it. He divides the human experience into three types of despair: being unconscious in despair of having a self, not wanting in despair to be oneself and wanting in despair to be oneself.

The first is despair born of ignorance that there is an infinite part to the self at all. Think of your favorite vapid celebrity or the clueless idiot at your office or any one of a million other examples. This would, in my estimation, be by far the most common type of despair in our world. The second type of despair is a refusal to accept any self beyond immediacy. An individual realizes that there is an infinite part to the self, but that realization is so distressing it must be immediately suppressed with finite pleasures.

An individual in the third type of despair has full recognition of the infinite part of self. However, this person refuses to acknowledge that the only way to reconcile the conflict between the finite and infinite parts is recognition of the self’s complete dependence on “the love of the power that created” (typically seen as G-d’s love, but open to interpretation).

Kierkegaard openly acknowledged that this was not something that could be understood logically and that a “leap of faith” (he coined the term) was necessary to resolve the despair inside. Once the leap of faith is made, one becomes either the Knight of Infinite Resignation, or the Knight of Faith depending on that individual’s level of actualization. It’s important to note that the Knight of Infinite Resignation is still in despair because his leap of faith has left him empty and nihilistic. This is the ultra-Reader’s Digest version of Kierkegaard’s metaphysical philosophy.

What. The. Fuck.

I know right? It’s totes coming together now! OK… that may have seemed like a pointless slog, but I promise I’m going somewhere. The types of despair outlined roughly correspond to Kierkegaard’s stages of life. This connects his metaphysics to his aesthetics and his ethics. Kierkegaard envisioned that there are three stages of life; calling them stages may be a bit of a misnomer because they were not necessarily sequential, you could return to a stage later in life and not everyone hits all of them. They consisted of the aesthetic stage, the ethical stage and the spiritual stage.

The prototype of the aesthetic stage is the seducer; an individual devoted to worldly pleasure and the avoidance of any commitment or responsibility. This is most closely associated with the first two types of despair. The prototype of the ethical stage is the spouse and the parent. One in this stage accepts responsibility of action and makes commitments as an ethical obligation to those around him. Typically the third type of despair and the Knight of Infinite Resignation are in the ethical stage. In the spiritual stage is a person who has fully resolved the existential crisis, taken the leap of faith and become a Knight of Faith. This is kind of like attaining enlightenment.

Still Not Understanding What the Point of Any of this Is…

OK, for those few who read my comments on the site outside of the titties, you’ll know that the inspiration for this piece was an article on RealClearLife extolling the virtues of sex parties as a replacement for relationships while living in the shadow of #metoo (article here). I have long been fascinated by the conflicting priorities our reptilian, mammalian, neo-cortical and spiritual parts place on us. I’ve always considered humans to be kind of like onions; we have a lot of layers built on top of one another from all the billions of years of evolution and all the shifting demands placed on us. We have carnal, venal and insatiably destructive appetites on one end, and a yearning for meaning and spiritual understanding on the other (sounds a bit like those finite and infinite parts eh?).

The principal point here is that, as a species, a culture, a “society”, whatever you wanna call it, I see us more in despair and further from enlightenment each day. I must remain mindful of the so-called “good old days” fallacy, but I think my reasoning here is sound. I’m far from a SoCon and, as usual, standard libertarian disclaimers apply; live however you please and in accordance with what allows you to look in the mirror each day and be satisfied. These are simply my observations and conclusions and not meant to be seen as judgements being passed.

I strongly believe that if you are attending sex parties as a substitute for authentic relationships, you are deeply in Kierkegaardian despair. I do not see this as an isolated phenomenon either. The addiction to the immediacy, the refusal to acknowledge anything beyond the physical, the constant need for dopamine stimulation; it’s all a way of shielding one’s eyes from the Void. Kierkegaard says that when confronted with the Void, we should all have “fear and trembling” and be deeply uncomfortable. Running from that discomfort to immerse ourselves in physical pleasure is not an authentic response. Though it would be just as easy to talk about smartphones, I’m going to pick on sex here because it is the most consistent, biological way to feel euphoria and distract oneself from the Void. It has also been subjected to, IMO, the single most revolutionary development in the history of mankind: the Pill.

More than antibiotics, more than anesthetic, more than powered flight or interchangeable parts or nuclear power or the Internet, I believe the Pill has done more to fundamentally change the human experience than anything else, ever. See, we’re still on the African Savannah 50,000 years ago you and I. Not literally, of course, but from an evolutionary standpoint, our brains still are. And outside of basic survival needs like food and water, there is no stronger drive out here on the Savannah than the reproductive drive. That *is* your purpose. Mate. Copulate. Fuck. Make and raise babies. Beyond that, there is nothing else.

How do I know that we haven’t moved from that point? Because you watch porn (so do I BTW). If the brain had kept pace with technology, porn would hold no sway over anyone. Our brains would understand that it’s just an image of a receptive sexual partner and not one in real life, thus, not arousing. In fact, if you were a cis-het male shitlord, you’d be utterly uninterested in any woman on the Pill because your brain would have evolved some way to distinguish and identify a woman who is not fertile. The same reason that women after menopause become much less alluring, women on the Pill would have some inchoate quality that would turn men off. Concealed ovulation, year-round sexual receptivity, men’s zillions of sperm vs. women’s finite number of eggs; these are all physical adaptations that serve mating strategies following a playbook that has remained unchanged for millions of years. The Pill took that playbook and put it through the woodchipper.

The Pill and the subsequent sexual revolution has mind-fucked us. We have now opened the door and allowed our deepest, most basic urges to run wild and have free reign over our lives. Never before in the history of mankind has such a cornucopia of fleshy pleasure been available to such a wide spectrum of the population with so few consequences. Previously, rampant copulation inevitably resulted in parenthood and increased responsibility. Our very biology alters our hormone levels (male and female) upon becoming a parent. In the past, only monarchs could have such excess in their lives as we do now; which brings us full circle to the quote at the beginning of the article. Ecclesiastes is widely attributed to King Solomon, a man with hundreds of wives and concubines, massive wealth, beloved by his people and still he struggled with the despair Kierkegaard describes. Maybe, just maybe, he actually struggled with it more…

Our access to easy pleasure and distraction has given way to a species-wide naturalistic fallacy; if it’s natural, it must be good. While it is, at a fundamental level, natural to be as promiscuous as possible (or as acquisitive as possible, or as gluttonous as possible etc. etc.), it is fallacious to assume that doing so is automatically good. Speaking from a Kierkegaardian perspective, the easier these pleasures become, the *more* despair people should feel because we are regressing further away from resolving the crisis of finite and infinite. We immerse ourselves in the finite, as Solomon did, and find our lives wanting.

Under no circumstances should this be interpreted as a condemnation of modern medical advances and the abundant wealth that technology and capitalism has provided. By every possible measure, our lives are healthier, wealthier, more comfortable and longer than ever before. What it should be interpreted as is a warning and a reminder to acknowledge your infinite self. Those conflicts and the Big Questions are always there, hovering in the background no matter how many sex parties a person goes to. Refusing to acknowledge those questions and resolve them in an individual manner means despair. I don’t necessarily think that Kierkegaard was a prophet whose prescriptions for living a good life are universal.

However, I do think each person must try to find their own way to live a good life and I believe that an individual is ill-prepared to do so if constantly distracted by the immediacy of the finite. I agree with Kierkegaard that each person does have a spark of divinity inside and we ignore it at our peril. I would like to see more people living in less despair. Now shut up and let me look at boobs.