by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
“If i am inclined to suppose that a mouse has come into being by spontaneous generation out of grey rags and dust, I shall do well to examine those rags very clearly to see how a mouse may have hidden in them, how it may have got there and so on. But if I am convinced that a mouse cannot come into being from these things, then this investigation will perhaps be superﬂuous.”Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosphical Investigations
We’re all busy. We haven’t time for tiresome inquisitions. It doesn’t however overwork the mental cylinders to acknowledge that our current station in life is pretty much the product of our application to date. Given our deportment we shouldn’t be surprised by our condition in life. It is after all tautological. Indeed we dare not think otherwise. Yet it is almost with stunned recognition that we admit to the very predictable state of our affairs. The concession of this glaring inevitability hardly qualiﬁes as insightful. Did we imagine that our actions had no consequences? Did we suppose that the ﬁrst principles of logic were somehow lost on our daily lives? Did we presume living unfolded beyond the realm of thought?
If one ﬁnds the detached precision of deductive reasoning shamefully inappropriate to the poetry of living, I am reminded of the 15th century proverb, “What’s bred in the bone will out in the ﬂesh.” The upshot of our lives is neither a ballad nor a crap shoot. I don’t mean to diminish the wonder of living or to suggest that we are stereotypical, but we might at least acknowledge that the results of our actions and “what’s bred in the bone”, while perhaps not expected, might have been foreseen or even anticipated. Distracted as we are by living in the moment, we react spasmodically to urges and sensibilities without a great deal of farsightedness. It would be a stretch to suggest that during our once carefree youth we had any concern about how things would turn out. The unsettling corollary however is that almost without exception the spreading of our history brutally lays bear an identiﬁable nexus between what we did and what we have become.
If I am correct that there is an element of inevitability about life presumably one needn’t become too intent upon changing its course. Nonetheless I hold it to be equally true that there are crossroads in life and that the path we pursue will ultimately lead to different though plainly unsurprising conclusions. Whether it is calculated reasoning or whimsical passion which drives us one way or another is quite irrelevant; I merely emphasize the connection between the choice and the result. As a life-altering assertion this line of observation has about as much weight as any other “adult” admonition. Competing with the possible legitimacy of such objective evaluation is the swell of emotion which so often accompanies the vitality of youth. Yet whatever stage of life we’re at the powwow is always whether to listen to our instincts or to our head. And frankly I would be hard pressed to promote one over the other. Again the thesis is not how we should live, rather that what we live depends on the selections we make.
While this discussion borders on the trite, it is nonetheless remarkable that we so frequently ﬁnd ourselves alarmed by its constancy. We suddenly awaken to the life-long extrapolations of our actions and blankly gape, “Funny how things happen!” Of course there’s nothing funny about it at all. This is the real unavoidable nature of life; namely, we’ll get what we deserve. Granted, hard medicine for some. Even if one is inclined to accept the course of one’s life with composure it is disquieting to acknowledge the fateful role we’ve played in getting there. If one isn’t happy about things it doesn’t help to sully either the decisions we’ve made or the results they’ve precipitated by condemning ourselves. I can’t believe that there is anyone who is entirely satisﬁed with their lot in life but even if there were, it peculiarly remains a matter of mystery how the complicated and meticulous affairs of life transpire in spite of their transparent evolution. The details of our live are never an accident though it is alarmingly news to most of us.
Apart from the fact that examination discloses one’s convictions, there are several threads which derive from this analysis. Foremost is the rhetorical question whether, given the opportunity, we would alter anything we have previously done. I think not. Let’s be honest, the appetites which once drove us were far too convincing to be trumped by armchair philosophy. Even if the question were directed more to avenues than appetites, it is a distinction without a difference. Another branch of consideration is whether we would have been happier had we made other choices. This is equally theoretical but again I defer to the paramountcy of nature, by which I mean the acceptance of what is. It is a deceit and a fraud upon life to imagine being someone you are not. One’s existence is your own doing and by that virtue not contrived, a sufﬁcient reward I would think. Finally there is the matter of substance; viz., have we accomplished anything worth mentioning? It is ineluctable that upon an examination of where we are, the issue of its merit attends. This however is a misleading enquiry if for no other reason than that it is redundant; it is a subterfuge to the assessment of one’s life.
When at last we hit the wall and confront the blunt achievement of our being, whether the light-bulb moment percolates in the middle of the night or while sipping one’s evening restorative, there is naturally nothing to be done about it, like it or not. Reversal for example is entirely out of the question. Regret is a waste of time. Adoption of heroic measures is likewise uncalled for. This isn’t about a display of feigned or exaggerated suffering to obtain sympathy or admiration.
One can only resign to the moment and pronounce unﬂappably, “Funny how things happen!”