Analects of Kirism
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.