Koos Kombuis, wonderful writer that he is, has written something even I cannot understand. As someone who loves Pynchon and Faulkner, I would like to think the inability to detect irony, sarcasm and black humour has largely evaporated from my misty literary vision. Writing in the, um, ‘prolific’ Thought Leader, Kombuis begins making noises very much in the spirit of many postmodern writers, like Lyotard and – more closely – Bauman and New Age ‘thinkers’.
Kombuis’ focus is on the various stages of Man’s thought and his ‘spiritual evolution’, as he ascends to the pinnacle of consciousness, to finally gain enlightenment, crossing thus into the zenith of the twilight within… Or something like that. In fact, though it has hints of Bauman, Lyotard and perhaps Zizek, it begins sounding more like the New Thought and New Age nonsense peddled by for example Opraholics. Indeed, it sounds like the very thing he – correctly – thinks is nonsense.
Having spent some time on both postmodern and New Ageism – in the same way a disease specialist spends time on disease, to gain understanding to eventually eradicate it – I saw some harmonising sentences that would fit quite snugly in-between the covers of nearly any postmodern or, more closely, New Age writer. Take this for example:
I believe that the purpose of life on this planet — or life anywhere — is for life to become aware of itself. Plants, amoebae, fish, cats and humans have different levels of self-awareness. Plants and amoebae know, on some deep molecular level, that they exist, but they would not be able to tell you where the nearest sushi restaurant is.
So what if they can’t tell you? Does ‘not speaking’ indicate awareness? Because (most) parrots lack the awareness to answer the sushi question, but they can certainly ‘speak’.
It is hard to tell what Kombuis’ point is in this piece. Sometimes I see it as one of those pieces where the sheer wit of the writer, ala Nietzsche, at some point elicits a moment of realisation. But, I don’t think this is the case here. The man mentions sushi too much to be taken (too) seriously.
But if there is no argument, you might say, there is nothing to refute! There might be nothing to ‘refute’ in, say, Twilight or New Moon but there is plenty to criticise (for example, crap and paper should only come together for a few seconds. Not long enough to have three sequels).
Yet, Kombuis does make some arguments, which seem, um, strange. His constant harping on about M. Scott Peck’s philosophies betray the teleological approach Kombuis has to human evolution. For example, Kombuis thinks – probably correctly – that our engagement with the world is changing dramatically with the Internet. He says of Julian Assange that Assange ‘may just represent the next step in evolution!’ I’m always hesitant about such statements – when unverified by scientific evidence – because often the idea of ‘the next step in evolution’ implies some ultimate destination (which in terms of, say, posthumanism or genetic modification might be a sound argument but that is not the case here).
An ‘ultimate destination’ is especially obvious given that Kombuis writes about the history of human-kind like this: ‘I believe that tribal consciousness was a very important step forward in the evolution of man.’ (My emphasis)
The danger is imputing teleology or purpose on to our evolution. For someone who dismisses nearly all the religions, there is a lot of purpose-talk that sounds particularly jarring. ‘This is the Ohm moment. This Enlightenment. This is the place where all ideological points of reference fade away, and nothing exists except this moment, this bite of sushi, this trending topic. Man is one with nature once again. He is back in Paradise.’
I think that social media like Twitter, more than any other modern invention, are helping to lead mankind towards this final leap of faith, this new interaction with reality, this final revelation of the purpose of our existence on this planet.
Well, look: He said purpose himself.
All this, I’m afraid, fits snugly within the covers of a Rhonda Byrne books, like The Secret or The Power. Don’t believe me? Guess which one of these is one of Rhonda Byrne (or her cronies) and which is Kombuis:
1. The truth is that the universe has been answering you all of your life, but you cannot receive the answers unless you are awake.
2. We can all find our own way to happiness. There are many roads to happiness, but they all start with us.
For the regular readers of my stuff – all four of you – you should know Byrne’s trademark nonsense by now.
Kombuis has aligned himself to this by talking about a purpose, spiritual-driven evolution of ‘man’ which smacks of boring nonsense. His point is lost on me, as wonderfully as it is written.
His idea that life is about realising itself is meaningless to me: what do people mean when they say this? I am aware of my life, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing. No, but of course there’s ‘something more’. There’s an enlightenment to be reached. That is the point where all life, from amoeba to fish to ourselves, has been journeying toward!
How does Kombuis know this? What is the evidence to suggest this is the purpose of life? As I’ve written elsewhere, this is a move that I can never understand and which by definition I don’t think can be made.
In a column I wrote for 3quarksdaily, I indicated one of my problems (perhaps my only problem aside from his overabundance of talent) with Carl Sagan was describing our planet as pointless, meaningless, forgotten, etc. By what standard is he making such assessments? Certainly not from the perspective of an Earthling, since Earth matters to us! Then from what? The perspective of a deity? Of course not. Even if he meant that he made that assessment from the point of view of looking at the map of the universe, it would still be meaningless. He wouldn’t look at a population chart and think his lover was just one pointless number, among many. He could look at a map of his hometown, but he wouldn’t say his own house was meaningless, pointless, forgotten! So why make such a statement about our home planet?
Similarly when Kombuis makes these claims that the meaning of life is awareness, or enlightenment, or some such thing, how does he know this? We must refuse to accept anyone claiming to know what he pointedly cannot or does not know.
But let us assume he is simply making an application mistake: Perhaps for him, breathing, meditation or visualising sushi is the meaning of life. But why for the rest of us? The main reason to oppose religion is not because it’s bookish claims are stupid, immoral and inconsistent; the main reason to oppose religion is that it tells you how to live your life, and it can control anyone to do horrible things. (And not only religion can do this.)
Yet, so many people who abandon religion – like Kombuis – continue to speak of a grander purpose in life, from some perspective that is not human. How they know this purpose, I’m not sure. Yet it doesn’t stop them producing books by the bucketload and columns on M&G Thought Leader. Simply rehashing M. Scott Peck just won’t cut it. This nonsense of higher purpose is not only boring, but meaningless and unhelpful. If you want ‘something bigger’ than yourself, get into politics where that ‘something bigger’ than yourself is your country; perhaps the world and its environment. Perhaps attempting to cure diseases which will help billions. These are all things ‘bigger than yourself’ – but we don’t need to resort to superstition to fulfil the need for the numinous or transcendant or ‘beautiful’ or fulfilling.
I agree with Kombuis: it is a need that we have, but one that will never be solved. Only, at times, ameliorated. I think, to put it simply, anyone who says he has a solution about the meaning of life or knows how to qualm our existential angst needs to look back at the history of our species and realise every damned one of those people has been mostly, idiotically, wrong in many ways. And those who were partially right can probably speak for themselves. There is probably no ultimate meaning to life, just as there is probably no fairies or hobgoblins.
Kombuis has some way to go before he should be able to convince anyone of his strange, non-arguments.
NOTE: Kombuis is the second quotation of the two unreferenced quotations.
APOLOGIES: For referencing myself twice. I wanted to indicate where I made the argument should any readers wish to see the arguments more fully fleshed out.