EVERYTHING. NOTHING. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m always glad to have a reason to pull this out of my archives and dust it off. It represents years of thought, night-long discussions in college, several obscure philosophy courses 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 humor, of a sort. These days, it’s not quite as funny as it used to be but to be fair, nothing is as funny as it used to be. The world is a lot more bizarre without being truly funny. As a result, we laugh as much as we can, but it’s not nearly enough.

Who knows when they will take that away, too?

Personally, I think we spend far much time trying to figure out what life means while spending too little time doing things we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you’re sick, broke, or miserable is because of something you did, should have done, meant to do but forgot. I suppose it’s normal for we sort-of-normal people, but completely out-of-the-box for a lot of folks who are (apparently) running the world.

As far as I can figure it, 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 thought.

Regardless, brooding about eternity is a huge waste of time and energy. More so, because I’m going to explain it all — right here. You will never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life


RANDOMNESS

Learning to accept the randomness of stuff that happens is tough. We want life to make sense. We want organization and 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 hard times so we will grow and learn from it.

Are we learning? Is the world teaching everybody something?

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life has fallen apart so many times over the years. 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 for The Big Guy to have it in for me.

Then I had an 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.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me and I know you want to be just like me. Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause laughter which isn’t usually the outcome you were looking for.


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 our current administration has said fits neatly into phenomenology. Since the only thing that matters in phenomenology is someones’ experience, you don’t need facts. Figures. Statistics. 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.”

Fortunately, I don’t believe it. Any of it.


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.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

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. For that matter, we could believe Star Trek is real and any day now, the ship will beam us up.

HOWEVER – This doesn’t mean that there aren’t an awful lot of people roaming the earth who believe the damnedest things. Flat Earthers. Republicans. People who believe Fox News is the only real news. Unlike me, they know something. Ask them. They will be delighted to tell you.

Me? I know nothing and these days, it seems like the perfect thing in which to believe. It is my mental sweet spot in this best of all possible worlds.

STANDING ON THE ACHING SHOULDERS OF THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

Don’t you absolutely love pithy quotes? They always get me thinking either because I agree with it, or because I don’t.

Today I went wandering down the mental pathways of history because someone repeated something I’ve heard a million times before, the ubiquitous quote everyone has heard and at which, we automatically nod in agreement. Everyone says it, so it has to be true, doesn’t it?

Everything that is happening or will ever happen, has happened before. That most people don’t remember and have never read any history is sad. Yet I have come to believe that ignorance of history has little bearing on what we (collectively) do.

I love history. I want other people to love it as much as I do, if for no better reason than to give me more people to talk to who share my passion. As a history buff, I want to believe if people knew history, they would not repeat the same bad behavior, make the same errors as we’ve made in the past.

That’s wishful thinking. We think a lack of knowledge is the root of the evil but there are other reasons. The biggest one? Ego.

Hitler (for example) wanted to be Charlemagne or Napoleon. He knew history. He was not unaware or unread. He wanted to rewrite history, stand on its shoulders and laugh at the past.

Lack of awareness or failure to remember is a symptom, not the problem.

It’s our human determination to prove history wrong which is so destructive. More to the point, we — humankind — want to prove we are above or outside history, not subject to its rules. This stubbornness is at the core of many of the most monstrous, terrible things we do. We keep trying to prove we aren’t subject to the same forces that have directed the past.

Not remembering history does not condemn us to repeat it. Refusing to accept the outcome of history because we want what we want — usually in combination with greed and a lust for power — that is what condemns us.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #25

It’s existential question time for some of us, not so existential for the rest of us. Because the question is:

So today’s provocative question is all about the before and after:

“Where do you believe you were you before you were born and what do you believe will happen to you after you die?”

For me, it’s pretty simple. Before I existed, before I was born, I wasn’t anything. After I die, I’ll be gone. Dust to dust.

What will happen? Damned if I know. Maybe something, probably nothing. Will “my soul” become a new soul in a new body? Karma? Oh please, be kind. This life has been rough enough and I have no urge to do anything like this again.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – As close to heaven as I can imagine.

So the answer is “maybe, or maybe not.” I don’t know. Because there are a million theories around. Some of them are charming, some not so charming — but none of them can be proved. If there is a God, he hasn’t dropped by to discuss the matter with any of his billions of adherents and definitely not with me.

Regardless of dogma, if he or one of the many adherents have conversed with any of us, none of them have dropped by to reopen the conversation. It’s the same mystery it always was.

If there is some kind of heaven, I’d like to assume that all good people will be there, regardless of what (or nothing) that they believed before their passing. If there’s nothing afterward? Then we will all go into that great nothingness. Finally, at long last, there will be full equality for everyone.

Heaven is what you make of it.

I personally would love to believe in a beautiful afterlife, so I leave open the option that there may be one, even if I don’t know anything about it. For the hedge-bettors amongst us, you can always be religious now and if it works out to be true, you’re a winner. If it doesn’t, you’re no worse off than you’d have been anyway. Some would consider that a win-win.

As for me, I will just live as I have lived, deal with life as it comes, hope that whatever happens after we die is at least peaceful — and finally, there won’t be any more bills to pay.

#FPQ

IT TOLLS FOR THEE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Partisan


PARTISAN (pronounced: pardezan)

Noun
Synonyms:  Supporter, follower, adherent, devotee, champion, backer, upholder, promoter, fanatic, fan, enthusiast, stalwart, zealot, disciple, votary
2. A member of an armed group formed to fight secretly against an occupying force, in particular, one operating in enemy-occupied;

(can be named a terrorist by the opposition)

Adjective
3. Prejudiced in favor of or partial to a cause or policies.
Synonyms: biasedone-sided, colored, discriminatory, preferential, interested, bigoted, sectarian, factional, unjust, unfair, inequitable, unbalanced.

These days, I think this description fits almost everyone I know. What is more curious is how many people it does not fit. While we may be frantic and fearful about what is happening to our world, the vast number of people are completely apathetic. They don’t watch the news, don’t read a newspaper (on or offline) and essentially don’t care.

They do not believe that current events matters.

No man is an island - john donne
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions – John Donne

While this may be momentarily true, ultimately, the mess will smack them in the face. When their expensive college degree turns out to be nothing more than a gigantic debt they can’t afford to pay and their master’s degrees aren’t enough to get them a job that affords them the price of a rental apartment, it may dawn on them that what has been going on affects everyone.

When they turn on the water and mud slithers out and it’s beach weather during February in New Hampshire, it will matter. When Florida is not warm but has become a super-heated rain forest, it will matter. When all of our ocean is too polluted for swimming or fish and you have to wear a mask to breathe walking to your car, it will matter.

I have become weary of the uncaring.

They do not care not because they are too stupid (though we have plenty of them, too), but because they are too lazy to bother knowing. Mind you, within the same group of people, are some of the smartest potential young leaders of this world. But right now, I think the apathetic own the majority.

The apathetic majority remain non-partisan because they stand for nothing. Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe we failed to teach them that being involved matters, that “no man is an island.”

BY YOUR OWN PETARD, THOU ART HOISTED – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night I said to Garry “Aha! He is hoisted upon his own petard!”

By which meant he had just become the victim of what he (in this case a movie character) had planned for someone else. Then, I paused, thinking.

“What,” I asked Garry, “Is a petard?”

“I have no idea,” said my husband.  Which is when I realized I’ve been using this expression my whole life and don’t know what it means.

Petard sounds French, but what is it? I grabbed my laptop and typed  “hoist on his … ” into Google. Before I got to petard … up it came. Don’t you just love when that happens?

petards

Voila! Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the rest of the story.

petard was a bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. Castles. Walled cities. That sort of thing. The word was originally (duh) French and dates to the sixteenth century.

Typically, a petard was metal (bronze or iron), shaped like a cone or box. Filled with two or three kilos (5 or 6 pounds) of gunpowder and using a slow match for a fuse, the petard was a primitive, powerful and unstable explosive device.

After being filled with gunpowder, it would be attached to a wooden base and fastened to a wall, on or under a gate. The fuse was lit. If all went as planned, the explosion would blow a hole big enough to let assault troops through.

Thus the phrase “hoist on his/her own petard” came to mean “harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else.” It suggests you could be lifted — hoisted — by your own bomb.

SPEAKING OF HOPE – Marilyn Armstrong

Much as I don’t like answering endless questions, I do like great quotes when I come across them. The problem with most quotes about “hope” is that they are treacly. Sweet and phony.

Hope is not a solution. It’s a key, something to keep you going when all you want to do is crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head. It manifests in various ways.

For me, it’s curiosity. I can’t bear the idea of not knowing what will happen. Many times when the world was a dark and dangerous place, my curiosity kept me moving towards … whatever. Good, bad, or indifferent, I want to know what it is.

Here’s one from Bradley Whitford (he was Josh on West Wing for those who remember the show).

Hope-Bradley Whitford
Thank you, Melanie!
Also, a poke at Rory who I think got this started.

And let me know what the other selections are. I will do them if I can. I do some challenges, but they are always writing challenges or photography.

What I do NOT do are the “oh look, another nomination that wants me to answer a lot of questions I’ve long since answered and then ask 473 people to participate.”

I don’t really know more than two people, you being one of them, who still does these. Trust me, there will come a time when you aren’t interested either. But – if the challenge is a challenge and not a chain letter … and it holds some interest for me, I can be cajoled.

Sometimes twice.

If anyone else feels like jumping in, please feel welcome.

Hope is a good thing to keep in your cupboards, much like canned soup. Just in case you run out of everything else, it’s good to have a casket of hope to fall back on.

TOO CURIOUS TO DIE – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Curiosity


There’s a lot of talk about suicide going around and I know I could never do that. It isn’t because I don’t get depressed or because I have not been through periods when life hardly seemed worth living.


“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It’s just that I have to know what’s going to happen next. I realize this might sound a bit frivolous, but curiosity is a powerful emotion. I always want to know more. I always want to see how things will work out.

So, until I lose the interest in life, or my heart stops, or I get run over by an out-of-control beer truck, I think I’ll hang around.