Thursday, January 3, 2019


When addressing an issue the characterization of the question is as significant as the search for the answer. Consider for example, "What is a reasonable ambition in life?" Naturally there are a multiplicity of possibilities. But it occurs to me that the overriding direction is governed not so much by the end as by the start.  The primary starting point is age (young or old); and the common end is the preference for materialism or spiritualism. The age element differentiates between necessity and performance. The preference feature is for substance or perfection.

My late father once said, "If you want to explain something, use a gross example".  In the spirit of that wisdom I offer the following excerpt (moderately edited) recently received by email from an ancient friend of mine:

"Ah shucks! You have not changed one bit. You are still the same Vaux rien I knew 35 years ago. Well, my answer to this is, Good for you! At the age we have reached we have seen it all; and nothing surprises me anymore. Continue this way and whatever makes you tick and alive and happy so much the better and remember one thing however; and it is this: Make sure not to run out of money because there is nothing worse than being old and poor. In your case I am not worried.

Sometimes I say it would be better if we knew the time or date we would leave this earth and then we could plan accordingly and then at other times I say it is just as well we do not know. Ah shucks, boring and serious I am; I know. To make it less boring there is one thing I have in my mind and it is to purchase a Rolls Royce, not a 2019 model but perhaps a 2016 or 2017 model. I even went shopping in Montreal  in doing what we call due diligence and I saw a 2016 model for $350,000 with 10,000 km. I have also learned that when purchasing a Rolls if one wants to drive it himself one is better to purchase a 2 door; and if one has a chauffeur then it is better to purchase a 4 door. Eventually I will be going to Ft Lauderdale; and South Beach and Palm Beach to see what they have out there in stock. I even verified the insurance cost and at about $2000 it is a pittance. Do you think I am crazy? Réflechir, this is what I am doing these days."

I believe you'll agree that the novelty of that particular ambition is sufficient to promote more than a little reflection. At least it certainly did for me! The result however is not what I first anticipated. Ambition - like travel - is a potentially complicated adventure. While few would promote jumping off the edge or either side of a pier to see where one ends up, neither is it guaranteed that any amount of planning will predict what transpires. From another perspective, we should be reluctant to judge what it is that inspires others.

A couple of austere points to keep in mind before engaging in frivolous or priggish observation. To begin with, the Rolls Royce is just a car. I've even heard one owner comment years ago about her own Rolls Royce that, "It just looks like a Mercedes" - though in fairness her particular model did in fact resemble a Mercedes. Second, there is little argument about buying a Rolls Royce if one can afford it.  Think about it.  There are many vehicles on the road which, based upon price alone and affordability, are or are not suitable for one market or another. There is nothing especially unique about the Rolls Royce in that regard any more than one should or should not drive a car with any number of options and add-ons now available.

The larger challenge for me in assessing this ambition is whether it would achieve for me my own ambition.  I am for example normally inclined to prefer new rather than used.  Granted there are millions who glory in the marvels of antiques; and some who insist upon buying used in order to circumvent what they consider the superfluity and economic inutility of buying new.  Indeed for years I have accepted that the more clever economists do precisely that; and that it is they who more than most can often afford to do otherwise.  But for me the controversy aligns with that contest of perfection vs substance which I mentioned earlier.  In the end the only conclusion is that what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another.  Whether one buys off the rack or bespoke is purely a matter of choice and need not be presumed to reflect any superiority or heightened spirituality.

Yet in spite of these competing differences, nonetheless there remain critical principles of ambition which warrant serious contemplation. It is easy to dismiss the probity of fundamental tenets after an elderly age - on the theory that time is running out, so what does it matter - but for young people there can be important ramifications (assuming the candidate is not so vulgar as to await inheritance or to anticipate winning the lottery). This latter slur captures what for me is the integrity of ambition - the value in aiming for something as a vehicle of personal fulfillment.

I cannot say how or when I developed my own ambitions in life. While I willingly admit that I readily succumbed to any number of toxic persuasions, I flatter myself (as I am shamefully wont to do) to think I did what appealed to my sense of accomplishment not merely celebrity or notoriety. The extent to which one is affected by the publicity certainly plays upon the expression of achievement. Confessing the rapacity of one's being is never pretty. Yet most of us haven't the opportunity to do anything more than respond to our inner instincts for personal direction. This apparently restrictive vernacular does however correspond with my heartfelt theory that the universe is ultimately personal; and that by extension all else is either redundant or superfluous.

It only remains to observe that the entire dedication of any one of us is open to the accusation of triviality.

"If I am inclined to suppose the a mouse has come into being by spontaneous generation out of grey rags and dust, I shall do well to examine those rags very closely to see how a mouse may have hidden in them, how it may have got there and so on. But if I am convinced that a mouse cannot come into being from those things, then this investigation will perhaps be superfluous. But first we must first learn to understand what it is that opposes such an examination of details in philosophy."

Ludwig Wittgenstein's "Philosophic Investigations"

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. From 1929 to 1947, Wittgenstein taught at the University of Cambridge.

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