Monday, January 31, 2011
The Importance of Not Caring
One of the more consistent objections we hear to the absurd is that it is simply an easy way to shield oneself from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune"--a "get out of jail free" card, if you will, utilized to avoid dealing with the uncertainties and disappointments of life. We have some sympathy for this view inasmuch as there are, without question, people who use the concept of the absurd to justify whatever actions they so choose. (Indeed, one of the more interesting questions with regard to the absurd has always been its seemingly contradictory stance on murder--if nothing matters, it seems odd to say murder is "wrong," and yet Camus famously rejected this interpretation. We'll come back to this later.) However, to use such an argument against the absurd itself is akin to those who object to libertarianism because "it's just a way to justify doing whatever you want." As with the absurd, the fact that some may misinterpret/misuse something is unrelated to whether the underlying theory is, in fact, sound.
What is perhaps most interesting about these discussions is that our interlocutors almost invariably feel themselves on the moral high ground; we, they feel, are attempting to shirk some kind of moral duty (to family, society, country, etc.) through a shady shortcut, whereas they are standing up for things that are good and "right" (ie, things that "matter"). If, for example, we shrug off a disappointment for a child, we are sure to be accused of "not caring," being "insensitive," or, our personal favorite, "not getting it," with "it" being anything from an understanding of the current difficulty, to how this ailment will surely impact the child's happiness not only today, but tomorrow, next week, and some 30 years hence.
So...let's drill down on this a bit. The objection to our lack of "caring" in these circumstances is...what? Why, exactly, should our lack of concern be upsetting to others? Well, you say, because it indicates a lack of empathy, a certain coarseness--a detachment, perhaps, from the world around us and others in it. Hmm...detachment...
We do not, we should say, have an answer for why such actions bother others as they do. Perhaps it is offputting because it upsets their established worldview (namely, that people should, and generally do, care about such things), or perhaps it creates anxiety in them since they realize, at some level, that their own "caring" is simply a biologically-driven ruse. There was an outstanding exchange in an episode of the television show House where the patient (an environmental activist) was arguing with his wife about why he should care more about the welfare of his son than that of other people. In essence, he was arguing that neglecting his son was justified because he would do more good for a greater number of people through his activism. "Why should I care more about him just because he's biologically related to me?" he asked, to which his wife replied: "Because he's your son!"
We would bet 90-some percent of the viewing audience sided with the wife, even though there is, of course, no legitimate basis for this stance. (When we mentioned to our wife that he had a point, she looked at us crosswise and said nothing.) In fact, it is just this kind of irrational behavior that causes untold misery and suffering in the world--the mistaken belief that we should care more about certain things than others. To preempt the obvious rejoinder, we are not saying you should not care, but that you should not discriminate in your caring, a far different thing.
Indeed, this brings us back to the issue of murder mentioned earlier. As noted, we are often accused of using the absurd to justify violent behavior--after all, if nothing matters, then why shouldn't I go on a shooting rampage? Isn't that just as meaningless as anything else? But this is to misdiagnose the issue. Instead, the question is why you would murder in the first place. If nothing matters, then why go to the effort of taking another's life? In fact, the only "justification" would be that to kill another is somehow good for you (or someone you "care" about). Once the caring--or, said a different way, the stratification of persons based on biology and proximity--is removed from the equation, so is any basis for violence. Think about it...
Everything we think "exists" is nothing more than an abstraction--our own personal interpretation of a temporary arrangement of atoms. Nothing is any more or less consequential than anything else--all is mere physical matter, pausing in its infinite whirling dance to give the illusion of stars, planets...and "intelligent life." The concept of "caring," meanwhile, has been hard-wired into us both biologically and culturally to such an extraordinary degree that we rarely, if ever, even countenance a challenge to its legitimacy. And yet, far from being the life-affirming, soul-nurturing activity most believe it to be, the selective caring practiced by the vast majority of humans is not only a mere biological instinct evolved to further the propagation of our genes, but is responsible for the vast majority of human suffering--past, present, and future.
Posted by . at 1:30 PM