I realized that in a few of my recent posts, it would appear that I am drifting off into the abyss of nihilism. But no; I’m somewhere in the triangle formed by nihilism, existentialism, absurdism. From what I can tell, these philosophies share a rejection of the existence of any absolute truth, meaning, purpose, morality, or authority, or at least they reject a human mind’s ability to grasp such absolutes. They differ on how one is to react to the void and the absurdity of life that remains in the face of this revelation. Even though we are (or seem to be as far as I can tell) caught up in a completely naturalistic, uncaring universe, with no ultimate meaning or purpose to our lives, to humankind, or even life in general, I do think that my life is worth living.
I shy away from nihilism because while there may not be ultimate meaning or purpose, I have experienced meaning and purpose in my own life; therefore at least the illusion of personal meaning and purpose must exist, which is good enough for me. But I also tend to agree that when we zoom out enough, nothing we do really matters. (At the same time, I believe what Buddha said that at some scale, everything little thing we do matters and do shape tomorrow’s world).
I like the notion of existentialism that posits we can (and should) create meaning and purpose in our own lives, seeking out an “authentic” existence. In other words, we should create a system of personal values and live in accordance to those values, regardless of what religion, society, or others think about it. In the internet age, this is easier than ever; there is less need to conform if you can find other people who think like you all over the planet. The internet actually helped me become myself.
Buddhism tells us about many things that keep us perpetually suffering that are to be avoided, but it can be a little too austere for my taste. I like to mix in a little fun, and Jimmy Buffett’s approach suits me just fine. Not hedonism to the point of hurting others for your own good, but just kicking off the shoes, putting those toes in the sand, and getting good and drunk and listening to good music kind of hedonism. And traveling, and hiking, and sailing, etc. In other words, experiencing life and all it has to offer, to the fullest.
I like the element of absurdism that says you have to face the void directly — stare the empty meaningless universe in the face, make a conscious choice to continue existing yourself, and then get on with it. No matter what I do, I am continually drawn back to this scene, at first shaking my fist at an empty black night sky, and then smiling when the clouds peel away and reveal the stars. Buddha says that when we zoom into the here and now, we notice all of the wonder around us, the absurd doesn’t drive us crazy. Jimmy Buffett recommends laughing at it. I like a combination of those approaches. But some part seems to enjoy facing these big questions, so I keep coming back here and there, particularly over that wonderful first cup of coffee in the morning.
I’m doing more and more of the things that I feel like doing, and less and less of the things that I think I’m supposed to do for one external reason or another. And you know what, it seems to be working 🙂 It seems very simple, but anyone with time on their hands who actually stops and thinks a while will have to wonder occasionally if they are living life the right way. The stance I’m settling on seems a little self-centered and may not be good for society as a whole, but who really cares that much about society anyway? Created out of convenience and perpetuated by those in power, it will crumble one day just like everything else. Fuck society! Do whatever you want, but please do be mindful about the effects of your actions on others. There’s no point in taking it to the extreme and becoming an asshole.
That’s my current thinking in a nutshell. Not rocket science I know, but it is important to me. As a person who is typically driven by logic and reason, I’ve always looked to the world for some external evidence that would help to guide my life choices. I mean surely there must be some clues to life hidden in the universe, or that some brilliant philosopher or scientist from the past has discovered!? Well, in all my searching, the answer is no. Maybe certain things, like what to do with one’s puny little life, are truly only contained in the universe within one’s mind.
I leave you with Alice in Chains Nutshell. Not only is it fitting for this discussion, after I go through angst I end up more solemn and this mood and the lyrics fits perfectly. Cheers!
We chase misprinted lies
We face the path of time
And yet I fight
And yet I fight
This battle all alone
No one to cry to
No place to call home
My gift of self is raped
My privacy is raked
And yet I find
And yet I find
Repeating in my head
If I can’t be my own
I’d feel better dead