Life is a Tale Told by an Idiot
What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Does life signify anything, does it have a purpose? I don't know if I can answer these questions, and I don't know if I should even try. For the past few years I have been drinking the opium of apathy, finding strength in ignorance, in order to avoid these questions that drag me towards insanity. When I do face up to these, the most vital questions pertaining to the human race, I invariably come to the conclusion that life is pointless, without purpose or meaning, a stupid story without a theme or moral, a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. These cannot be safe thoughts.
Down through the ages philosophers have come to their own conclusions on the meaning of life. Some ideas are corny, some stupid, some contain a glimpse of truth, but, most importantly, none seem to agree with each other. Plato thought life just a shadow of the world of "Ideas", of "Forums". His teacher, Socrates believed that the only purpose in life was to be happy, by doing one's duty and finding the "greatest good". The Epicureans said that we must find "The Golden Mean", a perfect balance, in order to give our lives meaning. The Stoics solemnly frowned on their comfort, preferring to toil labouriously and to endure hardship. Christian religion went for the easy answer, claiming that the reason we should do good is not because of meaning or purpose in this life, but because we must work to enter the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, Eastern religions such as Hinduism were preaching that the reason for our existence is to climb the ladder to perfect oneness with God, and that we will be continually re-incarnated until we reach that ideal. All these theories are trying to lead us to a similar conclusion, namely that life is not a tale told by an idiot, that it is not just there, but has a purpose, a meaning and a logic to it.
But personally, I can't find any such meaning to life, any reason for being, any answer to the question posed by existence. Education has been the substance of my existence so far. But what has been the point of it all? To be filled full with facts in order to vomit them back up again in the Leaving Cert? Is this what I endured those months of classes for, classes that seemed to last hours, days, months, a constant whirling roundabout with me as the dizzy passenger shackled to the centre, learning nothing but the word "eternity". Not even on a shallow level can I find any real meaning to this façet of my life. It all seems so illogical, irrelevant and purposeless.
When I look at the world around me this view is backed up by a multitude of idiotic examples. The history of the world is a history of famine, war and death. The lives of those that died in the crusades, in the Napoleonic wars, the Boer war, the Crimean war, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Rwanda were hardly stories told by a sage, and that list is only a scattered collection of a few examples of all the wars in the past thousand years. Neither can I find any point to the lives of those that died because of a famine in Ireland, in Somalia, in Ethiopia, and in many other countries, especially when I consider the wealth and comfort of others who stuffed themselves full of food and fed their dogs while these people starved.
Think of the typical life of a person living in the Western world at the moment. They are born, are educated, get a job, find a partner, have a family, make enough money to stave off discomfort, live the constant struggle of existence, get old, weak and sad, and then die. It makes as a much sense as Eamon Dunphy's weekly column in the "Sunday Independent". Mrs. Gradgrind in "Hard Times". I cried in reading the chapter in which she died. There was no point to her life. It was nothing more than a waste of good air (which was scarce due to the pollution of the time). But it was not her plight that coaxed the tears from my eyes. What really depressed me was that her plight echoes the so many wasted lives.
Man killing man; people starving while others watch; rape, bigotry, death: It all seems so illogical, so pointless. Life must be "a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing" but the complete stupidity of existence itself. Therefore we need to create artificial meaning to prop up our petty lives. We depend on religion, "the opium of the people", which answers our questions by referring to another world that may or may not exist, but provides a reason for being. Some people survive through apathy and conformity, following the herd, drifting along in a state of semi-somnambulance, not asking these questions, donating an artificial meaning to life and sometimes giving an escape route from this idiotic "tale". Suicide is the most emphatic statement of life's pointless meaningless, illogical irrelevancy. The reason it is not embraced is the few survival tactics I have just listed, as well as, the instinct for self-preservation which is an enormous driving force in all of us.
The only purpose of existence left is life for life's sake, accepting that we exist and that therefore we ought to make the most of it, seize the day, reach for the stars, eat the peach and all those other clichés teenage essay-writers are so fond of. We must ignore the fact that when we are dead nothing will ever have mattered (a theory beyond my powers of explanation implied by the belief of philosophers that existence is a subjective thing, with reality residing in our individual minds). It is vital, for our own mental stability and sanity, that we read a meaning into "the tale told by an idiot". We must invent a moral, a theme, if none already exists.
Socrates said that "the unexamined life is not worth living". This may be true, but be very careful, because the over-examined life will also be found to be devoid of meaning, and not worth living either.
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