Unless you get meaning when you’re born, in which case I got missed out
I am having an existential crisis. Some people have said that we all are; that we’re going through an exotic sprism of wondering what the purpose of everything truly is. We’re reaching for easy answers, and certain people are happy to offer them. Maybe I’m one of them. Let’s see.
First — briefly — existentialism.⁰ Suppose that there is no moral law in the universe. There’s no God and no Hell and prophets are just (always) men. When you die, you simply won’t be. You know that place you go to when you’re asleep? That’s where you’ll go forever.¹ The law is not a moral guideline: people have done² terrible things to other people entirely legally.
If that’s true, then we are suddenly, horribly, startlingly alone — not alone before a judge, or the pearly gates, or in prison. Just alone. Nobody can tell you what is a good thing to do. Only you can tell yourself that.
The agony of choice
We are condemned to be free
— Jean Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism
Well, that’s bleak. It’s the anguish at the centre of being: all the time, you have to make a choice. You have to keep making choices forever, until you die. That’s an option too, by the way. In fact, Camus said the only real question in philosophy was:
Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?
The point is that you’ve still got to choose. Unless you don’t: there are other structures out there for meaning. Religion, social justice, ethno-nationalism, the hustle, visiting every tube station in the world. If some of those seem absurd to you, you’re right. All of it’s absurd. Some of them are shitty, and if you find meaning in ethno-nationalism you’re going to find there are plenty of people who find meaning in opposing you.
As long as you’ve chosen it, then you are at least living in good faith by seeking meaning for yourself. Living according to someone else’s morals is bad faith, because then your essence is predicated on someone else’s existence. That’s not healthy. What if they turn out to be a milkshake duck?
Meanings! Get your meanings here!
People do, of course. We all do. I do. I go to work and I work hard and I write code and I do my job, and I do it every day, and I’m starting to wonder if this was a choice I made or one that was made for me and I never noticed.⁴ Hence: existential crisis. Am I living in bad faith?
Now: some people disagree with the foundation of this. Sartre says that existence precedes essence: that you are born, and then you become. But don’t we all have some essence? Something that governs how we’d act, what we would do, given the same situation?
I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Anyway. I’ve wildly overused both my brain and the word “choose”, so here it is again multiple times. Enjoy this, from Trainspotting, while I go and drink tea and play with the cat. It’s an absurd way to pass the time — but then, of course, so is everything else.
Choose a job.
Choose a career.
Choose a family.
Choose a fucking big television
Choose washing machines, cars,
Compact disc players, and electrical tin openers.
Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance.
Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments.
Choose a starter home.
Choose your friends.
Choose leisure wear and matching luggage.
Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning.
Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows
Stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth.
Choose rotting away at the end of it all,
Pishing your last in a miserable home
Nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself.
Choose your future. Choose life
⁰ As brief as I am capable of being.
¹ Hey, does that mean every time you fall asleep you die?
² And still do
³ In the case of the more extroverted preachers, literally yelled at you
⁴ There is a danger with this stuff that it sounds like self-help aimed at other, equally privileged people like me. I would like to avoid that. Some choices are bad both ways, and people with more privilege will likely have fewer of those. I don’t think there’s a requirement to be happy with your choice, and I also know that’s little comfort. Sorry.