Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Self-Important Puritans Must Die

This blog’s name is in the form of a question: Who is the Absurd Man? It is in part a searching question, because we are not sure ourselves and aim to explore absurdity here.

The absurd man is a rare bird. And as part of our doings, when we find an absurd man, we like to highlight him here, as one who walks along a beach finds a particularly interesting shell and sticks it in his pocket.

Today, we highlight another absurd man. His name is Tom Hodgkinson and he is the founder of a U.K. publication called The Idler. He also wrote a book called the Freedom Manifesto. The subtitle is quite a mouthful: “How to free yourself from anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression, work and waste.”

The chapter headings also give you a feel for the book: “Reject Career and All Its Empty Promises” “Smash the Fetters of Fear” and “Say No to Guilt and Free Your Spirit.”

Hodgkinson is an absurd man. He sees the meaningless of existence and it is his key to achieving a kind of happiness.

Take the idea of self-importance. Hodgkinson is against it. He lays it at the feet of the Puritan ethic, which makes one live for some afterlife. But it’s more than that, as Hodgkinson says today that consumer products and job promotions have taken the place of the Puritans. These things promise to make you feel like someone. Hodgkinson mockingly writes, “No, you are not just a quintessence of dust, a speck of nothing, you are a Senior Branch Manager… You are somebody!”

Mobile phones are decidedly non-absurd. Mobile phones trade on self-importance, as Hodgkinson writes. You can’t miss a call! You can’t not be reached! You are too important! (This explains, perhaps, why we so seldom carry our cell phone, much less turn it on. We are always amazed at how we can sit at lunch with someone who must interrupt this otherwise peaceful interlude by answering his buzzing Blackberry. Our advice: turn the damn things off.)

Hodgkinson uses a great quote from Bertrand Russell: “One of the symptoms of the approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important & that to take a holiday would bring all kinds of disaster.” The Freedom Manifesto is a lot of fun, just for the quotes.

The great summing up on self-importance by Hodgkinson pretty much nails the ideal of the absurd man:

“Self-importance is a trap, because the moment we start to think that we actually matter is the moment when things start to go wrong. The truth is that you are supremely unimportant and nothing matters. All of man’s striving is for nothing; all effort is wasted. To realize that everything is meaningless is tremendously liberating, since it then leaves us completely free to create our own lives and ignore the plans that others have for us.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves…

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