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The Meaning Of Life

Maybe this movie from Britain's loony comic troupe doesn't answer the big questions, but along the way you'll learn why "Every Sperm Is Sacred," see English calm in the midst of war, witness the unfortunate Mr. Creosote's last meal, watch Death join a dinner party, and play "Where's the Fish?"

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 world’s deepest thinkers? Welcome to the harrowing world of trauma philosophy.

They’re 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. That’s 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! Don’t 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 Dale’s reception.

Dale was a party animal. Ludwig was the foremost philosopher of the 20th century, and we’re just kidding about Dale. But the practical application of Wittgenstein’s law is this: Keep it simple. Once you go beyond your own direct knowledge—like, how you really feel about your buddy and his wife—you’re just faking it. And that’s a job best left to the new bride.

Maybe never being famous is good. If Dan Rather weren’t famous, nobody would know that he’s a half-mad lunatic driving a network news division into oblivion so he’ll 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.

Forget the Meaning of Life we're stuck on these questions

  1. Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are getting weak?
  2. Why do banks charge a fee on "insufficient funds" when they know there is not enough?
  3. Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?
  4. Why doesn't glue stick to the bottle?
  5. Why do they use sterilized needles for death by lethal injection?
  6. Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?
  7. Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but ducks when you throw a revolver at him?
  8. Why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
  9. Whose idea was it to put an "S" in the word "lisp"?
  10. If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?
  11. Why is it that no matter what color bubble bath you use the bubbles are always white?
  12. Is there ever a day that mattresses are not on sale?
  13. Why do people constantly return to the refrigerator with hopes that something new to eat will have materialized?
  14. Why do people keep running over a string a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance?
  15. Why is it that no plastic bag will open from the end on your first try?
  16. How do those dead bugs get into those enclosed light fixtures?
  17. When we are in the supermarket and someone rams our ankle with a shopping cart then apologizes for doing so, why do we say, "It's all right?" Well, it isn't all right, so why don't we say, "That hurt, you stupid idiot?"
  18. Why is it that whenever you attempt to catch something that's falling off the table you always manage to knock something else over?
  19. In winter why do we try to keep the house as warm as it was in summer when we complained about the heat?
  20. How come you never hear father-in-law jokes?
  21. A stitch in time saves nine. Nine what?
  22. How can a stupid person be a smart-ass?
  23. Day light saving time - why are they saving it and where do they keep it?
  24. Do blind dogs have seeing-eye humans?
  25. Do people in Australia call the rest of the world 'up over'?
  26. How can you tell when it is time to tune your bagpipes?
  27. How did a fool and his money get together in the first place?

Smart Answers To Silly Questions

  1. How much is all the tea in China actually worth?
    If you wouldn't do something for all the tea in China, are you cheating yourself? China produces 855,190 metric tons of tea leaf annually. At commodity prices of $1.86 per kilogram, you're missing out on at least $1,590,653,400. Next time, tell 'em you don't get out of bed for less than all the coffee in Brazil - $6,645,461,089.
  2. Where are my keys?
    Most brains can handle only five to nine short-term memories at once. Newer information - phone call! ice cream! - can bump a previous memory out of storage before it's committed to long-term recall. Even worse, new memories tend to merge with permanent ones, muddying the recollection of ritual activities. Michael "Professor" Solomon, author of How to Find Lost Objects, says it's easy to accidentally substitute one routine motion for another. So look for your keys where you normally put your wallet. If that fails, check the car, the sofa cushions, the door lock, and (duh) your pocket. You're probably staring right at them.
  3. Why do hot dogs come in packs of 10 while buns come in packs of 8 or 12?
    Bakers tend to package their wares in dozens or in other multiples of three or four. Meatpackers sell by the pound, and a standard hot dog is 0.1 pounds. Oscar Mayer insists that only 10 consumers - or is it 12? - write in annually to complain.
  4. What is belly button lint?
    A survey by Karl Kruszelnicki of the University of Sydney suggests that a mixture of clothing fibers and dead skin is "surfed" into the typical belly button by mid-weight happy trails. Mena Suvari and Britney Spears are spared this indignity, as were our Cro-Magnon ancestors. Why? Mena's outie doesn't collect it, Brit's piercing blocks it, and Ogg's thick body hair stopped fuzz migration.
  5. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?
    Licking machines built by engineering students at Purdue and the University of Michigan hit the chewy center in an average of 364 and 411 licks, respectively. But robot tongues aren't the most efficient. Tests involving actual people have determined that it really takes 252 swipes at most.
  6. Why do fools fall in love?
    Blame the neuro-chemicals that fuel the brain's built-in reward system. Triggered by the sight (or smell) of that special someone, the brain releases dopamine, upping the desire for sex. Serotonin levels plummet, creating that "can't live without you" feeling. The attachment chemicals, oxytocin and vasopressin, also kick in. No fool can resist.

A Cynics Guide to Life

  • The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire.
  • I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows. And a foundation leaks and a ball game gets rained out and a car rusts and...
  • Follow your dream! Unless it's the one where you're at work in your underwear during a fire drill.
  • Always take time to stop and smell the roses... and sooner or later, you'll inhale a bee.
  • Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me, either, just leave me alone.
  • If you don't like my driving, don't call anyone. Just take another road. That's why the highway department made so many of them.
  • If a motorist cuts you off, just turn the other cheek. Nothing gets the message across like a good mooning.
  • When I'm feeling down, I like to whistle. It makes the neighbor's dog run to the end of his chain and gag himself.
  • It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal the neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.
  • A handy telephone tip: Keep a small chalkboard near the phone. That way, when a salesman calls, you can hold the receiver up to it and run your fingernails across it until he hangs up.
  • Each day I try to enjoy something from each of the four food groups: the bonbon group, the salty-snack group, the caffeine group, and the "whatever-the-thing-in-the-tinfoil-in-the-back-of-the-fridge-is" group.
  • Into every life some rain must fall. Usually when your car windows are down.
  • Just remember... You gotta break some eggs to make a real mess on the neighbor's car!
  • When you find yourself getting irritated with someone, try to remember that all men are brothers... and just give them a noogie or an Indian burn.
  • This morning I woke up to the unmistakable scent of pigs in a blanket. That's the price you pay for letting the relatives stay over.
  • It's a small world. So you gotta use your elbows a lot.
  • Keep your nose to the grindstone and your shoulder to the wheel...it's cheaper than plastic surgery.
  • This land is your land. This land is my land. So stay on your land.
  • Love is like a roller coaster: when it's good you don't want to get off, and when it isn't... you can't wait to throw up.

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.” “He’s like Rickles!” said Alexander, adding, “If I were not Alexander, I would wish to be Diogenes.” That’s 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. It’s the same with everything in the physical universe, says Plato (428-347 B.C.), philosophy’s 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 don’t, says Plato, you’ll 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, you’re safe. So keep your eyes closed and do it for the good old days. That way you won’t notice that she’s doing exactly the same thing.

I don’t make enough money is not your complaint! What you mean is, “I don’t 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 weren’t for an economic system that allows rich people to exist, you would make even less money than you do right now—or perhaps none whatsoever. You’d 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 you’re 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 girlfriend’s 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 can’t 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, he’d 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: She’s 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 you’ll find that rutting with the devil, as you did, is a kind of ethical vaccination—a 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, it’s compassion that unites us as human beings; without it, we’re 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, you’ll see that your physical desire for other women is merely nature’s 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 can’t be with the one you love, honey/Love the one you’re with/ Love the one you’re with/Love the one you’re with/Love the one you’re 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, it’s 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.

You’ll 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 isn’t. And when death is here, you aren’t. 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 letter—he 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. It’s caused by a hollowness at the very core of your being, where the lasagna usually goes. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the book on nausea—he 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 doesn’t 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 Sartre’s 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.

Stuff Magazine has ceased publication with the October 2007 issue. Stuff will now be a regular section within Maxim [Print + Kindle] . David Bennun. The Philosophy First Aid Kit.


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All That Makes Life Worth The Effort | What Goes Around Comes Around | We Are In A Busy Age | Comfort Is Very Nice, But It Is Not Meaningful | Life Is Full Of Disappointments | People Behave Better Than They Are Supposed To | Life Is Better On TV | Altruism Is A Property Of Groups | Happiness Is A State Of Mind | Real-world Kindness
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