Saturday, 7 January 2017

I have discovered the meaning of life and you won't like it!

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to stop and take stock of the past twelve months and by any comparison 2016 was a doozer. You begin to dream about the next year with expectation and new hope but then at a particular age all the data from all of the years starts to make sense and conclusions can be drawn. I’ve reached that point and I know. What I now know is mostly that I know nothing. But, that “nothing” has more clarity and pertinence than ever before. What I have discovered is the meaning of life.
Douglas Adams dealt with the greatest question in his book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and it’s so easy to overlook the wisdom in the mirth. According to Adams, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42 (sorry for the spoiler) and it takes a super computer, the size of a city seven and a half million years to arrive at this. Many of you are aware of this, Adams’ risible conclusion is often quoted, but it’s the next step of the story that should receive much more attention. Another organic super computer is built to work out the QUESTION. They call this computer “Earth”.
Twitshot
Plato and Socrates (I always put these two as a double act as it was Plato who documented his mentor’s teachings and I’m sure the younger lost his objectivity from time to time) pondered the purpose more than the meaning of life. They came up with The Principle of Specialisation. What they meant is that in order to be moral and true to one’s self, one should not venture far from their preordained purpose. Merchants should trade, builders build and sailors sail with philosopher kings at the top ruling with reluctance and wisdom in equal measure. Aldous Huxley studied this idea some two and a half thousand years later in Brave New World with much less optimistic denouement.
There has never been a shortage of people telling us the way to righteousness. These sages will, once they have established their moral superiority, franchise their own answers until they are the only reasonable conclusions and followers will defend this safety of knowledge against any and all who disagree. History shows us that this defence of faith becomes more and more vehement until the keepers of opposing answers will wage spiteful and bloody wars on each other just to prove that their answers are good and moral. The irony is that the profits of these answers invariable begin by teaching acceptance and love for all.
We, as a species, need purpose and tend to fall into two distinct groups. Those who seek meaning and enlightenment through institutionalised faith or philosophy and those who get on with wrighting ships, building buildings and making trades so they can buy stuff that will give their lives some meaning. And, while they would appear to be fitting nicely with Plato’s Principle of Specialisation, they are deeply frowned upon by the prior. This could be seen as simply religious and secular but they are merely two sides of the same coin.
You see, the biggest poverty in both these approaches is that they keep any truth at arm’s length. The closer you get to the answers the more you need either faith in an external omnipotence or an update.
I recently visited Holy Mount Athos, Greece’s monastic state, I watched the faithful yearn for reason and enlightenment. The monks devote their lives to it scouring the scriptures for answers and guidance. But, in order to find pertinent answers, you must first craft apposite questions and to do that you must look inward and not to others. Questions are deeply personal and you must understand yourself to ask them well. We live in a society that pretends to encourage self-awareness but needs you to follow the herd and need what is on offer. You should consume the mass market solutions to questions you never asked
So to the meaning of life I promised. Well, it’s simple really. The meaning of life is proliferation, that’s it, the great existential answer is to service the species and make babies who will continue this. I invoke Kafka’s assessment that the meaning of life is that “it ends” and while it seems too nihilistic to stomach, it is true. I’d like to bring you back to Adams because I’m not an intellectual snob, I believe that it is just as likely that wisdom can be found in a 20th century Essex boy as much as a couple of beardy Greeks or tortured Austro-Hungarian. The meaning and the purpose of life can easily be confused, the purpose of life is propagation of the species but the meaning is just what you put in it. We are too answer-obsessed to stop and reassess our questioning skills. And, while information and data satisfies our need to know, the ability to craft purposeful questions requires a level of self-awareness that can be unsettling and is discouraged by society. While we continue to look for reason and meaning in the wrong places, there is no chance of us ever looking behind the curtain. But, if you learn to ask the right questions, you will find the answers that will help you live a better, more satisfying life. Not by looking to others but by knowing yourself.
So, would you like me to put you on the right track to finding the right questions. If you do then you have not understood a word.

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