The Quest for Meaning

There is nothing I must do.  This is true of today.  If I spend the whole day in bed, no dire calamities will strike me.  It is true on a larger scale.  If I don’t go to work anymore, I shall lose my job.  But if the welfare people won’t care for me, then I will be judged mentally disturbed and some other agency will take over.  Certainly, under certain circumstances, one must do certain things in order to avoid death;  one must cross on green lights, not red — but one could refrain from crossing altogether.  If one declines into a state of apathy, then he discovers that here today there is no necessary course of action to keep him alive — there is no necessary action at all (in the case of some few people who live alone, this might not be true).  If one does choose to act, then one occasionally has to make certain correct decisions in the light of the larger one (as in the case of crossing the street).  Also, if one acted by going to other parts of the world, one would find that, in many places, it is necessary to do certain things in order to survive.

Let’s broaden the discussion.  Faced with the fact that, in the bountiful society we (they) have created, one need obey no laws in order to survive, one finds oneself fabricating many lesser or greater goals which require action in order to be achieved (e.g. lesser:  to raise a family in comfortable circumstances, to achieve a great deal in art, to participate in rewarding social relationships;  e.g. greater:  to attain the Kingdom of Heaven, to escape the cycle of rebirth, to gain eternal harmony).  If one of these goals to which one has attached oneself becomes unattainable (e.g. by one’s family falling apart or by a financial failure), one is left in a state of limbo, facing a larger truth.  It seems that the life/death decision, the decision which prompts one to ask “What must I do to live?”, is trivial.  Life in itself might be habitual, but it is certainly not desirable.  What is desirable is the lesser things we might do within life (the sorts of things we protect and thus protect life) or the greater things that prescribe certain courses of action while alive in order to attain transcendent goals.  But the lesser goals are so easily changed and so easily rejected in this society, thus leaving one facing the abyss and the prospect of salvation through transcendence.  But it is so difficult to accept the reliability of any one method of salvation, and so one is left in the vacuum again.  Then many would say:  “Why worry about it?  Just accept it for what it is, and go find something to keep you busy or to entertain yourself.”  On that basis, is it really worth the bother?  Of course not.  That’s not sufficient motivation to keep one going.  It is sufficient to think:  “I’ll keep on trying — keep on searching — keep on trying to be honest with myself — and keep on hoping that there is some greater goal to all this, some greater harmony to be attained that justifies it all.”

We seem to have a prejudice in favour of the idea that the ultimate perfection is harmony.  But perhaps it is a sort of frenzy.  I know of no religion that has taught that.

One might wonder about the method of applying the resolution achieved at the bottom of page 2 [quote above that begins “I’ll keep on trying….”] to one’s everyday life.  Certainly many (most) of the tasks we engage in can be seen as instrumental activities designed to create physical well-being and comfort and nothing more.  But one need not disparage these simply because in themselves they are not progressive.  One should only disparage the life that becomes obsessed with these things apart from any more far-reaching aim.  “But what if there is no salvation — only death?”  One is not required to believe in salvation or any other kind of higher purpose within or without the context of human life.  One is required to search and to self-criticize and to try to fit his life into a broader context.  “Suppose he doesn’t feel like bothering?”  Then apathy is good enough for him.  But perhaps he’s missing something.