You chase that diploma. You chase that job. You chase that promotion. You chase that salary increase. You chase that fancy apartment. You chase that life away. Until death…
Yet there is something that seems to be missing. Some higher purpose. Some meaning to it all. And it’s nagging away at you. It’s filling you up with an empty hole. But you can’t seem to access this hole. You can’t figure out its nature or what it wants. It’s almost as if the boundaries of this big hole are guarded by a daemon that begs you to keep chasing. More, more, more! Better, bigger, faster! Chase everything! Somewhere down the line, there’s going to be a big payoff, it promises you. But the daemon gives you no reason. No clues. It just asks you to trust it. Chase that life away. Until death. With a blindfold on.
But what if you could kill this hypothetical daemon and take its blindfold off from your face? What if you could access that big empty hole and start seeing your life for what it really is? I believe you can. And to do that, you need to upgrade your mental software with new information that lets you see things from a new perspective.
So here you are. A human being. Top of the food chain. A product of billions of years of evolution. And there’s one important reason why you haven’t been wiped out from the planet’s gene pool yet: evolution has meticulously programmed you to avoid death at all costs. But evolution has no big plan. It’s just a process. And somewhere during this process, something bizarre happened: consciousness. Or to be more precise, human consciousness. It’s so sophisticated that it allows us to think beyond the physical reality that’s in front of us. And this ability alone is probably more responsible for our taking over of the food chain than any other. Because with it, we can conjure up concepts such as “the past” and “the future”. We can plan far further ahead than any other animal. We can even learn from the past, not just via the slow process of evolution, but by transferring what we learn to the next generation via language.
But this sophisticated consciousness comes with a price – or a luxury, depending on how you see it. We are the only species that has the ability to reflect on our own inevitable death. No other animal can do that. Do you see how bizarre that is? Billions of years of evolution, programming us to avoid death at all costs, and all of a sudden, we are fully aware that we are going to die anyway and no amount of jogging or vegan food will save us.
So how does the brain choose which instincts to listen to? There’s only one answer: conflict. A deep, inner conflict within our minds – that of being programmed to avoid death, yet being aware that you’re a rotten corpse waiting to happen. And this conflict must be solved. Otherwise we wouldn’t get out of bed. We wouldn’t go to work, pick up the kids, paint, sing, talk, drink coffee, play, gossip, love, hate, dance. And the only way to solve this conflict? Immortality. The meaning of life is, paradoxically, to end life. Not by death, but by immortality – by embarking on so-called immortality projects. These projects can take all kinds of shapes. What they all have in common is that they are a means of contributing to something bigger than yourself and that you can be remembered for what you’ve contributed. It’s a way of leaving a trace. Providing for your family, creating art, contributing to the welfare state, building a nation, founding a company, launching a magazine, having a successful career, and so on. These are all immortality projects.
The problem is that the character of our immortality projects changes over time. And every now and then, when the world is going through a paradigm shift, the foundations for our immortality become shaky. And we’re going through a paradigm shift in this very moment.
In the medieval period, you were basically immortal out of the box. You had a strong spiritual belonging via the church, as priests made sure your relationship with God was fine and dandy, so that you could live happily for ever in heaven after your time on earth. You also had a strong societal belonging, as you were born into a caste. Even if you were born as a peasant living in lousy conditions, you at least had a purpose, a clear role in society and communion with your fellow peasants. And as long as you fulfilled your societal and spiritual roles, you’d be hanging out with Jesus in eternity.
But with the help of the printing press – undermining the information monopoly of the church – Luther came along and killed the church and proposed the revolutionary idea that we stand alone facing God. This, in essence, paved the way for the concept of individualism. And shortly afterwards, merchants realised that by making more money than you actually need, you could amass and invest capital to the extent that you’d be richer than the king, meaning that the feudal system with castes and a king appointed by God was made up. The system could be gamed! As long as you work hard, you can become whatever you want! Capitalism is born, destroys the feudal system and finally produces the individual. You’re born as a blank sheet of paper, your life is yours to create, you’re free!
But freedom comes with a price, too. Because it demands we create or choose our own immortality projects. And a stable society needs a consensus on immortality. With God and the castes out of the way, a replacement was needed and times were turbulent until it was found. In Sweden we created Folkhemmet. In the US they created the American Dream. And whoever controls the flow of information controls the consensus of immortality. Pre-internet, if you controlled television and radio broadcasts, the newspapers, and so on, you controlled the nature of immortality. Fancier house, faster car, bigger paycheque!
In the medieval period, you had one immortality project: to serve God. With individualism and capitalism, we were promised the freedom to choose how we leave a trace, how we become immortal. But we didn’t dare choose for ourselves. Instead, we turned on the television and let somebody else decide it for us.
And that’s precisely what the daemon is. It’s the inner voice, created out of what you’ve been fed about how to live your life, that keeps you away from that big empty hole within you. And that big empty hole is the conflict of death. And it’s desperately yearning for you to fill it with immortality projects. Not somebody else’s immortality projects but your own.
So screw that diploma if somebody else made you feel you need it. Screw that job if somebody else gives you affirmation for having it. Screw that promotion if you need to suck up to a middle manager. Screw that salary increase. Screw that fancy apartment. Screw all of it. Until you’re certain that your immortality projects are your own and nobody else’s. And if your true immortality projects demand a diploma, go get it. If they result in you getting a job, have it. If they push you up the ladder, enjoy it. And take that salary and buy that fancy apartment if that makes you happy. Because now you are fulfilled. And you’ll love you for it.
Words by Dr. Ashkan Fardost
Death (1914) by Teodors Üders