French-Algerian writer, philosopher and 1957 Nobel Prize Laureate Albert Camus once suggested that the most important question philosophy had to answer is whether or not we should kill ourselves.
It’s a stupendous claim that’s easy to dismiss, especially without careful consideration.
It’s controversial. It’s spiritually and biologically blasphemous. It cuts to the metaphysical quick.
It’s such an abrupt statement that it seems like an attack; but it’s not. It’s simply the ultimate reality check.
Making matters worse, our smallish, brief existences are regimented by petty, slavish vocational requirements, ludicrous societal expectations and frivolous material wants. Instead of living, we are preoccupied with “making” a living. Instead of making sure we have what we need, we obsess over getting what we want. Instead of being ourselves, we resign ourselves to being who we’re expected be.
Clearly, ours is what Socrates condemned as the unexamined life—and our political, religious and economic institutions are ill-fatedly designed to ensure that things stay that way. Camus simply pointed out the obvious.
Obviously, most of us weigh in affirmatively, quickly finding ways to justify our lives. Many rationales may be shallow or contrived, but they’re safe and sustainable and they allow us to function as conventionally productive individuals.
On an individual level, then, our answer to Camus’ question is a resounding “Yes.” Life is worth living. We teach it, we preach it and we cling to it. We live our lives as if there’s more to us than meets the eye, as if there’s a reason we’re here, as if we have something to contribute. We affirm our lives every day, from the minute we get out of bed to the moment we fall asleep.
Unfortunately, even as we individually clamor to proclaim that life is worth living, we collectively indicate the opposite.
Collectively, we live self-destructively as if life is not worth living, much less preserving. We poison and pollute our natural habitat for the sake of mass production and steeper profit margins. We squander our natural resources to maintain cultures of indulgence and material extravagance. We base our politics on greed and brutishness. We base our economics on carbon-based fuels and war-mongering. We mortgage our future well-being for instant gratifications, short-term gains and perpetual modes of entertainment, leisure and general escapism.
Surely, if we collectively believed life was worth living, we’d be interested in conserving and protecting our natural resources for future generations. Surely, if we collectively believed life was worth living, we wouldn’t allow our political representatives to obstruct progress on climate talks, emissions reductions and renewable energy. Surely, if we collectively believed life was worth living, we’d be more committed to getting to the bottom of extraordinary renditions, outed CIA agents, destroyed interrogation tapes, nonexistent WMDs, Abu Graib, Guantanamo, Blackwater, etc.
Surely, if we collectively believed life was worth living, the ruling economic elite wouldn’t be permitted to reduce the middle and lower classes to Capitalism-sanctioned wage slaves. Surely, if we collectively believed life was worth living, we wouldn’t have a healthcare system based on exclusion instead of inclusion. Surely, if we believed life was worth living, purchasing power wouldn’t be prized over conscience and the dollar wouldn’t be mightier than the pen. Surely, if we collectively believed life was worth living, we wouldn’t live as though we were specks of dust with no hope of making a difference.
Surely, if we believed life was worth living, we’d live more deliberately, more accountably, more responsibly.
Surely, if we believed life was worth living, we’d live more worthwhilely instead of so selfishly, cynically and fatalistically.