There seems to be no evolutionary advantage to being a thinker, and I’m not including thought that is dedicated to making money, acquiring power, deceit, seduction, or any of those tasty morsels that support the will-to-life. Thought that has as its aim simply the act of understanding confers no advantage in life at all. In fact it detracts from the core activity of exercising one’s power in life. So why do it?
For Schopenhauer such pointless activities as art, music, philosophy and even pure mathematics allow the pursuer of these things escape the tyrannical grip of the will-to-life. These so-called ‘pointless’ activities allow a person to acquire something that is his/her own. The will-to-life is simply interested in food, sex, power, approval, and a thousand other things that focus the attention on the world, and not on one’s own inner state. So to be a thinker means to have adopted an attitude of selfishness that is quite unusual – at least in the eyes of the world. Peer group pressure, commercial pressures, sexual drives and the desire for external approval usually crush most people. They submit and become total slaves of the machine.
I said earlier that pursuing aesthetic activities detracts from asserting one’s power in life. But actually, the opposite is true. No one is stronger than the person who is capable of playing the game of life, but having absolutely no allegiance to it. Be in the world but not of it – as Jesus Christ said. There is, of course, a price to be paid – as there always is, no matter which choice is made. Loneliness is a real danger, along with a difficulty in fitting in. Seeking out the like-minded is very important, and today it is easier with social media and various forums. Motivation to fulfill the basic obligations may also be problematical, but a mindset that sees this beast called society for what it is (hamsters on wheels and dogs eating dogs) can more easily sneak in, take what is needed, and then retire as quickly as possible.
These issues are well-known. Spinoza comments on it in his Ethics:
‘… but if he be thrown among individuals whose nature is in harmony with his own, his power of action will thereby be aided and fostered, whereas, if he be thrown among such as are but very little in harmony with his nature, he will hardly be able to accommodate himself to them without undergoing a great change himself.’
And the excellent book ‘Spinoza: Practical Philosophy’ by Gilles Deleuze contains the following analysis:
‘Here the full meaning of the philosopher’s solitude becomes apparent. For he cannot integrate into any milieu; he is not suited to any of them. Doubtless it is in democratic and liberal milieus that he finds the best living conditions, or rather the best conditions for survival. But for him these milieus only guarantee that the malicious will not be able to poison or mutilate life, that they will not be able to separate it from the power of thinking that goes a little beyond the ends of the state, of a society, beyond any milieu in general. In every society, Spinoza will show, it is a matter of obeying and of nothing else. This is why the notions of fault, of merit and demerit, of good and evil, are exclusively social, having to do with obedience and disobedience. The best society, then, will be one that exempts the power of think ing from the obligatIon to obey, and takes care, in its own interest, not to subject thought to the rule of the state, which only applies to actions. As long as thought is free, hence vital, nothing is compromised. When it ceases being so, all the other oppressions are also possible, and already realized, so that any action becomes culpable, every life threatened.’
In summary, the thinker needs to organize life to suit her/his own ends, from a position of strength. Life itself has no interest in anything other than individual survival during the period of fertility, and procreation. Never confuse your own purposes with that of the state. We simply need to obey the laws of the state, but within ourselves, we can be whatever we wish. Or to paraphrase Gurdjieff, we are all slaves to the big machine, but some individuals can steal from life’s energies for their own needs.