If you’ll allow, let me divulge a tad about my life. No, I will not bore you with some trivial private gossip or pent up angst and frustration about the woes of life or anything of that sort, but I would like to call your attention and get your reactions to a problem I’m dealing with: I can barely type the words, but I, regrettably, have lost my taste for coffee, and it is a sad, cold world without the brew.
This revelation will probably be better placed within the proper context. I was bred to drink this stuff. My parents are big coffee drinkers, and I was literally raised with the aroma of coffee abundant in the air and loved that smell, I’ve been told, as a very young child and have never stopped. In fact, at age four I pestered my parents so much one fateful day for a taste of their coffee that they allowed me to have a sip, thinking that, like a normal child, I would be utterly repulsed by the bitter taste (there’s never any added sugar or sweeteners in our coffee!) and give up on the drink till I got older. Well, I was not a very normal child. (Insert your own joke here about me still not being normal if you like!) To their surprise, or maybe dismay, I loved the coffee, and they were then somewhat forced to keep allowing me to have sips every now and then. When visiting either friends of my parents or my own friends’ parents as an elementary-aged child, I would often shock adults who’d ask what beverage I’d like (them expecting me to say Coke or juice) with the reply of coffee, and they’d undoubtedly proceed to question the kind of parents I had! And so began my love affair with the, to me, ineffably tasty drink.
You see, coffee for me was not about a caffeine-induced rush; in fact, it was no sort of stimulant at all, as it normally is for people. Instead of a jilting morning wake-up, coffee affected me in the reverse fashion: actually making me quite relaxed and much more focused, which is very useful as a student! But something terrible has happened! About three and a half weeks ago until this present day, my beloved coffee has not loved me back in return. It does not give those same fulfilling feelings nor taste as appealing, and the focus it once provided is gone, along with my longing for it.
I do not want the coffee any longer, but I want to want it.
In philosophy, this is known as a second-order desire: the desire to desire. This is the same feeling as the self-loathing drug addict who wants to refrain from his habit but cannot, or the unwilling antisocial person who desires to want companionship but does not actually posses that want – simply, their will is to want something other than that which they really want. A couple terms used above to describe these scenarios, “unwilling” and “the will,” are interesting here. What is it that is doing the willing and unwilling? What part of you wants and what doesn’t want?
For me, it is my mind that wants, but my body that does not. A certain event in my brain may be altered in some way to have a different effect, causing this lack of desire. But what was it that was doing the willing in the first place? Not, apparently, my mind or will. I had this craving that was brought on by something I didn’t will (though it was a bodily reaction of mine), and so it was out of my control and brought upon me. But this was far from a negative thing. Apart from just the satiation of the particular thirst, satisfying a longing of any sort, even an imposed craving, can be a great pleasure in and of itself. But now I’ve been “freed” from this craving, and yet am unsatisfied! Some will say that this is crazy: you had this thirst that you did not will and now that you’re liberated from it, you want it again? But it was not I, really, who willed the removal of the craving – again, something happened apart from my own willing to put me in this situation! I am no more free now if I did not will the abrupt cessation in the same way that I did not will the original craving.
It is strange to talk in this fashion for it is truly me – my will, maybe my mind? – who is doing the desiring and the desiring of the desire, but it is also me – my body, either in stomach or just in the brain – who is controlling it all. Perhaps willpower is not as powerful as we’d like. It seems odd that I at the same time both want and don’t want (and want to want and don’t want to want, ad infinitum), but that is the nature of the situation. As much fulfillment there is (or, was) from the coffee for what it did for me, and also the satisfying of the craving itself, am I yet irrational in my second-order desire? Ought I crave the craving, or be content coffee-need-less?
Tuesday, April 13, 2010