Is life worth living?

Work is good because it brings non-existence, and that non-existence is the most tolerable of all the forms of matter in life. There is no other answer to hard work. And I know of almost no one who has studied the philosophy of life but does not finally come up with the proposition that the only thing that makes life tolerable, is hard work, so you don’t know you are living. So, I characterize hard work as dope for life.

The fact that life is here, to my mind, proves nothing, excepting that if you got a certain amount of earth and heat and water— if they were resolved into the simple elements—given these elements in certain proportions under certain conditions, life will develop, just as maggots will in a cheese. Does that prove it is worth while? I cannot see it. It does not prove it in any meaning of the words worth while. If it does prove it, then everything is equally worth while, and the living man is no more a part of nature than the corpse. And the well man is no more a part of nature than the sick man. The pleasurable emotion is no more a part of nature than the painful emotion. The fact that it is here simply proves it is here, that is all.

When I look back over life, with the many pains I have suffered that happened, and the many more I have suffered that did not happen, the greatest satisfaction that I find in any of it is when I am asleep. And, intellectually, I feel it will be the best thing that can happen to me—to go to sleep again. Life to me is a joke. That is the way I get by. It is an awful joke.

Foundations of Belief

“Man, so far as natural science by itself is able to teach us, is no longer the final cause of the universe, the Heavendescended heir of all the ages. His very existence is an accident, his story a brief and transitory episode in the life of one of the meanest of the planets. Of the combination of causes which first converted a dead organic compound into the living progenitors of humanity, science indeed as yet knows nothing. It is enough that from such beginnings famine, disease, and mutual slaughter, fit nurses of the future lords of creation, have gradually evolved, after infinite travail, a race with conscience enough to feel that it is vile, and intelligence enough to know that it is insignificant.

We survey the past, and see that its history is of blood and tears, of helpless blundering, of wild revolt, of stupid acquiescence, of empty aspirations. We sound the future, and learn that after a period, long compared with the individual life, but short indeed compared with the divisions of time open to our investigation, the energies of our system will decay, the glory of the sun will be dimmed, and the earth, tideless and inert, will no longer tolerate the race which for a moment disturbed its solitude. Man will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish. The uneasy consciousness, which in this obscure corner has for a long space broken the’ contented silence of the universe, will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. “Imperishable monuments” and “immortal deeds,” death itself, and love stronger than death, will be as though they had never been. Nor will anything that is be better or be worse for all that the labour, genius, devotion, and suffering of men have striven through countless generations to effect.”

The Story of My Life

I am inclined to believe that the most satisfactory part of life is the time spent in sleep, when one is utterly oblivious to existence; next best is when one is so absorbed in activities that one is altogether unmindful of self. I am satisfied that no one with a moderate amount of intelligence can tolerate life, if he looks it squarely in the face, without welcoming whatever soothes and solaces, and makes one forget.

Nothing is so cruel, so wanton, so unfeeling as Nature; she moves with the weight of a glacier carrying everything before her. In the eyes of Nature, neither man nor any of the other animals mean anything whatever. The rock-ribbed mountains, the tempestuous sea, the scorching desert, the myriad weeds and insects and wild beasts that infest the earth, and the noblest man, are all one. Each and all are helpless against the cruelty and immutability of the resistless processes of Nature.

Whichever way man may look upon the earth, he is oppressed with the suffering incident to life. It would almost seem as though the earth had been created with malignity and hatred. If we look at what we are pleased to call the lower animals, we behold a universal carnage. We speak of the seemingly peaceful woods, but we need only look beneath the surface to be horrified by the misery of that underworld. Hidden in the grass and watching for its prey is the crawling snake which swiftly darts upon the toad or mouse and gradually swallows it alive; the hapless animal is crushed by the jaws and covered with slime, to be slowly digested in furnishing a meal. The snake knows nothing about sin or pain inflicted upon another; he automatically grabs insects and mice and frogs to preserve his life. The spider carefully weaves his web to catch the unwary fly, winds him into the fatal net until paralyzed and helpless, then drinks his blood and leaves him an empty shell. The hawk swoops down and snatches a chicken and carries it to its nest to feed its young. The wolf pounces on the lamb and tears it to shreds. The cat watches at the hole of the mouse until the mouse cautiously comes out, then with seeming fiendish glee he plays with it until tired of the game, then crunches it to death in his jaws. The beasts of the jungle roam by day and night to find their prey; the lion is endowed with strength of limb and fang to destroy and devour almost any animal that it can surprise or overtake.

There is no place in the woods or air or sea where all life is not a carnage of death in terror and agony. Each animal is a hunter, and in turn is hunted, by day and night. No landscape is so beautiful or day so balmy but the cry of suffering and sacrifice rends the air. When night settles down over the earth the slaughter is not abated. Some creatures see best at night, and the outcry of the dying and terrified is always on the wind. Almost all animals meet death by violence and through the most agonizing pain. With the whole animal creation there is nothing like a peaceful death. Nowhere in nature is there the slightest evidence of kindness, of consideration, or a feeling for the suffering and the weak, except in the narrow circle of brief family life.

Man furnishes no exception to the rule. He seems to add the treachery and deceit that the other animals in the main do not practice, to all the other cruelties that move his life. Man has made himself master of the animal world and he uses his power to serve only his own ends. Man, at least, kills helpless animals for the pleasure of killing, alone.

For man himself there is little joy. Every child that is born upon the earth arrives through the agony of the mother. From childhood on, the life is full of pain and disappointment and sorrow.

From beginning to end it is the prey of disease and misery; not a child is born that is not subject to disease. Parents, family, friends, and acquaintances, one after another die, and leave us bereft. The noble and the ignoble life meets the same fate. Nature knows nothing about right and wrong, good and evil, pleasure and pain; she simply acts. She creates a beautiful woman, and places a cancer on her cheek. She may create an idealist, and kill him with a germ. She creates a fine mind, and then burdens it with a deformed body. And she will create a fine body, apparently for no use whatever. She may destroy the most wonderful life when its work has just commenced. She may scatter tubercular germs broadcast throughout the world. She seemingly works with no method, plan or purpose. She knows no mercy nor goodness. Nothing is so cruel and abandoned as Nature. To call her tender or charitable is a travesty upon words and a stultification of intellect. No one can suggest these obvious facts without being told that he is not competent to judge Nature and the God behind Nature. If we must not judge God as evil, then we cannot judge God as good. In all the other affairs of life, man never hesitates to classify and judge, but when it comes to passing on life, and the responsibility of life, he is told that it must be good, although the opinion beggars reason and intelligence and is a denial of both. Intellectually, I am satisfied that life is a serious burden, which no thinking, humane person would wantonly inflict on some one else.

(Clarence S. Darrow’s views on existence, consciousness and nature.)

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