I’ve always been a high-minded seeker of truth, which means to say I listen to NPR, I watch PBS, I read the New York Times and Marvel comics, and I ponder the theories of Donald Trump.
Plus, I’ve pored over the works of the great philosophers, even the ones I couldn’t understand. And when I couldn’t understand them, I pretended to, especially while I was in college and wanted to impress a girl in metaphysics class, who was more impressed by a guy on the football team than a poser carrying around a copy of Heidegger’s Being and Time or more appropriately Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.
That’s what philosophy will get you — a sore arm from lugging around heavy books that you don’t read because you can’t understand them, along with the humiliation of trying to date a girl who has absolutely no interest in you or Heidegger, because her philosophy is “carpe diem,” and she’s too busy partying. Less metaphysics, more playtime became my motto.
It took me a long time to grasp one fundamental truth, as articulated by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, which is this: “Football players get the chicks. Philosophers get agita.” And if your name is Socrates, you get a mug of hemlock. Not even a Sam Adams beer.
If I recall my ancient Greek history, Aristotle tried out for the Olympic Games in Athens, but he was too much of a nerd and got cut from the team. I guess he didn’t get the girls, either.
But back to the meaning of life…
I’m no intellectual snob, and I can admit when I spot an eternal truth, even at the train station, where I saw a series of advertisements for Mohegan Sun Casino on my way to New York City for another day of hard labor in the salt mines.
The ads had huge lettering that said “LIFE.” What exactly is the meaning of LIFE? To the ad copywriter, it’s “10,000 fans at a concert, 10,000 casino chips and 10,000 new experiences.” It’s overnighters at luxury hotels with sexy women and/or men; it’s savoring fine food and “satisfying every craving.”
All the answers, they said, can be found at the casino, which I suppose is a lot more fun than trudging through several thousand pages of Sartre.
Eating, drinking, gambling, frolicking and consuming — is that what life’s about? A clearer definition of “being and nothingness” you’ll never find. No wonder America is tottering on the brink and 75 percent of people surveyed believe our country’s moral compass is pointed in the wrong direction.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be cavorting with fun-loving women, drinking schnapps and striking it rich. That’s the hedonist’s formula for the “good life.” I might even meet that girl from college.
I suspect this ad campaign was directed at the 79 million members of the Millennial Generation and not aging Baby Boomers, who if they’re like me prefer to spend their nights at home, watching reruns of Ozzie and Harriet while sipping a cocktail of Boost protein drink.
I have four Millennial daughters, and if you ask them what the purpose of life is, they promptly respond, “Making a difference,” “Being self-fulfilled,” “Achieving success” and most frequently, “To be happy.”
About 2400 years ago, Aristotle, who’s my hero this week, said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” But I don’t think he believed you could find it in Vegas, even though most of us spend every waking moment in the pursuit of pleasure, possessions, prestige and power.
We’re usually looking for happiness in all the wrong places. I know people who are filthy rich and unhappy; I also know perpetual partiers who live for physical pleasure and insist they’re happy, but when you scratch the surface, you realize they’re depressed. I know very important people who struggled long and hard to get where they are. Are they happy? No, they’re usually the unhappiest of all.
Long before Las Vegas and Wayne Newton, the Greeks realized happiness is a byproduct of a virtuous life, not a hedonistic life. I guess you have to reach a certain age to realize Aristotle knew more than Martha Stewart, George Clooney, Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton, Johnny Depp and all the others … even if he didn’t make the Olympic team.
Contact Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org.