We are living in difficult times, assaulted by the news of death every day. Hailed as a modern philosopher, Alain de Botton declares at the very outset of this lecture that life is meaningless, that we will all turn to dust one day. “All your achievements will wither to dust one day,” he says. “These are the basic facts of human life though they are often denied.” Putting “darkness on the table,” he remarks that life is a deeply disturbing affair.
He comments that we react with self-pity when things go wrong because of our innate belief that it was supposed to go right. Thwarting this, he goes on to say, nothing was supposed to go right in the first place and we have only “returned to a state of crisis which is the norm in human history”. “This feeling of being in a historically abnormal position is really a misreading of the true facts of existence which is an almost continuous series of crisis.”
On the past, he believes that things seem happy only in retrospect. “Life is suffering and human beings are fallen creatures,” he asserts. Making a case for pessimism, he says, “Raising expectations and suggesting that all will go well is the surest way to get nervous and with nervousness comes failure. So, there’s a curious debt of success on a complete familiarity of failure. If you expect to succeed, you will most certainly fail. Pessimism doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a complete lack of achievement or complete resignation.”