Our addiction to simple preoccupations, such as video gaming, seems to act against our own self-interest; but are we merely mistaking the real nature of ‘self’?
This Guardian article stumbles towards the fact that this week one Russian was shot over an argument about Kant. It does so by making a tenuous link between philosophy, and two seemingly completely unrelated, but ‘coincidentally’ heavily trending, topics: Grand Theft Auto 5 and the iPhone 5s.http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/20/ideas-stuff?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487#start-of-comments
The question is essentially ‘when will philosophy become as popular as gadgets and video games’? It is not a particularly enlightening article and I am sure that it was only conceived for the purpose of advertising revenue. (The accompanying banners are all Carphone Warehouse links to the iPhone 5s). In fact the link with philosophy in general is so spurious that I am reluctant to give the content credence. However, it just so happens that there is a potentially interesting underlying question; one easily concerning contemporary society values and less-easily concerning personhood. Why (in the most profound sense) and in what way are
video games and gadgets more popular than philosophy and what does this tell us about our very nature?
There are various paths to tread. The first concerns what I believe Aristotle would have called AKRASIA (or Acrasia) or the disposition to seemingly act against one’s own self-interest. Because, after all, the time spent playing video games could so obviously be better utilised. And if we are (so obviously) aware of this fact, then why do we still do it? There are also matters of ‘value over effort’ and of basic education to consider, but most importantly there is the fundamental question of what it is to be a person. I will address the deepest question first.
When my students play video games instead of practising on their instrument, or completing their assignments, they clearly appear to be acting against their better judgement or own self-interest. But would an activity that requires a deeper complexity of thought – such as that of reading philosophy - really be more beneficial, and if so, beneficial to what…exactly? You see things aren’t as simple as Descartes’ condensed and highly popular argument ‘I think therefore I am’ would lead us to believe. In order to consider what this ‘I’ really is we have to look for the most basic motivational forces in play. After all, if ‘I’ am really acting against my own self-interest, I want to know what this ‘I’ is and why it is guiding me along such a troubled path.
Evolution has, one way or another, created us and the ‘us’ in play is one that is genetically conceived. We are the product of our genes (however so to be nurtured) and our genes will go on for hundreds or thousands of years basically unaltered after our death. Our genes form the basis of our only real self: the self that in essence motivates us. It certainly serves the gene that we at least think we
exist so that it
continues to do so. We should want to preserve our selves so that the gene within us has the best chance of surviving. (Our presumed self certainly will not
survive.) It therefore doesn’t much matter what we do with our time so long as we do not get too entangled in thoughts that were otherwise ‘designed’ simply to tie us to the very idea of ‘being’. We need, for the gene’s sake, to remain loyal to that idea (of self) and, even more importantly, we need to relish the acquisition of simple pleasure. It is important that we should get used to such an idea so that, at the right time, the tendency for pleasure (over toil) will lead us towards the most important pleasure of all: that resulting in procreation. (Or at least this is the pleasure that we could say ‘nature’ intended
to result in procreation. Whether or not the pleasure itself survives the fact that thoughts themselves have evolved*, and have perhaps countered their purpose with the kind of knowledge and invention that has led lead to such things as contraception, remains to be seen). We are necessarily programmed with an inclination towards mindless indulgence and should not (as the gene would have it) be deviated; certainly not en route
to adulthood. (And it should be noted that teenage boys are the most likely to be restrained in their endeavours by the harness that is GTA5 and its like). It does not serve the gene’s purpose for our invented selves to be become ‘enlightendly unwilling,' or otherwise too engaged with complex matters. We should (for any real survival’s sake) accept, rather than challenge, the overtly apparent fact that: ‘we think therefore we are’. This idea is the fundamental remit of consciousness and, without too much
thought, we should lend our very selves to its pleasure. It seems then, that the problem of akrasia may be solved. It only seems
like we are acting against our own self-interest because we are duped in to thinking that we
are an external entity to the real unit of survival; an entity beyond that which evolution posted.
Now, if we go back to the popularity of philosophy itself, we can see that it is not, or has not been, natural or profitable (to the survival of our real substance - the one that is, or that is direct by - the gene) to question anything too deeply. We do, however, now live deep within Descartes’ illusion, and living within it makes it as real to us as anything else that surrounds us. Should we therefore strive for better things; for complexity over simple pleasure? It is a very difficult question: hedonism or academia? Considering the fact that the gene itself is blind, it clearly does not care about the quality of its own existence or that of its deluded host. It does, however, unwittingly strive for survival and therefore towards quantity. Perhaps we will become less conscious as consciousness itself belies its own purpose. Or otherwise, as in the direction we currently trend, we will override the gene and become masters of our own destiny; achieving what we believe to be a superior quality for our selves. And so, it is at least a possibility that philosophy bookshops should prepare for the kind of queues posed in the Guardians origin article. And perhaps Game should prepare, once again, for receivership.
to be continued…
* the evolution
of thoughts warrants special attention