Sudoku, Caribou, and the Pointless Life

Stupid GamesI came upon this Sudoku website. Well, “came upon” is not quite right. I went looking for Sudoku because I was bored. And I found out that even though I’m really good at the game, I’m slow — not even in the top half of players. I believe this is because I’m like that talking dog in Up, “Squirrel?!” I’m just not that good at things that require me to focus for long periods of time. I focus on the puzzle, I focus on something else, I focus on the puzzle. I was the same way when I played chess. People would think that I was analyzing the position, but more often than not I was thinking about lunch.

I did four puzzles and I could have done dozens. I could do them every day all day. They occupy my mind. But I don’t do that because I think that I have more important things to do. But I’m not so sure that that is true. I could write a novel or I could solve a thousand Sudoku puzzles. And other than the fact that I might make a little money from the novel, I doubt I would get much more out of one than the other. And once I’m dead I absolutely don’t care.

Puzzles always bring this up in my mind. They are the clearest indication that what we do is just waste time until we die. As Schopenhauer put it, “We see only momentary gratification, fleeting pleasure conditioned by wants, much and long suffering, constant struggle, bellum omnium [everyone against everyone], everything a hunter and everything hunted, want, need and anxiety, shrieking and howling; and this goes on in saecula saeculorum [forever and ever] or until once again the crust of the planet breaks.” What is the point?

For the vast majority of us, life is a struggle. We have jobs that we hate. But we must have jobs! If we didn’t have jobs, we would die due to starvation or exposure or just some police officer beating us to death. But what do those jobs accomplish? They allow us to live for another day that we will use for the exact same purpose that we used the last day for: to live to struggle through yet another day. Even the momentary gratification we get in the course of the day is an illusion — a delusion that things might not be as bad as we think or that tomorrow might not be as bad as today.

Is life so precious? All my grand desires to do something great or at least marginally meaningful are at base no more profound than solving a Sudoku puzzle. Imagine waking up each morning knowing that your job was to solve a couple hundred puzzles. I don’t think it is hard to do. The work of most people is no more meaningful than that. And I accept Schopenhauer’s reason for this: it is our will to live. But not all lives are equally pointless. For many people the world over, life is very hard indeed. Some people live their whole lives is terrible pain. That isn’t necessary. There are social forces that dictate that. Namely: there are rich people who have spent a great deal of time and power “convincing” the rest of us that we would all be worse off if most of the resources of the world didn’t go to them.

I’m not sure that any life is any more worth living than one spent doing nothing but solving Sudoku puzzles. But I do know that our society is set up to make all of our lives as pointless as one long Sudoku solving session — this is perhaps more true of the rich than anyone else. The only difference is the quality of the food, the lodging, the entertainment. Humans consider themselves very smart. And when it comes to pointless things, like solving Sudoku puzzles, we are. But when it comes to how we’ve set up our society and how we use our resources, we are as stupid as caribou.

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