The Meaning Of Life
Guy on a gurney, almost gone. His life passes before his eyes. What the hell was that?! he yells. Then he dies. Not to be pessimistic, but the point is, there are some questions it helps to answer now rather than later.
If your ego is bruised. If your conscience is broken. If the meaning of life, for you, just went flat-line. Who can you turn to for help? Why not the worlds deepest thinkers? Welcome to the harrowing world of trauma philosophy.
Theyre the questions that leave you staring bleakly at the ceiling at 3 A.M. until the crack in the plaster takes your mind off the what-am-I-doing-here? quandary that woke you up. Thats why some men put posters of models on the ceiling while others keep the works of the great philosophers next to the bed. The posters will get you through the night, but you need the philosophers to get you through the life. Solved by the finest minds in history are the most vexing dilemmas of our age.
Best man? Have to give a toast! Dont worry, especially if you tattoo the words of Ludwig Mad King Wittgenstein (1889-1951) on your sweaty palm: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. This line was first field-tested by Ludwig when he used it at his friend Dales reception.
Dale was a party animal. Ludwig was the foremost philosopher of the 20th century, and were just kidding about Dale. But the practical application of Wittgensteins law is this: Keep it simple. Once you go beyond your own direct knowledgelike, how you really feel about your buddy and his wifeyoure just faking it. And thats a job best left to the new bride.
Maybe never being famous is good. If Dan Rather werent famous, nobody would know that hes a half-mad lunatic driving a network news division into oblivion so hell never be famous again. Fame for its own sake is overrated! My personal conviction is that fame is a narcotic craved by those who have no sense of their own innate worth and no conviction about their place in the world.
I learned my best stuff from Diogenes (c. 412-323 B.C.), cosmopolitan, Cynic and all-around great dancer. The Cynics of ancient Greece believed strongly in what they considered to be real values-not those fleeting ones, such as celebrity, but the more rugged qualities of virtue, self-sufficiency and living in a barrel. Which is what Diogenes did before it was even in style. He dressed in rags and went around teaching that you should honor your friends and nurture your principles, since the value of a man is measured in the love his friends have for him.
By not seeking fame, Diogenes became quite famous. Even Alexander the Great, the most powerful and renowned emperor of the time, was a huge Diogenes fan. Once, the great emperor visited the humble and fabulously famous philosopher and asked, Is there anything I can do for you? Yes, said Diogenes. You can get out of my light. Hes like Rickles! said Alexander, adding, If I were not Alexander, I would wish to be Diogenes. Thats not a bad compliment, even if it was b.s. (which it probably was).
Remember when you both met? When she was young and fresh and so were you? Remember those snapshots you took at the lake, the ones with her nipples pointing up to heaven like some sort of divinely inspired anatomical prayer? Well, hold on to the pictures, because while the soul is permanently youthful and eternal, the body is just passing through. Its the same with everything in the physical universe, says Plato (428-347 B.C.), philosophys greatest hit. Plato describes physical reality as being merely shadows cast upon the walls of a cave. Of course, when those shadows are cast by J.Lo they can be pretty damn persuasive.
But, says Plato, you must resist this illusion, control your base instincts. Why? Because you have to use your intellect to govern your passions. If you dont, says Plato, youll have to pay a lot of alimony and child support and your kids will always hate you. Decay is inevitable and unimportant; true harm can come only to the soul, and as long as it stays intact, youre safe. So keep your eyes closed and do it for the good old days. That way you wont notice that shes doing exactly the same thing.
I dont make enough money is not your complaint! What you mean is, I dont make as much money as rich people. Before you blow your last ten-spot on a red bandanna and the collected works of Karl Marx, spend a moment with American political philosopher John Rawls (born 1921) and his work A Theory of Justice.
To put it simply: If it werent for an economic system that allows rich people to exist, you would make even less money than you do right nowor perhaps none whatsoever. Youd be as rich as a steelworker in the heyday of Stalin, which is much poorer than you are now. However, if you have a small portion of something big, instead of an equal share of diddly-squat, you can invest your own brainpower and make your small chunk into a bigger and bigger one. Unless the government outlaws rich people. Then youre doomed to poverty, just like everybody else. In Cuba.
Yes, my son, she may at times be a bitch, but remember you are the boy dog, if not the stud, so it all works out. Remember Yin and his trained Siamese twin, Yang? They learned their whole circus act from Heraclitus (c. 540-480 B.C.), one of the earliest and greatest of the ancient Greek philosophers. He explains that reality is a meeting of opposites-in this case, your girlfriends opinion on one side and everything you do on the other. Thus arguments and strife are to be accepted, even welcomed, as elements that make up our everyday world.
The pull of perfectly matched opposites, cosmically speaking, gives all of nature stability. Girlfriends who are quiet and passive are waiting for the right combination of nine-millimeter availability and your deep drunk-sleep to tip the balance. So stick with her. At least when she yells at you, you know where she is. Then all you have to do to be happy is not get mad. What anger wants, warns Heraclitus, it buys at the expense of the soul, and it shows up later on your AmEx bill. Heraclitus, incidentally, was eaten alive by dogs. The rule? One bitch at a time.
I will never be my own boss is because you are weak! You will crumble like all who were weak before you! Blessed are the meek? Cursed are the weak, I say! Why cant I meet a nice girl? Is it the syphilis? Welcome to the bedroom of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who, if he could hear you whining, would doubtless instruct you to unshackle yourself from your slave morality. Actually, hed probably gibber like a mandrill and try to hump your leg, since syphilis drove him completely nuts, then killed him. But not before the German philosopher developed his theory of the superman, who possesses what Nietzsche called the will to power, the determination to take those qualities that allowed mankind to rise above the animals and use them to tower over the mediocre rabble that is humanity.
Want to hear the words of a man who never had a crazy first wife? Whatever does not kill me, Nietzsche says, makes me stronger. The Christian tradition, he snarls, has ingrained in us such supposed virtues as forbearance, humility and deference. What is good? Nietzsche demands. All that enhances the feeling of power. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. The weak and the failures shall perish. They ought even to be helped to perish. Of course, Nietzsche perished shortly after saying that, but nonetheless you should adopt his ruthless perspective if being the boss matters to you. Because, according to Nietzsche, the only person stopping you is you. And your breath. And that ridiculous tie.
Behold the one-night stand: Shes ugly, scary, creepy, loud and naked. You only noticed the last part-and now you feel nothing but guilt, disgust and self-loathing. And for what? A chance to dance the mutton mambo with a piece of meat too ugly to eat? What were you thinking? Reach for an antacid, a beer and an ice-cold serving of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), and youll find that rutting with the devil, as you did, is a kind of ethical vaccinationa way to awaken your conscience, which will guide you to feel compassion for those you betray and to make the right decision next time.
And, says Schopenhauer, its compassion that unites us as human beings; without it, were just dressed-up, smart-ass chimps. By hurting the one you love, you ultimately sabotage yourself. The little voice inside you starts to whine and nag. Once you start to listen, youll see that your physical desire for other women is merely natures cruel jest at your expense. Which will make it that much easier to resist. So will wearing panty hose under your trousers.
Life is fair if you follow the words of those immortal philosophers Crosby, Stills & Nash: If you cant be with the one you love, honey/Love the one youre with/ Love the one youre with/Love the one youre with/Love the one youre with/ Dah dip dip dip dip dip da-dip. How is that possible? Just ask Boethius (c. 470-524), a thoughtful, rational and honest man marooned in the Dark Ages, where he was falsely accused of treason, imprisoned and executed. Unfair? While awaiting his unjust death, he wrote a book called The Consolation of Philosophy. Why does Fortune with her fickle hand deal out such changing lots? he asks. You never had in her, nor have lost with her, anything that was lovely. If you think that Fortune has changed toward you, you are wrong.
In other words, its your own inflated expectations that have caused you to whine about the unfairness of life. Solution: Being prepared for disappointment is the key to serenity. You are not even entitled to life, let alone anything in it, so can the whining and take another free breath.
Youll never have to experience death. Our source? A dead guy. Specifically, Epicurus (c. 341-270 B.C.), who said, Death is nothing to us. Which may sound a bit overconfident given his current state, but hear the rotting corpse out. The ancient Greeks had already worked out that the universe was composed entirely of atoms. To them, man is simply an assembly of these tiny particles, and while such formations may come and go, the atoms themselves are recyclable. When you die, the collection of atoms that is you ceases to exist in your form and heads off to become other things, like palm trees and Ring Dings and wide-screen plasma TVs. So when you are here, death isnt. And when death is here, you arent. Get it? You and death cannot coexist, so you have nothing to fear from it.
Meanwhile, Epicurus advises, you should seek tranquility by limiting fulfillment of your desires to only moderate amounts of the very best stuff. In other words, only supermodel cooks will do. Epicurus, by the way, followed his own advice to the letterhe lived a simple life and did everything well and in moderation. It killed him. He also had a nose shaped like a very proud phallus.
If your life feels totally meaningless!, you have what the French existentialists would call la nausée-nausea. Its caused by a hollowness at the very core of your being, where the lasagna usually goes. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the book on nauseahe called it La Nausée, of course. His theory: You can contemplate the meaning of life only so long before you accept that at the center of your life is a huge, empty abyss and that life doesnt have any meaning at all, except for whatever hobbies you have. This variety of secular existentialism was also embraced by Albert Camus and Bertrand Russell.
Christian existentialists, influenced by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, have a different solution to filling the big void in the middle. Faced with making an irrational leap into nothingness, like Sartre, it might make more sense to make an irrational leap into something that is irrational by design: faith. Paul Tillich, Gabriel Marcel, Martin Buber and a host of other Christian philosophers filled Sartres abyss with faith, even arguing that the apparent meaninglessness at the center of life is there for a reason. Got a hole, gotta fill it. To solve the problem of meaninglessness, say the existentialists, is to celebrate it. And the Bible for those who subscribe to this particular theory is called TV Guide.
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