Absurd Experiences

2016-07-03 • life philosophy

This is based off a response to the question:

Describe a situation in which you have had an experience of the sort that Camus describes as experiences of “the Absurd.”.

I was that kid who would keep asking “why?” to every statement over and over again until someone told me to shut up. After ten or so “why?”s it's hard for anyone, sans an existential philosopher, to provide a satisfactory answer. Most questions such as “why do I have to go to school?” led to “you need to get a good job to get money to have a house and be fed” and the discussion would usually end there since ten year old me recognized the intrinsic importance of being fed under a roof. However, if I was feeling especially annoying, I would go into the “why do I have to be fed, why can't I just die?” questions, which no one had a satisfactory answer for.

One absurd experience I've had was very late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, trying to finish some useless Operating Systems assignment. Like Camus describes, I was taken out of my immersion in the absurd, and began to reflect on the ridiculousness of what I was doing. I was creating a shitty, bug-ridden, operating system. The only system that would ever run KarthikOS would be an autograder that ran various tests on a virtual machine. This absurd dance of software would make progress towards me getting points in a class that would make progress towards obtaining a degree that would make progress towards getting a 9-5 software engineering job at which the pinnacle of my career might be adding a scrollbar to some website that simplifies Christmas tree purchases. I could then work 8 hours a day on this website to make enough money to live in a bougie apartment, travel occasionally, get drunk on weekends, sit in an comfortable EZ chair playing sudoku for the last 20 or so years of my life, and then die. All these complicated, ridiculous actions to occupy time until I died. Elementary school me would have “why?”'d the shit out of me, and I would have disappointed him with my answers.

I do all these absurd things with the end goal of living happily and occupying time. We fill our life with endorphin boosting activities to stay happy and satiated until we die, which is actually fine with me, and seems to be fine with Camus too. There's nothing inherently wrong with creating scrollbars for christms.io or playing soduku. I enjoy playing video games, going to parties, and drinking overpriced coffee in bougie cafes. People often make a logical leap from meaninglessness to despair, but I take the Myth of Sisyphus to point out this fallacy.

On the Road's Rollo Greb (Alen Ansen) and The Picture of Dorian Gray's Lord Henry are perfect embodiments of the happy Sisyphus. Rollo Greb is passionately absorbed in every moment of his life, rendered speechless by the beauty of everyday life. He doesn't have a end goal or life mission he works towards; he stays in the present, taking in every iota whatever scene is in front of him, whether it be the road out ahead of him or some average library. This is the main idea of a lot of mindfulness teachings: if we do not worry about the future or regret the past, we will constantly live in a state of bliss. Lord Henry, though at first glance very different from Greb, is another example of a man who treats life as an aesthetic experience-- never worrying and unwaveringly satisfied. To him, existence is simply a captivating play; we should sit back and contemplate its intricacies. Though Lord Henry may be seen as an antagonist in The Picture of Dorian Gray, I believe his unique view on life is valuable, and a step towards happiness in the face of meaninglessness. Maybe if I focus harder on my computer science assignments I can extract beauty from re-proving graph isomorphism is NP-Complete.

The easiest response to "why should I continue living a meaningless life?" is "why not?". Why should Rollo Greb kill himself if he lives in a constant state of ecstasy? Why does Lord Henry need a purpose if he is always content? If Sisyphus is blissful pushing the bouldering up the mountain day in and day out, who can say that his life is not worth living?