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July 16, 2013: The meaning of life, an Effaist perspective

Originally posted on this blog.

The purpose of our existence, the reason we’re alive, the meaning of life – this is something that philosophers, religious leaders, and most ordinary people have thought about and tried to answer for millenia. Our philosophy has its own theory about why we’re here – one that ties in to our general philosophy about how we relate to each other and other animals. Here’s a (very) brief overview:

The world can be a positive place and a negative place. We believe that the reason we're here is to come to the realization about the negative phenomena in the world around us, and to take steps to try to eliminate these negative phenomena, thereby making the world a better place. The first part is fairly straightforward. I think that most people can agree that the world can be a very unfair place. There is a lot of hatred, violence, negativity. There are a lot of problems in the way we interact with one another. An Effaist will go beyond these obvious things, and see another big problem in the way we interact with other animals. Generally speaking, we believe that most of the world’s problems are a result of focusing too much on our own needs, ignoring or paying too little attention to the needs of those with whom we have to share the planet. A narrow, egotistical focus doesn't necessarily mean that we like the fact that we exploit other human beings, abuse and kill millions of animals, or destroy vast natural environments. It can also simply mean that we are too focused on our own lives to do anything about these things. In our opinion, not caring is as bad if not worse than not noticing that there is a problem.

This is why the second part of our philosophy is so important. We have to act in order to improve our world. Even if we consider ourselves "in tune" with what’s going on in the world, how much do most of us honestly do to improve the world we live in? Unfortunately not much. Many of us are simply complainers and not doers. Many of us are overwhelmed by all the negativity in the world, and prefer to believe that the world is too far gone; that things will never change. This opinion is easily refuted, if only by looking at all the positive achievements that have happened in the past 200 years. There was a time when it was OK for kids to work in factories, when women could not vote, when domestic violence was treated as a joke, when slavery was legal. All these things did not change for the better because people adopted a "things will never change" stance, but because people had the courage and the motivation to actively pursue a better reality.

Some people believe that the point of living is to try to have fun. Other less hedonistic individuals believe that the point of living is to try to become successful, or to have a family, to have kids, etc. For Effaists like myself, both of these ways of thinking are incomplete. We believe that a person who only focuses on his/her own needs is basically missing the point of existence. Sure, selfishness is always an option, - it is the easy way out, and most of us have been taught to be selfish, in one way or another, our whole lives. Still, this is the wrong path because it betrays a very narrow focus. If the world is a room, focusing on your own well-being is like standing in the corner your whole life. Focusing on our friends and family is indeed less selfish than living only for ourselves, but, ultimately, this approach is limited as well. In order to fully realize our potential, we have to truly open our hearts, to pinpoint unfairness in the world around us and try to eliminate it. If we ignore something because 'it’s not our problem”, it may one day become our problem. It may become our children’s problem. Effaists believe in the concept of "what goes around comes around", so we get the simple equation that if we’re not giving much, we probably won’t get much in return. Helping can be a very fulfilling thing. It can be a beautiful thing.

So how does our relationship with the rest of the animal world tie in to the whole idea of why we’re here? While many other philosophies present fairly similar steps in order to add meaning to our lives, they often say nothing about our relationship with the animals with whom we share the planet. The belief that other animals also deserve to be happy is what sets us apart from many other philosophies. We believe that by treating other animals well (ie. respecting their right to live, not abusing them, not abandoning pets, adopting a vegetarian diet, etc.) we are taking a giant step in fulfilling the second part of our “mission”, - making the world a fairer place. I won’t get into this particular issue in more detail, because I've written a lot about how this can be done already, but I invite you to check out my other blog entries to learn more if you are interested.

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