The Truth About War and The Intrinsic “Why”
What about War?
You’re wondering what Givenness might be and how it could change the way you live your life. It’s the right question to have on your mind. But before we talk about Givenness, it’s important to understand;
Givenness is a radical idea that challenges the conventional way of thinking in our time.
That’s a little threatening and you can expect a response from some of the people around you. The reactions can be intense. Sometimes it even feels a little bit like you’re in a war. That’s because you are.
All wars have a few things in common. The great military historian Michael Howard saw war as a competition between the social forces of “status quo” and the forces of “dissatisfaction”. Doesn’t really sound like rocket science, but it’s key.
Different people have made all sorts of assertions about the causes of war, but in the end, it seems that the fight is always about ideas of equality, justice and power.
And fighting is almost always framed in Howard’s context. Some people are satisfied with the way things are and don’t want change – status quo. Others could never be satisfied under the existing structure. This is the force for change. The sides fight to either keep what they have or to remake the world on different terms.
The people advocating for change or for status quo themselves change over time with the ebb and flow of personalities and philosophies, but a certain thread remains in every war. The fight is between two foundational ideas. “Might makes right” underlies one side of this perpetual contest. The alternative is that “right” is right, no matter what. Wherever there is war, or the threat of war, there is somewhere in the mix, these two, basic ideas.
Right-is-Right and Intrinsic “Why”
In the best-selling book Begin with Why by Simon Sinek, we are challenged to answer this one fundamental question.
What is your “Why”?
Sinek recognized that many of us feel we implicitly understand our purpose, but we often can’t articulate it – which creates problems for potential followers. But as it turns out, failing to clearly articulate your “Why” also has implications in your own behavior. If you can’t articulate your intrinsic “Why”, it’s not that hard for your adversaries to convince you that you don’t actually have one.
This is why there is war. If we lived in a world where no one understood their intrinsic “Why”, then there could be no claim for “Right-is-Right”, which invariably leads to the conclusion that “Might makes Right”. The idea that “Might makes Right” can be dressed up in all sorts of language about utility, pragmatism or rationality, but in the end, this way of thinking represents an imposition of force. And that force will always work against the idea of your having an intrinsic “Why”.
Another way of thinking about intrinsic “Why” is to say that all things, including me, have purpose.
This is different than saying all things are available for MY purposes. This idea of purpose transcends any purpose that a person might make up for themself. You can even call it “transcendent purpose” if it’s easier.
When we look at the objects in our world and we ask the question, “What’s the purpose for that?”, we are likely asking about transcendent purpose.
Western Culture from Intrinsic “Why”
So intrinsic “Why” isn’t just some academic question.
Western culture was largely born out of the understanding that everything has an intrinsic “Why”, or that everything has purpose.
This idea was probably first articulated by Aristotle and is clearly a core belief in the Judeo-Christian traditions upon which western culture was built. The intrinsic “Why” is the foundation of just about every cultural achievement in the west over at least the last twenty centuries. The obvious examples include the classics, especially philosophy and ethics. But these achievements also include modern science – which is an entirely unique contribution of the west.
Intrinsic “Why” and Status Quo
What’s interesting is the belief that everything has an intrinsic “Why” was once the status quo.
But the forces of change were bent on challenging this belief. That’s not strong enough. The Might-makes-Right mentality is engaged in mortal combat. It is determined to destroy the idea that beings are created purposefully.
The motivation isn’t hard to understand. The thinking goes like this: If I have an intrinsic “Why”, then I am not free to do whatever else I might want. I either fulfill the purpose, or I don’t. And if I don’t, then I have failed.
That’s hard to hear. Nobody wants to fail. Especially, nobody wants to fail at life.
The intrinsic “Why” has this other implication, namely:
If I have an intrinsic “Why”, then other
persons and things must also have purpose. And If other people have a “transcendent purpose”, then I can’t really do whatever I want to them.
I am compelled to respect their purpose – and perhaps to even contribute to their success. A moral dimension exists with this idea of intrinsic “Why”.
Historically, any past time when intrinsic “Why” was the status quo, the goal was to keep people from objectifying other people and recklessly abusing the earth’s natural resources.
Hence the two sides fight.
What’s at Stake?
When people buy-in to the idea that things exist without purpose – that people exist with no intrinsic “Why”, then a new world of theoretical possibilities is created. In this world, no one is constrained by the obvious limitations of my existence. This so-called liberation generally leads people to adopt one of two attitudes towards life:
1. There is no purpose in life. No possibility of succeeding or failing at life. So, I should seek pleasure as my primary goal.
2. There is no specific purpose for my life. So I can make up my own purpose and impose my will on other people (especially those who don’t believe in purpose and who are seeking pleasure). Power and achievements are the goal whether it’s manifest in the pursuit of money or position.
In recent years, most people concluded the idea of intrinsic “Why” was over. In the early 1990s, famous political philosopher Francis Fukuyama was convinced that the evolution of political ideologies was complete. The war was thought to be won. The so-called “thinking world” had concluded that there was, in fact, no intrinsic “Why”.
But, like a disease long thought eradicated, the notion of intrinsic “Why” keeps cropping up. There is a reason for this that is born out of experience.
Persistence of an Intrinsic “Why”
Getting what you want, whether that’s pleasure or power, isn’t the problem – or the solution.
The intrinsic “Why” is always about meaning. And, as Victor Frankel famously pointed out, meaning represents a fundamental, if not THE fundamental, motivation.
The thing I’m doing, or propose to do, matters because it represents a story that contributes to some larger story, or even a universal story. My actions have meaning only because of the impact they have on other individuals. If you want your life to matter, the purpose of your action must matter in some larger context.
Anyone who taps into this is suddenly very powerful. If you live out your purpose, your life will be filled with power. You will have real impact in the world. You will be an influencer. You will know amazing adventure. And you will leave a legacy for generations to come.
Conversely, people who don’t believe and never find the intrinsic “Why” are limited by their made-up and imagined “Why”. They don’t find meaning in life. They express malaise. They often lack focus – but even those who are focused run from one project to another hoping that some success or achievement will bring meaning and satisfaction.
Even more troubling, such people tend to objectify other people in a way that justifies every kind of dehumanizing behavior.
This is why the idea of an intrinsic “Why” keeps cropping up. A person living out their transcendent life-purpose is engaged and exciting and attractive, especially for people who lack these qualities in their own lives.
What Side of the War are You On?
Western culture was achieved by people who have lived out their intrinsic “Why”. Science, technology, business, social sciences as well as the arts are all a part of this culture. Your intrinsic “Why” is to step into the flow and make your contribution.
Enter Into This
I want you to be aware:
• Your life exists with an intrinsic “Why” – a transcendent purpose
• You are powerful – an agent of change
• You are responsible for your own success – which is within your reach
Your opposition wants you to believe:
• You have no intrinsic “Why” – there is no specific meaning to your life
• You are limited and insignificant in the grand scheme of things
• You are basically like any animal – animals aren’t responsible for their behavior
You can only win if you make a decision. So, make a decision and join the conversation.
WHAT IS YOUR WHY?