The human being is a meaning-seeking organism. For although he may pursue sex, fame and fortune, or the intoxication of military victory, ultimately, all of these are but proxies; they are mere expressions of a deeper and far more primordial instinct: the pursuit of purpose- that is, of a goal, of a path to that goal, and of a will sufficient to walk that path no matter the consequences. And so when all the superficialities of society are stripped away, it becomes clear that what man truly needs and longs for is not material gain at all but rather meaning. This can hardly be argued; philosophers have known it since the beginning of history- but who reads philosophy these days?
Man's pursuit of purposeful living- what Socrates referred to as eudaemonia (εὐδαιμονία), or the flourishing of the spirit- can hardly be ignored. And yet we live in a world that is, to quote Nietzsche's madman, "plunging continually" into chaos and darkness.
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" -- As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. "Has he got lost?" asked one. "Did he lose his way like a child?" asked another. "Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?" -- Thus they yelled and laughed.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
The Gay Science
Friedrich Nietzsche, of course, has not been the only one to fear the dangers of nihilism- of a world without meaning. In some form or other, the idea has been discussed by great minds as diverse as Émile Durkheim, Viktor Frankl, Joseph Campbell, and in more modern times, Simon Sinek. And there is good reason for fearing "the advent of nihilism:" A man without meaning is a terrifying thing indeed. When man finds himself devoid of meaning, he finds himself alone and adrift, alienated even before himself- and finally, toxic, vicious, self-denying and self-destroying (and that is to say nothing of what such a man may do to the world!).
However, recognizing that nihilism is dangerous- both personally and culturally- is only the first step; determining what can be done about it is something else entirely. The problem is complex, and seems resistant to simple solutions. It is not a problem that can be legislated away; no amount of social or political engineering has ever been or will ever be sufficient to quell the chaos at the heart of the human being. And so there is nothing to be done but for man to rediscover at last his own meaning, purpose, and destiny. There are no other options.
After all, if we fail in this regard, we may find ourselves lost forever in "the tombs and sepulchers of God..."
~ Joshua van Asakinda