I was having a chat with some friends recently about some aspects of life. It gave me the opportunity to express my thoughts on one or two subjects. Let me tell you more about it.
One speaker offered this video as an example of a man who had some “interesting points and outlook.”
I didn’t agree. Not at all, actually. Life is not “easy.” I found the speaker an insufferable, toothy-grinned bore, a slave-master disguising himself as a liberator. And I said so, in no uncertain terms. This is what I said:
After watching him for a minute, I had a desire to slap him in the face.
Then he’ll find out how easy and rational life is.
One or two other participants in the dialogue took offense, taking literally what was intended to be verbal denunciation of a speaker’s ideas. I wasn’t concerned. I would rather be flogged than be considered a peddler of “nice” ideas. If life were so simple, there would be no need for the monuments of art, literature, science, and philosophy that have graced the centuries of civilization.
He’s just a little too smug, too happy, too content, too sickly saccharine. Such people irritate me, with their hopeless prattle about peace and contentment. They see life as a platitudinous Hallmark card, rather than the kaleidoscope of passions that it truly is. The upward progress of man, and the great achievements of history, have been marked by passion, blood, rage, love, hatred, violence, conquest, and the ecstasy of zeal.
Give me powerful, honest, searing emotions!
Give me intensity in its sincerest form, though it be at times violent and destructive!
Because sometimes we have to smash the old things, to make room for the new ones. Even ourselves. And this was what I meant. We are dealing with moral truths here. No man of any consequence wants, or seeks, an “easy life.”
Slash with your knives, jab with your bayonets, and keep the lead flying down range. This is most of life. This is the moral truth, the quintessence of the glorious struggle that we were born for. Well, we’re dealing with moral truths here, are we not? Or, at least, moral truths as I see them.
One needs to set out such things, and describe them; and if the emotions come from a sincere place, all the better. I want my heart to be a taught, tightly wound cord, which, when touched, resounds clearly for the world to hear.
Son coeur est un luth suspendu; sitot, qu’on le touche il resonne…(De Beranger, from Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher.)
What I say is this: that this Thai man, while perhaps being a very nice man (what a nice man!), is like one of those sirens whose song lures and coaxes us to our deaths. Behind that innocent smile lurks the heart of a demon, even if he doesn’t know it. Especially if he doesn’t know it.
He sedates and intoxicates us with his platitudes, with his fooleries, with his sickly-sweet prescription for the good life. And there the lost, gullible Westerner sits, in his cushioned auditorium chair, enraptured at the cozy, empty words coming out of Mr. Thailand’s mouth. I wonder where I can get a nice tunic like that, with those clasps, thinks the Western fool. Because the comfortable, modern man wants it both ways: he wants to be told life is easy and enjoyable, and he doesn’t want to let go of all the things that make him feel secure.
Let him be stripped down to his essentials, I say. Let him know what it is like to be reduced to his most primitive elements. Then he will find out: then he will truly know.
The good life is not to be found in relaxation, endless joy, and tranquility. No. It is only to be found in the endless quest. The quest alone gives us meaning. We must seek it out, this Blood-Quest, and hunt it down. And then make it our own.
Sometimes this is a violent process. Sometimes this is a nasty process. But it is one which all men must go through. There is no other way. The upward movement of all men has always been marked, not by cloying sweets or voluptuous delicacies, but by struggle, fighting, agony, passion, and love. Give me this. Don’t lull me into a stupor with men like this, who grin at me with their big teeth and lure me to my death, like the Sirens would to Odysseus, among the jagged rocks. No. No. No. I would sooner die first.
I want to punch, and I want to be punched. This is life. This is the pulse of life.
Listen, if you will, to Orson Welles here, talking about this same idea. A generation of violence and turbulence under the Borgias, but the Renaissance was produced. Five hundred years of peace in Switzerland, and that produced….the cuckoo clock:
And so this is what I mean, and this is what I meant. We have to get down to the essentials of things. We have to get past the platitudes, past the grinning slogans, past the lectures in comfortable auditoriums where we are put to sleep by simple-minded charlatans in Buddhist tunics. Keep Mr. Thailand away from me. I do not want to mix my energy with his. Noli me tangere. For out of this mixing there can only come the morbid decomposition of our own psyches.
I don’t want to be sedated, to be “happy,” to be another grinning zombie who hectors me as I sit in a cushioned auditorium chair. I want to feel the salt spray on my face as my ship ploughs through the rolling, surging swell of life. Can you taste the tang? I must have it.
I want to feel the taste of my own blood in my mouth, as I am hit by a man stronger than I. I want to feel the satisfaction of hitting a man who deserves to be hit, perhaps. Because there is a wisdom in this. There is a balance in this. This delicate thread that connects us all. And this is the Eternal Truth, a truth far deeper than our grinning friend with the Thai accent can yet comprehend.
I call that good. I call that Life itself.
I promise nothing but struggle, hardship, and adventure. But I also promise Life itself. A real life, richly lived. And more will follow me, than will follow him. Since I’ve made my rejection of Mr. Thailand’s avuncular, namby-pamby ethical code clear, I have an obligation to propose my own code. You can call them commandments, if you want. And here they are.
1. You shall not shield yourself from raw, unvarnished experience.
2. You shall not hide from the clash, clang, and roar of life. Instead, you shall welcome it.
3. You shall find the nature of that Spirit that resides in you, and that moves you to attempt great deeds.
4. You shall obey the call of that Spirit, wherever it may take you.
5. You shall love passionately, and hate passionately.
6. You shall realize that we are, each of us, alone.
7. You shall not expect your woman to “complete” you, and neither shall you “complete” her.
8. You shall realize that Life is a brutal struggle, and you shall welcome the chance to enter the Great Arena of Life, knowing that the only way to lose is by failing to participate. Pain is good, natural, and desirable. All honor and glory go to those who participate with zeal in the struggle.
9. You shall not expect the other man to be like you, or to “understand” you, on more than a few points. He is he, and I am I.
10. You shall not expect, and shall not seek, a stupefying and illusory “happiness” from the World. You are entitled to nothing except what is in you.
So there you have it. You can call it a creed, or you can call it whatever you wish. I call them ideas to guide ourselves by. Feel that spray on your face, for it is the spittle of life itself. There is only forward, or death.
I find that good, and reaffirming, somehow.
Read more about ethics and perseverance in my ground-breaking, original translation of Cicero’s “On Duties”: