Being a human is fucking weird.
We exist in this complex, infinite universe composed of atoms and molecules that arrange themselves in such a way that beautiful galaxies, nebulae, and solar systems are able to come together and formulate our basis of perspective in regards to what it means to be alive.
We have these thoughts and feelings and emotions that seem to emanate from some intangible place inside our heads that allow us to develop a sense of continuity for our conscious perception of the world around us.
We possess an awareness of the universe that is just inclusive enough to allow us to come to understand the laws that govern it, but not nearly inclusive enough to allow us to understand what it means to seem to be the most intelligent form of life within it.
The universe is typically described as a cold, heartless void.
But if you take a second to think about it, the universe has no consciousness. The universe has no thoughts or feelings. It has no awareness of our existence, let alone an opinion on the matter.
The universe isn’t cold or heartless. It just is.
Any event that occurs within the universe outside of human interaction that we might deem cold or heartless is merely the result of some scientific process taking place with a perceived negative outcome. A meaning that we assigned to it.
Because, as humans, we have a tendency to assign meaning to things. We like to believe that our lives have meaning and we are all acting within the mechanisms of some greater purpose.
But the fact that we spend our days searching for meaning yet we are perpetually unable to find any, just as all of the other humans who have existed before us have done, is absurd.
In fact, philosophers believe this line of thinking to be so inextricably linked to the human condition, that they have actually named this phenomenon The Absurd.
Basically, The Absurd is the desire we have to uncover meaning within our lives coupled with the contradiction that despite our efforts and beliefs, we are unable to find any evidence of life’s inherent value.
Imagine if I told you that I knew in my heart of hearts that unicorns were real. I spend my days searching all over for just one unicorn to justify my beliefs. Even though all of my vigorous attempts to uncover some shred of evidence result in nothing, I hold fast to the notion that unicorns exist because I cannot fathom a world in which they don’t.
I hope you would tell me “that’s absurd.”
Because it is. Unicorns don’t exist. And neither does inherent meaning.
Regardless of the worldview you have adopted that allows you to be a functioning member of society, I am sure that you are still well aware of that little voice in your head you’ve spent your entire life trying to repress as it chips in with little diddies like, “What’s the point? We’re all just gonna die someday anyway!” or “Might as well just lay in bed and watch Netflix all day cause nobody likes you and your life has no purpose!”
Man, our stream of consciousness can be a dick sometimes.
But the point I’m making is that if our lives actually had any meaning, we wouldn’t spend so much of our time still looking for it. The fact that we are deciding what has meaning should be evidence enough. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
I know this isn’t something most people want to readily accept. It does our egos wonders to know that we matter, that our existence is important or it means something.
But we all come to face this dilemma at some point in our lives and the way we cope with it shapes who we are as people. Let’s take a look at some possible responses to the problem of absurdity.
Solution #1: Faith
The first solution to the Absurdity Dilemma is the reliance on some type of faith, whether it be through religion, spirituality, or the belief in metaphysical transcendence, beings, or realms.
The logic here is that while our universe in and of itself may not contain meaning, we need to see it as a part of a larger framework to fully understand who we are and why we exist.
The majority of people in the Western world place their faith in the Abrahamic God at the apex of the Christian religion, as well as the hopeful transcendence to heaven upon Earthly death.
Christians, and many other theists alike, derive the meaning of their life through their relationship with God. Life has meaning because God created us in his image and placed us here on Earth to fulfill some set of tasks so that we can later be accepted into heaven.
Of course I’m paraphrasing here, but for a lot of people, this model of overcoming Absurdity is quite popular. In fact, I think many Christians retain such a large amount of faith that even the very notion of the Absurd is absurd to them.
To say that our lives have no meaning within this framework is blasphemy.
But let’s think about this for a second.
A reliance on faith is just a form of philosophical suicide. By placing your faith in something which you have no evidence for, and rejecting the Absurdity of our existence, you are essentially cutting yourself off from rational and logical thought and outright disavowing philosophy as a whole.
This is similar to when you are faced with a problem that you are unsure how to solve. Your answer, then, is to fiddle with the definition of the problem until you are able to provide a “solution.” But this doesn’t solve the problem, it just creates a fruitless loophole. I know we’ve all been there, but hopefully you come to realize that skirting around the problem and actually solving it are two separate things.
Philosophy poses questions that may never be answered. Religion gives us answers that may never be questioned.
Relying on faith in this regard is simply a denial of the existence of the Absurd and a suicide of any intellectualism you may have been able to express.
It’s escapism. Instead of accepting the potential despair that comes with a life that contains no inherent meaning, faith provides a scapegoat, an unfounded promise that meaning exists on some other inexplicable realm.
In response to people’s preference for philosophical suicide over a universal truth, Absurdist philosopher Albert Camus commented, “Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”
So faith doesn’t provide us with a solution, it provides us with an unjustified ultimatum. Therefore, faith is not a viable solution. Next?
Solution #2: End It All
The second solution to the Absurdity Dilemma is literal suicide.
As an immediate disclaimer, I do not recommend anyone actually do this, as it isn’t a real solution, but a cop out. Please don’t kill yourself.
With faith, you are essentially killing the rational part of your mind to justify beliefs you have no evidence for.
But with literal suicide, you are acknowledging the existence of the Absurd and deciding that it is not a conundrum you want to coexist with.
Sociologist Emile Durkheim was the first person to propose that the leading cause of suicide is a lack of primary relationships with other human beings. In reference to what you’re reading about today, people who feel that their life has no meaning are people who often place the meaning of their lives in the people around them.
We all do this, but this is a mistake for a few reasons.
First, by placing the inherent value of your life in external factors, you are relinquishing any control you have over your life. We can allow our lives to be enriched by external factors around us, but we need to be able to maintain an understanding of what it means to possess our own consciousness and derive meaning from the way we interact with the world around us.
Second, if we tell ourselves that we are nothing more than the summation of the people we surround ourselves with, then we ultimately aren’t anybody. None of us would be. We can’t all consist of averages. Some kernel of personal identity or consciousness has to remain prevalent over time.
Existentialism, which is a parent philosophy to Absurdism in some regards, is the idea that the world has no inherent meaning, but that we as humans are able to assign meaning to our actions and interactions, or that we can even derive meaning from the pursuit of meaning.
The world might not possess any universal inherent meaning, but as the arbiters of our own worlds, we are able to assign relevancy to the things that are most important to us.
We have to understand that the assigned meaning is essentially meaning-less, as we do not have the cosmic power to instill inherent purpose to anyone or anything, but we are certainly free to decide what or who in our lives are most important or relevant and extrapolate meaning from there.
If we look at a lack of meaning in this regard, we can clearly see that suicide is merely a refusal to put forth the effort to derive meaning from a meaningless world.
Let me be clear: I am not trying to denigrate the complex thoughts and emotions that must drive someone to suicide, and I am well aware that there are many other nuances regarding the issue that I am simply ignorant of.
The main point to be taken away here is that suicide is not a real solution to the problem of Absurdity; it is nothing more than an escape hatch from a world that was absurdly thought to contain something it never had the potential to possess.
In some regards, suicide is itself absurd. We often look at suicide as the ultimate act of freedom; a person relying solely on their own personal will to make the incredible decision to end their life.
This may have some value, but isn’t suicide also a rejection of freedom? Isn’t there also a statement being made that, yes, while you are free to kill yourself because of any one or more negative factors in your life, at the same time, you are rejecting the freedom you possess to alter and change the world around you, or to derive your own meaning from the world?
Albert Camus put it best when he said, “The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions … and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the ‘divine irresponsibility’ of the condemned man.”
So if killing yourself philosophically doesn’t solve the Problem of Absurdity, and killing yourself physically doesn’t solve the Problem of Absurdity, then how do we fucking solve the Problem of Absurdity?
Solution #3: Embrace It
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?
In most cases, no.
But in this case, I don’t think we have much of a choice.
The only viable solution to the Absurdity Dilemma is to first accept the existence of the Absurd. Accept that we all exist in a meaningless vacuum and that our continual hardwired attempts to find meaning are futile. Accept that none of your actions, thoughts, opinions, or ambitions mean dick to the universe, and your life in the grand scheme of things, is about as valuable as Confederate money at the end of the Civil War.
It is at this point that Absurdism takes a separate path from its other philosophical counterparts Existentialism and Nihilism.
While Absurdists permit the introduction of meaning or value to life in the same way as Existentialists, Absurdists are skeptical of the value of value in the grand scheme of things. Some Existentialist philosophers hide behind their Existential title as a means to come to grips with the Absurd, but in constructing their own value system for the world, Existentialists are still committing a form of philosophical suicide because they are finding a way to cope with the Absurd instead of accepting it.
Nihilists, on the other hand, are like the Droopy Dogs of Existentialism. In response to the idea of the Absurd, Nihilists simply believe that there is no point in searching or assigning meaning, because there is none to be made or found. While Absurdists are merely skeptical of the value of value, Nihilists outright deny the value of value. For Nihilists, all value is meaningless. Thus, there is no reason to face the Absurd because it wouldn’t mean anything to do so.
This is why it becomes all the more important to face the Absurd, internalize its existence, and revel in the disharmony between the meaningless world and your individual freedom to create meaning anyway.
How does one do this exactly? Well, you have to follow the three tenets of Absurdism: Revolt, Freedom, and Passion.
You must Revolt against the tendency to look away from or escape the Absurd. Face it head on and disallow it to conquer you. Bask in your ability rebel against the forces that would otherwise cause you to end your meaningless life. You know the world has no meaning, but you look for it and assign it anyway. Fuck the po-lice.
You must remain Free from the tethers of systems and institutions that attempt to mitigate the power of the Absurd. Do not be distracted by it. Do not deny its existence. Do not hide behind a worldview that permits the dilution of the power of the Absurd. Influence the world and decide what is important to you.
Last, you must live with Passion. Experience life to the fullest. Do not allow the constant state of disharmony we live in affect your ability to assign and derive meaning. Do not rely on hope, but do not lose sight of the Absurd. Embrace it and incorporate it into your life with a fervor more intense than any other aspect of your sentience is able to perceive.
I know this is all probably a lot to swallow. Life can seem pretty bleak when you strip away all of the bullshit, but at least you now have a foundation from which you can begin to build yourself back up, absent of any bullshit.
You can decide what your life consists of. What’s important and what’s not. What’s worth your time and what you could give two shits about. Who is worth having in your life and who can hit the curb.
In embracing Absurdity, you are able to bask in the greatest amount of personal freedom, as you aren’t tethered to the doctrines of a constraining philosophy, or, perhaps worse, ending your life because of its overwhelming existential implications.
And you’re probably thinking ‘But wait, Mark, I read this entire stupid article so I could learn the meaning of life and all you’ve done is crush my hopes and dreams.’
My first response to that would be poo on you for thinking you could discover the meaning of life from some blog post written on the internet.
Second, if your biggest takeaway from all of this is that you feel sad or upset or that I crushed your hopes and dreams, then you don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the Absurd, and I would recommend you re-read the article or consult some outside sources to gain a better understanding of the concept.
Third, I would like to draw a relevant analogy to an important piece of pop culture to help you understand exactly what role meaning should play in your life, at least for those of you who can only conceive of concepts via analogies.
The meaning of life is like the formation of Harry’s patronus from The Prisoner of Azkaban. Remember the scene where the dementors are descending over Sirius at the lake? The first time Harry experiences this, he notices a large patronus coming to save him just before he passes out from the dementors.
In answering what the meaning of that action was, he eventually assigns the responsibility of the patronus to his father, who he assumes was somehow able to save him and Sirius from imminent death.
Later, after a few magical shenanigans and some time travel, Harry ends up back at the lake, now watching the dementors descend on Sirius and his past self. Harry tells Hermione to watch a specific spot where his father will appear.
The two wait, but Harry’s father never shows. Quickly, Harry realizes that his initial assumption was absurd. His father wasn’t going to appear to save him; his father was dead.
If Harry wanted Sirius and his past self to be saved, he was the one who was going to have to act.
So Harry eventually stepped up, conjured a full patronus, and fulfilled his temporal duty.
The meaning of life then is the realization that any meaning you think life contains is in fact meaningless. This analogy, even, which is attempting to distil meaning from life, is also meaningless. The only meaning you can derive is the fact that there is none to be found, which is, of course, a contradiction.
I know that sounds like a non-answer, and you wanted all of your life’s problems to be solved by this article and wrapped up in a neat little bow, but that’s not the way the world works. That’s not the point of Absurdity.
So go forth. Live your life. Make peace with your insignificance and then deny its presence anyway.
Meaning, schmeaning, am I right?