So, recently, certain topics of existentialism have arisen in a few conversations I’ve had with friends and very close friends. It sort of knocked off some dust and rust from the ol’ intellectual cogs upstairs, and I began to revisit subjects and positions I had not considered for some years, now. In that respect, I went back through some of my old research papers and philosophical writings and discovered that my perspective has actually changed very Little, in the grand scheme of things. I was rather surprised. I thought perhaps a decade would have added some wisdom to the process.
That being said, I am either no wiser than I was in college (a sad prospect), or I was wiser in college than I gave myself credit for (an arrogant prospect, to say the least). Thus, I will simply lie and tell you “Yes! I have gained Much wisdom since college!”
Anywho, I thought I would share a paper I wrote, about 10 years ago, while deep in my heavily cafe-cool, caffeinated, wanna-be über-philosopher, university phase of life.
Useless Passions, Wasted Lives
Imagine, for a moment, that everything in the universe is connected. Everything moves in a colossal cycle, from a beginning to an end that transforms into a beginning, and so one. Or, rather, envision the universe as a highly ordered, higher ordered cosmos in which humankind are the get of a deity that created everything on a whim or with divine purpose. Suppose that each human has a soul, ephemeral essence, Chi, or some type of life force. And when that human being’s life on this earth comes to an end, that “spirit” ascends, or transcends, to another place of happiness, knowledge, contentment, rejoicing, or perhaps even to pay a price for a life of “less-than-ethical” variety. Imagine obtaining the greatest of rewards for living by mooring theological ideals and constraints. After a lifetime of disciplined self-control and abstinence in many things, you finally move on to meet your maker.
Now, imagine that when you lay down upon your deathbed, and your family is there, surrounding you with physical reassurance and words of comfort such as, “We’ll see you again in heaven.” You begin to feel life slip away from you and your senses dull. At long last, you finally close your eyes for the last time. And there is nothing but darkness. You cease to be.
Terrifying thought, isn’t it? An entire lifetime… wasted on a gamble. But that’s ok. Because you would no longer exist. Thus, you would not be upset. You would not be anything, save a vanishing memory in the minds of the living. Or if you are lucky enough, a part of your facticity will live on in some fashion of printed text. Maybe a photograph. But these are simply objects that dimly represent subjectivity. Things that only vaguely open a window into a piece of an identity that once was. Beyond that, they are useless.
Such are the passions of a human’s life. Humans can become so fervent about their lives and the aspects that they believe creates who or what they are. Mankind has the ability to become embroiled in war, empowered by valiant quests, enchanted by romance, or devoured by hatred. But to what end? According to Jean-Paul Sartre, existence is meaningless. All of the passions that humans think are so very important are, in the end, ultimately futile. Life is purposeless and “man is a useless passion”. I agree fully with Sartre on this point, though our outlooks vary somewhat.
Why is life a useless passion? Is it because we are dead inside? No. In order to be “dead” inside, we would first have to have been filled with something with a semblance of life. But as Sartre states, we are hollow at the center of our being. There is simply nothing there. We are filled with nothingness. Neither a thing dead or alive does, or ever has, resided within us. We are hollow. Most people, however, refuse to acknowledge this, because it entails a two-fold terror that human beings in general are ill-equipped to accept or process. One “terror” being the knowledge that there is no divine entity awaiting them in an afterlife, or even an afterlife, for that matter. And two, the awesome and ultimate freedom that comes with the knowledge that humans are no longer the finger puppets of some quizzical and mysterious deity. Man is free, in the purest sense. His mind and his will are his own.
Where, I think, most people would crumble under the concept of this, there are a few that breathe a sigh of relief. Instead of feeling disjoined from a spiritual parental figure, those unique few would be elated that they finally have total privacy of their thoughts and ideas. However, this still brings us back to a singular major issue. If now we are no longer a part of some larger, divine plan… that means we are part of no plan. One begins the troubling brood. If there is no purpose, then life is meaningless. If life is meaningless, then why bother at all with anything in our mundane lives? If we are nothing more than biological accidents spewed forth from enigmatic originations… what is the point attaching value to anything we do or think? In the end, we will simply die and cease to be. Our lives are our own, yet not. We have our lives, mundane and reflective as they are, but in the blink of an eye, a factor of random chaos may rob us of what very little life we do have. And then we cease to be. We are nothingness, then we exist with nothingness, then we become nothingness once more.
All that we do during our relatively short lives may simply be nothing more than a distraction from the fact that our lives are empty, meaningless, and vanish in the blink of a blink of geological time. What now? Do we simply fold up our tents and just hang out, awaiting the great void to envelope us once more? Can we truly do anything more than “distract” ourselves? What of a fundamental project? It’s just another type of distraction. What about understanding that everything we do is a distraction and focusing our thoughts on that particular philosophy? Still just another distraction.
No matter how hard we try to think of some way around it, everything we do is simply something that distracts us, knowingly or unknowingly, from the truth of nothingness. So, back to another question. What do we do about it? If everything is a useless passion and ultimately futile, then what can be done? To this I answer “nothing”. Nothing can be done about nothingness, for there is nothing there to do anything about. How does one plug a hole? By placing something in it? This may be done, but you still have a hole. Except now, there is a something within it. But the hole still exists.
In conclusion, to the reader, I will simply say this. Don’t worry about it. If there is nothing to be done about the void at the center of our being and everything we do is a useless passion, then there is nothing to gain by worrying about it, and wallowing in anguish and despair because of it. Live your life, enjoy the distractions, and forge a meaning out of the distractions, even if those distractions are simply various paradigms of bad faith. Because even though life is a useless passion, it’s all we have. And once you have wasted it… you can never get it back.