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My Personal Search for a Meaningful Existence I am the representative embodiment of my nihilistic culture. I amnarcissistic, insatiable, petty, apathetic and I am above all an emotionalinvalid. Yet, up until very recently, I was not consciously aware that I wasguilty of having any of these wholly pejorative attributes, because I hadunconsciously suppressed my inherent will to attain a meaningful existence, infavor of the comfort and security that complacency and futility provide. Thereexists in me a void, that is not uncommon to find in the members of myEurocentric society, which is derived from the conscious or unconsciousknowledge that our culture is entirely devoid of meaning. This is, morespecifically, the plight of my generation, which has been defined by itsdisillusionment, apathy and inaction, rather than its accomplishments, beliefsor ideologies. Escapism is the safety mechanism that enables our flight fromactuality, and subsequently our ability to exist, because we have been cursedwith a wealth of advantages and a lack of restrictions. For example: I am freeto choose my own religion, I am not stifled by or subjected to economicdisadvantage, I am not bound to subservience by an oppressive or tyrannicalgovernment, I am blessed with a myriad of conveniences by my technologicallyadvanced society, and I come from a nurturing and supportive family, so who thehell am I to complain about my circumstances.
The only explanation I can give,in retort to my profession that I have been cursed by my inherent advantages,is: since my life is completely devoid of any profound suffering, it issubsequently lacking any meaningful happiness, because man only experiencesthese feelings in terms of their relative relationship to one another. Thus, Ivainly invent my own wholly unfounded reasons to bemoan my existence, in thesame way that a hypochondriac invents his psychosomatic illnesses, because thelonger we feign to have a justifiable cue for suffering, the more that thatsuffering actualizes itself. The primary source of my anxieties is derived fromthe inherent knowledge that I am condemned to be free, in a society ofrelatively few restrictions, which subsequently requires me to be the master ofmy own destiny. Thus, I am not only culpable for determining my own fate, but Iam also wholly responsible for finding a meaningful purpose in my existence,which instills me with an intense feeling of trepidation, because I'm not sureI'm ready to shoulder such a profound responsibility. I live in a nihilisticsociety, that is founded on man's narcissistic will to pleasure and power, thatis run by the "all-powerful" green, and that is defined by its laziness and lackof tradition. Thus, it seems almost futile to search for a meaningful existencein our Western culture, because it is this very society that has taught me myconvoluted and misplaced system of priorities and beliefs, but man can find ameaning for living regardless of his predicament. Therefore, in this paper, Iwill attempt to redefine what I believe is the essence and meaning of my humanexistence, by combining the meditations of a variety of different philosophicthinkers with the conclusions I have attained through the contemplation of myown personal experiences.
Nihilism is the characteristic value-disease of our times. The wordcomes from the Latin root for nothing, and it describes the belief that humanvalues have no evacatory or meaningful power. Although there have beentransient episodes of nihilism throughout our species' cultural history, thelabel is usually applied to the crisis of valuation that now infects our Westernculture. Friederich Nietzsche, the famous German "existentialist" philosopher,predicted that the traditional European system of beliefs, which are primarilyderived from the teachings of Christianity and Greek Philosophy, would bequestioned, and subsequently abandoned during the twentieth and twenty-firstcenturies. He believed that with the widespread proliferation of educationpeople would start exercising their free-will, and temporarily abandon the "herdmentality" that has historically caused the masses to "blindly" accept theideology of others. Nietzsche prophetically predicted that with this newlyacquired freedom of thought, and the subsequent "death" of traditional Europeanvalues, people would frantically search for, and embrace, new, false sources ofmeaning.
He included as examples: the forthcoming of cataclysmic wars, theproliferation of materialistic greed, and the pursuit of ever more powerfulforms of intoxication, all of these theories coming to their fruition duringthis century. The traditional European values that have defined our culture forcenturies are certainly not yet extinct, but their prevalence and influence hasbeen severely curtailed, subsequently creating a state of confusion that hasgiven way to one of the most tumultuous eras in history. This century has seenthe rise to power of maniacal demagogues, like Hitler and Stalin, thedevastation of two World Wars, the political influence of imperialisticcorporations, and the creation of a widespread drug culture. We have not yetawakened to the necessary evolution that is required to cure our diseased systemof values, because we refuse to see fault in them out of cowardice. Thus,Nietzsche concludes that mankind, through its inherent fear of leading ameaningful existence, has become so far removed from God that we have, in fact,killed him. As Nietzsche predicted, we live in a convoluted world of misplacedpriorities, where the will to a meaningful existence has been all but replacedby man's constant flight from actuality, which is derived from an inherentinclination to intellectual laziness.
If a person becomes consciously aware ofthe perversity of our Western culture, they will undoubtedly become severelydepressed and disillusioned, but this realization can be "cured" in any numberof ways. A person can completely lose themselves in their occupation and dailyactivities, subsequently becoming a "machine," believing their worth is measuredsolely by their level of production. A person can adopt an opinion as anabsolute doctrine, such as racism, giving them a convenient "scapegoat" fortheir shortcomings, and absolving them of all feelings of responsibility andculpability for their actions. A person can compensate for their lack of ameaningful existence by attaining wealth, power, and prestige, vainly mistakingthese impostors, consciously or unconsciously, as modes of attaining happiness.A person can lose themselves in the delusory would of "Dionysian" pleasures,such as: drugs, alcohol or sexual conquest, existing only to enjoy the transientand fleeting flight from reality that is derived from orgasmic euphoria.Finally, a person can join a collective organization or cause, in order toescape from the responsibilities that exercising their free-will and expressingtheir individuality entails, in favor of subjecting themselves and succumbing tothe beliefs of others. In the preceding examples there is a unifying theme ofescapism, which comes from man's innate fear of taking control of his owndestiny, because he does not want to be responsible for his own misfortunes.The journey to a meaningful existence is a frightening undertaking, because itrequires an arduous and diligent pursuit of one's goals, regardless of thesuffering and pain attaining it entails. It means making your own decisions,with the hope that the results will prove to be advantageous, and accepting themeven if they end up proving otherwise, because man can often derive moreprofound meaning from his suffering than he can from his success.
That is whyNietzsche says: "That which does not kill me, will only make me stronger." The man in Dostoyevsky's essay, "Notes From Underground," professes tohaving invented a meaningless existence for himself so that at very least hecould live in some way. In my opinion this is not a testament to nihilism, asit explicitly appears to be, but rather the reflections of a man who has becomeconscious of the lack of meaning in his own existence. It is a celebration ofhuman individualism, which this "acutely" conscious man regards as both theabsurdity of existence, and the essence and meaning of being human. Thus, heconsiders his consciousness to by a blessing as well as a curse, because if hewere completely unaware of his seemingly absurd situation, he would be able toact instinctually and unconsciously without being inhibited by his ability toreason. The narrator argues that independence of choice is dependent upon notonly the ability to act in accordance with what a person believes to bebeneficial and good, but also the ability to act in a way that will inflictsuffering and pain.
The propensity of man to act in direct conflict with whathe consciously believes to be beneficial, is a concept Edgar Allen Poe called "man's inherent perversity," which is the theme of many of his most famous works,not the least of which is "The Imp of the Perverse." The man from "Underground"explains this enigmatic phenomenon by saying that the conscious man delights insuffering because it is the source of his consciousness, because without itthere would be nothing left to contemplate. Similarly, he professes that manironically seems to enjoy entropy and disorder, because the reason for hisexistence is based on his trying to attain meaning, but never actually achievingit. That is, because once a person realizes all of their goals, and isenlightened to the meaning of his life, there will no longer be any reason forhim to live. Therefore, man thrives on the process of attaining meaning, eventhough he doesn't want to actually attain it, which is a fundamentally absurdtheoretical concept, but nonetheless, is the most integral component of ourexistence. The man in "Notes From Underground" simultaneously alerts us to theinherent absurdity of our nature, while celebrating our ability to freely choseour own destiny, because he is conscious of man's plight of constantlystruggling to attain an unattainable goal. Albert Camus' essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," is an allegory about theabsurdity of human nature, in which Sisyphus is the quintessential absurd hero.This man, sentenced to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain andthen watching its descent, is damned by the Gods to the unspeakable task ofspending eternity exerting himself toward accomplishing nothing.
But Sisyphusis conscious of his plight, and he surmounts it by concentrating on his freedom,his refusal to hope, his scorn of the Gods, and his passion for life. Hisinherent knowledge that there's no end to his suffering, is similar to theplight of mankind, who is forced to live in a world with no absolute meaning.Thus, the absurd person must demand to live solely with what is known and tobring nothing that is not certain. In the case of humankind, this means thatall I know is that I exist, that the world exists, and that I am mortal. In "The Myth of Sisyphus," Camus opposes himself to the rationalism of classicalphilosophy, which seeks universal and enduring truths and a definite hierarchyof values and truths. He believes that truth is only found by a subjectiveintensity of passion, and our value is determined by our freedom and our revolt.Thus, the only joy we have is in knowing that our fate belongs to us and in ourdefiance and struggle to overcome death. Camus, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche all see ...
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