The Death of Meaning
Posted: 02 November 2013 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The horrors of Nazism seem like a distant past, irrelevant, somehow impossible and like a dream; but of this dream the movement we call Existentialism was born, or better the sentiment, a certain feeling beneath all actions done in an absurd world, a meaningless life.

Absurd? Meaningless? Yes, the two world wars, now so long ago, did crush the hopes of all but those not facing the truth.

Our mundane existence, the everyday experiences of getting up, getting dressed, tying shoe laces, working and eating and going back to bed, they are the only existence there is, the only meaning, and death, so distant to us now, was decided arbitrarily by Nazi command, considering your breath worthy or simply snuffing it out in the whim of a bad mood. No matter. No matter who. It could have been me. It could have been you. What makes life worthwhile and livable? What makes one think it is important? What makes one consider big questions that mean nothing when thrown in a mass grave with hundreds or thousands of others who might have had the same ideas, now silent, never to be voiced.

Have you ever looked at a high riser downtown at night? All the lights. Not the offices. The homes. Millions of them. And behind every light, behind every window, another story. A long story, or a short one, but a life story. Each one as worthy as the one above or below, right or left of it. And life, or death, is as real behind those windows as it is to the one writing.

I understand the philosophies of meaning. They hold this world together. Were every person a Nietzsche or Camus, we would all commit collective suicide and humanity would cease to exist. And so we live by dreams, or nightmares, but the reminders are needed, the reminders that it is just fantasy. The moment this becomes confused you have born the fanatic.

God died in the ovens of Auschwitz, and those who don’t believe that need to visit the place. Explain why. Explain why involved, not theoretical. Explain why alive, living, knowing your life will end. Explain why without the idea that this reality is really just a dream, a journey, a better one to come. You can’t, and that’s why the dreams remain.

You cannot face reality without dreams and lies. If you do, you will either go mad or commit suicide.

I’m watching a movie called “A Few Days In April”. A true story that happened near the end of WWII near where I come from in Southern Germany. Three wagons of KZ prisoners were left by the SS in the train station of a small town. The wagons remain guarded, the prisoners dying, the town well aware as the moans cannot be hidden. People try to help, but not sure. Nazi command is swift and out of nowhere. The Americans are sought to arrive soon, but not sure either. The shots are only distant, the SS showing up at will. Eventually the wagons are gone and the story becomes history nobody wants to talk about. The prisoners were never freed. The wagons were never found. Only two skeletons dug up in the 80’s in that train station reminded an old woman of something she tried to forget, and hence the movie.

Today “we” have / had Korea and Vietnam, Bosnia and Iraq, Afghanistan. What about Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Burma, the Sudan… and the list is not endless but long? Whoever helps is a good help, and that includes missionaries, but in the end, what are we to make of it?

I have no answer, but I refuse to accept the answers given. No, there is an answer, I just haven’t found it yet.

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Posted: 02 November 2013 09:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Life has no meaning. Some people are simply luckier than others. Six million Jews, twenty million Russians and many Germans and other people died during the WWII because they were unlucky. Some more unlucky Germans were then punished for what they had done, America got rich and that’s end of it…for now.

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Posted: 02 November 2013 10:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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George - 02 November 2013 09:58 PM

Life has no meaning. Some people are simply luckier than others. Six million Jews, twenty million Russians and many Germans and other people died during the WWII because they were unlucky. Some more unlucky Germans were then punished for what they had done, America got rich and that’s end of it…for now.

George, one of the reasons I enjoy the existentialists is that not only do they show that life has no meaning but they point out the the absurdity of it all.

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Posted: 03 November 2013 04:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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While it is definitely true that Life (capital L) has no Meaning (capital M), it does not mean that it is not possible to live a meaningful life (no capitals).

There is no prescribed Meaning of the Universe, nor of Life. The time of the great stories is over. The Meaning of our Life is not given by our working to eternal bliss in the hereafter, nor in its secular descendant that somewhere in the future science and technology will create a paradise here on earth. (One could also call it the western counterpart of the communist dream…).

I am a bit surprised by your mentioning of Camus. He is the philosopher who, in full awareness of the absurdity of our existence, points at ways how to live a meaningful life. Camus answers his original question in The Myth of Sisyphus “Does the realization of the meaninglessness and absurdity of life necessarily require suicide?” negatively. The final sentences of the main essay:

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

There is a huge difference in how Sartre and Camus see death: Sartre as a meaningless definite interruption of life, Camus as source of the absurd which in the end give us the possibility to give life meaning (lowercase m) through solidarity, revolt, freedom and passion.

Of course, the human catastrophes of modern history can discourage one, and definitely is the felt proof that there is no grander meaning in it all. But at the same time it could awake feelings of rebellion, as Camus describes, that we should do everything to avoid such things to happen. To be discouraged is letting you overwhelm by the absurd, instead of facing it directly.

[ Edited: 03 November 2013 04:38 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 03 November 2013 06:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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volcanoman - 02 November 2013 10:50 PM
George - 02 November 2013 09:58 PM

Life has no meaning. Some people are simply luckier than others. Six million Jews, twenty million Russians and many Germans and other people died during the WWII because they were unlucky. Some more unlucky Germans were then punished for what they had done, America got rich and that’s end of it…for now.

George, one of the reasons I enjoy the existentialists is that not only do they show that life has no meaning but they point out the the absurdity of it all.

I read that stuff when I was younger but I never enjoyed it. Reading Nietzsche of Camus always felt to me like talking to people who are stoned. Maybe I don’t have the philosophy gene in me.  grin

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Posted: 03 November 2013 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I smell a deepity.

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Posted: 03 November 2013 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 03 November 2013 09:25 AM

I smell a deepity.

Yep.

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Posted: 04 November 2013 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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GdB - 03 November 2013 04:15 AM

While it is definitely true that Life (capital L) has no Meaning (capital M), it does not mean that it is not possible to live a meaningful life (no capitals).

There is no prescribed Meaning of the Universe, nor of Life. The time of the great stories is over. The Meaning of our Life is not given by our working to eternal bliss in the hereafter, nor in its secular descendant that somewhere in the future science and technology will create a paradise here on earth. (One could also call it the western counterpart of the communist dream…).

I am a bit surprised by your mentioning of Camus. He is the philosopher who, in full awareness of the absurdity of our existence, points at ways how to live a meaningful life. Camus answers his original question in The Myth of Sisyphus “Does the realization of the meaninglessness and absurdity of life necessarily require suicide?” negatively. The final sentences of the main essay:

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

There is a huge difference in how Sartre and Camus see death: Sartre as a meaningless definite interruption of life, Camus as source of the absurd which in the end give us the possibility to give life meaning (lowercase m) through solidarity, revolt, freedom and passion.

Of course, the human catastrophes of modern history can discourage one, and definitely is the felt proof that there is no grander meaning in it all. But at the same time it could awake feelings of rebellion, as Camus describes, that we should do everything to avoid such things to happen. To be discouraged is letting you overwhelm by the absurd, instead of facing it directly.

I completely agree. Even the “Sysyphus” who knows the “stone and the mountain” have no meaning can relish
in the journey.
No philosophy can overcome hormones.

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Row row row your boat gently down the stream.  Merrily Merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream!

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