A Good Life in a World of Distraction and Anxiety: A conversation in eight parts


Part I: Of Stuff and Persons                   Part II: A Free Prisoner
Part III: A Life without Distractions      Part IV: On being Authentic
Part V: On Crisis and Friendship           Part VI: A Good Person or a Good Life?
Part VIII: A Leap of Faith

Part VII: The Meaningness of Meaningness?

To be Human is to be wounded

The overcharging tardy impeccable waiter arrived to collect the bill. While she elegantly swooped in to grab the faux leather folder, she inadvertently toppled my coffee cup, spilling what little remained in it on the table and on my t-shirt. There is a thin line between flair and clumsiness. I instinctively jerked back and a jolt of pain emanated from my right big toe. The waiter, visibly blushing, swiftly produced a cloth and started to wipe the table which caused her to also tip over one of the half full water glasses, severely adding to the mess. She cleaned this up while muttering under her breath what I could make out to be some of the foulest language I had ever heard, which I found oddly inspiring. After she left I asked:
tMe: “And why Meaningness?”
Ntme: “What do you mean?”
tMe: “I mean, if, like you say, Meaningness means ‘Sincere Engagement’, and that’s all about change, why bother with the term at all, why not just be happy sincerely engaging and transforming? Why fixate it by a term? Can Meaningness transform? Hasn’t it transformed during this conversation?”
Ntme: “Well, by inventing a new term, and filling it with meaning, we enable ourselves to think about the concept in a new way. Does it not seem to be a useful term? I wanted to contrast it to the meaning of life, since that has too many wrongful connotations, and seems to be more about cosmic meaning anyway, but rather it shows that we should strive for something else: finding Meaningness!”
tMe: “Yes, but that’s just it, right? I mean, it seems like if Meaningness is a thing, a state that you can reach and then you’re done. And that’s also the opposite of what you want it to be, that’s the meaning of stuff.”
Ntme: “Well, maybe it seems…”
tMe: “It’s like the difference between being in love and loving1. One is a state while the other is an act. You can be in love with someone, and that person may never notice. This is useless and romantic, self aggrandising without risking the pain of being rejected. While if you’re acting the love, the other person will notice, and sure, it’s a risk, but the love becomes meaningless without it! It’s by acting you’re sincerely engaging with the love. Isn’t it the same with Meaningness? That on the one hand you have a fixed state–Meaningness, and on the other the act of Meaningness?”
Ntme: “Yes… but… it’s a good term…”
tMe: “Why? Because it makes you sound clever by inventing new terms? It’s like if instead of trying to describe and understand something you just invent a term for it and you’re done. That seems to be obfuscating what you’re trying to say more than helping to clarify it. And you’re not really explaining it by inventing new vague terms: Transformations, Sincere Engagements, Insecurity. What exactly is this method of Meaningness? What am I specifically to do?”
Ntme: “I’ve explained it already: It’s about sincerely engaging with other people and with ourselves.”
tMe: “Yes, you’ve said that, and did you notice that you explained it all without using terms. Meaningness, Sincere Engagements, Transformations, etc.”
Ntme: “I’m not sure I follow…”
tMe: “You also explained it in terms of friendship, courage, how we change each other when we care for and are curious about each other, how we bring out different aspects in each other, etc. And you have talked about it being a process, or a method, not a state. And by allowing our view on ourselves and others, who we are, change over time, we become persons and not fixed items, or things. But by using the term as you do, it seems much more to indicate a state, a romantic goal of yours which you strive for, and you can tell people that you are a person of Meaningness and then you are just a thing anyway…”
Ntme: “…” I interrupted
tMe: “When you first talked about Meaningness you had absolutely no idea what it meant, just something vague about it being important. But now that you seem to understand what it is, why hang onto these terms? They seem self-defeating.”
Ntme: “I guess it has been helpful to have Meaningness as a place holder… I suppose you are right… It did serve a purpose…”
tMe: “I have a suggestion: Instead of calling it Meaningness, call it for what it is: The Good Life!
Ntme: “The Good Life?”
tMe: “The quest is to figure out how to live a good life! Meaningness is your answer to this question. That makes it connect much better to the rest of what you want it to be. You’ve given two or three definitions already, and I think the ancient concept of the good life covers them all! And it connects it much more readily with politics: Politics is to create conditions for the good life! And it is up to us to live that life. Many countries have reached a state in their civilisation where the vast majority have their basic needs met. Where society functions well without excessive, alienating, cynical labour. What do people do in these countries? Focus more on the good life? Work shorter hours? No, a few work more and spend all the money on expensive houses and consumer goods, and travel, and entertainment, and restaurants and alcohol, and other expensive stuff. Like us, right here in the mall. While many are unemployed or short-term employed and barely make ends meet. Consumerism is a mechanism for distraction which we are willingly embracing. Because we don’t know how to live a good life. We are culture savvy adults too distracted to sit down and think what a good life is. Well, we will have to do that now. The planet is dying from our consumption. The inequality of the world is exploding. And people accept this, because our lives are still acceptable, because we don’t have an urgency to change, and the prospect of changing the capitalist consumerist global economy seems hopeless. And not urgent. For some. For those with influence. And some countries are discussing some form of basic income, which would ensure that the basis needs of all citizens (at least those defined as such). Then the question is even more dire: what to do with all the spare time? With all the spare attention? Consume more? Travel, eat, drink, buy more? Or can the good life be found elsewhere? Isn’t it there that your ideas of personhood, and sincere friendship enter? Or should I say maturity of culture savvy adults into personhood, through courage and friendship?”
Ntme: “Yes, that makes sense. It is the good life which is the issue… Meaningness has served its purpose. Meaningness is dead.”
Hmmm… Yes, it really seems as if it is important to to seem clever, inventing terms and all, doesn’t it? Although I would never admit it, I suspect it is very important to me that a certain kind of people, those that I’m impressed by, take me seriously. Maybe that talks to my insecurities for lack of philosophical training which creates a want for confirmation from those who have such or similar training?

Next (and final) part:A Leap of Faith

 TT, Thinking of Things, 2017