The Meaning of Life

One way of defining aesthetic materialism is to say that to be a materialist is to be in favor of opposition.

The meaning of life is the life of meaning - that is, the way that meaning is alive - the way that meaning changes, the way that meaning grows, the way meaning duplicates, the way meaning reproduces itself, the way meaning metabolizes the world, the way meaning varies, and evolves, and adapts.

Any attempt to freeze the meaning of life, to say, "the meaning of life is this," as some fixed, determinate content - any attempt to stop the meaning of life from changing - will kill meaning, because in order to be alive, meaning will always change.

The meaning of life is for meaning to replicate endlessly, in as many different varieties as possible, as many meanings as there can possibly be, each one a meaningful meaning, a profoundly different perspective, a new worldview.

To put it differently, the meaning of life is to maximize dissent.

Dissent is the way that we become conscious, the way that we give meaning to the world.  There is no way for meaning to come to your life conveniently pre-packaged.  You have to fight for it. In a sense, you are not fully alive - you are not a specific consciousness - until you are dissenting.

To speak of the meaning of life necessarily investigates that area where life and meaning intersect, which is our experience as conscious, meaning-giving beings - it is to imply and to assert that every life has meaning, every consciousness is worthwhile, every way of looking at the world is worth preserving and expanding, which just as necessarily includes the "wrong" ways of seeing.  That implies, paradoxically enough, that even those forms of consciousness which assert that not every form of consciousness is worth preserving are, themselves, worth preserving and expanding.  But, looked at from the other side, this also means that, by their very existence, these forms of consciousness demonstrate their own incompleteness, for, in an almost Gödelian twist, they cannot contain themselves. This apparent paradox - that even "narrow" forms of consciousness are worthy of preservation and expansion - is at least partially resolved when we reflect that the very way in which consciousness expands and grows is by coming to include other perspectives.  But the motivating contradiction here is not completely eradicated, it is merely raised to a higher level.  Ultimately, perhaps, there may be no resolution: life's meaning may derive from its opposite, and from its opposition.  For life to have meaning, the opposite must also be true.

If the maximization of dissent is the meaning of life, this allows us to understand dissent in a deeper way.  It is not that dissent is a necessary evil, a dark, violent, yet utilitarian means towards an ultimate end of greater harmony and peace.  On the contrary, dissent is the very purpose towards which we strive; if anything, peace can only be a means to such an end.  From the meaning of life, which is the maximization of dissent, we can derive the necessity of building institutions that foster and maintain dissent, and protect dissent from everything that would kill it - institutions that embody the real movement that abolishes the present state of things.  That means: institutions to protect freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and most importantly the freedom to assemble and organize and to bear arms in struggle.

A healthy society is one in which dissent is flourishing.  When society is under attack from the outside, the society may reflexively "pull together" - differences are smoothed over, and everyone unites for a purpose, however temporarily.  This is a symptom of a sick society, which is trying to expel its disease.  If sickness does not destroy society, then after this attack, it may return to a more healthy state in which the inner conflicts - never really eliminated, but suppressed - come back to the surface in a healthy turmoil.  Dissent and discord are a society's rosy cheeks.

How do you maximize dissent?  You can't just tell people to dissent, for if they obey, then they are not dissenting. (That would be the illusion of liberalism.)  The only way is continually to transform society at the material level, expanding production and providing for people's needs such that they are free to pursue any interest, including, if they so choose, the work of dissent, or as it might be called, critical criticism.

Dissent therefore should not be considered the opposite of harmonious productivity, nor as an obstacle to harmonious productivity, but as as our highest and best social product.  Society exists for no other purpose than the production of dissent.  For dissent is difficult work.  Every rebellion becomes a new conformity.  Resisting the tendency to become a new conformity is extremely difficult, almost impossible.  A society in which relations of power exist tends to reabsorb all dissent and turn what had been dissent against the very people it oppresses.  It can have an incredible dexterity at this, so much so that its symbolic structures, programming our ability to think, seem airtight, so that it seems impossible to imagine any alternative.  The ability to break through this deadlock therefore requires patience, skill, enormous creativity, and a tremendous amount of work.  Indeed, this is the Great Work.  Let's work on it together.


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