Tuesday, February 4, 2014

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Meaning

Whenever I see football coaches nervously pace the sidelines I’m always amused by their pained, stressed demeanor.  To watch them, you would think that either they are passing a particularly large kidney stone, or whatever is happening on the field is critical to the survival of the universe.  And, in the contrived world they live in, it is.  Yet just outside of the borders of the concoction they inhabit, whether their team wins or loses the game is absolutely meaningless.  It only matters to those who choose to live within the confines of the construct.

Woody Allen (who may or may not have been a sexual predator; I’m a huge fan of his work and hope Mr. Weide is correct) goes much, much further in a 2010 interview with Robert E. Lauder:

Everybody knows how awful the world is and what a terrible situation it is and each person distorts it in a certain way that enables him to get through. Some people distort it with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art, and they all have their own nonsense about what makes it meaningful, and all but nothing makes it meaningful. These things definitely serve a certain function, but in the end they all fail to give life meaning and everyone goes to his grave in a meaningless way.

I only disagree with the “awful” and “terrible” parts.  No question, in the context of the universe, our lives are meaningless, no matter what arbitrary contrivances we come up with to try to give them the meaning they lack.  Nihilism makes sense.  But does that make the world awful?

Allen, from the same interview:

Human existence is a brutal experience to me…it’s a brutal, meaningless experience—an agonizing, meaningless experience with some oases, delight, some charm and peace, but these are just small oases. Overall, it is a brutal, brutal, terrible experience…

Ironically, avowed atheist Allen’s position is similar to that of people of religious faith.   In Allen’s view, life’s meaninglessness makes it brutal, agonizing even.  The devout would feel the same way, except that they’ve found a way to make their lives meaningful (to themselves, at least) through religious contrivance.  Others make their lives meaningful (again, to themselves) in other ways.  But Allen, whose life is vastly meaningful within the context of our overall human construct, does not accept gimmicks, realizes life is meaningless, and agonizes over that.

I have a difficult time understanding either position.  Like Allen, I believe life is meaningless.  Also like Allen, I believe artificial contrivances do not make it meaningful.  But unlike Allen, those beliefs do not make my life a “brutal, terrible experience”, quite the contrary.  I know life has no meaning, but why would that make it terrible?  It is what it is (or, more accurately, it is not what it is not).  Existential nihilism is not necessarily dark; it can be liberating.

According to Donald A. Crosby, “Those who claim to find meaning in their lives are either dishonest or deluded.”  Allen would certainly agree, as do I.

But who says a meaningless life can’t be fun?