Tuesday, 6 May 2014
The meaning of Life
The Protestant Work Ethic could have been invented for me. I’m not saying I work all hours-although I frequently have – just that work has always featured far more centrally in my life than any other activity. Like many of you, possibly most of you, I have had jobs that I enjoyed but, mostly, work has been the thing that gets in the way of doing whatever it is I vaguely think I should be doing; working to live, rather than living to work, or the other way round (the more I read that expression the less I understand it). And it’s not setting me free; far from it, I get almost anxious if I don’t give myself at least the illusion of daily achievement.
Of course, if I believed in a higher power I could ease the pain-in-the-arse by dreaming of my reward in heaven, but what’s the point of deferred gratification if there is no gratification to be had? What am I saving myself for? And none of this is made easier by the passage of time. In every phase of my life my thinking has been dominated by the feeling that if only I can get over this hump, this present difficulty; if only I can just struggle on through, the good times are just around the corner. It’s not helped by occasionally being reminded that ‘life is not a rehearsal’. It’s a bit bloody late for that to be finally sinking in.
Because if this is really all there is it’s astonishing that we don’t regularly herd ourselves over cliffs. I mean, what IS the point of it all? And of course, to rub it in, the television schedules are packed with uplifting stories about people ‘living the dream’ doing exactly what they believe they were put on this earth to do. Don’t you just hate those people? There is nothing quite so smug as those who seem to have found their nirvana, although it’s interesting to note that those who find contentment in work are always more believable than the fragile egos who turn to gurus and the pursuit of enlightenment.
It’s probably a form of remote bullying (hate-watching in today’s parlance) but don’t you get a delicious sense of schadenfreude as you observe those caught up by the holistic hullabaloo slip inexorably towards their inevitable fate; deferred mental breakdown, the only enlightened part of the whole experience being their wallet. It strikes me that if you seek the answer to the mystery of life by paying somebody to tell you - and the class meditating around you - you’re likely to only ever be disappointed, evidenced by those who go on a journey of serial soul-searching only to end up on the psych-wards.
And still the nagging feeling that there must be something else. But what is that gets you out of bed each day? And once up, what gets you through? I marvel that we don’t get more madmen in the streets, shouting at the traffic and gurning at strangers. Life is inherently pointless. Of course, you say, the ultimate purpose of our existence is to have children, to create more life. But surely that is just crazy? That’s not solving the puzzle, it’s just passing it on a generation; and worse, it’s passing the buck to vulnerable new people who didn’t even get a say in whether they wanted to carry this burden.
No wonder then that we have created a world of distractions to avoid confronting the awful void. Men in sheds, women who lunch, fast cars, survival games, cupcakes, allotments, soft furnishings, arts and crafts… judo, or ludo, for that matter. All just harmless ways of passing the time until we find what it is we are really supposed to be doing. I reckon if there’s no purpose to it all we may as well occupy ourselves doing things that make us happy whenever we can, which makes the motivation of those who spend their time being angry all the more perplexing. Life is taxing enough without setting out to making enemies.
Maybe it’s a kind of madness comparable with those who seek the sunny uplands of religion to assuage their life fears, but why anybody would make their raison d'être the alienation of themselves from both sides on the sex-war battlefield baffles me. The unfathomable Caroline Criado-Perez has been out on manoeuvres again, upsetting both men and women for no other purpose I can surmise than to keep herself from thinking about the true insignificance of life. Well, Caroline, whatever your pain, I don’t have the answers – perhaps Kirsty Wark’s documentary on Thursday will shed some light on it all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.