The Meaning of Life Part 3: We’re All Mushrooms

Two years ago, before this blog went on a much-unnoticed hiatus, I began a series of posts on the meaning of life. I know, I know– who writes about “the meaning of life”? Well, to borrow a phrase from two years ago, this is my goddamn overly-analytical, informal blog about what I think, so I’m going to do what I want goddammit.

In my first post, I presented the view that the meaning of life is to achieve authenticity. In this view, life is about self-actualization. I still believe this is the dominant way people conceive of the meaning of life in our society. Most recently, I read a book by Parker Palmer about vocation, which according to him, amounts to finding a way to act on who we truly are. This is seductive stuff.

Palmer argues that if you follow your true self, you end up doing something that’s good for others. But I’m not necessarily convinced.

Enter the second way of conceiving of the meaning of life. Life is about fulfilling ethical obligation. In this primarily religious worldview, life is about doing what we are morally obligated to do.

Now to the third way of thinking about the meaning of life: life is about living in community with others. A morsel of the reason this blog went on hiatus is that it’s very difficult for me to conceive of this version of the meaning of life. In it, it seems like your individual identity becomes less important. You live to live in community. The barrier between you and others becomes thinner. This is hard for me.

I see this meaning of life in both feminist and ecological thought. Wendell Berry would argue that we are part of systems and our role is to find how we fit into that system. A few years ago, I read a feminist take down of the Great Philosophers like Kant that argued that we should conceive of ourselves as mushrooms. We are not independent entities. Like mushrooms (don’t ask me about the biology), we are all linked.

Now for the obvious disclaimer: I don’t think there’s an obvious answer to the question of which of these answers about the meaning of life is the best. We float somewhere between these three areas.

As I figure out what I want to do with my life, it’s tempting to fall into Meaning of Life 1; to consider just what is my true self. But I shouldn’t overlook my obligation to others and the part of me that is…a mushroom.

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