Friday, June 19, 2009

Why absurdity?

The absurd philosophy, as we’ve often stated, is rooted in the view that nothing matters. Our lives are completely meaningless in this very large and indifferent universe. To us, we find the acceptance of this fact incredibly liberating. How so?

Well, the effect is analogous to a college student being told that the grades on his exams will have no effect on whether he graduates or not. He will finish, guaranteed. If you knew this going into to college, think how differently you’d behave? Think what weights have been lifted from your shoulders. And in life, in a similar fashion, what you do matters not. In the end, you will die and that will be that. We are all assured of the same ending – complete oblivion.

It seems to us a very compelling philosophy, this absurdism. And, we may also add, it is logically correct and an entirely rationale way to view the world. Now that we know it, and have examined it and breathed it, we know we can never go back to putting the blinders on. We can never take the blue pill, to use a Matrix reference. We want the red one. We want to see the world as clearly as we can.

But the purpose of this post is not to defend absurdity per se, but to wonder why some seem so against it and why some seem to take to it like kids take to ice cream. We wonder if some people are more naturally receptive to its arguments due to some character trait, or experience.

We have noted how certain experiences do bring out the absurd in people. A near-death experience would seem a natural wake-up call. We recall this passage from Snow Falling on Cedars, where the main character is a WWII veteran:

“It seemed to him after the war that the world was thoroughly altered. It was not even a thing you could explain to anybody, why it was that everything was folly. People appeared enormously foolish to him. He understood that they were only animated cavities full of jelly and strings and liquids. He had seen the insides of jaggedly ripped-open dead people. He knew, for instance, what brains looked like spilling out of somebody’s head. In the context of this, much of what went on in normal life seemed wholly and disturbingly ridiculous…”

Granted, it is a work of fiction, but surely it is not controversial to say that many veterans have come away from combat experience as changed men. Surely, when faced with death so forcefully, it is then hard to go back to life as you knew it. Everything must take on a different color.

So, experiences would seem to have a hand in whether one is receptive to the absurd or not.

We have also found that cherished beliefs get in the way of accepting the absurd. Most people want to believe there is an eternal life waiting for them. Most people want to believe that their life has meaning. Most people want desperately to believe that they have some control over their fate. The absurd says it isn’t so.

This reminds us, too, of a passage in Camus’ The Stranger. The main character, who is absurd, is facing a priest, who is not. The priest asks him: “I’m sure you’ve often wished there was an afterlife.”

Camus writes:

“Of course I had, I told him. Everybody has that wish at times. But that had no more importance than wishing to be rich, or to swim very fast, or to have a better-shaped mouth. It was in the same order of things.”

Exactly. Sometimes people wish something to be true, they are blind to what is. We are constantly on guard against this sort of thing. We think that may have something to do with the fact that we make our living in financial markets. There, beliefs that are not true turn out to be very expensive. Should one continue on that path, you will find yourself broke and out of the game. The financial markets have no patience with those who put the blinders on.

In life, though, you can go quite far with the blinders on. We admit it. One can have a good life without embracing the absurd, without ever knowing it. But we maintain you can lead an even better life by recognizing the absurdity of it all.

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