This is the third in this little trilogy of posts addressing meaning in our lives. One catalyst for these was Richad Dawkins’ book, “The Selfish Gene.” Dawkins makes the argument that the replicating gene is not only the most fundamental element of our biological existence, it is he beginning and the end of it. He argues that our bodies are really just robots. They are, in his words, “individual survival machines,” created by our genes to facilitate their survival and continued replication. Biologically, there is nothing unique about he human body over other forms of life. In their most fundamental form, the DNA molecule, the building blocks of our genes are identical to those found in dogs and snakes and fish. Each is just a differently designed machine for gene survival.
One reviewer of the book on Amazon wishes he could “unread it,” because of its implications for meaninglessness to our lives. In my mind, this is a reactive response, not a thoughtful one. Dawkins premise takes nothing away from the wonder and mystery that biological life presents, in all its beauty and complexity and savage irony. The very fact that we, apart from other animals (as far as we know) can conceive of and reflect on this sets us apart. It challenges us to find purpose within it. And, in fact, Dawkins concedes that humans are unique among other gene survival machines in that we can create culture and pass this culture down through generations.
In my mind, it is here that we are challenged individually to make sense of all this. If I am not to give myself over to despair, I must construct a value system that makes my days worthwhile. Some of us, probably most, conveniently fall back on the cultural values given them by their parents and their society and their peers. This is why we so readily identify unquestioningly with a community or religion or ethnicity…or all three. History shows us the pitfalls of such ready and unquestioning acceptance.
Our job as individuals, as sentient travelers along this road, is to construct meaning on our own terms and according to our own individual values. But this is hard, long and thoughtfully iterative work…maybe a lifetime’s worth for some.