Friday, June 10, 2016

Desirism Book - Part 0003.5 - Sisyphus and Alph

[Author's Note: This is intended as an insert between Parts 3 and 4 - handling what I think may be a distraction for folks at that point.]

I fear that my example in the previous chapters might bring to mind a potential objection that will prevent the reader from putting their mind to the ideas that follow until this objection is set aside.

The account that I gave of Alph doing nothing but gathering stones may cause the reader to call to mind the fate of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was condemned to spend eternity rolling a large boulder uphill, only to have it roll back down the hill as he got it near the top. Importantly, this was described as a form of punishment. At best, it would be hard to see this as a significant way to spend one's time.

In order for this to actually be punishment, we will have to describe the case in a particular way.

It cannot be the case that Sisyphus has a desire to push the rock up hill. If this were the case, then as soon as he got it to the top, then he himself would push it off the hill so that he could push it uphill again. Pushing it off the top would be the best way available to him to make the proposition, "I am pushing this big rock uphill" true again. It would be a necessary means to the end of pushing the rock uphill.

Instead, we must describe Sisyphus' situation as that of a person whose desire is to have the rock at the top of the hill. More precisely, Sisyphus has a desire that the rock is at the top of the hill. He pushes the rock up the hill in order to make the proposition, "The rock is at the top of the hill" true. The punishment comes from the fact that, just before he realizes such a state of affairs as he desires, supernatural forces cause the rock to roll back to the bottom of the hill, requiring that he start over. His desire is never fulfilled.

Still, many readers may look at even the Sisyphus with the desire to push the rock uphill, and Alph with his desire to gather stones, with pity. These certainly are not lives that many readers would wish for themselves. They seem so empty . . . worthless.

This, I argue, is because the reader is writing his or her own desires into the story. The reader his imagining herself as Sisyphus, content to push the rock up the hill and then push it off the hill so that he could repeat the experience, and saying, "That is not for me."

However, this is because the reader has interests in things other than pushing the rock uphill. If the reader was Sisyphus - the version of Sisyphus with the desire to push the rock uphill - then the reader would, in fact, be content with that life, and find any other life to be worthless.

In other words, even the aversion to being Sisyphus is a desire - a "desire that I not be like Sisyphus". It is a desire that can only be realized in a universe in which the proposition, "I am like Sisyphus" is made and kept false.

However, it is a mistake - an implication for which there is no justification - to leap from the fact that the reader has a reason to avoid being like Sisyphus to the conclusion that there exists a reason independent of the reader's interests that Sisyphus has to not be like Sisyphus.

Similarly, in the chapters that follow, as the reader encounters Alph gathering stones, and thinks, "I would not want that for oneself," rest assured that nobody is suggesting this for you. All that is happening here is that we are describing a world with one being (Alph) who has one desire (a desire to gather stones), and looking at what would be true in that world.

In that world, Alph has no reason to seek anything other to gather stones.

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