The Meaning of Life?

bemoans the popular nihilism of today’s youth, and questions whether there’s any point to their musings


Image: Gustav Schulze

Picture this: you are sat with your friends in the grass. There is blue sky and not even a mote of dark clouds; an idyllic and dull, dull scene of twenty-first century life.

An acquaintance, usually a humanities or an arts student, thumbing together the edges of their bloated rollie, declares life to be meaningless. They announce this blatant fact with such lassitude that the words convey a hint of capitulation. In smoking areas, friendly dinners or a heartfelt one-on-one, variations of this maudlin, melodramatic script have occurred around me so often the phenomenon deserves comment.

I cannot stand watching others succumb to existential doldrums. I’m not going to provide an answer to their quandary – I don’t think even Monty Python could answer to the meaning of life – but instead offer conjecture as to why this chic nihilism has become so popular.

The prevalence of nihilism, especially amongst the youth, seems to me the unintended repercussion of a successful society that has lost belief in-itself. Absurdity is romantic to the pessimist whose wealth is enough to substantiate a comfortable lifestyle, yet is blighted by a lack of prospects demolished by student debt and increasing rigidity of social mobility. How often do you hear someone confess they have no plan after their expensive degree? (You’re too young to have a plan – just roll with the stones, man!)

These middle-class students often recycle the same tropes in my general observation. They, at their zenith of material satiation, and without children, are sceptical towards any career. Another Nietzsche meme will appear on my Facebook feed justifying the meaninglessness of life. The same literature will find itself strewn across middle-class shelves: Sartre’s Nausea, and Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus; occasionally they are joined by Plath. And it does appear that academia is propounding this neurotic nonsense. It does seem to me that apathy is more acute in the middle-class, but this is not solely a bourgeois predicament.

For years now, working-class culture has gradually disappeared as economic globalisation becomes a necessity. Despite the overwhelming benefits of globalisation, working-class culture has been replaced with menial service sector jobs. Unlike previous generations, whose lives’ meanings were self-evident through their occupation, or endless globe-spanning wars, today’s working-class is tasked with unfulfilling pursuits. When faced with years of servile labour at a desk job, I can appreciate why more women are devoting themselves to their children. It is a more meaningful valuation of life to devote yourself in mentoring another. The deterioration of the manufacturing industries has impacted men more than women, who, lacking a physical labour to channel their testosterone, feel themselves emasculated in our new economy. Despite these realities, I’m optimistic and do not want to validate my friends’ stupid depressions.

The difficulty my friends have with discovering the meaning of life is the difficulty of conquering boredom. Exhausting boredom. They just need to get over themselves. Esteemed psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl preached the importance of struggle in finding the meaning of life, and he believed this can be achieved anywhere. Frankl was an Auschwitz survivor. If a man can find meaning in the world’s greatest tragedy, there’s no reason why your pampered ass cannot. I don’t know the meaning of life, but like the glint of a gold coin in the sand, life’s value reveals itself to you.

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