Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Existentialism for Children

This past weekend I came down with a mean, nasty cold. I didn't feel like doing much except mope around the apartment in a big blue bathrobe, dragging around an entire roll of toilet paper and a plastic sack full of snotty tissues. I helped speed the recovery by drinking an entire carton of orange juice and becoming engrossed in one of my favorite stories... A tale of talking farmyard animals dealing with their roles in the world and fighting to find their place.

No, I'm not talking about George Orwell's Animal Farm, although it is one of my favorites... No, I'm talking about...


I rediscovered Babe as an adult. I watched it as a kid and mostly forgot about it, and I don't know how it hadn't always been my favorite movie. As a vegetarian, I obviously appreciate the movie's commentary on meat eating. A friend of mine told me that her Christmas dinner was ruined one year by it. I imagine it would be pretty difficult to choke down ham after watching an adorable pig character for an hour and a half. 
But the part that really struck me this time was the scene between Babe and the cat. 

Cat: You know, I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm not sure if you realize how much the other animals are laughing at you for this sheep dog business.
Babe: Why would they do that?
Cat: Well, they say that you've forgotten that you're a pig. Isn't that silly?
Babe: What do you mean?
Cat: You know, why pigs are here.
Babe: Why are any of us here?
Cat: Well, the cow's here to be milked, the dogs are here to help the Boss's husband with the sheep, and I'm here to be beautiful and affectionate to the boss.
Babe: Yes?
Cat: [sighs softly] The fact is that pigs don't have a purpose, just like ducks don't have a purpose.
Babe: [confused] Uh, I - I don't, uh...
Cat: Alright, for your own sake, I'll be blunt. Why do the Bosses keep ducks? To eat them. So why do the Bosses keep a pig? The fact is that animals don't seem to have a purpose really do have a purpose. The Bosses have to eat. It's probably the most noble purpose of all, when you come to think about it.
Babe: They eat pigs?
Cat: Pork, they call it - or bacon. They only call them pigs when they're alive.
Babe: But, uh, I'm a sheep pig.
Cat: [giggles] The Boss's husband's just playing a little game with you. Believe me, sooner or later, every pig gets eaten. That's the way the world works. Oh, I haven't upset you, have I?
[chuckles softly

My favorite part is when Babe says, "Why are any of us here?" That's a big, HUGE question to be asking in a kid's movie. 
Why are any of us here?

One of the great "mysteries" of life, I suppose. Uber-religious types might say that our Purpose is to worship God. Wow. Sounds like a petty, self-centered, egotistical god to me. What kind of purpose is that anyway? Pro-choice family types might say that our Purpose is to procreate. To make more mini-me's to "go forth and multiply." A lovely, humanist-type might say that our Purpose is to make the world a better place. That's a pretty noble and idealistic and very pleasant purpose.

I think that none of us have a Purpose. We came from nothing and are the end results of millions of years of evolution... Too much focus on Purpose leads to caste system thinking. I'd be friendlier towards Hinduism if it didn't have a history of barbaric practices like the caste system and Untouchables. Talk about everyone having a place and purpose in life. 

I don't have a Purpose in life... but I do have some lofty goals and ambitions and would like to make the most of my time. I'd like to participate in mass media (whether through films, TV, documentaries, or the Internet) in a positive way that might help to reduce intolerance, increase joy, and spread empathy and understanding. And along the way, I'd like to fill my life with the love of family, friends, and my Life Partner. That's my goal in life. I don't have a Purpose.

{Don't knock Babe, by the way. It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Direction, and Best Writing and won the Golden Globe for best Comedy/Musical Motion Picture}

1 comment:

  1. I think about this a lot. Currently, I've rested on the idea that our purpose is merely to exist. It seems like most things, not just organisms, but also elements/compounds/etc. and even atoms or parts of atoms tend to act in a way that keeps them in existence. If you think about it, if something didn't have a tendency to exist, it wouldn't. That's why we have the drive to procreate, multiply, strengthen our survivors; genes, etc. etc. Jealousy to eliminate competitors, fear of those that are different (to preserve one's own genes or similar) I could go on.

    Humans are either fortunate or unfortunate to understand all of this (well some of us are). Since I understand it, I can choose to obey or ignore it. Really, in the grand scheme of things, nothing you do really matters much at all, even if you're crazy historically important I bet in 5000 years nobody will know or really care. If you think about it enough you'll go crazy (my brain tries to go there sometimes) so I have just resigned myself to one of Dave's famous sayings, "If it feels good, do it". Fortunately for all of you I have morals and empathy so even if stealing things would feel good, I don't because knowing the way it makes the people stolen from makes me feel bad.

    My life decisions are basically governed by the fact that the only thing that really matters is how I feel at any point in time. Sure I care about other people, but only because their existence affects how I feel. Because I love Dave, I care how his day is going. If I didn't, I wouldn't. When he's upset it upsets me, so I want him to feel better so I feel better. Same for my friends, family, dog, etc. If I decide I want to change the world or make a difference, it's because those things make me feel good.

    P.S. I'm on a lot of percoset but I'm pretty sure I got my point across. Legally I might add, one of my ribs is in two or more pieces.


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