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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 553)...

    On to the larger question..... that is to say, now that you have answered the lesser and more everyday one with your Ishmael essay, there remains (for some... not all thank god) the most troubling and pervasive, relentless, gnawing and elusive question of all.... (for some for some debilitating.....not all thank god) and that is.."what does this all mean" can we know? can it be known? With all the investigation that has gone before us (from Lao Tzu to Hesse) have you come across (or for that matter arrived at some notion or conclusion yourself) any findings that merit your recommendation for review? if you can illuminate on this subject i would be most appreciative....

    ...and the response:

    People who feel a need to find a meaning in "all this" tend to feel that it's this: because it has happened, it was therefore "meant" to happen. Various constructions are put on this: that it was God's plan; that it was fated; that it was somehow "natural" and therefore bound to happen eventually; that it was a statistical inevitability. I find some of these positions meaningless, none of them convincing. The closest I can come to a statement about the meaning of "all this" is this: The fact that it happened means that it COULD happen, that it's not outside the bounds of possibility. It's a statement that is philosophically trivial: the same can be said of a hurricane, the appearance of a rainbow, or a suicidal terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. What I mean by this statement is that "all this" has no SPECIAL meaning that differentiates it from all other phenomena; it has no more or less meaning than a rain shower, a traffic accident, or a lunar eclipse. Or you could say, more simply, that I'm NOT one of those for whom the question of what all this means is troubling, pervasive, relentless, gnawing, or debilitating--unless the word "means" is used in the sense of "has as a consequence" (as in "This heart-attack means you're going to have to take things easy"). In this sense, "all this" means that tens of thousands of species are going to become extinct, threatening the stability of the community of life on this planet and the future of our own species. This (and not the other) is what I find to be troubling, pervasive, relentless, gnawing, and debilitating.


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