Thursday, April 30, 2015

On The Sixth Day, Star Trek, Identity and More



The Sixth Day is a movie that showcases the ethics of Materialism versus “Religious Sovereignty” and how technology is fundamentally neither moral nor immoral – though I’m not sure the movie itself is aware of it.  The movie itself seems to be an argument against Materialism.  The villain is an Atheist who holds that we should live forever through successive duplicates and that clones should have the same rights as anyone else.  The protagonist (who is himself a clone) relays largely on a “God’s Will” argument which is entirely psychological and is reminiscent of Hume’s Moral Sentiment theory. 
In my essay On Genetic Engineering I refute this argument as a prime example of non-empirical argumentation.  Essentially all arguments that are not derived from evidence of something regarding the health or ill-health (benefit or detriment) to human beings are an argument from sentiment whether that sentiment be religious, libertarian or so on.  I am not saying that all arguments must be strictly speaking utilitarian, but all arguments must be strictly speaking mechanistic.  That is, they must regard the well-being of individuals rather than what they prefer.  This is in contrast to Utilitarianism in the sense that one could argue Utilitarianism is simply arguing for Man’s happiness, when Virtue Ethics argue for Man’s flourishing.  Therefore, we need not give opinion here of the conundrum of whether we would agree to the reasoning behind all sentient creature’s minds being set on a infinite loop of momentary pure pleasure for the end of time.  All we must say is whether we concur or disagree with this moral-end is not based on sentiment but based on some reasoning based on data.  Also, to say we do not base our values and preferences off of sentiment does not mean we cannot have values or sentiments of what is the good.  Only that to the extent possible we wish to have our sentiments be based off of reasoning, rather than our reasoning be based off our sentiments.  I believe it was Sherlock Holmes who said something along the lines of:  Base your theories off the facts and not the other way around.
There are a litany of concepts that are connected with the one’s easily found in the film, so for the sake of brevity I will only handle the one’s I find of immediate interest – namely questions of autonomy, identity, consent and moral responsibility.  First off identity for it is involved in all the others in the subjective sense of whether we find clones to be autonomous (or simply replicants of the original – at-least at-first) being able to have their existences’ authorized by consent (if they are truly just and truly the original in new flesh and with a new replicant brain) and whether they, the original or some synthesis (or neither) possess moral responsibility for their actions and selves.  Is the clone truly a new individual?  Is the sock whose form is the same but woven from new fabric entirely new?  The answer is simply both.  Yes, it is a new person – a new person is standing there.  You can have two Schwarzeneggers when before there was only one.  One can be conditioned differently than the other.  And also no, they are identical; when Spock or Kirk get into the transporter, they are dematerialized, and in-effect they are killed, and they are reconstructed atom by atom making an identical version – it is the captain and his pointy-eared logician.  But what does all this logic and mental work mean in terms of moral questions and practical applications?  How do we define ourselves and act in this Materialist world? 
Throughout human history, even the most Materialist men (even I) have viewed themselves as something that is fundamentally mental in existence.  To be human, to be this thinking animal, is to feel at-times that we are living behind our eyes, that we our passengers in our skulls and we control this suit the way Krang controlled his.  Simply because we perceive ourselves this way, does not mean or give us any information at-all about our objective fundamental nature; it will however, by definition, give us information about our phenomenogical nature.  A nature which to some extent could change when our fundamental sense of identity is tested.  As material beings, our perceptions and thoughts our governed by physical law; however, our material beings could be altered by the sentient “section” or element of our brain as Freud is known for documenting with psychotherapy treating such things as mentally induced blindness and so on.  How would we respond if, like Schwarzenegger, we discovered that we are not “ourselves?”  That is, we (whoever we are) do not “originally” exist in the body we currently reside in.  We originated (in some sense) in a previous body and this body is simply an artificial vessel that keeps our mental operations on a type of potentially limitless version of completely functional life-support.  Objectively this doesn’t make any sense.  We are ourselves.  In this case a clone that has the memories of an Austrian weightlifter, governor, actor, terminator and one of the few decent Republicans there are out there.  However, this is not a question about material, but on Man’s perception, so the fact that it in a factual or objective sense doesn’t make any sense is utterly irrelevant.  In terms of phenomenology our sense of identity is forever altered.  We are not ourselves.  We are carbon copies that lacking originality lack a type of psychological sense of value and sovereignty we once had – it is cloning, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence which has us ask the hard questions, the real questions of who we are, which is why the Existentialists and the Christians are opposed.
The Christian, the Existentialist and Liberal alike are all robbed of their defining qualities with the birth of these radical sciences.  The faithful and Existentialist through seeing existence in terms of meaning, the Social Liberal through grounding human rights on Idealist Sovereignty.  That is, Liberals ground humans not in their material matter, but on the fact that they are radically mental beings.  This is why for them all animals have only limited rights and they have ignored the majestic primates, elephants, dolphins and whales who have (as the evidence currently shows) degrees of sentience, emotional complexity, individuality, intelligence, complex and individuated social structure and other things that they use to differ humans from the animal kingdom.  Firstly, when I refer to the Christian, here I refer to the psychological Christian, whose frame of mind is not based on factuality or evidence, but the feeling that God watches the sparrow that falls, and his lord is fundamentally in control of this world.  That is why many Catholics are against birth control though it is never condemned in the Bible. 
The Christian must feel that Man cannot fundamentally control his destiny.  That we, the human race, that domineering force that unlike all other beings spat upon Nature and shouted to the heavens that we would alter Earth and choose our own fate, must always be half-way ‘tween two worlds.  One foot in the room of Scientific Determinism and Materialism, that mind-set and way-of-life that has produced the wonders of the twenty-first century, has saved billions of lives and is the sole force that has in-itself created luxury, leisure and surplus wealth and joy on this planet as distinguished from the world of Primitive Communism that the faithful want us to be in-part attached to. That is, though wearing eye glasses to in-effect cure short or long-sightedness is fine to the Christian, he is against altering Man to eradicate the problem before it would occur.  He is against altering Man’s nature because it is foreign to his psyche.  Just as vaccines are still foreign to some, and such things were certainly foreign to the Christians of the 18th century who argued that Smallpox vaccines should not be allowed, for it God were good and the creator of all things, surely Smallpox must be a part of his holy creation.  The Existentialists, despite how much they make obscene gestures towards the Christian is his fundamental ally in this struggle and all that require the fundamental alteration of Man’s view of himself form Idealist to Materialist being.  The Existentialist is a teenager, who cannot go on if he must confess that he isn’t “all that special.”  He would rather choose the reality of irrationality, melancholic Nihilism, absurdity, mortality and suffering if it maintains the drama that sustains his Ego.  There is no Ego in Materialism – and we see a dwindling if not an abandonment of the Ego with the application of cloning, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.  These are the tools that will free us not only materially, but subjectively, as I have argued in my Genetic Engineering essay.  I was going to go into further detail of the point of animals and Liberalism, however, I realize I have spoken a great deal on identity, and should move on to the remaining three concepts I wish to explore.
Now onto autonomy, which coupled with identity are the main deciding factors in consent and moral responsibility.  Are we autonomous beings?  And whether yes or no, would us being clones change the answer?  First off, we must remember there are two interpretations and uses of the word autonomy.  Causal autonomy and political autonomy, or, materialist and libertarian autonomy.  We clearly do not have autonomy of the “self” the way some would contend in creating a notion of free will and ultimate moral responsibility.  However, later I will examine a more “casual” rather than strictly causal interpretation of moral responsibility where we can assign a sense of praise and insult based off of virtue and consequence.  But do we have political autonomy?  In our world certainly not.  We are beholden to the interests and needs of the Capitalist class (and to a smaller degree Government) and societies function for their profit.  Therefore, we may act freely as long as we do not act as to realistically change society to free the population from economic slavery.  Bourgeois freedom is the freedom to act within the bourgeois narrative just as Christian freedom is the right to accept God and those who speak for him.  Only Anarchist freedom is the true material freedom to be a liberated being, or to act like a fool and squander one’s potential destroying themselves slowly as long as others do not directly suffer from one’s self-imposed damnation.  But does cloning change either?
There is an illusion of change in-regards to causal autonomy.  For we perceive a lack of sovereignty as result from our predecessor choosing that we (as the new Jacob) exist with the knowledge that we our “not ourselves” and must face this existential dilemma for as long as it confronts us.  However, when I get to my section on consent, I will use the reverse reasoning, both based solely on phenomenology rather than anything obtainable through the sense.  That is, either one is valid and the only one that could be said is “better” or “more reasonable” is the one that creates more utility and health.  When confronting the question of attitudes, that is, questions that have nothing to do with what exists (aliens, angels, a continuation of the species etc) in a factual sense, there is only the matter of utility – truth has no bearing, and we therefore are facing only the feeling of truth and way-of-life which has no objective facticity and only reasonableness.  There is only a change in political autonomy if we make it to be so.  Just as human beings only have rights if we choose (through our subjective attitudes and reasoning) to enforce the rights (both social and individual) that we create from nothing but reasoning and hopefully utility – which is a form of reasoning in a broad sense.
Now onto the question of consent.  Cloning could, if we contradict the reasoning given in cloning contradicting the sensation of loss of autonomy, be the ultimate argument against Anti-Natalism.  Typically the Anti-Natalists could at-least make the case that bringing life in the world is unjust or cruel because all life currently cannot give consent to be born and most life suffers in ways that most would consider to be agonizing and without redeeming effect or attribute (particularly in the third-world).  However, in a scientific utopia of cloning and genetic engineering (though the two strictly speaking could not be done to the same organism) the individual in question could agree to have himself duplicated (which would be the new being giving consent to be made, as I already said, if we take the other side of this purely phenomenogical question of whether the clone is the past self or a new one) and then improved in a way where all immense suffering is removed – either through genetic or social means.  However, if we were to take the reasoning given before in the case of autonomy, the worst we can say is that there is no better case in reasoning against the Anti-Natalists.  Cloning however is not a worse case.  That is, if we are to make the claim the clone cannot give consent that simply places the clone in the same position as all life on the planet is.  Just as the individual who is genetically engineered cannot give consent to be made strong or red-haired (beneficial or meaningless traits) but neither can the individual being born according to random chance or “God’s Will” as seen by the Christians as stated earlier.  However, the Millian Harm Principle must be applied as I stated in my Genetic Engineering essay.  One could not clone beings as slaves and deem it acceptable because they are not “real” people; a frame of mind that is carelessly thrown about in the movie The Sixth Day.
And now onto Moral Responsibility.  Is the clone responsible for the actions of the original or past clone(s)?  He could very-well remember them, and feel that he himself has committed them – and yet he has not.  As I have stated, I do not mean fundamental blame, the notion that we are the moral authors of our actions – for both Materialism and Determinism shows this to be a false notion.  But as to whether or not we can assign blame unto the new clone, like the question of the attitude we “choose” to respond to events and life in general with, ultimately this is a question of utility as is most conundrums of responding to crime or any behavior with social implications.  It is beneficial to reward the Man of Virtue and aid the damned or poor soul – placing him in prison has shown to both warp his soul and warp the souls and reasoning faculties of the societies that must rationalize taking the freedoms of those who were victims of Nature and life-long circumstance.  This does not change with clones.  If it is beneficial to make the clone morally responsible for his past self, it should be done – as long as his fundamental freedom is not stolen.  I am merely speaking about attitudes toward the clone, not political assessments that will determine whether or not he is guilty of a crime and so on.  This attitude’s utility is almost entirely based on the question (for whether or not society benefits from the differences in attitude in-terms of non-clones’ actions will be secondary and either attitude could be seen in having their benefits and their detriments curbed for they themselves do not intimately experience the clone’s existence.  Just as the fundamental question regarding whether or not one should get married is the difference in behavior a couple will have in their marriage, not how said marriage will affect the phenomenology of those around them) of how the clone will function and act under either of the “software.”  That is the software of “I am responsible for the successes and sins of my past self,” and the mental software of, “I have a clean slate and this new life to make my own.”  Personally, I think the latter has greater promise, but how great minds will respond – the clone of a Galileo, Orwell or Lenin for example – to the sensation that all they have done in their past life is removed from their identity and worth we can only speculate.
In conclusion, technology is neither fundamentally moral nor immoral.  Only its use and the utility of said use has moral ramifications intimately.  To liberate the utility and potential of technology, we must first liberate ourselves from class divisions so we may take control of the Means of Production and use technology for the benefit of the entire human race and in theory the planet and all existence; for if there are any conflicts of interests between beings and their virtue (the Man and the cow for example) they exist only on the individual level if at-all.  Man can raise cattle that otherwise wouldn’t exist, the cattle can be healthy and live according to its Nature and virtue for a time, before being slaughtered as to fulfill its virtue in the food chain.  However this is a question regarding utility of social arrangement (primarily scientific and empirical questions of reality) while the main focus and aim of this paper is to address the phenomenogical and visceral side to human existence – the utility of differences in attitude.  The best example of expressing distinctions in fundamental perception and subjective being being clearly expressed in the technologies of cloning, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence for reasons that I both mentioned above and in my Genetic Engineering essay.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Two Modes of Atheism: On how we respond to a world without God



Two Modes of Atheism:  On how we respond to a world without God

The pessimistic irrationalism of the existentialists clashes head-on with the militant temper of Marxism, which feels sure of the victory of humanity over all obstacles. For the historical materialist, humanity is above all the creative producer that has succeeded through its own titanic efforts in elevating itself from animality to the atomic age—and is just on the threshold of its authentically human career.
            -George Novack

What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose.
            -Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science


Firstly, I’d like to praise the strength of project, sharpness of mind and succinctness of writing of George Novack.  A underappreciated Marxist theoretician, Novack is not only brilliant in his depiction of the intelligence and virtue of Marxism, and having the skill to state the positions of Existentialists without outright defaming them in his description (but showing their irrationality and illness later on), but most importantly in bringing to light the irreconcilable natures of Existentialism and Marxism.  From my early days in philosophy, I was befuddled that Sartre of all people would call himself a Marxist, and I was pumping my fist in applause as I read the following from Novack:


The existentialists aver that the individual’s sincerest act and tragic responsibility is the necessity to choose between anguishing alternatives and take the consequences. Sartre shrinks from doing this in philosophy. The confrontation of existentialism with dialectical materialism is a genuine case of “either-or.” But Sartre wants to embrace both Kierkegaard and Marx without choosing between them.


The work Marxism vs. Existentialism is nothing short of laudable.  His work is so well-crafted and useful in instructing the distinctions ‘tween the two philosophies I will make the optimistic assumption that any who wish to invest themselves in my own paper will read the previously mentioned paper.  For in it, Novack makes one of my main points for me, namely that Existentialism is an idealist bourgeois philosophy with no real-world utility or verifiability (asides from I suppose the most basic facts of its focus namely human mortality and the occasional sensation of the subjective states of mind the Existentialists speak of that they make far-more of then they really are) while Marxism (along with Social Anarchy I contend) is the philosophy and method of the liberation of the working class and human species.  To make reference of Nozack:


The first commandment of existentialism is, as has been said: “Be yourself!” This is not a bad maxim, and it ought to be applied as strictly to philosophies as to personalities. Let existentialism be what it really is—the ideological end product of liberalism and individualism—and not pretend to be something else. Let Marxism likewise be what it should be: that dialectical materialism which is the scientific expression and practical guide of the world socialist revolution of the working masses.


As a Social Anarchist I contend that there are more productive and more-likely to implement tools of revolution rather than the explicit violent revolt of Marxism (there will be a litany of tactics to use, however the worker organizations of Bakunin and the Anarcho-Syndicalists hold particular sway over me in their reasoning).  However, this is not an essay directed at particulars in Socialist methodology.  Instead, it is an analysis of the two alternatives to faith whether it be expressed explicitly or implicitly in general being (which must be the case for explicit being to manifest) in our “God is Dead” Era.
Regardless of personal sentiment the facts are clear.  In the western world (America is to some extent an outlier but is catching up to Western Europe particularly with the death of the Baby Boomers in the next two decades or so) religious sentiment is a thing of the past.  Though Christians try to claim that Christian “culture” is dying but “Christianity” is preserved (http://blogs.christianpost.com/dear-ephesus/empty-churches-the-decline-of-cultural-christianity-in-the-west-17067/) this is both simply untrue (http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/culture-lifestyle/world-religion/130602/europe-church-mosque-christianity-islam-religious-crisis) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Europe) and a lack of understanding of what a belief (particularly one such as Christianity or Islam) is.  Beliefs that have “practical” applications ones that unlike a belief in quantum mechanics, we can see clearly and measure with a higher degree of certainty.  The extent to which the belief is adhered to is the extent the belief is held.  Religion is a malleable thing yes, but largely Christianity has become so malleable that many “believers” particularly of more Progressive background believe in “belief” or a non-descript benevolent God more so than the actual sentiments of the Bible.  When Christianity as it was understood throughout the majority of Christendom largely died out in Europe (and to a smaller extent in America, for there are still semi-substantial flocks of “traditional” believers there) it is safe to say for all real purposes of what a belief does and means that Christianity died out in Europe.  Not only do the polls indicate a large amount of Atheism, but a somewhat sizable proportion of the believers in the polls aren’t natural-born Europeans in-terms of ancestral background, but are Muslim immigrants or the children of immigrants who have clung to their ancestral faith for a multitude of reasons.


Humans have to have beliefs and psychological convictions to guide them.  Even Nihilism is in some sense a belief and conviction.  What has and will replace the guiding ideological and psychological motives for Mankind once God is no longer present or significant?  Largely rampant consumerism in the case of America.  In part a result of economic and political forces, but in part a result of a shift of culture and way of looking at the world which is partly created directly by material conditions, and partly created by this (or other) change of human outlook and experience which too is largely a product of the change in material conditions and relations as I stated above.  This, consumerism, to the extent that it is not created directly by material forces simplified as Capitalism, is the product of Existentialism, also known as bourgeois individualism.


The focus of the Existentialists is strictly personal and petty.  Even for Nietzsche, who spoke of the history of entire nations and peoples, the main focus is on dissatisfaction, individual creation of personal ethics (which is a result of his or her own nature, which is why Nietzsche is half-way between materialism and existentialism, but ultimately sides with the latter for reasons I will momentarily describe) and on not allowing any external circumstance hold back the aristocratic conqueror from his destiny of greatness which excuses the death and suffering of millions.  Though Nietzsche rejects free will and says that we are largely confined to our biological nature(s), he makes them secondary to the Will to Power, which he posits to be the central essence of all human action (even of the slave-class) and existence.  This unscientific depiction of things, this summation of all existence into what is essentially a theory of human motivation and ethics (Psychological and Ethical Egoism) is a clear trait of the Existentialist, which wants to make all of existence a drama of the individual human soul through either the Universe’s indifference to human suffering, or the human ability to find typically arbitrary meaning in a otherwise meaningless universe (e.g. Sartre and Camus among others).  This is in contrast to Materialism, which has mainly scientific priorities in the “impersonal” realm, and social priorities in the human or “personal” one.  Though science is done not always entirely simply for the utility it has in Man’s life (typically) it also has the benefit and the incentive of increasing the standard of living and enjoyment of people everywhere.


Ethically Existentialism preaches various forms of Nihilism or mutilates reason from attempting to come-to-terms with the submissive tendencies of Christianity (in the case of Kierkegaard) within the individually-focused mentality of Existentialism; though Existentialism and Christianity do have some natural similarities as I’ve shown in On Discontentment and Dissatisfaction.  Ethically Materialism is far-more derivative of the social/biological imperative to pursue objectively measurable and verifiable standards of health as illustrated in the Virtue Ethics of Aristotle (who may not be a Materialist explicitly but is in his mindset).  Socially and politically Existentialism manifests itself in Liberalism and Individualist Anarchism (seen in the writings of Max Stirner and aspects of Nietzsche) while Materialism both explicitly and implicitly manifests itself in Marxism and Social Anarchism.  They are night-and-day differences in almost every facet of human conception and perception as Novack has already detailed.


There is even a fundamental difference in explaining why Atheism has increased amongst the European people.  The Materialists (Marxists and Anarchists) claim it is the increase of material prosperity and both scientific knowledge and the common man’s reliance of science in day-to-day life.  The Existentialists claim it is because of WWII and specifically the “senseless” horrors of war and genocide.  Which one is more sound in their reasoning should be clear.  Man has suffered the “absurd” both due-to nature and due-to Man’s hand before, and if anything the barbarity of Mankind only makes Man believe in God more.  Seen in Lenin’s depiction religion as consisting largely due-to the suffering and ignorance of the working class, a theory more-or-less confirmed by studies depicting the most religious countries being the most backward (specifically the Muslim countries) and the most advanced countries (more-or-less namely the European ones, though Japan and Australia are indicators of this as well) becoming more and more Atheistic and losing the faith (with natural-born citizens; immigrants who were raised in religious countries by-en-large at-least to my understanding keep their faith for reasons I will hope is self-evident).


The Nazis killed millions of Jews, Gypsies and Communists.  Did the horrors of war force them to abandon their faith – a faith which (though one could argue wasn’t a proper understanding of the ethics of Jesus) was a major motivator for their death frenzy of Jews (inferior races) and Communists (secularists and materialists who’re also political dissenters)?  I think not.  Man has constantly been plagued by the horrors of this world, however, it is only recently (because of the increase of material conditions and secular norms) that these atrocities are deemed such.  Though there are Communist regimes which commit atrocities, they consistently rationalize mass-murder as something for the greater good of the State.  History however consistently has religious and ethnic groups slaughtering each other on a systematic level and instead of rationalizing it via Utilitarian Calculus simply does not comprehend or view the murder of the Infidel or the Other (e.g. race, nationality, religion etc) as something that most be reasoned away with.  They have been so thoroughly indoctrinated by King and Church that their cause is a noble one that they simply have to varying degrees lost the ability to psychologically internalize the Golden Rule and the Universalization of all rational agents that Chomsky and Kant speak of.  This lack of Universalization is clear in not only the history of nations and the faithful but by the creeds of bourgeois individualism, particularly Existentialism; for as Novack has provided citation and argumentation for, the Existentialists primary concern is to his own self-created ethic and his own state-of-mind, and his main view of human existence is every person is fundamentally unique in being radical free agents that do not bow to the laws of causality.


In conclusion, the Existentialists speak of a certain “nothingness” of existence and that human beings through a type of radical freedom or pure subjectivity embody this complete “nothing.”  If people embrace Existentialism, and in effect embracing Bourgeois Individualism (which whether or not is explicitly Capitalist cannot in any real sense reject or overturn Capitalism) and its consequences rather than Materialism, whim rather than science, neurotic ego rather than psychological health and morality they will be correct in that in destroying ourselves Man will be no-thing and the Universe could very-well (though we will then never know) be a void devoid of any objective value incapable of being utilized for any rational purpose or end.







Saturday, April 25, 2015

I realize...

My Hitchens essay wasn't very-good.  It was simply something I had to churn out to get back in the habit of non-academic writing.

But I'm back baby.

On Discontentment and Dissatisfaction



In one of my earlier essays, The Glory of Sloth I write that the great burden of contemporary culture is boredom.  By-en-large I was mistaken.  In societies of leisure boredom will be an ill that exists in dull minds and sharp minds placed in situations of monotony that do not excite the mind or spirits.  But the intellectual (or virtuoso of any craft – the intellectual merely being a virtuoso of the most important craft regarding human existence) can entertain himself fairly easy due-to the litany of books, movies, thoughts and various other things to use as inspiration for his creativity or simply to enjoy as products of creativity. 
Discontentment and dissatisfaction are the ills that plague even the most virtuous and wise of souls.  Both are completely healthy in certain environments and circumstances, and perhaps even necessary generally for the growth and deepening of one’s mental activity and psychology.  But there are times when a plague is felt in the soul, times where one becomes neurotic and nothing in life (or next to nothing) will satiate one’s self from this sorrow.
A quick clarification of terms:  Discontentment is that feeling where one is not satisfied with one’s general state-of-things, dissatisfaction is a lack of enjoyment or satisfaction of what typically either brings joy or pleasure to someone or will put a cease to biological or psychological yearning or craving.  This life is one, our species is such that is, that if discontentment ruptures the natural whirling and vibrations of the mechanism then to the mechanism all will feel very meaninglessness.  The irony here is life is only meaningless when one has given into existential nihilism and held to themselves that it is such.  Meaning is a subjective thing, comes from the perception of the organism, and like all forms of perception and subjective states-of-being is derived from the objective state of the organism.  Meaning therefore is simply a matter of health, and it is lost when the soul is sick.
This is seen in the movie The Zero Theorem.  In it Qohen (Q-No U-O-H-E-N) suffers from severe neuroticism, inability to experience pleasure and a fear of death and pointlessness that puts Woody Allen, George Constanza and Larry David to shame.  The neurotic is one of the most fascinating and human of characters for he exemplifies that most human quality of looking at the Universe “objectively” and seeing no purpose or significant place for Man in it.  He is lovable despite his neuroses for he suffers, and he suffers from what appears to be not a vice but a virtue – namely intellectual honesty.  However, honesty and an attempt at objectivity does not equate to truth.  The Existentialist is honest when he sees “nothingness” in existence, but the problem is that he wants to see meaning the way he would see the bonds of water under a microscope or something to be solved using enough intellectual legwork.  Meaning is by nature subjective as I’ve mentioned and is objective through the functioning of the organism.
Qohen not only is constantly discontent and unable to be satisfied, he does not wish to be satisfied.  When the love interest of the movie (which was portrayed and written very-well I must say) makes advances on him he shies away from his desire to pursue truth and not be distracted by pleasure.  This is the neurotic intellectual in a nutshell.  Life has no meaning to him, and he is dedicated to continue to remain in his state, not finding meaning in intellectually meaningless experiences such as sex and entertainment.  Here there is a connection to Kierkegaard who felt he had to abandon his fiancĂ© whom he loved dearly and make himself miserable so he could be a great Existentialist Philosopher.
However, towards the end of the film it is made clear that Qohen wants her, not only “physically” but “intellectually” as well.  That is, not only his most base animal instincts yearn for her, but he wants her (or to be with her) with the whole of his conscious self, the self that the Christians (and other Dualists) separate from the body while talking about the Idealist conception of the soul.  He however refrains from going with her, but arguably not out of some deep-seated desire to search for the truth and be neurotic.  If we are to follow the allusion that is created in the film, the Existentialist Neurotic deprives himself not out of intellectual virtue, but out of fear.  He intellectualizes his life’s failures and his own inability to find or seriously pursue happiness and worthwhile endeavors (outside of nebulous tasks such as finding life’s meaning; instead, I speak of endeavors with social relevance such as medicine, engineering and revolutionary participation) as some great struggle of the soul, rather than his own sickness or weakness (if you want to use a term with a greater sense of moral judgment, as the philosopher I am about to mention does). 
This depiction of Existential sickness is portrayed quite well in Nietzsche.  Nietzsche describes a repulsion towards the sensual pleasures of life as those who “turn away from life” and whose ideals are merely conscious manifestations of their own weakness.  We see this when Nietzsche quotes Bible verses, and says more-or-less it is clearly the loser who says, “blessed are the meek, the sick, the friendless, the downtrodden, for they are loved in the Kingdom of God.”  Nietzsche acknowledges that these people possess no virtue simply in being sick (though he himself is heartless and lacks the virtue of compassion, or in other words makes a worthy observation but fails to give the proper Materialist remedy) just as the Existentialist is not a great soul solely out of being struck by the feeling that his life is without purpose.  This state-of-being is usually felt amongst intellectuals, but can very-well be merely a stepping stone towards other more worthy pursuits and higher more healthy states of being. 
Though Existentialist Nihilism and Christianity are superficially at-odds with each other, in a deeper sense they are very-much alike both in being defined primarily by Man’s attitude towards existence (e.g. life being without purpose, or existence being grounded in purpose either through the existence of God, the sacrifice of Jesus or other mystical narratives that people use to ground meaning in something outside of the subjective feeling of meaning) and by wishing to say that Man’s short-comings (at-least of a certain kind) are really a indicator of great spiritual value and wisdom.  Kierkegaard told himself he could not marry Rachel out of some dedication to God, but is being a husband and a neurotic intellectual really mutually exclusive?  Hell, Woody Allen has been married five times, so if anything, being a neurotic is great for marriage!
Existential despair is a material condition in the brain that is due-to chemical conditions, yes, but that does not mean it lacks cognitive or environmental causes.  Despair is material, and it only exists in the brain, but that does not mean one is wholly inaccurate to say that the death of a loved one caused the despair just as much as (for one caused the other) the lack of serotonin did.  So, we can easily say that Existential despair can have its social causes as well.  It seems to me clear that Existential despair largely results from living lives with little to no direct social utility.  Perhaps a cancer-curing scientist can at-times feel the sense of ennui we describe, yes, but typically those who perform great acts of clear social good do not worry if their lives have purpose.  It is primarily bourgeois or idealist philosophy, discussing and endlessly yammering about states of “existential reality” that cause one to feel like there life has no purpose – for from a Consequentialist stand-point it does not.  They are practicing a virtue without any of its utility, and rightly at-times feel like fools.  Just as the man whose virtue is running, but will only ever run on a treadmill should rightly feel foolish.  Virtue divorced from reality is akin to sight divorced from reality (by reality I mean the reality we occupy, not pointless questions about whether or not this reality is really reality or not).  By this I mean that virtue is a product of evolution just as much as sight is.  Using virtue without any benefit to anyone is indeed comparable to staring at hallucinations and being able to distinguish all the different shades of green of the purple-haired rummy playing dragon in the living room.  Philosophy without effect is a sickness, and not only torments intellectuals with certain psychological proclivities, but it dissuades the dullard from being intellectual, though since he was already dissuaded by bourgeois culture and his own nature he required no further repulsion from virtue and greatness.
In conclusion, meaning like philosophy must be lived and if it cannot be lived, it must be abandoned.  This is something that despite their weaknesses and errors the religious (the ones who are involved in social welfare whether effectively or not; and not the insecurity of life being so awful without a God to watch sparrows fall – which somehow makes it and all the pain and suffering of this world tolerable or better) know quite well.  Their beliefs no matter how absurd in-regards to the nature of reality, are based primarily on the social question (even though many Christians’ values are backward and how they tend to solve the collective plight of this world is idealist and ineffectual) of how we are to relate to our fellow human beings and what actions are permissible and not – though as both a Materialist and Anarchist I hold to have such a simplistic dichotomy of “yes” and “no” is both not realistic and not productive, for as Aristotle points out, one must look at all the details of any situation and be a judge who does not pass universal laws.  We must remember that meaning is secure as long as we viscerally create meaning from our own material make-up; otherwise, if meaning exists at-all it is something to be understood or solved like a scientific or logical problem – as the Existentialists foolishly try to understand or solve it.  But considering the Existentialist is really searching for contentment, and cloaks it in the noble veil of purpose, this notion (that it is a intellectual problem rather than a problem with some intellectuals) is clearly false for if he somehow found the formula for meaning but his phenomenogical state remained the same he would still be an Existentialist in despair.  Only now he would be despairing that he found life’s meaning, but it has no meaning for him, which just shows how absurd, meaningless and pointless existential endeavors and all endeavors with no reliable social or personal utility are.