Robert asked:

I am a former engineer, and I have studied about 20 great cynic philosophers over the last 10 years. Diogenes, Voltaire, Buddha, Malthus and Schopenhauer are some of my favorites. I lived in the woods for 2 years to try and get a clearer view of cities, and find out what constitutes meaningful work. Corruption seems very widespread within modern society. Everyone appears to be ‘acting’ in a very large play, which Shakespeare alluded to. I have a theory that 90 plus of the population of any given city has a small reality tunnel, and they may be a kind of farm animal that is working, paying rent, paying taxes and paying off debt for the better part of their adult life to benefit some wealthy elite(s).

I would like to know what your panel thinks would be a good livelihood for an intelligent cynical, stoical, pessimistic misanthrope?

World 1, as I now call it, lacks logic, proportion and integrity. I plan to spend the next year fishing and looking for silver coins on beaches with a metal detector. Is this where geniuses end up? I welcome your comments.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

I think you should return to being an engineer. Seriously. The rot you are identifying is not new; and it is most likely congenital with human beings and the outcome of an irremediable conflict between individualism and the overriding need to form societies. The only salvation for people wishing to retain their sanity while being intellectually aware of the senselessness of it all, is to do the one thing that we are at liberty to do, namely: export our own values into the world. One little pellet at a time.

All the great human achievements, all culture and civilisation is extracted by the skin of our teeth from the indifference of the species to itself. In the end these little pellets of worth, bobbing up and down on the great cauldron of human sewage, represent the value of life. They represent the splinters of human creativity, that seems ultimately inexpungible, because life is a force that persists in exerting itself and seeking to actualise itself in consciousness (you should have learnt that from Schopenhauer!).

So return to your calm and purposeful activity, and stop reading skeptics. But keep looking for gold coins on the beach: firstly, because those coins are evidence of conscious creative life; and secondly, because the longer you strive, the greater your chance of finding one. And when you do, the chances are that you will come to the shocked realisation that your happiness was in the looking, not the finding.

Answer by Shaun Williamson

It seems to me that your views of society and other people are more a reflection of your own depressed and disassociated state of mind. Your views are too full of easy generalisations and you only read the philosophers that you think will confirm your own beliefs. You only notice the things in society that confirm your own depressed views about the world.

The fact that there are corrupt people who cheat and steal is not news to most of us but there are also good people in the world who are not acting but who have to earn a living and pay taxes.

There is nothing wrong with being a beachcomber but that is where people who cannot cope with society end up not where geniuses end up. Do not think of yourself as a genius that is a judgement only other people can make about you. Being a genius is not just a question of having a high I.Q., it is about using your I.Q. in a creative way.