one girl’s perspective on life, neopaganism, veganism, politics, books, films, and… stuff.

Posts tagged ‘thoughts’

On the Quest for Meaning

Warning: this is a bit tangential, and roams from the need for meaning in life, to the notion of religion as an agent of social/individual control, and then spirals tangentially into a bit of pseudo-existentialism.

Everyone seems to want to know what is the ‘meaning of life’; more to the point, the vast majority of people want to believe that there is some sort of reason, meaning or purpose behind their existance. In an increasingly secular society, this myth of meaning has been subtly changed; instead of serving God, etc., the purpose is to ‘serve society’, in whatever capacity one is able. That is to say, the greater meaning of life, in modern Western society, is generally perceived as being useful, be that through career, interpersonal relationships, whatever.

“‘The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,’ she said, ‘would be to not be used for anything by anybody.’ The thought relaxed her.” (Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut)

In context, the premise of the novel is that all the exploits and endeavours of the human race have been nothing more than a subtly controlled manipulation by the far-off Trafalmadorians. Obviously, there is a lot of allegory related to religion/God. However, the point is that Rumfoord, who exists in all time at once, understands this, and therefore seeks to create a new religion; one in which God, though he exists, doesn’t give a shit about humanity, and has nothing to do with them.

It’s an interesting blend of the need for faith in a higher power, with the stark reality that people’s lives are influenced by the chance of nature, an impartial, uncaring force. And, of course, the control by the Trafalmadorians – of which no human is aware, other than Rumfoord – could be seen as an allusion to basic primal urges. People act as they are genetically programmed to: they may find unique means by which to achieve these biological goals, but in the end, isn’t nature the greater controlling force? Perhaps it simply seems as though we have free will because there is such extraordinary variation in nature, and thus in people and their actions.

Thus, Rumfoord creates a new meaning; that there is no meaning, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, this most essential truth needs to be cloaked in the trappings of religion, because even the reality that belief is false needs to be conveyed through belief… in that non-belief. And even then, the notion of control still exists: Rumfoord never explicitly states that God doesn’t control things, just that he doesn’t care or play an ACTIVE role. Things could potentially still be set in motion by this greater power, eons ago. So what does this represent? An intelligent, intermediary step on the way to a non-religion of cold, harsh logic? Or just another means by which to give people that security of ‘someone/thing else controls my fate, which means there must be some bigger picture here – i.e. meaning’ that they need?

A review of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus (which is a fantastic read, by the way) said that although Camus promoted the idea of achieving happiness through the realisation that life is ultimately meaningless, there is no way Camus himself could have been happy, living as he did with that knowledge.

I ask: why not? Isn’t there something liberating in the knowledge that there aren’t any prescribed achievements? That your life is your own, because in the end, it doesn’t represent anything? I don’t see why that’s necessarily fatalistic. You can still effect change – for good or ill – in your immediate circumstances/environment, you simply accept that there isn’t necessarily any great spiritual or larger force driving it all. It’s not ‘chaos’, at least not in the human sense, it is simply nature in its purest form. It exists because it exists, in and of itself, for its own sake.


Ethical consumerism and the issue of trust

As keen-eyed readers may have guessed by now, I’m a pretty big proponent of ethical consumerism. So, today, as I sat here eating a slice of vegan cheese (Australian vegans, take note: Tofutti “cheese slices” are available in Australia, and are delicious), I started thinking: how do I know that this, or any other “vegan” product, is actually vegan? I’m just trusting that what it says on the label is true, and I have no way of knowing whether or not the company is lying in order to sell more.

O.K., so, realistically, in an age of increasing food allergies (and litigation – imagine the lawsuits from severely lactose-intolerant people if the vegan cheese really did contain dairy), it’s pretty damn unlikely that any food company would take that risk and deliberately misrepresent or mislabel their product.

But consider other items, from which such dishonesties perhaps can’t be so easily detected – items such as shoes, clothing, cars, etc. We can (generally) only take the manufacturer’s word for it that those shoes are synthetic, that those clothes aren’t made by underpaid sweatshop workers, that this car does produce significantly less CO/CO2. Very few of us have the means by which we can actually test the veracity of these claims. Enter the necessary element of trust in consumerism.

As a result, we are generally forced to trust that we aren’t being lied to; and, thus, that we are actually living as ethically as we intend to. And while I agree with the common NeoPagan sentiment that intent is a key factor in moralism, realistically, that doesn’t negate the reality and physical impact if those shoes are made from cow skin, if those clothes are the result of human rights violations, or if that car really is producing significantly higher amounts of carbon emissions than you thought.

The only way around this is to carefully research every product that we even consider buying – and I do mean carefully (look at Loreal – some of their products are “not tested on animals”, but the company still continues to generally conduct testing on animals, and who wants to support that?). But even if all your sources say that the company/product is an ethical one, that just means that they are ethical according to the publications/press releases/etc. of that company.

Isn’t it ironic that, in the age of “critical consumerism”, realistically we are still forced to operate on trust. And isn’t that thought just a little frightening, in a world where manufacturers and retailers are increasingly Machiavellian in their pursuit of profit, at the cost of everything else (including ethics)?

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