“Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human.”
Viktor E. Frankl
Although I routinely turn to Google to answer to life’s questions, I’ve never thought of asking Ebay before. However, tonight while searching for an electric recliner, I had an epiphany. Ebay claims it will “search for anything”. So, rising to the challenge, I decided to put Ebay through its paces and see what kind of wisdom it offered on some of the great issues of life: Hope, Despair, Love & Hate, Faith & Doubt, the Meaning of Life & and Meaning of Death.
Search 1: “Hope”.
“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Fall of Atlantis
Hope 180mm Floating 6-Bolt Disc Rotor Orange
Although I’m a pretty lateral kind of person, even I found Ebay’s take on Hope obtuse. Hope is a brand of bicycle parts. I’m not sure that Hope is what I’d want to associate with riding a bike, especially a high performance one. Thoughts like: “I hope you reach your destination” or I hope “I don’t get hit by a car’ come to mind. Yet, when I had a closer look at the Hope 180mm Floating 6-Bolt Disc Rotor Orange, it did seem rather profound. Indeed, I’m sure there’s some kind of weird, esoteric meaning in there somehere. Well, at least I can sense it.
Search 2: “Despair”
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company.”
― Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
Not unsurprisingly, there weren’t any bike parts called “Despair” on Ebay. Rather, we ended up in the realm of books.There was Kierkegaard’s Concept of Despair by Michael Theunissen (Paperback, 2016). There was also Noam Chomsky’s Optimism Over Despair, which provides: “An essential overview of the problems of our world today — and how we should prepare for tomorrow. We can either be pessimistic, give up, and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist, and maybe help make the world a better place.1”
In addition to the books, there were also a few CDs…Abysmal Despair recorded by ODYSSEY, and a thrash band, DESPAIR, whose debut single was History of Hate and this album was Beyond All Reason. I wonder if their message is all about hate, or more about love? I wonder if I should listen and find out…
Search 3: Love
‘I love you more than words can wield the matter, Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty’
Shakespeare: King Lear – Act 1, secene 1.
“Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.”
Love on Ebay seems to be much about decorating wedding receptions, or buying someone you love a token of your affection. That when you love someone, you buy them a necklace or for something novel, you could even give them some love coupons (whatever that entails). Surprisingly, or at least to me, Romeo & Juliet didn’t top the list on our search for love. There were customised lasercut wooden names for the Bride & Groom, jewellery…”I Love you Mum”, “I love you to the moon and back”, a pack of 100 wooden hearts in four sizes. Love is also available in helium balloons, and as a little love bird on an Australian stamp. BTW no books cropped up on my fairly extensive scroll through the results. So, sorry Romeo & Juliet. You lacked out.
Search 4- Hate
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
To be perfectly honest, I felt quite uneasy entering “Hate” into Ebay. Hate really isn’t part of my vocabulary, and it just felt icky typing in the word and like: “Don’t go there”. I didn’t even want to dip my little toe in. Get away. Leave it alone. It was a really strong force deep in my gut.
So, I was a relieved when the results weren’t all sinister. Indeed, there was an album Songs of Love & Hate by legendary Leonard Cohen near the top of the list. He’s an inspiration, not a force of darkness. Phew!
Then, there were the t-shirts. If Hope belonged to bicyle parts, despair belonged to books and the philosopher. Love was all about jewellery, hearts and helium balloon. Hate belongs the T-Shirt where indeed hate becomes humour. How can that be? We humans are weird, perverse even.
“Optimism that does not count the cost is like a house builded on sand. A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him.”
When it came to unveiling the goods on Optimism, books again rose to the top of the list. There was Helen Keller’s Optimism: An Essay, which is still sitting on my book pile unread. As when I’ve bought so many of my books, I was overly optimistic about my reading capacity. There is also Voltaire’s Classic: Candide or Optimism. and Scott Adams (writing as Dilbert): Optimism Sounds Exhausting. I love Dilbert, by the way.
Search 6: Pessimism
Like hate, pessimism is another one of those nasties that we don’t want to own up to. Rather, we’re supposed to “think happy thoughts” and “live happily ever after” in La-La Land. However, behind closed doors there’s at least a touch of pessimism in each of us. However, it’s how we respond to pessimism, which makes the difference. Some of us put on the boxing gloves and fight for our lives, while others silently slip under the bus and wake up as road pizza.
When it came to pessimism, Ebay dug up German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), the father of pessimism…
“The attainment of a goal or desire, Schopenhauer continues, results in satisfaction, whereas the frustration of such attainment results in suffering. Since existence is marked by want or deficiency, and since satisfaction of this want is unsustainable, existence is characterized by suffering.”1.
Search 7: Faith
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Well, if you go looking for faith on Ebay, more than likely you’ll end up with a CD by Faith Hill, than a copy of the Bible. Here’s a link through to Tim McGraw & Faith Hill: The Rest of Our Life
I was actually expecting something more spiritual along the lines of Matthew 17:20:
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
I guess that just goes to show, that just because you can “look for anything” on Ebay, it doesn’t mean you’ll find what you’e looking for, or what you need.
Search 8: Doubt
Robin Williams as Mrs Doubtfire.
Like Google, Ebay also has a sense of humour. When I entered in doubt, Mrs Doubtfire immediately popped up. I had to smile. For those of you who don’t recall the movie, it starred the great Robin Williams who played a troubled divorced Dad who wanted to spend more time with his kids. He dressed up as an older British woman and convinced his ex-wife, Miranda (Sally Field), to hire him as a nanny. It’s hilarious. This is a case of Dame Edna Everage meets Mork. Yet, like every movie starring Robin Williams, there are so many levels to this movie and it ‘s ripe with food for thought. After all, you could say that humour is the best way to impart the most challenging life lessons of all.
Here are a few poignant quotes from the movie:
1) “Did you ever wish you could sometimes freeze frame a moment in your day, look at it and say “this is not my life”?”
2) [Trying to get false teeth out of glass]
Mrs. Doubtfire: Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth.
Search 9: The Meaning of Life
“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934
When it came to searching for the meaning of life on Ebay, again I was in for a few surprises. Perhaps, I’m just getting old, but I thought Monty Python’s film: The Meaning of Life would’ve been top of the list, but it was in fact a sad omission. So before I move onto what I did find, I should leave you with their take on the Meaning of Life, which I must say is the abridged, sanitised version:
“Well, it’s nothing very special. Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”
Another, conspicuous absence, was Douglas Adams famous series which started out with The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Universe and included Life, the Universe & Everything. Even if you haven’t read the series, you could already know that the answer to the meaning of life, is 42.
The Bible or any other religious creed was also conspicuously absent, but Bradley Trevor Grieve’s book: The Meaning of Life made the cut. Perhaps, you need to stick a frog on the cover to get a look in.
Search 10: The Meaning of Death
“Life asked death, ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’ Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie and I am a painful truth.”
Perhaps, I shouldn’t be surprised that through all my searches, it was only when I searched for the meaning of death, that Ebay coughed up any references to God, Jesus or eternity. So, it seems that Ebay is just like us humans and when Ebay is facing death, it also turns to God. Ebay beamed up Barry Smith’s The Meaning of Jesus’ Death: Reviewing the New Testament’s Interpretations. There was also Adrian Chapman’s The Meaning of Life A Dangerous Mix of God and Science and Julian Young’s book: The Death of God & the Meaning of Life.
So, while you might be able to search for anything on Ebay, it’s quite clear that the response is quite random. You might not get what you are looking for, but like any lucky dip, you might get a pleasant surprise, and a whole new world will open up for you. Yet, there can also be that huge frustration, and even despair, of not finding what you need. Yet, expecting Ebay to have all the answers, is a folly. There are better places to look. However, who hasn’t tried retail therapy, and found a true and legitable joy? An escape from one’s pain-filled inner labyrith, even if it is only temporary?!! I’m guilty as charged.
Personally, as a Christian, I don’t believe life is altogether random and yet I don’t go so far as saying “God is in control”. You see, if God is control of it all, that includes good and evil and ignores the fact he gave us free will. Moreover, we clearly have the capacity to make “our lot” better or worse. Yes, in your quest for wisdom, never doubt the power of shooting yourself in the foot.
You can’t blame God for that.
Noam Chomsky “Optimism Over Despair”