Book XII.
 Analects of Kirism

 

1. Analects are ideas, sayings, phrases or fragments of a philosophy. The most famous are the Analects of Confucius, attributed to Confucius and believed to have been written and compiled by his followers. Here are some analects of kirism.

2. If a philosophy of life makes sense to you, then it has great value. But first of all, it ought to make sense to you. Your only reasonable criterion for embracing a philosophy of life is that it matches your understanding of life. Other criteria are humbug.

3. If angels and devils make no sense to you, if a dogmatic path to nirvana comprised of exactly seven steps makes no sense to you, if multiple gods each with an ax to grind make no sense to you, then neither ought a philosophy of life based on them.

4. You could try to tease out the acceptable bits of each such philosophy, arguing that the wheat is worth the chaff, but you won’t feel convinced or satisfied. For a philosophy of life to feel worth adopting, its essentials had better make sense to you.

5. What ought a contemporary philosophy of life include? It should speak to loneliness, emptiness, the drudgery of work, the challenges of identifying life purposes and maintaining meaning, and everything else genuinely important to you.

6. It ought to include our current understanding that we are at the brink of extinction, that the threats facing human beings are unlike any faced before in the history of the species, and that this tragic understanding is our truth and our burden.

7. It should not include any gods or other supernatural authorities bossing you around. They do not exist and you can be frankly done with them. That little pang of loss is nothing compared to the great joy (and, yes, sorrow) of freedom and self-authorship.

8. The payoff shouldn’t be elsewhere, in another life. This is your one life. You can daydream about heavens, you can pine for celestial meet-ups with old friends and heroic ancestors, but you have this singular life to live, fully and for the good of all.

9. It ought to be psychologically-minded and take into account human nature. If it acts like human beings do not go to war for petty reasons, do not hate as much as they love, do not fail to meet their obligations, and all the rest, skip it as unbelievable.

10. It should have a way of speaking about personality that makes sense to you. It should help you understand the difference between original personality and formed personality and what a likely much-needed personality upgrade might look like.

11. It should have a way of speaking about meaning that makes sense to you. It should make a clear distinction between the folly of seeking meaning and the genuine possibility of coaxing enough meaning into existence to allow life to feel meaningful.

12. It should have a way of speaking about life purpose that makes sense to you. It should make a clear distinction between the misleading idea of “a purpose to life” and replace that with the updated idea of multiple life purposes that you yourself choose.

13. It should have a way of speaking about ethics that makes sense to you. It should do a strong job of balancing two truths, that ethical action is as simple as doing the next right thing and also profoundly difficult, because life is complex and ambiguous.

14. It should have a way of speaking smartly about our dual nature as an individual and a social animal. It should remind us that in social situations, from cocktail parties to political rallies, we may be a version of ourselves that we neither recognize nor admire.

15. It should have a way of speaking smartly about our dual nature as selfish and selfless. Philosophies that do not take into account the reality of genetic selfishness must founder, as they presume us to be more loving and charitable than we are.

16. It should take into account our lived experience of trauma, love, pain, happiness, and all the rest. Human beings have experiences that matter. A philosophy of life mustn’t ignore the power of experience to shape our thinking, feeling and acting.

17. It should not close the door on mystery. It should first of all consider a creaking door to be about rusty hinges and not ghosts and it should for the most part let science arbitrate and explain. But it should also possess a little sympathy for mystery.

18. It should be for rationalism, science, and the scientific method. It should at the same time predict that billions of our species will hate rationalism, science and the scientific method, prefer superstition and ignorance, and fiercely attack rationalists.

19. It should point out the enormous divide between people like you and people not like you. A freedom-fighting folksinger will never see eye-to-eye with an authoritarian cleric or the dictator who supports him—or be safe from either of them.

20. It should have a lot to say about the ways in which how we think affects who we are and how we live. It should make a simple, smart and useful distinction between thinking thoughts that serve us and thinking thoughts that thwart us and harm us.

21. A philosophy of life ought to make sense to you and have you nodding in agreement because it strikes you as consistent, coherent, and lifelike. It should make sense to you from beginning to end and not just here and there or in its best bits.

22. Kirists believe that our species evolved. The universe did not plan for us and nothing supernatural cares about us. It might be comforting to think otherwise but there are no gods looking out for us and no watchmakers, blind or otherwise, who created us.

23. Our species evolved to include consciousness. We have a consciousness of good and evil, a consciousness of our own mortality, and a consciousness of ourselves as contradictory creatures. Consciousness is our talent and our albatross.

24. We have a relationship with our own consciousness that in kirism we call in- dwelling. We dwell within, thinking, musing, telling stories, plotting our revenge, and all the rest. There, and not in the so-to-speak real world, is where we primarily live.

25. How we in-dwell determines how we live. If it is chaotic in there, we live chaotically. If we are raging in there, we live enraged. If we muffle our own thoughts, we live in a sad, muffled way. Your style of in-dwelling is the truth about you.

26. It is tense and intense inside of us. Our experience of in-dwelling is not like a walk in the park. We obsess, race along, worry, fret, pine, desire, confuse ourselves, and try to make sense of, and deal with, our radically contradictory impulses.

27. Our species evolved with contradictory impulses. We can be humane or cruel, charitable or greedy, careful or impulsive, clear-eyed or deluded, brave or timid, loving or hateful, all in the very same person, and even all on the very same day.

28. That is who we are. We are a member of a particular species. A lion cub is born a lion, a baby seal is born a seal, and we are born human. Like it or not, we are this particular sort of creature and not some other sort of creature.

29. We are born already somebody. We are born with built-in instructions, built- in differences, built-in proclivities, built-in needs, built-in desires, and a coherent but unknowable original personality. We are idiosyncratically ourselves from birth.

30. That we are born already somebody has grave import and huge consequences. What will it be like for you if you are twice as smart or half as smart as other human beings? What will it be like for you if you are born sensitive, stubborn or sad?

31. A philosophy of life must acknowledge the extent to which you must deal with the reality of life, including the reality of you. Right from the beginning you are a particular member of a particular species, with all that suggests, demands and entails.

32. Right from the beginning we are obsessive. Watch how a child needs his toys to be lined up just so. See the explosive tantrum that ensues if you knock one of his toys off its mark. This obsessiveness is not a disorder but a feature of our nature.

33. Right from the beginning we are destructive. Watch how a child gleefully knocks down the thing she has just built with at least as much energy as she built it. Indeed, doesn’t she often build it just so as to knock it down? We are wired to be destructive.

34. Right from the beginning we are creative. Every child wants to draw silly giraffes. Every child wants to dance like a dervish. Every child wants to sing along at music time. Every child wants to listen to stories and make up stories. We are wired to create.

35. Right from the beginning we tell ourselves stories. A child may begin to fantasize about how his real parents will come and rescue him from these mean parents who are making his life miserable. He may tell himself this story over and over again.

36. Telling stories becomes a lifelong habit, blessing, and trap. We tell ourselves stories that amuse us, motivate us, and cheer us. We also tell ourselves stories that demoralize us, that mislead us, and that send us on some very wild misadventures.

37. Kirists grow wise about the beauty and power of story-telling, on the one side, and the dangers and shadow side of story-telling, on the other. We understand the seductive nature of language and of narrative and are careful not to be seduced.

38. Right from the beginning, we sense our dual nature as fair-minded and selfish. We know that it is right to share that toy and we know that we do not want to share that toy. Maybe we share it and maybe we bite our playmate who tries to take it.

39. Right from the beginning, we sense this tension between sharing and biting. This tension may never go away, looking like a fight between playmates at age three, a fight between lovers at age twenty, and a fight between companies at age forty.

40. Likewise, we sense our need to compete and our desire for mastery. We prefer to win rather than to lose, to be picked first for the team rather than last, and to have our drawing put up on the classroom wall rather than be rejected by our teacher.

41. We may be trained to assert that “everyone is a winner,” even those who finish last, and that “trying your best” is as good as actual mastery. But it’s unlikely that those homilies will ever ring quite true. Who really likes error-filled piano recitals?

42. At the same time, we sense that we have something in us that is worth something, something in us that wants to be explored, something in us that wants to ring out. This has been called our human potential, as in “the human potential movement.”

43. We may be taught to be modest or beaten into not speaking and this may curtail our ability to manifest our potential. But we will know that we are falling short of what may have been possible. We will feel that disappointment and that despair.

44. We may therefore end up with a lifelong dynamic of starting things, because of all that felt potential, and then dropping them precipitously, out of anxiety, fear, doubt, shame, a lack of self-confidence, or an inability to tolerate the rigors of process.

45. Kirists understand that they must take charge in this regard, even if they have been subdued by society or harmed by their family, and honor their competitive desires, their craving for mastery, and their need to manifest their human potential.

46. To sum up these needs, we crave success. We also want success to be on our own terms, not as it appears to others or to the world. A poet may climb the ladder at the bank where she works, but what if her poems are never published?

47. She may not feel successful, even as she wins awards and garners pay raises. A significant amount of the despair that we feel connects to our felt lack of success in those areas that matter the most to us. A lack of success is demoralizing.

48. We struggle. We struggle to succeed and often don’t feel equal to that struggle. We struggle to make sense of our situation and to know what to do next. We struggle to balance what we want with what we know is right. We recognize that life is a struggle.

49. Right from the beginning we struggle to be ourselves and to manifest ourselves. This struggle plays itself out in all sorts of ways, from a restless conformity that leads to secret vices to a reckless individuality that leads to agitation and confrontations.

50. We look around us and we find ourselves obliged to deal with others of our species. But what should we make of what we see? We see behaviors, not the insides of people. And we are rather quick to label those behaviors as one thing or another.

51. What does it really mean to be human? Every vested interest specialist, from cleric to psychiatrist, from sociologist to judge, paints one sort of narrow, unconvincing picture. We reject their self-serving characterizations and try to decide for ourselves.

52. Watch a two-year-old rush from digging in the sand box to chasing a bird to climbing on the monkey bars. Is this a genuine shifting of interest, the thing nowadays called “hyperactivity,” or a preview of an incipient, lifelong meaning problem?

53. As kirists, we are slow to label. We do not find that words and phrases like “depression” or “obsessive-compulsive disorder” or “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” explain enough, tell the truth, or do much more than falsely and conveniently label.

54. We observe our species and build our philosophy of life from what we see and from our speculations about what those observations signify, being careful to remember the extent to which circumstances, especially circumstances of birth, matter.

55. Metaphorically, a penthouse may be a prison. But a penthouse is not a prison and a prison is not a penthouse. Circumstances matter. If you are born into a society that worships alligators and that engages in ritual sacrifices, that seriously matters.

56. We are dropped into the circumstances of our birth. More and more circumstances occur and our original personality starts to transform itself into our formed personality, that too-inflexible, too-reactive everyday way of being that people know us by.

57. That formed personality, with its whispers of its original nature, with its remaining freedom, with its particular in-dwelling style, with its contradictions, peeves and obsessions, is the primary thing that we must deal with, daily and throughout our lifespan.

58. We deal rather poorly and contribute to our unwanted states. We do not ask for outcomes with names like depression, mania, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and the like, but nevertheless we inadvertently contribute to them.

59. So much feels contradictory! We love this about life and we hate that. We have reasons for doing the work we do and are bored to tears by the work we do. We would love to share but we still feel like biting. Who should we be? What should we do?

60. Bombarded by contradictory thoughts and feelings, we stand confused. Kirism acknowledges the inevitability of such confusion. We do not say, “How stupid of us to be confused!” We say, “How human of us to have to endure contradictions!”

61. What sorts of contradictions? You’re thrilled by a march and feel patriotic. Then you hate yourself for your susceptibility to flag-waving. You stand confused, believing that patriotism is a home for rascals but also feeling love for the Constitution.

62. What sorts of contradictions? You’re lonely and crave company. But you also rather prefer your own company to the company of others. You stand confused, wanting to be social, needing something from others, but not liking people all that much.

63. What sorts of contradictions? We start out idealistic and we also start out selfish. Ideally, we might prefer not to harm any other living creature. But we want that pastrami sandwich. Do we opt for severe principle or do we reach for the mustard?

64. What sorts of contradictions? We’d love not to be so buffeted by our experiences. But we are psychological creatures, not automatons, and therefore criticism hurts, humiliation hurts, loss hurts, even as we wish that we could live above the fray.

65. What sorts of contradictions? We have an excellent brain capable of all sorts of wonders. But it also presents us with nightmares, feelings we can’t shake, and unhappy thoughts that keep rattling tirelessly. What contrary gray matter!

66. What sorts of contradictions? That on some days your interests interest you and that on other days they do not. That on some days your loved ones fill you up and that on other days they deplete you. That the experience of things is annoyingly shifty.

67. What sorts of contradictions? That we love eloquence and know that we can be seduced by it. That we love beauty and know that we can be seduced by it. That we love the truth but wonder what “the truth” means any more—or ever meant.

68. What sorts of contradictions? You’d love to embrace humanity. You also know that you must defend yourself against humanity. One day you volunteer in a food kitchen and the next day you build a higher fence between you and your neighbors.

69. What sorts of contradictions? You’d like political candidates to be judged on their merits. But you’re aware that in every important election, the taller candidate usually wins. What is civilization to do when it is running on archaic principles?

70. What sorts of contradictions? You’d prefer not to compete with your good friend at work. But your work is a zero-sum game and only one of you can win. How are you to choose between alienating a friend and putting food on the table?

71. We are even confused about right and wrong. We would prefer to act ethically rather than immorally, unless that preference has been trained out of us, but our personal righteousness seems to hang by a thread that breaks too easily and too often.

72. We do not always do the right thing or even want to do the right thing. And we know that it’s on our shoulders to deal with such moral shortfalls. There is no one else to blame, no one else to consult, and no one who can magically make us ethical.

73. We understand that our ethics do not come from on high. The universe is not conscious in some “soulful” way and there are no cosmic purposes, cosmic unity, or cosmic considerations. Individually and collectively, either we do good or we don’t.

74. We live in a maelstrom of contradictions. It would be easy to throw up our hands and cry, “Too much!” But it doesn’t appear to be too much. Yes, it is too much for many people and for all people some of the time. But we can weather our nature.

75. Indeed, we are stuck, badly stuck. But we have been built with the invaluable ability to stand to one side of the storm, even though the storm is raging within us, and create stillness and calmness. You have been built with that game- changing ability.

76. This is life. We see it, acknowledge our struggles, and try not to blink. We stand off to one side, in the stillness of self-created silence, hoping to make sense of it all. We forthrightly own our confusions and our contradictions and we laugh a little.

77. Our circumstances may doom us, as when our plane goes down in the open ocean. But our human nature need not doom us. Acknowledging the struggles that come with human nature is not the same as being defeated by those pressing struggles.

78. Despite the contradictions and confusions that come with the territory of being human, we can coax meaning into existence, maybe even enough meaning to allow life to feel meaningful a good deal of the time.

79. Despite those contradictions and confusions, we can decide what’s important to us, call those choices our life purpose choices, and live those life purpose choices for portions of each day, even on those cloudy days full of errands and nothingness.

80. Despite those contradictions and confusions, which make an awful noise, we can practice stillness and achieve an inner quiet that allows us to manifest our potential, make our wisest decisions, and meet our self-obligations.

81. There is a material world. When you cut your finger, you will bleed. But there is also an inner world, animated by consciousness and flavored by our style of in-dwelling, where we can imagine ourselves bleeding green and not red.

82. We can imagine, we can love, we can laugh, we can create things that are beautiful, good and true; and we can do all this even as we understand the powerful arguments for mistrusting words like truth, beauty and goodness.

83. We can have a philosophy of life that isn’t wishful or ignorant. We can parlay our ideas about self-obligation, healthy in-dwelling, life purpose choosing, meaning coaxing, absurd rebellion, and our many other ideas into something rock solid.

84. We can have a philosophy of life that doesn’t ignore, deny or sugarcoat history. Are human divisions deeper than we would like to admit? Are human beings regularly cruel to one another and a danger to one another? History says yes to all that.

85. But history is also replete with victories of the human spirit, examples of genuine fellow feeling, and tales of heroism in the service of freedom and fairness. Those, too, are true. A kirist can look to those as proof of what is real and possible.

Book I.
 Introducing Kirism

 

1. A philosophy of life is not an attempt at an answer to the question, “How shall I live as a rabbit?” or “How shall I live as a lion?” It is an attempt at an answer to the question, “How shall I live as a human being?” It is a question about us.
2. And the answer must not be imposed. It is not your father, your mother, your pastor or your professor selling you a vision. A pertinent philosophy of life is you staring at the void, you eyeing humanity, and you saying, “Here is how I choose to be.”3. Do you even need such a thing, a philosophy of life? Can’t you just live? Can’t you just wake up, brush your teeth, hop on the bus, go off to work, shuffle papers, come home, and watch a show? Who needs a philosophy of life when life is that easy?4. Ah, but did that sound easy? Or did that sound terrible? If it sounded terrible, what fell short on that eminently functional day? You made some money. You had wine with dinner. Your television show amused you slightly. What was so terrible?5. What fell short was that you didn’t live as a being burdened by consciousness knows that it ought to live. No rabbit or lion would have quarreled with that day. A carrot, a hunk of meat, a nap: just fine! But not you, burdened by consciousness!
6. For you, such a day won’t do. It is too full of nothingness. It is too far from what you sense is possible. It is too short on value and too long on sleepwalking. It stirs no blood, it sings no song, it smells of nothing to love. It just won’t do, at least not for you.

7. Consciousness is such a giant apparatus, like linking a nuclear reactor to a light bulb. Why are we allowed to contemplate infinity? Make subtle distinctions between what I have and what you have? Why put a whole universe in a single brain?

8. But there it is. Consciousness. It is sui generis and impossible to speak about, that puffed up brain of ours generating ideas and phantoms, dreams and guilt trips, intimations of immortality and a fear of spiders. What a taskmaster, evolution!

9. Evolution apparently played its usual tricks. It burdened us with consciousness, including a consciousness of good and evil. Must we be saddled with a knowledge of shallow graves, endless deceits, and our own secret stains? Evolution says, “You bet!”

 10. No one asked for consciousness. On a warm, sunny day, out on the grass, half-asleep, we are as happy as a lizard, and just as unconscious. Then consciousness throws up an image of a rail-thin, starving child. Or nuclear explosions. Consciousness!

11. Or it does something even more startling. It paints a picture of a pretty life, some ideal that no one has ever lived or could ever live, some amazing confabulation of genius, success, adoration, and what-have-you and says, “Here. Go for this. You can have it!”

12. Or it nags you about your mistakes, your shortfalls, your weaknesses, about all the ways in which you are not equal to the tasks of living or equal to realizing your dreams. It nags you relentlessly, while you’re awake and while you’re asleep.

13. Or it pesters you with the understanding that half the human race is dangerous, malicious, conniving, and shaming. Then it hits you with the thought, “How ridiculous to contemplate being good! Remember: villains sleep in the warmest beds!”

14. And it pesters you with a consciousness of meaning and meaninglessness. On that grass, happy as a lizard, you hear yourself say, “Time is passing.” And just like that you feel agitated and on the brink of a meaning crisis. Consciousness!

15. We are not a fish with no knowledge of water. We have consciousness. We know we are swimming and we know what water is and we know about life and death and we see every contradiction, conflict, indignity and absurdity. We see it all!

16. Consciousness sets us up. Then we smack into reality, hitting it like a bullet train crashing into a brick wall. Reality is the impregnable wall. You can beat your head against it until the end of time and cancer will still be cancer. Smash!

17. Consciousness says, “Write a novel.” You sit there. Nothing. You sit there. Something; but it is garbage. That is no pinprick of pain you feel. That is despair. That is the gorgeous dream that consciousness has conjured up colliding with the rigors of process.

18. Tyranny happens. Authoritarians have stormed the gate and taken the castle. Consciousness says, “Evil.” Not a shadow of a doubt: evil. But what are you supposed to do? Fight, die, and make not one bit of difference? Yet another brick wall!

19. Your group is the selected scapegoat of your community. Jews. Gays. Blacks, Witches. Time and again you are harassed, mocked, demeaned, thwarted, and endangered. The specter of ovens! Another brick wall, and this one, ten feet thick.

20. Any philosophy of life that feels true, with the power to serve you, must take into account consciousness and must take into account consciousness smashing into reality again and again. A mind that can dream and a world that can punish!

21. Imagine a philosophy of life that only had puerile things to say about consciousness smashing into reality. “It’s all for the best.” “Get a grip on your mind.” “You are still loved.” “Your next life will be better.” Please! No such philosophy could ever satisfy.

22. And every such philosophy would infuriate you. Part of the rage that each of us lives with is a consequence of the deceitfulness and insipidness of the self- declared wisdom traditions. Your own wisdom tradition must be truer, smarter, and wiser!23. Your philosophy of life should match your understanding of life, not fight with it or fly in the face of it. Why create a philosophy of life that doesn’t embrace the truth of your experiences? Pain, beauty, absurdity, love, pratfalls, all of it included!24. It certainly shouldn’t include gods bossing you around, should it? Do you believe that there are gods who root for football teams and decide which planes should crash? You know exactly where those bullying fairy tales came from, don’t you?25. And it should have a way of thinking about personality, meaning, purpose, ethics and values that makes sense to you and that leads to practical applications. Can any of those reasonably be left out of your philosophy of life?

26. And it must take into account human nature. Selfish genes. Small- mindedness. Whole nations acting in lockstep to avenge made-up slights. Calculated ignorance. Genuine ignorance. Thousands of years of conquests and intrusions!

27. Make your philosophy of life your own. That is the prime directive: that you make it your own. If you walk in lockstep, you will have tossed away your personhood. No sects for you, even if they smell of roses and come with music and incense!28. Your philosophy of life must be your own. But perhaps we can share some common ground, if what we share feels true to you? No sharing just for the sake of sharing! That won’t do. But what if what we share rings true?29. Let’s say that we did want a bit of a shared philosophy of life, our own wisdom tradition, something that honored our first principles, that meaning comes and goes, that our life purposes are ours to choose, and so on. What might that look like?

 

30. Let’s name it. Let’s call it kirism. Kirism could perhaps become our shared philosophy, its focus on personal responsibility set against a backdrop of cosmic indifference. It would be wise about human nature and it might also sparkle a little.

31. Why ‘kirism’? Because it has charming associations. The Slavic and Romany word for ‘inn’ is ‘kir ‘c ‘ima.’ Think of kirism as an inn for existential travelers, a waystation where, each of us on our own individual journey, we cross paths for an evening.

32. In Sumerian ‘kara’ means ‘to shine’ and ‘kar’ means ‘to illuminate.’ ‘Szikra’ means ‘spark’ in Hungarian, ‘gira’ means ‘fire’ in the African dialect of East Cushitic, and ‘iskra’ means ‘sparkle’ in Serbo-Croatian. Aren’t those lovely associations?

33. But what’s in a name? What matters is what it stands for. It would stand for radical goodness, radical obligation and radical individualism. For profound self- awareness, powerful self-determination, intentional living and absurd rebellion. Are you in?

34. Describing it to others would prove effortless. “So, you’re a kirist?” “I am.” “What do you believe in?” “Whatever feels true to me.” “So, every kirist believes something different?” “No doubt.” “What a mess!” “Not at all. What glorious independence!”

35. The Declaration of Independence would become embedded in your being, and vice versa. All declarations of independence would inhabit you and you them. The Magna Carta would become your bedtime reading. Warrior, sleep well!

36. A version of our creed: “I believe that meaning comes and goes, that ‘life purposes’ is a truer idea than ‘life purpose,’ that personal responsibility is the north star, and that doing good isn’t ridiculous. And that I am obliged to decide all the rest!”

37. How does the good get into our philosophy? We consciously add it. We add radical goodness to our personal philosophy. If someone points a finger and says, “You have no values,” you instantly reply, “Of course I do. And they are excellent ones!”

38. And what if that finger-pointer demands, “And where do those values come from?” You would laugh and reply, “Are you joking? You don’t know that freedom is better than slavery? That generosity beats selfishness? Seriously?”

39. And what if that finger-pointer continues, “That’s just you deciding. Billions believe otherwise. Where do you get off?” You would laugh and reply, “Sorry if radical goodness disturbs you. I sincerely apologize. Now go bully someone else.”

 

40. Yes, our intention to be good notwithstanding, on a given day we may be base, cruel, prurient, selfish, weak, and all the rest. We are human, after all. But when we misstep we hear ourselves say loudly and clearly, “That was not okay!”

41. We take personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is our north star. Radical goodness is its twin, shining right beside it. If we live that way, we’ll likely have experiences of meaning. That is one possible payoff, along with a sense of personal pride.

42. Kirism asserts that, like it or not, we have been forced into the role of steward and arbiter of our life. Surely no one asked for that. Who wouldn’t have preferred one orgasm, stock split, and round of golf after another? Wouldn’t you?

43. But we can’t live that way because we know that we ought not to live that way. There is not an ounce of goodness in that picture. There is comfort. There is pleasure. There is privilege. It is quite the charming picture! Just not for an ethical being.

44. And even if we live as we ought to live? There will still be zero occult payoffs. No payoff in a heavenly life. No nirvana. No enlightenment. No Nobel Prizes of the soul. There will only be your life as project, with self-respect the main payoff.

 

45. One Saturday morning I am writing in a small neighborhood park in Paris. The park is full. On a nearby bench, a woman is angry with a man. He tries to mollify her. On the next bench sit a middle-aged couple who have no need to say anything.

46. Near me are two old women, one sprightlier than the other and annoyed at her friend’s decrepitude. Outside the park’s swinging gates a seated woman holding an infant is begging. Around me, a dozen boys are sword-fighting.

47. This is our species. This is life: concrete, real, and various. Everything human is there. We aspire to accept this variety, this concreteness, this reality. Might it be lovely to be another sort of creature with another destiny? But this is who we are.

48. Kirism is an aspirational philosophy. We aspire to do a better job than average of manifesting our values, minding our thoughts, and living our life purposes. We do this not to pass some universal test but to live as we know we ought to.

49. Inside our cocoon of psychological subjectivity, that makes it so hard to see clearly, we aspire to self-awareness. That is another absurdity that we accept as a given. How can such a subjective creature possibly see objectively? But we try!

 

50. We try. We can’t escape our psychological subjectivity, as we are embedded inside of it. But we can wonder about our motives, make guesses about our intentions, and speculate about where we may be fooling ourselves. We can reflect.

51. Self-awareness does not imply perfect self-awareness. Ha! We have more blind spots than a road with hairpin curves. But that doesn’t make us blind or dumb. We understand deceit, we understand goodness, we understand a lot!

52. Sadly, our self-awareness is severely limited by our need to protect ourselves from confusing and painful realities. So, we defensively deny that the mole on our thigh has changed shape. Is that any way to maintain meaning? Or life itself?

53. And, sadly, since it is just too difficult to reinvent ourselves every split second, we repeat ourselves. Early on we settle on repetitive reactions, beliefs, opinions, prejudices and biases. After that, little thinking is needed. We just repeat ourselves!

54. We are hard-pressed to make changes to those repetitive habits of mind. Ever tried to reverse an opinion? So, our ongoing psychological experience of life is more rote and mechanical than it might be, if only we were less defensive.

 

55. But, if we are lucky and adamant, we possess enough self-awareness to reduce our defensiveness, increase our goodness, change our habits of mind, and grow into the person who can say, “I am working on the project of my life.”

56. And radical goodness? Well, first of all, it has nothing to do with playing the patsy or rolling over in the face of tyranny! Kirists stand up. We staunchly uphold our teeming values, including our values of liberty and the right to exist.

57. And we boldly take our place beside any other philosophy, any other psychology, any other tradition, any other mashup of ideas, hopes, speculations and opinions. We do! That is our birthright and maybe even our obligation.

58. “Ah,” you are told, “but all this claptrap means nothing if fate throws you curveballs. It means nothing in the face of chronic stress, in the face of world wars, in the face of lost loves.” You reply, “No, it means everything. Especially then.”

59. “Ah,” you are told, “but there’s no science to support your philosophy. Where’s the independent research? Where’s the blind testing?” And you reply, “And how is it that Plato and Aristotle knew some things before there were microwaves?”

 

60. “Ah,” you are told, “but you are outnumbered. There are a million believers in something else for every one of you. Ha-ha-ha! It’s simple, overwhelming arithmetic!” And you reply, “How many people did it take to be Lincoln?”

61. Living as a kirist helps coax the experience of meaning into existence. You live life as you know it ought to be lived, you stand up, you make yourself proud, and you experience more meaning. Doesn’t more meaning seem likely?

62. Kirism is an ambitious philosophy that demands that human beings try their darnedest. It begs them to make use of the measure of freedom they possess, look life in the eye, and stand tall as an advocate for human dignity. That is a lot!

63. It argues that life relentlessly pairs tremendous ordinariness with tremendous difficulty; and in the face of all that, human beings must nevertheless adopt an indomitable attitude and coax out the meaning they require.

64. This is not really to most people’s taste. It makes work for them; it pesters them to be moral; it demands that they articulate their life purposes and actually live them; and it announces that a kind of perpetual rebellion is necessary.

65. It trumpets that easy pleasures and vices, while nobody’s business but your own, still must be judged by you—and found too easy. It keeps asserting that you must be a hero—an absurd hero, to be sure, heroically keeping meaning afloat.

66. And somehow you are supposed to upgrade and transcend your own personality. But how is it possible to escape the net in which every human being is entangled? This is not only a lot to ask—isn’t it perhaps unfair and impossible?

67. We are even supposed to transcend pride. But humans have rarely come close to such maturity. Scientists haven’t, artists haven’t, philosophers haven’t, parents attending Little League games haven’t. Who has?

68. And appetite! How are people with such unquenchable appetites—for sex, for peanuts, for adrenaline rushes—to put their appetites in their back pocket and approach life with ascetic restraint. Ha! Really?

69. Or take human energy itself. What if you are flying along in a manic way in pursuit of some impossible dream and don’t want to stop to take a measured reckoning? A snail’s pace or our very life force? Who wouldn’t choose racing?

70. Indeed, why make such a Herculean effort when personality hangs like a lead weight around our neck and the facts of existence ruin so many of our plans? Why care so much about radical goodness? Why care more than the universe cares!

71. Starting in the seventeenth century, we experienced four hundred years of the celebration—and inflation—of the individual. Certain amazing ideas bloomed and some even more amazing realities followed. We got individual rights!

72. We got the sense that man might get to know himself and his world. We got scientific and technological progress on all fronts. There we were, beating back disease and living long lives. A wild, strange euphoria arose: man mattered!

73. But disaster was brewing. We pushed the curtain back and stood face-to-face with a reality so cold that the space between the stars seemed hot by comparison. Science, unintentionally and without malice, knocked us down a peg.

74. And holocausts continued. People still starved. With nuclear weapons came our ability to extinguish the species in the blink of an eye. Man, for all his supposed progress and enlightenment, dropped a huge notch in his own estimation.

 

75. The more that we announced that man mattered, the more that we saw that he really didn’t. The better we understood that the dinosaurs could be extinguished by an asteroid strike, the better we understood our own individual fate.

76. The better we understood the power of microbes, and even as we worked hard to fight them, the better we understood that something invisible and endlessly prevalent could end our personal journey on any given afternoon. Boom!

77. The more science taught us, the more we shrank in size—and shrank back in horror. You could build the largest particle accelerator the world had ever seen and recreate the Big Bang—and psychologically speaking end up with only more of nothing.

78. Even more of nothing. This is where we are; and this is what a kirist faces. We had somehow wagered that well-stocked supermarkets and guaranteed elections would do the trick and protect us from the void. They haven’t. This we face.

79. This now shared certainty that we are throwaways has made life look completely unfunny. We can laugh and make small talk but in most of our private moments there is not much laughter. There is only a deep, wide, abiding “Why bother?”

 

80. And kirists answer that question. You take as much control as possible of your thoughts, your attitudes, your moods, your behaviors, and your very orientation toward life and marshal your innate freedom in the service of your intentions.

81. You take responsibility for your life purpose choices, you deal with meaninglessness by making new meaning investments and by seizing new meaning opportunities, and you dismiss absurdity as true but irrelevant. Is this perhaps for you?

82. Ah, but are there any actual kirists? Well, we have no newsletters, churches, secret handshakes, virtual groups, anthems, or annual conferences, so it’s hard to know. We just occasionally bump into one another—as likely as not, without knowing it.

83. So, forget about kirism! Just do the next right thing. And the one after that. There you are, self-aware, purposeful, aligned with your values, in a sea of shifting meaning, aiming for the good and undaunted by human puniness. That will work!

84. Each day we must decide what matters to us. Each day we are obliged to figure out how to deal with life. Our life is our project and we strive to rise to the occasion. None of this guarantees the experience of meaning; but it certainly helps.

85. Maybe you like the idea of kirism. Maybe you can envision its celebrations. Maybe you can supply its details. Maybe you can start the institute or write the song book. Shall we stop for a moment at the inn and spend a good evening together?