Thursday, 21 April 2011

Spirit and Destiny

Two of the most poisonous – and needless to say pointless – words in the English dictionary are the words ‘spirit’ and ‘destiny’. Any uttering of these dire arrangements of letters reveals the speaker to be an individual who really does not give any thought to the meaning of a word before speaking it.
What the hell do these stupid words actually mean?

Fine, I recognise that ‘destiny’ refers to a predetermined course of events. But what use is that explanation? Is there any method by which we can establish whether an incident was predetermined? I’m not talking about the laws of physics predicting the behaviour of particles. I’m talking about people who say it was ‘destiny’ that you and your wife happened to meet. Because what you really mean is that it was very unlikely. Yes it was. Overwhelmingly unlikely. So state that and comprehend your good fortune that an array of incidents played out in the way they did. But it wasn’t predetermined, for goodness sake.

In just a brief selection of parallel universes (if they exist…) you will never have even seen your wife. But who cares? It’s not like you’ll be upset, thinking, “I wish events played out like they did in that other universe.” You wouldn’t even know of this person’s existence. You may well have married someone far better.

I often wonder how my life would’ve turned out if I had gone to a different school when I was younger. I look back at all the decisive branching points that my life has taken, and I realise that if even one of those events conspired differently, I wouldn’t be here. But that doesn’t mean it was ‘destiny’ for me to be at Durham. It’s just unlikely.

So, ‘destiny’ means ‘the odds of this vaguely favourable event occurring are unimaginably low’. So, for future reference, use this definition please. Don’t use such an inanely worthless word. It only reflects badly on you.

The word ‘spirit’, however, is infinitely more futile and annoying. Although ‘destiny’ is a pointless word, at least it had a clear – albeit illogical – definition. ‘Spirit’, to me, is the equivalent of apathetically articulating the sound ‘bluhhhh’, then expecting that to be an explanation for something (and also, inexplicably, demanding to be taken seriously whilst doing it). The word removes the desire for any sort of accurate statements to be used.

In the context of our personal identity, there is never a moment when ‘spirit’ is more appropriate a word than, say, ‘consciousness’ (apart from when talking about unfounded, untestable and downright bizarre ideas such as an afterlife). I know we have a strong sense of self-awareness, and this certainly gives off an illusion of being something more than an inconceivable collection of enzymatic reactions and electrical impulses. But the word ‘spirit’ explains absolutely nothing. It’s a nothing word for people who are satisfied with inadequate answers to the state of the world around us.

The English language is astonishingly rich and malleable. The immeasurable selection of words and sentence arrangements available makes writing one of the most soothing and satisfying practices that one can undertake. So can we end using pointless words? Not only are the words pointless, but their usage also reflects badly upon you. Unless, of course, you’re using them mockingly.  

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