Despair: Failing to want to exist.

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Reply Fri 28 May, 2010 06:03 am
"To be in despair is not only the worst misfortune and misery - no, it is ruination." - Anti-Climacus, 1849

Roughly summarized, despair is having the negative desire of wanting not to exist or lacking the positive desire to want to exist. Suffering, tragedy, and misery does not entail despair, unless such suffering leads to the person wanting to die or lacking the desire to live. For Kierkegaard, the latter is just as serious as the former in terms of despair.

However, even if one wants to live, that is still not sufficient to allieve despair. For Kierkegaard, to want to exist as ourselves is the very opposite of despair. One of the most famous examples Kierkegaard uses is the man who wanted to become Caesar, the Ruler of the Western Roman Empire:

"When the ambitious man whose slogan is "Either Caesar or nothing" does not get to become Caesar, he despairs over it. But this also means something else: precisely because he did not get to be Caesar, he now cannot bear to be himself. In a deeper sense, it is not his failure to become Caesar that is intolerable, but it is the self that did not become Caesar that is intolerable."

To avoid despair is to have the conscious desire to want to exist as ourselves regardless of whatever life throws at you. Even if one knows one is going to die eventually due to human mortality, as long as one has the desire to want to continue to exist as ourselves in spite of our mortality, it would not be considered normal Kierkegaardian despair.
 
Krumple
 
Reply Fri 28 May, 2010 06:11 am
@Victor Eremita,
I think there is more to it than just despair. What if you don't have any lofty goals like wanting to become Caesar? What if your only goal is just to be content with your existence? What happens when you achieve that goal? Is it necessary to force some new goal once you accomplish it, just so you can continue living? My over all point is, given enough time, and minus mortality you would accomplish all goals no matter how lofty they were. That does not even include having the ability to acquire all desire and wishes. Once this occurs the demand for living drastically reduces if not completely. So you could call this another type of despair but I would just say a person with contentment needs nothing, not even life itself.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 28 May, 2010 06:26 am
@Victor Eremita,
Curious that creatures don't ever have this problem. A creature will do anything to keep existing, without having any capacity to wonder what for. A fox will chew its leg off to escape the trap, a salmon will die trying to hurl itself up a waterfall just to spawn. I wonder why this sense of urgency is lost in people?
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Fri 28 May, 2010 07:20 am
@jeeprs,
Creatures may not have this problem in the wild, but let us at them, and ...
Learned helplessness - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
'In part two of the Seligman and Maier experiment, these three groups of dogs were tested in a shuttle-box apparatus, in which the dogs could escape electric shocks by jumping over a low partition. For the most part, the Group 3 dogs, who had previously "learned" that nothing they did had any effect on the shocks, simply lay down passively and whined. Even though they could have easily escaped the shocks, the dogs didn't try. [...] However, not all of the dogs in Seligman's experiments became helpless. Of the roughly 150 dogs in experiments in the latter half of the 1960s, about one-third did not become helpless, but instead managed to find a way out of the unpleasant situation despite their past experience with it. The corresponding characteristic in humans has been found to correlate highly with optimism: an explanatory style that views the situation as other than personal, pervasive, or permanent. This distinction between people who adapt and those who break down under long-term psychological pressure was also studied in the 1950s in the context of brainwashing.'
Curious, that 1/3 figure: the same as that in the Milgram obedience experiments, if I remember correctly. I hadn't noticed this before (and it might just be coincidence).

---------- Post added 05-28-2010 at 03:35 PM ----------

Victor Eremita;169885 wrote:
"To be in despair is not only the worst misfortune and misery - no, it is ruination." - Anti-Climacus, 1849

Roughly summarized, despair is having the negative desire of wanting not to exist or lacking the positive desire to want to exist. Suffering, tragedy, and misery does not entail despair, unless such suffering leads to the person wanting to die or lacking the desire to live. For Kierkegaard, the latter is just as serious as the former in terms of despair.

However, even if one wants to live, that is still not sufficient to allieve despair. For Kierkegaard, to want to exist as ourselves is the very opposite of despair. [...]

To avoid despair is to have the conscious desire to want to exist as ourselves regardless of whatever life throws at you. Even if one knows one is going to die eventually due to human mortality, as long as one has the desire to want to continue to exist as ourselves in spite of our mortality, it would not be considered normal Kierkegaardian despair.

My idea of despair (a state of mind with which I am intimately familiar) seems to be so close to Kierkegaard's as to be identical; but perhaps it is worth stating it, all the same, to see if there is indeed no difference.

One can be in a war, but with no hope of winning; and the inevitability of death seems to show that each of us is in fact fighting just such a war; but that fact in itself is no cause for despair.

To be in despair is to be caught up in a war without any belief that there is anything worth fighting for (still less dying for) - unless perhaps one is on the wrong side?

Put simply, to be in despair is to be without purpose.

However, 'purpose' is a mysterious concept. In a world which seems so obviously random (tsunamis, earthquakes, twins born with their skulls and brains joined together), how can an apparently insignificant human creature have a purpose, or have purposes?

I don't mean those mundane purposes he devises for himself, in order to stay alive for a time, and pass (or kill) that time with as little suffering and as much enjoyment as possible.

I mean, what purpose(s) he has. What is he for?

Is there any rational way of thinking the thought, "I have a purpose"? (Or "I have purposes"?)

Leaving my own thoughts aside for the moment, what is not clear to me from the above description of Kierkegaard's concept of despair is what he means by the 'self' - because that is another mysterious concept.

I know that K. was a Christian, and I am hovering on the edge of Christianity (just as I am also hovering on the edge of despair), so it is not altogether unlikely that our two concepts of despair are indeed closely related, if not identical.

I do not at all want to exist as myself, if 'myself' means (as Sartre, for example, would presumably have me take it to mean) that entity which exists in relation to others. In relation to others, and indeed in relation to myself (a far from vacuous or trivial concept, but a paradoxical one), I am pretty much a complete turd. Thus, I am in despair, in K.'s sense.

But I have a notion of a 'real' self, and this notion of what is 'real' in the self is somehow bound up with my vague notion of 'God'. This 'real' self is not a fait accompli (that would seem to be the schizoid mistake, as described in Laing's The Divided Self), but rather something to be struggled for - almost, but not quite, in a sense, self-created, as Sartre would apparently have us believe.

So, the "very opposite of despair", for me, if not for Kierkegaard, is: to have a purpose, or purposes, in which one really believes; to have a real self, which one struggles to be (also struggling not to crucify it - so to speak); to be part of God. Something like that, and all very vague, I know.

How close do I appear to be to K.'s way of thinking, to one who, unlike me, has actually read K.?

---

P.S. Sorry about the (entirely unintended) fact that this article has got joined on to my previous one. I see that salima has thanked the other one - I wouldn't want it to seem, by default, that she has thanked this one!
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 29 May, 2010 02:49 am
@Victor Eremita,
Actually I feel some information about Victor Frankl, a psychotherapist I admire greatly, is relevant to this topic. The following is a brief excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on Frankl's 'logotherapy'

Quote:
The notion of Logotherapy was created with the Greek word logos ("meaning"). Frankl's concept is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life. The following list of tenets represents the basic principles of logotherapy:

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  • Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  • We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

The human spirit is referred to in several of the assumptions of logotherapy, but it should be noted that the use of the term spirit is not "spiritual" or "religious". In Frankl's view, the spirit is the will of the human being. The emphasis, therefore, is on the search for meaning, which is not necessarily the search for God or any other supernatural being. Frankl also noted the barriers to humanity's quest for meaning in life. He warns against "...affluence, hedonism, [and] materialism..." in the search for meaning.

Discovering meaning

According to Frankl, we can discover meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a value - nature, a work of art, another person, i.e., love; (3) by suffering. On the meaning of suffering, Frankl gives the following example:[INDENT] Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now how could I help him? What should I tell him? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, "What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?:" "Oh," he said, "for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!" Whereupon I replied, "You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her." He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office.
- Viktor Frankl
[/INDENT]Frankl emphasized that realizing the value of suffering is meaningful only when the first two creative possibilities are not available (for example, in a concentration camp) and only when such suffering is inevitable - he was not proposing that people suffer unnecessarily
 
Krumple
 
Reply Sat 29 May, 2010 03:18 am
@Victor Eremita,
Quote:
According to Frankl, we can discover meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a value - nature, a work of art, another person, i.e., love; (3) by suffering.


I have minor objections to these premises.

The first premise: by doing a deed. I honestly don't think people use this to give their life meaning. It might appear that way but I really think the only thing that happens is that they are so busy doing something they don't have the chance to ponder their existence. This is a type of self medication towards this problem. It doesn't always work either, because sometimes work or deeds cause other psychological issues to creep in that were unexpected. A good example of this, is when a person has a goal within a career, but once that goal is achieved they might find their work tedious or not fulfilling. This would strip them of their feeling that their work gave them purpose or meaning.

The second premise is probably the better of the examples. Since nature does have a pretty strong impact on the individual. I remember the first time I went to the ocean and was overwhelmed by the size and power of the waves crashing onto the beach. It wasn't even a very pleasant day, in fact it was raining but the impression it left on me was pretty awe inspiring. There was no one else around for miles since it was a very secluded beach. The thoughts of how much energy and events were happening even without anyone around to experience it. It has far reaching impacts and it can almost give you a mental vertigo if you think about it too deeply. Despite all that, I don't think this means that our purpose is so that we can experience the universe. I like Carl Sagan's quote about us being the universe's way to know itself. But I don't think it is our purpose.

The love premise I have a huge problem with. I don't think it is necessary for one. But besides that I think love is incredibly fickle. It is so easily swayed and bemused that it almost seems unrealistic for an emotion. I think it is no different than how hatred is often a product of ignorance and stupidity. I think love is a product of invested hope and desire that rarely has a firm basis in reality. A parent can say they love their child unconditionally, but I have never once seen a case where it was unconditional. There are conditions there, they just are rarely ever admitted to because people don't want to sound superficial towards their families.

The last example, suffering, I can see this as having a bearing impact on purpose, but I don't see it as a substantial one. The reason is, it is rare to completely avoid suffering, it creeps into our lives in so many ways, both crude and subtle that you would never really be able to escape it having some kind of impact weather it was your own or someone you cared about. Finding purpose in it, is more of a coping mechanism than anything else.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 29 May, 2010 03:44 am
@Victor Eremita,
So do you stand for anything, or just against things? So far today I get that you're against, let's see, God, love, religion, deeds, and purpose. So what would be, in your book, something to be for, an antidote to despair, something which somehow makes suffering worthwhile?
 
Krumple
 
Reply Sat 29 May, 2010 06:08 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;170308 wrote:
So do you stand for anything, or just against things? So far today I get that you're against, let's see, God, love, religion, deeds, and purpose. So what would be, in your book, something to be for, an antidote to despair, something which somehow makes suffering worthwhile?


All I'm trying to say is you can't be firm on purpose otherwise you set up a trap. For example, what if we were to say that the purpose of living is to find love. Well what happens to those who never find it? You now set up the cause for their suffering. It doesn't need to be there. I think trying to pin down purpose actually causes problems. If you try to define your being through your life, when there is an "accident" that causes a change it would effect you more to lose or to change because of it. I think that is unnecessary suffering.

I am not against those things. I am saying pinning yourself down to say these things are great things because they give your life purpose and meaning is a dangerous prospect. You set yourself up for a devastation if they happen to change. The thing we can rely on too is that things will change, you can guarantee that. Since change is constant, then expecting these things to bring purpose will always lead to suffering. So I say abandon the notion that these things are good because they give existence a purpose.

I am saying you don't need a purpose. You don't need a motivation to live. You don't need to have these things to be a happy or content person. Once you realize this, you can be free of them. It is a cage to think they are necessary to have a meaningful life.
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Sat 29 May, 2010 08:37 am
@Krumple,
Krumple;170329 wrote:
All I'm trying to say is you can't be firm on purpose otherwise you set up a trap. For example, what if we were to say that the purpose of living is to find love. Well what happens to those who never find it? You now set up the cause for their suffering. It doesn't need to be there. I think trying to pin down purpose actually causes problems. If you try to define your being through your life, when there is an "accident" that causes a change it would effect you more to lose or to change because of it. I think that is unnecessary suffering.

I am not against those things. I am saying pinning yourself down to say these things are great things because they give your life purpose and meaning is a dangerous prospect. You set yourself up for a devastation if they happen to change. The thing we can rely on too is that things will change, you can guarantee that. Since change is constant, then expecting these things to bring purpose will always lead to suffering. So I say abandon the notion that these things are good because they give existence a purpose.

I am saying you don't need a purpose. You don't need a motivation to live. You don't need to have these things to be a happy or content person. Once you realize this, you can be free of them. It is a cage to think they are necessary to have a meaningful life.

It's possible that I'm misreading this (or just that we're such different people that we're talking at cross-purposes ... no pun intended!), but it seems as if you identify the concept of purpose with that of an exclusive obsession, one which can hold despair temporarily at bay, but which is indeed a trap, pinning you down, as you say, and setting you up for devastating despair should it fail for some unforeseen reason.

What you seem to be arguing for (again, unless I'm misreading you completely) is a kind of openness to what life brings. But what life brings may be a purpose, or purposes; and if, for any reason, you find yourself in despair (which it seems you do not, and perhaps you never have?) - perhaps, indeed, because of the collapse of a defensive and exclusive obsession, as indeed happened to me - I still say that only a sense of purpose can give you the will to stand up to that despair. You can't stand on your own against despair; you have to stand for something.

But it is vain of me merely to repeat this assertion; I don't know how to argue for it, or make it more understandable.

I think that perhaps that word 'ego' might help. The kind of purpose you seem to have in mind is set and defined by the ego, whereas the kind of purpose I have in mind is acknowledged by the ego as coming from somewhere higher. I don't mean 'higher' in the sense of more powerful, but in the sense of more inclusive, a being of which one is a part, and in which one has a place - and which might have more than one purpose in mind.

Sometimes I use too many parentheses, when I'm struggling to put a thought together; sorry if this has been hard to read!
 
Krumple
 
Reply Sat 29 May, 2010 09:05 am
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;170356 wrote:
It's possible that I'm misreading this (or just that we're such different people that we're talking at cross-purposes ... no pun intended!), but it seems as if you identify the concept of purpose with that of an exclusive obsession, one which can hold despair temporarily at bay, but which is indeed a trap, pinning you down, as you say, and setting you up for devastating despair should it fail for some unforeseen reason.

What you seem to be arguing for (again, unless I'm misreading you completely) is a kind of openness to what life brings. But what life brings may be a purpose, or purposes; and if, for any reason, you find yourself in despair (which it seems you do not, and perhaps you never have?) - perhaps, indeed, because of the collapse of a defensive and exclusive obsession, as indeed happened to me - I still say that only a sense of purpose can give you the will to stand up to that despair. You can't stand on your own against despair; you have to stand for something.

But it is vain of me merely to repeat this assertion; I don't know how to argue for it, or make it more understandable.

I think that perhaps that word 'ego' might help. The kind of purpose you seem to have in mind is set and defined by the ego, whereas the kind of purpose I have in mind is acknowledged by the ego as coming from somewhere higher. I don't mean 'higher' in the sense of more powerful, but in the sense of more inclusive, a being of which one is a part, and in which one has a place - and which might have more than one purpose in mind.

Sometimes I use too many parentheses, when I'm struggling to put a thought together; sorry if this has been hard to read!


Well what you are beginning to sound like is what I consider a false hope. I don't attach any extra baggage onto anything like that if that is indeed what you are doing. I think the fewer expectations you place on life, the better off you are in the long run. I can't guarantee that though. If you have to lie to yourself to get through the day, and that is what motivates you, I guess it's not necessarily a bad thing. But if it becomes an outlet that is expressed openly you might find conflict from it.

Many would refer to me as a nihilist but actually I'm not. I would rather consider myself a realist, since I accept all things that happen equally without asking why I was dealt these circumstances. You can not always win eventually you will lose. That might sound negative but I consider it being accepting to the fact that things will not always go your way or turn out how you want them to. I let things be except this does not prevent me from trying to make things better according to how I view the world. I might object to something, but that doesn't mean I just let it continue. If it is mutually beneficial I should try to do something about it.
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Sat 29 May, 2010 09:21 am
@Krumple,
Krumple;170368 wrote:
Well what you are beginning to sound like is what I consider a false hope. I don't attach any extra baggage onto anything like that if that is indeed what you are doing. I think the fewer expectations you place on life, the better off you are in the long run. I can't guarantee that though. If you have to lie to yourself to get through the day, and that is what motivates you, I guess it's not necessarily a bad thing. But if it becomes an outlet that is expressed openly you might find conflict from it.

Many would refer to me as a nihilist but actually I'm not. I would rather consider myself a realist, since I accept all things that happen equally without asking why I was dealt these circumstances. You can not always win eventually you will lose. That might sound negative but I consider it being accepting to the fact that things will not always go your way or turn out how you want them to. I let things be except this does not prevent me from trying to make things better according to how I view the world. I might object to something, but that doesn't mean I just let it continue. If it is mutually beneficial I should try to do something about it.

I imagine you must be conceiving of despair as merely an absence, whereas to one who has experienced it (or I should say, more carefully: to me) it is a positively corrosive, hateful force, indeed a kind of 'death instinct' (absurd though that phrase is). It is indeed the other side of false hope, as I have already agreed. But you seem to imagine that the other side of despair is only false hope again. In fact (or again I should say, it seems to me), despair is a barrier to be passed through (even if, as in my case, it takes most of a lifetime, or even all of it), and what lies on the other side of despair is true hope.

I know I won't convince you; I barely even convince myself! (I am, after all, still in despair.) But I am aware that you are failing to understand something; and I must repeat that it seems to me that you have not experienced despair yourself. If I am wrong, tell me so.

I'm not saying anyone should experience despair! Perhaps indeed all those who do experience it are those who have set up false hopes for themselves, and you are wise to have avoided it.
 
salima
 
Reply Sat 29 May, 2010 09:44 am
@Victor Eremita,
i sometimes think that there is a despair gene...it seems to me that some of us are destined not to be happy, even if we are logically aware that there is no reason for us not to be. i very much admire krumple's philosophy, which i myself adhere to in a way-i should say i admire the way he practices it properly, because somehow it didnt set me free from becoming despondent. it is enough to help me survive until the episode is finished, since for me it comes in intervals which dont seem to have any particular catalyst, either physical or mental.

and twirlip, please dont consider yourself a turd or i would have to be defined as one too...!
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 12:40 am
@salima,
salima wrote:

i sometimes think that there is a despair gene...it seems to me that some of us are destined not to be happy, even if we are logically aware that there is no reason for us not to be. i very much admire krumple's philosophy, which i myself adhere to in a way-i should say i admire the way he practices it properly, because somehow it didnt set me free from becoming despondent. it is enough to help me survive until the episode is finished, since for me it comes in intervals which dont seem to have any particular catalyst, either physical or mental.


Despair is one of those slippery words. Silly emotions being all differently experienced and stuff. I agree there are real physiological factors for despair, despondence, and depression. However in its absolute sense i would propose that despair is the absolute absence of hope. It may be synonymous with perfect apathy. There may not even be real pain when suffering despair. This is why I would disagree with Krumple's absolutist posts. He doesn't despair, he's just a hater. if he or any of us really despaired at the moment I doubt we would care enough about discussing desperation to discuss it. But hey what do I know, as far as i can tell I'm not desperate.
 
salima
 
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 01:15 am
@GoshisDead,
what krumple are you talking about? i know a krumple but he doesnt hate anything that i noticed...

i have been in despair, though at the moment i am not, and yes, if i were i wouldnt be sitting here at the computer, unless it were to go back to finalexit and get the latest suicide kit.

maybe despair is an illness or malfunction...because if you think about it logically there is really no reason to ever despair, not that i could come up with. even death is another opportunity. but looking back, and watching my son when he was little, which is how i noticed how it works, despair seems to come over a person and today suddenly everything in his estimation turns to crap. and we tend to add to each thing with another until it is overwhelming and completely out of control.

i am not sure if there is a difference between despair and depression-i think despair hurts while depression is a total numbness. despair is the absence of hope and depression is the lack of interest in everything. if hope was handed to me on a platter when i was depressed it wouldnt have mattered, i would have a hard time even trying to turn my eyeballs to look at it.

i spent years in them places...nowadays i think very similarly to krumple, if i understand his posts, and he is fairly straightforward. i cant say i am happy, but i am not desperate or depressed. people tend to call me negative...but i believe i am realistic, at least to the extent of my knowledge on things.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 03:02 am
@salima,
I am so sorry to hear that Salima. You wrote that beautiful piece a few months back about the meditation teacher. Why don't you see if you can find him?
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 04:22 am
@salima,
salima wrote:
i am not sure if there is a difference between despair and depression-i think despair hurts while depression is a total numbness. despair is the absence of hope and depression is the lack of interest in everything.

I don't think I have ever heard anyone who has ever been depressed describe it as anything other than agony. Some who have been depressed and had cancer have said that they'd rather have the cancer.

Words can be distinguished from one another in lots of ways, some of them useful; but if 'despair' and 'depression' can be distinguished (which it has never occurred to me to try to do), I don't think it can be in this way. Nor does it help to say that depression is an illness or a chemical imbalance.

I suppose despair might not necessarily involve self-hatred (at least not consciously), whereas depression does; in that case, depression hurts more.
 
salima
 
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 08:19 am
@jeeprs,
he died about 18 months after i became his student-i was the last one he continued to see until his death. i wrote the story about a year after his death i think. a lot of what was in my blog was actually not recently written.

the problem with meditation is that you arent able to do it when you need it most. but the way i am now is still an upgrade from what i was before i met raj...no, actually it goes back even further than that, to a single occurrence of mind altering ... mind altering.

i dont know what it is, i really think it could be a despair/depression gene, it runs in my family-father to me to my son. dont feel bad...i think this is as good as it can get for me. all i have to do is submerge myself in some kind of community service, that will have to suffice.

distractions distractions-i get the eyes fixed and the teeth fall apart again. should do a blog on teeth, i am an expert on dental work-especially on bad dental work.
 
salima
 
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 08:21 am
@Krumple,
i think you are even happier than me, right?
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 10:25 am
@salima,
I was using the word hater in its slang context which doesn't mean that a hater actually hates something only that they trash talk against something.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 17 Jun, 2010 03:36 pm
@salima,
Quote:
the problem with meditation is that you arent able to do it when you need it most


Or maybe when you least want to sit, it is most helpful for you.

Have a look at this blog entry

I know all about dental traumas too....
 
 

 
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