We do, however, have everything we need within us to complete this quest. Whatever is most alive within us in each moment, especially the tension we feel, is our compass pointing the way.
Why do we pity people who lack consciousness?
Why do we look up to people who are more aware?
Another way to put it: no one cares if I kill an ant. Killing another human being, however, is in most contexts an unforgivable crime in modern society. This seems to be a function of our existence as conscious, aware beings. When someone dies, we mourn the lost opportunities, the life they could have lived, the moments they could have experienced and shared- with us, and with others. These are products of our consciousness, our awareness of our fundamental separation. Consciousness implies the ability to experience beauty and goodness, yes, but also the suffering of separation, loss, anxiety, death. Suffering is one of the few things we can be sure of in life. Why people commit suicide is not the question, but rather why more people don't.
Objectively, we can say that if one consciousness is not respected, then none can be respected. If I destroy the integrity of a consciousness, then I forfeit my right to be safe from having my consciousness violated. This is an argument Sartre makes, that the values implicit in any action are by definition universal value judgments. What is good for me must be good for all.
Another staple of existentialist thought, particularly De Beauvoir, is that we need others to affirm who we are. I can only be as free, for example, as the people around me are. To be aware, or conscious, we need others to be aware and conscious. This also explains the inherent value of consciousness and the revulsion we feel when its integrity is violated. After all, recall that a staple of conflict is a concerted and universal dehumanization of the enemy in the minds of a society or community. They are not just the enemy, they are devils, Huns, monkeys, alien, subhuman.
We pulled ourselves out of the mud by our bootstraps, together as a species. We are our relationships, and our relationships are our vehicle for expanding awareness. Briefly, the capacity for language is a prime example. No other, no language, no corresponding expansion of awareness. Jeremy Rifken wrote the book The Empathic Civilization describing the intricate relationship between expanding human consciousness and ever-more complex forms of relating. When we criticize our society, we would do well to criticize it with this in mind. The world we have built is not only responsible for who we are, it is quite literally all our consciousnesses mutually externalized and shared. Without other awarenesses, we would be nothing. We would be as the beasts, which we both revile and revere. We are stuck in this mess because of the other, and we stay in this mess because of the other. We, and our fates, are quite literally bound together.
The more we can recognize and act complicitly with other consciousnesses, the more our own can grow. We will always be of the mud, and to it we shall return, but together, we can find the beauty in that.
Simplistically but accurately, all we are, and indeed all any living thing is, is a complex feedback loop driven by contextually-applied instinct. Our loop may be more complex than that of other organisms we know of, certainly complex enough to have gained a degree of self-consciousness, but it is a simple system at its core. Our sensory functions, both external and internal, create feedback that our organism uses to course-correct as it seeks to pursue its goals. These goals can be broadly divided in two, corresponding to the two types of instincts we have: the instinct to move away from things valued as bad, and to move towards things valued as good.
I was listening to the radio the other day. Streaming the French culture station. I was only half paying attention, but I remember they were talking about the book Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. And my ears especially perked up when they compared it to one of my favorite books, Don Quijote. In fact, one of the speakers was busy making the case that, in fact, the two books are essentially the same.
...sees much and knows much