Monday, March 21, 2011

The never-ending tug of war

We have not posted in some time, due not to lack of ideas, but more from a general sense that everything we consider posting, we have already said. In short, we will have some insight, then begin to develop it (either on paper or in our head), only to wind up at a conclusion we have come to before. While we recognize the value in posting such thoughts anyway--the human grasp of the absurd is nothing if not fleeting--we have nevertheless shied away from treading the same paths over and over.

However, we recently realized that rather than a random collection of absurd thoughts, our ideas have of late had a remarkably consistent theme--the never-ending tug of war between our rational and instinctive brains. Said a different way, while we strongly believe the absurd point of view, the fact is that no matter how hard we try, how many totems we own, how simple a life we may live...we simply cannot jettison our human desires and emotions. We can, of course, exert some sort of control over reactions, and we have often discussed with Inigo the fact that our "recovery time" after getting upset has improved dramatically in recent years; yet, we still get upset.

What to make of this? Should we lament the fact that we will likely never shake these human tendencies? Or alternatively, should we shrug off the absurd when it suits us (say, when we are enjoying sex, food, or quiet reflections), and invoke it in more unpleasant circumstances?

The first option is easily dismissed. After all, if nothing matters (and this we know we have said before), then it doesn't matter if we know nothing matters; similarly, to wallow in self-pity--for any reason, but in this case, for frustration at our inability to live as if nothing matters--seems the antithesis of the absurd.

The second idea is a bit more complicated. And indeed, we sometimes feel we are living in just this manner--after all, when life is good what need is there to remind ourselves it's all an illusion? But before we explore this, allow us a quick digression.

As Inigo explored in his Gone Bamboo post, it is easier to live as if nothing matters when one surrounds oneself with very little in the way of possessions, family, or obligations; it is easier to "just live" when there are few demands on one's time. Now, of course, all such demands are self-imposed; nevertheless, it is easier to sit and watch the sunset when one's children are not screaming, or the phone ringing, or one's wife asking when the in-laws can come to visit.

But while it is unquestionably easier to live the "absurd life" when one has fewer commitments, is this because such an individual finds it easier to embrace the absurd...or has less need to do so?

We had a conversation recently with a colleague who told us she "could not do her job" if she lived as if life were absurd--the implication, of course, being that she would be unable to accomplish anything if she believed it were all pointless. But this is to miss the point entirely! Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the absurd is that it actually allows one to be more productive...if one chooses to live that way. After all, when one sheds worries about the future and past, it is much easier to focus on work in the present.

To bring this full circle, the question under review is whether, since people with fewer commitments have less "need" of the absurd, it should be viewed as a "crutch"--a tool used to shrug off disappointment, but eschewed in happier times.

The answer, of course, is an emphatic NO! Indeed, to even consider such a stance would be to misunderstand the absurd on a very fundamental level, and to mistakenly conflate happiness with contentedness. The latter is also something we have discussed before, and we find it to be more and more relevant as we consider different aspects of the absurd. In this case, the mistake is in assigning a value judgment to certain sets of circumstance, when all experience is equal.

Now, we of course realize such a sentiment is easier to say than to live...and thus the title of this post. What we have come to appreciate these past few years is that this constant tug-of-war between what we think and feel is not some sort of refutation of the absurd, or an argument in favor of using the absurd to boost our happiness. Instead, it is quite simply an unavoidable consequence of being human.

You can deconstruct sex all you want--the fact is it still feels really, really good. Conversely, few if any would choose to be tortured by electric shock. The fact that we ardently believe such experiences to be equivalent (in our rational brain), does not change our visceral reaction that they are radically different and one is clearly to be preferred over the other. But to take the view that the absurd should be viewed as a tool to help ease the pain of the latter, but ignored in the former, is difficult if not impossible to defend. For to do so is to acknowledge a belief that one is indeed preferable to the other, and this is clearly incompatible with the absurd.

That's enough for today--we're headed home to a nice glass of wine. The tug-of-war continues!

1 comment:

  1. The tug of war will never end. You will never stop trying to end it. That is absurd.