We know the world has enormous powers that are far beyond any of us. There are natural powers such as the birth and death of stars, the movement of the earth around the sun, the shifting patterns of the weather and the like.
There are also societal powers. The machinery of government grinds on irrespective of our wishes. Billions of people on this planet pursue whatever goals they have without consulting us. And there is seemingly random the up and down daily action of the stock market.
When we really look at the world, we can’t help but appreciate how little we control. There are a few ways to deal with this. The most popular is to make it seem like we can control things by endowing certain people with powers we seem to lack. Put another way, we trust in the chief.
As we make our living in the world of financial markets, we can’t help but bring in examples from that world. For instance, we are always amazed at how our peers put so much faith in the bankers at the Federal Reserve, as if they have some secret decoder ring that allows them to see what’s really going on. The powers of the Federal Reserve are inflated, because people can’t accept the fact that the market is a wild uncontrollable place, seemingly random in many instances, chaotic, filled with black swans, outliers, mysterious eddies and ripples that throw prices this way and that…
One can’t hope to explain it all or control it or model it. Rather than accept that, people instead invest powers in market gurus and savants, in a class of high-paid economists and chart readers, in central bankers and treasury officials… And these chiefs look to play their roles… In the case of the gurus, they make confident predictions and tell us what to expect, where to invest. In the case of officials, they look to tame the wildness of the world with regulations, laws, fines, policies and plans…
It’s all very ridiculous, but it seems in our nature. Man is a herd animal and he needs to follow a lead steer. Man loves authority. Its appearance makes him squeal in delight like a teenage girl at a Jonas Brothers’ concert. People have deep-seated longings to please authority figures – parents, teachers, bosses, God (or gods). We are like Irish Setters looking to make our masters happy. (Camus: “Ah , mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style.)
This strong belief in chiefs holds groups together. It is how thousands willingly go to die for abstract ideas in cold trenches in mud-soaked French battlefields. It is why millions line up like zombies at polling places so they can wear little buttons that say “I voted.”
People look to leaders to give them the illusions they need. They need these illusions because they cannot confront the meaninglessness of their own existence, the smallness of it and lack of control they have over it.
The absurd man, of course, follows no such steers and feels no need to make chiefs. The absurd man does not deny death, he embraces it. The meaningless nature of existence is to him an elixir of freedom, a lifting of a burden; he is free to just be. Remorse, envy, hate – all these are then seen as a waste of energy. These emotions imply their targets matter, or are somehow important. They are not. The smallness of our existence and the lack of control are reasons to be happy. One life is as good as any other. Now is as good a time as any.
The absurd man is the cool cucumber who, faced with death, invites him in for a cigarette and a beer. We recall a poem from the great Charles Bukowski, our favorite poet and an absurd man through and through:
well, death says, as he walks by,
I’m going to get you anyhow
no matter what you’ve been:
writer, cab-driver, pimp, butcher,
sky-diver, I’m going to get
o.k. baby, I tell him.