I was listening to a talk by sh Hamza Yusuf, on the meaning of life. I found myself in an exceptionally empty space tonight, a space that I’ve never before managed to just be in. A space that was filled with darkness – because I’d run away with my light, I assume. It feels like g-force is acting on that space, presumably from the absence of the soul in that place? Anyway, somehow I survived being there. Just lying in bed, feeling suspended between worlds. I can’t even explain it. I kept making ducaa and I realized that my years of dissociating from this place meant that I dissociated from Allaah, while remaining in the space I thought to escape. But then I’d constantly meet it again and again in different situations and places and people. The mind is such a peculiar place. But I digress.
So he was talking about meaning and how the very first thing that Adam calayhisallaam was taught was the name of things – their meaning. And I was like, ooooh! I had never considered it before you see. The thing with meaning is that it’s a combination of inner and outer reality through symbolism. And symbolism is a fractal, and information cascades outwardly, and not linearly. Meaning, no pun intended, that one meaning usually leads to a network of meanings. It’s like adjacent possible.
And he then mentions the hadeeth, the beauty of one’s Islaam is to not concern oneself with what holds no meaning for one. And he used gossip as example, and I immediately thought : tmz! And then : information apocalypse!
That’s why we are so overwhelmed with all the access to knowledge. It’s not really the knowledge but that it’s not connected in a meaningful way. Meaning is the inherent order to things. It’s what leads us to discover things by deduction or adjacent possible or intuition. There’s a system to all information in the universe.
The internet is a dumpster, a chaotic place where algorithm and clickbait decides things instead of critical thinking or values. It’s why no one gets why certain things go viral and others don’t. Why you can have someone like Logan Paul with millions of subscribers and followers – and for what? We’re disintegrating as a civilization because of loss of meaning. Hedonism is meaningless enjoyment. I don’t think there’s a greater suffering than meaninglessness, and this is why I’d often object to people using “third world countries” and “first world problems” as some scale for gratitude and measuring the level of pity someone deserves. One can endure the worst of conditions if they have meaning, which many of the nations and people pitied have.
Collectivist cultures are literally built on meaning and tradition and connection. Not that I’m idealizing it, because that kind of culture goes easily to the other extreme of erasing individual expression. But in the context of poverty, we in the West view their plight through our lens of hedonism ; convenience is the only thing that makes life bearable. Imagine if we had to deal with water shortages or walking miles and miles to school – with our current outlook on life. It’d kill us worse than the bubonic plague I tell you. How many people do you know who are barely hanging by a thread, just going through the motions because they have bills to pay and a 9-5 job? Imagine those people being made redundant and then evicted?
I don’t know what is going to happen in the coming years, but I know we’ve crossed some threshold that there’s no coming back from. The grace in this is that with more chaos, there’s more room for creating order. And that’s why I always advice people to not be sucked into the chaos. Find and create meaning. That’s the only way to fix this mess. By transmuting it into the meaning that Allaah intended these trials to bring out.