By Gary Z McGee
“Irresponsibility is part of the pleasure of all art; it is the part the schools cannot recognize.” ~James Joyce
What’s the point of it all? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we not exist for an eternity, then exist for a flash in the pan of that eternity, only to not exist again for an eternity?
Tough questions. But the following questions put the former into proper perspective. Why are we so hung-up on there being a point to begin with? Why fret over a fretless universe? Why lose our patience with a thing incapable of receiving it?
The answer is: we can’t help it. We are mortals cursed with immortal thoughts. We are gods trapped in ape bodies. We are fallible creatures seeking infallible ends. And the religions we create, the Gods we manufacture, even the sciences we design, are all merely a means toward this end.
We understand our mortality in stark contrast to our impending death. This shapes the way we perceive reality like nothing else. As Sartre succinctly put it, “Existence is not something which lets itself be thought of from a distance: it must invade you suddenly, master you, weigh heavily on your heart like a great motionless beast—or else there is nothing more at all.”
So, what do we do with this great weight? What can we do with it? One thing psychotherapy teaches us is that we ignore or repress it at our own great peril. So, we must gain the courage to face it. And then we must gain the humor to laugh at it. Otherwise, it will destroy us before our time.
We must create a space where our nihilism can implode in on itself before it takes up too much of our space and explodes on us.
This sacred space should serve as a safe zone for existential experimentation. A stoic place where we can shed outdated skin and assuage our mortal angst. A place where we can have fun, poke holes in our ego, and overtly poke fun at our covert seriousness. A place where we can laugh at ourselves, at all our psychological hang-ups, at all our too-serious expectations, at all our sentimentality and pettiness. A place where we can dance despite the indifferent dancefloor of a meaningless universe.
Nihilism as crossroads:
“Before you can be truly motivated to reimagine a new world, you have to totally lose faith in the old one.” ~Wendy Syfret
Before we can accept a pointless universe and an indifferent cosmos void of meaning, we must first wrestle with our own cognitive dissonance.
This is no easy task. It requires putting our worldview on blast. It requires tipping the basket where we placed all our precious eggs, and then painfully picking the broken bits of truth from the sticky yolk of delusion. It requires stretching our comfort zone into the abyss. It requires deep self-interrogation, shadow integration, and soulful self-infliction. It requires eating humble pie with a side of shock-and-awe coffee.
We must remind ourselves that we exist for no reason. We are a random accident, a cosmic quirk, a fluke of nature. We are lucky to be experiencing anything at all. Since the given rule of the universe is distinct nonexperience and succinct indifference, the fact that we can differentially experience anything at all is quite astonishing.
This is the transformative power of nihilism viewed as a crossroads. Where previously we were blinded by the light of thinking we needed a guiding light, after the crossroads we gain the deep insight that we are the light. We are our only guide. And that’s more than okay. It frees us from the false narrative that we are sheep in need of a shepherd. We are free to stop pretending we are victims.
From loggerheads to fountainheads, we rise, we transcend, we get above all the nonsense, all the petty sentimentality, all the whiny placation, all the self-seriousness, and all the unreasonable expectations. We finally see abyss and summit, heaven and hell, God and devil, as one.
Having fun with futility:
“Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.” ~Henry Miller
Ironically, embracing pointlessness points to a new way of making a point. In a pointless universe, we are free to make a unique point of our own. We are free to use futility as fuel for living life well. We are free to transform absurdity into Absolution.
In the face of an absurd universe, the choice is either laugh or balk. When we choose to balk, we are choosing to languish in the misery of the absurd—we inadvertently play the victim. When we instead choose to laugh, we are choosing to rise above the absurd—we proactively become the hero of our own story.
Having successfully crossed the threshold guardian of Nihilism (at the crossroads), we have declared a good sense of humor in defiance of a humorless, pointless, meaningless, indifferent universe. We have become heroic. Had we failed the confrontation with the threshold guardian of Nihilism, we would have merely remained under the delusion that there is a point or meaning to the universe. We will have remained a victim at the mercy of a merciless reality.
Becoming heroic is becoming the compass. We don’t need to find True North when we are True North. Sure, the compass is broken. Sure, the compass is faulty, fallible, and imperfect. So what?
Wielding the broken compass is an audacious, courageous, and authentic act despite authority, fear, and futility. It’s standing atop the Mountain of Absurdity and declaring to the universe: “Despite meaninglessness, despite my faulty maps and stopgaps, despite my fallibility and propensity for delusion, I will create my own meaning, choose my own path, and remain openminded, skeptical, and flexible regarding all so-called answers.”
The greatest pleasure in pointlessness is the power we gain to make our own unique point. With humor as vulnerable armor we gain power over invulnerable power. We gain the power of becoming the protagonist of our own story. As Joseph Campbell articulated, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
When we are the hero of our own story, we become the answer. What’s the point of the universe? We are. What’s the meaning of life? Whatever we want our life to mean. Why is there something rather than nothing? Who knows? But we are free to keep questioning the somethingness and nothingness, despite a world that keeps trying to shove its answers down our throat.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (The Pleasure of Pointlessness) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.