My Personal Philosophy in Life
An element of my personal philosophy of life is related to the dynamics of ‘contentment’. Since the whole canon of Western Philosophy is centered on the causes, states and conditions of contentment, it is fair to say that my contribution through this narrative is a minuscule one. Yet, I would like to voice my assessment of this universal human concern and try to refine my theory through the responses it will elicit from the audience. I have synthesized my personal experience with a larger political event and have studied them both in a philosophical framework. I hope that the audience will eventually agree with me as they see the logic and weight of my arguments given below.
I would describe my personal philosophy of life as closely allied to Epicureanism. Although this school of thought is grouped under Hedonism, it is markedly more moderate in the principles it espouses. As opposed to Hedonism, which is living life for the sole purpose of sensory enjoyment, ‘restraint’, ‘control’ and ‘moderation’ are the keywords describing Epicureanism. One of the sayings of Epicurus which had touched me and later influenced me was this: “A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness.” (The Principle Doctrines of Epicurus, 2011) There are unmistakable Buddhist undertones to this tenet – perhaps not a coincidence considering the blooming of Buddhism in Asia during the time of Epicurus. When I first came across this tenet a few years back, it immediately struck me as valid and relevant to the personal and political domains. That it was intended as an instruction to conducting personal life is obvious, but its political application is not straightforward. On careful reflection, though, the tenet’s relevance to contemporary politics comes to light.
Thomas E. Ricks’ 2006 book titled Fiasco, The American Military Adventure In Iraq, helps us connect Epicurean thought to a major political event. For instance, Ricks notes in his book how the United States invaded sovereign Iraq for the sake of oil and not for the stated reasons. He also documents the human and material costs incurred by both sides, with costs being disproportionately high on the Iraqi side. (Ricks, 2006) Placing Ricks’ findings and observations in Epicurean terms, I was able to synthesize the following argument: One could interpret America’s continued occupation of Iraq as a manifestation of ‘partiality’, in this case toward so called national interest, which in turn translates into the interests of military contractors and oil corporations based in the country. The destruction of lives and resources on both sides is as a result of America ‘troubling’ itself and ‘troubling’ its distant and weak enemy in the form of Iraq. Further, consistent with the tenet, the invasion implies ‘weakness’ on part of the aggressor, more specifically a ‘weakness’ for material wealth (in this case fossil fuel).
It is interesting to note that the wisdom of Epicurus, set out two millenniums ago, finds application in contemporary political actions as well as in an individual’s personal life. In the case of the latter, I myself have been found falling short of being a ‘blessed and indestructible being’, for my occasional imprudent anger and partiality has gotten me into hot water a few times. One lingering memory in this respect is when I got into a verbal scuffle with a member of the audience during a college football game. I was slightly inebriated when my team was way behind in the game and the chance of winning was slim. At that point I over-reacted to a snide remark from a fan of the opposing team and got into a heated exchange. In retrospect I realized that though his remark was offensive it was not a defeat to my team and it did not mean anything significant. At that point I got the insight that my reaction is comparable to the way our government has conducted itself in the ongoing War on Terror operations. Just as I over-estimated the stakes involved in the defeat of my favorite team, the American government over-estimated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his illusory Weapons of Mass Destruction. There is a difference though, in that my adverse reaction was based on an over-spill of emotion (anger) whereas the government’s estimated threats were construed and deliberate. (Burnham, et., al., 2007) Research team of Gilbert Burnham et. al., have elaborated on the misinformation campaign organized by the government (in collusion with the media) in their supplement to the second Lancet study. In the study they identify how American diplomats underplay Iraqi fatalities and hype-up Iraqi insurgencies. When I place this in the Epicurean framework, it is an obvious example of ‘partiality’.
My cheering for my football team (none of whose members I know personally) is similar to the cheering from jingoistic American citizens when the decision to invade Iraq was announced. (Ricks, 2006) Just a little bit of reflection made me realize that players of the opposing team are as hard-working, as meritorious and as deserving of their spurs as my own team is. Hence I questioned my allegiance to my team, when the real allegiance should be to broader aspects of the game like sportsmanship, fair-play, execution of skills, etc. Did all Americans similarly express solidarity with human beings in general, including innocent Iraqi civilians?
I believe that, in order for civilization to progress, parochialism and narrow-mindedness will have to be overcome by embracing principles of solidarity and compassion toward fellow humans. Bringing about this transformation at the level of nations is a highly challenging project, given the power and efficiency of propaganda systems in place. But transformation at the individual level is more plausible. I personally have endeavored to mould myself in the Epicurean fashion with reasonable success and I implore members of the audience to consider this path. By embracing this philosophy, one can acquire a high degree of sophistication and refinement as a person. It will also enable an individual to navigate challenging phases in life with equipoise, stoicism and mental tranquility. More importantly, it will induce a state of contentment in the mind, which will make redundant conflicts and envy with fellow humans.
Epicurean Philosophy, Principle Doctrines of Epicurus, retrieved from http://www.epicurus.net/en/principal.html on 30th January, 2011
Gilbert Burnham, Shannon Doocy, Elizabeth Dzeng, Riyadh Lafta, and Les Roberts., (2007), The Human Cost of the War in Iraq: A Mortality Study, 2002–2006, A supplement to the second Lancet study.
Thomas E. Ricks (2006) Fiasco, The American Military Adventure In Iraq. Published by Penguin Books.
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