Are we in an existential crisis?
June 23, 2018 9:07 PM   Subscribe

"We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also for significance. We want lives that matter. It is when people are not able to maintain meaning that they are most psychologically vulnerable." An opinion piece about society and our existential crises (SLNYT).
posted by JiffyQ (57 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I like the peice. I’m pretty anti-religion, so I’m not about to go suggesting that to anyone. But I think there are plenty of ways to find meaning in life without it. I think creating communities of volunteerism could do similar things.
Also, I wonder if these numbers will change due to American kids having to live longer with parents, etc., due to stagnant wages/rising rents.
posted by greermahoney at 9:32 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


I was going to snark that the NYT published this because they can't find suicidal people to profile as easily as Trumpists/Fascists, then I read the last paragraph that restates the "economic anxiety" excuse that is used as an excuse for Trumpism. But then, I should never have expected better from the "failing New York Times".
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:42 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


We've never really known what the fuck, and with the death of organized religion over the past few generations, feel like we're on the cusp of collectively admitting, as it were, that we don't know what the fuck

This is a weird place to be as a society
posted by CharlieCitrine at 9:59 PM on June 23 [18 favorites]


confusion is next
posted by philip-random at 10:05 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Perhaps it’s to replace the meaning given by religion that we see the rise of so many secular religions and cult-lites: obsessively clean eating; the parenting schisms; MLMs; addictive gaming; communities with codes of right and wrong strictly regulated by their members...
posted by KateViolet at 10:20 PM on June 23 [36 favorites]


KateViolet: ...fandom?
posted by Quackles at 10:29 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Are we in an existential crisis?

on less than sober second thought, I certainly fucking hope so, because everyday existence is currently pretty damned bad for way too many people, and not just folks with so-called economic anxiety. Or as wise ole CharlieCitrine once put it ...

We've never really known what the fuck, and with the death of organized religion
posted by philip-random at 11:03 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Maybe people are committing suicide because the general economic picture for anyone not in the top 20% has gone to shit in the last few decades? Free access to opiates likely didn't help, nor the weaponization of behavioral psychology to exploit fears and encourage addictive behavior. You would have to eliminate all these causes before concluding that a return.to religion is what is needed.

Other pieces by Clay Routledge: Why Social Scientists Should Not Participate In The March For Science
National Review - what Prayer Is Good For And The Evidence For It (anybody with access to the primary literature want to take a crack at this?)

We may be having a crisis, but I think this article is written by someone who would like us all to pray a little bit more, and is not very interested in finding real causes.
posted by benzenedream at 11:09 PM on June 23 [47 favorites]


Timothy Leary said that religion was designed around "the religious experience," which provides subjective answers to the same topics for which science seeks objective answers (emphasis added):
The religious experience is the ecstatic, incontrovertibly certain, subjective discovery of answers to seven basic spiritual questions. There can be, of course, absolutely subjective certainty with regard to secular questions: Is this the girl I love? Is Fidel Castro a wicked man? Are the Yankees the best baseball team? But issues which do not involve the seven basic questions belong to secular games, and such convictions and faiths, however deeply held, can be distinguished from the religious. Liturgical practices, rituals, dogmas, theological speculations, can be and too often are secular, i.e., completely divorced from the spiritual experience.

What are these 7 basic spiritual questions?
1. The Ultimate Power Question
What is the basic energy underlying the universe—the ultimate power that moves the galaxies and nucleus of the atom? Where and how did it all begin? What is the cosmic plan? Cosmology.
2. The Life Question
What is life? Where and how did it begin? How is it evolving? Where is it going? Genesis, biology, evolution, genetics.
3. The Human Being Question
Who is man? Whence did he come? What is his structure and function?
4. The Awareness Question
How does man sense, experience, know? Epistemology, neurology.
5. The Ego Question
Who am I? What is my spiritual, psychological, social place in the plan? What should I do about it? Social psychology.
6. The Emotional Question
What should I feel about it? Psychiatry. Personality psychology.
7. The Ultimate Escape Question
How do I get out of it? Anesthesiology (amateur or professional). Eschatology.
With science under attack for literally decades, and with many mainstream religions falling apart under their attempt to cover secular and even political relations with the same type of faith-based approach to problems, of course we're getting lots of people who cannot figure out why they should go on living.

That's very much a religious question, a spiritual one - there is no objective, scientific answer, and the religious ones all fall apart when subjected to scientific scrutiny, which is what happens after religion spends a few decades trying to legislate medical activities and long-term weather projections. The churches opened themselves up for facts-based evaluations, and there are. no. facts. that can provide those answers.

With the breakdown of shared community spirituality, each person has to find their own answers, and we are, for the most part, woefully ill-equipped to do that. It's my belief that these questions are the purpose of a religion: Providing shared experiences that lead to similar enough answers to those questions, so the people of a community can cope with life's hardships in a way that shelters and supports each other.

Everyone hits a point where they say, "why do I even bother putting up with this?" We're just getting more and more people who aren't treating it as a rhetorical question, and when they look for an answer, absolutely nothing passes the common-sense test.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:23 PM on June 23 [33 favorites]


I liked this piece a lot and I agree heartily. I think I'm in some sort of human existential crisis feedback loop lately. In fact, I just mentioned Brené Brown's amazing book, Braving The Wilderness: The Quest For True Belonging in the big MetaTalk discussion. It delves further in depth on this very topic of loneliness and disconnection in today's divisive and ever ideologically-bunkered world. I've felt so much relief after reading the book, like I can take a deep breath, reach out to strangers and neighbors and just exist together and share in our commonalities rather than right fight about our differences.

I think we're going through a rough time as a species right now in our evolution. We're lost and tired and so scared and so lonely. Not as any one country, but as a planet. We are all inextricably connected and this is a really difficult age to live in.
posted by bologna on wry at 11:24 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


In the 90s the Cold War was over, and intractable conflicts we’d been hearing about all our lives like in Northern Ireland and Palestine seemed to be ending. It felt like we were actually heading for a science fiction future of peace and prosperity. In 2001 we got war without end, torture programs, and creeping authoritarianism. Yeah its an existential crisis.
posted by rodlymight at 11:29 PM on June 23 [27 favorites]


This is the nth essay of this sort I've read, and I think behavioral psychologists basically don't understand that relationships—the societal fracturing thesis that people are not cultivating strong interpersonal relationships—is not at all equivalent to meaningfulness. They refrain from social analysis and politics—the author goes as far at the end of the piece to say that politics is merely an illusory polarization—but I think that people may be sad, but they aren't stupid. That there are reasons behind why the societal fracturing thesis is correct plays into the whole point about people's need for meaning, and if you as a professional write an op-ed or prescribe relationship therapy… that's a kind of question-begging theory that conveniently sidesteps any explicit sense of political responsibility.
posted by polymodus at 11:44 PM on June 23 [17 favorites]


It is no coincidence that religion blames those who commit suicide for not being more religious (even though it doesn't even claim to cure depression) because it often threatens our souls with damnation for suicide (so it thinks it has a right and need to judge those victims after the fact). The other problem is that black and white thinking, and bipolar disorder, both have issues dealing with uncertainty, and certainty is something that religion fraudulently offers. So if a religion claims to have all the answers it is probably the best reason to avoid it, since our sanity is at risk. By failing or dying after rejecting it, they shrewdly use it as their best evidence for its usefulness, when in reality is the worst evidence for its usefulness.
posted by Brian B. at 11:57 PM on June 23 [9 favorites]


^^Oh jeez, he writes for National Review and Quillette?

There is even reason to think that America’s existential crisis may be contributing to our rancorous political divisions. Studies show that when presented with existentially threatening ideas (such as reminders of their mortality), people respond with increased bias toward their own worldview, particularly if they are not finding meaning in their life through other sources.

Well our current crisis is largely being caused by conservative Christians who have been whipped into a politicized frenzy by existential alarmism, and they've been steadily involved in a culture war to destroy secular society for decades now.

Intense participation in religion does not seem to be helping them find meaning through other sources than rancorous political divisions. Who knows, it might even be contributing to it.
posted by fleacircus at 1:05 AM on June 24 [13 favorites]


A few thoughts.

1) Housekeeping: Fuck you NYT, you bastards. ( Cancel your subscription )

2) I remember Mario Cuomo telling an anecdote about HIS father, and the gist as I remember it was that Mario's father felt sorry for him, because his father was tired after working all day ( laborer ) to think any Big Thoughts...

3) Alternative to religion. Get a list of voters from the board of elections ( you can often do it via email/FOIA ) and send them postcards asking/begging/cajoling them to VOTE. ( MeMail me if interested in NYS. I have one -- a few months old -- on my harddrive, and love running sql queries... ( Yes, I'm weird. ))
posted by mikelieman at 1:17 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


But then, I should never have expected better from the "failing New York Times".

I urge you to not adopt and help normalize this Trumpian vocabulary
posted by thelonius at 1:40 AM on June 24 [36 favorites]


It is no coincidence that religion blames those who commit suicide for not being more religious (even though it doesn't even claim to cure depression) because it often threatens our souls with damnation for suicide

Please don't say "religion" when you mean "Christianity." My religion contains no eternal damnation, and suicide is a great sadness but not a sin.

Religions are supposed to help people find reasons to live and ways to relate to each other and their sense of the divine, much like universities are supposed to help people understand history, culture, art, and sciences. If a person would benefit from a religion, that religion should be trying to find and help that person.

The onus is on religious groups to provide better support, not on lonely or depressed individuals to figure out which spiritual group might be helpful for them and figure out how to connect with it. Religions were created to help people, not the other way around. And organized, mainstream Christianity's record with helping people avoid suicide is awful.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:57 AM on June 24 [14 favorites]


Trigger warning: advocacy of the absolute right to suicide and the potential justice thereof.

My own opinion is that, among the many things the piece gets wrong, there is something it gets right, which is that there is an awful, implacable, irremediable loneliness that has nothing at all to do with how many friends one has, how much time one spends with them or how rewarding that time is. It's the loneliness that accompanies the realization that you, all your works and all your connections — the whole social fabric of your being — will be lifted out of the world entire by nothing more than the ordinary action of time, and nothing at all will remain of any of it.

Only a very small number of people will remember, along with you, the television commercials that played at four thirty of all the long afternoons of your childhood, the way it felt to pull one of the knurled, resinous handles of an old-style vending machine to liberate a cardboard-backed package of Chuckles, the private language you devised with your first serious lover, the way a particular brand of soda tasted once its maker has gone bankrupt and ceased to exist. As species begin to disappear, as well, even the notes that once undergirded common experience of the turning seasons are increasingly difficult to recall and fix in memory — birdsong, the sound of crickets in the summertime, the slow wink of fireflies.

Those are the things that make meaning. It actually is that simple. Beyond the Big Questions, which all societies of human beings have struggled with and almost certainly always will, "meaning" is largely a matter of shared frames of reference. And I'd argue, further, that those frames are largely constructed of small experiences, not big ones.

So what is left when we've torn those frames to shreds, technologically, materially, ecologically? To my mind, anyway, not very much. Life at that point becomes a rote thing, an automatic stumble performed among other automatons, just going through the motions of getting through the days.

And I believe that each of us has the absolute right to not do that anymore. I'm not willing to say that suicide is invariably a selfish act, or a cruel one, or an unanswerable vengeance weapon. It can simply be a way of saying that it's unacceptable to go on living by rote, in a world of strangers, with whom one doesn't even share a basic vocabulary of experience. I can't and won't condemn that, I can't and won't treat it like a tragedy or a public health crisis when — among otherwise rational, stable adults, anyway — it is a perfectly reasonable, morally serious response to the withdrawing fabric of communion with others.

I know some of you will find this dismissive of the anguish such a response always causes those left behind, and I apologize for any pain I have caused in expressing my feelings. But there it is. There it is.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:02 AM on June 24 [46 favorites]


Life at that point becomes a rote thing, an automatic stumble performed among other automatons, just going through the motions of getting through the days.

Even within the impermanence of everything, life does not have to become a rote, lifeless thing. There's something more to it than that even if it's hard to connect with most of the time
posted by kokaku at 3:09 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


Are we in an existential crisis?

Aren't we always?
posted by chavenet at 3:43 AM on June 24 [11 favorites]


> This is the nth essay of this sort I've read, and I think behavioral psychologists basically don't understand that relationships—the societal fracturing thesis that people are not cultivating strong interpersonal relationships—is not at all equivalent to meaningfulness.

And I would posit the very opposite is true. Relationships are the very core of meaningfulness. Strong interpersonal relationships are our life blood. We're human beings, we're wired for connection.

And while we may be cultivating strong relationships, we're doing so only within the groups of people who believe exactly as we do. And that doesn't require us to really do the difficult work of connecting to those who don't agree with us and learning how to exist together in our shared humanity. Instead, we demonize and dehumanize the other side, and it gets us nowhere but more angry, more insulated, more afraid and more lonely. And ever more disconnected.
posted by bologna on wry at 3:48 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


Beyond the Big Questions, which all societies of human beings have struggled with and almost certainly always will, "meaning" is largely a matter of shared frames of reference. And I'd argue, further, that those frames are largely constructed of small experiences, not big ones.

So what is left when we've torn those frames to shreds, technologically, materially, ecologically?


Half of the (absolute must-read) book Man's Search for Meaning is author Viktor Frankl chronicling his experience of having those types of frames torn to shreds in a Nazi concentration camp. He saw everything break down—most critically, I think, faith, and not just religious faith but everyday faith in the common decency of one's fellow humans. So what was left for him?

I interpret his answer to the big Meaning Question as (and I apologize for any distortion that may creep in here, but I haven't read it in a few years) that we must, each of us, create our own meaning. It must be our own because if we rely on anything external to hand us meaning, we risk existential collapse due to the fragility of all things external (*cough* functional U.S. democracy *ah-hem*), and we must do it because nothing is as deleterious to our psychological well-being as the feeling of meaninglessness.

(I had a counselor recommend Frankl's book to me after he got to know me—and this was before 2016, mind you—and boy did that guy have me pegged! Whenever anybody asks me for my all-time top book recommendation, it's that.)

It's the loneliness that accompanies the realization that you, all your works and all your connections — the whole social fabric of your being — will be lifted out of the world entire by nothing more than the ordinary action of time, and nothing at all will remain of any of it.

But so will literally everything else, not just us short-lived humans and our works that we look upon. Does "nothing remaining" even mean anything when there's no "something" as a basis of comparison?

I've had exactly one true religious experience in my life (during meditation in a vast nature preserve, and 100% substance-free, ;) by the way), and my takeaway from it was, to use Leary's phrasing, "absolutely subjective certainty" that not only are we all connected in some deep and unmeasurable way to all other matter, but that we will always continue to be.

Anyway, stuff like that seems to help me. That, and a healthy side dose of absurdism. For example, I find Coen brothers movies spiritually reassuring. Not sure how weird that is.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:02 AM on June 24 [24 favorites]


I believe in nothing, nothing.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:20 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


> I interpret his answer to the big Meaning Question as (and I apologize for any distortion that may creep in here, but I haven't read it in a few years) that we must, each of us, create our own meaning. It must be our own because if we rely on anything external to hand us meaning, we risk existential collapse due to the fragility of all things external (*cough* functional U.S. democracy *ah-hem*), and we must do it because nothing is as deleterious to our psychological well-being as the feeling of meaninglessness.

Thank you so much for sharing this. I agree with it so deeply. It gave me frisson goose bumps! It is inside of each of us, a contract we make with our soul in our quietest moments of searching. A contract we make to create our own meaning and purpose and belonging. It isn't something any person or religion or external whatever will ever be able to hand to you. And there's such freedom in knowing that not only can it not be handed to you, it can never, ever be taken away.
posted by bologna on wry at 4:26 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


I don't know that any of this is distinct to existentialism, so much as it's the background out of which it forms. By and large, the modernist and postmodernist period in non-analytic philosophy can be read as one long response the growing sense of disconsolation in modern/postmodern life.
posted by kewb at 4:30 AM on June 24


I was persuaded by the point that people need to feel that their social connection to others is valuable to those others, not merely pleasant. That certainly tracks my experience of what volunteering adds to my life, which is something distinct from the pleasure (also good) of enjoyable friendly interaction with pleasant people every day. Satisfying friendships and close relationships combine both elements.
posted by Aravis76 at 5:01 AM on June 24 [9 favorites]


I blame capitalism. The alienation of labour and commodity fetishism come to mind.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:35 AM on June 24 [9 favorites]


up 25 percent since 1999 across most ethnic and age groups. These numbers clearly point to a crisis — but of what kind?
Many argue that this is a crisis of mental health care, that people are not getting the services they need. The proposed solution is better therapies, more effective antidepressants and greater access to treatment.


This is as far as I got. The philosophical responses in this thread are good but misplaced and these first paragraphs of the article just install a false premise.

Depression is a disease that we do not understand how to treat. "25% up" and "more effective antidepressants", sheesh.

There is more awareness, better therapies, more drugs and suicide is up.

It is pretty established that med corporations have been blatantly lying to doctors to increase sales of highly profitable, highly addictive medications, we don't need religious leaders or academic ideas we need responsible prosecutors to put avaricious corporate executives in prison.
posted by sammyo at 6:01 AM on June 24 [6 favorites]


Professors in postmodern fields such as gender studies are actively teaching ideas that are more conspiracy theory than scholarly research.

One of the reasons why social scientists needed to be in the March for Science is that we weren't just pushing back against the denialism that says "Earth isn't warming and/or we aren't causing it", but also the denialism of "sociology has been taken over by Cultural Marxists who want to destroy proper civilization".

Incidentally, the NYT features prominently and poorly in this classic paper on global warming denialism published fourteen years ago. I doubt they'd look much better in a followup.
posted by traveler_ at 9:00 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Please don't say "religion" when you mean "Christianity."

I did mean religion, and I disagree that they were created to help people in any sense other than help them survive the misery of being subjugated. And if you ask enough adherents, they might even give religion credit for inventing empathy, as an example of thought control. There are better religions, if religion were somehow necessary, but it isn't like finding a source of clean water for our health. Participation in freedom, art, nature and civilization all compete with religion across the spectrum, but only religion offers salvation in the next life. So people like to assume that it helps them cope in this life when it creates its own anxiety and social problems and bases itself on an irrational fear of punishment.
posted by Brian B. at 9:10 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Meaningless?
You mean it's all been meaningless?
Every whisper and caress?
Yes, yes, yes, it was totally meaningless

And if some dim bulb should say
We were in love in some way
Kick all his teeth in for me
And if you feel like keeping on kicking, feel free


Listening to The Magnetic Fields' Meaningless always makes me happy, and I'm not being sarcastic.

At least part of humanity has been having an existential crisis for at least three millennia:

Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

The story of Odysseus can be seen as a struggle with meaninglessness. He gets tired of living on an island with a beautiful nymph with no responsibilities and wants to return to his wife and child.

The story of the Buddha is also a man dealing with the meaninglessness of life. Despite being the crown prince and having a wife and kids, the meaningless of everything got to him and so he left to go sit under a tree.

It does seem that with capitalism and our society's affluence that the existential dilemmas of those who ruled and had time to think are now out there for everyone to grapple with. Reddit's 2meirl4meirl is full of gallows humor.

I've never felt that my depression comes from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Rather it comes from honestly looking at the world, and research seems to back that up. Now more people have more time to think about it all.

I've never gotten around to reading Man's Search for Meaning, but maybe I should.
posted by GregorWill at 9:12 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


Classical existentialism says existence precedes essence. You exist first, but what and who you are comes later. And where it comes from is yourself. Identity or essence provided from the outside provides inauthentic existence. To live as others want you to live. Creating or discovering your essence is your project. No one says this is easy and it may be a lifelong project but it’s in the doing that you can find meaning.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:15 AM on June 24 [6 favorites]


Classical existentialism says existence precedes essence

You mean, Sartre says that?
posted by thelonius at 9:19 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Seconding CheesesOfBrazil's recommendation of Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. That and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (with its picture of two societies diverging) are the only two books necessary to read to understand our current moment.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:22 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


You mean, Sartre says that?

I’m trying to avoid the expected argumentum ad hominem that can arise when that name is invoked. Hence, “classical.” I still think that this simplified expression of existentialism has validity. It’s Frankl with a French accent.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:35 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Just popped over to my local library's website and saw that all copies of Man's Search for Meaning are heavily waitlisted. Just another piece of evidence that the search for meaning is on a lot of people's minds right now...
posted by the thought-fox at 9:38 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


med corporations have been blatantly lying to doctors to increase sales of highly profitable, highly addictive medications, we don't need religious leaders or academic ideas we need responsible prosecutors to put avaricious corporate executives in prison.

There have always been snake-oil peddlers insisting that their drugs would put a sparkle in your eye and a spring in your step, wash your dishes and get the kids fed in the morning. The current crowd equipped with MBAs and corporate stock options are not any worse than previous ones - except that we now have a culture that considers money itself as a source of authority, and has taught us all to accept casual lying for profit.

This means that we're all suspicious of statements not grounded in objective, solid facts; we're constantly trying to sort out the difference between "Try this - You'll feel amazing! You'll have more energy for spending time with your family!" and "There is value in continuing to live, even if you can't perceive it right now."

Neither of those is provable. Neither of those is disprovable.

The drug industry is capitalizing on the utter lack of trust that's endemic in our society; while sending the lying scumbags to prison is a good start, it won't fix the disease. (Still worth doing; you don't avoid treating symptoms while you're working on a cure. And sometimes, if you treat enough of them, the cure happens.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:39 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


Hold on. Hold on! HOLD. ON. We have made a terrible mistake.

The NYT Op asks, "Is this an Existential Crisis?" Betteridge's Law says No.

There. No existential crisis.

More seriously, I don't think an uptick in suicides automatically means that either. I'm suspicious starting with why 1999 was chosen and what the suicide rates were before then. Also, with suicide being gradually seen as less of a stigma over time, I also think numbers may have been under reported or reported as non-suicides in the past.

Note, I totally recognize that an increase in in suicides is a problem, I just don't think that it means there's an existential crisis.
posted by FJT at 9:49 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


This chart does not show an increase in suicide rates in Canada to a degree that, to me, indicates some sort of mass existential crisis.
posted by dazed_one at 10:11 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


A new correlation between voting Trump and opioid abuse. This is a major hole in the theory being pushed in the NYT opinion piece, which conveniently touts the last mile in someone's life as a root cause, ignoring the lifelong journey that got them there.
posted by Brian B. at 10:54 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


Depression is a disease that we do not understand how to treat.
That brings to mind psychology's reproducibility crisis. Psych is facing its own crisis.

Also, I don't think this has been evoked yet: Case and Deaton's research into contemporary deaths from despair.
posted by doctornemo at 11:30 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I'm at the point I'm becoming less existentialist and more nihilist by the day, and goddamn does it suck (I realize that statement alone means I still cling to existentialism).
posted by symbioid at 11:59 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


Re: KateViolet's "secular religion" comment...

богостроительство (God-Building)
posted by symbioid at 12:56 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Apparently I fell straight through bleak nihilism and landed in some kind of zen-buddhist humanism.

No, not everything happens for a reason or purpose, but often it does.

But, yes, there seems to be a purpose to life, and it seems to mainly be love and the difficult learning of it. Love is many things, including curiosity and knowledge.

Once that lesson of love is begun to be learned it's meant to be acted on with work, effort and actions. Be nice, share, help others, try to do as little harm as possible and try to enjoy the experience and seek joy.

If the universe exists for any purpose at all, let it be love and joy and the impossible experiences and relationships and connections it creates.

So I guess I'll be over here with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and some other weirdos.
posted by loquacious at 1:14 PM on June 24 [9 favorites]


No worries, loquacious, I'll be over there, too, and I'll bring ice cold drinks and nice foot stools.
posted by bologna on wry at 2:14 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


So people like to assume that it helps them cope in this life when it creates its own anxiety and social problems and bases itself on an irrational fear of punishment.

Yeeeah...I could see that being true for Abrahamic religions as they currently stand. This is false in the context of African traditional religions.*

Conversations like these often make me do a double-take because while I most certainly co-signed much of what was said while atheist and agnostic (and having grown up Christian), being exposed and getting to understand non-Western cosmologies and theologies totally shifted my perspective. We don't have expansion or conversion as objectives, whatsoever, but I often wonder how much us in the West are missing out on by not taking African schools of thought - on anything - seriously.

Apparently, a lot.

*source: I practice one.
posted by Ashen at 4:33 PM on June 24 [8 favorites]


I'm increasingly a Buddhist nihilist: "Nothing matters, so might as well be kind to others."
posted by PhineasGage at 8:13 PM on June 24 [7 favorites]


For the ancient Greeks, suffering was a part of what makes us human. Avoiding it entirely would make for a bland life.
posted by xammerboy at 9:11 PM on June 24


Apparently I fell straight through bleak nihilism and landed in some kind of zen-buddhist humanism.

I took the opposite trip, I guess...

I'm increasingly a Buddhist nihilist: "Nothing matters, so might as well be kind to others."

...and landed more or less precisely there. I think of it as "black quietism." I'm just as bad at it as I was at being a full-on Zen Buddhist, but I do try.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:40 AM on June 25


If we could all collectively agree on the goal of conquering the damn galaxy, things would be a lot easier.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:09 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


fuck conquering the damned thing, I just want to surf it
posted by philip-random at 9:19 AM on June 25


"For the ancient Greeks, suffering was a part of what makes us human. Avoiding it entirely would make for a bland life."

I absolutely do not share this view. There are plenty of ways to have an exciting life without suffering, if anything, suffering itself can be a form of bland tedium. Suffering can make the exciting and fantastic feel pointless, boring, and inconsequential.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:16 PM on June 25


"Suffering is unnecessary. But, one has to suffer before he is able to realize that this is so."
(Henry Miller)
posted by philip-random at 3:47 PM on June 25


... and the longer version:

Once I thought I had been wounded as no man ever had. Because I felt thus I vowed to write this book. But long before I began the book the wound had healed. Since I had sworn to fulfill my task I reopened the horrible wound.

Let me put it another way. Perhaps in opening my own wound, I closed other wounds.. Something dies, something blossoms. To suffer in ignorance is horrible. To suffer deliberately, in order to understand the nature of suffering and abolish it forever, is quite another matter. The Buddha had one fixed thought in mind all his life, as we know it. It was to eliminate human suffering.

Suffering is unnecessary. But, one has to suffer before he is able to realize that this is so. It is only then, moreover, that the true significance of human suffering becomes clear. At the last desperate moment-when one can suffer no more!-something happens which is the nature of a miracle. The great wound which was draining the blood of life closes up, the organism blossoms like a rose. One is free at last, and not "with a yearning for Russia," but with a yearning for ever more freedom, ever more bliss. The tree of life is kept alive not by tears but the knowledge that freedom is real and everlasting. ”


Found toward the end of NEXUS (part three of the Rosy Crucifixion).
posted by philip-random at 3:51 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


For the ancient Greeks, suffering was a part of what makes us human. Avoiding it entirely would make for a bland life.

Challenges are necessary to avoid a bland life; suffering is not. Pain may be necessary - not all pain is suffering. The only way that "suffering is necessary" is if you believe that "not getting everything you want" is a form of suffering.

Which is the basic lie that rich people have been telling poor people for millennia: "You're suffering because you're starving? I'm suffering too! I want another castle, and I can't have one! We're both suffering!"
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:17 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


For the ancient Greeks, suffering was a part of what makes us human. Avoiding it entirely would make for a bland life.

Not all of them. I'm a follower of Epicurus, who taught the only value of suffering was when it was nature teaching us we're doing something wrong, like if we sit in a bad posture and it hurts.

For him and the rest of the (rather large) Epicurean school of philosophy, avoiding suffering is the height of wisdom. It goes in a more Buddhist-like direction from there where the source of suffering is desire. Point is, Ancient Greece is a land of contrasts.
posted by traveler_ at 8:14 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


For the Dutchies: I quickly looked up how suicide rates are in the Netherlands, where I live. They've been consistently going up for 8 years. Within Europe the NL rates are on the lower end. Strangely the numbers are substantially higher in Belgium, which seems so close to the NL..
And, like everywhere in the world it seems, suicide rates of men are twice those of women. As far as age goes the age group of 45-60 has the highest rate. This government article (in Dutch) proposes that people get divorced or widowed or lose their job and have difficulty adjusting to the new situation. They mention gezichtsverlies (loss of face, loss of standing) as a factor.

The importance of meaning and purpose reminds me of something I encountered recently: occupational science / occupational therapy. Googling those terms provided a lot of results; this article gives some overview.
It looks at being, doing and belonging as contributing to meaning and purpose. Becoming and identity als come up.
All in all it seems a reasonably concrete and pragmatic approach to these matters as far as possible.

I'm still chewing on this.
I thought it was interesting that mindfulness is not always the answer. They mention fi asylum seekers: they often have plenty of opportunity for 'being in the here & now'. But lack doing.
Thinking about these things I get why volunteering is advice often given in askme: it involves doing and belonging and purpose.
posted by jouke at 4:31 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


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