What the Hell is the Meaning of Life?
By Marty Nemko
When I was a teenager, I thought money was the answer. So, I
took after-school jobs and tried to buy my way into contentment:
clothes, nice car, fancy stereo. That didn’t do it.
Then I tried noble work—teaching in the inner city. But the problems those kids faced were so big, so multi-dimensional, that despite my trying hard, very hard, I felt I wasn’t making much difference.
Next, I tried prestige: got a Ph.D. from Berkeley and became a professor. But in my social science field, I often felt like an emperor with no clothes. So much social “science” is poorly substantiated, politically motivated theory. My students ate it up but I felt I was often feeding them ersatz food.
I’ve been trying the values route: focusing on what did I most value: work. To that end, I decided to be a career counselor. I believed that helping people find right livelihood would make my life feel meaningful. But now, 26 years and 3,900 clients later, despite a 96 percent client satisfaction rate and U.S. News calling me "job coach extraordinaire," that sometimes feels empty too. Nearly all my clients come away with a goal and action plan they're excited about but, too often, despite my best efforts to help them, fail to execute their plan.Yes, I still love doing career and personal coaching and have many successes but the life fully-led requires more.
I particularly value meritocracy. I believe that more good accrues from ensuring a meritocracy than nearly anything else. 30 years ago that would have meant dismantling the ol’ white boy’s network. But today,that network has largely been replaced by an even more powerful one: the Diversity Industry, hell-bent on ensuring that women, minorities, and the poor receive undeservedly positive treatment. I have become convinced that the benefits of "leveling the playing field" are far outweighed by the disadvantages.
Here's just one of countless examples of reverse discrimination and double standards that I could cite: When women and minorities have a deficit--for example, the so-called underrepresentation of women in engineering--massive redress is undertaken. But if men have the deficit, even the ultimate deficit--they die 5 1/2 years younger and spend their last decade in worse health than do women--not only is there not redress but over the past 60 years, the vast majority of gender-specific health research and outreach has been conducted on women. For example, a 60-year review of PubMed, which indexes the 3,000 major medical journals finds 40 articles on women's health for every one on men's. A review on charitynavigator.org finds vastly more charities focusing on women's health than on men's. Regarding outreach, think of all the breast cancer pink ribbons you've seen. Millions more men die and die earlier of sudden heart attack yet where are the ribbons for that?
The Diversity Industry is so powerful, it has shut off dissent.
I have tried to protest the rampant reverse discrimination against
men and whites to no avail. When I write politically correct
letters to the editor, they’re routinely published yet when I
write to protest reverse discrimination, my letters are always
censored. I’ve had 1,000+ articles and columns well
published, yet when I write about reverse discrimination, the
pieces are deemed unworthy of publication. I’ve written a
screenplay on the topic, Affirmative Actions, which the
London Daily News said was “Sure to trigger a bidding
war” yet no film studio would touch it. My first five books,
politically correct, have been published and critically and
commercially successful, having sold over 200,000 copies. Yet, when
I wrote what I believe is my best book, the politically incorrect
The Silenced Majority, it was rejected by 28 of 28
publishers, told again and again that the book is excellent but
that feminists on the publication board have or would quash it.
Self-publishing isn't worth it--I'd get few readers but all the
career-damaging media opprobrium. When I dared conclude that the
effects of uncontrolled illegal immigration are a net negative, a
computer programmer with a blog called "Anarchogeek" admitted to
"googlebombing" me with the term "Marty Nemko is a Racist," so that
if you google "Marty Nemko," you'll soon see that link. That untrue
yet devastating libel has had untold effects on my career. So
I’ve been totally censored and censured--so much for living
my values. Today, it seems that’s permissible only when your
values are politically correct. I worry about a society that
censors and censures benevolently derived thought that doesn't
conform to the orthodoxy. Censorship from the Right hurt us in the
McCarthy era. I believe it's hurting us even more from the Left
Many people find the meaning of life through relationships. While I have a good marriage, I’m not sure the meaning of life, at least for me, fully resides there. And my only child, who is an ardent feminist and champion for redistributive "justice," limits her conversation with me to pleasantries, in large measure because of my views on reverse discrimination, meritocracy as superior to egalitarianism, and related matters. So, I won’t, as so many parents do, find enough of life’s meaning through my family.
Many other people find the meaning of life in religious faith. But I can’t find meaning in a God that would, for example, allow literally billions of people, including innocent infants, to die of cancer and other often horrifically painful diseases. Books like Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great provide many additional sound arguments that there is no God worth praying to. I'm unalterably convinced.
Is that all there is? I'm now 61, with signs of aging starting
to creep in (for example, a pot belly is emerging despite
continuing to exercise vigorously while eating less) that remind me
that the coming decade is likely to be my final substantially
productive one. I want to live as meaningful a life as possible in
the time I have left. How the hell do I do it?
Here’s my current thinking, subject to revision. It comes down to spending as much time as possible using my best skills (writing and speaking) to make a difference in something where I might significantly augment others' efforts.
My current choices are to continue doing career and life coaching, doing my radio show, and public speaking, to try to improve undergraduate education (It deserves much more scrutiny). I also want to shine light on the fact that the public schools focus so much on low achievers that high-ability students often sit stultified, their potential unrealized, and too often are forced to wear a Ritalin leash when they can't cope with the boredom.
Alas, although I'm still plugging away on all those fronts, I'm finding that for the first time in my life, I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm just wasting my time. Should I focus less on trying to change the world and more on just being nice to everyone possible? These days, I find myself giving more heartfelt praise, making non-trivial conversation with the Trader Joe's checkers, giving free advice to strangers who email me, buying a casual friend an unnecessary gift, etc. I expect nothing in return--I rarely get it. I try to take pleasure in the giving itself. That approach to life ensures I do some good and doesn’t require Herculean effort.
Oh and I do get true pleasure from loving my sweet dog, Einstein, whom I got from the pound, perhaps saving his life.
At the end of a previous version of this article, I asked, "But is that all there is? Any suggestions?" I got one email from a person who said I needed psychiatric help and shouldn't be allowed to publish any more in the Chronicle of Higher Education, where I had recently completed a stint as its Guest Blogger. Fortunately, I have also received over 100 kind emails, none offering a useful new suggestion but all reminding me that there are many good people out there. And that in itself makes my continuing 80-hour workweeks feel more worthwhile. Thank you all.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2013. Usage Rights