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athgarvan

IS LIFE REALLY MEANINGLESS?

In my last few posts I have been trying to come to grips with life and what it means. A.E. Housman (he of the Shropshire Lad) surely was a pessimist in this regard. Life, he says, is nothing much to lose.

He doesn’t seem to believe in human responsibility, in free will, in a purposeful universe, in a Being who watches over and cares for the world. He believed in the futility of life. To him the little affairs of life, the little foolishnesses of life, the things that consume our lives are worth practically nothing. But we do them and the urge of living keeps us doing them, even when we know how useless and foolish they are.

“Yonder see the morning blink:
The sun is up, and up must I.
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.

Oh often have I washed and dressed              
And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
And all's to do again”.


For Housman, that is what life consists of, rising in the morning and washing and dressing and going to recitals and studying and forgetting it, and then going to bed at night, to get up the next morning and wash and dress and go to recital, and so on, world without end.

His view on life is probably based on his atheism and religious non-conformity.

“The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.”

Another pessimist (I forget who) asks, when you consider that it is all made up of little things, what is life all about, anyway? We do keep on living. But is it worth while? Life does not come from willing; nor does it come from thought and reason. I don't live because I think it is worth while; I live because I am a going concern, and every going concern tries to keep on going. Anything that is going tries to go on by its own momentum, and it does just keep on going . It is what we call the 'will to live.' When the machine runs down we don't have to worry about it any longer. Life is of little value.

Housman again asks himself : What are we going to do while we live? In other words, what is the purpose of life? Why should we live; and if we must live, then what?

“Now hollow fires burn out to black
And lights are guttering low:
Square your shoulders, lift your pack,
And leave your friends and go.

Oh never fear man, nought's to dread,
Look not left or right:
In all the endless road you tread

There's nothing but the night.”

Comments

Housman was, of course, also a depressive and we need to keep that in mind when thinking about his views.

'Think no more lad, laugh, be jolly,
Why should men make haste to die?'
How true. Why not be jolly!!
Because our emotions do not respond to our wills?
'S way better than being miserable.
Houseman has one thing right
life consists of the small daily things
even the president of the USA must get up each day wash and dress and have breakfast

and then what?
life has the meaning one gives to it

the mystery is that some find joy
others find sorrow

Houseman was right about something else
in his time society made him live by rules that were not his own

fortunately we now have more freedom to discover and shape our own lives without laws shaped by the creeds of others

joy is hard to find if the "real you" is despised and you have to hide your life and in public lead a false life

Houseman was a fierce critic and classics scholar
in most of his life his poems were almost unknown
and so many of them are of tender lyric beauty

"life has the meaning one gives to it"

Surely life means more than that - even if we consider it a mystery.
what more could it have?

each person must determine what their life is
each person must look for what helps to determine their own meaning

there is no master plan - one size fits all
what has meaning for one person is meaningless to another
that is not to make a judgement on either person

some people never do find a meaning
some find it early
some late

meaning is waking in the morning
saying yes i can
and i will
some times that is not easy

going back to Houseman

Oh often have I washed and dressed
And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
And all's to do again”.

that is the human condition
there are days when we don't want to do it
whatever it is
but
"all's to do again"
and in the doing is the meaning

for some it might be some big philosophical / religious thing
for others it's just being - and that is enough

is some big "meaning to life" really necessary?

is some big "meaning to life" really necessary?

I should think so.
why?

i am really curious
why does there have to be something BIG ?
why does life have to mean anything other than the time and existence one has ?
what does BIG add to life that nature, people, relationships and work doesn't already provide?

there are lots of BIG ideas around
there is much to challenge the mind and spirit
that's the whipped cream - or the bone to gnaw -to the banquet of life
but a BIG idea won't keep you warm on a cold winter night

i'm all for big ideas
but i don't think they are what gives an individual life meaning
except maybe for their original thinker
and i guess we would have to ask the thinker that

Edited at 2016-09-10 21:29 (UTC)
My faith in the mystery that I call God and my relationship with that mystery is surely a BIG thing that gives meaning to my life.
see, that's good for you
and i'm happy for you

but there are lots of people who don't find meaning in that
that's why there is no one BIG thing

god is something people make up because they need to believe in something
if it works - great
if it doesn't then find something else

that is the freedom of the time we live in
there is choice
there have always been people for whom the dominant idea didn't work
Houseman expresses that

with lots of competing ideas it can be hard and confusing for some
there should be ways to just accept and ways to search
no one way is THE way


the pebble on the beach and the boulder are both rocks
just different kinds in different places

Edited at 2016-09-10 22:10 (UTC)
I hope you find peace in your seeking x
"Meaning" is just a human concept, I don't pay it much attention. The universe I'm a tiny part of is so amazing - 100 billion stars in this galaxy, 100 billion galaxies, more cells in my body than stars in the sky, every atom billions of years old, recycled countless times.

It would be like asking, "what is the meaning of the sky?"
Life does not come from willing; nor does it come from thought and reason. I don't live because I think it is worth while.
Housman himself says as much: 2+2 always make 4, never 5 or 3.
I can't reason or will it otherwise.
i agree with you : )
we live because we are here

and we find a way that makes it positive - something that gives us joy - no matter what a particular day brings

sometimes that "something" can be put into words and concepts
sometimes it just is - experience
All life has meaning, but it really does depend on what you feel you need from that meaning.

The universe is a vast place and our planet is but one rather extraordinary planet, with our rich diversity of life, but otherwise, in another few billion years, our planet will be utterly devoid of life no matter what happens now or in the next few years.

The thing that distinguishes us is that you have faith in something else, a higher being, a life beyond this life.

I believe that life, while quite miraculous in itself, is just the process of nature and that death will find me in due course and that will be that.

The meaning my life has is only special for me. If, along the way, I touch other lives in a positive way, then good. But ... I don't worry about leaving any legacy. I'm certainly not regretting my choice not to have children. I accept that death is final and when I die, my thoughts die and so also most memory of me in the minds of those still living. And that's okay.
I see my human existence as being composed of both body and spirit (soul).
I understand that my body merely expresses my inner spirit.
My spirit is one with the Mystery I call God and therefore is eternal. My body is temporary and allows me to express and develop that 'love' which is at the core of the Mystery I call God. The expression of love, to me, is what gives meaning to life.
i really really like the way you have found new words to express the old ideas
it makes it much more meaningful

i can't go there but i like the way you say it!!
i probably could use similar words to talk the old language
i'm still fairly fluent

but for myself
there is no language

there are someone else' words that resonate with me

"your seeking and yearning will be in vain unless you know the mystery - if that which you seek you find not in your own heart you will never find it without for i have been with you from the beginning and i am that which is attained at the end of desire"

so much there to think about
"i am that which is attained at the end of desire"
Studying Soren Kierkegaard this last year has helped me understand the phenomenon much better. And I do not mean to sound condescending or judgmental when I write these words. For most of my life, I believed as you but additional studies into biology, human neuroscience and physiology, evolution and a deep examination of human history and evolution, have led me to a different understanding.

But Kierkegaard presented an argument in defense of his faith (which was Danish Lutheran). I understood his main premise to be that God exists by virtue of faith alone and therefore God exists or else every decision Kierkegaard had ever made would be meaningless since he devoted his life to God.

I believe that the mind and body are one and the same. They are inextricably linked by the operation of our dna which informs our thinking and emotional reaction to everything that happens in our lives. I believe that when we die, the body dies and the mind dies with it.

I personally feel that if we understood this better, we might not treat life so capriciously, and maybe people who sacrifice their life on the basis of a promise of something better after death, that they are robbed of the opportunity to live life fully.

I find that people have used religion to control others who may otherwise be dispirited by their lot in life, by promising them great rewards if they only put up with deprivation without complain and live exemplary lives on the promise of great rewards after death or great and eternal punishment after death if they don't stay quiet.

I think this is something which is informing people when they look at the threat of climate change and the sheer and utter destruction of the biosphere because they think they have an out, a reward in heaven so they don't have as much interest in saving this earthly existence. And that saddens me tremendously.

I know how important belief in God is for many people. I would never rob them of that, but when I see great injustices done in the name of God - or in one of the many names of God - and I find people even use the pretext that their sins will be forgiven if they just believe and that there will be no consequences for their earthly activities because they will have eternity to bask in the love of a God they trust exists, and they have no care about the desolation of a world they leave behind.

So, you see my concerns. But they are mine, and I would not force them on any one else who does not share them. I am one and the others are many.
Thank you for those interesting thoughts.

I don't know if this will register. My standing account with Livejournal has been cut off, they tell me, because I've got a new Visa card recently and they can't access it!! Please bear with me.

Edited at 2016-09-13 12:53 (UTC)
I certainly hope you get your troubles with LiveJournal sorted out. Any payment must have to do with the kind of account you have. I've had a paid account and then switched back to a free account. Fewer privileges but still accessible. So hopefully, this glitch will be resolved and we can continue our conversation.
Thank you. I think all problems are now solved.
yes to do much of that!!

"I believe that the mind and body are one and the same. They are inextricably linked by the operation of our dna which informs our thinking and emotional reaction to everything that happens in our lives. I believe that when we die, the body dies and the mind dies with it."

yes

Athgarvan com back!
i need you in my life!
as above - hopefully! I've even added a recent photo (84)

Edited at 2016-09-13 21:38 (UTC)