Is there a purpose?

Do you wander around and look at the meanings of things?  I didn’t until I began seeing meaning in everything.  I used to confine my readings of meanings to the physical words that people wrote or spoke to me, or to the gestural language of their bodies while we communicated.  Now I look at things differently, and I suppose it’s a good thing, but sometimes I wonder.

When I think of meaning I see a good deal of artifice in what we do with our time.  I have some things (very few) that I need to do in life, and I have other things (also relatively few) that I like to do in life.  Nothing prevents me from doing any of these things and this makes for the stuff from which happiness is made.  None of my needs are thwarted and none of my wants are endangered.  For example, do I have true needs beyond sleeping, eating, and shelter from the elements (one could argue biologically manufactured needs for sex/procreation)?  I argued in a paper published in a closed blog that humans have also engineered in their communal structures needs for happiness in the forms of empathy.  I will discuss that in a bit; so physical needs: food, shelter, sleep and sex.  All humans, and (one could argue) all animals have these in common.  In fact, almost all living things have these in common.  Even trees to a specific extent have needs for shelter from some elements.  The tree that doesn’t get hit by lightning in a storm was luckier than the tree that did.  The other tree was the shelter for the ones that survived…

Life is like that sometimes.  Sometimes the lightning hits you, but spares others, and you were the lightening rod for other souls at a given moment.

What of my wants?  Well… I want a few degrees and I’m in the process of getting them.  They entail work.  If I want them I have to work for them which means conforming to a system.  Being aware of the rules of the system and logically weighing my desire for the degrees against the requirements of the system means that my conformance (whether I go kicking and screaming or not) is a signal that my want of the degrees is greater than my want NOT to be part of that system.  I want to sing.  I want to sing in a choir and not very much as a soloist.  This is easily accomplished given that I have invested years of training, another degree, and I have a decent amount of skill now in addition to low needs for power.  Joining a choir, then, is a logical step in this process.  I want to write.  That is answerable as well since I have a computer and time to write in.

Do you notice the commonality in the facilitation of my wants?  I need a level of education, an awareness of the commitments and access (we can call it money and skill) to the activities and I also need time to accomplish the activities in.  These enable me to attain the satisfaction of those things I want.  To attain the satisfaction of my needs I have only the need for money.  To attain my wants I must have a few other things.  Depending on your wants equipment may be involved here.

I have a question.  Why do we have wants in addition to needs?  People talk (I talk to people about it, at any rate) about the separation in the minds of children between needs and wants.  It occurs to me that the separation isn’t necessary for animals.  An animal understands what it needs and it will do anything it has to in order to achieve the maintenance of its needs.  Humans, being animals of a communal structure, have a few other needs that they can dispense with, but I truly wonder if we can do without for long periods of time.  As animals of community we seem to have needs for the maintenance of our close groups.  If we cannot help the members of our groups we suffer from feelings of powerlessness.  This is also tied to our empathic awareness of the needs of others.  This empathy thing is a powerful tool because it leads to the construction of such things as “thinking ahead”.  One can think ahead for the needs of the self, but when living in a community you are likely to be inspired to think ahead on the group level.  Survival of the fittest, where humans were concerned, has ever been about “survival of the group that cooperates the best.”  Those groups were more effective in terms of war, the maintenance/survival of their cultures, the development of their technologies and the provisions of their towns.  This works on scales macro and micro, but it did NOT come about by thinking of what people wanted over what people needed.  It was the provision of needs that took focus for humanity, and only very gradually did our needs start to fall behind our wants.  And then…

It seems to me we run into issues with the simplicity of fulfilling our happiness in life when our needs run into direct conflict with our wants.  I want a degree but I cannot afford it and afford to eat at the same time so I have to choose.  I want an Xbox 360 but I have the same dilemma.  I lack  the skills necessary to become a pro-football player and I lack access to the ways to acquire those skills, in which case, that want of mine is completely in denial and yet I might have food, clothing and shelter, so why am I unhappy?

I find these dilemmas interesting because they pose a central question to humanity: have our needs in life become completely secondary to the things we desire of our lives?  And this question leads me to the title of my post, “Is there a purpose?”  People, I think, want to believe in the grand narrative of purpose in life, in achievement and genius, in inspiration and in autonomy being won through playing either by or against the “rules” of life.  I also think this leads directly to conflicts of wants and needs because a belief in purpose means, also, that one can fail at the purpose of life… And thus, feeling a complete and utter failure, forego hoping that life can become better for them.

I will often read things (have you ever stopped to notice the sheer amount of language we’re surrounded by, it’s unprecedented in history) in public blogs, FB, other tools of the media about “attitudes of gratitude” or about having the “true spirit” of something.  I know the origin and history of those narratives which can be like wearing a mental bullet-proof vest against their rhetorical power.  I find it comforting to know a few things now and I’ll spell them out in a list so that I can save web space and time in your days if you read this, but these things are an immunity of their own and they’ve helped me find a definition of happiness that seems more flexible than what the rest of my existence has afforded me up until this point.

1) My relationships are the only things that matter to me.

2) My relationships are only my responsibility (rather than the office of others to supervise), but I am only half the relationship… It can still fail if the other half abdicates.

3) Words are the point from which we seek to communicate, but our ideas live in a place in our minds that is wordless or, as I like to call it, languageless.

4) What people call religion has been replaced by public media and their lack of ability to communicate effectively with their newfound religion has led to a form of dehumanization/mechanization of their interactions within their minds and within the relationships they value.

5) The things you value are the things you invest your time in.

6) Time doesn’t exist outside the human mind.  The end of day means one thing in the rest of the animal kingdom: time to hunt or time to sleep (and thus become prey).

7) If you mark the years you confirm that years are a measure of something other than time, but this is only a convenience.

8. Truth is something we want to believe in, but being situated in absolute relativity it is of little value in the long run.  Knowing your values and being either true to those or breaking with them if need be would be more useful.

9) Knowledge is a form of power and narratives of knowledge are only, ever, about conforming, confirming or containing power perceived elsewhere in the realms of knowledge.  If you educate a person (allow them to think for themselves) you put into their hands a set of keys but also a set of manacles.  Their animal tendencies vs. their tendencies to behave as a human will be in the balance in their lives from then on.

10) What we want from life is often so much more than what we need.  What we need is no longer simple to achieve because of the complex nature of our societies.  When both come into conflict you have unhappy people.

11) Happiness is often what people would give as the purpose of life, but purpose itself is a phantom from the texts of millennia, and texts did not have to be written to be texts in a culture.  I wonder if “purpose” is often the thing standing most firmly between life and happiness for some.

12) If life had rules that were constituative (rules that constitute its existence) other than the ability to breathe, then the rules would have been discovered by now.  The only rules in life are those manufactured by the societies we live in.  Either we conform to those rules or we do not, but defining our happiness in the context of those rules makes for a shallow joy and a deep loss if we play by all the rules and still wind up acting as the lightning rod by chance.  It is the moment when someone says, “Life’s not fair.”  How can something that has no consciousness be fair or unfair?  The truth here is that if something about the regulation of life in society is unfair then it means that the society itself is unfair to the people living in it, and that such a lack of fairness continues to be justifiable to some and not to others is the sole break in reasoning between all political parties on the Earth.


~ by Rebecca Erickson on December 15, 2011.

3 Responses to “Is there a purpose?”

  1. Great read! A couple of observations from my end…
    1. Perhaps it is a product of our difference in ages, but time is very real to me. I understand much of the concept of time is in our heads, but it is a very real measurement. The earth orbits the sun, and that is a day. Each day at my age means I have one less to spend here with friends & family. That is real to me.
    And approximately 360 orbits around the sun means something besides me racing in a different age category or getting mail from AARP. 😉 How we perceive time, how we deal with it, etc Those are products of our minds. But the actual passage?

    2. Even though I have espoused to my children, students, etc that “Life is not fair,” I have agree with your analysis. It is the application of the rules, or others failure to follow the rules of society that is not fair. My favorite professor said we need one rule- Be cool. If it aint cool, don’t do it. Seems simple and straight forward to me. We may need to flesh it out a bit, i.e. make sure everyone is on board with what is cool- If it hurts others or negatively impacts on others, it fails the cool test. This would be a cooler place, and in all likelihood a Fair Life, if all followed The Cool Rule.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much for reading it. 😀

    As to time, yes, for subatomic particles (not Neutrons they vanish in minutes unless bound to an atom) electrons and protons have a half-life many orders longer than the actual life of the entire universe. So… Yes, our definitions of time are a manufacture of the human mind. There are scientists who argue that human life expectancy has been increasing not only because of awareness of needs and nutrition in addition to working in less dangerous/strenuous environments but also because we believe we should be living longer lives so we look for ways to make that happen. Humans can live beyond a century if something else doesn’t get them first. That’s not because we don’t age, we unquestionably do, but our conceptions of what aging means, and even the idea of time is a human invention because it doesn’t really exist without us there to mark it. Time itself has no physical property belonging to it which means its existence is a construction (much like God) and that the things we attribute to its “passage” have other underlying causes that create those occurrences, which we apply to time.

    Thanks again for reading and your insightful comments! 😀

    • WOW- very heavy concept for me to try to wrap my head around this morning. Everything around us is a human construct right? Your reply got me thinking about time. It is a convenient mechanism. But from my time in Mexico, I can tell you that a 2 PM appointment does not have a universal construct. One has to wonder if it means, 2, 2:15, 3, 4, … tomorrow, next week, etc. Those of us who lived by the sweep of the second hand (& billed accordingly) really struggled with this lackadaisical application of time.

      Now that we know time, how would we live without it? Less technologically advanced societies had time, but more akin to the passing of seasons, rather than seconds. Time may make us fat- we eat because it is noon, not because we are hungry. Our jobs are so tied to clocks and calendars as well. Let’s start a Anti-Clock/Calendar movement!!!!

      Funny, but on my bike ride into cold, strong winds, my mind drifted to a Shades of Gray Movement. Let’s stop labeling and start identifying the problems and looking for solutions. I’d heard two men debating the effect of taxes on job creation. As a small time job creator myself, I will hire when I have the work, and do things myself when there is no income to pay someone else to do it. Taxes play little to none in my decision. If the law changed and I could have three people in a home instead of two, I’d have more income, and thus be in a better position to hire more people. I’ll do that at 10%, 20%, 30% etc. (Granted, there comes a point when I would not do it as I take on additional responsibilities and need to be compensated accordingly.) But I digress from the point of your original post, doing so only to illustrate that I need to open my mind to the possibilities of what time really is. It has always struck me as a black & white thing, but now I really do see it in “Shades of Gray.”

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