Kanye West, Arthur Schopenhauer, Religion and Aesthetic Appreciation in the Face of Suffering
“The only thing promised in life is death” This is a quote from modern renaissance man Kanye West. I heard this quote as an angsty 12 year old looking at old Kanye videos on YouTube and it genuinely moved me. I was already an angsty teenager and this confirmed my angst. Kanye was actually trying to be inspirational when he said the quote but I had a hard time seeing it. Life is a long road with guaranteed suffering and inevitable death at the end. These are the guaranteed terms and conditions once you are born on this broken planet. So life is tragic by its nature but then there’s human malevolence. That means tragedy that is not a function of nature or necessary for survival. Its things like racism, sexism, greed, prejudice, murder, abuse, war, pollution for profit, hoarding of resources. These are things that are added on to the tragic nature of life which includes diseases and decay.
Human beings are the only known mammal that has an acute existential awareness of the tragedy of life and we grasp the concept early on and are able to view our lives in a linear timeline where we understand who we were yesterday, who we are today and where we are going to be tomorrow. And this understanding can always point us back to our own mortality. So this realization leads people to different paths to cope with it. Some find solace in religion, career, family, relationships or drugs. Some coping mechanisms are beneficial and some are harmful but ultimately that's what we do. We try to find things that make life worthwhile. A lot of us find solace in our capitalistic pursuits.
Because our system is structured in our endless pursuit for an incentive at the end of a process, we chase those incentives to where everything is gonna be alright after I get the money, power, the accolades, the fame, the respect, the relationship or whatever else you get once you achieve a certain level of wealth or status. And there is a level of truth to that. People of affluence live longer, healthier and extravagant lifestyles. The ability to purchase what you want whenever you want it provides you with a sense of security that you would otherwise not have. But studies have proven that after a certain point, wealth does not increase your happiness or satisfaction levels. And if wealth was the key to happiness then people like Anthony Bourdain would not commit suicide. And so if the pot of gold at the end of the road isn’t found in wealth then where do we find it?
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had the same realization. Schopenhauer surmised that human beings are controlled by this concept he developed called “the Will to life” or Wille zum Leben. The Will was conceptualized by Schopenhauer as the irrational "blind incessant impulse without knowledge" that drives instinctive behaviors, causing an endless insatiable striving in human existence, which Nature could not exist without. Will, generally, is the faculty of the mind that selects, at the moment of decision, a desire among the various desires present; it itself does not refer to any particular desire, but rather to the mechanism responsible for choosing from among one's desires. All willing, according to Schopenhauer, involves suffering, insofar as it originates from need and deficiency. Schopenhauer held that the character of the will expresses itself in the perpetual strivings of living creatures and in the forces of inorganic matter. Grounding his proto-Darwinian philosophy of nature in his metaphysics and the empirical sciences of his day, Schopenhauer viewed nature as an arena where living beings compete to survive and procreate, where species adapt to environmental conditions, and, most emphasized by Schopenhauer, where sentient beings suffer as virtual slaves to their will to life.
Schopenhauer was highly influenced by Buddhism and just like the Buddha he thought that we were controlled by this Will that forces us to be slaves to our mortal flesh and its desires, which ultimately causes us to suffer. One of the ways in which he believed one could break free to some degree from the servitude to the Will was within aesthetic experience and artistic production. Schopenhauer believed that aesthetic experience could bring us closer to an accurate depiction of the Will or thing-itself without being clouded by the desire seeking of the experiential world. Being capable of experiencing aesthetic experiences is what differentiates us from animals. The cognitive contemplation and transcendental effects of nature, beauty, art, literature, architecture and other ideas and concepts are the most human of traits. We all have favourite songs, movies, shows, games, books, buildings, clothes, and spots. Tangible abstractions that provide us with feelings that we intuitively feel but can’t directly communicate.
The observation of aesthetic experience is an ego inhibitor that makes you in tune with our fundamental nature that unites us past the surface level. It communicates through the intuitive concept that helps us represent the world before experience. All human beings are capable of having aesthetic experiences, the experience unites the observers and creators as it has effectively communicated the core of what we are and what life is. The creator is just the communicator of the abstraction in its tangible form. We receive ideas that conceptualize the fundamentals of life and then communicate it in a way where the intuitive knowledge can be understood and felt by others.
When you listen to music, you are feeling pure emotion in its actual form. The song is the intuitive happiness, sadness, horror, etc that you are feeling when listening to the composition. When you are watching a movie you are viewing and feeling the communication of the intuitive nature of the experiences the character is going through. This Covid-19 pandemic is obviously not the ideal situation to be in. Philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus once said “Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” Plagues like this are sobering reminders of the unpredictable nature of nature. One day everything seems fine and the next day everyone has to stay inside because there are viruses trying to kill us. And different people deal with this reality in different ways. The constant reminder of our mortality really forces us to think about what is of utmost importance and how we would like to spend our lives.
I’m 21 years old and usually I would just put off doing something I’ve longed to do or would want to do for some future date but this has reminded me that we are not in control of life, how it happens, how it comes or goes and that it's not guaranteed. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us and we are more aware of that than ever. And so I had to strip it all away. Without the search for an incentive at the end of the road, what is a worthwhile way to spend life. What would be worth doing for its own sake, without the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And I realized the answer was the rainbow itself.
The answer is the scenic sunset I see when I ride my bike over the bridge next to my house, the answer is in the laughs I share with my friends and family, the answer is listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West, it’s reading Tell all the truth but tell it slant by Emily Dickinson, It's watching Bojack Horseman, its reading, writing, drawing, creating, learning, conceptualizing and contemplating, for its own sake and achieving revelatory findings about oneself and transcendental experiences through it. That means learning new skills and becoming proficient at them, and through the process learning more about yourself and the way of life, the failures, mistakes, losses, successes, your own temperament, disciplining yourself, using your intellect and connecting with your imagination and intuitive emotions, feelings and fundamental being. In observing nature, art and philosophy and seeking information through them you gain a deeper insight into reality than science can provide because these are things that can’t be represented.
The fundamental nature of being itself before experience can never be represented and neither can intuitive feelings, emotions and concepts. Our world is structured in a way that forces us to seek incentives. There is incentive to do things just for the money it can bring, and while that is a path we can take, we should understand that it limits us from experiencing a full scope of life. If you are just doing something for the sake of the status it might give you or the money and power it might get you, after you have achieved those incentives then there is no reason to continue going. And that's what happens often with people who pursue certain career paths in our modern day exclusively for an incentive.
It's either you achieve what you set out to do and it's underwhelming because you didn’t even have a good reason for going on that path, or you fail at achieving the incentive and then regret the time you wasted chasing something you didn’t want in the first place. I have a genuine love for creativity, I would hate to sound pretentious and cheesy but I think we’re way past that at this point so I’m gonna get