A Straight Line

The formula for my happiness: a Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal.

Nietzsche

Progress is meaningless unless it is aimed at something specific, and the distance between that something and you must be measurable, or at least lending itself to estimation (i.e. less or more). Progress as it is today is directed only by the ever changing short term goals that find origin in our basic human impulses. We want our gadgets smaller and lighter and faster, but when we get what we want we shift our desire further away because now what we have is no longer good enough. It doesn’t ever lead anywhere, like a thirst you can never satisfy, no matter how much water you drink. The desire will always will remain because we haven’t yet learned the meaning of enough.

The only way that progress can ever have meaning is when we bind it to something static, something that we can progress towards. What is that immovable object? Religion presents it as God, and depending on your faith it could mean either the absolute good, or some form of self-transcendence, a destruction of the self. Philosophy for the most part concludes that there is no such goal and there can never be one, or even if there was, we could never know about it given our limited subjective interpretations of noumena (the world outside as it is, not processed through our senses). More practical philosophy is much like religion in respect that it focuses on the good, that is, what it is that makes the good life, and thus, sets the goalpost there (this is the same even if you subscribe to Nietzschean will to power because that becomes the ultimate purpose, and thus the ultimate good).

In truth, I don’t think it matters so much whether you choose the path of religion or philosophy (or both), as much as it matters to have a set direction, because that is the only way you will ever be able to objectively improve your life. If you’re going in a circle rather than a straight line, it won’t matter which point you’re at or which direction you move, you’ll never get anywhere and no point on the circle is going to be “better” than any other one. This is what I wrote about here and here, and what it really boils down to is this: the direction lies in us, not in the outside world. We can claim to live “better” – that is: more comfortably – than people did a thousand years ago, but can we claim to be better people? What was that progress worth? Only by bettering ourselves can progress ever be made, and if we want to design products and technology that has any meaning, those things must support and further the goal of helping us move towards the good life, not merely a more comfortable or a more entertaining life.

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“For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.”

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Further Reading

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