Monday, October 5, 2009

The Search for Self

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago on China here. As you’ve probably heard, the People’s of Republic of China turned 60 recently, which has brought out a spate of articles reflecting on all things China.

The nut of the referenced story is this bit of anti-absurdity:

“For decades, China's authoritarian policies kept a lid on ethnic expression. Now, as the party loosens control over society, individuals are defining themselves by their culture -- embracing who they are, what language they speak and what their ancestors accomplished. "This is not a hobby or an interest," says Hukshen, a 22-year-old Manchu language student. "This is a burning emotion I feel, a need to find out who I am."

On some levels, this search can be a positive force, helping to give meaning to people's lives...”

In this blog, we ask the question who is the absurd man? And how does one live in an absurd world? We define the absurd man and his perspective through the traditional lens of example. We also define the absurd man by what he isn’t. The anti-absurd man, then, is a useful tool.

We find Hukshen is an anti-absurd man. In fact, we find the whole thrust of this passage anti-absurd on many levels.

We’ve never understood this intense desire to belong to something that so many people seem to have. It looks to us like a raft people latch on to because they are lost in a sea of meaningless. Religion and politics usually serve up what’s needed. But culture also serves the same purpose. This 22-year old finds his life devoid of meaning and must fill the hole. Hence, his “burning passion” to “find out who I am.”

The absurd man, by contrast, would embrace that sea of meaningless. He sees the world as devoid of meaning and celebrates that fact, indeed, finds it liberating.

If life is meaningless, then so, too, are all these artificial lines we draw between us, around us and through us. Race, religion, politics, language – it’s all ladled out of the same bowl.

The absurd man doesn’t need these associations to be happy. He just is and that is enough.

We’d also point out how much blood has been shed in the name of such arbitrary divisions based on where one was born or what language one speaks. China has had its bloody moments in history. It has had its share of bloody riots involving the killing of ethnic minorities.

As the absurd man values his own life and hence the life of others, such violence he cannot approve. Therefore, it is no surprise when Camus supported the anti-government actions of Gary Davis in 1948.

Gary Davis, a former American war pilot, cut up his passport and called himself a “citizen of the world.” Albert Camus, among others, approved. Given the savage history they bore witness too, one can readily see the appeal of such an ideal.

Alas, the world is not ready for that kind of absurdity just yet.


  1. I discovered your blog only a few weeks ago and have enjoyed reading each post, including the archives going back to June. This philosophy is new to me and I find it hard to argue with any of your points. I’ve always been very critical of religion. And I had yet to find any philosophy to embrace until now. But, for me, being absurd is basically what I have already been striving for. Now I have a name for it. I’ve used your posts as a starting point to learn about the philosophy and I want to thank you.
    When you talked here about an absurd man valuing his own life and the lives of others, that makes perfect sense to me. And it probably simply clears up some of the disagreements on previous comments on the blog. I can be absurd, and know that my life is totally meaningless, yet still value it. It doesn’t need to have any lasting meaning, it just is, and I enjoy it. That extends to the way I feel about my children as well. I love them and protect them and provide for them. But, I know that in the context of the long term, none of our lives will have lasting meaning. And, that’s fine. I do it because my instincts, given to me by millions or billions of years of evolution tells me to protect my young. I also do it because I love them. But I don’t try to assign meaning to that love. It’s wonderful and it’s natural and it’s now and it won’t last forever because we are all mortal. So, the way we are wired by our biology will always influence our actions. But, we also have the ability to choose different courses of action because in addition to our instincts, we have intellect. We can love and be passionate and value human life without assigning any long term meaning to it.
    I totally agree with your point about how so many people need to latch on to something like religion or cultural divides in order to provide meaning for themselves. Yet, so many people are killed in the name of various gods! (Or in the case of catholics: little boys are molested) How can anyone in good conscience support religion? In my possibly flawed point of view, supporting any religion supports the whole system of religious control and violence on people all around the world.
    I love the irony of a blog about meaninglessness. Thank you again for your writing; I find it informative, inspiring, and most of all extremely entertaining. I don’t yet have as clear of an understanding of the absurd as you, but I think I’ve got a start.

  2. Thanks, Luke, for posting. We enjoyed reading about your experience in finding absurdity. You seem to be well along on the journey. Enjoy the trip!