Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal. I just like that quote because it addresses a philosophical debate that I find completely fascinating. To put it into very broad terms: what is the meaning of life?
For thousands and thousands of years humans gave meaning to their lives through religion and faith. Believing in a higher power, in a purpose beyond corporeal earth. There is a creator and she will be waiting to welcome us to paradise when we die, to spend eternity in bliss. That thought makes the struggles of life seem a lot easier to bear if it’s only a blink until eternal sunshine.
But if you’re a pragmatist and agnostic like I am, there’s no comfort in these stories. I’m just going to skip over all the harm they do, like prejudice and hate and practically every single war that’s ever been fought.
One of my courses this semester is a philosophy course covering everything from Kant and the Enlightenment in the late 1700’s to modern philosophers writing about Nihilism and Absurdism. Kant kicks things off with the idea that humanity is based in reason, and reason becomes the ultimate authority in philosophy, science, politics, and economics. This breaks the long standing tradition of inequality where some people are touched by god and others are there only to serve.
When Kant came out with his ideas on basing everything on reason it started off a long chain lightning effect (the details of which I will be learning about this semester) which eventually culminates with Jean-Paul Sarte and the theory of existentialism, which is the shit that I really dig. Basically existentialism, or at least the branch that I’m interested in, boils down to the fact that nothing matters, nothing happens on purpose, eventually we will all die and then the universe will end in heat death and we might as well have some fun along the way.
I don’t have any grand theories or coherent thesis for this post. This is just what’s been on my mind and I’m trying to blog more. It’s hard because I have to hand write two journal pages every day for my creative writing class, and I write about a lot of the kinds of things I would blog about so it leaves the pickings a little slim.
I really had some long thought on existentialism and the meaning of life tonight though. I don’t have anything definitive to say. The closest I’m going to get to giving an answer to what is the meaning of life is to reference Douglas Adams and simply say “42.” But beyond that I believe that maximizing happiness is high up on the list of priorities for me. And not just my happiness. If that was all I cared about I’d go buy a shit load of really good drugs and booze and go out on one wild ass bender. But I care about the happiness of others too. Family, then friends, then everyone else. So while my drug riddled brain might be pumping out the dopamine until it can’t physically do anything else anymore, that would leave at least a few very unhappy people behind and that’s just not my goal.
But then how do I maximize happiness? The goal is to aim for maximum prolonged happiness over time. That means I can’t just do whatever I want to make me happy in the moment, I need to take some responsibility and take a happiness hit sometimes to increase the overall amount in the future. The thing that really fucks me up is finding that balance.
I love Wendy’s spicy chicken burger. I get it with cheese and bacon. Usually I’ll get two junior bacon cheeseburgers to go with it and a large root beer. That’s pushing 2000 calories in one meal, but holy fucking shit am I ecstatic when I’m eating it. I could eat it every single day, for every single meal. But if I did that I would not only be broke but completely and morbidly obese. If I’m being selfish and just trying to make myself as happy as possible until I die then I’m eating that for every single meal until my heart explodes. But that’s not the goal here. So how do I balance my desire to eat these things that make me happy, and the unhappiness that comes from looking at myself in the mirror after I’ve been gorging myself for a week. How do I reconcile the fact that I like to snowboard and hike with the fact that I like to eat an entire package of Oreo’s while watching Grey’s Anatomy for the 4th time on Netflix.
On the one hand existentialism is a great stress reliever. I don’t fear death, I don’t worry about the POTUS nuking the world, it doesn’t bother me as much when I read about 40 people being killed by a terrorist. Sure it’s horrible and I wish it didn’t happen, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Unless humanity finds a way to build some kind of universe hopping device and manages to escape to a younger parallel universe before ours decays into a state of total entropy (that’s a whole post by itself), then eventually everyone and everything will cease to exist so it doesn’t matter if 40 people die now or in 50 years.
On the other hand it makes it so very hard to care about anything. So what if I drop out of school, the universe doesn’t give a shit. Nor does the universe care about anyone on earth who cares about me. So what’s the point of anything? Finding the motivation to go for a run or to eat seared fish instead of rare steak is the hurdle here. Some people do it because they think god will be mad at them if they don’t. And some people just manage to create the meaning for themselves. I keep hoping if I think about it and write about it enough I’ll have some kind of epiphany about what it all means, but until then I’ll just keep doing my best.