‘What’s Even The Point?’

“I’m in an airport, when suddenly I feel the chill in the air. What’s even the point? I’m about to fly to Milwaukee on a Tuesday afternoon, about to herd with other moderately intelligent apes into a tube that will spew a truly astonishing amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in order to transport us from one population center to a different one. There’s no point to the human endeavor in the largest sense. We will leave no permanent legacy in this impermanent universe. And our central lasting contribution to Earth will be that we were the first species to grow powerful enough to muck up the planet. When my mind starts playing “What’s Even The Point”, I can’t find a point to making art, which is just using the finite resources of our planet to decorate. And I can’t find a point to planting gardens, which is just inefficiently creating food that will sustain our useless vessels for a little while longer. And I can’t find a point to falling in love, which is just a desperate attempt to stave off the loneliness that you can never really solve for, because you are always alone in what Robert Penn Warren called, “the darkness, which is you.” Except, it’s not really a darkness. It’s much more worse than that. Sitting in this airport, I’m disgusted by my excesses, my failures, my pathetic attempts to forge some meaning or hope from the materials of this meaningless world. I’ve been tricking myself, thinking there was some reason for all of it, thinking that consciousness was a miracle when it’s really a burden, thinking that to be alive was wondrous when it’s really a terror. The thing about this game is that once my brain starts playing it, I can’t figure out a way to get it to stop. Any defense I try to mount is destroyed instantaneously. It feels like the only way to survive life is to cultivate an ironic detachment from it. Hope feels so flimsy and naive—especially in the face of the endless outrages and horrors of human life. What kind of mouth-breathing jackass looks at the state of human experience and responds with anything other than nihilistic despair? But of course the problem with despair is that it isn’t very productive. Like a replicating virus, all despair makes is more of itself. If playing “What’s Even the Point” made me a more committed advocate for justice or environmental protection, I’d be all for it. But the white light of despair instead renders me inert and apathetic. I struggle to do anything. I often can’t find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Philosophical questions—what’s the point of being alive, what should we seek from life, how can we know what we know, how and where should we seek meaning—are often dismissed as pointless. (What’s the difference between a philosophy degree and a pepperoni pizza? The pepperoni pizza can feed a family of four). Regardless, I think those questions are genuinely important, because I need to be able to survive my mind playing “What’s Even the Point”. I don’t want to give it to despair; I don’t want to take refuge in detached ridicule of unironized emotion. I don’t want to be cool, if cool means being cold to or distant from the reality of experience. I want to feel what there is to feel while I am here. Now always feels infinite and never is. You keep going. You go to therapy. You meditate, even though you dislike meditation. You exercise. You wait. Your mind keeps playing “What’s Even the Point”, and you keep refusing to give in to it—battling it with philosophy, and self-help books, and religion, and whatever else works. And then one day…the air is a bit warmer and the sky is not so blindingly bright. It’s overcast, and you’re walking through a forested park with your children.

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Your nine-year-old points out two squirrels racing up an immense Sycamore tree, its white bark peeling in patches, its leaves bigger than dinner plates. You think “My God, that’s a beautiful tree. It must be a hundred years old, maybe more.” Later, you’ll go home and read up on sycamores and learn that there are sycamore trees alive today that date back more than three hundred years, trees that are older than your nation. But for now you’re just looking up at that tree, thinking about how it turned dirt and water and sunshine into wood and bark and leaves. How it turned nothing… into a place where squirrels play.And you realize you are in the vast dark shade of this giant tree, and that’s the point.”

Author: John Green

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