Thought experiment: Imagine you had incontrovertible proof that there was no afterlife. No supernatural entities. No heaven or hell. No otherworld. No reincarnation. No forevermore.
No second chances.
Imagine there was no moral accounting after death of your actions on earth. No supreme being to judge your soul’s worth on the scale of divine justice. No reward or punishment. No appeal to omniscient authority in matters of good and evil.
There was only the endless black void at the moment death. The infinite silence. A complete surrender of your consciousness as the last pinprick of light extinguishes. All your thoughts, your feelings, your sensation, your memories… you… wiped away clean to merge with the great nothing.
How would you live? Given this proof of the finality of death, and of the expectation of nothing once dead, what is your personal philosophy?
At a family gathering, I played with my little niece and nephew, 4 and 3 years old respectively. They tumbled all over me, giggling and shrieking. I held them above the ground and pretended they were airplanes in heated battle with Russian MiGs or, in a nod to my niece’s female sensibilities, a pink passenger jet flying vacationers to a distant, undiscovered tropical island. They did handstands and somersaults and rammed things with their heads. I made animal noises (my monkey impression is quite good) and they would run away in mock terror, then run back to me anticipating more assaults by zoo animals. They fought over toys, yet never held grudges, at least not for long. I mentally noted that they played status games, but were completely ignorant of it. Innocent of their amoral natures.
Afterward, I drove my elderly grandmother back to her assisted living home. That’s a nice euphemism for death’s waiting room. In the community meeting area there were Scrabble boards and an organ. As if impending death wasn’t depressing enough, we bide our waning moments in pursuit of a triple word score. Old people jockey for status, too, but they make no pretense to hide it. They are artlessly cantankerous. After a certain age, when you don’t matter anymore to most people, even your own family, you stop caring what anyone thinks of you. Tit for tat.
Spend time with little children and old people. One is innocent, the other is reacquainted with innocence. Their company is a world away from the drone and ruckus of all the furious humanity in between. At the extremes you will find perspective.
My answer to the philosophical question I posed above is hedonism. It is the only rational conclusion one can draw faced with the premises I presented. When there is no second life or higher power to appease; when our lives are machines — complex misunderstood machines cunningly designed to conceal the gears and pulleys behind a facade of self-delusional sublimation, but machines nonetheless — grinding and belching the choking gritty smoke of status-whoring displays in service to our microscopic puppetmasters… well, there can be only one reasonable response to it all. It makes no sense to behave any other way unless you never questioned the lies.
Are you prepared to embrace the meaning of your ultimately inconsequential existence? If it feels good…