So it is coming up to assignment time again for my philosophy module. The question at hand this time. ‘An immortal life would be a meaningless life.’ Is there truth to this?
Now, what will follow are some preliminary thoughts on the topic from me, loosely based on the reading I have done so far. (Mother, if you are reading this, I have 14 days to do the assignment and have thus far done about half of the reading. I am on schedule. If you keep calling me in the next 14 days to tell me to do reading and uni work, disturbing the reading and uni work I will be doing with the call to tel me to do reading and uni work, impressed is not on of the states I will find myself in.)
What gives a life meaning? Ask a cross section of people and the answers will vary wildly. Ask a wall street mogul and he will tell you money. Ask a parent and they will say their children. Ask a vegetarian and they will say preserving the planet and protecting the animals. Ask a rich vegetarian new parent and they will say ‘I’ve not slept in two weeks. Go to Harrod’s and get me some f**king bacon. I need to eat something with a face.’
All of these things indicate one thing. The question ‘does life have meaning?’ is not monochromatic. You will not get a conversation like this:
Dave: Do you think life has meaning?
Bob: Yes, it does.
Dave: What gives life meaning?
Bob: Good health, family, friends, money, a worthwhile job, being a moral person, altruism. You know, all that stuff.
Bob: Yeah, being good and giving to guide dogs and the life boats and s**t.
Dave: Oh. Right. Nice one. That’s cleared that up. Fancy another pint?
This would never happen. It’s true that there are certain universal truths that can be applied to most people when looking at if they are happy or not, but it is not set in stone. There could be someone living on the streets with debilitating diabetes, disowned by family, shunned by friends, penniless with no hope but if we were to ask them if they thought life had meaning, they could say yes. Whereas we could ask the richest man in the world, surrounded by family and friends and everything he ever wanted and he could say no. The goalposts for this question shift depending on who you ask.
One thing that gave meaning to a lot of people right up until very recent history was religion. Now, I am not religious. It is not so much the books of faith I have a problem with – I think all but the most zealous religious people know that they were written allegorically as a guide to living a worthwhile life. I do however think it is a shame that religion is not as big a presence in society today. I think that is why society is going in such an ugly direction. The shop I work in, we attract to a young clientèle. The new generation of people who will soon be running our fast food outlets and call centres are not really fit for society. They are too interested in what is right in front of their noses – shiny phones – rather than what is going on in the world and even the most common of decencies. They idolise and deify celebrities, fashion and brands above anything else. I think this has all blown up in the absence of that figure on high. It is filling a void left by a god, or gods.
In the past, meaning was given to life by these being over us. We were taught that if we lived good, worthwhile lives, we would be rewarded in the afterlife. If we lived selfish lives without meaning, we would be punished. These were our motivations for living a life with meaning. Now, rational people will say that the afterlife does not exist, because it has not been proved to exist. As I say I am not religious but I would not say that because it has not been proved to not exist. We do not know what lies beyond. Whatever it is, I do not believe in the classical theological view of what it is but I think there might be something there. But this is another example of a universal truth to us all.
Obviously, it is very unclear as well if a god does exist. But most of us operate under the knowledge that there is no god until proved otherwise. One of the best examples of the exploration of this idea comes from the sci-fi sit-com Red Dwarf. An episode called The Inquisitor. In this episode, an immortal self-repairing droid travels the universe passing judgement on everyone he meets and deciding whether they have lived a worthwhile life. What is clever about this set-up is that he does not judge them on a pre-set list of ideals. He looks at the potential they have at the start, where they are now and assesses whether they have lived up to this potential. Out of the four main characters, it is Rimmer and The Cat who are deemed worthy of life. A narcissistic coward and a vain narcissist. The two more moral characters, Lister and Kryten, are deemed to have not lived up to their potential.
I found this achingly clever. The two that have lived better lives but not been as much as they could are judged to have lived life with no meaning. Where does this leave the question of the meaning of life? As we have said, the goalposts shift. The best I have figured out is to find something you love to do and make it work for you. Make it make you money, make it make people happy and bring joy, and take it as far as it will go. That is my aim for this year. Take Bunbury bigger and better, make some money and take it bigger and better again. Oh, and as many cuddles with Keri as possible. She has given my life meaning. Or at least has changed the meaning of my life. Well, she has altered a meaning in my dictionary. She has altered the definition of the word ‘frustration’ in my OED to ‘You aint seen nothing yet.’
Oh, one final thought on what has been said above.
Here is a poem.
The barren fields yield no crops
under a sun lacking apricity.
These things all make sense
to the spell-check on my we browser
Def – noun the warmth of the sun.
The sun lacks the warmth of the sun.
There should be a more poetic way
to express this idea. I sit and imagine the doors to
my mind palace. They appear,
splintered wood from long-since-proud
oak trees, mangled by worm-holes
and rusted rivets snapped by the wind.
I turn my back on these doors and picture the
fields of the estate. Surely even a mind palace has grounds?
The fields of my imagination,
many seeds sowed, turned, loved.
Yet no crops. No fringes of golden wheat
billowing from side to side.
No plump radiant tomatoes.
No egg plants.
It is simply an expanse of tilled earth,
I look up at the sky.
The sun sits, hot belly exposed shamelessly.
Too bright, too visible yet I am not warm.
My mind sun lacks apricity
and my barren fields yield no crops.