Monday, August 3, 2009

Living the absurd life

There is an interesting conversation taking place here in response to the “Embracing the Abyss” post. One thing that is missing from this conversation that deserves a fresh post is some idea of what living the absurd life means in a practical sense.

Some thoughts on that idea follow (by no means comprehensive or exhaustive) and then a pair of examples…

The absurd man is relatively indifferent about the future; his focus is on the immediate because that is more certain. This is important, because the more you try to arrange your life to certain aims and create meaning, the more you create barriers that confine your life to those aims and meanings. The more you insist on living with concerns about the future, the more you lose your absurd freedom, or inner freedom that comes from releasing those concerns.

Therefore, as absurd men we try as much as possible to be in the present moment. Is it hard? Yes. Do we do it 100% of the time? Of course not. We get better at it as time goes on. But again, we find the idea itself is liberating and worth pursuing.

Experience is all we have. The absurd man is passionate about life; he has rejected suicide. He accepts his futile struggle, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain only to have it roll back and have to start over again. Sisyphus is the absurd hero, happy in the meaningless struggle. The struggle, life itself, is enough.

As absurd men we don’t pine to be somewhere else or hope for a better or different life. We accept our lot and try to make the best of it by, among other things, living it fully, collecting experiences, trying new things and not being afraid of death.

The absurd man lives in full awareness of his absurd condition. What sets the absurd man apart is his awareness – awareness of his temporal limitations (he knows he will die) and awareness of the absurdity of his existence.

Just being aware has great benefits as we’ve written about before. It is hard to describe in words what it feels like to just be somewhere, be at complete peace with the world.

The absurd life is a life without regret. The absurd man does not live in the past. Regret in a world that has no meaning is a wasteful emotion, in fact it is practically a contradiction.

The practical effect here is that what is done is done and we don’t worry about things we can’t change.

These are, again, just some thoughts, banged out here in the lunch hour… Our whole blog is, in part, an exploration of what it means to live the absurd life and many of our posts have touched on these ideas.

As an aside, Camus often talked about the three consequences of the absurd – revolt, freedom and passion were the words he used. It might help also to go over these broadly…

Revolt essentially means to keep living without despair or resignation that some might think comes with the knowledge that all is meaningless and death and oblivion await us all.

Freedom means living indifferent to the future, living in the present, free of constraints and worries that plague those who put undo importance on what happens on this earth.

And passion means living a full life of experiences, not passing judgment on those experiences (abandoning a scale of values as Camus put it), but valuing all experiences, being aware of them and aware of the passing moments.

Albert Camus also gives examples of absurd lives in Myth of Sisyphus. The most powerful to us is the actor.

The actor is always assuming new roles, each of them is fleeting and he knows this. He plays them to the fullest and remains aware that he is acting, that it is not “real”. In a similar way, we’ve often looked at our own lives this way – as if we were playing a role. We find this detached look at one’s own life to be very helpful and calming.

We’d throw professional athletes in this mix too, very similar to the actor. He plays a game, which no one puts any special meaning on. He plays it fully (most of the time) and with passion, but again he is under no illusion that what happens on the field makes the world better or has some greater meaning. It is just a game. This, too, is a good metaphor for life. We are playing a game and we aim to play it well and play it to the hilt, but in the end it is only a game.

These are just snippets on what living the absurd life is about, but we aim to explore more of these ideas and others on this blog.


  1. Too rich. A self-help article fit for a woman's magazine. You should go on Oprah.

    Your idealization of "the absurd man" reminds me of Ayn Rand's abstract capitalists who would never, ever lie or cheat to gain wealth.

    Plenty of people who have embraced your tenet have committed suicide or wasted themselves in alcoholism, debauchery, or murder, many of them doing so with the express intent of fulfilling its demands. A few of these are even in your Absurdism Hall of Fame.

    Back to the drawing board...


    1. I don't think you're supposed to throw yourself into hedonism, because it is a worthless activity (like suicide) and so you would be capitulating with the notion that life is meaningless.
      If you do something it should be something worthwhile, within the limitations of you situation, despite the fact that you know that in an all to short time you and what you've done and who it affects will no longer be around and so there's not much point doing whatever in the first place. This is rebelling against meaningless.


  2. Leopold and Loeb come to mind, but truth be told human perversity is so pervasive we barely need a philisophical excuse to exercise it.


  3. @ nehushtan:

    Stanley, your commentary has become more revealing in light of the choice to "out yourself" as a Christian in another thread.

    Being an adherent to a popular religion is like being a hardcore sports team fan... or perhaps more accurately, a zealous recruiter for a multi-level marketing scheme. (In fact, religion may well be the most outrageously profitable MLM setup in the history of the world. Those at the top get paid in influence, power and cold hard cash while the teeming masses are remunerated with pipe dreams.)

    Anyway, might I suggest that you go ahead and come all the way out of the closet if you intend to take potshots. Let your assertions openly inform your views. Where you stand depends on where you sit, as they say, and it's pretty clear that strong viewpoints on matters such as original sin and the irredeemable depravity of man can hardly be cloaked when engaging in philosophical 'best life' type discussions.

    Cap'n Jack can sympathize with such viewpoints too, by the way, as he was a theologically well-read Presbyterian and devoted five-point Calvinist in a past life. His path to freedom came via such eye-opening books as "On Human Nature" by E.O. Wilson -- a shining example of what real truth looks like. (Clear, lucid prose that resonates like crystal, as opposed to turgid, murky and intentionally obfuscated parables.)

    Do what you like, hardly matters to me... all forms of proselytization pretty much bore old Jack now... but you might get a little more constructive engagement by showing your true colors.

  4. "Perspective" has been touted as one of the most valuable tools in living one's life. Keeping one's life in perfect perspective arguably is to remain fully aware of the absurd.

    Comprehension of the absurd is key to happiness.

  5. Holy shit you guys are vicious