Have you ever felt powerless? Like you’re living in a world you have absolutely no control over? A world that, despite your best intentions, always comes back to hurt you and makes you feel like something lesser? Albert Camus calls this the Absurd. It is only by fighting this force that society will learn to see the value in life. By joining forces to fight the Absurd, humanity might see peace.
Understanding the Absurd
In The Absurd, Camus argues for its existence. The word “Absurd” is used to refer to the constant struggle of humanity against chaos, finding meaning and the incapability of finding meaning. The end goal of life is to embrace this truth and yet still defy it. It’s unclear whether or not value exists in fighting the absurd. This leads to questioning the process of trying to find meaning. Since it cannot be reached, why would one bother trying? The answer has to do with the chaos of the universe.
It’s possible that value exists in individuals, but that it has yet to be uncovered or understood. Due to the personal nature of the lives of individuals, only that one, specific person can truly see whether or not the life given was worth living. This is where things get interesting: only the individual has the ability to judge the worth of his life, as he knows himself best, but he must know himself entirely.
This means the individual must have lived his entire life from start to finish. Of course, if he has already lived his life, he will never be able to accurately measure its value! Imagine taking a picture of a mountain range, but accidentally leaving your finger in the way. Even when you look back at the picture, you will never be able to understand the whole of it. There will always be something missing, no matter how little of the picture is obscured. As long we have life to live and air to breathe, we still have hope.
A Primer on Nihilism
The philosophical idea of Nihilism is much different than that of Absurdists. In Nihilist thought there is absolutely no meaning or value in life, ever. Nihilists believe nothing matters, because, well, everything will eventually come to an end. If attempts to find meaning are viewed as meaningless, what kind of future could we possibly have? This is where the Nihilist thought process really falls apart. No one can really believe life has no value. Even as the Nihilist argues life has no value and repeatedly tells himself thus, he contradicts himself! Who is he trying to convince and why? The Nihilist is trying to convince someone: and, whether that someone be another, or himself, the action shows that the individual values something.
It is as if Nihilism is on the other side of a mirror. We can study it, but we can not ever interact with it. A depressed person might be able to convince himself he is a Nihilist, and an extremely analytical thinker may be able to make decisions without considering value, but at the end of the day everyone still values something.
Comparison of Beliefs to the Real World
If Nihilism is true then the world exists without value or meaning and reason is considered to be but straw, according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Most humans have the ability to use reason. This ability, sometimes called common sense, allows mankind to analyze a situation, for instance, a survival situation, and find the best course of action. The best action to take is often seen as the one which holds the most weight on whether one will survive the scenario or not. This very ability obviously points to reason in the human mind, as well as a sense of value all are born with. It is common sense that food is worth more to a starving man than dirt, and, as hinted in above paragraphs, it is possible to speculate about value in accordance to the life of an individual. To further this point, I’d like you to imagine a heroic warrior such as Aeneas or George Washington. A man like one of these is usually seen as being more virtuous or valuable to society than Adolf Hitler. Why do our minds work this way? Because they were built for analyzing value! According to this thought process there is value to at least some extent, which completely offsets the Nihilistic argument that there is no value or meaning in anything.
The absurd can have two effects on the world. First, it can draw one to pursue more quality experiences or do extraordinary things against all odds in order to defy the decay (thus overcoming it). The second effect is how it can also make an experience seem worthless, as the absurd still has a hold on the individual, because it can never be totally defeated. Have you ever heard of Existentialism? According to the philosophical ideas of existentialism, all experiences have value, as the individual living them is discovering himself; nothing is without value. Every little thing influences who you become.
Remember: with the absurd, nothing in this life has value, except for rebellion against the absurd, and even when spent in this way one’s value can only be speculated on. This idea is actually quite radical in comparison to both existentialism and nihilism. Existentialists hold that one learns (value) about himself as he lives; nihilism argues that one can not truly have anything (value) because when one’s life ends there can no longer be any perceived value. This is where absurd ideology really branches out from the normal. Whether or not an individual believes in an afterlife he can still find value; he leaves it in the world of the living even after he has died. During the individual’s life he finds value in his rebellion. Then, only by leaving his value and hope for others behind, empowering more people to continue the fight against the Absurd, that true value can be achieved.
How Society May Still Benefit From the Absurd
Today society is extremely divided as different religions and schools of thought disagree on various topics. Each attempts to fight the absurd, chaotic world, but ends up wasting precious time in fighting the others. Young people must lay aside their prejudices and work together to fight the absurd; to establish a sanctuary for finding value in our world. The debate that fuels most of the world’s fiery tensions is religion. It is only by giving people of all ideas and backgrounds a common goal that they may eventually learn to engage politely in common discourse. This is where fighting the Absurd comes into play.
Fighting against the chaos of the world and making order of the very little each person may control is the only true, lasting valuable impact one can place in this world, according to Camus’ idea of the absurd. It is because of this that the idea of unity discussed above should be agreeable to people of every religion. Atheists concerned with finding value in their very temporary lives; Christians hoping to improve their communities and do good in the eyes of God; and even those who believe in doctrines like reincarnation with rewards based on deeds can find solace and common ground in fighting the absurd. The only real problem standing in the way of this goal is that of practical application. Not everyone is willing to lay aside their prejudices against or hatred for certain religions. It is extremely unlikely that such a consensus could ever be reached.
This is the way of the world, but it doesn’t have to be our way. Rein in your own piece of the Absurd, and encourage others to do the same. Fight the chaos. Every little bit counts.