This Essay Is Not About American Sniper

by Akim Reinhardt

American SniperI was gonna write something about the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper. Seems like a topic of the Now. Something the internetting public can really grab onto and scream about.

Clint Eastwood: Sentimental warmonger, or artist of more nuance than leftists and pacifists can discern?

U.S. sniper Chris Kyle: Troubled war veteran of humble origins whose experiences are a sharp prism for viewing America's exploitative class divides and tragic foreign policy, or a remorseless, racist killing machine who's murderous life and violent death reflect much of what's wrong with the nation?

That kinda thing. People love that sort of stuff. Gets ‘em all jacked up, clickety-click. Plus, I just saw the movie and have some ideas of my own. But you know what?

Fuck it.

I don't wanna talk about moral ambiguity. I don't wanna dissect global politics. I don't wanna filter through the finer shades of artistic vision, intention, and reception. I don't wanna delve into any of those abstractions. I don't wanna tap society's pulse and jump on the topic du jour. You know why?

Because life is meaningless.

As I sit down in front of this keyboard, I can't bring myself to care about what 3QD readers want or would enjoy reading. I can't be bothered to speculate on what type of essay might once again garner me a citation by Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish or land me back in the Huffington Post.

None of that matters. Because nothing matters. Nothing at all.

Meaning and truth are just illusions that humans chatter about incessantly because they can't stomach the sheer meaninglessness of it all.

The Earth is a snowball of cosmic debris. The possibility of life on it is a longshot accident that came in like a broken down nag in the 10th race at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens (a real dump if you've never been). To consider the evolution of single cell floaters into multi-cell life forms is a far more boring prospect than even the droning monotone of the dullest high school biology teacher could suggest. Just that jump took over two and half billion years.

The rest of it? Some dinosaurs, some meteorites, some mammals, and us.

Us. You, me, and every other human who's ever lived. Let's start with you.

If you're under the age of 30, the only reason you're here is because two fertile people fucked. If you're younger, test tubes might've been involved, which is like a thin layer of bizarre frosting atop a massive cake of strange.

When your conception took root, that actual-you began forming after winning a 40,000,000:1 lottery ticket. Forty million. That's the number of sperm your father ejaculated, assuming he was producing on the low side. He might have unleashed as many as a billion sperm or more. And one of them bought a subscription to your mother's egg-of-the-month club, thereby making you and only you.

Any other egg/sperm combo would've produced an entirely different omelet altogether. Your parents would have had a different child instead of you, your siblings a different sibling in your place; it would be a real life daughter or son, brother or sister, but it wouldn't be you. And there'd be no you. Your one astronomical chance at creation on this tenuous little rock would have been gone in a grunt and a blink, with no one noticing. Just like it does for the other tens or hundreds of millions of sperm who don't ever come to fruition every single time some dude shoots a load, whether it's into the love of his life or his favorite jerkoff rag. None of those centillions of potential people will ever live. Ever. Done.

But you and me and the rest? Us? Our numbers on the sexual roulette wheel came in and here we are. What of it?

Nothing, I say. Nothing.

From simple cells to photosynthesis to complex cells to multi-cells to early animals to fish to land plants to insects to amphibians to reptiles to mammals to birds to primates to great apes to humanoids to us. It's not a plan. It's not a miracle in either the religious or the secular sense. It's a meandering, shit stained trail of eating, fucking, killing, and dying.

But because you and I are part of the homo sapiens freak show that's capable of complex language like these here words, and sophisticated thoughts like the ones you're likely to find running down 3QD's ongoing log like a massive can of fancy cat food smeared on the side of an abandoned building, we're capable of endlessly deluding ourselves by creating and embracing meaning. Meanings which don't even exist, but which we manufacture for our own enjoyment and peace of mind. Or to torture ourselves and others with. And then we convince ourselves those meanings are real.

But they're not. There is no meaning and nothing matters. Nothing matters because nothing is capable of mattering.

Lots of stuff is matter, but it doesn't matter. The rest of the stuff is energy, and it doesn't matter either.

There's no grand lesson to be drawn from any of this because there are no grand lessons. Or even little ones. We have senses and we can observe. But all ideas are manufactured. They're make believe.

Matter, energy, and ideas. That is all there is. The first two are out there all around us, and they are us. The third is within us, peculiar fantasies that we create and then embrace or reject for a variety of reasons.

We are by far and away the most sophisticated life form we've ever encountered, and probably ever will encounter. We're the only one that can thoroughly manipulate matter and energy. And we're the only one that has any complex ideas whatsoever, so far as we can tell.

Dolphins and elephants and dogs might have good memories, some impressive non-verbal communication talents, and enough sophistication to create and maintain relatively complex social systems. They might even make for better company than human beings. Well, at least the dogs certainly usually do. But no animal besides us debates ethics and morality. They don't argue about the merits of various political and economic systems. They don't daydream about the afterlife they believe awaits them. And they don't have the kind of existential angst or nihilistic miasma that drives an essay such as this one.

We, and only we, have sophisticated ideas. Not because they exist and we have especial powers of perception. But because we are the only beings capable of creating them. And boy, do we love to create and share ideas.

Among all those countless ideas, in the first rank are fantasies of meaning and truth.

Our minds like to discern patterns, even where there is none. Our minds crave meaning, even though there is no meaning. And so we fantasize. We build ideas like large, intricate Rube Goldberg contraptions. We're desperate to know that we caught the mouse because we built a proper trap. We're distraught by the prospect that we are the mice and the mice are us and every living thing dies, whether in a trap or in an open field or in the talons of bird or in the wreckage of a car or in a hospital.

I don't write this because I'm trying to convince anyone. I don't care if you agree with me or not. Whether you do or don't doesn't matter in the least. Nothing matters. Rather, I write these words because the absence of truth is the only truth I know. Because meaninglessness is the only thing I have.

And because today I just can't bring myself to pretend otherwise.

I've pretended a lot in my life. I grew up believing in God It was the Jewish version of God. Not terribly anthropomorphized. Kinda vague. Lots of omnis: omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. I used to talk to him. I thought he heard me. That was nice.

I used to believe America was a unique land of opportunity and freedom. I used to put my hand on my heart during the national anthem. I used to think the United States was synonymous with justice, and that its greatness was inspiring. That was nice too.

Rube Goldberg machine, 1915 (from Wikimedia Commons)I used to believe it didn't matter how I ate so long as I enjoyed it and I got to keep living. I believed human lives mattered more than the lives of other animals because humans are more important than any other animal. That other animals were inferior. That human lives have purpose where theirs don't. Yummy nice.

I don't believe any of those things anymore. Not because I woke up one day and began a personal revolution. Not because someone told me not to believe those things. Not because I suffered life-wrenching trauma or experienced some great epiphany.

I really wanted to keep believing in God and America and Big Macs and hundreds of other things that gave my life meaning and joy and comfort. But eventually I just couldn't do it anymore, despite my best efforts to hold on. I mourned as God slipped away like water through my cupped fingers. I sighed heavily at the realization that America doesn't equate to Totally Fucking Awesome. I knew I would miss bacon terribly even as I forsook it.

My fantasies melted away, leaking out of my ears and seeping out of my pores, one by one, drop by drop. After the big fantasies evaporated, the smaller, more esoteric ones dissipated in turn. Truth, courage, justice. Good and evil. They're all make believe, convenient abstractions we use to categorize matter and energy and the things they do. Things that we, as matter and energy, do. But that's all they are. Matter and energy.

They have no meaning. Nothing has meaning despite our best effort to impose meaning. Nothing matters.

I realize that many religious people are apt to look at me and say: This is what happens when you don't believe in God.

But I'm apt to look right back at them and say: This is why you do believe in God. I wish I could too. I remember when I did. It was very comforting.

People are lonely. And afraid. They crave connection and meaning. So they believe what I no longer can.

This doesn't make me any better than believers. Maybe just a little sadder. And in a way, a little more dishonest. After all, I still pretend a lot of things day to day. Most of the time even I pretend things matter. Things like my career or the love I feel for my family or the joy I share with friends. Worst of all, my ideas. I pretend that they matter. What I think about history or politics or morality or American Sniper.

I'm not sure why I still pretend so much. Is it because human beings are hard wired to pretend? Is it because I spent so much of my early life pretending that it's now difficult to move on to simple reality? Is it because almost everyone around me is pretending all the time, and humanity's collective, unrelenting influence takes its toll? Some combination of the above? Either way, it usually comes as second nature to me. Very often, I too pretend that things matter.

But not today. Today nothing matters. Today is a moment of clarity. Today I have no lies, no fantasies, no illusions. There's just me and you and these words, and none of it matters.

P.S. No, I'm not depressed.
P.P.S. Yes, next month I'll probably talk about what I pretend matters. Maybe.

Akim Reinhardt normally mentions his website at the end of a 3QD article, but really, there's no point.