"These violent delights have violent ends." (Delores)
So I have completed the re-watch of Westworld that I was intending to do last year...
I am confronted with something stark - I am going to need to watch it again. In fact I think that I am going to have to watch it a few more times. I really did think I had watched it critically and carefully the first time through, but there was so much more this time. I find myself wanting to start again, right away, but clearly there are other things that I need to do with my life, like work, and spending time with Lee-Anne and the kids, and walking in the Glen (when I am there) and seeing friends and being a part of this world, but like William I feel myself drawn back. Part of me is sure that there is more, something deeper that is just out of my reach, and I want to get my hands on it.
There are so many levels... There are the obvious motifs of identity, purpose, free will, and clean morality choices of "good" and "bad". They are writ large across the piece for sure, and none of that is a spoiler to the show, but as I watched this time I saw many, many more subtle and precious notions, hints of depth and meaning, so perfectly fashioned and yet allowed to be there only for the keenest viewer. There is a recurring theme not only about free will, but purpose, legacy and even release from travail that speaks far more poignantly to the human experience than I had really realised. That is not the only thing, but this post will be thousands of words long if I explore every avenue right now. I am going to watch again, and I am going to write about it some more, so time enough for other things.
One really resonant feeling I had as I watched the show this time was one of having experienced my own version of William’s story. A few years ago I was a player at a LARP called Omega, no doubt some of you in the UK LARP scene will remember the game. Some of those people may even remember an itinerant healer and mystic named Llewelyn Cathog who was always ready to help his friends when they were in need. On closer inspection it may have been noted that Llewellyn had a deeper and darker agenda. It is true that, in that character, I did have a deeper agenda. Much of what entranced me about the game was that as events came and went I was able to find another piece and another piece of the puzzle I was trying to solve. I walked my own path through the maze. If that journey had one thing in common with William’s in Westworld then it would be that the maze was not for me, just as it was not for him. I am happy to stand corrected, but it’s been my understanding for quite some time that the deeper mysteries I was chasing were never really there at all, and so a good deal of the thrill was what turned out to be a fool’s errand.
Did I have fun until it all revealed itself? Yes, of course I did. Is there a deeper truth about life, something to offset that disappointment? I am starting to think that there might be.
In essence we all journey through life alone, learning the route through trial and error and in the end if we arrive at the centre we are left wondering why we came; whose voice were we listening to? What drives us to carry on? Is it fame? Comfort? Love? Wealth? Experience? Is it a cocktail of these and indeed many other things, mixed to our own personal tastes? Are we in the end barely a whisper beyond the beasts, the voices in our Bicameral minds urging us on to find food, climb the next hill, have sex with that person, win that game, make that sale, get that job, acquire that home, that car, that coffee machine, simply as a way to make existence livable?
I am not entirely comfortable with that being the lesson of my life, but as a rationalist and an atheist it is also hard to assign some deeper meaning to my life, to anyone's life, than just that it is, we are and then it is no more and we are not.
One thing I am quite certain of is that I continue to be happiest when I balance the needs of the moment with the needs of the future, when I find ways to suck every possible morsel out of life without burning too bright, too fast. I do wonder if that's just a high-functioning approach to survival, but I try not to, not too much anyway. After all I want to be happy.
That's not to say that I do not have a purpose, at least as I perceive it. I do have a purpose; mine is to be a good parent and to provide the best start in life for my children, as well as to be a good husband and in so doing be a partner for my wife, and even to be the best version of me that I can be, to try and make the world, in some tiny way, better for my having been in it, so that one day I can be sure that something I did was worthwhile. Many other people have many other purposes, and I am NOT suggesting that my path has a monopoly on purpose at all, I am simply commenting on what I see as my own purpose. The lingering question, once more threatening to upset my equilibrium and make it a little bit harder to simply be happy, is that my purpose as I see it is all about other people. What about me? Is there something that is for me alone, that I can and should take from this life for myself?
Of course there is, and I doubt anyone would ever try to stop me from having that, but real purpose is not the survival mechanism I am speaking of above. True purpose is not taking joy in a really good cup of coffee, or a beautiful view, or a moving piece of art, or an excellent meal, or a great conversation, or a fantastic fuck. These things are all important, necessary and indeed worthy of attention, but they are not purpose. They are the consumption and sharing and observation of life and the World, not the enrichment of it.
If purpose goes a step further, if purpose is about the enrichment of life, of the World, about making something that others can consume and share and observe, then am I fulfilling that?
Will my work ever actually make a positive contribution, be it my work in software, my writing or my photography? Who knows, and by this point it hardly seems to matter as I am in no mind to give any of them up, but it does still bother me.
I realise that it could well sound as though I crave fame, but that is really not it. What I want is to believe that before I am gone I might be able to move the needle a tiny bit. That something I created, or said or did (or all three) might change or enrich the lives of others, people who I will never meet, long after I am gone.
The sobering, even terrifying thought that follows on, is that there seems to be precious little chance of that.
Perhaps that is why William is such a compelling character? After all he has decided to seek the answers to his mysteries inside a fiction that he is all too aware of, that he knows is paper thin and all too fragile. Maybe I have always done this. Perhaps I will always do this.