Monday, 10 October 2011

ww2 training 1941 - what is the meaning of life?

The fifth entry in my father's wartime journal which questions our very existence. Previous posts include:
Entry 5 - January 12th

After a very enjoyable weekend in Oxford we have returned to service life. A thought left undeveloped or expanded in the streets of Oxford has recurred, it is namely, what are human beings, what is the reason for their existence? What is the meaning of life?

It seems a very empty and worthless existence to plod wearily through this scheme of things, in our allotted places, for nearly seventy years and then finish. Why should men have ambition? What is power worth? Which, when obtained, has to be left after our short course has been run. Why should we have evolved throughout aeons of time a complicated and intricate system of legislative and executive government and now arrived no nearer the seat of universal happiness?

Why do we live? If it is that we are here to prepare ourselves for an eternity with or without God, why do we trouble to procreate our species? Is there any value to life? It is an involved and colossal question. It involves, perhaps, the admission that up to the present time the whole human race can be accounted as a drastic and unfortunate failure and, in our past and in our future, if the present state of affairs is allowed to continue, there is not one ray of hope or illuminated feature that has, in any way, ameliorated or alleviated the race as an indivisible whole.

But, if other men have failed, why should we? Standing as we do on the brink of the dark abyss of annihilation, it is up to us to, at least, attempt to formulate some sound theory as to the purpose of live and to achieve a basis whereby we can conform to those standards of life.

It would appear, to a reasoning man, that the purpose of life would be to achieve happiness. Happiness, however, is a very loose term. Happiness, perhaps, might be found more often in a garret than in a palace and yet I doubt whether we can achieve universal happiness by getting everyone in a garret.

What, then, does happiness consist of? Man's life probably falls into three spheres: his work, his leisure and his pro-generation. Firstly, therefore, man must be allowed full expression of his genius, or talents, in whatever direction his genius, or talent, tends to take. Secondly his leisure, or recreation, must be considered; artistically, spiritually and physically. He must be allowed sufficient time to devote to his leisure and given the capability for full, fundamental enjoyment. Thirdly comes his family responsibilities, to which, naturally enough, a certain amount of time has to be devoted.

Superficially it might appear that these spheres are, largely and to a greater extent, dovetailed together. Nowadays, or even in the past, it would appear that a young man's leisure is almost wholeheartedly taken up in the process of biological selection. Admittedly it is so but only from a sense of frustration and the attempt to kill two birds with one stone.

I prefer to face facts and from them I draw these inexorable conclusions which are: that man's life today has to be fundamentally re-organised and subdivided so that the full amount of true happiness can be obtained, symbolical to Adam Smith's avocation of the division of labour being the means of obtaining wealth.

Thus having shaped in our mind the purpose of life and generalised on the means to achieve how are we to bring them into effect? And when they are brought to pass, what is the sum total of our achievement?

Douglas George Banks 1920 – 1989 written in 1941

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nevell said...

Your Dad's diary reads like a pamphlet - I have to admit I find its zeal somewhat disturbing and unconvincing. I wonder to what extent he felt fulfilled or disappointed in life subsequently, or whether he changed his views... or found a different model...?
Don't really understand his penultimate paragraph (but you don't have to explain it ;-) )

Peter Banks said...

I think you will find the next entry, coming up soon, more illuminating!

Best, PB

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