"Since I was a boy, I have been fascinated by the heroic.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote in The Will to Power that, "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." And Viktor Frankl agreed in Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, that, "Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but by lack of meaning and purpose." These great thinkers knew something that we have forgotten: It is only through meaning that man finds fulfillment. For no material thing will ever be sufficient to the task: No amount of sex, no amount of glory, no amount of luxury, no amount of power, no amount of money, no amount of recognition, will ever make up for a lack of why. So although we think in binary terms- we love "happiness" and we hate "suffering"-, what we really long for is something greater and more profound than either: fulfillment- that is, a why. Discovering this why, however, can be difficult, especially in a world so fragmented and so distracting.
There is no greater question than, "Why?" This question lies at the bottom of everything we do as human beings; we are, essentially, a meaning-seeking species. Above all else, this longing is what separates us from every other animal on the planet. We wonder why; we go in search of an answer to why; we will not rest until we have satisfied our need to know why- and woe unto us when we fail to find our why. For when we are denied an answer to this most critical of all questions, we become sick, confused, despondent; we feel lost and alone, isolated and without purpose. This is what philosophers generally refer to as nihilism, and it is what Nietzsche considered the most horrifying of all states of being- worse, he considered it a near certainty. For Nietzsche believed in the death of God- that is, he asserted that mankind had abandoned belief in God as a historical fact- and he believed that this great event, which was in his estimation greater than any other event in human history, would doom all of humanity to nihilism. And then how would we justify our own existence to ourselves? We would go mad, he argued- if we were lucky...
A new meaning would be necessary.
This concern has been addressed by a number of thinkers since then: The pursuit of meaning lies at the very heart of the works of early psychoanalysts such as Carl Jung; it is to be found everywhere in the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell; and it of course innervates the work of a few modern day thinkers as well, for instance Jordan Peterson. It is not merely an academic problem, however; nihilism is at the very foundation of virtually all of our social ills. For without a why, there can be no how. Tragically, the world has us distracted, and so here we are, lost, confused, and despondent...
"Hell is empty, and all the devils are here."
~ The Tempest ~
Luckily, there is a path forward, and that is the old way.
The old way is the classical tradition in quasi-religious form; it is the psychophysiological need for self-mastery, and all the rites and rituals leading towards that end. Although such ideas are looking upon with skepticism these days, they are no less necessary; the world need the old way even when holding the old way in contempt. However, there are many ways to resurrect the traditions of the past: in film, in music, in religion, and in psychology. We all bring something special to the playing field; each of us should play our part to the best of his ability.
Discovering what role we play, of course, is no easy task- but it is worth it.
~ Joshua van Asakinda