What is the point? Why struggle to survive when submission to death seems more rational given the suffering? Wherein is the reward for a life of virtue and how does it compare to a life of excess? At the root of all suffering is there a profundity of ascension, enlightenment? What, then, is the meaning of life? Albert Camus inquires about the very essence of our existence, that is, our raison’d’etre, and asserts that the most “urgent of questions” and all other philosophical quandaries become ancillary.
The dilemma is that most of us are caught in making habitual “gestures” required of existence and in the process we are not conscious of the futility of life. But it is the case that the “stage sets the collapse” as the automatonic ardor grows weary in time, and ultimately, this leads to the tragedy of awakening. Camus draws on the tale of Sisyphus, who was sentenced with the eternal punishment of fruitless labor for his disobedience when the underworld had called for his return, but he defiantly clung to the warmth of life. The torture lies in the utter hopelessness of the task and the tragedy is only exposed in those rare moments when Sisyphus returns from the summit to reclaim the rock. In this moment, Camus states that by the same token of lucidity meant to translate his torture, at the same time it “crowns his victory.” That is, his realization of the task’s meaninglessness empowers him with a fate divorced from the one assigned to him by the gods. The reign of the deities at once dispelled, and Sisyphus is free even while he remains in the chains of bondage. Camus concludes, then, that Sisyphus must be [imagined happy]. He poses the central question, “is life absurd?â€ and if so, does suicide then become the most significant philosophical question for man to consider?
While his mode of logical reasoning is sound, it still is defeated by a major flaw that fails to encompass all matters of circumstance. Instead, he solely focuses on the aspect of futility and disregards the possibility for some kind of substance to emerge from man’s struggles. Camus brings to light the “daily agitation” to evince the uselessness of enduring the “mechanical life.” But in this state, he affirms is the moment of truth leading to the awakening of the consciousness of absurdity, in which we face a question that may threaten our very will to live. While it is true that daily life, especially in the modern society seems all too pointless when viewed from a grandiose perspective; it remains, however, to the satisfaction of the individual to endure such monotony and still find in it the motivation to proceed.
Perhaps the tragedy lies in the carrot that dangles in our faces and forces us to obediently chase it without question and only with pure instinct; thus, in doing so, we lose control of our destinies and ultimately become bound to a fate determined by a mastermind of sorts, from whom the carrot is projected and given its illusive nature. It seems more rational to admit that while we do sometimes succumb to the allure of life, it still remains within our own faculties to steer ourselves away from temptation and lead a sovereign life free from absolute rulership.
For this same reason, revolutions naturally take place against oppressive bodies of government because it violates the quintessential nature to be free, in thought as well as in body. If either becomes constrained, the discomfort inevitably leads to a rebellion when a certain threshold is crossed. Our struggles sometimes can be minute, trivial, and dismissed but it is the amalgamation of these that bring out of the darkness, the light of meaning.
A world of absurdity is meaningless and irrational, thereby void of intent since this implies purpose and this presupposes a deterministic warrant of justification. Camus wants to expose a life that can be lived without appeal, and asserts that the belief in the absurd qualifies the quantity of experiences to be of greater value than that of its quality. Thus, the absurd-conscious lives life to the maximum simply because he is aware of his life, his revolt, and his freedom.
Further, Camus states “where lucidity dominates, the scale of values is useless.” One can agree to the point as Camus suggests, if two men were to live the same span of life, the net quantity of living is constituted by their awareness of the finer moments within that span. This cannot be derailed; however, lucidity is not necessarily a mutually exclusive faculty since one can be aware of life’s futility yet still tether himself to a body of values as a basis for life.
This is not exactly an appeal to life, but rather a set of tools at his disposal to foil the absurd obstacles that life is to bring him. If it were not purely for survival, then in this secondary sense, man can find meaning even in the challenge itself, without the appeal of a higher destiny, as a child can endeavor to build sand castles near crashing waves without ever minding the futility of the task. They are rather engrossed only in the challenge at hand and the rest are fanciful ruminations of a distant philosopher.
This then brings into focus the question of fate. Is it a matter of men or a matter of gods? With Sisyphus, Camus is inclined to assign dominion of fate initially to the gods but when Sisyphus is awakened he expels the gods from their thrones and becomes a slave without a master, and all matters of the gods now become that of men by virtue of inheritance. It is, thus to Camus, that Sisyphus while still condemned to the same fate, is imagined to be happy because he is conscious of his tragic fate.
It seems strange that Camus arrives at such a conclusion given that, if one is conscious of his own tragedy, then he would be more disposed himself of such a fate; rather than attempt in ignorance to perpetuate his existence. Camus wants to empower Sisyphus, as with all men, dominion over his own destiny, and as such they could overtake the fate of which the gods have originally assigned. This is to say that an imagined power, something purely incorporeal in nature, could manifest and override an existing reality that is much more visceral and commanding.
This ersatz presumption of power simply is a coping mechanism for the ineptitude of man to conquer his fate, whether it is death or the eternal punishment of the gods. Realizing that one is imprisoned does no more to release one from it than a prisoner who schemes of his escape than falls into a slumber wherein he executes his fanciful machinations and succeeds; yet, detrimentally, it further seals oneâ€™s fate in an imaginary world where one is free, when in fact he is not. Moreover, it does not translate to him overpowering his captors because no matter how free he claims himself to be from a mental reference, the solidity of the prison remains unaffected and very much effective.
Why must Sisyphus be imagined happy? It is because the opposite is too hopelessly tragic to fathom and doing so may thrust one into the pandemic pit of eternal despair. Absurdity is not in the mechanisms of life itself but in the denial that such futile sufferance exists, and that one must be subjected to it.
Dao de jing
Everything is here in me. There is no joy greater than to discover creativity (cheng) in one’s person and nothing easier in striving to be authoritative in one’s conduct (ren) than committing oneself to treating others as on would oneself be treated.
Dao de jing
Cultivate it in your person,
And the character you develop will be genuine;
Cultivate it in your family,
And its character will be abundant;
Cultivate it in your village,
And its character will be enduring;
Cultivate it in the state,
And its character will be flourish;
Cultivate it in the world,
And its character will be all-pervading.