In Tolstoy’s A Confession (the autobiographical account of his crisis of meaning I wrote about the other day), he argues that, if what we seek to achieve does not endure after our death, then our life itself has no meaning. As Tolstoy’s reasoning goes, since everything he strived for in life–riches, fame, pleasure–would ultimately disappear when he died, life was essentially meaningless.
But then he reverses himself:
I understood that I had erred, and why I erred. I had erred not so much because I thought incorrectly as because I lived badly. I understood that it was not an error in my thought that had hid truth from me as much as my life itself in the exceptional conditions of epicurean gratification of desires in which I passed it. I understood that my question as to what my life is, and the answer — an evil — was quite correct. The only mistake was that the answer referred only to my life, while I had referred it to life in general. I asked myself what my life is, and got the reply: An evil and an absurdity. And really my life — a life of indulgence of desires — was senseless and evil, and therefore the reply, “Life is evil and an absurdity,” referred only to my life, but not to human life in general.
In other words, Tolstoy determined that his life the way he lived it was meaningless because the achievement of his life goals–riches, fame and pleasure–died along with him. That did not mean that everyone’s life was meaningless, he realized. He admired people whose goal it was to be of service to the rest of life. Since the service that they did to the rest of life endured beyond their deaths, their lives had meaning.
When we use planetary resources, in the service of what do we use them? When we live our lives, in the service of what do we live them? Are we using our resources and living our lives meaningfully? Or are we wasting both?
Because if you agree with Tolstoy, whether or not our lives have meaning is determined only by what we use them for.