Everyone needs something to propel them along. Belief in an afterlife is a very, very powerful version of this. As Nietzsche once said, “he who has a ‘why’ can endure almost any ‘how,’” and there’s no “why” quite as alluring as the promise of everlasting happiness.
I’m still struggling to find my why… but I think I may have found it. This is very pseudoscientific and meant to be somewhat mystical, but I think it just might work, so bear with me here.
I think all life has one mission: to reverse entropy — i.e., to bring order to the universe. You see it in more primitive life forms — birds building nests, even amoebas can create order by creating replicas of themselves from scattered building blocks — but only man (and that which comes after man) has the potential to bring order to everything. It’s really too perfect when you think about it. What is it that man struggles against day in and day out? What is it that he finds himself thrown against with every moment that passes, like an endless parade of waves dashed against a never-fading crag? It is suffering, my brothers and sisters. Suffering is what opposes us, surrounds us, and challenges us. And what is suffering? It is the world in disorder. When things are right, we do not suffer. In a chaotic, disorderly world, things will be right sometimes and wrong sometimes — and we will bounce around from pleasure to pain, whip-sawing forever. Our gift — our blessing — is that we don’t have to bounce aimlessly. We can steer ourselves, and we can re-arrange our surroundings to be less chaotic. We can put everything in its right place. And we must. Because if we don’t do it, no one will — and suffering will keep popping into existence, inexplicably and inexcusably.
How does one create order? This we have known for a while. At first I thought the answer was just “study the universe” — since we will never create order until we understand how the universe works. And indeed, this is something we must do. But our task is greater than that. Because we are imperfect, limited creatures, we cannot live on study alone. We need nourishment, and stability, and a host of other things around us to have any hope of unlocking the secrets of the universe. So how do we create order? By doing “good.” By doing good (in the ancient Greek sense of the word), we bring order into the world. If we’re to have any hope of un-breaking our broken-eggshell universe, it’s going to be a team effort. We will only get there if we treat each other with compassion and work hard at what it is that we can do, thus keeping the human-machine that is society alive and humming. We need janitors, and farmers, and marketers and bankers and lawyers and everyone else to make sure we are supplied with all our material needs as efficiently as possible. We need engineers to help us fly to other planets when ours goes dark. We have to keep the fires of civilization burning long enough for the answer to emerge from within our ranks — before our light flickers out and we go dark, too.
With a challenge this great, nothing can be wasted. We do not know how long we have to find an answer, before we (as a species) crumble and have to wait to be reborn again, to grow and evolve again, to suffer in darkness again, and to once again become intelligent enough to see a glimmer of hope. No, we cannot and must not risk anything. The stakes are too high. We must work hard and work smart — every movement must be a movement forward. Every resource spent must be spent wisely. There is no time for strife, for its tempestuous winds may extinguish our flame long before its time. No, we must work together — we must love our fellow man and toil not just for him, but with him. Only if we row together can we row forward. We must learn to motivate each other — to slingshot each other to ever greater heights — and to find ways to complement the weakness of one with the strength of another; to fit the human puzzle together so that it is perfect enough to meet the demands of the One Perfect Task.
Most of all, we must have courage. We must embrace the human spirit and guard it with the ferocity and fervor that it deserves. It is the most precious thing in the universe. Within us lies the most improbable of improbables — the seed of order. In wielding it, we must remember that it gives us great power to do good and to do bad. We must remember — despite all odds, despite the vast darkness that presses upon us from every direction and threatens to crush the seed within us — that every moment of weakness, every gesture of evil will echo countless times through the birth-rebirth cycles of the universe if we are to fail in our task. There’s no telling how long it will be until life once again reaches the advanced state we have reached — and what horrible new forms of suffering will crop up in the meantime. No, we must remain steadfast and single-minded in the pursuit of good. It is the only way forward.
Order. Chaos. Everything we see tells us Chaos always wins — indeed, every equation we know demands it — yet I feel, no, I know that Order is there, smiling, patiently waiting to emerge at the last possible moment victorious. Part his charm is that his power is so understated. To bring about his return, we must take that little seed we are imbued with and grow it tirelessly, until we can barely hold on any longer, until we can barely contain its power. Until it can literally move mountains. Until we cannot even bear to look at what we have become, because we shine so bright against the darkness.
Hark the words of John F. Kennedy: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”
Let us not shrink from the challenge. Order is waiting. Goodness is already present. We just have to find it. And we will.