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New Year versus eternity: 2017 and the great unknown

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To kick off 2017, Peter Sherwood gets to grips with the meaning of life.

As I struggle to come to terms with the Great Unknown it has occurred to me that it’s already 2017 and in the grand scheme of things, there appears to be no grand scheme. For 4.5 billion years we didn’t exist and then we’re dumped here… without so much as a by your leave.

Left to stagger around bemused, then hurled without choice into eternity. It hardly seems fair. We’re left to get on with it, whatever ‘it’ is. And whatever it is, it involves grappling with profound existential questions such as Apple or Samsung, and does my dog truly love me?

The eternity part leaves me hyperventilating. The vastness of the universe is supposed to have that effect, but we can no longer use ‘awesome’ to describe it. That grand adjective is now attached to the latest social messaging app or a successful night out on D’Deck.

A galactic giggle

Just how ‘awesome’ 2017 turns out to be remains to be seen. As Woody Allen said: “More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

I’ve tried a few different paths that might lead me to a little enlightenment, exploring more religions and philosophies than the Oxford Book of Great Thinkers. But as Buddha wrote: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Clearly I wasn’t ready. Having shambled down myriad blind alleys and often into vast pits of metaphysical quicksand, I’ve finally admitted it is just fine to be perfectly imperfect.

I don’t mean Donald Trump imperfect, of course. I don’t even want to go there – that would carry this conversation into censorship, and I get paid by the published word. Anyway, I’m a satirist not Socrates, and my work can never be the result of wild optimism.

You can be optimistic. I’ll stick to wily pessimism because that’s the only place I’ll find irony, and without irony I’m as sunk as the Titanic. Nothing funny, other than maybe schadenfreude, was ever born of mindless enthusiasm. Even Beethoven’s magically uplifting Ode to Joy must have been written under a black cloud given the poor man’s health and financial burdens.

Let’s acknowledge that futility might be a good place to start squeezing out a satisfying life, and admit it’s all a bit of a galactic giggle with lengthy intervals of pain. The journey is hard and sort of ridiculous if you think about it – and plain stupid if you don’t. Or maybe ignorance really is bliss and I’m too unenlightened to see the significance.

Time now for the literal and pedantic crowd to go on their tiresome rant about how negative thoughts are self-destructive, the worst enemy a man can have. They are wrong; we pessimists are having a great time and we are never disappointed. I say that as a DB resident. Happy New Year!

Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 17 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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