A happy new year to everyone who is, or more likely, is not, reading my blog. The following may seem as if it has no relation to poetry, perhaps it hasn't, but it is there behind much of what I write.
Note: I am sure all that follows has been expressed better by numerous people who have better minds than mine, but for what, it's worth, this is my take on things. This could apply to anything I have ever written.
When, many years ago, I decided that there was no good reason to believe in the existence of a god, I started to look for an alternative source for a set of rules by which to live my life. I am not any kind of mathematician. I am indeed profoundly bad at the subject, but it felt as if I was seeking some kind of zero, an absolute starting point that I fondly imagined would provide a state of equilibrium. I stupidly thought that this something could be used as the foundation for a new set of rules. No such thing exists, of course.
As Jean Paul Sartre mentions in his essay Existentialism is Humanism “existence comes before essence – or, if you will, that we must begin from the subjective.” Having determined, to my satisfaction at least, that there was no absolute on which to found a new (but not necessarily absolutely different) set of rules, I set myself to thinking about human nature and what there was in it that might be a source of order in a world that is in a continuous state of flux.
The origin of rules, by the way, seems to me to be at least as important as the rules themselves, as origin provides the basis of their meaning, meaning being something we give to things, not something intrinsic to them. There is no meaning of life, only the meaning we arbitrarily give to it. A god's meaning would be just as arbitrary as ours. The one thing a supposed god would share with humans, if he existed, is that he had could no more help being a god than humans can help being human. Being god is not therefore something a god would especially deserve, just something they unavoidably are.
I envy those philosophers who seem able to dissect things with such clear-eyed precision. It seemed to me that a rough and ready rule was needed to deal with the subjective situation. I came to the same starting point that has occurred to many other people over a long time, that rules should be in the interest of the greatest good of the largest number of people possible. This idea is close relation to the meaning of what is known as the golden rule. Although Christians like to associate the rule with their religion, it has been in existence for much longer, and something like it has been a cornerstone of a number of religions and philosophies. It appears in Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and was around for thousands of years before it appeared in the bible.
Despite having come to the same conclusion as everyone else, I have never been able to embrace the idea without acknowledging that life in the the original raw was naturally nihilistic. Kill or be killed. I can't help but think that the golden rule came into its own as the evolution of the species brought humans to the point where they came to the conclusion that cooperation was better for the individual than unfettered competition (capitalists please note). You might call it enlightened self-interest, whatever you like, but at the same time I will never be able to entirely put to one side nature's viciousness, neither it seems to me can humanity, no matter how superior it imagines itself to be.
The reason I like to keep nature's viciousness in mind is that it seems to me to be both true, and a better means of concentrating the mind on behaving well, than any injunction handed down by a god we cannot see, and have no real evidence for. Although Christianity wraps the golden rule idea up in a panoply of ritual it means no more or less than that original human insight, and religion has, with its theology of excuses for contradictions in the mind of god, the effect of making observance of the rule less obvious and meaningful. They do, of course, make the whole business more romantic, but perhaps we can do with less romanticism, and a bit more clear-cut urgency if we are to survive as a species. There must be no excuse to do harm to other people on the basis that they are heretics.