tolstoy“Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”

 My impulse is to say ‘well by asking ‘why should I live’ you are in fact insisting someone provide you an answer, which suggests that the question isn’t why should I live, but rather, how’.

 And that seemed for a long time to be an adequate response, but as I was reading that passage in Tolstoy’s confessions things suddenly became clear to me. You cannot say you really only want to know how to live, because that presupposes some sort of agency. When, was life not really forced on us? Did we have any say in our conception? The question then rightly becomes ‘what’s the point’.  We are forced to live, then forced to die. And inbetween those two harsh sanctions we are charged with finding some meaning.

For some men finding what can be considered happiness and living a happy life is quite enough. For others, life presents a more complex set of problems. Men like Tolstoy struggled with these problems. Problems that can’t be categorized as ‘existential’ or ‘metaphysical’ alone. These are collaborative problems that fundamentally ask the questions we all have, but with a twist. It’s not that their repressed consciousness is trying to find the best way to live life. Tolstoy for example only questioned his ideals when he found himself in the throes of decay. It was only after a lifetime believing in a positive trend of development, when he himself watched his aged body regress, that he saw the relationship of life and death in its most subjective form. We are all part of some greater biomass, some clave to which we owe allegiance. But we are also agents capable of willing ourselves off course. We can think about thinking. On the one hand we have this public ancestry, and on the other this private journey.  And as much as we try to group these aggregates we can’t help feeling dismayed on reflection of the perplexity of the lives we live; the duties we fulfill and the obligations we attach to others. As such it seems quite natural to ask ‘what’s the point’. But that very nature hints at the need for a point, which itself undoes all the great work we’ve done getting ourselves to a point of development in which we could ask that question.

Speculating on the existence of a point isn’t missing the point or somehow defeating it. The begrudging disconcertion a lack of knowledge inspires sets the very course by which successive generations find meaning. And although that’s a type of meaning in itself, its a mental trick of little value to the aching soul of a man convicted by his purposelessness.


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