Thursday, December 10, 2009

Roman Polanski--Absurd Man!

We read a fascinating account of the Roman Polanski legal issue last night in the New Yorker. In short, the case is far more complex--and much more interesting!--than one would assume from media reports. But while the entire article is worth reading, the most pertinent pieces to us were the following quotes--the first from Jeff Berg, Polanski's longtime agent, and the second from Peter Gethers, who edited Polanski's autobiography and wrote two screenplays with him.

(For context--Polanski's pregnant mother was gassed at Auschwitz when he was three years old, while he and his father survived. His first wife, Sharon Tate, was famously murdered along with three friends by the Manson "family." Basically he has had more than his share of hardship.)

Berg--"He has a world view which has been informed by terrible events, unspeakable events, that have never soured him as a person. There is no bitterness, no anger, though there is memory."

Gethers--"Roman is not defeated by anything. He doesn't regret the things that happen to him, because he understands that things just happen. He is neither in denial not apologetic about his life. He wouldn't use the word, but it's a very existential approach to life." (Emphasis added.)

The article goes on to say that "Polanski's early life seems to have instilled in him a voraciousness for experience--intellectual, physical, sexual," and to describe his exploits in Gstaad (Switzerland), which he discovered to be (in his words) "the finishing school capital of the world, [with] hundreds of fresh-faced, nubile young girls of all nationalities."

We found this story particularly interesting in light of the discussion we have recently been having regarding Tiger Woods, who has in many ways led a very similar life to Polanski (e.g., seeking extreme experiences, including the company of multiple young women), but seems to be the antithesis of absurd. So what makes them different?

The answer, it seems to us, is that Polanski is living for today, not tomorrow...and certainly not yesterday. "Things just happen." What a wonderful way to describe the absurd. Things happen, and then we move on to something new. Polanski, in contrast to Woods, seems remarkably unconcerned with his reputation, or leaving a legacy, or being "the best" at something. He appears content to live his life to the fullest, seeking experiences not for some ultimate purpose or personal validation, but simply for the experiences themselves.

So, in the spirit of the holidays, we raise a glass to you, Roman Polanski--absurd man!


  1. I laughed out loud reading the title of this post as I immediately assumed - given Roman Polanski's recent troubles - that one of its intentions was to clarify the Tiger Woods confusion. Bravo!

  2. Modern Man said...

    "...I immediately assumed - given Roman Polanski's recent troubles - that one of its intentions was to clarify the Tiger Woods confusion."

    Clarify or Justify? Hmm, I think I will leave that dog lay...


    In light of the very last posting where you wrote;

    "We doff our hat to those who live their life as they wish (as long as they do not infringe upon our equal right to do likewise)..."

    I find it hard to fathom why you would raise a glass to Polanski. Unless of course your qualifier only applies to you and not a 13 year old child.

    I know that in the larger scheme of things this has about as much meaning as the death of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, or the liberation of millions in Europe from death at the hands of German tyranny. But in human terms these things are all very meaningful, at least to the people that had their equal rights infringed upon.

    And while Polanski may have subsequently led an absurd life I have a hard time finding it within me to celebrate anything about it.

    I also believe that you are seeing a vast difference between the Polanski and Tiger affairs (pun intended) mainly due to the hazy filter of time. The media circus that resulted from Tiger's transgression was more then equaled in Polanski's time. As were his anti-absurd machinations to avoid both his past and his future.

    With time Polanski may have sunk back into a more absurd perspective, but, it seems to me, in the middle of the storm, those 30 thirty years ago, he was doing everything he could to escape his past and alter his future, including fleeing from the consequences of his actions, that doesn't seem like actions of the absurd to me, and it certainly doesn't seem like something I would want to raise a glass to.

    But, it may just be the different ways in which we each, you and I, interpret the absurd!

    I want to finish off this post by saying that I still enjoy your blog very much. I am in agreement with you about the majority of the PREMISES expressed by you, I just disagree with some of the CONCLUSIONS concerning the absurd that you seem to draw.

    But anyway, keep up the good work (generally speaking), I look forward to seeing what you post next.

  3. Oops, I just realized Inigo wrote the quote I attributed to you...sorry for that confusion, but I think the point still stands!

  4. Random Havoc-

    We probably agree more than you think...

    Let us say that our perspective on the Polanski matter was altered by reading the mentioned New Yorker piece, which contained information of which we were previously unaware. For example, Polanski did in fact serve jail time for his crime, and only fled when the judge in the case appeared likely to renege on his word and sentence him to further time. In short, one could make an argument that Polanski felt the justice system was not to be trusted, rather than that he was trying to shirk responsibility for his actions.

    Of course, none of that has any bearing on the crime itself (or the absurd), so let us deal with each in turn. First, we agree completely with Inigo's quote about not interfering with others' lives, so your criticism is valid. And perhaps our perspective is colored by the passage of time. To be perfectly honest, we expected someone to point out the incongruity here, but we also felt the larger point about Polanski's (apparently absurd) outlook on life was worth making.

    The bottom line is that your criticisms are valid, and we certainly do not condone a 40-year-old seducing a 13-year-old girl. (While it does not "matter," we agree with Camus that just because nothing is prohibited, it does not follow that everything is allowed.)

    That said, the point we were trying to make was about the difference in outlook between Woods and Polanski. Perhaps this is due to their different ages, or perhaps we are making too much of it, but it seems to us Polanski has a more absurd outlook than Woods. Whether that is worth celebrating is perhaps a matter for another day...

  5. Random Havoc,

    What's the difference if the clarification happened to justify, as well?

  6. Rick,

    I accept the explanation you gave concerning why you posted on Polanski. However, as I believe, as you insinuated in your last response, it is not exactly comparing apples to apples, Tiger being in the midst of his storm, while Polanski has the luxury of separation and distance. Perhaps we should delay our judgment of Tiger for 30 years to see how he ultimately responds. Be that as it may, what I really found interesting was this:

    "While it does not "matter," we agree with Camus that just because nothing is prohibited, it does not follow that everything is allowed."

    The natural question would be why? Why does it not follow?

    (Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something, other than your own survival, can you tell me what it is, do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Could it be for love? Delusions, Mr Anderson, vagaries of perception, temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect desperately trying to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the matrix itself, although only a human mind could create something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr Anderson, you know it by now, you can't win, it's pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why do you persist?)

    The answer to this 'why', I believe, exposes the fundamental differences between my understanding of the absurd and your seeming interpretation.(at least from what I gather from your postings on this blog). The answer to this fundamental question of why is why I find absolutely no paradox when Modern Man responded to some of my criticism with "I do realize the paradox of my argument (it's the same one I face when claiming that an absurd man doesn't go out and kill people, although it is absolutely meaningless either way)."

    I know my own reasoning behind the why, I would be interested in hearing yours.

  7. Random Havoc-

    Essentially you are asking how does the absurd differ from nihilism. In fact, this was the source of much debate on this blog several months ago, and we consider it to be one of the trickier (and more important) aspects of the absurd.

    As you probably know, this very question was the focus of Camus' book The Rebel, in which he addressed the seeming contradiction of why the absurd man should be opposed to murder given that life is meaningless anyway.

    Camus' answer was that by choosing to live (i.e., not commit 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. In our interpretation, this applies to any sort of imposing one's will on another--something of a universal golden rule. (In essence, it is not consistent for us to choose a different set of values for ourselves than that which we impose on others.)

    But it seems to us you are also asking a somewhat different (although related) question, which is why bother to do anything when it is all meaningless anyway. ("Why, Mr. Anderson?") This gets at a different aspect of the absurd, which is the capacity to enjoy (and even revel in) life, even as (or because) one recognizes the ultimate futility of it all.

    As we noted in our post "Why Not End It?":

    "We choose to go on living primarily because, having recognized the absurdity of life, we find it endlessly fascinating. Further, to recognize the meaninglessness of life is to cleanse yourself, once and for all, of worry and regret--an experience of pure, total, and permanent liberation."

    A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but the point stands--the supreme irony of the absurd is that life becomes far more livable once one recognizes it is all an illusion. As we closed that post:

    "To recognize the absurdity of life is to free oneself of all pressures, be they societal, family, or spiritual. The absurd man realizes his "role" in life is no more consequential than an actor in a play, and can act accordingly. So perhaps the real question is: once you recognize the absurdity of life, why would you ever want to leave?"

    We are interested to hear if/how this differs from your interpretation.


  8. Rick and Random Havoc,

    I also always enjoyed Camus argument that suicide is the equivalent of assigning meaning to life. By killing oneself, one decides that life is not worth living, which is, of course, not consistent with the absurd. Consequently, the absurd man's only choice is to go on living, continuously confronting the meaninglessness of it all (without creating any personal meaning in the process).

    In a similar light, killing, harming, or imposing oneself on other's would be making a judgement call on life, indirectly or directly giving an answer (meaning) to life's absurdity.

  9. Rick,

    It seems, to this point, there is not much disagreement, I believe you are right on target in your analysis. It seems it is more a matter of consistency. I believe the lack of consistency I perceive in the postings on this site is due to the fundamental differences ways in which we each view the absurd. The inconsistency I see in your presentation here allows you to make such arbitrary decisions as;

    I will not kill another person because I have made the value judgment that it is better to live than not live, and to be consistent I must apply this golden rule to all equally.


    It does not matter if my child dies because all is meaningless and without value.


    I do not condone the rape of a 13 year old child by 40 year old man, because in my interpretation, for consistency of our value judgment, applies to any sort of imposing one's will on another.


    It does not matter that my wife cheats on me because all is meaningless and without value.

    It seems to me, when it comes to the big moral questions such as murder and rape, you arbitrarily and capriciously choose to wear the mask of meaning that is implicit in the value judgment that life is worth living, but then drop it for these lesser moral issues of fidelity and love, just as examples.

    It seems inconsistent, and if it is inconsistent then it does not ‘follow,’ as Camus said, that some things are not allowed. It becomes an arbitrary choice of what is and what is not allowed. When one choices to arbitrarily wear the mask sometimes, but not others, one could arbitrarily allow anything, and that brings us full circle back to nothing is prohibited.

    It seems to me that you make these arbitrary and capricious decisions because of your interpretation of the conditions of the absurd.

    From what I have gathered in reading your posts, the two things in contradiction that give rise to the absurd are man’s innate desire and need for meaning and the FACT that the universe is with meaning or purpose, thus making man’s existence absurd.

    When talking about meaning Camus had this to say;

    "I don't know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms."

    He does not say that the world does not have a transcendent meaning, only that man does not, cannot know it, and since this is true then any meaning it MAY or MAY NOT have is meaningless to man, because we only understand in human terms, and we know we do not know.

    So, my perspective of the conditions in contradiction that gives rise to the absurd are man’s innate desire and need for meaning and his inability to ever know if there IS or IS NOT a transcendent meaning, thus making life absurd and meaningless in the human dimension. This seems to be semantic difference between your view of the absurd and my perspective, but it turns out to be a vitally important distinction.

    (continued below)

  10. (continued from above)

    Others who were faced with this fundamental incompatibility of man’s need for meaning and the meaninglessness apparent in a mute universe (again not a transcendent meaninglessness, all we know is we do not know) have come up with two ways to solve this dilemma. Suicide or a leap of faith, Camus believed, and I agree, that these two things result in the same outcome, an ending of being human.

    Man, if nothing else is a thing of reason, it is rationality that defines him. To suicide is to end that, but to take the leap of faith is to end that as well, Camus called it philosophical suicide. When one takes a leap of faith it is to say that I have come to the end of reason and it does not offer the answer I seek, so I abandon reason and leap. But when you abandon reason you abandon that which makes man, man. It is the coward’s way out of the sticky situation. Camus rightly rejected it. Camus thought there was another way out, and that way was to rebel against the tyranny of the conundrum. This rebellion takes the form of the mask of meaning, the illusion of purpose, as an actor giving meaning to the passion play of life, in this rebellion the meaning that man seeks is born.

    But when you say that it does not matter what I do because all is ultimately meaningless, when you state it as FACT, you have taken a leap of faith, no less so than those who leap towards the transcendent meaning of God. You have taken the negative leap of faith. You abandon the absurd (I must know, but I cannot know) by your declaration of ultimate meaninglessness. You declare, I KNOW! You negate one of the conditions in contradiction that makes up the absurd. Thus you abandon reason, and by definition your humanity.

    This is what binds us, this is the ‘why’ that led Camus to say;

    “The absurd does not liberate; it binds. It does not authorize all actions. ‘Everything is permitted’ does not mean that nothing is forbidden.”

    It binds us to that fiction we created; it binds us to our mask. We made the decision that life has some value and that it is better to live then not to live. In that value judgment we have laid the foundations of man’s morality and by our consistency the golden rule.

    It binds us because if we go on to say I will kill this man because nothing ultimately matters, we take the negative leap of faith of ultimate meaninglessness and negate the absurd, abandoning reason and thus our humanity.

    So there is no contradiction to our prohibition not to kill another, no paradox. Does it ULTIMATLY matter? All we know is that we do not know. But we do know that if we claim we KNOW by saying it DOES NOT matter because everything is ultimately meaningless, that that is positive statement that negates the absurd. And by doing so we commit philosophical suicide.

    It binds us to love our wives and makes us not want them to cheat, because love is one of the things that makes life worthwhile, makes it preferable to be alive then to be not alive, even if this love is nothing more than the random stratagem of a selfish gene to ensure its propagation. Does this love ultimately matter? All we know is that we do not know. But if we go on to say it doesn’t really matter if she cheats because all is ultimately meaningless, we once again take the negative leap of faith.

    (continued below)

  11. (continued from above)

    This perspective still allows the freedom that you speak about so frequently on these boards, because we still know that our rebellion is a fiction, we know that we cannot hold onto it too tightly because if we do it is in danger of becoming a leap of faith itself, and if we allow that to happen we commit the philosophical suicide that we rejected in the first place. So we must look at our fiction with a sense of irony, even as it binds us to our beliefs, our meaning, and our sense of purpose, we must continually remind ourselves of our absurd condition, and not take our fiction too seriously.

    I hope this clarifies the differences I perceive between my understanding of the absurd and those portrayed on this blog. I tried to be as clear and succinct as possible. I may have failed, but I gave it my best shot. Let me know what you think!


  12. RH -

    A few points...

    The absurd has its contradictions, its arbitrary assumptions. Like any philosophy or set of ideas, it cannot ultimately resolve all. This is why, we suspect, Camus often talked about the absurd as a "sensibility" rather than a "philosophy." It is more a state of mind or an attitude than a system defendable by strict adherence to formal logic - by which standard all philosophies fall down eventually.

    Camus was more interested in the experience of the absurd. Usefulness and practicality were his tests for how important a question was. We follow his lead on this point and focus on practical ideas for living, rather than go round and round in well trodden philosophical circles chasing our own tails. We'll leave the intense navel-gazing to the professional philosophers.

    Also.... Camus is never clear -as you assume he is - on whether purpose or meaning is "unknown" or "unknowable." In some passages he suggests the former and in others the latter. He also uses the term "absurd" in many different ways.

    And the idea that making a judgment that your own life has value and extending that same value to the lives of others is, in fact, not up to snuff by standards of formal logic. It really reflects a personal choice, but it is not a logical necessity.

    Camus' critics - and critics of the absurd - have pointed out these things already. Most notably, we'd point to John Cruickshank, who wrote the authoritative critique of Camus' ideas.

    All is to say, you are free to interpret the absurd how you wish. But your view also has its leaps of logic and arbitrary assumptions. This is perfectly fine by us, as we realize our version also has its assumptions - as did Camus'. There is no church of the absurd. There is no dogma.


  13. Inigo,

    It seems to me, in your response to my last post I detected a certain amount of defensiveness and resentment, in the last paragraph especially. It seemed to amount to nothing more than 'Believe what you want, and leave us alone to do the same, we don't need your stinking 'perspective.' Now maybe I am reading to much into your response, maybe it is just me projecting things that are just not there, but that was my initial reaction to your response.

    I assumed when I came to this web site and started reading, that you and Rick had started this blog to explore all aspects of the absurd. I also assumed that you included a comments section because you wanted feedback from those that read your thoughts and had reactions to what you presented. Further, I assumed you wanted this feedback to facilitate the free flow of ideas that would help you to expand your own understanding of the absurd. I did not think that you made this blog, with its attendant comments section, to be merely a one way font of absurd wisdom.

    With that said I am going to continue on with my assumptions that you want a free flow exchange of ideas, and hope that it was just me reading too much into your response. Let me know if this is not true and I will, of course, desist. Until then I will address some of the points you made in your response.

    As you say Camus frequently made a point of denying that his ideas of the absurd were a 'philosophy' and preferred to call it a sensibility. I think this, in large part, is due to Camus's rejection of labels. Camus' did not like labels because he thought, and rightly so, I believe, that labels simply make it too easy to categorize and dismiss something without actually having to examine the thing. Like a label on a can that can give a list of ingredients without actually telling you what is in the can, it is too easy to simply put the can on the shelf thinking you know what is the can because you read the label. Camus wanted you to open the can and fully partake of its contents, labels simply get in the way of that. Too, with his ideas of the absurd, Camus was not so much trying to compose a philosophy, as he was trying describe a strategy to deal with the fundamental conundrum that lies at the end of human reason. He was not trying to RESOLVE the fundamental questions about the human condition, he was not trying to provide a key to life's questions, rather he was trying to describe a way for man to live without despair in the face of fact THERE IS NO KEY, at least no key accessible to human knowledge.

    This fact accounts for much of the criticism of the absurd as well, Camus was never trying to get an ought from an is, as most philosophies do, this was the main thrust of the criticism, but he was not trying to construct a system defendable by strict adherence to formal logic, therefore most of the criticism falls flat.

    As to Camus sometimes intimating meaning does not exist and other times that is it simply unknowable in the frame of human knowledge, I would submit that those two things are the same thing. So there is no ambiguity when he uses the one on some occasions then the other on another occasion. Since man can only perceive in the human dimension any meaning outside of that dimension is meaningless to man. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it just means it doesn't exist for man.

    By analogy, advance calculus does not exist for a newborn baby, they are not capable of comprehending it, because the condition of their existence does not allow it. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it just means it is meaningless to a newborn, so if the newborn could say that 'advance calculus is meaningless' he would be right, for newborns, likewise he would be right to say 'I do not know if advanced calculus exist or not, but I know that I do not know, and I know that a newborn is not capable of knowing, what meaning can it then have, I can only understand as a newborn.' He could say both without contradiction, without ambiguity, because they are the same thing.

    (continued below)

  14. (continued from above)

    So, Camus can sometimes say that he is still convinced life is meaningless, and other times say he does not know if life has ultimate transcendent meaning or not and still be unambiguous, and consistent.

    As far as the golden rule goes, while it may well fall to the strictest standards of formal logic at some point, as you indicated all philosophy or set of ideas eventually do, it seems to me that if you do not consistently adhere to some central idea then really there is no point in having any ideas to live by at all. If anything is permitted merely by arbitrary whim then anarchy and nihilism are the only constants.

    It seems to me that when you state as fact that there is no ultimate transcendent meaning you are simply replacing one myth ( there is meaning) with another (there is no meaning), when the reality is there is absolutely no way to know one way or the other. It takes a leap of faith to go in either direction. That leap of faith is philosophical suicide, you must abandon reason to make it.

    Which is the fundamental difference between our views on the absurd, if you state as fact that there is no meaning then there is absolutely no reason for it to ‘follow’ that ‘not everything is permitted’. It simply becomes a matter of whim, an arbitrary choice, a matter of opinion. So instead strategies on living the absurd life, it becomes nothing more than a form of happy nihilism tinged with Eastern mysticism.

    There seems to me to be absolutely no difference between the mystic belief in God and absolute certainty in the absence of meaning. Both lead to the end of reason and the reliance of creed and dogma as its only replacement.

    Please note that the ideas I expressed are only my interpretation of the absurd, Camus' thought, and the human condition, they are only my opinion. I am not trying to assert that they are 'right' or what you have been saying is 'wrong.' They are simply how I view the subject matter of this blog, some of my ideas do contradict yours, but I offer them in good faith, so that each of us may grow from the exchange. As you said in your response we are all free to choose what we believe, I simply offer my reaction to your blog and the views expressed therein, take them for what you will.

    Best regards, RH

  15. RH,

    No feeling of defensiveness or resentment at all. As we've noted before, we enjoy reading your comments.

    Our comment was mainly trying to head off a discussion of what is the "right way" to look at the absurd, which seemed like a possible direction the thread could take.

    We also wanted to make it clear that we are aware of the deeper philosophical and unresolvable problems of the absurd. In this, all philosophies are built at some point on an arbitrary assumption or expression of personal choice. As far we know, nobody has it all figured out. We think you'd agree.

    As far as our view of the absurd, we take as the beginning of absurdity the idea that our existence has no meaning. That's what makes it "absurd". Sometimes we call it The Absurd Premise.

    Now, you may say that the Absurd Premise is unprovable and we would agree. We can't prove it. We can make a case for it, as we have done.

    And Camus, based on that insight, decided on the idea of revolt. Even though life is meaningless and has no point, he would live his life anyway (all the more passionately) and forgo suicide (which ends the absurd), the "leaps of faith" (as Kirkegaard took), or any other veils that obscure the absurd.

    Camus' absurdity, and our absurdity, is one that embraces that meaningless existence.

    So, again, with no resentment or defensiveness, we see where we differ and we appreciate the differences. We're not going to try to convert you to our way of thinking. And we enjoy the difference perspectives of people as they comment.


  16. Inigo,

    I am heartened to hear that there is no defensiveness or resentment to my posts. As I said, the intention of my posting is to explore all aspects of the absurd so we all might grow in our understanding. I want to ensure that the basis of my thought is well grounded, and discussing contradictory views of the absurd helps me to grasp more firmly my beliefs, it helps me wrestle with the constant philosophical struggle that exist at the limit of human reason (or at least my paltry limits). So I hope you don’t mind if I ask a few more questions. These questions are not intended to ‘convert’ you to my views, but simply to understand why you so passionately hold the views that you do, to help me with the doubts that nag and tug at my consciousness when I contemplate issues of the absurd.

    When you say that ‘we take as the beginning of absurdity the idea that our existence has no meaning’ why is this not a leap of faith?
    Sure, the body of human knowledge, with our theory of evolution, genetics, selfish gene propagation, and our understanding of the strange near infinite recursive loop of self reference from which consciousness springs, all suggest this meaninglessness, but it remains merely a suggestion. At one time the body of human knowledge suggested a flat earth, clearly the body of human knowledge has failed to accurately describe reality many times in the past. So why put such faith into it now?

    Further, why do you believe that Camus, who so vehemently rejected leaps of faith, would take this particular leap of faith? You seem to recognize why the leap of positive faith is rejected by Camus, why do you feel that the leap of negative faith is different?

    If you say that all philosophies have their contradictions and assumptions, what is it that recommends that we make this one, instead of the arbitrary assumption that life has meaning? You seem to dogmatically assert that when one makes this assumption one is freed from worry and regret (another place where our views differ), but those that make the assertion of the meaning of a transcendent God make the same assertion. In fact if you merely replace a few words from the statement Rick made earlier in this thread, one can see a startling similarity;

    “To recognize the meaning of life through God is to cleanse yourself, once and for all, of worry and regret--an experience of pure, total, and permanent liberation."

    And their ‘permanent’, which lasts for eternity, is a whole lot longer than your ‘permanent’, which only lasts the duration of a human life. The current national ad campaign ‘I am Second’ is directly based on this idea.

    If you say that it is just a matter of opinion, what binds you to that opinion? Is it just the sense of relief that binds you? If you are bound to your opinion by nothing other than feelings, what is to stop you from changing your opinion when your feelings change? And if you can change your opinion so easily how does this differ from nihilism, which says nothing matters, so choose whatever you like?

    Once again I want to iterate that I am asking you these questions out of a genuine desire to know why you hold your beliefs so strongly in the face of such questions, and how you perceive that it differs from those that hold the belief of a transcendent God equally strongly.


  17. RH-

    We actually discussed this very issue in our post "In Praise of Consistency" - here is what we said:

    "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."

    The difference, as we see it, is the following:

    The individual who believes in God does so despite no evidence of this existence. Now, it is true that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; still, in our opinion this debate comes down to Occam's Razor - i.e., which is simpler - that there is an all-knowing, all-powerful deity who created the Universe and life, or that there is not? We would argue the latter. (And anyone who has had an intro-level philosophy class would be forced to agree.)

    Similarly, either humans are some sort of "chosen" species destined to lived charmed (or damned) lives in eternal bliss/damnation, or life is temporary and meaningless. There is no middle ground - either there exists some mystical (and thus far, inaccessible) place beyond the physical...or there is not. Again, the latter seems the simpler explanation.

    Technically you are correct, of course - we cannot ever "know" the answers to these questions - for all we know solipsism is the correct answer. But this is not about being "right," or finding some ultimate truth - it is about fashioning a method of life that frees us from (yes) worry and regret. That others have different methods that may work as well is irrelevant, as is whether or not our view is "right." But to compare modern biology to flat-Earth views is a bit disingenuous...

    One final note - who ever said anything about "permanent"? The whole point of the absurd is that everything is temporary...


  18. Rick,
    I did not mean to infer that the level of knowledge between modern biology and flat earth view were comparable, I merely used the flat earth view to illustrate an example where the body of human knowledge was CLEARLY inadequate to describe reality. And even though our body of knowledge has increased substantially, that it is still likely inadequate to describe reality. You seeing some level of disingenuousness in my using it as an example may simply mean I did not adequately get my message across, let me assure you that it was not my intent to be disingenuous.

    Likewise I did not use the transcendent meaning of God because I have some secret affection or belief for the idea, but rather because it most clearly illustrates the point I was trying to make. Which was the similarity between the belief in transcendent God (which as you say ‘anyone who has had an intro-level philosophy class…’ would probably dismiss) and my perception of how you present the absurd, I was asking for clarification of how you could clearly reject the one when the other seems so similar, or put another way, how you find value in one but not in the other.

    Both you and Inigo seem unwilling to address the particular questions that are pertinent to the confusion I am finding with your presentation of the absurd, or maybe it is simply that I am too dense to comprehend the distinction in your presentation. Never the less, these questions remain;

    If, as you have both agreed, ‘we cannot ever "know" the answers to these questions’ why is it NOT a leap of faith?

    If it is a leap of faith, why do you think Camus would have made this leap of faith when he previously rejected leaps of faith?

    If all philosophies (or techniques to live by) have leaps of faith what makes this one preferable to any other?

    If it is only a matter of opinion what binds YOU to this opinion? (This is not to ask why you made this decision, but once made why stick with it)

    If it is only whim that binds you how is that different than simply happy nihilism?

    These are the questions that I am having a hard time understanding from your presentation of the absurd. And I ask them only so I can understand YOUR reasoning of the absurd in order to better understand MY reasoning of the absurd.

    If these questions make you uncomfortable please simply disregard them. By the way, in answer to your question, it was you that brought up "permanent"; I was simply quoting something you had written, albeit with the words ‘the meaninglessness of life’ replaced by ‘the meaning of life through God’

  19. RH,

    Camus used the term "leap of faith" to describe the acceptance of relgious experience - in other words, in the usual sense people use "leap of faith," that is, to accept something without rational evidence.

    So, the absurd is not a "leap of faith" (to us or Camus) because it comes from our tangible experiences, our rational minds - it is built on an argument.

    It is true the absurd premise is also impossible to prove in the same way one can with a geometry problem, but rational minds weigh evidence. We think this blog speaks for itself as far as evidence is concerned. We think we've made an argument, compiled experiences, etc. You are free to accept it or not, as we've said (w/o any sense of defensiveness, etc.)... but, we buy our arguments. In lieu of a better one, we'll stay with what we have. If you would like to put forth a better one or have one for us to read, send it on over.

    We think we've made it plain on the blog why we prefer the absurd. We've listed, discussed, flogged and picked over many reasons - the absurd is freeing to us. The bottom line is that we find it liberating.

    Finally, the absurd is different from nihilism because the absurd man clearly makes value judgments where a nihilist would not (i.e., the absurd man values his own life and extends that to others).

    Also, we'd refer you to John Cruickshank's book Albert Camus and the literature of revolt if you are particularly interested in absurd criticism. It is an oustanding work in this regard.


  20. Inigo,

    Limiting a leap of faith to only ACCEPTING a religious premise seems to me to be an attempt to deliberately miss the point. Any decision concerning the meaning of life is by default an assertion of religious nature.

    In the 'Myth of Sisyphus' Camus addresses this directly suggesting that while absurdity does not lead to belief in God, neither does it lead to the denial of God (and thus transcendent meaning -RH). Camus notes, "I did not say 'excludes God', which would still amount to asserting".

    But, I think I understand your position better now. For you it is enough that the body of human knowledge proves to you the question beyond a reasonable doubt, much like the evidence of a trial. This, however, seems to be somewhat problematic, since sometimes evidence is misleading, sometimes innocent men are convicted, and the body of human knowledge has failed to fully describe reality many times in the past. Any meaning life may or may not have is beyond man's ability to know therefore forever outside the body of knowledge of man on which you rely.

    You do not see the contradictions of your presentation because you have convinced yourself of your premise, much as the religious man has convinced himself of HIS premise.

    I want to thank you for taking the time, and having the patience to repeatedly explain your position until I was finally able to grasp why I was seeing contradictions in what you presented.

    Even if I do not fully agree with your particular interpretations of the absurd, your view still leads to invaluable nuggets of wisdom to live by, keep up the good work. As I have said in the past I truly enjoy your blog.


  21. Inigo and Rick,

    I wanted to share that I was struck by an overwhelming sense of irony right after finishing my last post. Here I was presenting what I believed was a rationally based argument of why I think you are making a leap of faith, all the while arguing that a leap of faith abandons the rational. Which argument you thoroughly reject, thereby proving the assumption of the argument!

    (I wanted to note that I do not mean this as any kind of insult, I am positive that both of you are supremely rational individuals in most aspects of your life, in my opinion you have only abandoned reason on THIS question, not in general . On the other hand my ‘rational’ argument might have merely been unconvincing, even to those who have not taken the leap of faith I attribute to you. The sense of irony I had was rich and amusing, so I thought I would share it with you)


  22. Rape of a 13-year-old doesn't "just happen."