Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Meaninglessness Death: Mindlessness, Hedonism or Narcissism

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
-John Lennon and Paul McCartney

If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus,
what is the gain to me, if the dead rise not?
let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.
St Paul, I Corinthians 15.2

We cannot control death. It is coming for us and there is nothing we can do about it. So what do we do? Some of us just flip the switch of consciousness to the off position. Some look at death, decide it is the annihilation of self, that life and death are nothing more than accidents of nature, and then go about creating a life of fun and games, dancing on the deck of a sinking Titanic. Others, who have also decided death is meaningless, refuse to embrace the fact that this means that life is also without any meaning. These are the people who seek to prove that they matter, that life can still be meaningful. While their counterparts are on the deck of the Titanic dancing and shooting champagne, these people are below decks, attending a seminar on how to develop self-esteem.  

Some of those who avoid thinking about the reality of their death and its meaning have placed their lives on automatic pilot. Life is lived mindlessly, without purpose or intention. These are the people who often turn themselves over to others. “Life and death terrify me. I don’t want to think of the meaning of it all, so, here: you think your thoughts through my mind, live your life through mine. It’s your responsibility.” Avoiding seeking to face the question of the meaning of their deaths and, therefore, their lives, they are choosing to allow others to do it for them. This, of course, makes their lives a redundancy, a waste of oxygen, as they have taken on the role of “mini-me” to some other guy’s “me.” Okaaay. I suppose willful ignorance and abdication are one option. Unless there really is a point to it all and then their life is all about missing the point, isn’t it.  

Many people take a quick glance at death and are hit with a despair that they then allow to choke out any further questioning and seeking of answers. “If it’s meaningless, I don’t want to know.” These people seek to numb their senses with food, or substance abuse, or fun and games, or work, or with one thousand trivial pursuits that bring momentary pleasure and serve to keep the despair at bay. “If I don’t feel it, it isn’t there. If I don’t dig deeper into the meaning of death, then I don’t run the risk of my despair increasing exponentially, if I discover that it’s meaningless. If I close my eyes and whistle while I walk through a graveyard, then…” Then what? Have death grab you by your neck and slap you in the face with the reality that there is – or was – a meaning to it all? And then? At that point, there are no more questions to answer and no answers to live by.

But what of those people who have come to the sure conclusion that death and, therefore, life are meaningless: who have completely embraced the belief that life and death are all an accident of nature? Many of them will live by the motto, “Let us, therefore, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we are food for the worms.” Others become angry and lash out at their own meaningless existence. (See Johnny Ringo in the movie, Tombstone.) They do not deny the meaninglessness they see and do not play the hypocrite by pretending this all means something.

Others, however, have a different response to what they believe to be the meaninglessness of death. These people refuse to see their selves as impotent, refuse to see that if their death is meaningless then so is their life. “I do count. I matter. I am valuable. And I will prove it. I will not ‘go gentle into that good night.’ I will not allow death to negate me, to tell me that my life doesn’t matter. I will make myself into a hero, the chief protagonist in a book that is all about …well, me, of course! One day, death will come but not before I justify my existence and spit in death’s face.” (See Ayn Rand)

No matter what you do, death and time will erase your memory from the earth and all your heroism, “meaningful” pursuits, and wars for The Right, The Noble, and The Ideal (as you define these terms) will ultimately be meaningless. Besides, your answer to the question is no less narcissistic than the hedonist who is over there eating and drinking and being merry. Life is all about you justifying your self, eh? You decide what is meaningful and what is not? You are the Final Arbiter, god of your universe? (See? You do believe in a god, after all!) In the end, death will spit in the face of your achievements, heroism, and self-justification. If death is meaningless, then your “meaningful” life is no more significant than an inedible piece of a 25 year-old fruitcake. Of so I believe. Just something you might want to consider … if death is actually meaningless, that is. 

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014 

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