Thursday, December 29, 2005

The search for intelligent life in the Universe on the road to Passaic, New Jersey

In trying to decide whether life has any meaning at all and if humankind is a vile and noisome parasite uselessly and absurdly struggling to survive and perpetuate its kind without any good reason for what it's up to, so pointless is its existence that mass suicide or a huge asteroid striking the planet could only be considered a favor to the universe, one should not look at natural disasters that cruelly and remorsely wipe out thousands of lives in the blink of an eye with no apparent detriment to the continuation of either the species or the earth, nor should one look at man-made disasters like wars, famines, accidents at nuclear power plants, and smaller-scale mayhem like car accidents and drive-by shootings which, though leaving behind lower body counts, are just as evil and senseless to the individuals involved.

No, all natural disasters prove is that Nature has different reasons and different ends in going about its business than do human beings. That Nature wants a volcano where human beings wanted a city doesn't mean that it was pointless for human beings to want the city, only that Nature was more insistent. Anyway, on the whole, in confrontations between human beings and Nature, human beings win most of the arguments, thanks to things like sun block, central heating, GORE-TEX, and bulldozers.

And man-made disasters---whether large scale, like wars, famine, economic catastrophies bankrupting whole nations; or small scale like murder, dinner at fast food restaurants, and a bad day at the track---are in fact the cause of the Question, and the thing that causes the question cannot, rhetorically, be its own answer.

We can't ask: Because there are wars, famines, economic catastrophes, etc., does that mean that life is pointless and human kind doomed to a meaningless and absurd existence? And then reply, yes, life is pointless and human kind is doomed to a meaningless etc. because of wars, famines, economic catastrophes etc.

Rhetoriticians have technical terms to describe such an argument.

Rhetoriticians have entirely too much time on their hands.

On top of this, man-made disasters don't prove that man, or woman, is doomed to a pointless and meaningless existence; all they in fact prove is that man, and woman, make mistakes. We aren't perfect. We are weak, subject to temptation, often our attention wanders, and on a regular basis thoroughly rotten human beings come along to exploit our weaknesses and take advantage of our wandering attention. Because we screw up or get screwed doesn't mean that life has no reason and humankind is an absurdity; it just means we need to try harder.

Which we can do.

The question then arises, why bother?

So I think that if one is going to ask the question---not the Why bother? question, but the first one, the What is the point, if there is even a point? question---one should look at things human beings have done deliberately that they are proud of.

Things that we put our minds and our talent and our skills to, intending to build or create an improvement. Things we think have made life better.

Things like the New Jersey Turnpike.

I think I've answered the question. Life has no meaning and humankind is absurd.

At least, that's how I felt driving north toward Passaic this afternoon in the rain.


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