I’m always glad to have a reason to pull this oldest of my philosophical rants out of archives, dust it off, and publish it. It represents years of thought, night-long discussions in college, several obscure philosophy courses I took as an undergrad — and at least one 40-page research paper. How bizarre that now, at long last, I live in a world where everything means nothing. This used to be funny. Not these days.
These days, nothing is nearly as funny as it used to be. Frankly, I’m having trouble maintaining my sense of humor. It has been such a strange four years and this past year — and for all I know, the next half year or so — has been more like bad science fiction than reality.
The world is a far more bizarre and scary than funny. Nonetheless, we work at finding reasons to laugh. You wouldn’t think laughing was something we would need to work at, but we do. We laugh as much as we can. Who know when they (whoever “they” are) will take that away?
We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means while spending too little time doing things we enjoy. Of course, right now, we can’t do a lot of things we used to enjoy and it’s also the middle of winter which makes it doubly hard. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you’re sick, broke, or miserable is because of something you did or should have done. I suppose it’s normal for we sort-of-normal people, but completely out-of-the-box for a lot of people who are (apparently) running the world. They are the way they are because (a) they know they are going to hell, but a deal is a deal, or (b) they’ve never wasted a brain cell on actual thought.
Regardless, brooding about eternity is a waste of time and energy. I don’t have a lot of time and have even less energy. More so, because I’m going to explain it all But because of my itty bitty bit of research, you won’t have to wonder again. I’ve solved all mysteries.
Learning to accept the randomness of stuff that happens is tough. We want life to make sense. We want order. We want our messes and disasters to be important, meaningful. We need to learn from them because someone told us that God gives us bad stuff so we will grow and learn from it.
I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life has regularly fallen apart. I know I’m imperfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s small potatoes in the greater scheme of things. Even in my darkest moments I doubt I’m bad enough that The Big Guy has it in for me. Then I had my epiphany.
You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you will never have proof.
If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the only path (and is antithetical to God — a position with which I disagree) to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.
Personally, I don’t know. But not knowing might make me smarter than most people because I know I don’t know.
I KNOW NOTHING. NEITHER DO YOU.
Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WORDING.
You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.
EPISTEMOLOGY – IT’S All ABOUT KNOWING
Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about, but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?
I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.
Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, software, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.
PHENOMENOLOGY IS THE NEW FAITH
On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. The same reasoning also proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of it.
Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation.
Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.
In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.
As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that almost everything said by our soon to be gone administration fits neatly into the framework of phenomenology. Since the only thing that matters in phenomenology is someone’s (anyone’s) experience, you don’t need facts. Figures. Statistics. Science. You don’t need anything but “I believe it, so it must be true.” Or, conversely, “I don’t believe it, so it can’t be true.” That’s a useful way of thinking, or so it has proved to be in recent years.
FOUNT OF WISDOM
You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.
There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. The only person who is ever convinced by faith is the he/she who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.
Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.
If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things.
Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists.
I’m ready to give that a try. How about you?
HOWEVER – This doesn’t mean that there aren’t a wide variety of people who believe stuff that I couldn’t believe even if you put my feet in the fire. There are people who believe the damnedest things. Flat Earthers. People who think Fox News is the only real news. They know things. Just ask them. They will tell you what they know and if you try to reason with them, they will yell at you. Because some people
Me? I know nothing. I know even less today than I knew when I first drafted this piece. These days, given one thing and another, nothing seems like the best thing in which to believe. It is the mental sweet spot in this best of all possible worlds.