Tuesday, December 4, 2018

"LOL Nothing Matters"


The old internet joke "lol nothing matters" should not usually be taken seriously, but I've done it, anyway. At root, it is an attempt to deny meaning. Philosophies that embrace this mindset are dangerous and incoherent. We can laugh at the joke, but we shouldn't forget that it sometimes is a mask for pain. People are looking for meaning. We have to try to show it to them in the form of God's love and His purpose for our lives.

Where the idea for this post came from, I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t seen this phrase in a long time. For some reason, it just popped into my head recently. Then things got weirder because, for some other reason, I started contemplating it. I realized while doing so that it has a couple of inherent inconsistencies that speak volumes about our society. I'd like to take a look at this silly comment to discuss its serious implications.

The Joke

In case you haven’t seen it before, the phrase “lol nothing matters” is part of internet culture. Or at least, it was. As I said, it has been a while since I saw it last and it could be that people have moved on from using it. But the idea of it is pretty straightforward. It is meant as a comedic reply to something someone else takes very seriously, in fact too seriously. If you are in an argument with someone like that and are finally sick of it, you can trot out a “lol nothing matters” meme and call it a day. It was also a favorite for when a writer got caught up in Chicken Little antics over something like global warming or the southern border, and then complained nothing is being done about it. There was a time they stood a good chance of receiving at least one “lol nothing matters” for talking that way.

The Philosophy of the Joke

Well, at the risk of receiving one myself, I contend that it matters very much indeed. It matters because it is, even if meant ironically, a very succinct statement of the nihilistic worldview. There is no reason, no freedom, no truth, no hope, no purpose. There is nothing to believe because there is no one to believe in. Life is pointless, and this philosophy does nothing to answer the loss. It does not care to answer. At best, it teaches resignation because there is no point to pursuing meaning in existence.

Postmodernism is not exactly nihilism, but it does borrow pretty heavily from it to teach relativism. There is no truth, and therefore no right or wrong, simply different. The major division here is that postmodernism has a tendency to cling to hope. Nihilism is hard. It refuses to admit of a human nature, but that nature simply cannot endure the idea of meaninglessness. It might be able to accept that lie at a cosmic scale, but when it becomes personal, it becomes painful. Life cannot be enjoyed, and that is untenable. Postmodernism attempts to fix the problem by being all about enjoying life. It combines the pursuit of happiness with the abolition of standards. That’s a simple explanation of the disastrous morality (or lack thereof) we have seen take hold of society in the last few generations.

But the pendulum does swing back. What’s the problem with pursuing “your joy” all the time without restraint? It’s that the world doesn’t work that way. There is no way to be happy all the time because it fades quickly when you have it and it also does not prevent bad things from happening to you. So when you are unhappy, it must mean that someone or something is denying you “your truth,” and is therefore to blame.

“Lol nothing matters” comes from the result of an unhappy postmodernism, which could also be described as an ironic nihilism. When people don’t get what they want, it leads to a sort of “stiff upper lip” where they joke about it not being a problem because life is pointless, anyway. Why get worked up when there is nothing to look forward to? Just sit back and embrace the hopelessness. Not enough money? Reminisce about Soviet communism. Can’t find a romantic partner? Talk about suicide. Bad grades? Plan a school shooting. And most of the time, it is meant as a joke. Most of the time. But why care about the outliers? “Lol nothing matters.”

The Joke Breaks Down

But of course it does. Plenty of things matter. When people joke, it is because they innately recognize the absurdity. They still have hope they can get the things they want, and that their present lack is not a permanent circumstance. They trust that they can overcome whatever is holding them back because they have faith in themselves. But that has limits. When people stop joking, when they seriously advance insane economic theories or kill themselves or commit murder because life wasn’t going their way, things still matter. They matter so much that the loss of them means other people have to suffer.  They must punish what held them back. All because the last thing they lost was faith in themselves, and it was the only faith they had.

It is a deadly frame of mind wrapped up in three words that are not meant to be taken seriously, until they are. Those who believe that things do matter, especially the things of God, have a responsibility to point out the absurdity of this concept. I’ve already begun to do so here on the basis of the practical, everyday evidence. If you say there is no truth, purpose, or goodness, you are lying to yourself. No one lives like they believe that. Even trying to do so leads to depression, because the soul cannot accept what the mind attempts to foist on it. Every time you go to work, hug a loved one, or even write a line in the hopes that someone else will laugh, you are betraying your belief in purpose. It is inescapable.

When we realize that, we also have to realize it comes from somewhere. A purposeless nature could never produce purpose, even as a conceit to encourage life, because a mindless universe could not conceive of purpose or conceit. It is not a cosmic joke because the universe cannot laugh. The existence of order and will in ourselves points to the necessity of a greater mind to give them to us. That is their only possible source. This can be hard to admit because it requires humility. It means someone else has a claim on your life, your very being. But it is the only way to make sense of the world, and to say the world does not make sense is a copout, not an argument.

To add to that, “lol nothing matters” does not make sense logically. It is simply a paraphrase of the idea “there is no truth.” Both are inherent contradictions. They are self-refuting absolutes. To say nothing matters is to claim that this one fact should be a guide for life, and that you can understand everything else by it. But if that is true, then it matters. And if it matters, then the original statement cannot be true. It isn’t deep or clever, it’s incoherent.

The Joke is Ancient

Funnily enough, it is also biblical. There is an entire book devoted to it, Ecclesiastes. The second verse of the whole thing actually says “Absolute futility. Everything is futile” (Ecc. 1:2). It is one of the 30 times Solomon says so through the 12 chapters he devotes to the subject. This is not a postmodern discovery, but an ancient revelation. And Solomon discovered exactly what I have been talking about. Even trying to see everything as pointless is, itself, pointless.

Some people have called the closing of Ecclesiastes a postscript that undermines the original purpose of the text. But such people are still clinging to the idea that the world can exist without meaning. The truth is, the closing is the whole point.

When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil (Ecc. 12:13–14). 

If nothing matters, then life is worthless. That is not the reality we live, though. We all recognize worth. If we want life to have true significance, then we need to acknowledge the source of worth. God made us and gave us meaning. Our purpose here is to live the life He made for us according to the ends He has established. That is what matters most. And when we figure that out, we can escape the hopelessness of a life lived for nothing.

So yes, I realize this is an over-serious discussion for such a little joke. The joke is not really the point, though. It is the worldview that produces it. Inherent in the joke is the fact that it is wrong, but in too many ways, too many people are trying to live as if it were right. That is something we should be sad to see, and we should want to offer something better. I like a good joke, and I have even laughed at this one on occasion. I am not saying to never be funny. Let’s just not let real suffering go unnoticed because it is covered by a smile.

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