Quote of the Day: All Our Yesterdays

 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. . . .
[Life] is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth, Act V, Scene V

I’ve always liked this quote. Perhaps you have too. It sounds, well, deep, something that I ought to be thinking about.

The first part of it is too pessimistic for me. My yesterdays haven’t been any great shakes, but I don’t like to think that they have merely “lighted fools the way to dusty death.” Perhaps my son or daughter has profited by something I did or said. Heavens knows I gave them plenty of good advice, most of which they ignored. But that’s all right. Both are nice kids who have made good lives for themselves, despite their disregard of my wisdom.

But I like the second part: that life is a tale told by an idiot and thus signifies nothing. Of all the ways of describing life, that’s the one that is closest to my version. Philosophers call this existentialism. That is, life has no intrinsic meaning given to it by supernatural agencies, so you have to give it meaning.

I’ve given my life meaning, as you have, by doing things: drawing pictures, getting married, teaching, etc. I did some good things in my life, some bad.

You know, when I really think hard about it, I guess my overriding purpose was maximizing pleasure, minimizing pain. That word “pleasure” includes, for me, making a piece of furniture, running a marathon, looking at a great piece of art, loving my wife, and of course, the sensual pleasures of eating a cannoli and soaking in a hot tub. I’ve always assumed that most people, no matter what they say, feel much the same way.

I occasional violate the pleasure/pain principle by giving to a charity, helping a friend, and so on. Wait, now that I think further on it, perhaps the small frisson of satisfaction I receive when I do something good follows the pleasure/plain principle after all. I’m a bit confused.

I don’t know if there is an afterlife. I wish there were. I’d love to see my seven-year-old son who died of leukemia about 50 years ago. But I don’t think that will happen. It just sounds too improbable that when my brain, the source of all memories, becomes rich earth I will somehow retain those memories, missing a physical brain in which they once resided, in an afterlife, even if there were one.

I don’t particularly like to think that someday in the near future, my consciousness will be extinguished forever. But it doesn’t particularly bother me. It’s merely an interesting idea to consider.

I’m 81 now, and if the actuary tables can be trusted, I’ll probably live to about 90. I have no regrets because I don’t have much of a conscience. Like you, I’ve cheated, lied, stolen, and so forth. But not in any great amounts, probably not much more than you. Actually, I haven’t done much of those things since attaining adulthood. At any rate, my untroubled conscience doesn’t prick me when I think back on my shortcomings. I just don’t have much of a conscience.

In fact, as I look back now, there is only one episode that stands out that I regret: I mistreated a dog when I was a kid. Otherwise, I’m pretty much regret-free. Rusty, I’m sorry.

So that’s it. It’s perfectly obvious, I see now, that I’ll never make it into the philosophy hall of fame.

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There are 18 comments.

  1. Aaron Miller Member

    A CGI acting demonstration with Andy Serkis employed that bit of MacBeth. I don’t care for the way he speaks the lines, but the exaggerated expression serves its purpose. 

    Maybe one day your great grandkids will bring you back as a CGI character for a school project.

    • #1
    • October 8, 2019, at 11:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Vectorman Thatcher

    The Quote of the Day series is the easiest way to start a fun conversation on Ricochet. There are only 6 open days left on the October Signup Sheet. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    • #2
    • October 8, 2019, at 12:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  3. She Thatcher
    She

    KentForrester: Rusty, I’m sorry

    Rusty forgives you. That’s what dogs do.

    • #3
    • October 8, 2019, at 4:57 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester: Rusty, I’m sorry

    Rusty forgives you. That’s what dogs do.

    They do, don’t they?

    • #4
    • October 8, 2019, at 5:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    Title change. Bet this is being demoted to the Main Feed. 😁

    • #5
    • October 9, 2019, at 11:13 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Title change. Bet this is being demoted to the Main Feed. 😁

    Arahant, are you an alien? I suspect you are because I rarely understand what you are saying. Nanu, Nanu.

    • #6
    • October 9, 2019, at 11:54 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. GFHandle Member

    By killing his lord, Macbeth destroyed his own identity since loyalty and honor define a feudal lord. He did this for his wife. This is what he says when he learns of her death. No wonder this great set piece of a speech is so modern, i.e. bleak, cynical, and nihilistic.

    • #7
    • October 9, 2019, at 12:08 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Arahant Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Title change. Bet this is being demoted to the Main Feed. 😁

    Arahant, are you an alien? I suspect you are because I rarely understand what you are saying. Nanu, Nanu.

    Haven’t you ever taken a good look at my avatar?

    As to what I was saying, your post has gone through a title change. That usually means that the editors are working on it and scheduling it for “promotion” to the Main Feed.

    • #8
    • October 9, 2019, at 12:08 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Title change. Bet this is being demoted to the Main Feed. 😁

    Arahant, are you an alien? I suspect you are because I rarely understand what you are saying. Nanu, Nanu.

    Haven’t you ever taken a good look at my avatar?

    As to what I was saying, your post has gone through a title change. That usually means that the editors are working on it and scheduling it for “promotion” to the Main Feed.

    Your avatar is so dark I can’t quite make it out, but it looks like some sort a cat, perhaps an alien one. I suppose an alien cat has an alien master. Did you recognize “nanu, nanu”? Of course you did.

    Ah, I see what you are talking about, though I don’t know how you knew they were changing QOD to Quote of the Day. Are you privy to changes as they are happening, which are out of sight for the plebes?

    • #9
    • October 9, 2019, at 12:14 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. Arahant Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Ah, I see what you are talking about, though I don’t know how you knew they were changing QOD to Quote of the Day. Are you privy to changes as they are happening, which are out of sight for the plebes?

    Not at all. They are in sight. It was in the Trending on Ricochet Box, and I noted the name change. One only need pay attention, my friend.

    • #10
    • October 9, 2019, at 12:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Ah, I see what you are talking about, though I don’t know how you knew they were changing QOD to Quote of the Day. Are you privy to changes as they are happening, which are out of sight for the plebes?

    Not at all. They are in sight. It was in the Trending on Ricochet Box, and I noted the name change. One only need pay attention, my friend.

    Now who pays attention to Trending on Ricochet except the Arahant?

    • #11
    • October 9, 2019, at 12:36 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. James Lileks Contributor

    Believing that one’s life signifies nothing can be a clever granting of permission to behave poorly towards others, since their lives are equally meaningless.

    The individual may be a krill in a tsunami, but individuals working together with mutually-agreed plans for specific goals can achieve astonishing things. The workmen who built my house, the craftsman who outfitted it, the plumbers and electricians who attached it to a greater infrastructure, the engineers who designed the system to bring water and power, the men who laid the roads, the men who built the conduits under the pavement, the planners who laid out block upon block of the metropolis, the architects and builders of the towers downtown, the complicated support system that keeps them stocked with power and juice and internet and toilet paper and ensures the elevator buttons work –

    What humanity has built is amazing. It does not have to be. But here it is. Plus Beethoven, and robots on other planets. “Sound and fury” is a club-fight in a bog.

    • #12
    • October 9, 2019, at 9:06 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Arahant Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    “Sound and fury” is a club-fight in a bog.

    More Burnham Wood, I would say. When it comes to Dunsinane.

    • #13
    • October 9, 2019, at 9:09 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Believing that one’s life signifies nothing can be a clever granting of permission to behave poorly towards others, since their lives are equally meaningless.

    The individual may be a krill in a tsunami, but individuals working together with mutually-agreed plans for specific goals can achieve astonishing things. The workmen who built my house, the craftsman who outfitted it, the plumbers and electricians who attached it to a greater infrastructure, the engineers who designed the system to bring water and power, the men who laid the roads, the men who built the conduits under the pavement, the planners who laid out block upon block of the metropolis, the architects and builders of the towers downtown, the complicated support system that keeps them stocked with power and juice and internet and toilet paper and ensures the elevator buttons work –

    What humanity has built is amazing. It does not have to be. But here it is. Plus Beethoven, and robots on other planets. “Sound and fury” is a club-fight in a bog.

    James, thanks for your thoughtful response.

    I don’t think that my life, or the lives of others, is meaningless. I just think that it is I, not a supernatural entity, who gives my life meaning.

    BTW, I’ve lived a fairly moral life, more moral than many, less moral than some. (That’s a rough estimate, based on almost nothing.) Religion is only one of a number of external forces that keeps us moral. It’s probably true, however, that religious people, very generally speaking, are more moral than atheists. I only know one other person really well, my wife Marie. She’s a Christian and seems to be more moral than I am. So there’s that, for what it’s worth.

    Macbeth seems to have believed, at this low point in his life, that life was totally meaningless. Neither God nor man could give it meaning.

    I agree that mankind has done wonderful things. I’m not sure what that has to do with the question at hand. Are you saying that God has had a hand in the wonderful things we’ve done? Perhaps. No way to prove that one way or another.

    • #14
    • October 9, 2019, at 9:55 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. James Lileks Contributor

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    I don’t think that my life, or the lives of others, is meaningless. I just think that it is I, not a supernatural entity, who gives my life meaning.

    I agree, since that puts more responsibility on me to do something rather than believe and profess something. I am also aware that there is a different modus vivendi that regards this as a false distinction.

    I agree that mankind has done wonderful things. I’m not sure what that has to do with the question at hand. Are you saying that God has had a hand in the wonderful things we’ve done? Perhaps. No way to prove that one way or another.

    Nope. And I like proof. In the absence of proof, there is conjecture. God influences everything; God influences certain inflection points; God set it all up and walked away, leaving us to play it out along the moral lessons He imparted; there is no God but we are better for believing there is; there is no God and we are better for knowing it. 

    The only thing I can say with certainty is that we yearn for meaning and accomplish great things, and that’s the first line of defense against nihilism. Also, that the easiest thing for the rational mind to do is to dismiss the transcendent, which always gives me pause. I may have access to the apex of human knowledge, but my dog has it figured it out as well, at least as it suits his perceptions and requirements. 

    • #15
    • October 9, 2019, at 11:21 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Vectorman Thatcher

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    The only thing I can say with certainty is that we yearn for meaning and accomplish great things, and that’s the first line of defense against nihilism. Also, that the easiest thing for the rational mind to do is to dismiss the transcendent, which always gives me pause. I may have access to the apex of human knowledge, but my dog has it figured it out as well, at least as it suits his perceptions and requirements. 

    • #16
    • October 10, 2019, at 2:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    Kent, my 8th grade son has been working on memorizing this passage for reciting this week.

    He and I have discussed it a bunch, and he doesn’t agree with the sentiment Macbeth expresses. Life, to him, is a grand adventure filled with joy and meaningfulness. Macbeth, a murderer, doesn’t strike him as a guy to take advice from. 

    • #17
    • October 11, 2019, at 5:26 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester Post author

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Kent, my 8th grade son has been working on memorizing this passage for reciting this week.

    He and I have discussed it a bunch, and he doesn’t agree with the sentiment Macbeth expresses. Life, to him, is a grand adventure filled with joy and meaningfulness. Macbeth, a murderer, doesn’t strike him as a guy to take advice from.

    Macbeth is a Debbie Downer. Your son has the right idea. 

    Pessimism, despair, gloom have always made good fodder for poems but very bad approaches to life. 

    • #18
    • October 11, 2019, at 7:07 AM PDT
    • 2 likes