I was reminded of this Peter Watson piece from an old Time Magazine about atheism and existentialism. One of his conclusions after studying existentialist writers is:
“If there is no afterlife, which they accept cannot be, we must attempt to make our lives on Earth as intense as possible: this is the only meaning we can have.”
Certainly when we stop relying on a spiritual reward in heaven there’s a lot more incentive to carpe the diem in real life. Lots of existentialists are very inspiring in this regard, and they have to be. That much freedom, with so little direction or predesigned structure, can be very frightening!
The current pandemic shutdown has really thrown things into sharp relief. When you’re stuck at home with nothing to do but ponder your existence, what is really the point of your life? A lot of people spend most of their energy in professional pursuits, either for the sake of the job itself or for the money they make. But many of us are rendered useless professionally, lots of people have lost jobs and even those that can work from home are naturally questioning the worth of their contribution. Maybe we get to spend time with our families, and lots of people place their home life as their primary motivation. But that’s hard to cultivate too, not just because you’re trapped with your household but because you can’t help them develop: if you have kids, you can’t watch them make their way in the world, if you have a romantic partner you can’t go on dates, if you take care of parents you can’t get them out and about with friends. Of course lots of people prize their relationships with friends highly, but those friendships will be distant for the time being. You can stay home and make things, but depending on what you’re creating it may not make its way into the world anytime soon. And all this is constantly overshadowed by the spectre of death and illness.
Perhaps that’s why quarantine has me feeling a little lethargic lately. It is kinda draining to think so seriously about existence. That’s probably why people hate philosophy.