Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Forget voting!

It’s primary Election Day where we live. Members of political parties will truck to the polls to pick senators, representatives and other positions.

We will not be voting. We haven’t voted for many years and have no plans to return. Today, we look at the idea of voting through an absurd lens.

Now we know that the idea of the absurd goes against nearly everything we’ve been taught since we were knee-high to a grasshopper. It goes against nearly everything society would want us to believe. We are told to work hard, be good in school, obey the laws, get a job and pay our taxes. Society wants good citizens.

In other words, it wants dogs that enjoy their leashes.

But having an absurd worldview casts all of that in a laughably ridiculous light. Or as Camus put it, “after the absurd, everything is upset.” The absurd view, as we’ve pointed out, embraces the meaningless nature of our existence. It sees the futility of man’s struggle, which ends in death. Therefore, all of these ideals people hold as meaningful and important are seen as nothing more than fleeting shadows and vapors.

In this blog, we’ve tried to explore the ramifications of the absurd – how to live an absurd life in an absurd world. We’ve tried to recover this alternative tradition in literature and philosophy – one that sees the absurdity of the world and embraces it.

In politics, we see another area where the absurd clashes with mainstream thinking. We are told to vote and participate in our democracy. It is a point of pride for those who do. People wear little stickers saying “I voted.” If you don’t vote, people give you disproving glances and “tsk, tsk.”

We find it all amusing. Voting is as meaningless as anything else we do. It simply doesn’t matter one way or the other. An absurd man may vote, we suppose, just because he can. But we find good reasons not to vote.

Supposedly, our government is built on the consent of the governed. Think how silly this is. Did we ever consent? And if we did, can we not withdraw that consent? Why is it that we are ever slaves to the promises made by dead men? Did we participate in drawing up the US Constitution? Did we sign it? How are we bound by these laws?

Our non-voting is our way of saying we withdraw. There was a brilliant 19th century fellow, a lawyer and entrepreneur, named Lysander Spooner. He made the argument, convincingly, that people who voted for the government delegated their rights to it, and those who did not vote for it were free from its jurisdiction. Legally and morally, Spooner has the high ground in our view.

We suppose the absurd man can enjoy the whole spectacle of politics as entertainment, but it is a mistake to impute any importance whatsoever to government and its doings. It is among the most anti-absurd of our institutions – full of self-importance and bluster, and on top of it all, it is lethal too!

Our view is to skip the whole thing. And there are benefits to not voting. As you no longer have a horse in that race, you will look at it more objectively, in a more detached way. It is freeing in its own way, we find.

It’s like C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe a man is happier and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind’ … and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of the government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology.”

The ideal absurd man depends on nothing external for his sense of equanimity. He is truly free because he realizes that nothing matters.

The gravity of the world is all in our heads. It is in how we look at the world. That’s the beauty of the absurd. It shows us that the chains we wear are of all of our own making. We can slip out of them whenever we choose.


  1. Your unwillingness to participate (in voting) set me to wondering what else 'should' the absurd man not participate in? For example does he not seek medical care when ill? Since we are all going to end up dead and our very existence is meaningless how does he approach a chronic condition/illness, say high blood pressure or diabetes? How about physical pain? Does the absurd man take medication?

  2. Hi jlsmith,

    Thanks for the comment and questions!

    Well, first we'd take issue with your use of the word "should." As we wrote:

    "Voting is as meaningless as anything else we do. It simply doesn’t matter one way or the other. An absurd man may vote, we suppose, just because he can. But we find good reasons not to vote."

    And we wrote:

    "We suppose the absurd man can enjoy the whole spectacle of politics as entertainment, but it is a mistake to impute any importance whatsoever to government and its doings."

    So, to answer your about whether or not to take medication, for example, we'd say the absurd man may do either. It doesn't matter either way.


  3. I see that my question wasn't pointed enough. It was really directed at you not some abstract 'absurd man'. Do you use medication and medical treatment for yourself. Do you try to prolong your life in any way? After all it is meaningless, is it not?

    Btw how does the absurd view of life differ from Nihilism?

  4. As to absurdism v nihilism: In brief, the absurd makes value judgments. For instance, the absurd holds life as a good. As Camus writes in The Rebel, "without life, the absurd wager would have no basis."

    So, murder, too, is unacceptable. Camus goes on to write: "From the moment that life is recognized as good, it becomes good for all men. A mind imbued with the idea of the absurd... would never accept calculated murder."

    Nihilism, as we understand it, would never accept such judgments.

    As to your questions on medicine and such... We are not trying to duck your question. (And the above holds some kernels to an answer). These are fair questions that probably deserve their own post as the answers involve some interesting ins and outs. (Of course, we have taken medicine!)


  5. It is also true that in the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus states that suicide or denial of life is as absurd as life itself. The truth is we can't escape the absurd. To be a bit existential, life only holds what meaning we give to it. I have gained a great bit of enjoyment from reading this blog for some time now, and I'll keep reading if you keep writing!

  6. Although I am far from an expert on the subject I agree with your understandably brief answer to my question regarding Nihilism. I asked thinking it might raise a broader, more interesting question (given how short the blind alley of Nihilism is) and your answer did just that. As you state "absurd makes value judgments" yet absurdism also holds that everything is meaningless. How does one make value judgments (ie murder is unacceptable) when there is no meaning? How does one render that life is 'good' or 'bad' if all is meaningless?

  7. Hello, I just happened to chance upon this blog. I think to answer jlsmith's question, the absurd man is not concerned with morals, he is in fact amoral (not necessarily immoral). Camus writes "...a man defines himself by his make-believe as well as his sincere impulses." He also believes that "All systems of morality are based on the idea that an action has consequences that legitimize or cancel it. A mind imbued with the absurd merely judges that those consequences must be considered calmly."

    I highly recommend 'The Myth of Sisyphus'. It helps elucidates the key idea of absurdism: revolt, freedom and passion.

    To end, to cherish hope in an absurd world is a fool's errand. But it enables us to live every present moment to its fullest (hence passion) because there is no future, hope, meaning.


  8. Great post. But why not have a little fun?

    Go vote.

    But don't look who you're voting for. Just make a nice design on the ballot paper.

    Go for a drive. Get a little sun. Enjoy the absurd.

  9. It's troubling to me that Absurdism claims to make value judgements and yet considers itself amoral.

    Once you open the Pandora's box of a value judgement, then all the rest of morality comes exploding out. Then you are forced to decide how to deal with it, how to define it - the essence of philosophy.