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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Meaning of Life

So, you want to know the meaning of life?
Anthony SynnottSo, you want to know the meaning of life? You haven't figured it out yet? Then please read on, but I suggest that we should think meaningS, plural, for a start. We have options. We can and do impute various meanings to life, as we do to everything else; and different people and cultures create different meanings.
Meanings are not given to most of us, though we are socialized into some by our parents or significant others, but still we tend to construct our own eventually. So here are my Top 12. Pick yours, or add it to the list if it is not there, or mix and match. They are not all mutually exclusive. We can give our lives many meanings, and they may change over time, perhaps as we wise up. Meaninglessness is not an option; or maybe it's another meaning.
Hedonism: To live and have a good time.
  • To enjoy; pleasure; "girls just wanna have fun" (Cyndi Lauper)
  • "Carpe diem" (Horace)
  • "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" (Herrick).
  • "Eat, drink and be merry" (Eccles 8:15) (but check Isaiah 5:11). Now updated to "Sex, drugs ‘n' rock ‘n' roll" (Ian Dury, not Mick).
  • The Cyrenaics of Ancient Greece.
  • May correlate with narcissism and instrumentalism, but not asceticism.
  • ME
Materialism: To get as much as possible.
  • The man with the most toys wins.
  • To win, be top dog, alpha, numero uno, boss.
  • "If you're rich, I'm single."
  • To be rich and famous
  • Plato's bronze people (in the Republic), as also the hedonists above.
  • ME
Altruism: To give as much as possible
  • "Love thy neighbour as thyself." The Golden Rule (Mat 19:19).
  • "Do a good deed every day." "Help other people at all times." (Scouts)
  • To leave the world a better place.
  • THEM
Longevity: To live as long as possible.
  • "Take care." Prudence. Risk-assessment and risk avoidance.
  • Quantity of life, not quality.
  • "Look before you leap." (Yes, but "He who hesitates is lost.")
  • Moderation in all things.
  • ME
Sensationalism: To experience as much as possible.Type T personalities: Thrill-seekers, adventurers, explorers, racers, extreme sports, risk-takers.
  • "Just do it!" (Nike)
  • Why climb Everest? "Because it's there." (Mallory). He died there.
  • To achieve a place in the record books: secular immorality; (more likely just for fun, or because one can, or just because it seemed like a good idea at the time, or one likes the feeling, but the place follows anyway).
  • Quality of life, not quantity: totally opposite to prudent, careful longevism: boring!
  • ME
Biologism: The genetic imperative.
  • To pass along my really selfish genes (Dawkins).
  • "It's not my fault! I'm programmed!"
  • To achieve genetic immortality. Men and women famously use different methods.
  • ALL
Theism: To worship the God or gods.
  • GO(O)D, holiness as the goal, to do good, to be virtuous.
  • To achieve spiritual immortality in heaven or paradise.
  • My religion or faith, is the one true meaning, though there are many different even conflicting faiths, but the others are either just wrong, (sorry), or very similar, (tolerance).
  • Relates to idealism, altruism and religiosity, also to fundamentalism and totalitarianism.
  • US, and maybe THEM.
Psychologism: Self-actualization
  • The seven stages (Maslow)
  • "To be the best you can be." (U.S. Army)
  • Being by doing.
  • ME, again, but in a different meaning set.
Militarism: Survival.
  • Life is a struggle, a battle, against self, others, viruses, social forces of one sort of another (depression, illness, divorce, job loss) especially others.
  • "Lock up." "Caveat emptor." "Count your change." "Business is business." "Nice guys finish last." "Never give a sucker an even break." "Mind your back." "It's a dog eat dog world." "Read the small print." "And wash your hands!"
  • Bias ("Most men are bad"); Heraclitus ("War is the father of all things"); Paul ("evil is present with me;" "Fight the good fight.") Machiavelli, Hobbes (the war of all against all... "and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.") But apart from that: Herbert Spencer ("the survival of the fittest"); Charles Darwin ("the struggle for existence"); Marx and Engels "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles"); Nietzsche ("The free man is a warrior"); Freud ("Homo homini lupus"); Kipling ("If").
  • BUT: "I'm a lover not a fighter" (Jackson); "in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart" (Anne Frank). Do you? It would make a huge difference to the meaning(s) attributed to life if you did, or did not.
Loveism: To love (and be loved).
  • "All you need is love." (The Beatles)
  • Cash and warm shelters are also useful.
  • Loving warm relationships are the meaning of life, and the main constituents of happiness and life satisfaction, according to some; but others say that "variety is the spice of life," and prefer liaisons (Casanova, Lothario, nymphos, K. Millett).
  • Opposite to hedonism.
  • US.
Rationalism: To know.
  • The love of wisdom, philosophy, constitutes the gold people of Plato's three types of people. This is theoretically the triumph of reason over glory, Plato over Homer; later itself to be displaced for some by theism, and holiness trumping reason; later to be displaced in its turn by secular individualism in its many manifestations.
  • They are, he thought, superior to the silver (warriors who defend us and value honor) and bronze people (hedonists and materialists).
  • Our social reality is the opposite. Oh well. Greed and the love of power trump sweet reason (Machiavelli; Hobbes; Wall Street). And goodness.
  • Homo sapiens (Linnaeus). Really?
Existentialism: It's your call.
  • You create your own meanings. None are given. (Sartre)
  • He also said that life was absurd, but took it seriously.
  • "There is a light seed grain inside. You fill it with yourself or it dies." (Rumi)
  • Another variant of individualism.
  • Maybe life is a (bad?) joke? Or a pain? A treasure? A gift? A struggle? A joy? All of the above occasionally? but it is yours.
  • YOU
So many isms! So many possible and probable meanings—and contradictions. Hedonism and asceticism, materialism and altruism, longevity and sensationalism, extremism, biologism, spiritualism, theism, fundamentalism, perfectionism, psychologism, narcissism, militarism, loveism, rationalism, existentialism, individualism. What does your life mean to you? What gives it meaning? (Work? Children? A lover? Sport?) So what meanings do you give to your life?

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