Before I outline my case slightly for the motion, I would like to distinguish between the terms ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’. I feel they are not totally interchangeable; one can lead a thoroughly purposeful life that bears no meaning to them, or can live a life that they feel is personally meaningful but that serves no particular purpose (perhaps to society or a community). A meaningful life that serves a purpose is obviously the ideal, but for the vast majority that is unobtainable. Therefore I leave it to your discretion, as the reader, to decide which way is superior. In my opinion though, as the book Affluenza by British psychologist and author Oliver James has led me to understand, a meaningful life with no purpose is likelier to lead to a healthier, more preferable life.
To address the motion, and under no illusion that I ‘know’ or ‘have’ the answer to such a boundless question, I believe life does have inherent purpose and meaning, but that these are remarkably unclear. Many have and will continue to take their entire lives formulating purpose or meaning for themselves – perhaps to conclude that there is none.
Imagine for a moment, though, that you are suddenly filled with the knowledge there is no inherent purpose and meaning. What might you subsequently do? Perhaps you might quit your job or leave your school; you may stop paying rent or your mortgage (neither of which I do yet, thankfully); you may even stop bothering to talk to people. But would you stop eating or breathing? Where would the cut-off point be if everything was purposeless and meaningless?
The reality is we may never know our purpose or meaning, but that does not stop us from seeking to find them. But therein, I believe, can lie a purpose and meaning to life in itself. The very quest to find them can provide them. The real wonder, I feel, is that the search can lead you anywhere.
If saving lives is what you feel your life was meant for, you can become a doctor; if it’s entertaining and expressing yourself to others, you can become an artist; if it’s pondering some of mankind’s major questions (such as the subject of this very article), you can become a philosopher. My overriding view is that a purpose and a meaning does exist for everyone, but that it is a case of endeavouring and persevering to find it. If your time on earth runs out before you find it, then what it meant to you would have been the journey itself, full of all the experiences and encounters you had.
I should add that I am not religious and so do not, therefore, subscribe to the idea that we have ‘God-given’ purposes. However, if someone does find that religion provides their life with meaning – after pondering its many areas of debate and forming an independent opinion in true ‘Reperceived’ style – I have no qualms.
Everyone is free to choose their own ‘meaning’.
As an English student, I immediately fear how eerily Orwellian that sentence appears. But then I remind myself, somewhat depressingly, of its practical limitations. Of course everyone is ‘free to choose’ what their life should mean, but in reality the vast majority struggle to implement that choice – many are in positions of such financial and social hardship that the idea of even contemplating what their lives should ‘mean’ is futile.
Perhaps more worrying though, as Oliver James effectively articulates, is the notion that the West’s present ‘Selfish Capitalist’ society, as he labels it, is geared towards seducing the masses into lives with unhealthy meanings. It may provide people with ‘purposeful’ lives – but these ‘purposes’ are not in the interests of people themselves, designed instead to serve the perpetual cycle of ‘Selfish Capitalism’.
In London, where I live, the signs of this are abundant. Advertisements and billboards aimed at emotionally snookering me into thinking consumption can fulfil all my desires (conscious and unconscious) and that my purpose in life should be to consume as much as I can are ubiquitous. I believe this set-up is the cause of people leading highly meaningless lives. There will always be a faster, more handsome car available or a more expensive, flamboyant watch to buy. The depressing reality is that many choose their jobs, even if they detest them, to be able to pay for such items. In this instance, living a meaningful life is squandered both by having a job that serves no real meaning to the person, and then by having it simply to buy materialistic, soon-outdated items.
Being the young, naïve student that I am, I still clutch on to the idea that we can have a society focussed instead on allowing citizens to more easily attain meaningful lives, instead of being meaningless cogs in the ‘Selfish Capitalist’ machine. For now, I can only dream of building such a society one day becoming our collective purpose.