Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Recently, we were unable to visit a certain remote lodge in New Zealand because the foggy weather grounded our small airplane in Wellington. Reaction to this varied, as you might expect, from those who acted as if it completely ruined their life to those who shrugged their shoulders and looked for the nearest inviting pub. (We were in this last camp.)

One member of our crew said “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway, we’ve got plenty of other things we can do.”

Ears perking up a tad, we said, smiling, “Of course it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. A few weeks from now this will be just another memory.”

“Well you’re right,” he said. “Nothing really matters in the end.”

We are always curious about how many people seem to agree initially with elements of the absurd, but back off when the full import of what it means hits them. In this instance, thinking we had perhaps found an absurd man amidst an un-absurd society, we probed a touch deeper.

But he soon told us how happiness centered around three things: personal health, friends and family, and positive experiences. We nodded politely, but we found it fascinating how this fellow in one instance can see so clearly how nothing matters and yet in the next he places three things at the center of his universe. Different strokes for different folks, but as absurd men, we see greater appeal in taking that idea of a meaningless universe as we find it. Just accepting it as it is, rather than build a screen around it.

But how people think and respond is an interesting subject itself. Though not directly tied to the absurd, we found the following principles in Robert Gula’s book Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language. It aptly describes the general tendencies of how people think – and goes very far in explaining why an idea, like the absurd, that goes against so much of what people hold dear, has little chance winning the hearts and minds of most people.

Gula writes, people:

1. Tend to believe what they want to believe.
2. Tend to project their own biases or experiences upon situations.
3. Tend to generalize from a specific event.
4. Tend to get personally involved in the analysis of an issue and tend to let their feelings overcome a sense of objectivity.
5. Are not good listeners. They hear selectively. They often hear only what they want to hear.
6. Are eager to rationalize.
7. Are often unable to distinguish what is relevant from what is irrelevant.
8. Are easily diverted from the specific issue at hand.
9. Are usually unwilling to explore thoroughly the ramifications of a topic; tend to oversimplify.
10. Often judge from appearances. They observe something, misinterpret what they observe, and make terrible errors in judgment.
11. Often simply don’t know what they are talking about
12. Rarely act according to a set of consistent standards. Rarely do they examine the evidence and then form a conclusion. Rather, they tend to do whatever they want to do and to believe whatever they want to believe and then find whatever evidence will support their actions or beliefs.
13. Often they do not say what they mean and often do not mean what they say.

That’s a pretty damning list. And we’re not saying we haven’t fallen prey to these principles. We simply offer them as a neat synopsis on thinking itself. Not only is there a lot of hard wiring that makes people resist absurdity, there is also a lot of baggage in their ways of thinking that prevent them from accepting new ideas (or old ideas in new ways).

Gula also quotes from J.A.C. Brown’s Techniques of Persuasion: “Most people want o feel that issues are simple rather than complex, want to have their prejudices confirmed, want to feel that they ‘belong’ with the implication that others do not, and need to pinpoint an enemy to blame for their frustrations.”

It seems some institutions make their entire living on these principles… religion and politics comes immediately to mind. But really any set of ideas and beliefs (including the absurd) can fall prey to these issues.

Interesting stuff…and helpful in trying to think clearly and to understand why other people think the way they do.


  1. I look at myself and the mental gyrations that I went through trying to avoid atheism. My final compromise was saying that we may be made soley of the physical world, but the human being is so deep, profound and complex that the utilitarian concept of God, actually representing everything from my sub-conscious to the unpredictable world, was indispensable. But letting myself believe the cold, hard truth reveals it to be not that hard and, surprisingly, not at all cold.

  2. Well, it is not inconsistent to say that A. Nothing matters, and B. Happiness is centered around these three things. The latter statement is just an empirical observation about reality. I'm not saying I agree with B., only that it isn't strictly incompatible with absence of meaning. I've been reading this site without commenting much for awhile, and the true gift it has given me is not so much the wisdom about how to be happy, but the realization that: 1. I don't HAVE to be happy. It really doesn't matter. 2. There is no intrinsic meaning that I have to fulfill. It is hard enough to be happy without having to ALSO fulfill some role or meaning that I thought mattered. Like there are certain things I better become, accomplish or experience before I die. But of course, how can anything matter if you are a physicalist? It can't. The universe is just stuff happening; its not personal.

    And none of this says anything about exactly what the path is to happiness (although it is much easier without all the crap of what we SHOULD do). Happiness is the open path as pursued naturally by me, me being just a manifestation of the physical - a manifestation that actually knows what to do. And, right now, what to do is get off the computer and go outside. Arthur

  3. How to get happy? Say "Gilgamesh" 10x fast . . .

  4. Describe "HAPPY".
    What exactly is it?
    What are you looking for?
    Will you know happy when you feel it?
    Will your happy be the same as my happy?

    Was the Happy Hooker really happy or just a hooker who made others happy but she herself as a hooker was actually not a happy hooker making people happy by hooking? Or was she just absurd.....