Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mirrors of the absurd

We find that certain events or situations are mirrors of absurdity because they reflect the absurd world – the meaninglessness of it all – back to you with greater clarity than if you didn’t have such experiences.

We’ve talked about several of them before, such as travel and vacation. On this note, Inigo finds himself wandering Arabia once again after a very long flight. Jet travel has a way of really blurring all kinds of distinctions people otherwise find very important on the ground.

On a long flight, time itself becomes rather blurry and meaningless. Is it 1 PM or isn’t it? Well, it depends on where you are. And 12 hours in a plane can be 20 hours by the clock, thanks to time zones. Your mind and body fight it out as to what time it is. Your body says sleep. Your mind sees sunshine and says the day has only begun. It’s disorienting and a good absurd mirror.

Then there are the geographical distinctions. Peeking out of your window, the U.S. slides by like a big golf course – individual states and their borders rendered completely meaningless. And then you are over a vast blue sea and then Europe passes beneath your feet and so on… Countries, cities, neighborhoods, people and their cultures, races, religions…. All rendered illegible, like ink smudges, beyond distinction. Hence, another mirror of the absurd.

Humor, too, is a great mirror. Comedians and satirists make us laugh because they reflect the ridiculousness of the world back at us. There is, for instance, The Onion, which is a bastion of the absurd.

If you don’t at least peruse The Onion now and then, if only for the headlines, you are missing out on some good stuff. I look at today’s headlines for instance. “God introduces new bird.”

The story begins:

“THE HEAVENS—In what is being described by advance marketing materials as "the first divine creation in more than 6,000 years," God Almighty, Our Lord Most High, introduced a brand-new species of bird into existence Monday…

"This came out at the perfect time," said Chet Clem, Chair of Biblical Science at Oral Roberts University. "God hadn't come out with anything in a long while, and people, quite frankly, were beginning to lose faith in Him. But this bird is totally worth the wait."
Added Clem, "It's classic God."”

This is an obvious poke at the creationist argument and helps us realize the ridiculousness of the position in a funny way.

There are similar stories satirizing all those silly and self-important government reports (“Pentagon report finds too many soldiers have the same nickname.”) And reports on sports, such as the distinction between playing games that “matter” and “don’t matter” (“Flyers defeat Devils in what everyone involved believes to be preseason game.”) There are also stories on just the absurd banality of much of existence that the papers seem to want to make news (“Sexy career woman to take hot bath after very busy day.”)

The Onion helps you see the absurd by creating this parallel universe where the meaningless nature of our existence is manifest in every story.

Armed with this kind of perspective, there is no reason to be bitter or angry when you read the “real” papers with “real” news. If nothing matters, then the things that bother you don’t matter either. Training yourself to think in this absurd way is liberating, as we’ve argued. For this reasons, our absurd mirrors are helpful in reminding us of these things. Humor is another particularly good one.

Laugh it off, we say. Life is absurd!

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