Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness, give me truth
Does this quote sound familiar to you? It’s a quote of the renowned book Into the Wild, one of my favorite books, written by John Krakauer. The nonfiction book is about the 20 year old American Christopher McCandless from suburban Annandale, Virginia. After he graduates from Emory University in 1990, he leaves his entire life as he knows it behind, including his family and friends. He donates his college fund of $24,500 to Oxfam, renames himself ‘Alexander (Alex) Supertramp’ and leaves to travel through South America, Mexico and finally North America. In April 1992 Chris arrives at Fairbanks, Alaska, where he leaves the civilized world to live in the wild.
Alex loved to read. He brought multiple books with him on his journeys and quoted parts of these books. Some of the authors were Jack Londen, Leo Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau and this last one is the creator of the earlier mentioned quote. McCandless adapted Thoreau’s quote ‘Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth’. Personally, I strongly agree on this quote, because truth is something you can build on. I know that many others agree on this as well, but why is that? Why do we choose a truthful life?
A truthful life means life with up’s and down’s. Why don’t we choose to live with only up’s? Political philosopher Robert Nozick tested this with his thought experiment ‘Experience Machine’. In this experiment he asked participants to imagine that they had the option to use a machine that simulates real life, but guarantees only pleasurable experiences. All they had to give up permanently was real life. What Nozick wanted to refute was the hedonistic idea, namely that the best decision a person can make is one that brings him the greatest amount of pleasure and no pain. With this idea, choosing for the life without down’s is a no-brainer. Remarkably, most of the participant found reasons not to use the machine in the experiment and stay in real life.
Pleasure as the ultimate goal?
Why is it that most people choose this? An argument could be that there are things in life with more intrinsic value than pleasure, like knowledge, authenticity and truth. These things also give you yourself more intrinsic value after you’ve experienced and learned from not only the up’s in life, but from the down’s as well.
Happiness as the ultimate goal?
Professor Raj Raghunathan asked people to make a slightly different choice, that is choosing between knowing the truth and being happy. Together with professor Yaacov Trope he conducted an experiment. The results showed that people in a positive mood were more likely to process negative information (i.e. they were more receptive to the ‘truth) and people in a negative mood were more likely to process positive information in order to become happier again. To conclude, people were more likely to choose truth when they felt sufficiently happy, otherwise they were more likely to choose happiness. This suggests that there is a hierarchical order in happiness and truth. Happiness has priority until a certain level has been reached, then truth becomes important as well.
In my personal interpretation Alexander Supertramp tried to achieve both happiness and truth at the same time. His journeys made him happy, but they were also the road to the truth. He left his life of security, conformity and civilization behind, which were for Alex the things that cut him off from the truth of his existence, to take on the biggest challenge. As he says: ‘Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Now, after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution. No longer to be poisoned by civilization, he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild’.
This might not be for everyone the way to find happiness nor truth, but I think it’s definitely an inspiring one.
By Elise Kortenbach