Please welcome my guest blogger– the angry, philosophical Panda himself– RuleofStupid. Question his paradoxes, compliment his horses, visit his blog, and pass a little rawr-love his way! http://ruleofstupid.wordpress.com
Surely the place to show-off is on a guest spot for someone else’s blog?! I can’t think of any better way of showing off than to answer the question, “what is the meaning of life?” and not fall back on Douglas Adams for a disappointing finale. I’m actually going to answer the question!
How awesome is that!
To get there we have to go through a look at language.
We use words as if they actually meant something – but in fact they don’t – although they do! Yay, paradox!
For example, if I say horse, one person may think of a majestic Shire Horse pulling a plough, another will think of a graceful Arab racing to the finish line. Which is right? Neither, I was talking about a Trojan Horse. (More on this idea here).
This happens in part because words have two components, the easy ‘A means B’ part (Horse means X animal) which dictionaries cover, and the cultural connotations (horses=racing, gambling, fox-hunting etc.) which change whenever we actually speak the word (because every person, culture, country has a different idea about horses – and this idea is not static). (More here)
When I say house I may mean home, or I may mean I have a full bingo card. No-one can know which I mean unless they know where I am – unless they have context. Words are dependent on each other for meaning, the words which surround another word change its meaning. (More here)
So in this series: squat – bedsit – flat – house : the house looks like the best deal. But what about: squat – bedsit – house – mansion – palace – castle : now the house is just average. Same word, different connotations.
An even more important truth about language is that words mean nothing outside of language. The word ‘Horse’ only indicates a type of animal because we say so. There’s nothing about the word, the sound, which automatically ties it to a real Horse. It’s only convention.
Language only means something when used with other language users. I could make up my own language, but it would be no use to me because no-one else could understand it. Worse still, since I was the only person who could check what words meant, I couldn’t be sure I was being consistent. Do I mean the same thing today as I meant yesterday? I cannot know as I have no static measure. (More here)
But the reason I’m banging on about words is because people are exactly the same.
Our life has no meaning – although it does!
As with dictionaries – you can find the generic idea of me – the ‘A means B’ bit by looking up encyclopaedias and biology textbooks. But my meaning cannot be found outside of my life which is my context.
This is why it is so important to be with people we want to help define us. What is my series? Am I like this: thug – politician – banker – me : – so I look good only because I’m surrounded by bad people? Or am I like this: me – poet – philosopher – author : so I look the least, but I don’t care because I’m surrounded by people who will teach me?
Once again, just like words, who we are, what we mean is dependent on the people and culture around us. Like it or not you will become defined by, your meaning inflected by, who you are with – so choose with care.
Just as words need context, so do we. While we often call for freedom, it is in fact only in the confines of a culture, or a set of rules, a social grammar, that we can find a genuine freedom. With total liberty – or the right to make up any words we want – there is only misunderstanding and mess. If we insist on being totally ourselves, we will also make ourselves totally alone. The requirement to compromise with our friend, partner, job, culture and so on. is not a loss of self, but the only possibility of a meaningful self.
Other people are the words which surround us and give us our context, our possibility of meaning. Understanding this we can see why looking after other people is automatically looking after ourselves. We should make our sentence, our phrase, the paragraph of our world as sweet to read as we can, not by being the cleverest or most beautiful word in it, but by helping make the whole phrase beautiful.
Being cruel to people is insane, because we depend on those people for the very meaning of our lives. Make them suffer and our story suffers too.
As for the meaning of life? The only way your life can have meaning is if it doesn’t have any meaning ‘built in’. That’s what’s scary and beautiful about being alive – the only meaning your life has is the one you dare to give it. So the question is not ‘why are we here’, but ‘what are we going to do about it?’ – and that’s down to you 😀
Now that you love RuleOfStupid as much as I do, check out his blog for philosophy, poetry, and heaping doses of humor. If I were you, I’d start here: