My dear Basil of Baker Street, how are you? I am pleased to see that you have maintained a wonderful and optimistic view of human existence, in spite of the resounding amount of evidential substantiation to the contrary. It demonstrates your sprightly nature; and I daresay, a bit of your naïveté, but a naïveté of a sort that we can’t help but be captivated by – like a touching, heroic moment at the end of a war movie, a moment that traps our emotions and minds into somehow feeling that all of the destruction and death was worth it somehow. Of course, we may detect the falseness of the situation, but from our plush leather couches and piping hot cups of chi tea, we are willing to smile despite the spurious nature of our smiles.
Communion? Unity? I had hoped you were a better reader of history, literature, and philosophy. It seems painfully apparent that the history of the existence of humanity has long since exposed man’s ultimate isolation in the world. The random thrown-ness of our existence [it is amazing how much power we give to the world ‘existence,’ as if in attaching great and nearly supernatural meaning to its definition, we are replacing the deep pettiness of mankind’s existence with significance simply through semantics] is painfully observable through the reading of history, literature, and philosophy.
Since Descartes’ sincere but counterfeit trumpeting of a new Certainty, we have never been truly Certain of anything since. I may be giving Rene a bit too much credit; and I am sure that many thinkers had come to this conclusion much before the disastrous Frenchmen. But the fact remains: As soon as we fully face the ultimate subjectivity of our existence, any belief in some ‘supernatural’ or ‘non-material’ connection between individuals appears as it is: hollow and shallow.
Our experience of the past and present, the rise and fall of civilizations, genocide, murder, death, and much, much more: it all points a lot more clearly and steadily to a basic disunity between peoples --- not any sort of unity. Even basic science does not show us a world of connect and unity; it shows us a world of brutal randomness, entropy, and un-meaning. An anxious desire to see a communion is understandable, but at the very least flawed. To arrive at this conclusion, so much must be ignored, reinterpreted, or labeled as mystery.
Man’s persistent desire to find himself as not alone in a meaningless world is simply a confirmation that he increasingly feels the pressure and anxiety of life without meaning. This battle between objectivity and subjectivity finds its place as the foremost intellectual [although this may not be the correct word] battle of the last few centuries. But it must be read for what it is: man simply desiring – and desiring quite impractically and emotionally – to prove something beyond his own feeble consciousness. Perhaps this desire is evolutional: we had based our place at the top of the hierarchal chain of existence by disclaiming our random thrown-ness. Being forced to disagree with our prior reckoning, we have been squirming in our seats for centuries, looking for a reason to RE-prove our connection to the rest humanity and nature. The fallacy is obvious: assuming what we desire to prove, and therefore proving it. Any intellectual structure used to explain man’s existence as something beyond meaningless solitude is more an attestation to our deep anxiety about solipsism than anything else.
But the battle is always the same. Fight or squirm as we may, we always end like Camus’ Stranger: “To be honest, I knew that there was no difference between dying at their years old and dying at seventy because, naturally, in both cases, other men and women will live on, for thousands of years at that.... It was still I who was dying, whether it was today or twenty years from now.” The last few centuries of true thought have come to the same solipsistic conclusion. The rest of the pattern has as its basis an anxious, irrational desire to disprove what we experience by any means necessary.
Is this nihilism? It would seem that way, if we believe the true battle is between meaning and non-meaning, between solipsism and communion, or between the supernatural and the material. But what a shallow battle we are fighting here; what use is there in this? The fighters are all the same: the naïve and young idealists, the cantankerous nihilists, the anxious religious, and the smug atheists. But is this the battle we should be fighting? Should not we, like Nietzsche, step beyond nihilism? Should not we, like Nagel, question why things should have meaning in the first place? Then, like the phoenix from the fire, we shall rise and begin thinking truly.