"The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody," she said,
"would be to not be used for anything by anybody."
We search for meaning in our lives, like ants building in a pile of dirt.
We toil, until the mountain
seems indestructable. And when our work is swept away by an idle breeze or a malicious child's cup of
kool-aid, we quickly scamper to find meaning in that act, too. Build, rebuild. Build, rebuild.
And so it goes.
What if, in an act of almost-randomness, a man and his dog were told the answers? What if
they saw the universe for what it was, learned the meaning of life?
The Sirens of Titan became Kurt Vonnegut's second novel in 1959. You could call it science fiction, though that's just because it takes place in space, and you could call it humanist, but that's just because Vonnegut happens to be one. Sirens is at times a farce,
a satire, and a bitter love story that takes a critical look (points, and laughs) at armies and war,
politicians and wealth, believers and religion, marriage and love.
We begin with
the story of Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog who, coincidentally, just learned the stuff
I was asking you about a moment ago. They accidentally (or maybe not-so-accidentally)
travel into a Chronosynclastic Infundibulum, where things become entirely too clear....
As he materializes on Earth for a brief time every 59 days, per the effects of the Infundibulum,
the people of Earth gather to search for wisdom and meaning in his actions. Seeing the universe for what it is, Rumfoord constructs an elaborate plan to fiddle in the cosmic sandbox.
Compared to the religious tales of grandfatherly men creating gardens of evil, of eight-armed
deities overseeing creation and destruction, of sun gods and moon gods... compared to these things
it might seem the real meaning of life isn't really meaningful at all. At best, it's a sick joke. But on a scale of utility, it
all makes perfect sense.
Before the novel's end, Rumfoord brings peace to earth and unifies mankind with his new religion,
The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. Everything is chance, including physical attributes and,
since God doesn't care anyway, any fortune is regarded as a curse. The beautiful are "uglified,"
the strong make themselves weak, the smart make themselves stupid. Yet people still seem to find purpose in
the complete nonsense of it all.
You want me to tell you what the meaning of life is, don't you? Well, I won't. You have to read
the book to find out for yourself. But once you've finished, and you know why we've been working
so hard to build those mountains all these years.... once you realize the reason things like Stonehenge
and The Great Wall of China actually exist... once you find out what the real message is...
do not disassemble.
Do not give up hope. It could be worse--you could die of hypothermia in the
middle of a busstop in Indiana because the driver is two hours late. Or worse, you could die without
ever having been of any real use to anyone.