Given the basic needs of life and in the absence of physiological abnormality, the solution is fairly simple. The trick is to keep applying it.
Would that I were, or ever had been capable of taking and applying my own advice – but hey! We all have our blind spots. I will leave aside the usual crass (but nonetheless vital) banalities. Yes, yes Dr Lederman I know: exercise, healthy food, the absence of harmful drugs and stimulants, a fulfilling occupation.
Oops! The latter is by no means so simple in this shitty world we have created. And fulfilling occupations will become even more of a shibboleth as AI and Jeff Bezos lookalikes dominate our barren landscape.
OK well leaving aside Bezos and the awfulness of capitalism, it is obvious we must negotiate the pleasure pain axis and go for the nicer end. So….and here at last I come to the point, if we think we know what gives pleasure, do we know how to avoid pain?
No, I am not trying to be my usual deep, impenetrable, smug self here. I am merely trying to learn my own lessons and to be better at applying them. And I would say that one important element that stands at the pleasure end of the axis is “peace”, and its antithesis (which sits right at the opposite end of the pleasure -pain axis) is conflict.
The absence of conflict, means, by and large that you will find yourself at peace. Peace is a surprisingly big word. Its not just for the sickly sweet god botherers (oops! conflict alert!) although we could all learn a lot from their source material.
No, “Peace” is really big and grown up and important. And it exists. It exists for some of us all too fleetingly, nonetheless once tasted we should be able to build “peace muscles” so that peace comes effortlessly to us.
If I think about moments when I have felt true peace, it becomes obvious to me that those moments contained no conflict, internal or external. Internal conflict is when your mind churns with one of humanity’s least attractive qualia: anger, envy, hatred, negativity for instance. External conflict (while the inevitable result of internal conflict) need not be full scale physical aggression to be harmful.
So what happened yesterday? I took pointless issue with some self styled internet cult leader. Did I get particularly upset? Was I thoroughly unpleasant and unnecessarily rude to this latter day “christian” nutter? Well no, to any of those things, and yet I am only too well aware that I do tend to major in harmful polemic. How about my diatribe against the Pig, the Salesman and the Snob? Who happens incidentally to be a single bête noire who manages to roll into one awful golem all those characteristics.
Well I really don’t like the guy’s behaviour and he has done a lot of harm Down Deal but is this the right way to treat him? Certainly not from his point of view even though my polemic is probably objectively justified but, you know, why bother?
So what should I do? What should any of us do? I think the answer must be to enter into conflict as seldom as humanly possible and only when utterly, completely unavoidable. The Pig needed to be seen off but I did not need to write about him. Conflict with the Pig is inevitable if you want to be left with a shirt on your back and shoes on your feet but that conflict should not be wallowed in, exaggerated or dwelt upon. Or written about.
So I mustn’t do it anymore. He must be firmly slapped down every time he puts his awful snout in someone else’s trough but I must leave it at that. And how about Davos 2019? Was that conflict? It was not meant to be and yet a friend took it as such. I thought humour, he thought polemic. I was indeed taking the piss out of the windbags who go there but I did not intend any particular malice and it did not wind me up; so perhaps the jury is out on that one.
Where does this leave me? It leaves me sitting in a civilized study surrounded by antique furniture and books in one of the world’s most affluent cities. Much to be grateful for. That’s at the pleasure end of the axis. And there is a lot else I fill my life with which is also at the “good” end of that axis. Classical music, singing bass rather badly, writing, fiddling with arcane investment algorithms. Poetry, art, walking, mountains, the sea.
So, it is the pain end I need to work hard on. And apart from popping the occasional medicinal Magic Mushroom, that is best done by minding my own business and trying to write only positive things. While ignoring all that, and all those, which and who annoy me.
There! And end to conflict will make me a happier human and it will do the same for you.