Sometime ago, I read two pieces a synthesis of which might be interpreted to say that all we can hope for in life is to concoct an artifice which distracts us from the impending and concurrent oblivion of purposelessness which would otherwise crush us. Herewith my earnest and hopefully readable attempt at such a synthetic enlightenment.
From Whiskey by way of the singular Hydragenic:
… creativity is essentially an overwhelming presence of awareness, and may very well be mindfulness, and could be a form of meditation, or it could be more like lucid dreaming (outside of dreaming – as in, lucid wakefulness), or it could be the state attained through the creative mind, which seems to be on a whole different level of consciousness altogether.
Hydragenic responds “intuitively.”
Yes, yes, yes. And can we throw the word ‘otherness’ in there somehow as well? Creativity as an approaching of the divine via a process of lucid mindfulness that allows us to appreciate, however briefly and superficially, the intrinsic strangeness of everything other than oneself.
Hg soaks in this for a bit, and illuminates some deeper reflection, steeped over years and an embrace of the strange.
We’re all looking for meaning in life, one way or another. I’ve come to the conclusion that meaning comes from creativity. Creativity in its broadest sense: the bees in the garden gathering pollen to make honey, friends and family making relationships and babies, businesses concocting fascinating products, singers pulling together words and melodies, painters filling canvases with dreams and desires.
Thus, so far, we get the picture that meaning is a consequence of, and not a cause of nor reason for, our existence. A search for meaning, then, should not be a search for some pocket of import somewhere in the aether, should not be an effort to distill some back-of-the-universe answer to the question “What is the purpose of life?” Rather, we have but to create our meaning, and live our meaning.
Where, in other hands, this sort of inspection might yield a gaudy melodrama, Hg finds empowerment, in the attribution of meaning to those who would build their own.
To discover something is to encounter its essence, which the dictionary describes as “the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features”. Its true identity, in other words: what makes it different to everything else. It strikes me that art – creativity – is the process of divining and defining uniqueness. It’s fine to make connections between things, but ultimately those things are separate.
Does that sound too bleak? I see it as strength, as infinite richness. Too abstract? We all encounter art on a daily basis, in one form or another. Too solipsistic? I can’t dispute that: all I am is all I am.
Jared Christensen has touched on a parallel set of observations. Though mostly specific to the software industry (my own feeble gross overgeneralization of a culture, but it suffices), Jared’s piece provides a subtle but explicit hook to abstraction. And, anyway, the “software industry” is just instance of a class of social dynamic systems, which allows for a natural comparison across common points of structure.
Sometimes I look around at the state of software, and systems in general, and wonder if they are run by [agents of chaos (my paraphrasing)]. Or perhaps the chaos began by human fallibility, but now the mess is willfully maintained in order to feed this ecosystem that thrives on the system failure. Do companies actually put overly complex, mildy [sic] destructive products out into the market, intentionally giving rise to and continuing to feed an ecosystem of other companies that thrive on repairing the damage? Are some systems designed to be so irritating and complex that whole industries must be erected to make sense of it (*cough* taxes)? Is broken the preferred state for the makers of some products and systems we interact with every day? And does the ecosystem have the power to perpetuate the failure, supplanting the creatorâ€™s will to rectify the problems?
Surely, you’ve heard arguments of similar logical structure applied to government, to law enforcement, to lawyers, to the profession of educators, to book publishers, and to practically innumerable other facets of our shared lives. Each year, hundreds of high school and university departments order the nth edition of Larry Hackajob’s monotonously-uninspiring text for <some class>, not because it’s an improvement, but due to a self-propagated system of kickbacks and peer pressure designed not only to justify this subsequent edition, but to penalize the frugality of just using last year’s edition. At least Western, and most industrialized, societies require work to justify the creation of jobs to buoy the societies themselves. Consider pieces of Roosevelt’s New Deal, which included allocations of the federal budget explicitly for the creation of jobs, not because there was a pressing need for any of them, as much as to start the nation’s long economic repair. We might usually consider work to include an intrinsic necessity, but, while an indefatigably noble cause, and more, ethically necessary, these programs were artifacts. The theme echoes through time.
Drawing them together, I can’t help but conclude that all our efforts, all our endeavors, are not dissimilar from those Depression-era policies nor from the willful messes of agents of chaos. If, as Hg posits, meaning is our product and not the other way ’round, then we build our own temples to chaos and fabricate our need to aspire and achieve, no matter the ambition or arena. Assuming this, there’s absolutely no wonder so many of us are lost, listless, and sometimes paralyzed by the prospect of choosing a course.
Once, quite without meaning to, I advised someone to embrace just such a notion. When asked how to decide the rightness of an act or decision, I said something like, “Well, I don’t know, it’s hard to say; but maybe we just have to decide what we would want to be right, and stay as close to that as we can.”
I care about the answer non-academically, in a real, I have an assignment and it is to live and I don’t want to fail kind of way. As I told Hg, though, in a comment:
Truth be told, I’m a little lost on this question. There’s no greater sensibility to leaving the world than staying, so at the very least, an inclination to survive keeps me going. But if the most we can hope for is to revel in the possibilities of our creative efforts (in your quite useful, broad notion), that’s kind of just a dressed-up hedonism…or no?
There’s no manual I’m aware of, except the one we’re writing and editing. Since any sense of meaning is necessarily a social one, I’m curious how others find their materials and what grammar they use to construct sense and order (unabashedly subjective, those) in life. So share.