A Clear Mind: Finding Beauty in Life
As previously observed, life is a fundamentally harsh, ugly affair. Survival — continued participation in life — tends to be awarded to those living creatures that prove most adept at eating other creatures and/or seizing, for themselves, the resources that other creatures need.
And yet, despite the ugliness of life’s mandate to promote one’s self, group, and species over all others, people commonly strive to see beauty in life. This could just be a matter of making the best of a bad situation, since staying alive generally seems to be the only sensible option. But whatever the reason, there is a tendency to selectively glorify the good and downplay or cope with the bad.
Not surprisingly, people see beauty in things that sustain life: good food, for instance, and healthy bodies, and warm weather. What is more intriguing is that people also see beauty in some things that deny or work against the ugliness of life.
Food is, again, an example. People who have excellent food supplies can find it quite normal to dress up the stuff on their plate until it hardly bears a trace of the look, smell, or feel of the actual creature. While maintaining a positive view of food itself, we generally don’t celebrate the fact that we manipulated, stole from, or killed some living thing to get it. One could say much the same about other nasty survival-oriented acts: we appreciate their contribution to our strength, security, and comfort, but aren’t necessarily proud of what we’ve done.
Complacency is a different example. People don’t want, and may not typically be able, to maintain hypervigilance throughout their lives. Almost as soon as they gain a sense of strength and security, they began to develop in ways that jeopardize it. Physically and otherwise, they find it easy to grow soft and weak, lose agility and sharpness, fall into predictable routines, rely on assumptions and wishful thinking, and otherwise make themselves more vulnerable to predators and parasites.
They may develop in that way because they are focusing their energies on some other priority; yet there, again, the same point holds. Given the opportunity, and especially with the passage of a generation or two in relative security, people begin to value all sorts of things that are not helpful, and in many cases are detrimental, to life’s project of growing stronger and becoming more a formidable predator.
Such developments would not occur if we were driven solely by the grim life force that requires us to exploit other living things for our own benefit. Indeed, it would not be possible to describe life as “ugly” if our values were entirely steered by life itself. Such a statement would seem like a contradiction in terms. We would consider it obvious that life, and the entire assortment of acts that sustain it, all have intrinsic beauty.
It appears that our concepts of beauty, and our priorities in life, are sometimes influenced by values that vary from and even contradict the demands of the life force. When we feel secure enough to take life for granted, we evidently find it easier to pay less attention to its demands and to focus on other values instead. This raises questions of what those other values are, and where they come from.
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