Sunday, May 19, 2013

Meaning & Purpose in America

There is a problem in America today; a disease with appalling results. This generation is going through a time of war and a following recession, and many are lacking the will to overcome. Depression, Suicides, homicide, broken homes, all of these are becoming more prevalent today, so what is the answer, or the cure for our present dilemma? There is no debating that we have a problem in America today, but how did we get ourselves into a predicament that is worse than that which resulted in the Great Depression? (This may be debatable). Suicide is on the rise (American Journal of Preventive Medicine), and so is homicide (American Human Development Report; premature death by homicide is more than five times higher in the U.S. than the international average), depression is increasing (SAMHSA-Department of Health and Human Services), along with the still ever growing amount of broken homes where a father or a mother is lacking. (21 million plus children are being raised by one parent today in America, the majority according to the U.S. Census Bureau). During the Great Depression the majority of people didn't just give up and start killing each other and themselves in the prevalent manner they do today. People use to fight harder to keep their heads above the water, because they had the will, they had a purpose. And during that depression era it was unlikely that a child would be growing up in a home with a single parent, again because their parents had the will this generation lacks. Families use to stay whole even through the most struggling times. These listed statistics on, depression, suicide, homicide, and single parent homes in America are not the problem but the resulting outcomes from the problem, the effects of the disease. The problem is that the majorities understanding of the "American Dream", is not a purpose worth living for.

A vision or a will in life should never be about wealth, pleasure, or power, but this is how most Americans' view life. It is no revelation to the world that most Americans' always want the nicer car, bigger TV, more attractive partner, and a more exuberant home. They are never satisfied, always wanting more, and never really appreciating what they do have. The rich do get richer in this country and the poor do get poorer but they both have the same misunderstanding of what the American Dream was originally meant to be. The misunderstanding of true purpose to life or a vision to live by is why our nation is in the predicament that we are in today. During the Great Depression many families understood that they needed to be grateful for what they had, for as long as they had each other and could keep each other alive and hopeful, then life was worth living. Parents during the Great Depression saw their children as the future, and many of these parents struggled through life with the hope that their children would have a better tomorrow. Even through the toughest times many parents found a way to save for their children's future, and struggled to keep their family together; they understood the "will to meaning." In the least they had a dream worth living they lived.

Let's look at the three main wills to life and how they are defined by three great minds, and keep in view how these ideas would apply to a family struggling during the Great Depression compared to a family struggling in America today. Let's start with Sigmund Freud who believed in the "will to pleasure." Sigmund Freud believed that the "will to pleasure" is the fundamental or motivational guide to a person's life, the will that provided purpose to an individual. "Will to pleasure," is just that, every person naturally living their lives being motivated by their own selfish desires and aspirations in life. "Will to pleasure" has nothing to do with sacrifice, like a parent sacrificing a higher position in his or her job so that they have more time with their children, or a spouse choosing to sacrifice their selfish desires by choosing to stay faithful to their partner. "Will to pleasure" would however apply to the man who chooses to abandon his family, so that he can have more freedom in life, more money, and without the burdens or responsibilities a child or wife would bring. "Will to pleasure" would also apply to the spouse who chooses to be unfaithful simply because they lust for someone else. The consequences of the unfaithful spouse may lead to a divorce and another broken home, but that's just the natural effects of a life lived in the "will of pleasure." Is there logical purpose in this philosophy? The sad truth is even today many people (who consider themselves educated and wise) believe Freuds' claim that every persons' primary motivational energy in life, (in relation to "will to pleasure"), is sexual desire. How could someone logically argue that sexual desire is the motivating factor in why a parent chooses to be in their son or daughters' life? If someone could argue this then one should conclude that this person needs to be reported to child protective services. One shouldn't argue that sex is what keeps a marriage together either or that sex the primary reason someone chooses to stay faithful to their partner. Anyone who has been married more than once can tell you that great sex isn't what keeps a marriage together. The defenders of Freud today use what some may call circular reasoning, or what L.L Brunk refers to as "trick of logic". Freuds' theories have a built-in defense mechanism, so in light of Freuds' constant readiness in relating everything to sex his defenders say "To disagree with Freud is regarded as an indication of the very resistance he predicts, confirming the evidence of Freuds' case;" that's a trick of logic, and it's lame.

Sigmund Freud deserves credit most notably for being the first famous psychologist to think outside the box, but he is surely not the most accurate. (The scary part is that many people believe he is the most accurate and ground breaking, and this is still being taught in many universities throughout the United States.) Freuds' methods never paved a way for people to deal with their actions effectively, but instead gave people a defense for how they behaved, giving them a lack of responsibility for their actions. This method would make sense to someone who believes "the will to pleasure", but should not make sense to a logical mind today. Trial and error has proven in history that the "will to pleasure" philosophy will ultimately destroy humanity, so it's time to evolve past this misinformation. It's worth noting that perhaps Sigmund Freuds' motivational guide in life led to his death on September 1939, when his doctor Max Schur assisted in Freuds' suicide by administering three doses of morphine resulting in his death. Freud was struggling with cancer at the time he chose to take his life and before he died he told his doctor, "My dear Schur you certainly remember our first talk. You promised me then not to forsake me when my time comes. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore." When pleasure is no longer attainable all one can do is die, if they live in the "will to pleasure."

(Psychology departments in American universities today are scientifically orientated, and Freudian theory has been marginalized, being regarded instead as a "desiccated and dead" historical artifact, according to a recent APA study.)

Now Friedrich Nietzsche believed in the "will to power", (he was certified insane by his early fifties and died soon after.) He is most famous for two quotes, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger," and "God is dead." Nietzsche speaks of the origins of moral values in his works "Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and "The Genealogy of Morals" (1887). In these works he says that "the theory of the perpetual elimination of the weak by the strong and the incompetent by the competent was correct." Let's think about that for a moment. Do human rights come to mind, or the poor minorities clouding up our streets during the Great Depression? They were seen as weak and burdensome by many of the wealthy, should they have just been gotten rid of? This philosopher believed that only the super-human-being or "superman"; "a superior individual who controls his/her passions and uses them in a creative way" deserved to live. "The superman's will to power would set him/her apart from the herd of inferior masses." He believed that humans' have the "will to power" in politics, culture and everywhere, since there is no God and there is no true purpose but ones "will to power".

This idea of humanities "will to power" influenced great dictators like Hitler and Mussolini; both of them were motivated by Nietzsches' writings. Living by the "will to power" has proven in history to be destructive to humanity, this should not be debatable, but of course Nietzsche would say, "There are no facts; there are only interpretations."

(For Nietzsche, there is no objective order or structure in the world except what we give it.)

Now let's analyze the "will to meaning" which renowned psychiatrist Victor Frankl speaks of. The "will to meaning" or the need for purpose in life is what we are proposing to be the motivating factor in every person's life which potentially could solve our problem. If human beings do not have a sound vision, or purpose in life, then life will lose all meaning. Living for pleasure does the average human being no good, which many realize once they reach a certain age. Interestingly enough according to the statistics at the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suicide today is highest among those of middle age or older, and those who are wealthy. Makes one wonder what these people were missing in life, for clearly they felt that they no longer had purpose in life when they chose to end their lives. And living for power is probably even more destructive than living for pleasure alone, for when one lives for power they are not only destructive to themselves but everybody else as well. This kind of selfish philosophy has proven throughout history to lead to a drop in the economy, (because profits are not being spread evenly), and could even lead to genocide, as in such cases as Saddam, Mussolini, Hitler etc. (Not going to beat the dead horse anymore.) When one chooses to live with the "will to meaning" then they can be balanced, unlike the selfish wills to pleasure and power. When you live for meaning in life you see that you cannot live alone, you need both the negative and the positive in your life, because if there was no negative then how could you ever have a sense of appreciation when coming across the positive? There could be no accomplishment in life if there were no struggles in life, and there could be no understanding of love if there was no sacrifice. The "will to meaning" is most important because this gives you a reason to why you suffer at times. Many families had to understand the "will to meaning" during the Great Depression to survive, to keep their heads above water. They understood that relationships were meaningful to life, relationships with their families was meaningful.

The families at this time were not going to give up on life simply because they were not the most successful, or the wealthiest, they lived for their families, their wives, husbands, sons and daughters. They appreciated what they had and even through their struggles they would always hope for just enough to keep those they love happy. If you understand this "will to meaning" then you will see purpose in your life through the good times and the bad, and although life seems unfair at times at least you know that there is still purpose, there is still hope. Even if a person feels that they have no one in their lives, if they stop to really examine their situation, most times they will see that there is always someone who can use a word of encouragement from them, or have them to confide in. Many times those who feel the most alone are in actuality the most selfish, because they don't realize that the people around them have their own struggles as well. And maybe if more people bothered to help one another, instead of just wallowing in self pity, then we would at least have a hope that we could rise out of this predicament our nation is in today.

The ones with power can afford to help this nation get out of debt and even war, but they are not fools. The elite can see the mentality that the average person in our nation has today, the mentality like the middle class one who wins millions in the lottery and in less than two years they are in debt; this is how many of the powerful see the average American today. Why should they waste any of their money on fools? They are wrong though, for everyone has potential to make the better decision. If the powerful don't learn the "will to meaning" then they too may eventually do what many of their kind have done before, they will take their own lives.

Victor Frankl was a neurologist and a psychiatrist who survived the holocaust. His bestselling book was titled Man's Search for meaning. This book chronicles his life as an inmate in a concentration camp and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the grimiest forms. Frankl was a key figure in existential therapy. Existential therapy proposes that in making our own choices we assume full responsibility for the results of our actions, and we have no one to blame but ourselves if the results are less than what we desired. His premise is that "man's search for meaning" is the primary motivation of his life. He speaks of the "will to meaning" as opposed to Freud's "will to pleasure" and Nietzsche's "will to power."

("Viktor Frankl often said that even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps he found only two races of men to exist: decent and non-decent ones. These were to be found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups. He once recommended that the Statue of Liberty on the East coast be complemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West coast, and there are plans to construct such a statue by 2010. Frankl is thought to have coined the term "Sunday Neurosis" referring to a form of depression resulting from an awareness in some people of the emptiness of their lives once the work week is over.")

The answer and the cure for our nation today is frankly very simple, but just so that you don't feel like you are being bossed around or ordered to do something this article is presenting you with a thorough and logical explanation. This is the equivalent of a parent telling their child to look both ways before they cross the street and then the child replying with, "Why exactly do I have to do what you are telling me to do?" Since a simple answer is not enough for many in our nation today please stick with this article and the promise is that you will receive a perfectly good explanation for why you should live by the "will to meaning" philosophy.

The Army defines purpose as "what gives subordinates the reason to act in order to achieve a desired outcome." We have already gone over how when one has only pleasure or power as their desired outcome then this will ultimately lead to destruction. If humanity is to have purpose then they must have a purpose that is not destructive, if we are to survive. Helen Keller believed that purpose should be central to a good human life, she wrote that happiness comes from "fidelity to a worthy purpose," meaning being faithful to a worthy cause, or not giving up on a worthy cause. Before someone could make a giant leap into living for a worthy cause like the one Dr. King lived for they must first start with their closest family; they must serve their children and their spouse, willing to make the necessary sacrifices for their families' well being before they attempt to change the world like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr. did. Truth is if more parents in our nation today would simply live for their children and spouse first, loving them and making sacrifices for them, then they would be playing a great part in redeeming our nation.

In ancient times people survived through an ice age because they stayed in tribes, where every individual did their part to serve one another, they could not afford to live for only themselves. The biggest misunderstanding today is that times are so different now, that one doesn't need to consider the welfare of others if they are to live. Granted even in ancient times there were wars among tribes, but the strongest tribes survived because they were a united people and their purpose was simply to keep their members alive. Today tribes are broken all around, even the smallest ones; the families are broken, many times because the men don't understand true purpose to life, to survival.

Religion is not the answer or the cure for our nation today, and religion did not keep the families whole during the Great Depression. An individuals' faith does hold the answer though and the cure. Faith is what the tribes, the families, and all those who have the "will to meaning" need to live and help others to live with true purpose. Religion has been the cause of many wars, and power and pleasure has been a driving force and excused throughout religious history. Granted that pleasure and power have also been the driving forces in every other corrupted organization, religious groups are most prominent in this regard. The point here is that when someone is faithful that faith can lead one into a life of meaning, and if one understands the basic concept, that unity and love is most important in ones faith, then regardless of their religious preference they can change the world for the better, and certainly contribute to the healing process that our nation needs. The main problem with religion in general is the contradicting fact that people of different religious groups (that claim to have faith in a loving God) will be hostile towards those of another religious preference for reasons that are usually more political than religious. However there are always extremists of different religions who somehow find a means of justifying their violence. There is no organization that is the answer or cure for America today, (although Buddhists seem to have the right idea before any other religion. Historically speaking Buddhism has proven to be the most peaceful of dominant religions.) The answer and the cure for our falling nation cannot be found in religion, but can be found within every individual, once they understand meaning to life, (regardless of who they call God.)

How can we live in the "will to meaning" if we don't believe there is a purpose to life? Logically we can't. Philosophically and rationally speaking only something can come from something and something cannot come from nothing. The argument against the faithful and unfaithful is the same regarding the question, "where did the first something come from?" The question applies whether you believe God created everything, or everything came from a Big Bang which came from the expansion of heat energy; where did the energy come from, or where did God come from? Suppose for a moment that just like light turns, (which Einstein theorized and was later proven,) what if time also turns, like a record. Just like planets, molecules, atoms, protons, neutrons, and even universes, what if time also rotates, or is in some way circular. What if in the end we are back at the beginning? This would only be possible if time were a circle, and since logically we know that something can only come from something else, we must conclude that time is a circle, because in this format there doesn't need to be a beginning. (Interestingly enough Nietzsche had a thought like this.) The greatest minds of our time have created a machine that cost billions of dollars to make called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is the largest particle collider in the world. This machine takes up miles of space underground and the machine is expected to demonstrate the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, the last unobserved particle among those predicted by the standard model. This machine has already recreated a big bang on a smaller scale. What this invention concludes is a rather scary concept to some, but predictable to others; humanity truly can play God. Let's not assume that the Large Hadron Collider will create a big bang large enough to destroy the universe, but what if some day humanity does do this? Based on recent discoveries the thought is not all that farfetched. One of the most accepted theories on the universe is that after the big bang the universe starts expanding and eventually will stop expanding, and revert back to its source, and when the pressure is built up again the universe will explode again and start expanding like it did before, continuing this process forever over and over again. In this scenario we can see that the end is the beginning, the source of everything is also the end of everything. None of this mattered to the families suffering through the Great Depression though, right? And perhaps this idea sounds outlandish to most of you, but the point is there is reason to believe in purpose if we realize our existence makes sense.

If time is circular and we could theoretically be the cause of this spinning record then let's realize that our purpose, our "will in meaning" is all that there is. All the power and all the selfish pleasure in the world amount to nothing, only the good we do for others has a positive impact in this world. Albert Einstein said that he believed if a human being were able to use their minds full potential they would become pure energy. Pure energy is the source of all that is, and nothing can exist, function, or think without pure energy. Something comes from something, and nothing comes from nothing. Something good comes from those that live in the "will for meaning", and nothing but destruction comes from those that live in the will of pleasure or power. A child will die, or grow up mentally impaired if they don't have love and compassion throughout their infancy and toddler years, no human being can survive without relationships. Science has observed that there are opposites in everything, for even all matter has its anti-matter, and energy has both positive and negative. What will dominate your life, the positive or the negative? What kind of energy are you?

Almost anything seems possible in this world today, so no one's faith is in vain and we should all live a life of meaning. We are all worth something, and our lives do not have to amount to nothing, so we should have every reason to live with a purpose and the will to overcome. Balance is the key to survival, but negative energy does not need any of our contributions to exist, so let's focus on the positive and do what is logical by living with a purpose, with a sense of meaning to life, not simply for our fallen nation, but for humanity as a whole. A tribe/a family will stay strong and survive through the tough times and the good, because they look out for each other and they don't live with the "will to power", or "will to pleasure" mentality.

We have gotten ourselves into a predicament that is worse than that which resulted in the Great Depression because we've forgotten the importance of unity, the importance of relationships; the meaning of life. No family stays together because of one person, no great person ever accomplished anything without the help of others. Not even the Large Hadron Collider was created because of one person, but the gathering of many minds throughout many generations created a Big Bang. Meaning to life is most evident in relationships, so stay alive and encourage others to live, we need each other. Without meaning there is no purpose, no love, no hope and only a disease that brings about depression, broken families, destruction, and suicide.

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