It’s November 11th. Veterans Day, or as the rest of the world largely knows it, Armistice Day.
The generations that survived World War I were overshadowed hugely by World War II. They had the best and most productive years of their life stolen by the Great Depression, suffered through another war (after having already fought the war to end all wars), and quietly but busily helped build, maintain, and bequeath the century that their children and especially their grandchildren would loudly declare belonged to them and them alone.
They’re all gone now. They passed into history during the seventies, eighties, and nineties with barely a whisper, overshadowed by the Greatest Generation. Some generations seem destined to work tirelessly for decades to improve the world with little recognition or subsequent public gratitude by later generations. This very year was the centennial of both the Somme and Verdun, and few seem care.
Every product of disgust capable of becoming a negation of the family is DADA; a protest with the fists of its whole being engaged in destructive action: DADA; knowledge of all the means rejected up until now by the shamefaced sex of comfortable compromise and good manners: DADA; abolition of logic, which is the dance of those impotent to create: DADA; of every social hierarchy and equation set up for the sake of values by our valets: DADA: every object, all objects, sentiments, obscurities, apparitions and the precise clash of parallel lines are weapons for the fight: DADA; abolition of memory: DADA; abolition of archaeology: DADA; abolition of prophets: DADA; abolition of the future: DADA; absolute and unquestionable faith in every god that is the immediate product of spontaneity: DADA; elegant and unprejudiced leap from a harmony to the other sphere; trajectory of a word tossed like a screeching phonograph record; to respect all individuals in their folly of the moment: whether it be serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, determined, enthusiastic; to divest one’s church of every useless cumbersome accessory; to spit out disagreeable or amorous ideas like a luminous waterfall, or coddle them—with the extreme satisfaction that it doesn’t matter in the least – with the same intensity in the thicket of core’s soul pure of insects for blood well-born, and gilded with bodies of archangels. Freedom: DADA DADA DADA, a roaring of tense colors, and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, inconsistencies:
-Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto, March 23, 1918
You taught me language, and my profit on ’t
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
-Caliban, Act 1, Scene 2, The Tempest, Shakespeare
Earlier this year, it dawned on me that most people cannot articulate what their core values are. That is, what are the values they have used to structure and build their lives upon. I realized that I could only barely describe in a couple of vague sentences what my core values are. Complicating the matter, I believe most people are often deluded about their values, or mistaken, or just plain refuse to admit that their core values are the values they live by, the things they will sacrifice for.
This state of affairs is not that surprising. How to live has been confusing people for millennia. Despite (or because of) no definitive answer, this question is sadly ignored. Philosophy and ethics are not great matters of cultural debate. Corporate mainstream media promote a vision of consumerism. It is trite to say that consumerism does not lead to lasting fulfillment or happiness. The question remained what would. Thus, I found myself trying to discover or develop a philosophy of life that I could practically implement.
At first, I did not know I was looking to develop a philosophy of life. I felt unmoored and without a coherent understanding of my life. Of course, I had ideas about how to live an ethical life – treat people as you would want to be treated, for example – but these random strands of ethics did not amount to a fulfilling vision of an ethical life.
And so off I went searching. Primarily in books, but also in the world and in myself. For a philosophy of life, or: (i) a set of ethical beliefs one can use to understand the world, themselves, and their actions; (ii) an ethical system that can be used to practically plan how one wants to live.
I feel a certain sense of shame at how determinedly I brought these events about. At how, despite the low likelihood of anything like this happening barring controlled action, I caused walls to be knocked down, rooms to be gutted, old places of comfort tossed aside. In the middle of it, I did not know if I was acting in accordance with some innate martial discipline or a maniacal obsession with some fleeting fantasy. A fantasy that I knew I did not deserve or earn, because my own desire for it was not enough. Regardless, whether by magic or sheer violence, I caused the past to be obliterated and put something new, something of my choosing, in its place.