The thrill of the chase

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There are forms and degrees of paradise and, in search of the transcendence for which we seek them out, we approach them with expectations that are sometimes appropriate but that are more often distorted by undue idealism, ignorance or insistence that things are simply other than they really are. All too often we find an attained ideal unsatisfying and become disillusioned. The earthly paradise turns out to be infested with irritating insects, the idyllic village populated by people who don’t share our idealistic views but, equally, we often find that the supposed ideal was not, after all, what we sought. These disappointments beg the questions not only of whether we have correctly identified our objective but of whether they are genuinely the real objectives. For many, it is the process by which we seek to attain our ideals that is in fact the desired result rather than the result itself. The race, the competition, the striving is what we often actually relish and the reward for their accomplishment is lessened since it represents the completion of the process and hence the end of what has given us, often unconsciously, the satisfaction that we had assumed to be enshrined in the successful completion of the task.

One could reasonably argue that, in this area of endeavour, our idealised objectives equate to nirvana, enlightenment, transcendence or other such concepts of Eastern philosophies whereas the processes by which they are to be realised reflect an action-based and materialistic approach that is characteristic of the Western, Cartesian modality. Here the thrill of the chase overwhelms the satisfaction of its accomplishement. The supporters of bloodsports relish the hunt and its bloody cruelty but discard their quarry to the hounds – a classic instance of process versus product. Likewise, in academe, we cshould rightly concern ourselves with the means by which knowledge is acquired, contextualised and presented and regard the knowledge itself and its application as of secondary concern.

This is at odds with the precepts of capitalism which, for most of us in the West, set on high the achievement of material wealth, the acquistion of power and status as being our given objectives. It’s a tribute to the system that a significant number of us achieve at least some of the perceived targets: we have successful employment, we own houses, cars and the like and we have leisure when the day’s work is done. Yet as David Cameron’s proposed new survey seems destined to confirm, having achieved these targets relatively few of us seem happy or satisfied. One cannot but suspect that, notwithstanding our protestations of hating the job or the boss, it is the thrill of the capitalist chase from which most of us derive most of our satisfaction.

Instead of being able to set a goal and work towards it, we appear constrained permanently to do exactly that and yet be denied the satisfaction of achievement or the opportunity to enjoy our accomplishment. This is a subtle and somehow tragic aspect of the treadmill that Western society has become: obsessed with its own internal processes, it has lost sight of any meaningful objectives that it may have once had and demands of its members that they toil in perpetuity but yet are denied the ability to relish the fruits of their labour. In the midst of prosperity, the most ostensibly successful amongst us find ourselves in a very real form of poverty.