Purpose vs. Meaning

I have some terrible news. There is, in fact, no meaning to life. This is not something to be alarmed by, though it may well alarm you. That’s only because you’ve lived your entire life petty and small-minded. That’s okay, because today you change.

For all of the new-agey ‘being present’ discussion that goes on today, one would think we live among a multitude of philosophers. But we don’t, as anyone with a questioning mind who has ever bothered to go down that rabbit hole knows it to be an exercise in mental masturbation. I have considered at length the possible metrics for measuring life on a meta-scale and at the time of this writing can divine only two: purpose and meaning.

Purpose is the easy one. Our purpose in being on this giant ball of rock and dirt is, quite simply, to make more of ourselves. That’s it. Our purpose is to stay alive long enough to reproduce, and ideally long enough to raise our progeny to self-sufficiency. In truth, this latter part is just icing on the cake. So the next time you hear someone talk about their job, or their career, or their hobby in terms of what they were “put on Earth to do”, you tell them: this guy on the internet said you’re wrong, and then smugly educate them on the simplicity of life’s purpose.

But what if, for whatever reason, you don’t reproduce? Well then, your purpose, as it were, is to provide for and protect those within your tribe who have reproduced. Simple. And this is where meaning comes in. The ol’ “what’s the meaning of life” question is more complex, but still stupidly simple. Again, there is no inherent meaning to life. If there’s to be any meaning for one’s life, one must make it themselves. It is possible that your purpose is your meaning. See those who live for their chillens—a noble pursuit if ever there was one. But typically meaning comes from somewhere else, but at any rate, those who seek meaning will never find it. Because it’s not a fucking Pokémon. Meaning isn’t something you find, it’s something you make.

I had a philosophy professor recall an interaction in which he was loathe to hear one of his acquaintances distill down the lot of western philosophy to so much navel gazing. At the time, my tender impressionability had me in the court of my professor who demanded his acquaintance (and by extension, us students) “show philosophy some respect.” Well, obviously I’m not that into it anymore. The truth was in the middle.

Now I don’t advocate a wholesale condemnation of the entirety of western philosophy to the effete wastelands, but I will advocate the taking of most of philosophy with a discerning grain of salt, as there are very strict limits to the utility and personal-growth value of anything theoretical especially when juxtaposed (rightfully) against its corresponding applied study. We’re just not far enough removed from the Jungel for the theoretical to matter that much. Again, that’s not to write off the theoretical—it got us to the moon, gave us modern medicine, and immanentized representative democracy (for all its flaws)—but where the rubber meets the road, only the applied matters. This is truly where we ought to focus our energies.

But I digress. TLDR: Purpose: reproduce; Meaning: None, unless you make it.

Editor’s note: That this diatribe (not unlike many others found here and in my head) is, in its very nature, theoretical, is an irony not lost on me. This is where I go to spin my wheels. Thanks for stopping by.

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