Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Circumstances Don't Matter!

Humans have existed for at least 200,000 years. Indoor plumbing, meanwhile, has been around for less than 4000 years (and widespread use of toilets less than 200 years). And yet, we imagine the vast majority of people who live in developed nations would find the concept of life without toilets to be well-nigh unbearable.

Indeed, the same is true of virtually any technology--once it becomes part of our daily routine it is hard to imagine life without it. The trouble, of course, is that we mistakenly equate the life we have with these tools and gadgets as better than the one we would have without them. Think of it this way--was everyone miserable 5000 years ago due to the lack of plumbing? Of course not--they had never experienced it, so how could they miss it? Hmm...

This gets at a point we have made in the past (and which Krishnamurti hammered home with a relentless consistency)--the "self" in which we believe so fervently, which we massage, groom, and defend at all costs...is simply a conglomeration of our past experiences (with a bit of genetics thrown in).

Here's a fun exercise--make a list of all the things you absolutely cannot live without. Not your videogame system or cellphone, but things you really need. If you are honest with yourself, you will eventually whittle this list down to one item only--food. Even shelter is a relatively recent human invention, and indeed there are millions (if not billions) who currently live without it. Yes, we realize humans (and other animals) tend to seek shelter for survival purposes, but this does not alter the point--it is certainly possible for one to survive without it.

The reason circumstances seem so important is because we interpret them through this lens of "who" we believe ourselves to be. Two people in identical circumstances will view their situations quite differently depending on their own personal history. But by adopting this identity we unwittingly rob ourselves of the freedom to live as we wish, instead entangling ourselves ever deeper in a tragic web of our own design.

The pauper who once was King is no worse off than the son of peasants; his belief thereof does not make it so.


  1. Yes, it's not about the circumstances in our lives; rather, it's how we relate to them. As one of my personal heroes Marcus Aurelius aptly stated, "Our life is what our thoughts make it."


  2. Inigo Montoya is obviously a pseudonym; I'm willing to bet Rick Bomstein is a fake persona as well. Speaking of entangling in a tragic Web: what about the strong need for anonymity in a non-absurd world where the absurd man is feared and even hated? Atheists are more hated than any other group, including homosexuals. We can be seen as potential amoral monsters by the religious non-absurd morons of the world. Just been thinking about this lately.

  3. To the 2nd Anonymous:

    While this may (or may not) be true, it is not the reason for our pseudonyms. Rather, given our belief that the self is but an incredibly vivid and convincing illusion, Rick Bomstein and Inigo Montoya are simply roles we play within the context of this illusory world.

    We would also note that we have not found what you say to be particularly true--we discuss the absurd often with "non-absurd" people, and while we usually end up simply agreeing to disagree, we have rarely found ourselves to be feared or hated for our beliefs...


  4. Agreed, not feared or hated.. But, mis-understood and very often dismissed. Dismissed as idealistic, whimsical, out of touch with reality. Ha! Reality... Which gets to a broader issue of why the absurd is lost on so many. Or even the more pressing (personally) question of why it is so hard to keep the absurd in mind, on the tip of it if you will, continuously. Why is it so hard to remember? Practice. I know..

  5. Alex-

    Certainly agree with that - in fact, we are amazed at how many people walk right to the edge of the absurd, then back away at the last second. (Camus discussed this at length, particularly with regard to Kierkegaard.) And also agree with the difficulties of keeping it "top of mind." We are actually in the process of working up a post about this very topic...