I love meeting new people. While I find most people interesting, it’s a rare blessing when I come across people that love to sit and talk about philosophy. It’s even rarer to come across someone that has a mutual affinity for Dr. Cornel West, a philosopher that is one of my heroes (Five Questions For Five Heroes, Part 2: Dr. Cornel West).
Recently, I met a guy that told me about how much he liked Cornel West and the way he speaks and delivers his message of truth and reality. He then told me about a movie called Examined Life in which Dr. West waxes philosophically on life and what it’s all about. Fortunately, it was a streaming choice on Netflix so I was able to start watching it that night, and right out of the get, West is there with a metaphorical 2×4 in hand, setting the stage for what it means to examine your life.
Here is a brief transcript of what West says in the film:
“What happens when you interrogate yourself? What happens when you begin to call into question your tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions? And begin then to become a different kind of person. See, I put it this way, that for me philosophy is fundamentally about our finite situation. We can define that in terms of: we’re beings toward death, we’re … two-legged, linguistically-conscious creatures born between urine and feces whose body will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. That’s us. We’re beings toward death. At the same time, we have desire. We are organisms in space and time, and so it’s desire in the face of death, and then of course you’ve got dogmatism and various attempts to hold onto certainty.”
While this can be a depressing view of humanity—that we are “beings toward death…the culinary delight of terrestrial worms”—it also shines a light that separates humans from every other creature and creation in the world: Desire.
What Do You Desire?
Desire is simple, it is “to wish or long for; crave; want.” From the moment we wake up to when we put our head on the pillow and fall asleep, desire is on our minds. The money that we wish we had, the material possessions we long for, the food and drink we crave, the things that we want that we think will make our lives tomorrow better than yesterday.
Our desires can be good or evil, but that’s not really the point, because each of us is moving towards our inevitable demise. We will die, and what we choose to do with our insatiable desires is what separates us from one another.
As much as we like to pretend that it isn’t true, all human beings are the equal at birth and death. Everything in between is up to us.
So, what do you desire? Do you want that shiny new object? Do you want to give money to the people at the rest area so that they can get home? Do you want to make sure that your retirement savings is intact so that you can do the things that you put off doing to make sure that you could retire in style?
I think it all comes down to the attempt at balancing our good and evil desires with the reality that no one can be perfect and that we are all trying to finish the best that we can.