Love is the solution
But it's about the individual, not the world.
"The main this is — love others as yourself, that's the main thing, and it's everything, there's no need for anything else at all; it will immediately be discovered how to set things up [how to create paradise]. And yet this is merely an old truth, repeated and read a billion times, but still it has never taken root!"
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Dreams of a Ridiculous Man
Why hasn't it taken root? If it hasn't taken root, can we say we've gotten closer to having it take root? Have we progressed? How do we define progression?
"The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints."
—Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History
Have our minds become more enlightened? Has our character improved? Has the individual become more free? Do we no longer need philosophers and saints? —for once the main thing has taken root, there will be no need for revolutionaries. If the answers to these questions are yes, then we are progressing.
And my answer to these questions are yes. Though we feel like we know less than we did before, we know more than ever. The average high school kid learns the entire knowledge of math and more as compared with previous eras. Increasing knowledge clues us in on everything we don't know, which is always more than what we do know. Only ignorance can compel us to believe that we know everything, therefore the counter of ignorance is surely the enlightenment of the mind, which feels uncertain. Our character has improved —we are beginning to see people take an interest in the pursuit of happiness, and therefore human well-being, and as a result, have moved from desires such as money, power, fame, to a more introspective and therefore more internal motivation. Character is the embodiment of Self in the face of the external world, a person who strives to fulfill their internal obligations has character. While the pursuit of happiness itself may lead to the pursuit of money, power and fame, I take this more as a sign that we have not properly thought of what it truly means to be happy and how to pursue it —we have not improved our character to the point of understanding that the pursuit of happiness must be entirely internal, but that we are attempting to discover this, that is surely an improvement of character. The individual, without a doubt, has become more free —I will not list all the examples of laws and movements that have enabled all sorts of freedom for the individual, one by one, throughout the centuries. And then we have the last question, yes —the mainstream philosophers and saints are gone and that is because each individual person is trying to become a philosopher and a saint, the philosophers and saints are gone because we, as the general populace of people, are taking their places. Philosophy and sainthood are no longer the place of the intellectual elite nor the wealthy who have time to think and follow their virtues. The modern world has destroyed the intellectual barriers for freedom of thought —there is time and with it, anyone can philosophize and live virtuously, then share their thoughts and experiences on the Internet. The sharing of thoughts and experiences... of what the proper thoughts and what the proper experience, the way to live, ought to be is what a philosopher and saint contemplate, preach, and act on. We, as the general population of people, are increasingly doing this. We no longer need philosophers and saints because we are aspiring to their places; we are miraculously close to the main thing because we can answer all the questions in the affirmative. We have progressed, though the main thing has not taken root yet, but it could —so long as we keep progressing, so long as we keep answering yes to these questions, but that is where I have the most fear.
For the main thing to take root, the majority of the populace of the world has to live in accordance with it. What does it mean, to love others as yourself then?
This idea is taken from Søren Kierkegaard in Works of Love, loosely paraphrased from this direct quote:
"There is nothing, nothing at all, that cannot be done or said in such a way that it becomes upbuilding, but whatever it is, if it is upbuilding, then love is present. Thus the admonition, just where love itself admits the difficulty of giving a specific rule, says, “Do everything for upbuilding.” It could just as well have said, “Do everything in love,” and it would have said the very same thing. One person can do exactly the opposite of what another person does, but if each one does the opposite—in love—the opposite becomes upbuilding. There is no word in the language that in itself is upbuilding, and there is no word in the language that cannot be said in an upbuilding way and become upbuilding if love is present. Thus it is so very far from being the case that the upbuilding would be something that is an excellence of a few gifted individuals, similar to brains, literary talent, beauty, and the like (alas, this is just an unloving and divisive error!) that on the contrary it is the very opposite—every human being by his life, by his conduct, by his behavior in everyday affairs, by his association with his peers, by his words, his remarks, should and could build up and would do it if love were really present in him."
—Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love
If we combine Kierkegaard's idea on love with "love others as yourself," what we arrive at is a relatively simplistic definition of how to live: make things better (up build ), either for yourself or for other people because it is synonymous. Unfortunately, the difficulty is in understanding what better or right or good is since it's dynamic, "there are no rules," what is better, right, or good is not a definite, repeatable action, behavior, circumstance, or pattern. All proper decision-making, of choosing what is better, right, or good is subject to Heraclitus's main idea that "no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man," in other words, all situations, however similar we believe them to be, are different. No person or situation is ever the same as time progresses, and therefore we should not treat them as the same, but have the courage to re-evaluate and treat each person and situation as completely unique. If no rules or patterns are used to evaluate situations, we cannot filter any decision as incorrect immediately, we have to consider everything for the sake of the uniqueness of this particular situation, and if we do this, it is difficult because we have to confront the "dizziness of freedom, the anxiety of seeing all the options from a top the world, and not knowing what or where to do or go," (Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety). We discover that to love oneself or to love another requires the willingness to experience dread, the feeling of complete paralysis in the face of trying circumstances where one must decide what is good. And is it any wonder then, why people shy away from this feeling? and therefore shy away from love too.
I'm afraid that we do not love ourselves nor other people and am convinced that we do the exact opposite; we are afraid to love, therefore we make merry by digging our own graves and welcoming our close relations to join us or else help them dig their graves. We rely on a mass delusion, make-believing, that we are moving closer to obtaining a worthy life while moving infinitely further away from it. We amuse ourselves, but "I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber," (Blaise Pascal, Pensées, p. 40). And yet, we would not have our own happiness because:
"We are all divorced from life, we are all cripples, every one of us, more or less. We are so divorced from it that we feel at once a sort of loathing for real life, and so cannot bear to be reminded of it. Why, we have come almost to looking upon real life as an effort, almost as hard work, and we are all privately agreed that it is better in books. And why do we fuss and fume sometimes? Why are we perverse and ask for something else? We don't know what ourselves. It would be the worse for us if our petulant prayers were answered. Come, try, give any one of us, for instance, a little more independence, untie our hands, widen the spheres of our activity, relax the control and we... yes, I assure you... we should be begging to be under control again at once."
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground, p. 166
We escape into our entertainment, whether it be TV, movies, video games, internet surfing, pornography, sex, music, drugs, parties, or mindlessness. We are unhappy when alone and unhappy when we think; yet we are also unhappy when not alone and unhappy when thoughtless. We are unhappy when alone because we do not know what to do with ourselves and this creates great agitation. We are unhappy when we think because our thoughts are disorderly and confusing, and we do not want to be confused nor fear. Yet this agitation, this confusion, this fear —are the sure signs of the beginning of choice and therefore also "of choosing what is better, right, or good," (See above), and since there can be no love without this choosing —no up building, synonymous with making better, we end up without love towards ourselves and others since the two are also synonymous. We are afraid of the agitation, confusion, and fear that comes with love and therefore escape it, becoming all the more unhappy because we are without love.
Can we stop pretending we're satisfied when we're not? "Life is not about choosing a meaning or purpose, it's about answering life's problems, daily and hourly. We need to ask what life would ask of us, not the other way around..." (Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning). Our insistence that life is about choosing a meaning or purpose only shows that we feel the opposite. We'd like to convince ourselves to feel fulfilled by thinking that life is purposeful and meaningful, but we fail to act on our thoughts, therefore we never garner the feelings that would arise from action:
"People have played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a meaning to life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living. In truth, there is no necessary common measure between these two judgments. One merely has to refuse to be misled by the confusions, divorces, and inconsistencies previously pointed out."
—Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, p. 5
Those inconsistencies being that people are hypocrites "who answer 'no' act as if they thought 'yes,'" or else are escapists who "hope of another life one must 'deserve' or trickery of those who live not for life itself but for some great idea that will transcend it, refine it, give it a meaning, and betray it," (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, p. 5).
We escape our feelings by thinking, therefore we will never feel satisfied, we will feel nothing, and this is the route Stoicism recommends:
"With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind or contribute to use or are tenderly beloved, remind yourself of what nature they are, beginning with the merest trifles: if you have a favorite cup, that it is but a cup of which you are fond of—for thus, if it is broken, you can bear it; if you embrace your child or your wife, that you embrace a mortal—and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it."
—Epictetus, The Enchiridion
Stoicism has its applications, but when applied to the endeavor of human happiness, it fails. What person can be happy who thinks a child or spouse that dies is not a merit for tears and unbearable grieving? —a person who is not concerned with their happiness, who is tasked with running an empire —a real concern that means they must be steady and calm for the sake of the greater good, but this is not the modern individual. For the modern individual, it is sufficient to break down and cry because their emotions depend on their being expressed properly, and they have no estate to manage that demands their attention that would prevent them from being human.
"'The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness' — that is what must be fought!"
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Dreams of a Ridiculous Man
Ideologically, we have all the pieces necessary for life and happiness, for the main thing to take root, but it has not taken root because it remains an idea instead of an actuality that must be lived. Therein lies the dilemma —as we becoming increasingly aware of what we must do, so it becomes more difficult to not fear what it is we must do. We cannot live through life in peace at all times, only ignorance can bring such bliss, but we are resigned to wanting this impossibility because we are afraid. We do not want to be foolish, nor make mistakes, nor fail, nor otherwise place ourselves in positions in which we'll be compromised, we do not wish to be hurt, but no one learns to ride a bicycle without falling a few times, looking foolish, making mistakes, and otherwise getting a few scrapes and bumps. No one learns to love without failing to love first and foremost, but most of us become discouraged, we begin to try random techniques, hope someone will tell us the secret to love, can help us, but no one can help —to love (as with riding a bike) is very simple conceptually, yet it requires patience to learn. Simply put:
When we are capable of giving love, is when we'll be capable of receiving love because then we'll know what it is and what it is not, but most of us resign from learning this or even try to convince ourselves that this is not the nature of love, and therefore move further from love, thinking about love instead of living with love.
"The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he's too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity."
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
We escape into wanting to change the world, into chasing ideals, into being hypocrites whom preach of the greater good, but fail to even treat our family and friends with humanity.
"This ability to act for the common good, of which he felt himself completely deprived, was perhaps not a virtue but, on the contrary, a lack of something –not a lack of good, honest and noble desires and tastes, but a lack of life force, of what is known as heart, of that yearning which makes a man choose one out of all the countless paths in life presented to him and desire that one alone... many other workers for the common good had not been brought to this love of the common good by the heart, but had reasoned in their minds that it was good to be concerned with it and were concerned with it only because of that... [they] took questions about the common good and the immortality of the soul no closer to heart than those about a game of chess or the clever construction of a new machine."
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, p. 169
And this failure of the heart, of being able to love what is in close proximity to us, what is singular, of an individual, costs us greatly because we feel miserable without love and yet are afraid to love at the same time.
"I am sorry that I cannot say anything more comforting, for active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving of one's own life, provided it does not take too long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science...
—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
We have never felt further from our goals of a just and good world, of having the main thing take root, and yet, we are closer than ever. We are all aspiring to be philosophers and saints; to understand how to live life correctly, and it is this desire that is ruining America ideologically as it focuses on the individual over "the greater good", but it is from within the individual that we must arrive at the belief that to love another, to live through the heart, is the attainment of a just and good life, and so it is now that the main thing has its best chance of taking root —precisely when it is most difficult for it to take root because it can take root.
I am not religious, I have no belief in God, and yet, I have faith, so I will repeat what philosophers, historians, theologians, and people from across all of time have echoed because the conditions are ripe for its taking root:
To love means to choose what is good, right, or better, and is therefore very specific and immediate, practical, and yet, what is good, right, or better cannot be known beforehand, it requires at the end, a leap of faith.
"Dilige et quod vis fac."
—Love and then what you will, do.