I continue to think about life and what it means for me and others. The choices that people seem to make regarding their life’s purpose, if any, seem to fall into 4 broad categories.
The first category would be the nihilist view of life, with an emphasis on self-indulgent and/or narcissistic behavior. This seems to fall into a spectrum – life has no meaning so why live, through to life has no meaning so why not enjoy myself to the fullest while I am here. The consumerism that underlies the modern society (from the 1800’s onward) has at first slowly, and in the past decades more quickly, replaced traditional religious/cultural values with a “me first” perspective.
The explosion of anxiety/depression in the populace, especially among younger generations, and the pharmaceutical industry that has evolved to treat it, if not create it, is an indication of the depth and breadth of this trend. As youngsters are exposed to the blatant consumerism of society, while having no backstop of tradition/culture to counter it (due to the explosive growth of broken families and the disintegration of the extended family), they seem to succumb either to hedonism or despair if they cannot find meaning in traditional religions.
Religions then are the second and smaller category of how people establish meaning in their lives. In some cases, they either come to religion after not finding satisfaction in the nihilism of the first category, or they grew up in it and have been indoctrinated by it. From this point, they seem to either drift out of religion to the first category based on the rejection of the dogma of their religion, stay with it throughout their lives, or for what I believe is a very small number, evolve to the 3rd category of Skepticism.
In the 3rd category (which I count myself in), I have come to the point of rejecting both nihilism and religion, finding both lacking in terms of providing meaning for my life, and in being obviously detrimental to humanity as a whole (when the accelerating personal/societal strife is considered and the extent to which these events can be traced back to those who are living with the world view of the first two categories).
In my view, the study of philosophy can provide the foundation for a meaningful life and happiness as a consequence, not as an objective. In my case, it is the study of the Stoic philosophy and the adaptation of it to my circumstances (as I have related in other posts) that has been successful for me.
In some ways, this is the most precarious category, as it rests on neither the firm foundation of nothing (or the rejection of dogma), or a firm foundation of dogma. Constant learning, questioning, and adjusting is my life in this state, with what I thought true at one time being updated in new directions as I learn and live more.
Finally, there is I believe a 4th (and thankfully small) category of those who have gone beyond both dogma and skepticism through to full-blown psychosis in believing that they have the answer for how others should live their lives and life’s meaning, and have therefore become the founders of new religions with their own dogma that brooks no objection. Whether this is the spin-off of an existing religion or the start of a wholly new one, the results are the same from the standpoint of limiting human growth and potential.
Those in the 4th category tend to pray on those in the first, and in this regard, all categories are in a circle, with one’s own place on the circle subject to evolution as they mature, though hopefully from first to third, and not first to fourth.