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Friday, March 30, 2007

Living Religion IX: The Fallacy Of The Goal

[Some may want to catch up with parts I, II, III, IV , V, VI, VII and VIII.]

I was having discussion recently with a friend of mine regarding the fictional nature of the self and the false nourishment of belief, and to his credit he was giving me a fair hearing and struggling mightily with the implications thereof. (It never ceases to surprise me just how hard it is to cross that threshold - until I remember my own obtuseness before it all came together for me.) At one point, he asked me, "What about goals?"

"Goals are completely useless," I replied. That's where I lost him, and I decided to tackle the issue here.

First of all, goals are constructs of thought. That in and of itself is enough to settle the matter for me, but I understand that others may want to explore it more in depth.

I'd like to note here that Krishnamurti (whom I consider an important mentor of mine), when discussing matters such as these, would often concede utility in the "outside world" for application of organized thought such as goals, etc. (I apologize for not citing him directly here, but I only want to note this as a general point.) I cannot pretend to know whether he really saw things this way, or if it was merely a semantic concession to help bridge conversations and avoid being dismissed altogether. After all, this subject is difficult enough to tackle without people objecting with, "But without goals, how would we ever build X or Y, or accomplish Z?" That is a perfectly reasonable rejoinder, and only a lunatic would argue with that, right?

Well, I am that lunatic, and I will go into that later in a Part II post. Dismiss me now, if you will.

First I will approach this in a safer area, that of human behaviour and psychology. The example my friend could not get past was regarding a personal goal - "getting in shape." In his version of things, one sets a weight and physique target, and then works "towards" that goal. That indeed is the "normal" way we go about that.

Well, there are a whole lot of unexamined things going one when one sets a goal like that - narcissism, vanity, insecurity, sexual conquest and what have you - a mix of some or all of it. Personally, I would ferret all of those out before I took any action, but let's not get into those weeds here, and concede that, for all of it, "getting in shape" is indeed a good thing. So we posit the situation of one who is pure-in-heart and wishes he or she were "in shape" - except that such a one would probably better define this as "good health."

I would argue here that setting a goal is actually counterproductive to a good outcome. What we are really talking about here is health, and setting metrics like "weight" and "physique" can easily subvert good health. Indeed, it often does - anorexia, bulemia, steroid abuse, risky cosmetic surgery, etc. all come to mind. For even though they can be used to serve this "goal," in the long term they often have nasty consequences. Ah, you say, but I will do this by eating right and performing healthy physical exercise and activity.

Great! I say. Except, um, isn't this what you're supposed to be doing anyway? Are you saying that in the absence of a conceived "goal" to "follow", you will naturally decline in decrepitude? Actually, the true utility of this "goal" is merely to make it happen "faster" than it normally would and, above destructive techniques aside, doesn't the constant measuring between where you "are" now and the ideal of where you would "be" in the future create a negative tension? A tension that could easily result in frustration, and its unhelpful cousin "giving up?" Doesn't this happen more often than not?

Is it really too hard to see how much simpler it is to toss the goal altogether and just do the right thing by your body and health, and let nature do its thing, without artificial psychological interference? Because, after all, that is what will follow.


Having neatly disposed of that foolishness, in my next "Living Religion" post I am going to show what a naughty deconstructionist I am and tackle the "outside world" utility of goal-making. This is the place where I show what a dangerous person a philosopher is to the world of organized security. I will expect the jackboots and truncheons at any hour.

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