“The Meaning of Life” – and other chronically underdefined questions

There are a few questions people enjoy chewing on endlessly. Some of them inevitably come up, when people discuss longevity or mortality. One of these sloppy questions is “the meaning of life”. Let’s see what’s sloshing around in the little minds when they appear to ask Big Questions. (Hint: they’re just whining.)

Stupid question can only yield stupid answers – as we should all know by now from Douglas Adams. In his particular case, the question was the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

In other words, they didn’t even know what they were asking. I wouldn’t even call it a question. I have great respect for real questions and the curiosity that motivates them. But this is just the wishful, metaphysical laziness bubbling up from the deep, intellectual darkness of the undead. Wishful, because they want someone to tell them that they have nothing else to do. Dark, because they don’t even want to think about it honestly.

So let me break down the ambiguities behind the seemingly real question of the Meaning of Life.

  1. Whose life?

Are we looking for an individual answer, or a group-based one? Is it for me or for humankind? And if it’s for me, is the answer supposed to be the same for everyone?

Substitute answers to this particular fallacy include:

  • Adopting a life role and keeping busy living up to it. Bitching about how that life role is hard/unfair and how others have it easier is optional.
  • The hippie fallacy. Hippies were up to something, but they went about it the lazy way. They wanted to take shortcuts they didn’t understand, and – surprise – it lead them where they wanted to be in the first place: into the intellectual coziness of unfreedom. For some reason these people imagined that the answer would be some sort of collective enlightenment, when humankind as such would finally learn something. Everyone. Simultaneously. They didn’t want to go alone, they wanted company. This just tells you how attached these people still were to the opinion of others. Seeing the truth is not good enough – others have to confirm that I’d seen it.

I have yet to see a person, who can combine in his little head the possibility that the answer is not pre-scripted and that others may not be able to follow you there.

2. And what exactly do you mean by “meaning”?

An achievement? A state? Any quantifyable result? A purpose? If so, individual, or that of humankind?

A manual that tells you what to do? Orders?

A function? If so, to whom? To what end? Do I have to agree with that end or does it just come to me?

A definition? You are most certainly in bad need of a definition for “life”, but my guess is, you won’t like it.

Or do you happen to seek happiness? Just because that’s a different question entirely, you should perhaps rephrase your enquiry. Happiness is a symptom of something else, but a symptom one can try to create without the underlyings. One shouldn’t be proud of it, but it’s fairly simple.

What people really mean, when they ask their sloppy, little questions is this:

  1. Someone please give me an identity!

  2. What should I do now?

  3. Just tell me I’m OK!

Eudaimonia jumps into mind. The only two question you ever have to ask yourself is

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I want?

And you have to ask yourself and yourself only.

And no, choosing from prefabricated life roles and using them as a substitute identity does not suffice either. And no one should give you a purpose either, and no, not even “just give you an idea“.

You have a lifetime to come up with answers – just like everyone else. But you concern yourself with auxiliary questions instead, such as:

Why could I not give myself an identity and purpose?

Let’s find something to blame for not answering these questions and not doing my only job in life.

There is a comfortably long list of excuses to choose from. In fact, the non-answer has been scripted for you. All you have to do is accept every little compromise that comes your way, until you couldn’t drop them without killing someone. And then you can look at me, point at your life burdens and ask if I really want you to kill them. Is that really what I want from you?

Oh, I know you would drop it if I took responsibility.

For some, excuses are as good as actual delivery – and they expect me to accept their excuse in lieu of an answer. But it’s not me, who needs these answers, it’s you. And I couldn’t care less about your (stupefyingly predictable) excuses. Keep them in. Just say you didn’t deliver and hold in your excuses.

I know they want out. My point exactly.

So, as Douglas Adams said, the answer as 42.

Now keep looking for that question.


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