Monday, August 24, 2009

Busyness dulls awareness

More absurd thoughts uncovered while reading the Wall Street Journal (of all things…)

An excerpt, then some of our own thoughts below it:

“We will die, that much is certain; and everyone we have ever loved and cared about will die, too, sometimes—heartbreakingly—before us. Being someone else, traveling the world, making new friends gives us a temporary reprieve from this knowledge, which is spared most of the animal kingdom. Busyness—or the simulated busyness of email addiction—numbs the pain of this awareness, but it can never totally submerge it. Given that our days are limited, our hours precious, we have to decide what we want to do, what we want to say, what and who we care about, and how we want to allocate our time to these things within the limits that do not and cannot change. In short, we need to slow down.

Our society does not often tell us this. Progress, since the dawn of the Industrial Age, is supposed to be a linear upward progression; graphs with upward slopes are a good sign. Processing speeds are always getting faster; broadband now makes dial-up seem like traveling by horse and buggy. Growth is eternal. But only two things grow indefinitely or have indefinite growth firmly ensconced at the heart of their being: cancer and the corporation. For everything else, especially in nature, the consuming fires eventually come and force a starting over.”

Full piece is here.

The absurd man cultivates an awareness – in this he has many fellow travelers. The absurd man’s unique awareness centers on his absurd condition – the indifferent universe and the meaningless nature of existence. The absurd man cherishes this insight, which he finds liberating. (Like finding out you can play a game for the sake of playing and in which the outcome is irrelevant).

There are many consequences of this awareness, but one of them is a focus on living in the present moment, the idea of trying to stay in the present. (Life being a series of present-day moments.)

It is interesting to think about how the modern world clashes with this idea. The idea of always being “plugged in” either to one’s laptop or PDA or what, seems to discourage reflection or awareness of anything in the real world. We know people who can’t take a simple walk around the neighborhood without their iTunes in their ears. Televisions that are nearly always on, e-mail accounts that can’t go more than an hour without being checked, telephones that are not allowed to ring themselves to silence – all of these things seem rather unhealthy.

As the writer above puts it, all this busyness numbs of the pain of our awareness. We take issue with the pain part. We don’t find the realities of our existence painful. We accept them as they are, however we can see how other people would find the idea of death painful.

But the larger point is that much of our society and technology seems geared to keeping us pre-occupied, so we are never alone with our thoughts. Elevators play music – as if you couldn’t stand there for the 15 second elevator ride. Restaurants pipe in music or put televisions on the wall. The barbershop down the street has the TV on all the time.

We think it is important, whether one embraces the absurd philosophy or not, to put time aside for calm reflection, for some quiet solitude. It’s too easy to get lost in the matrix of everyday life and then put too much stock in what happens in that everyday life. These things will inevitably disappoint.

But if you cultivate an awareness of the absurd condition, it is easier to let the slights and disappoints of the real world slide by. We argue that the absurd philosophy makes it easier to enjoy your life as it is, in the present moment. And that, after all, is the main thing. Absurdity declares that a life is an experience to be lived with no appeal to anyone or anything.

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