- Ecclesiastes 9:7-10
Specifically, what I mean to ponder is: Has all our scientific and technological progress - in particular, the foundation-rocking understanding of the universe and ourselves that's been granted us by cosmology, astrophysics, geology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience, etc. - has all of that grand accumulated wisdom left us without a psychic pot to piss in? Without a single mote of solacing dust floating amidst the vast storms of cosmic dust and gamma rays? Bereft of the least psychological comfort blanket to pull up to our chins against the endless, and encroaching, darkness of the void?
Have we simply made it impossible just to get through the frick'n day?
I think we may have. Consider:
GOD IS DEAD.
News of his demise has been slow to get around, but it's pretty incontravertible. (Nietzche maybe didn't holler loudly enough.) Sure, we may yet stumble upon a supreme architect of the universe out there somewhere, but Ladbrokes is offering about 140 billion to one against and you'd be a sucker to take it. We have a very strong sense that our Father is not in His Heaven because we've actually sent some guys up there to look. Then we pointed telescopes - at pretty much every point on the EM spectrum - out there at all angles, and took a long leisurely gander, and, still, no God. Just void. Sorry. Quaint creation myths and the 21st century are going to have to go their separate ways. It's time to turn Vatican City into a Laser Tag Arena.
(First corollary to GOD IS DEAD)
THERE IS NO PURPOSE TO EXISTENCE.
Whatsoever. We have not been dropped here (or, rather, sprouted here) to fulfill any role of any sort, and nothing whatever is expected of us. There's no Handbook for Using the Universe, nor any Human Being User's Guide (even notional or theoretical ones). Your imprecations to the heavens echo forever; nothing comes back. The universe cares so little about us you can taste it all coppery in your mouth. YOU'RE JUST HERE.
(Second corollary to GOD IS DEAD)
THERE IS NO AFTERLIFE.
This is the one shot, all you've got. Leukemia? Tough luck, motherfucker. Hacked to death by Hutus? Sucks to be you. You are going the way of all flesh, which is oblivion, and have a nice trip.
(First corollary to THERE IS NO AFTERLIFE)
THERE IS NO DIVINE JUSTICE.
Lived a noble life and never caught a single break? Sucker. Lied, cheated, stole, and betrayed at every opportunity? You can get away with exactly what you can get away with. There's no karma, either, instant or otherwise (as John Lennon discovered). Virtue is its own reward, or it's not rewarded. Sin is punished, and evil acts avenged, by Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 or not at all. (And don't get me wrong - I for one ardently hope those guys are all in blacked-out helicoptors, all over the world, swooping down on where the mass murderers of Beslan, Madrid, and New York are asleep in their beds.)
(Second corollary to THERE IS NO AFTERLIFE)
THERE IS NO MORAL SHAPE TO THE UNIVERSE.
The universe created spiders that lay their eggs on trussed-up insects, that later hatch and feed on the living flesh; the universe created cuddly kitties that "play with" (ie recreationally torture) mice before devouring them. Everything in the universe outside of our tenuous cultural playpen is a big "Fuck You" to all our comfortable ideas about morality; and I think perhaps it behooves us to say to the universe, at least on some level, "Fuck you right back. Fuck you, Universe; right in the ear."
(First corallary to THERE IS NO MORAL SHAPE TO THE UNIVERSE)
MORALITY IS ARBITRARY.
There is no divine instruction book for proscribed, permitted, or prescribed behaviour. You have to roll your own. We're making it up as we go along. We're trying to avoid unfaithful marriages, planes crashing into buildings, and Nazi death camps - and we're completely jolly-well winging it. There does seem to be both a moral framework (albeit arbitrary and culturally negotiated) and a common-ish moral sense (based on a variant of the golden rule, likely evolved because of the inherent illogic of claiming for yourself rights you would deny to others); but I say we're taking cover behind rice paper walls in a balls-out firefight with large-caliber weapons.
HUMANITY IS NOT DIVINE
We are not little replicas of God our Father in Heaven (as noted, we've established that He isn't there). Rather, we are bags of meat. We are dying bags of meat. As Scott "EWAV" Christensen has deathlessly put it, "The difference between you, the cow, the fish, the roach, and the bacterium, is one of complexity and not much more. You're made up of the same basic amino acids. You're what you are because of the slaughter of trillions of living things before you in a contest to see which version happens to be better at reproducing in a particular environment. We are all a test to see if we will work well and if we don't we're tossed aside like piles of worthless chemicals we are. The only difference humans have is that they know this and it sucks." I cannot improve upon that.
WE ARE PROTEIN COMPUTERS
(first corollary to HUMANITY IS NOT DIVINE)
We also happen to be dying bags of meat that have had what on balance I'd call the misfortune of developing exquisitely sensitive sparks of consciousness in our distended craniums. But even in those sparks, we are simply protein computers. Ryan Canolty now has neurosurgeon
buddies who can crack your skull, start poking around with little electrodes, and make you raise your arm, see a patch of blue, laugh out loud. Thusly is over-amply demonstrated that you have no soul - rather, you are simply the physical activity, chemical and electrical, of your brain. All we think of as our sacred selves, our unique snowflakes of individual consciousness, is simply three and a half pounds of spongy meat. BZZTTT, BZZTTT!!! Ha, ha, motherfuckers!
THERE'S NOTHING OUT THERE
Nothing to speak of, at any rate. Literally unimaginable stretches of empty freeezing vacuum - occasionally punctuated by huge burning balls of hydrogen. The universe is a billion times lonelier than the loneliest place you can reasonably imagine. We are - simply and irretrievably - riding a wet mossy boulder through the endless cosmos. Take a look at the night sky sometime and try to appreciate what you are actually looking at, where you are. You're on a tiny little dust speck in the middle of nearly infinite nothingness. And you can't get off, because there's nowhere to go.
(First corollary to THERE'S NOTHING OUT THERE)
THERE'S NOWHERE TO GO.
At any rate, there are no places remotely worth going to that any of us could ever get to in the span of a human lifetime. There may be habitable worlds, but we haven't remotely found any yet and (trust me) you're not going there if we happen to.
(First corollary to THERE ARE NO OTHER PLACES THAN THIS ONE)
THERE'S NOBODY HERE BUT US.
The debate about the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe is slightly outside the scope of this rant. But, suffice it to say: A) of 50 million or so species on this planet, exactly 1 has evolved intelligence to speak of, or technology of any sort; B) It mainly uses that technology to try to wipe one another out; C) We've never found extraterrestrial life of any sort; and D) never mind the intelligent, technology-using sort; E) we have no real idea about how life started on this planet, so it's a little tough to handicap the odds of it happening elsewhere. Moreoever: however you reckon the odds of the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life, you might want to pause before betting the ranch that out there somewhere is a species that - in the whole 12-billion year history of the universe - is going to have evolved to the point of having inter-stellar communications technology, but not so far as to have stupidly wiped itself out, or been taken out by a killer asteroid - in the next, oh, 100 years or so of your likely lifespan. In other words, there may be other people out there, but not as far as you're concerned. Forget it, bub. For every practical purpose, we're alone.
THE FUTURE OF THIS WORLD, MINUTE TO MINUTE, IS HARDLY ASSURED.
We now know we could get wiped out at virtually any moment by a global killer virus, a container-ship-sized asteroid, or nuclear- or bio-terrorism. If none of that happens, we know exactly when the sun's going to go out. Pardon me while I wind my watch.
So, IN SUMMARY:
Knowing now as we do that we are dying bags of meat, with freakish, self-referential, mechanical meat computers onboard that we've come to think of as our "immortal souls"; riding a moist boulder around an empty, depopulated, and Godless cosmos; trying to come to some agreement, completely arbitrary, about how to share the boulder without bashing one another's brains in all the time, and knowing that no one is watching or keeping score or rewarding or punishing anyone for anything; having been put here for no reason, with nothing expected of us, and going nowhere; and with only oblivion waiting . . . just exactly how is it we still manage to get up every morning and take a shower?
Or, to put it another way, it seems to me that perhaps our radically improving understanding of ourselves and the universe has pretty much taken out all the (now evidently illusory) legs that have traditionally allowed us to stand up and keep chugging along.
But, you know, don't get me wrong I'm not actually a nihilist at all and emphatically don't want you to be one. Moreover, I happen to think life in the world is a blast. I just fancied going off on a hearty (existential) rant.