struggles for existence

Introduction

Welcome!

Thank you for visiting.

I would offer you a cup of virtual coffee, but then we would need to discuss virtual sugar and virtual cream … and that might mire us in virtual nonsense. So instead, I will offer you my two cents on the meaning of life: life, like everything else, has no meaning.

That's all you get for two cents, but a larger investment might render the conclusion that we could give life, our selves, and everything else, infinite meaning. Sound like a good deal? "How much?" you ask? That depends … it depends on how much you need.

If your life is full of meaning because Jesus loves you and your application to heaven is strong (or will be by the due date), and you know all that because the Bible tells you so ... or because you have been told that the Bible would tell you so if you really read it and you have seen some convincing out-of-context passages in that regard ... you don't need my two cents about anything. Same goes for those who shine a light unto the nations, a light derived from what Christians call the "Old" Testament. Indeed, you folks are already over-invested here. Sorry to have soiled your screen. Please cut your losses, and let's let bygones be bygones.

The rest of you reprobates would need to do some investing, but there is an installment plan. You could start with the first few paragraphs of Love Thy Neighbor and see whether the return on investment is likely to be worthwhile. If not, sorry.

If so, here’s a few reading instructions: endnote numbers appear in parentheses and their respective notes appear at the end of the text, just before the list of Primary Sources and the Bibliography. Click on the note number to be taken to the note, then click the [Back] link to return to the text. The article was originally published in SKEPTIC in 1995 (vol. 3 No. 4, pp 86-99), but ever a work in progress, the version posted here contains several corrections and updates.

For those who cannot muster the patience to wade in without knowing where the evidence and the arguments might take them, Love Thy Neighbor builds the conclusion that the Bible is the most evil book ever written.    Evil? ... Yes. The premise here is that a wolf, no matter how big and bad, cannot be evil — but a wolf in sheep's clothing is absolutely evil.

If evil is bad put forth as good, wrong sold as right, injustice codified as justice, hate disguised as love, genocide trussed up as the will of a god, and eternal death held forth as eternal life, then the Bible takes the cake on evil.

"What about the Ten Commandments?" you ask? Allow me to borrow a phrase from the drug sellers in Washington Square Park: "Check it out! Check it out!"

Because it would be both wrong and futile to suffer withdrawal from the opium of the masses without substituting a non-delusional foundation for meaning, Prospects for Existence follows up with an invitation to join the struggle for existence.

"I already exist" you say? ... but what if there comes a time when there will be no evidence — none whatsoever — that you, Kilroy and I were here? "Well ... I won't exist then, but I exist now" sounds like a sensible reply.

Sorry to disagree, but I do because there is a difference between a magician's illusion of sawing a woman in half and actually sawing a woman in half — a difference in consequences. Prospects argues that if a time comes when there is no evident difference between life having existed and life having been an illusion, we are conglomerations of matter and energy which merely perceive themselves to be alive. Put differently, if life vanishes without a trace, as is slated to happen if the universe unfolds without interference from us and our descendants, we will not exist then, so we do not exist, in any meaningful sense, now.

Don't get too fussed about the "we do not exist, in any meaningful sense, now" part. This is not the place to make the full case, and perhaps I will not make it to your satisfaction in Prospects, but if we agree that there is a problem about the future that affects the meaningfulness of our lives in the present, then we can discuss doing something about both. That's why I want to badger you about existence and offer an alternative to pie in the sky. Prospects proffers eternal consequence, and so existence, through making ourselves the ancestors of a line of descendants that will evolve forever. That is an empirical possibility which, considering the alternative, ought to be pursued.

Step 1 in that pursuit would be surmounting self-imposed obstacles — the biggest obstacle being the notion that there is a god, or a group of gods, in charge of the fate of the universe — so Love Thy Neighbor is a fitting prelude to Prospects. Step 2 would be making eternal descendants our explicit objective. That leaves step 3 — accomplishing the necessary technical feats. Pending steps 1 and 2, our descendants will think of step 3 as "the hard part" — a little conceit that we should allow them, as they will be so sensible, and engaged by such imposing obstacles (i.e., the laws of physics), that they will not be able to imagine that the entire enterprise of life almost flung itself into a black hole over some nonsense that makes virtual sugar and virtual cream look like the salt of the earth.

Love Thy Neighbor and Prospects for Existence were originally written as a single article, but SKEPTIC asked me to divide the manuscript into two parts for back-to-back publication in consecutive issues. That's why the last paragraph in LTN advertises Prospects as coming up next. Unfortunately, a few weeks after publication, charges that LTN is anti-Semitic and anti-Christian delayed the publication of Prospects, but the magazine's staff (including at least one Editorial Board member who is Jewish, and one who is Christian) were able to drive home the realization that critical examination of sets of ideas (like religions) is not the same as promoting prejudice against sets of people who accept those ideas. So after skipping an issue, most of Prospects was published in SKEPTIC in 1996 (Vol 4 No. 2, pp 62-71) —but without its final two sections. Those sections are restored here.

For a cut-to-the-chase spin-off from LTN and Prospects, see The Message of Evolution — a brief essay solicited by FirstScience.com for publication on their website. FirstScience even planned to pay me for The Message — they reviewed a prospective description, took my tax number, rushed me to make final revisions of the submitted manuscript, had me sign a copyright release — the whole song and dance. Then, after the fourth publication delay, upon inquiry I was told by a new contact person that a new editor had been installed. He asked me to remove the message from The Message, so here it is … and there it isn't.

PDFs of three unpublished (unpublishable?) manuscripts are also posted here:

Also available is a monthly column in Palestine Times from October, 1997 through March, 1998:

I hold the copyright for all of the above articles and you have permission to, and are encouraged to, distribute the PDF’s or printed copies as widely as possible. Readers willing to translate articles into other languages should contact me for a Word file if that would be helpful (hartung@post.harvard.edu).

For those of you with no patience for reading, several videos are available:

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John

John Hartung is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology and Professor of Anesthesiology at the State University of New York.

His Ph.D. is in anthropology from Harvard. About half of Dr. Hartung's publications are in social science, with the rest in medicine (Curriculum Vitae).

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VIDEO: 'Reading and Doing Medical Research: An Insight From Augustina Otero' by John Hartung