The optimism in existentialism

Picture this if you will

There is no god or gods. There is no karma or karmic justice visited on the wicked. Nothing happens for a reason, or to teach you an important lesson. Nothing carries inherent meaning. Nothing matters. Things just ‘are’.

This is the broad idea behind existentialism (which I ascribe to), absurdism and nihilism. These ideas believe that there is no cosmic reason for:

  • children developing cancer;
  • people starving to death because their presidents play chess in politics; or
  • Philando Castile being shot four times after telling a police officer he has a (legal) firearm, and then cooperating with all instructions.

Depressing, right?

Wrong, at least in my opinion. I believe that, if these things were meant to happen, for whatever reason, THAT would be fundamentally depressing. It would mean that some people are meant to live affluent, healthy, happy lives and other people are meant to walk 20 kilometres to a water faucet. Some people would be meant to find true love and others would be meant to live with Treacher-Collins syndrome (the photos are probably copyrighted so look it up). What loving god would favour one child with a quality education and another with being a child bride to a fifty-year old man who rapes her to death on her wedding night?

Religion tends to rationalise and justify these scenarios with arguments ranging from “the absence of God allows for this evil to come into those people’s lives (but evil visited on the righteous faithful is a test of faith),” or “Mortal pain will be irrelevant in the scope of eternity, (yet alleviating the suffering of the meek is the religious folk’s duty)”. Seeing meaning in pain is a coping mechanism, which I can respect (and am actually a fan of), but when suffering if ‘meant to be’, it’s justified.

None of this is to say that we can’t learn from suffering, but rather that nothing has any intrinsic value, and that that’s a good thing.

How is meaninglessness good?

It’s empowering. If nothing has any intrinsic meaning, then we get to create that meaning for ourselves. Our situation isn’t meant to be. If it were, then our actions and intentions would be part of a greater design, and therefore, not our own. We would be dancing to the tune of some greater force we’d never be able to understand or match. Rather, when you believe that things just are; you see evil things happen and are forced to recognise that compassion is the most valuable currency we have, because if we don’t help each other, no help is coming. The only justice, softness or fairness that exists is our own.

 

The absence of meaning is liberating and even practical. Humanity has been injecting meaning into nothingness since we existed. Grunts and breaths became language; the sounds do not have objective meaning, but we each experience a word in our own subjective way, and in a general communicative way. uncertainties became philosophies and sciences which put us where we are today.

 

Basically

In accepting meaninglessness, you allow yourself to be honest about yourself and the people around you. You become an empowered individual with the agency to interpret and change your own experience and those of others. You see people as people. You accept that the meaning you find and/or create is subjective, but it means something to you. And that’s all that matters.

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