"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. "--Ralph Waldo Emerson
With all due respect to Emerson, we have always been mystified by this quote. It seems to us that true consistency is something to be admired, as it speaks to a unified vision of the world, one not swayed this way or that by events and emotion.
Let us be clear. We are not talking of someone who is (for example) a consistent Republican. It is not consistent to resist government intervention in your bank account but welcome it in your bedroom. (Indeed, we find the rampant inconsistency of most people's political views more than passing strange. But this is not a political column.) We define consistency as a worldview that does not differentiate based on race or creed, wealth or poverty, educated or illiterate. It is the practice of looking at things broadly, not (as is often assumed) to incorporate multiple points of view, but rather to view people and events with true objectivity.
We admit this is a tall order. Indeed, the list of those we consider truly consistent is short indeed. Krishnamurti and the Buddha jump to mind, as does Thich Nhat Hanh. Others we have quoted in this blog (Bemelmens, Bukowski, Mencken, Henry Miller) are close enough for government work. And surely a number of individuals have lived their life according to a stable vision yet never come to be widely known.
All the individuals cited, of course, would also be considered absurd. But this is not the only way to be consistent. For example, we recently had a visitor post several comments attacking us and our philosophy. After a bit of back and forth, we discovered he is (in his words) "a believer." He added that he has"always felt that a true Christian has much in common with an atheist: the urgent need to disbelieve in a thousand false gods."
We found this an interesting way of putting it. In fact, religious fundamentalism is no less consistent than being absurd. We may (and do) feel it is incorrect, but it is a consistent belief system. It is indeed possible that God, or Allah, or some other deity is in fact the creator of the known universe, and thus our assumption that life is meaningless is simply...wrong.
However, such a statement applies only to fundamentalist beliefs. Indeed, we shudder when we hear people praise religious "moderates" for embracing a "practical" worldview. We have little patience for those who attend church out of some vague "duty," or say they believe in most scripture, but are willing to give a pass to evolution. This is not consistent. If your religion says God created the world in six days a few thousand years ago, then either this happened or it did not happen. There is no in-between. You can't claim to believe in a God who created man in his own image, and also believe man evolved from single-celled organisms. These views are simply not compatible. Thus, while we do not agree with religious fundamentalists, we do respect the consistency of their belief systems. (It is true, of course, that religions may have internal contradictions, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.)
Consistency is not, we should mention, what drew us to the absurd. But it was a vital factor in our accepting its premises. Indeed, we have always marveled at the wonderfully simple consistency of the absurd. Even its seeming contradictions turn out to be illusory. (The most significant of these is the question, explored by Camus in The Rebel, of whether the absurd man should be opposed to murder given that life is meaningless anyway. Camus' elegant solution was to point out that by not committing suicide, the absurd man has, whether consciously or not, imposed a belief system on his worldview [i.e., it is better to live than not live]. Thus, it is not consistent to take the life of another.) We also find it interesting (and a bit sad) that so many understand the basic premise of the absurd, but shrink from the broad implications of fully accepting the meaninglessness of life. (They are, in a word, inconsistent.)
It may well be that the consistent individual has "nothing to do." But in contrast to Emerson, we find this something to be celebrated rather than derided. Indeed, the absurd man by definition has nothing he must "do," and yet it is through this release, this unlocking of chains, that he finds true peace and contentment.