by Bud Nye
At a Saturday evening meeting following Guy’s Traditions Cafe presentation in Olympia, Washington, a very bright and thought-full young woman asked with great concern and sadness, “If we are all going to die soon, what is the point?” It strikes me that to ask this question implies also asking, “If we will all soon die, what is the point to ANY life (on Earth or anywhere else)?” I think these questions come mainly from beliefs our culture has taught us, especially related to the idea that we are, presumably, different from the other species in important and fundamental ways. They come from the idea that we are, supposedly, “special”, “superior”, and presumably living at the top of a hierarchy of life, a “Great Chain of Being”, and not really animals. The questions grow directly out of our disconnection and alienation from the real, biological world of life here on Earth.
But, one might claim, “The other species (supposedly!) do not have any conscious awareness; they do not know any better.” In that case, perhaps we need to stop “knowing better”! It seems clear to me that no “point” exists beyond our constructing that point—or our accepting some other person’s construction of it. So three critical questions arise: “What point do I want to construct for life on Earth?”, “What point do I want to construct for human life on Earth?”, and “What point do I want to construct for my life on Earth?”
From what I have seen over the decades, most people by far in this American society use one or a combination of two tactics for answering these questions: (1) Accept the constructions of people in the ancient past in the form of various religions, especially Christianity, while denying that humans did the meaning construction and disowning any personal responsibility by insisting that “God did it”, or “God wants it”. (2) Philosophically insisting that humans ARE “special”, “superior”, and “fundamentally different” from the other animals, and this alleged special superiority produces “the point” of our existence. Thus, if we all die—which these people usually discount as impossible because of our alleged specialness and superiority—then, indeed, no point exists.
Regarding the three critical questions, what “points” do I construct? I have taken a different route from most others. For a number of years my answers have looked something like this: (1) The “point” of life (and death!) on Earth involves using the energy from the sun and Earth’s core to make maximum use of that energy to self-organize to the greatest level of complexity possible. (2) The “point” of human life (and death!) involves playing its role in the infinitely complex network of life and death processes on Earth, just as all other life does: all other animals, and plants. And (3) The “point” of my life (and death!) involves supporting all other life on Earth to the greatest extent possible.
In response to my third construction, one might then ask, “Well, if humans are killing the planet, then why don’t you commit suicide in order to help the other species?” My answer: Because it seems clear to me that life wants to live and does its utmost to do that. Thus I want to live, and I wish to hang on for as long as possible to do that—just as all other animals, and plants, do. Besides that, I came extremely close to killing myself almost 40 years ago, and I have felt very thankful many times over the years that I did not do it.
Two tidbits from McPherson:
7 March 2014 The Good Men Project, And Thoreau Shakes His Head at America.
8 March 2014 radio interview on CKUW news broadcast conducted 7 February 2014