Friday, January 26

Life, the Universe and Everything

What is the meaning/purpose of life?

The million-dollar question, and in most cases, a query inevitably leading one to a brief existential crisis. For anyone who has read and remembers Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, (which actually was five volumes) the answer is quite obvious. After seven and a half million years of calculations, the super computer Deep Thought arrives at the answer, 42. In what would appear to be the ultimate form of irony, the question humans have been asking since the beginning of existence may be summed up in a simple two digit numeric answer.

Humor aside, the subject does beg serious thought. Anyone asking the “life” question begins to understand how the absence of an answer simply gnaws at your very soul. Religious figures and philosophers from Saint Augustine to Nietzsche have dedicated countless years and many a written word in an attempt to understand and offer an explanation to the masses. Unfortunately, the typical sorority girl who cries about her inability to discover her identity and purpose in between shopping sprees and sessions of beer pong probably has not read Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Making matters worse, according to our current scientific knowledge, humans appear to be the only species carrying this curse. Not only can we not arrive at a conclusion amongst ourselves, but we also cannot look to man’s best friend or even our closest animal relatives for support.

The idea for this entry began almost a year ago as I struggled with the conscience whiplash I received while taking an economic development course. Unfortunately, I had neither the motivation nor the presence of mind to arrive at an acceptable conclusion. Throughout the past year I have mulled over possible solutions and have had many discussions, which were derived from the question. I spent a summer in Egypt, witnessed extreme poverty and the utter lack of compassion in the West towards this poverty. Needless to say, I was discouraged. It began to dawn on me how perverse our society is and how pop culture has poisoned our minds with a marketer’s view of how we should live our lives: more power, more money, more fame…more, more, more.

I started a new temp job this week as a data entry extraordinaire in the finance department of a large trade association. As I sat there for hours entering meaningless numbers and faceless names into a database, I felt as though my soul was dying. If any one job on earth required absolutely no stimulation of the mind, data entry is that job. If any job worth doing is worth doing well, then data entry is not worth doing well. The moment the digital clock on the taskbar read 5:00 pm, I was out the door. Upon my arrival at the apartment, I began an Internet search for anyone else sharing a strong disdain for data entry. With countless other people in the same position as myself, the odds were high another harbored similar feelings. I attempted to describe my experience to my father later that evening. An experience another writer expressed much more eloquently than I: “8 hours of data entry sucks out your eyeballs and burns them up, then starts in on your soul.”

Now, you are thinking either one of two things: 1) How does the previous paragraph fit into this dialogue in any way? 2) This is the “light bulb” moment; the perfect point when one may ask what the hell the meaning of life is. Obviously, the second option came to my mind and I began to write.

The reasons people use in justifying a purposeful life frequently blow my mind. Many religious people claim the meaning of life is to follow God’s way or preach the bible or whatever. How can you base your entire life on a premise that has no basis in reality? Nothing has disproved the existence of a higher being, but then again, no evidence exists to the contrary. That is a digression for another day. Furthermore, living life to help other people fails to account for your own needs, just as exclusively indulging yourself alienates everyone else.

So what is the answer? Drum roll please. Prepare for the anti-climax.

The meaning of life is entirely in your hands. In other words, exercising your ability to choose (free will). You decide whether another’s words or the weather will affect your mood, why not take control over how you want to live your life. Stop wondering why we are here and start living. Do not let peers or current clothing trends craft your decisions and choose your journey. Of course, if you would rather be near death and desperately trying to justify your life as a mindless zombie of the pop culture horde, you might as well jump with everyone else. There will always be war, suffering, and cruel people who exploit others. And there will always be those who look towards the heavens asking, “What is the point?” The meaning of life is not a universally applicable idea. How you want to spend your time on this planet becomes your own personal purpose.

Ironically, my thesis comes full circle seeing as free will leads people into decisions such as living with faith or choosing to let celebrities lead one into self-image depression. And my father would respond, “What stops one from deciding their meaning in life is to commit murder or theft?” By choosing to live in a society, we choose to live within its boundaries. Anyone who decides to start killing their fellow citizens will quickly come into conflict with the rest of the community and be forced to face the consequences. However, this quandary of mores is closer to the topic of morality, one saved for another day.

1 comment:

  1. What you wrote sounds a bit like a conversation I recently had with a family member. I believed that your entire life was already “written out” by God, and whatever happened in your life just plain happened. However, my family member explained that “God’s way” is given to us through the Bible, but we essentially have the free will to act in any way we choose. She described that God wants us to live a certain way and abide by specific morals and principles, but when it comes down to it, people can do pretty much whatever they want. I’m not going to say that I took her words for absolute truth, but I definitely took them into consideration.

    In this light, the purpose of life is to follow God’s teachings. If you use your free will to lead a life of service to God, that will certainly please him. But who is to say if you stray off the path a bit that you’re a worse person in God’s eyes?

    I struggle with this a lot. Although I’m not extremely religious, and I sometimes don’t even know what to believe, I still often question if my actions are wrong in God’s eyes. If He does exist, I want to please him. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel if I put my own desires first. And I shamefully admit that I can’t understand the people that seem to base their entire lives on what they believe God wants.

    I believe that this will be a long-running conflict in my head. But there is one thing I know for sure: if Heaven truly does exist, I want to be there.