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What is the Meaning of Meaning in the Age of Nonsense?
A Year-End Review inspired by Prof. Viktor Frankl, first drafted on Thanks Giving 2018 and
finally published on Jan. 7, 2019

It is not an easy task to come to terms with 2018.  And we will not even try to do that. So forget about the weird
FIFA World Cup in Russia; forget about
Brexit; forget about the surreal economy which is now taking baby
steps to come closer to reality, forget about Trump and forget about the AfD, the Yellow Vests, Duterte and all
the rest. It is now time to talk about really important things. It is time to talk about the meaning of life itself.  And
obviously that means that it is time to talk about Viktor Frankl’s 1946 - bestseller “Man’s Search for Meaning”.  
Because what better authority could there possibly be on questions of life and death than someone who has
forged his own views on both of them in the harrowing reality of Nazi death camps?

“Man’s Search for Meaning” is about Dr. Frankl’s physical, emotional and mental struggle for survival in
Auschwitz. It describes the brutal horrors that he and his fellow prisoners were subjected to; it discusses the
psychological and physical consequences this abuse had on the victims; and it relates how Dr. Frankl himself
found spiritual resilience in the discovery that even the most abject suffering can be better borne if the latter is
being accepted as one’s existential calling and challenge.  In the last part of the book, Dr. Frankl then goes on
to explain how he turned this discovery into a psychotherapeutic theory which, contrary to Freud’s  and Adler’s
approach, focuses less on overcoming human pain but on mitigating it by imbuing it with a well-reasoned,
personalized sense of meaning.

Clearly there are important lessons to be learned from Dr. Frankl’s interpretation of life. After all, we are now
living in very exhausted times
where even the most admired poetic souls among us harbor serious doubts
about the real-world resilience of freedom and democracy itself.

Before we however discuss Dr. Frankl’s findings, we would like to take a minute to ask ourselves why it is only
recently that we have come across his work. To our recollection, Dr. Frankl hadn’t been mentioned to us
neither during our high school nor our university years. This is quite striking in deed not just because of the
obviously massive need of post-war Germany to come to terms with the devastating moral culpability it had
incurred for itself. No, this is also surprising given the tremendous success Dr. Frankl has enjoyed worldwide
after the initial publishing of “Man’s Search for Meaning”. (The book has sold over 9 million copies; Dr. Frankl
was later made Professor at the University of Vienna, Visiting Professor at Harvard, Pittsburgh, San Diego and
Dallas; and he received 29 Honorary Doctorates from universities across the globe).

So why is it that we were kept (or kept ourselves) in such ignorance about his work? Could it be that
Dr. Frankl’s theories were simply too inconvenient for the largely left-leaning intellectual culture we grew up in?
Could it be that the public felt that his emphasis on aspects of mental and emotional resilience took too much
focus away from the Nazi crimes themselves? Could it be that Dr. Frankl’s perceived lack of willingness to later
distance himself from people whose biography showed some elements of erstwhile involvement with Nazi
activities somehow disqualified him from meriting due attention? Or is it that there were too many legitimate
philosophical objections to Dr. Frankl’s core premises of the sheer inevitability of human suffering?

Well, all of the above is probably true to some extent. No doubt our generation was just as much consumed with
the processing of the perpetrator past of our home country as it was with handling the ideological stronghold
which the Cold War exercised over it. Nevertheless it is clearly a blatant shame that our supposedly open-
minded brains weren’t at that time open-minded enough to address the very important testimony that Dr. Frankl
has provided us with.

What, however, are the conclusions we nowadays draw from Viktor Frankl’s theories? Can we now embrace his
view that even the most abject human suffering is bearable when being addressed with the right philosophical
attitude? Can we now accept that suicide is next to never the best solution for the particular existential
challenge that human life finds itself in? Or do we continue to cling to the belief that suffering is there to be
overcome in a much more substantial manner than Dr. Frankl’s “take it with a grain of philosophy”- approach
has us believe?

Obviously, there can be little doubt that a death camp situation differs extensively from that your average soul
searcher finds him-/herself in our present turbo-digital reality. Clearly, it is no longer the pathological and
relentless hate of sadistic racists that trying to exterminate the vulnerable.  Nowadays it is much rather a mix of
indifference, apathy and stupidity that is threatening to do that. The key question therefore is whether our
contemporary culture of shallowness, cynicism and disinterest can still reasonably oblige man/woman to wither
the storm? Or is it not more appropriate to argue that the true philosophic meaning of suffering in such a sea of
indifference is to quit fighting it altogether and preserve your meaningful dignity by ejecting you form the
absurdity instead?

Dr. Frankl obviously would answer these doubts by simply saying that nobody knows what the future will bring
so that it is pointless to give up hope even if hopelessness seems to abound. He would hence encourage us to
bank and speculate on a mere abstract, mathematical possibility of redemption in the future, perhaps even
after our physical death.  In this, he somewhat echoes Rabbi Elazar HaKapor’s view ( 4th century BC): “ And do
not let your [evil] impulse assure you that the netherworld is a place of refuge for you; because against your will
you were created, and against your will you were born, and against your will you live, and against your will you
die, and against your will you are destined to give account and reckoning before the King of kings, the Holy
One, blessed be He.” (See: Avot 4:22)

Noah denkt™, nevertheless, disagrees with the Rabbi’s view. Our project does not believe that a human
being’s existence is in its core planks an undertaking that tends to evolve entirely against its will or irrespective
of it. Much rather does it seem to us as if there is also an element of conscious secular wanting and not
wanting, embracing and rejecting, accepting and resisting that goes into the individual’s creation and birth and
that characterizes that individual just as much in life as in death. Our project hence equally disagrees with Dr.
Frankl when he argues that it is “a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man
needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, ‘homeostasis’,  i.e. a tensionless state.” (Viktor
E. Frankl: Man’s Search For Meaning, Rider, 2004, page 110)  We instead believe that antagonistic concepts
and aspirations must in deed be brought into an albeit often times precarious and uneasy balance even though
achieving the latter equilibrium will probably require adopting the pursuit of balance as one’s  “worthwhile goal “
and  “freely chosen task” (V.  Frankl: page 110 ).

Granted, we may well be here in a territory of purely semantic differences with Dr. Frankl. Nevertheless, it
seems important to us to be very, very clear in this matter.  And that clarity also entails the following
recognition:  Having found and chosen the best possible meaning for you, i.e. the meaning that suits your
particular individuality best, will not free you altogether from occasionally having to doubt the adequacy of that
meaning, e.g. the adequacy of your continued existence.  In other words, a fully developed, mature and erudite
mind must necessarily be flirting occasionally with the quite real idea of suicide in order to be that fully
developed, mature, meaningful and erudite mind. Otherwise subject mind will not have accepted the entire
weight of its existential responsibility; it will not have gotten to the bottom of the issues that it is presented with
nor will it be able to muster the courage for defending its subtle conclusions in the public arena.   

Pushing the envelope on the elevation limits of our existence while, at the same time,
walking a very tight rope
is hence the name of man’s philosopher king calling. The fact that hardly anybody cares or even understands
the balance you may have reached in this undertaking should not pester you too much. After all, that ignorance
it is only a minor nuisance in comparison with the “netherworld” abyss that is looming below.
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Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning, analysis of Viktor Frankl's philosophy,
the meaning of Viktor Frankl's theory, Viktor Frank's meaning and the importance
of doubt, reviewing 2018, Viktor Frankl and Rabbi Elazar HaKapor, The Will for