Cruel Games—Anhedonia*

Entering the final stretch of a meaningless search

“No considerate God would destroy the human mind by making it so rigid and unadaptable as to depend upon one book, a Bible or a Quran for all the answers. For the use of words, and thus of a book, is to point beyond themselves to a world of life and experience that is not mere words or even ideas. Just as money is not real, consumable wealth, books are not life. To idolize scriptures is like eating paper currency”—Alan Watts

“Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? . . . How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.

Had I simply understood earlier that life had no meaning I could have borne it quietly, knowing that that was my lot. But I could not satisfy myself with that. Had I been like a man living in a wood from which he knows there is no exit, I could have lived; but I was like one lost in a wood who, horrified at having lost his way, rushes about wishing to find the road. He knows that each step he takes confuses him more and more, but still he cannot help rushing about. It was indeed terrible. And to rid myself of the terror I wished to kill myself”—Leo Tolstoy

The cruelest of games is being taught to pretend were not pretending”—Unknown

Our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego, yet the whole of experience is one process.

For humanity to continue chasing in circles, generation by twisted generation to find meaning, yet in the end all dead and buried with a divisive belief that he was more, and failed to love—and to live in fear and denial of nature.

Anhedonia: without pleasure, inability to enjoy what pleased you. Often developed on the realization religious life is a fraud


Author: jimoeba

Alternatives to big box religions and dogmas

41 thoughts on “Cruel Games—Anhedonia*”

  1. Ah, Jim, it is nice to see you back on the road to living philosophy. Mostly, though, it seems you are looking outward for that which can only be found inward. Maybe I am listening improperly, it seems I have been doing it quite a bit since I got sick 3 weeks ago (C difficile, not Covid 19) but I have to trust my eyes, yet confirm what I think I am hearing what with all the qotes in this post. I am hearing Jim, yet listening to others.
    i am going to have to wait for your replies to others’ comments to understand where you are going, and how you got here.
    A confused rawgod. And a pretty sick one, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you can win the c-diff blues brother. Ugh.
      If I speak of what I find inward and share my thoughts outward (not beliefs) what would happen?


  2. Reading this I get the sense that existential nihilism is casting a shadow on humanism. I feel human, alive, and able to enjoy pleasure in life. Are you saying, “don’t bother?”


    1. Bother, don’t bother, just don’t live long enough to lose control of your own death. You’re in a good spot Bill, to outlive your usefulness and still (for now) find contentedness as the systems slowly grind to a halt. The trick is to die young as late as possible.
      It’s futile to hang on to it at all, so live it well. All my friends are pretty much dead already and Im only 58. Finding new (real) ones is hard and what brings me happiness personally, is mostly out of reach.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I haven’t become anhedonic, even though I have come to the conclusion that a so-called “Christian life” is indeed a fraud. I haven’t come to that ultimate moment of total despair of which Tolstoy writes so eloquently. By the way, where does that quote come from? I know he does the same sort of thing in a short story entitled “Snow” where the protagonist becomes lost in the blinding whiteness of a blizzard that obliterates all signposts, literally and figuratively of human existence. Viktor Frankl does the same thing in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a work describing his years in a Nazi concentration camp.
    Frankl states in his book that the first question he asks of a patient suffering from depression is: Why don’t you commit suicide?

    In one sense your response to Bill is a response to Victor Frankl’s question. It’s a good response: “to die young as late as possible.”

    I am glad to say though that what brings me happiness is still within reach. I’ll be 72 in December. I don’t feel that age whatsoever. I still have friends with whom I can laugh. I share ideas and feelings with my wife. I have my writing which brings me an intense personal sense of accomplishment–even though I know I am one of an out-of-control- species that is bringing about a mass extinction event. We don’t need a meteorite or super-volcano. We’re doing it ourselves this time. I try to do the right thing: don’t eat meat, avoid plastic as much as possible, don’t use aerosol cans, but in my humble opinion, it’s probably way too late. So until such time, I will take your advice to die young as late as possible.


    1. I agree with a lot of your sentiments here. Plastic, meat, etc. I gave those up quite a while back. The Tolstoy quote is from ‘A Confession’
      Something that has bothered me here for quite some time is this; since my awakening to atheism I have had a lot of thoughts. I have avoided the expert opinions and tried to be genuine in my observations.
      But if I have a thought and pen it down that does not align with pure atheism, I am often crucified for it. It’s an odd phenomenon where even a hint of mysticism is unacceptable. I have to have the right thoughts to be excepted as an atheist—“any group that will embrace you over belief will abandon you over unbelief”, or for even an errant thought that came out of nowhere must be kept to yourself. Without the mask I must play internal ping-pong to not upset the apple cart.
      I do hate contradiction. But if this is all there is, and according to atheism, when you’re done you’re done, what the hell difference does it make?

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Anhedonia – a loss or reduction in being able to feel pleasure – is usually related to depression. The medical side relates the condition to some kind of imbalance in dopamine production and reception. The assumption you are making here is that anhedonia is caused by the recognition that meaning in life is not something to be found – like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – and therefore a ‘natural’ condition of the perceptive.


    We can recognize the absurdity of life without allowing ourselves too go down this emotional toilet. We can also DO something about it… by learning how to build our OWN meaning, which is the only meaning that matters. Rawgod is exactly right to point out that looking outward (and bemoaning the futility) is rather silly and rather unproductive if what you are looking for can only be found inward (while ‘gaining wisdom on how to live well’, what the Founders assumed everyone knew was meant by the equivalent phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’). Losing pleasure isn’t reality’s fault and it’s not a sign of virtuous and perceptive thinking; it’s a result of your own brain chemistry that you help regulate hard at work. You’ve earned your anhedonia because you own it – it’s YOUR creation (unless medically caused) – and you have the ability to either gain insight and meaning from your experiences and become more, or withdrawing from life and blaming it for your own responses. Only one of these choices is wise. The other is woe-is-me life-has-no-meaning whining.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bullshit? Thanks, I knew I could count on that.
      So you’d prefer to pretend what you have to offer is of value prior to extinction and your inevitable loss of consciousness into nothing? Of course that is what we are faced with, so your masking inevitability, creating your own version of important crusades. Im all in favor of enjoying life rather than the perpetual quicksand, but what would that matter in the end?
      Have you ever been lost in the woods?
      ”Had I simply understood earlier that life had no meaning I could have borne it quietly, knowing that that was my lot. But I could not satisfy myself with that” I really relate to this having actually been lost in the woods. Then my parents saw to it, and turned my life into a quest for purpose.


      1. Pretend value? To whom? Not to me. It’s very real and immediate and lasting. My life is very meaningful because I have made it so. How could be any other way?

        From some distant perspective, perhaps, calculated against the vastness of time? Then sure. One life is of such trivial consequence in this framing to be less than a drop in the bucket so therefore inconsequential… but still a necessary link – no matter how small – in the chain of the universe’s causal effect.

        But who cares about that perspective? It’s useless. It is defeatist. Most importantly, it’s seductive in that it allows one to actually believe he or she has no ultimate responsibility over their own lives (and isn’t THAT what religious belief is really all about, avoiding personal responsibility for one’s real life?) or even the effects they knowingly cause to one’s self and/or others.

        Avoiding responsibility is the first step to flushing away knowledge on how to embrace life and live well. (That’s what the Genesis myth is all about… a rather clear message/lesson on what embracing real life means before it was been stolen and abused by theology to come up with a ludicrous chauvinistic interpretation that is exactly backwards and obviously wrong.) And let us never forget that many philosophers/metaphysicians excel at teaching others why one’s life should flushed away, how not to care, how not to live well right this second but cast it away as if it must be either of universal importance in service or absolute hubris, enlightened illusion or self-inflicted deception. Using and believing in only this binary framework, your life is already over because you have given away responsibility not on what your life is like but how you respond to it: with hopelessness. Congrats: you’ve learned how to flush.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. This is where religion fails as well as atheism. You have to stop short of real the conclusions and pretend the finality and futility isn’t there. As an empirically pure atheist you may be the best at it of anyone. But to vehemently fight over beliefs that ultimately have zero enduring consequences is to pretend your opinions and concrete observations are worthwhile.


          1. No, Jim. As Genesis teaches, to live an authentic life you must accept life and all its suffering. It’s a package deal! You can’t have one without the other. I accept life as it, I accept death, I accept how little effect my life actually has in the Grand Scheme of Things, but that understanding and acceptance in no way stops me from living it well, filling it with meaning, making it real, immediate, and highly prized not just by me but by many others. My dopamine levels reflect that reality.

            Liked by 4 people

          2. Atheism is a position on one question: Do you believe in gods? (Answer: No.)

            Logic dictates that binary yes/no choices cannot have “purity” levels — it’s either one or the other.


            1. As Tolstoy continued, “It was like this: I, my reason, have acknowledged that life is senseless. If there is nothing higher than reason (and there is not: nothing can prove that there is), then reason is the creator of life for me. If reason did not exist there would be for me no life. How can reason deny life when it is the creator of life? Or to put it the other way: were there no life, my reason would not exist; therefore reason is life’s son. Life is all. Reason is its fruit yet reason rejects life itself! I felt that there was something wrong here ” Binary because that is the approach you choose. Its completely arbitrary. Logic, reason, religion, science, all self assign arbitrary rules of engagement


            2. So at what point do you choose where to begin and which direction? It is too completely arbitrary. Meaningful is a great word, but really we divide everything into classes and begin from where? An agreed upon point on a moving curve.
              How do we measure anything? Is the sun the size of its fire, or the influence of its heat, or its light? Who decides? It is arbitrary.
              Firstly, we’ve firmly established ourselves as top species on the planet, while simultaneously every other species is also the center, according to them, their survival is as important as yours, so right away we consider arbitrarily that thinking is somehow more virtuous than living. And as Tolstoy continued, lasting contentment came through the simplicity of being—growing a garden, chopping wood, building a fire, not in the quest to confront life on earth and figure out how to dominate nature (science and religion)
              You may enjoy understanding how things are put together, but don’t assume it is meaningful in any noble way. It isn’t


            3. It’s interesting to draw the analogy with arbitrary measurement. I have used this many time teaching math concepts to those who are rather scared of it only to see them fully grasp not what measurement is (It’s all relative! It’s a illusion! It’s not real! It’s Plato’s shadows!) but what it means.

              I go back to the Electric Company video for children to grasp that We can measure at our leisure… IF the units stay the same This means it’s not the measuring that matters; it’s not the particular unit that matters. What matters is the method that allows us to consistently and accurately compare and contrast. You don’t NEED an uber metric, an ultimate metric, a divinely inspired metric; you need the SAME metric.

              Once people grasp this concept in using all kinds of measuring metrics, nothing is immune from comparing and contrasting accurately… IF the unit – regardless of it being ‘arbitrary’ and/or relative and/or illusory – stays the same.

              The fallacious argument about meaning is that it must be useless if it is subjective, if it is relative, if it changes over time. This is the old way of thinking prior to the method of science. It presumes a universal fulcrum is necessary to find balance, a necessary objective ‘truth’ in the fields metaphysics, a necessary and unchanging ‘nature’ of things our sense cannot permanently detect. This is the bullshit that effectively STOPPED honest inquiry into the ‘how’ reality operates and insisted we have to first the ‘what’ reality must permanently be… by fiat (usually religious or some other tableau of unknowable superstitious nonsense).

              To insist there must be some universal program one must enroll in to find meaning is putting the cart before the horse once again; instead, meaning is discovered by the individual using the full range of our personal metrics (both learned and inherited). And we accomplish this rather simply: by comparing and contrasting and coming to know.

              Liked by 2 people

            4. Good comment. “ The fallacious argument about meaning is that it must be useless if it is subjective, if it is relative, if it changes over time”. Somehow we never get to the point. So instead of thinking and theorizing all the time (philosophy) we’ve got to measure everything and look into the stuff and finally we find the atom. Democritus proposed the Greek word atomos, which means uncuttable. And as he explained, all matter was eventually reducible to discrete, small particles or atomos. Yet that wasn’t it either. It contained even smaller particles and immense energy. We can cut nature in two now and destroy the whole works if we choose to.
              The problem with intellectualism is, if it can be done, it must be done, so here we are. I am not poo-pooing intellectualism, but it cannot be a separate field from subjective reality any more that one can be studied without the other. It goes out of balance as we see everything at odds with everything else and getting exponentially worse.
              Maybe I’m rambling, but as a non spiritual person i do recognize every perception is as correct as another. It is all one process and I don’t believe one side or the other is sustainable without its opposites.


            5. Laughed out loud here, MT. And I did because I immediately thought, “You’ve never read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or you would know the right answer to your question is 42!”

              Douglas Adams was a brilliant mind.

              Liked by 3 people

            6. I don’t consider Tolstoy to be the final arbitrator on this matter. Because the fact remains that reason does exist and we are forced to deal with it — whether we like it or not. And there is nothing arbitrary about logic and reason. You’re either believe in gods, or you don’t. It can’t be both simultaneously (unless you’re mentally ill.)

              As Tildeb already explained above, we have a choice to make: we either take responsibility for our own life, or squander it whining about the unfairness of it all. It’s your call.


            7. Of course Tolstoy does not have the final say, but you do through your reason, not his, which is also arbitrary from your central point of view.
              I do think logic would be logic in any universe surpassing the laws of physics, but that logic sprouts forth from the minds of a mentally ill majority is concerning.


            8. I don’t follow.

              How do you deem the statement “You either believe in gods, or you don’t” arbitrary? Do you hold that one can believe and not believe in something at the same time?

              Plus, what do you mean by “logic sprouts forth from the minds of a mentally ill majority”? On what basis did you reach that conclusion?


            9. First of all, which god and what is the definition you are not believing? Could any level of consciousness meet the requirements?
              Mentally ill majority seem a little obvious to me. I am not exempting myself there either, but look around you. Is this normal?


            10. All gods proposed to date. And by gods I mean the existence of supernatural beings (i.e. an order of existence beyond what is natural) — which therefore excludes all natural life forms. So human and animal consciousness would not meet the requirements because we exist within the natural world and there is no evidence our consciousness can exist apart from our physical bodies. Because if it were otherwise, we’d be able to maintain contact with the non-living.

              To the second point, I wasn’t asking you to explain mental ill majority, but the phrase “logic sprouts forth the minds of the mentally ill majority”. This seems like a contradiction. How can logic spring forth from the illogical?


            11. God as a deity is pretty preposterous, so bear with me a second Ron. Why, with all that we know, cannot we identify who or how this works without just throwing out a endguess that its all biology? What is quite possibly the only logical conclusion to the source of consciousness? What is the most difficult thing historically to identify? Why is it impossible? We are the source.
              Let me ask it a different way. I did a piece on this a little while ago, but failed to contextualize it very well and It turned into a “so what”. There are no separate events in nature, and if you trace out the continuum of every single thing in the universe, it is all connected. We like to think the past creates the present, but cause and effect is like a ship being powered by its wake, it isn’t true. Its all one process. But as we try to segment and categorize all that we know, we find the futility of that in a billion points of view. It’s all one event. Its a large event, and it has been going on forever and ever, and wouldn’t know it is “it” any more than you do, or any more a fish knows its in water, or a bird, the air. It just is. It is essentially a form of omnipotence, this subconsciousness that grows your hair, beats your heart, does a million things like decision making, reproducing, and loves, but it doesn’t know how to do, but does it, and no one can change it. It goes over and over in cycles. If there is a god there could be nothing that is not god (god is a poor word choice) Its all one process (not a deity) but a meaningless happening of the entire cosmos. You are an eye, a nerve ending of many billions that would be the eyes and ears of itself, capitulated by the vibrations that force the evolution of perception.
              To your second point, how would you know logic were logical unless you knew you were sane? Over half the world embraces illogic and finds great contentment through illogical belief. Who is right and how would you know? There is no evidence we can change much of anything. Refer to point one.

              Liked by 2 people

            12. My point of contention isn’t that God as a deity is preposterous, but that deism and theism and atheism convey very specific thoughts to help facilitate communication between individuals.

              So it doesn’t matter that the words used to describe things were arbitrarily chosen, so long as everyone agrees to use the same word when referring to a particular thing. Put another way, it doesn’t matter if the animal called “a dog” in English is called “un chien” in French or “ein Hund” in German or “un cane” in Italian or “un perro” in Spanish, etc., so long as everyone agrees to use the same word to refer to the same animal in whatever language they happen to speak, or to employ the same translation across languages.

              Nor does it matter whether we measure physical items using conservative, God-fearing freedom units (feet, yards, inches, miles, furlongs, acres, ounces, pounds, tons, fluid ounces, cups, pints, quarts, gallons, Fahrenheit, etc.) or those liberal, godless, commie units (metres, square metres, kilograms, litres [technically cubic metres], Celsius, etc.) used by the rest of the world, so long as we all agree to use the same unit and predefined size of each unit.

              To the second and third questions (Why, with all that we know, cannot we identify who or how this works without just throwing out an end-guess that its all biology? What is quite possibly the only logical conclusion to the source of consciousness?):

              Because we’re not just merely throwing out an end-guess that it’s all just biology. Experience informs us that all reliable communications between conscious entities must be transmitted via some physical format (voice, writing, smoke signals, Morse code, sign language, etc); so it becomes the most logical conclusion until someone can successfully demonstrate it can be done via non-physical means. And all the evidence suggests that we are not the direct source of our consciousness, but rather, that our consciousnesses is a byproduct of neuro-chemical reactions within our brain in the same manner that heat and light are the byproducts of chemical reactions occurring during combustion.

              And yes, it appears that all events are intertwined and interconnected: an endless cycle of cause and effect, chain of events. You’re born, you live, you die. And if scientists are correct, the Earth will one day be consumed by the Sun and the universe will end in heat death. But so what? Why should knowing this become cause for despair? It’s what you do between birth and death that really matters. Enjoy the ride while it lasts even if it’s all in vain.

              As to logic, it’s true that many people find great contentment and bliss wallowing in their illogical thoughts. But it’s also true that many, if not most, invite severe misery into their lives as a direct consequence of throwing logic to the wind.

              Liked by 2 people

            13. Great comment that! You are very consistent and I appreciate it. I think we are arriving at the same place, more or less, in a different way—that biology and consciousness arise mutually. You never find one without the other. The scale of this principle of reason is vast, if you care to carry it beyond traditional comfort zones. There is a lot at play, and avoiding contradiction is as sure a way to predict what science will find.
              Incorporating the fact that everything is in vibration, or flux, even the cycles of life and death, the undulations of consciousness are a vibration too, that it never dies, but comes and goes in waves.
              There is a Hindu teaching that I like, that regards these phases as infinite pulsations (vibrations) that all consciousness is sourced by the universe as a single entity. This ties in to the “no separate events” which is also vast. It may appear to be segmented by our perception, but birth and death is a single event that began long before you were born.
              I do disagree that cause creates effect. It may seem that way due to our training, but it only works that way if we allow it to. The wake never powers the ship. The events today were not caused or moved by anyone in the past. That someone shoved it is christian talk, and that is always at odds with reality.


            14. To me … any discussion of an esoteric/abstruse nature is summed up by this comment of yours … It may seem that way due to our training.

              Liked by 1 person

            15. Technically, a litre is 1000 cubic centimetres, which 1/1000th of a cubic metre. I know: very pedantic of me. Sorry. I also correct when people talk about, say, going west but point south; I have this compulsion to correct either the direction or the language so that they align. Weird, I know. Maybe there’s drugs for this condition.

              What’s so cool about the metric system – just in case someone reading doesn’t know this – is how everything is related to everything else, which has a huge effect on the ease, accuracy, and transparency on calculating the same amount of stuff in different places rather than trying to do the same with a weird and unrelated metric – like Imperial measurements – where it’s easy to have difficulty measuring stuff the same way in different locations. A cubic centimetre – a centimetre is 1/100th of a metre (length) – of water at sea level (volume) – is one gram (weight), so you can easily translate between volume and weight and size… meaning you can measure at your leisure if the units stay the same – by easily translating between different types of units (length, volume, weight) to get the same unit being compared.

              Well, I think its genius anyway, which is why all of science uses the metric system but many developmentally delayed countries hold fast to some archaic and cumbersome system based on a ruler’s body parts and favoured rocks.

              Liked by 1 person

            16. Yes. You’re correct: a litre is 1/1000th of a cubic metre. I’m just a lousy proofreader and didn’t notice the missing 0.001 until after hitting [SEND]. At first I was going to post a correction, but then decided against it to see if anyone was actually paying attention. Now I know at least one person does.

              Liked by 1 person

            17. I always pay attention to what people say. And I get a lot out of reading what others think and – if I’m fortunate – why people think what they do.

              Although I find you’re absolutely right when you agree with me (it’s a coincidence, I’m almost sure) , I find I only learn when people say stuff that I either don’t know much about or that disagrees with my thoughts. So, thank you for commenting as you do, Ron. Your time and effort is appreciated.

              Liked by 1 person

    2. you make an interesting parallel here. if you build your own anhedonia or you build your own meaning, are they not both ‘illusionary’ then?
      just the fact that you Need to build a perspective, sounds suspicious to me

      Liked by 1 person

  5. ahhh… the freedom of ‘no meaning’! we can finally enjoy purposelessness.
    isn’t that what the best games are about?

    if you think you are an actor in this game, yeah, you’ll take it to heart.
    but if you stay as a spectator, it’s the grandest cosmic show🎉💥🍾. get front seats. it’s worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. It is fun to watch everyone take their parts so seriously. And when you see it that way it is perpetual amusement. The problem lie in expressing it then being able to teflon the counter attacks without, as you say, taking it to heart.

      Liked by 1 person

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