Confession Time: I have trouble consuming information by listening. I am, as my late friend Ted used to say, a Reader. My spouse, on the other hand, is a listener. He listens to many, many podcasts. On our drive over to the beach, he played podcasts, because that’s how he’s been learning these days.
He listens to a lot of news, science, and astronomy podcasts, but he also listens to philosophy podcasts. I was happy to learn that he listens to some that aren’t The Daily Stoic, because while that one’s good and it IS his chosen way of life, it is so full of commercials for Ryan Holliday’s various enterprises that it’s hard to find the actual philosophy content. Hint for podcasters: have more content than commercials.
One he listens to is Philosophize This!, by Stephen West. Folx, if you ever want to learn about philosophy and also be entertained, head on over to this podcase. West is not only a great thinker, but he can make a pile of rocks interesting (ya know, Sisyphus). I was glad to hit this podcast in the rotation. Then I got very, very glad.
We happened to stumble across a series of podcasts on the American philosopher Ernest Becker. I, having studied philosophy right after Becker passed away, had not heard of him. My estranged son was a philosophy major, but he concentrated on European Communists, so I didn’t proofread any papers about Becker. Zizek? Yes. Anyhow, these podcasts introduced me to someone whose ideas and ways of looking at life were so similar to my own, that they really helped me put into words ideas that just float around in my head when I’m gazing at birds and plants and such.
Episode 162: The Creation of Meaning – The Denial of Death
Episode 163: The Creation of Meaning – Escape from Evil
What rang true the most for me was how Becker maintained that religion, culture, and other systems of “meaning” that people come up with are all illusions that we use to deal with the fact that we basically just live our lives and then die. He says people are terrified of death and want a way to live on. Religion and culture are among the things people come up with to cope with our mortality and enjoy life.
BOTH religion AND culture serve as an elaborate mechanism, purposefully constructed to help people quell this otherwise CONSTANT state of terror that comes along with the fact that we are a type of creature, that carries with it a conscious awareness of its death…S. West, Philosophize This! Episode 163
I listened along to both episodes thinking how much Becker’s ideas reminded me of the way I have always viewed life, based on the absurdist thought of my philosophical guide, Albert Camus. Yeah, I’m a closet existentialist, but I manage to live a fine life, anyway. And good ole Ernest Becker finally put into words how I have always looked at the way humans are driven to find meaning in coincidence and purpose in random happenings.
Naturally, I ordered me some Ernest Becker books (including The Denial of Death) as soon as I got to the condo place. I am just so excited that the random event of playing a recent podcast introduced me to someone who explains why if I weren’t me, I’d have said that a deity brought me this philosophy just when I needed it. I’ll chalk it up to synchronicity, instead.
Anyhow, you can go read the transcript (yay, there’s a transcript for us readers) or listen to the podcasts, but I wanted to give you a taste of why I found West’s way of introducing ideas so entertaining. Here, he’s talking about how us humans crave to know “the meaning of life”:
…why…do you even CARE…about creating a system of meaning in the first place?
Why do you care? Where does that desire even come from? Why…is OUR internal experience…not like OTHER animals…where, they don’t SEEM to sit around…and agonize over whether or not their life has meaning…A squirrel doesn’t sit around and agonize…over what kind of squirrel they want to be this week? You see a Koala at the zoo…do you really think that Koala…wants to be the Sir Isaac Newton of Koalas one day? No. It doesn’t CARE. Human beings… SEEM to CARE…there seems to be a piece of whatever this Homo Sapien thing is…that CARES that their actions in this life counted at LEAST for something. But why?S. West, Philosophize This! Episode 162
See, even written out, this is fun stuff. So, if you, too, want to have fun with philosophy or learn how I look at life, check these podcasts out. On the other hand, if you’re one of my Unitarian Universalist friends (I was one of these until it hit me that even the most inclusive of organized religions had too many rules and regulations for me), you might enjoy his current set of podcasts, which are on Ralph Waldo Emerson, a UU philosophy hero.