One of these Friday nights, you will find yourself in the Texas hill country, looking up at a vast black sky speckled with stars. At that moment, you will understand the essence of the human condition: total, complete and all-encompassing isolation.
You are alone on this journey. When you duck back into that dive bar and talk to Dave about his band and Phil about his media company, you are sharing in an illusion that any of that is anything more than a means to spend time and derive sustenance. It has no greater importance. At the end of the night, Dave and Phil (like you) go home to wait for death, and to hope that the time they are spending has somehow offset the inexorable onrushing emptiness.
No matter how many symbols or activities we invent, we are alone with our nihilism at some point. The big questions — eternity, meaning, purpose, value — strike us from out of invisible corners where they hid. The fears and doubts rise with nothing to blot them out or distract us. We are alone, as we were born, and as we shall die.
The complexity arises because there is overlap between the false social world and this cosmos of nothingness. We need something to do to keep the bucks flowing, and some activities to pleasantly spend or time or even better to derive meaning from. The social world is just the appearance of these, based on the illusion that if a whole group of people are doing something, it is more eternal than the eternal, which is both void and mystery.
Our social groups are empty, our governments and awards transient. Celebrity is isolation even now, because the celebrity is the most recognized and least known person on earth. Fame and notoriety are equally hollow. There is nothing here, nothing that lasts, except what you discover in union with the cosmos.
Even truth is a lie. There are universal aspects to reality, but no universal truth, because truth requires a perceiver — and unless that perceiver is intelligent, moral enough to be diligently honest, and fascinated by the world in which he finds himself, he will hover around the lower levels of perception. What he finds cannot be communicated, only experienced, and then enforced on others by the sword and axe (or FN FAL for you sticklers).
Embrace the nihilism. Total emptiness. Total nothingness. Except for you, your mind, and whatever reality you can discern. This gives rise to the question of how to give your life meaning, as you will be gifting yourself with significance to existence by making choices. None are inherent; all are optional, entirely preferential, on the level of aesthetics more than morality.
Are you a great warrior? A thinker, an artist, a steward, a king? You must shape yourself through self-discipline and the choices you make. You will be a creator, not a consumer. As part of that, you will want to adapt to your environment and then, being consistent with the principles of that adaptation, gradually improve your lot.
This necessarily includes civilization. Humans evolved by tribe and tool, and are dependent on a civilization for their ideas to take root. You can communicate or improve things, or even point civilization in an ascendant direction rather than its default of decay. In this, you have the power to use creative energies to not only leave a legacy, but to feel the significance of sacrifice and excellence.
Civilization is not complex. The way to do it right is well known, as over 6,000 years of recorded history only one approach has made civilizations that not only survive but thrive. However the basics are easy. Life rewards in degrees, not binaries, and so mediocrity alone guarantees survival.
This points you to a fascinating study. If mediocrity is enough, why do civilizations fail? Look to a biological metaphor: parasites draw away energy and resources and this then conveys the civilization into senescence. The question of life is not one of positivity, but of negativity: those who thrive are the ones who suppress the negative, leave the mediocre, and celebrate the excellent so more of it arrives.
In your life, you can see the same thing. Mediocre behaviors waste time and foreclose possibilities, but negative behaviors sabotage prospects. It is the same in civilization. There are normal people, some excellent and most mediocre, and then those who engage in behaviors that sap the vitality of civilization. To succeed, a society must oppress and exile those people in imitation of Darwinian natural selection.
This seems unduly grim. An empty universe, a humanity of failures, a seemingly impossible task. And yet, this is the only canvas on which many great people have found it stimulating enough to paint. It is a backdrop for the greatness of the human mind, harnessed by self-discipline and realism, and it will not abolish the emptiness but will make life a bright enough light that the darkness is kept in balance.