The Joke of Existence: Happy New Year!

The Joke of Existence - The Nihilist by Paul Merwart

I generally think in terms of days. This is why I manage to make at least 365 foundational errors every year: each day I choose to continue on being conscious of the universe. But today, let’s consider this whole year that we look toward. Are we really all going to sit through the whole thing? I think it makes the question of continued survival more stark. Yes, I can make it through the next day. But the next year? Given that we know it will be much like last year, it’s hard to answer in the affirmative.

The Meaning of Life

Many people ask, “What is the meaning of life?” That’s a stupid question. Can you honestly look forward or back on your life and see any meaning in it? I don’t want to upset anyone who really hasn’t been paying attention, but life is meaningless.

For most people, I stand as an object lesson for never allowing a teenager to read Schopenhauer. So I’m on record — repeatedly — about my belief that the continuance of life — the will to live — is an irrational thing. But one needn’t be rational in all things. Indeed, I write more about the irrationality of humans than I do Schopenhauer. One of the easiest ways to annoy me is to tell me that humans are rational. They aren’t — even in little ways.

It’s because of this that I have a thin reed to hang onto as I continue into the future. Perhaps you will find it helpful.

You Make the Universe Worse

I have a great love of anti-art. This is the kind of art that is created only for the process itself. So an example of anti-art might be a digital music device programmed to destroy itself before playing any of the music it was programmed to play. It is art explicitly created for no one. And I am a work of art created for no one. (When you get into ontological matters, it gets hard to distinguish between the implicit and the explicit.) I like to learn things, gain skills, create stuff — all while knowing that they are all ephemeral.

An enormous amount of the universe’s energy has been used to fight entropy and create me. And then I exist for a period of time before giving into entropy. Ultimately, I will have taken very useful energy and turned it into heat, which is a decidedly poor energy source. The universe will be more chaotic after I’ve gone than it was before I existed. So the universe has greatly harmed itself for the purpose of creating a machine that understood for a short period of time that universe was doing this.

And that is hilarious!

More Than You Think

It’s even more hilarious when you consider that the vast majority of people on earth are too caught up in their delusions of meaning to even know the joke exists — much less to get it. And that’s to say nothing of billions of years of evolution of creatures that didn’t get the joke.[1] So why not hang around for another year?

Think of yourself as conscious toxic waste. Wouldn’t you want to hang around as long as possible soiling your environment? But if you don’t like that analogy, you can feel good that most of the damage that your existence has done to the universe has already been done. Maintaining your wasteful machine is pretty cheap. And depending upon how funny you think your existence is, maybe it’s a net positive.

Existence Is a Joke

We are all a joke. If more people understood that, maybe we would live in a more just society. Because when you know that existence is a joke, you also know that it has nothing to do with justice. Your existence is a waste of elementary particles. In this next year, thousands of children will be burned alive. And a trust-fund baby will get the biggest ego stroke on the planet by being the leader of the “free” world. Try not to think of that. Focus on what a waste you are in this universe. That might get you through to next year when I promise I’ll have a whole new reason for irrationally continuing on.

[1] Or maybe all these “lesser” brains did and do get the joke. Maybe this whole self-awareness thing makes the joke harder to get. Maybe when a female mantis is biting the head of her mate, she is laughing up a storm, thinking, “Can you believe this?!” The male might be thinking the same thing in its final milliseconds of consciousness. For the record, I suspect that no mantis, dog, or cat actually gets the joke. But they do have us beat in not thinking themselves rational. Biting the heads off your mate is just what you do.

6 thoughts on “The Joke of Existence: Happy New Year!

  1. Burroughs used to write that “nobody does as much harm as the person who doesn’t mean to.” I’m gradually coming around to this, or my own version of it — that there’s nothing more harmful than people who’re absolutely sure they are good.

    Think about friends you’ve fallen out with. Maybe you said/did nasty things, maybe they did, maybe both of you. There’s a great deal of pain in that. And some of it lingers. The pain of regret, or memory of a bad experience. But you’re not consumed by continuing to be angry with them. You realize they had their reasons and you had yours.

    Now think of people you weren’t as close to, who really fucked you over. In my case, I still boil with fury when I remember what they did. And what they did might be far worse than what caused me to fall out with friends, or something Which left less permanent effects. Even if it was minor, it still makes me mad. And that’s because the person who did it felt they had “the right” to treat another human that way.

    Friends are a risk; you accept that risk going in. You know it may end badly. You may be a pessimist assuming it will end badly. It’s caveat emptor. When someone who isn’t a friend acts horribly, your reaction is “I didn’t sign up for this!”

    Only someone who’s convinced they are really good (or really personally important) can intentionally shit on other humans like that. Note how most monsters, even the ones who revel in antisocial behavior, like to think they are clever enough and special enough to dispense with the pleasant facade we lesser beings maintain.

    I think meaninglessness is a fine thing. Not feeling worthless, as no living thing is without worth, at least to itself. But meaninglessness is helpful. One may strive for money or other goals, as these things can provide some solace. But, oh, God, the people who believe “I’m special, someday the world will know it!” The corollary is always “someday they’ll know that they, compared to me, are not.” Fuck you guys!

    I wish I had the temperament and patience for Buddhism. It’s really too much work for me. But I love their art. Especially the sand art. It’s all about the joy of learning something that’s enormously difficult to do, and the joy of doing it to the best of one’s ability. Who cares if anyone notices? Who cares if anyone remembers? It is unimportant, even evil, to feel more “good” than anyone else. But striving to be better than yourself — that is a worthwhile, impossible vocation.

    “I’ve heard you say many times that you’re better than no-one, and no-one is better than you. If you really believe that, then you’ll know that there’s nothing to win, and nothing to lose.” — Paul Ryan

    • Well, I’d be too scared to jump off a bridge. The death part is fine, but hell no on the falling part. However, there’s a groovy appeal to jumping off a local bridge in January.

      The Mississippi has a sheet of ice. So I’d die from the impact, while my corpse would probably punch a hole through the ice and then be swept downstream back under the ice before the body surfaced. My bloated maggoty remains wouldn’t spook out some farmer until Iowa. This would be cool.

      Even better would be to die in a frozen lake. You won’t believe this, but lakes here get such a thick layer of ice, people actually build little wooden fishing huts for them. They tow them out to their favorite fishing spots with pickup trucks. Then, on weekends, they sit there with a little radio and some snacks/booze, bore a hole in the ice, and go fishing. Tons of people do this.

      So imagine this. A fisherman gets a tug on his line. He yells, “I got a big one!” And then up through the borehole comes my grimacing, decomposing face.

      The best part of this fantasy is it would scare the shit outta the guy, but it’d also be a cherished anecdote he’d tell friends forever. I just wanna be morbidly funny about death, not traumatize anyone!

  2. I agree with Viktor Frankl – in that we all are responsible for finding and creating meaning in our life.

    And I interpret Frankl to mean – that we are responsible for searching out the meaning of contentment within a paradigm of even – sometime adversity.

    In other words: most people can feel contented and successful when things are going well in life. The trick is to find contentment for periods of life when it isn’t.

    As an agnostic – I still see my life as a miracle and a greater gift. Human consciousness is a wonderful gift. There is beauty in the world. It is a matter of focusing on the amazing part of living.

    • There’s this thing, called cognitive behavioral therapy, or rational emotive behavioral therapy, which I played around with for a bit. It didn’t do anything for me, but I found it an interesting way of looking at things, and it’s quite useful for some people.

      Basically, it’s a version of my mom’s old saying: “if a man spits on you, he doesn’t make you mad, he only makes you wet.” That we can, with practice, control our emotional reactions to things which trigger our most unproductive responses.

      It wasn’t up my alley, as I only practice things that are fun to practice. Controlling one’s emotions is too hard. I’d rather not! Yet it seemed to have some truth in it. Consider the emotions one feels after a shattering event, like the death of a loved one. There’s loss. There’s anger. There’s relief — now you don’t have to worry about them any longer. All these things get mixed up in one’s brain, and most of us end up going rather numb instead of juggling the confusing emotions.

      Clearly we can control, to some extent, our emotional reactions to even the worst experiences. We almost instinctively do so. With practice, I imagine anyone could become more skilled at it. I can wake myself up from nightmares. It’s a trick that took years to learn.

      That sounds like what you’re talking about here, and it makes sense to me. We do have to give our lives meaning, since, of themselves, our lives have no meaning. We exist to replicate DNA. Which exists because of a cosmic kitchen mishap. And the cosmic kitchen exists because … your guess is as good as mine!

      I suppose the most positive thought I have is that it matters most what meaning you ascribe to existence. If it’s “I live to serve others,” that person’s a hero. If it’s “because I don’t really have any better ideas at the moment,” well, that’s most of us. And if it’s “all who doubt my innate greatness shall kneel before me,” them folks is jerks!

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