You can listen to my podcast with the sharp and irreverent Paul Gibbons here.
Also, some housekeeping: I’ve updated my Media Appearances page. You can now listen to other podcasts and such there.
Are you doing enough to help other sentient beings right now? Let that question hang about your heart for a bit.
The answer is probably not.
Is it possible for you to reach out to someone you only just know? If you do, can you do it in the spirit of caring?
To care, you need to imagine something about what it’s like for that person to live as she does. Does he have a history of sinus infections? If so, might he be worried about his immune symptom would hold up were he to have the COVID-19 virus?
Do her older parents live in New York City? What might it be like for her to have older parents living in the epicenter of the pandemic?
How large is the house his family is now occupying? How long might it be before he and his wife get on each other’s nerves after all these years during which he has been working outside the house?
Does she feel lonely? Might she? Would a call make a difference to her?
These are simple, straightforward instances of caring. Caring, you noticed, requires some oomph on your part. Better than writing to say, “I’m thinking of you,” is saying something you know to be true about the person about whom you’ve been thinking and to whom you’re now writing.
Don’t be afraid to imagine and, from there, to empathize. A new world may be birthed from the caring entanglements that emerge from the rubble of liberal-humanist-materialist civilization.
Therefore, ask yourself again, “Am I doing enough to help?”
Typically, purpose and meaning are spoken of as if they were synonyms. They’re not; they’re actually quite different (even if it is possible to have purpose and meaning).
I define purpose as directing myself at something in a way that channels all or most of my energy so that said energy is actually directing at that that thing. A typical example would be setting a goal. Once I set a goal, I have a purpose. And what is that purpose? Plainly, to achieve that goal. Hence, it’s as if I point myself at the goal and, accordingly, corral my energies so that they’re helping me to get closer to the goal. If my goal is to climb a 5.14b, then I direct myself at that goal by doing the sorts of things–intense fingerboard training, ARC training, limit bouldering, and so on–that inch me toward the goal.
Similarly, duties, obligations, or responsibilities can give me a sense of purpose. If I have a child to take care of, then I know why I’m getting up this morning: to take care of my child. If I am obliged to attend a meeting, then I have another purpose: to do certain things in my power so that I’m ready and able to attend the meeting.
Purpose, then, could be said to answer the question: “Why am I getting out of bed this morning?” And, as you can see, purpose is very much a matter of action.
Not so for meaning. I define meaning as being in touch with a greater reality. Given this definition, meaning is not something you can do. This is because meaning is what you essentially are. It’s enough to understand one’s true nature in order for one’s life to be meaningful. The wonderful corollary is that when life is meaningful, there is no question about whether life is meaningful because no such question can arise. When there is beauty itself, there is just the presencing and experiencing of beauty itself.
Observe that meaning is a cosmological and theocentric question that could be formulated thusly: “Why is it that I’m here? What is ‘all of this’ really about? In what sense is ‘any of this’ a home?” I cannot answer this question about appealing to the anthropocentric alone.
Hence, it’s possible–and, in our time, likely–that many people have a sense of purpose but do not experience meaning. To be sure, they have a reason to get up in the morning (to finish a project, to take care of a child, and so on), they are functional beings in society, but they do not know why they’re here. This phenomenon could be called functional nihilism–and it’s pervasive!
You can now see why Total Work won’t get you to meaning and therefore why meaningful work is a logical impossibility. The bad news is that you can’t get there from here. The good news is that you don’t, in fact, need to do anything except to find out who you are. Stop searching among a world of objects and come home to yourself. That is all.
Here’s my interview with Ethical Systems. The beginning:
You say that many people who wish to philosophize with you are “estranged professionals.” What are the sorts of problems they typically face, and how do you tend to address them?
I would put the matter this way. Let’s say that it’s 2017, or sometime after that, since it was around this time that Silicon Valley “discovered” that I philosophize with technologists, founders, and executives. Since that time, a fair number of people with whom I’ve regularly conversed have come to the dawning and, for them, dramatic realization that they’ve done everything “right” and yet they’re, for reasons they know not, unhappy. They’ve worked hard, they’re now successful, they’ve accrued wealth and status, they have a charming family, and yet something in them is mysteriously off. Something remains unsatisfied or, as Hamlet once said, “out of joint.” How could it be that they’ve lived what they were told was the happy life at the same time that they know that something deep and seemingly unfathomable remains unasked and unconsidered? This is beyond puzzling.