On selfish contentment

United States 2005

I am as content now as I have been in a long time. The anxieties that usually plague my life have not been able to follow me to St Louis. Things that anger me seem so very far away, even though they would be on my doorstep if I looked for them.

I am living an abstract life far away from the real world. My sphere of consciousness — my notion of the world — is reduced down to a small space, and I am living only for my self. I think on a day-to-day basis: what food I should eat, what I should do for entertainment. All the world’s contemporary problems I considered important are now inconsequential and no longer have any obvious bearing on my life.

I am happy; I am comfortable with myself; ignorance is bliss.

And yet paradoxically I am uncomfortable. Man, argued Camus, is in danger of falling into nihilism. If everyone lived in this manner then the world would not long be in a condition for us to enjoy this selfish lifestyle: greed would get the better of some and there would be no-one watching to stop them or to tell others what is happening. The world needs those who don’t live a selfish life but instead watch out for us and make sure those that would abuse their privileges act in a fair manner; otherwise I would live my life until one day the real world came up to me and ripped away my veil of ignorance.

I am uncomfortable with my comfortable ignorance. Why should I be allowed to live in selfish comfort while others stare head on to an ugly world, and keep it at bay? I can temper my discomfort and keep it settled because I am away on holiday and my tiny sphere of consciousness is only temporary. But when the holiday ends I will have no excuse; I should no longer live in isolation and let others keep the world away from me.

If the world doesn’t seem right to me I shouldn’t turn away in ignorance, nor should I fester in impotent anger. I should turn towards the world and follow Camus’s advice to fight injustices and counterbalance nihilistic tendencies. All these thoughts are abstract and spur-of-the-moment; I don’t know what they imply for my future but, selfishly, I hope that if they are realised, they sit well with my happiness and contentment.