Thursday, July 30, 2009

Childish concerns

The other day, our six-year old son asked us what is required to become a grown-up. (Yes, you can be absurd and have children...) Bemused by the question, we asked exactly what he meant. "Well," he said, "how does a kid turn into a grown-up?" We explained there was no particular set of rules, but of course this did not suffice.

After thinking for a moment, he proposed that perhaps one should be required to get all your grown-up teeth (with which we wholeheartedly agreed), but obviously this was not enough. Finally, he suggested perhaps giving up one's preference for cake would do the trick. After all, he explained, liking cake is "not really important," something grown-ups apparently understand better than kids.

The exchange put us in mind of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's "The Little Prince," the classic and timeless tale of a man who comes in contact with a child prince and learns that adults have the world essentially backwards, worrying about all the wrong things.

Now, regular readers will know we believe all worry is misplaced, so isn't this simply a matter of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic? Not exactly. As we have explained, we believe embracing the absurdity of life frees one to truly live, however one chooses to define that. But we will also go out on a limb and say that the percentage of people who actually enjoy eating a piece of cake is significantly higher than that of people who enjoy (to pick a current "grown-up concern") debating the role government should play in the health-care system.

This does not, by the way, mean we think either is more meaningful from a broad perspective (as discussed here). Rather, we think most adults shortchange themselves by spending far too much time thinking about, discussing, and worrying about the wrong things. For example, one reason we love sports is that people accept it is absurd (well, most people, anyway), and thus do not get all worked up about it. We, therefore, much prefer discussing sports to talking about politics, as the fact that people believe politics "matter" causes them to get angry, say hurtful things, and generally act in a manner that creates conflict.

What we eventually told our son was that "important" things could be whatever he wanted. (To clarify, we were not endorsing the concept of "meaning," but merely simplifying for a six-year old.) He, of course, was having none of it.

"Well," he said with a devious smirk, "then I guess I'll decide family isn't important."

Perhaps absurdity is genetic after all...


  1. I've read all of the blog posts now and I have to chime in and say that all of this is quite adolescent. Boys playing with toys, in this case a fairly bland, narrow range of thoughts. You reveal nothing about yourselves in your profiles, but everything in your blog. You're nerds, and that's all your philosophy boils down to: the elaboration of a single idea from axiom to proof as in high-school Geometry.

    What's absurd is that you take it all so very seriously, using the royal 'we' and passing supreme judgment down upon all things from your thrones.

    You should stop pretending to be intellectuals. You obviously haven't paid the dues.


  2. Well, we're certainly sorry to hear you didn't enjoy our blog. We hope you find what you are looking for elsewhere.

  3. @ nehushtan:

    My God man, who would want to be an intellectual in the first place? Or rather, to be a "dues-paying" member of such a club. Hi-ho, look at me, I'm an intellectual. This makes me morally superior, socially relevant, and irresistible to gorgeous women.

    As George Orwell once remarked, some ideas are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them...

  4. Hmmm... now I didn't quite say that I didn't enjoy it... I certainly enjoyed imagining how it came about. After cracking each other up by reciting some lines from Monty Python, two college buddies sip some Chivas and talk about deeper matters (Douglas Hofstadter, Hunter S Thompson). They decide that they have discovered the secret of the universe. Why not tell the world? "We'll start a blog to spread our wisdom! We'll include quotes from famous philosophers and respected writers! We'll even provide a list of Hollywood movies that embody our unique POV!"


  5. Hardly a "secret," though, given that Sid G. gave the skinny on most of this stuff some 2,400 years ago (letting go, thou art that, the three marks of existence and what not).

    No one's claiming the second coming of E=MC2 or shouting from the rooftops. So what's wrong with "celebrating" a little, especially when this particular way of thinking is so foreign to the average yob?

    Methinks some bad bartender stirred too many bitters into your cocktail mate. Anything you want to get off your chest?

  6. nehushtan-

    We admit to being a bit perplexed by your comments. Why do you return to our blog when you find it so offensive and "adolescent?"

    This space is intended as a free exchange of ideas. Given your criticism of our "bland, narrow range of thoughts," we assume you have something substantive to add, which we anxiously await.

  7. Thanks for asking. I suppose I'm drawn to respond to your blog because of the gap between its pomposity and the shallowness of what it actually says. This is not unusual these days -- there are blowhards all over the internet and talk radio -- but the gap in yours struck me as particularly wide.

    The tone of your posts is unbelievably swollen and condescending. You've painted yourselves as benefactors bringing enlightenment to the confused masses -- if only they would put aside their foolishness! And like Jesus or Buddha you graciously endure the various missteps of your disciples. In this post for example, you assure us that even a person like yourself can have children. Thank you, master -- your thoughts are like spring rain.

    And such thoughts! We had to sit at your feet to learn that meaninglessness can be liberating. The great literature of despair is your credential for this creed, but in your hands it is no more than a flame-retardant suit, a universal solvent, a get-out-of-jail-free card. The binary simplicity of it, the presumption of its obviousness, and its smug presentation -- all of these reveal its source: the techno-focused, fan-boy-friendly, bite-sized-education culture of the modern American 30-something male. You offer it to us so that we may transcend the the social structures that have trapped us for centuries, but you are trapped in turn by this society. You haven't risen above anything, and have only affirmed what you have inherited.


  8. Well, we're honestly not quite sure how to respond to this. We have always thought of the tone of the site as playful and a bit irreverent. We have never suggested any of this is new or unique; indeed, quite the contrary, as you will note from our posts about Camus, Krishnamurti, Becker, etc.

    Yes, there is a wonderful simplicity to absurdity that seems obvious in retrospect. Do you disagree with this premise or are you simply offended by our "smug presentation"?

    The simple truth is that we have found the concept of absurdity to be extraordinarily useful to us in living our own lives. Is it really "pompous and condescending" to believe others might find it similarly helpful?

  9. C'mon Rick, get real. Your blog is a 'celebration' -- not of absurdity per se but of its superiority over all other world views. You're patting yourselves on the back for seeing through the things others can't see through. You're nakedly dismissal of each and every other perspective. You claim to have found the one thing that lies at the bottom of all existence. To you absurdity is "the truth", like supply-side economics was for Jack Kemp.

    Now you tell me that this was never intended to be anything more than a useful psychological gambit, like Madonna's Kabbalah? That you are only trying to provide helpful tips to get through life?

    Your response to the NYT 'happy days' blog yesterday is very telling. It was very fundamentalist of you to tack on "the answer" in response to his thoughtful piece.


  10. Guilty as charged. We do believe we've found something of a Rosetta Stone, mainly in terms of a path to peace and tranquility. But it's not like we're reinventing the wheel here - this is mainly a rehash of thousands of years of Eastern philosophy (as we have noted on more than one occasion).

    Was our response to Tim Kreider's column "fundamentalist"? Perhaps. But was it really all that different from what he was saying? He claims you can only find happiness in the past. We disagree, as reasoned people can.

    Look, the whole point of this blog is to promote a particular world view that we have found useful in our own lives. Apologies if that comes off as smug and condescending - that is (as we thought was obvious) certainly not the point.

    Anyway, thanks for raising this issue.

  11. Bless you for your sweet, humane response.

    Now I'll uncloak myself and say I'm a believer, but I've always felt that a true Christian has much in common with an atheist: the urgent need to disbelieve in a thousand false gods.

    Never forget that Nietzsche was mocking the atheists of his day in his "death of God" passage.