In lieu of my regular column, I have agreed to lend this space to the King of Saturn, Discordian Pope Iacobus Rex. - J.L.W.
A Special Message From Pope Iacobus Rex, Part I: Happiness and Suffering
Fifty years ago a new religion was founded at an all-night bowling alley in Richard Nixon's hometown. Called Discordianism, it very well may be a parody religion. Evidence for this is provided in the title of one of its most prominent texts: Principia Discordia, Or, How I Found Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate of Malaclypse the Younger.
Yet, despite the random stamps, illustrations, and jokes throughout the book, not to mention the cool names and titles one is allowed to create for oneself in the religion, the religion does seem to be based on a meaningful philosophical insight. In brief: it is equally valid to look upon the world and see its disorder as it is to see its order.
The "Curse of Greyface," in the religion's lore, was that Order was to be preferred as "good" and Disorder was considered "bad." Work was better than play, seriousness better than humor. Yes, humor and play are important, perhaps even necessary, but only in their time and place. They are "boxed in" the overall Order. Different cultures perceive Order and Disorder differently, but they all insist on Order. The reason this is a Curse is that the Order/Disorder polarity, believed to be the standard of good/evil and truth/falsehood, ultimately favors destruction in the name of Order. Zealous defenders of Order will go to war for their sense of Order. They will punish those who violate taboos, which are threats to their sense of Order.
Discordianism, however, holds that the Creative/Destructive polarity is a more worthwhile moral standard than Order/Disorder. The problem is not with those who promote disorder by breaking cultural taboos, the problem is the killing and destruction. Killing and destruction in the midst of Disorder is no good, but killing and destruction for the sake of Order is no good either.
Isn't it obvious to everyone that the kill rates of those "following orders" within the Social Order through war and genocide far outstrips the murder rates of random criminals throughout the ages? Isn't it clear that economies collapse not because of thieves and fraudsters, but because governments try to impose "Order" on the marketplace first by introducing their own worthless money, then by taxing and regulating us into oblivion?
I would go one step beyond and say that the confusion of Order and Disorder with Truth and Falsehood, Good and Evil, is itself the source of all suffering.
Order is seductive because it promises a predictable future, which is stability. Janet takes the job with the better health benefits, the greater stability, even though it doesn't fulfill her aspirations, and then she's laid off anyway. Bob marries Mary because he believes the order this would bring to his life would be good for his character, but three years later he can't stand to be in her presence and the divorce makes him poorer than when he entered the marriage. Joe follows a strict fitness regimen, believing this orderly behavior will give him long life, then wrecks his knee while jogging the same time his friends are out having beers and bacon cheeseburgers.
This is not to say that people shouldn't get health insurance, or shouldn't get married, or shouldn't be fit, or whatever. It is rather to ask, who's to say that they should strive for economic security, family, and fitness? What guarantees do such things provide, beyond a few years at most?
Speaking as Pope, I guarantee you: there are no guarantees. Your own self-discipline, your faith in the ones you love, your trust and hope in the institutions of the society you live in (including its monetary system) won't provide you the happiness you seek. The "happily ever after," as some combination of the feelings of relief, safety, tranquility, and love mixed with a satisfying amount of thrills, cannot be attained if that is the goal. To find happiness, you must not look for it.
The last sentence is not intended to be some profound paradoxical statement of Eastern mysticism. It is rather to suggest that instead of thinking in terms of opposites - good and evil - we'd be better off thinking in terms of negation, and better yet, to not think at all. Happiness is not on a degree scale with suffering on the opposite end; happiness is rather the negation of suffering by being unaware that suffering exists.
Suffering is negated when it is not thought about. A punchline makes the suffering person forget his suffering. Laughter is the anti-suffering.
Laughter is also the anti-intellectualism. The laughing person isn't thinking. The laughing person isn't wondering if he's happy or miserable. He's totally in the moment, where the standards of happiness/suffering are not in his conscious mind.
I'm not saying the happy person is always laughing. A happy person may be absorbed in his present task and planning his next task, totally uninterested in the metaphysical "meaning of it all" because the task itself gives him pleasure. A happy person could be "in the zone." The greatness of "the zone" is that the person in it isn't thinking, but rather doing with concentration. Conscious thoughts about "am I good enough?" or "am I happy" or "is this worth doing" don't play a role.
On the other hand, happiness is negated, and suffering abounds, when one asks the question, "Am I happy?" To think the thought is to answer in the negative.
We are happiest when we're not thinking about our happiness. We are most miserable when we think about happiness as a goal to achieve or a standard to measure up to.
We want order because we want happiness. But to want happiness means you won't have it, and to want order means it will fall apart.
More next week.