In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the people come up with a big question, “What’s the answer to life the universe and everything?”
You may not know the book, but you’ve probably heard the answer:
There is a dark irony and utter absurdity in this book. Written in 1979, there was a apocalyptic luxury in the western world. Yes, we had plenty of everything we needed.
Except a sense of safety. Have you heard of nuclear proliferation?
By the 1980’s we had been eating well and accumulating stuff with reliable regularity. And yet we didn’t have a sense of safety.
To dial the lens back for a broader view, prior to the dark nerd humor of the hitchhiker’s guide, history had provided the darkest events ever.
So much had been learned from the factories and efficiencies of the industrial revolution. Nazis turned these tools for their social engineering plans. This moment brought human slaughter and suffering of nearly unimaginable proportion.
I have recently read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl is a famous psychologist, and equally famously, a Holocaust survivor.
He describes the experience of living in the camp, and working in horrendous conditions. They were underfed to the point where their bodies began to visibly consume their muscle mass to sustain life. They were sadistically beaten and abused.
All this is ugly, and hard to look at.
When I read Frankl’s book, he brought something new. His fascination with psychology had begun before he entered the camps, and in the camps a wide scope for exploration.
Did he really find the meaning of life in the concentration camps?
He declares: “Life is unconditionally meaningful.”
Take that, Hitchhikers Guide.
We do have meaning, every single one of us. Without having to prove it by anything.
It’s not that we have to prove ourselves worthy of the air we breathe. He says that life does not owe us, we owe life. Our best efforts, our best selves.
Do we suffer? Let’s not suffer if we can possibly avoid it, and yet there is a lot of unavoidable suffering in this life.
He ought to know. His experience gives him the right to say this.
So if we are experiencing unavoidable suffering, we can bring our life and ourselves to that suffering ennobles us and we ennoble it.
I wasn’t aware that was an option.
There is an enormous truth to the idea that life is unconditionally meaningful. If we know that the meaning is there, no matter what, that changes the search.
If I I know that I will find a thing, I will not give up searching. And like Douglas Adams said I might need to check my assumptions:
“I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” (28.2-6)
I’ll keep looking. I know I’ll find it.