We Decide What World We Want to Live In
When I have been invited to speak on the topic of improving performance, and I am done covering the physiological and psychological constituents of it, I lead with a question that gets to the core of philosophical truth. I only ask an audience member “what’s the most important thing to you?”
Almost everyone gives the same answer – “my children.” I quickly point out that their children have no inherent meaning. After all, parents murder or abandon their children every day. Lauren Sardi, an assistant professor of sociology at Quinnipiac University, said homicide is actually one of the top five causes of deaths for children under the age of 14. The most recent study, compiled in 2004, showed that 311 of 578 children under the age of five, or 53.8 percent, were killed by their parents in the United States. The study says that between 1976 and 2004, 30 percent of children under five who were murdered were killed by their mother, while 31 percent were killed by their fathers.
Admittedly, when I tell an audience member that their children have no inherent meaning, I am typically met with an incredulous glare. However, my point is that we bring meaning to our children, and it says more about what we choose to value than some biological imperative that children mean “x.” We have chemicals in our system, such as oxytocin, that causes us to want to care for our offspring, but even if a parent had a deficiency there, if children had meaning they would still be cared for. We decide what everything means, or doesn’t mean. Job gain or loss, marriage or divorce, sickness or health, rain or the sunshine… bring no intrinsic definition relating to “good” or “bad,” but merely provide a circumstance for an individual to put into the context of how they view their purpose.
It does not obscure the fact that we all are existing in imagined constructs, more or less agreed upon by society. Money is a fiction and is only as valuable as we all agree it to be. Its importance is not minimized since we need a tool for trading with one another, and it has been argued that human beings have risen to the top of the food chain in no small part to the fact that we are the only species that trades with one another. If you are good at one thing and I am good at another, we maximize our production by dividing labor and producing more than we could individually. That’s generally a good thing for prosperity.
However, consider that the foundation of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, is nothing more than a myth. It claims a divine ruler that has guaranteed us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is no biological concept of justice that exists outside of our own imagination. Conflict arises when the masses stop believing a particular myth, so its principles must be safeguarded with violence and coercion. It also becomes imperative that society is educated that the imagined order has been created by great gods or the laws of nature. People must never consider their reality to be anything other than objective fact. Unfortunately but perhaps necessarily, cooperation has to be forced.
Over the millennia we have used philosophy as a thinking model, exploring questions of how to live, what exists, what the essential nature of things are, what counts as knowledge, and what the correct principles of reasoning consist of. It's hard to deal with concepts that are foundational and abstract in nature, so many of us avoid the exercise. Philosophy tends to be reflective in nature, so often times, the reckoning only comes after the event to be analyzed has occurred. Although the study of philosophy has yet to uncover the meaning of life, the universe, or morality, it has undeniably formed much of our thinking in disciplines like politics, mathematics, science, literature, and sociology. It is a subject worth pursuing.
Where can we start? While there are multiple branches of thought, including Metaphysics (what’s out there?), Epistemology (how do I know about it?), Politics (what actions are permissible?), and Esthetics (what can life be like?), I focus on Ethics, or the study of action. A proper foundation of ethics requires a standard of value to which all goals and actions can be compared to. If we use our own lives as the norm, we start to explore what makes them livable. Since there is no biological need for happiness or striving for success, we must examine what actually causes our well-being and happiness. This is our ultimate standard of value and the goal in which a leader must always strive toward. We arrived here by the examination of our biological nature and recognizing our strange and unique needs. A system of ethics must further consist of not only emergency situations but the day to day choices we make regularly.