Saturday, October 31, 2015

Guest Commentary: Albert Camus

Bonsoir à tous. Albert Camus here, filling in for Thoreau just for the interim.

Sorry for the disruption, but maybe you guys haven't noticed. That'd be fitting, wouldn't it. Poor guy's out there, busting his hump on his little chain of islands, or somewhere on the Lost Continent or whatever. His last message to the world is that he's going deep into some mysterious caverns near the bottom of the world, trying to create an amazing transcontinental railway on his lonesome. His only obstacle, after the crushing loneliness and astounding geographical distances he has to cross, is an unending horde of horrifying monsters that defy rational understanding. And he says, "Back in a bit," and then we never hear from him again, and you don't even bat an eye. That's priceless. Isn't that just the way?

Well, I admire him. He's my new Sisiphean hero, en fait. He's trapped on a nearly completely alien world, with only animals and nightmare-creatures for company, he has no clue or instructions on how to return to his own world, so what does he do? Starts building an underground railway on the lowest crust of the planet.

Well, naturally. What else is there to do? In a completely absurd,  unreasonable world, how is one action any more or less reasonable than another? So you go, Thoreau, and know that I'm rooting for you.

Anyone else might take it easy, after all. You got your sunny days with intermittent rain, no snow unless you go up into the mountains and look for it. You got your fruitful garden, brimming over with all the essential carbs, vitamins and fiber your body requires, plus wild animals and fish for essential proteins and fats. You're set. All you need is a cup of coffee and a nice pipe, and you can while away many a pleasant day in this fashion. Build up a secure shelter, hole yourself up in the dark, meditate a few hours and wait for the monsters to go away each night, then head right back out with your buddy the pig and fish some magical books out of the ocean, ad infinitum. What the hell.

Or else this is a really good excuse to permanently end it, you know? "To be or not to be" is pretty well decided at this point: once you've determined the end game, it's up to you to decide whether you want to keep playing. You garden, get really good at gardening, only to do more gardening. You fight, develop your martial arts, only to keep fighting endlessly. There's no reward, there's no acknowledgement, especially not in this world he's in. You only do something because it's what needs to be done in the moment, but once you realize you're just going to keep on doing it forever, unchanging, without garnering any medals or cash prizes, then you gotta look at the world and decide whether this is right for you.

But if you can be happy with that, then you can be my hero too. If you can do the same pointless task, fully aware of its pointlessness, abandoning all hope for anything more than exactly what you're doing and exactly what you know it will yield, and be happy with that... then bravo. Bravo, my good sir. Maybe you can explain to me how you did it.

This is Thoreau's life, digging in the soil, digging in the rocks, gathering up all the sparkly-shinies he can find, in the vague hope that... huh. the vague hope that somehow it will return him home.

I guess I have to retract my previous statement. He's no Sisyphus at all. He's doing these random actions in the fulfillment of an arbitrary goal. Never mind that there's no guarantee of success at all, even he knows that. The point is, he's not just coexisting with his labors, pushing his personal rock up his personal hill. He believes, for absolutely no substantial reason, that his rock will stay perched atop his hill, and that his effort will be rewarded. He hasn't abandoned hope at all.

Let me tell you a little story-... no, scratch that. Let me revise a threadbare story for you. You know Pandora's Box? Zeus packed all the woes of the world into it, and a little girl (because girls and women are always the villains in classical literature, as related to us by old men) opens it up and releases all the horrors that plague us, like Doubt, Panic, Jealousy, Rage, etc. But the last reified concept to step out is Hope. The story spins it like Hope is the last, best defense against all the other creatures that bring misery to our lives, but if you know anything about Zeus, that's not true. Zeus saved the last, most dangerous, most crushing woe for last. Hope makes you look for anything other than who you are and where you are. Hope is the opposite of intentional living, of being present, facing reality. Hope sets you up for disappointment even worse than just accepting your situation and learning to be happy with it.

If you want a better bedtime story to keep you lukewarm at night, look up an ol' Arctic Circle legend, the origin story of Sedna. Woman after my own heart.

Pour résumer, points to Thoreau for saying a resounding "NO" to his status quo. That's rebellion, and I admire that. But laboring in the hopes of gratification from some indefinite agent? Thoreau, you're breaking my heart. Yet I guess some small part of me would like you to be right and me to be wrong.

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