I don’t believe in horoscopes, but from today I might (a bit). I had been thinking in the morning about what relevance studying, learning, reading about and writing about philosophy has to actual real life, to social interaction and relationships and friendships (and whether it has any). And today was also the deadline of The New Philosopher Essay Contest (on the subject of ‘Life’), which I left it to, at the last moment, to write my entry for (it’s below).
And this was the entry for my star sign in the weekly horoscope on The Onion, which came out today Australian time:
On the other hand there is a silly arrogance in continuing to disdain something and to condemn it as false just because it seems unlikely to us. That is a common vice among those who think their capacities are above the ordinary.
– Michel de Montaigne
So, like I said, I don’t believe in horoscopes. But I’m open. If someone wants to talk to me about it, and it’s something that makes them feel good… well, we can’t really prove –or more importantly disprove– horoscopes, but then also maybe at the time, geocentricism was not able to be disproved either. Ditto chemistry. So who knows, but as Montaigne says:
If we understood the difference between what is impossible and what is unusual, or what is against the order of the course of Nature and what is against the common opinion of mankind, then the way to observe that rule laid down by Chilo, Nothing to Excess, would be, Not to believe too rashly: not to disbelieve too easily.
And this is what else Montaigne was about:
The Absurd Meaning of Life
by Dave Martin
Yes, life can be chaotic. And yes, the major decisions in life can be difficult (or impossible) to get right. And nature is unpredictable, and even though we came from it, we still try to work it all out. And also, we know nothing about death, and we cannot know about it since there hasn’t been a single person who’s done it and lived to tell the story (assuming clinical death is not the same experience as biological death). Yet we still fear it. How can the inevitability of something we have no confirmed knowledge of drive most –if not all– of our life choices?
All of this is absurd. But it’s in the absurdities of our lives that we can find the joy of being alive. In everything you do, you are alive. It’s something that for billions of years before you were born, you didn’t get to do (live), and for billions of years after you’re gone, you won’t get to either. In relation to the existence of the universe, your life’s duration is just one blink of an eye. You are a living organism for an absurdly short amount of time.
There’s a scene in the romance drama The Last Kiss, where four friends are discussing their lives and the fact that three of them are unhappy with their lot (their jobs, relationships, identity etc.) Their solution? They decide to up and leave and hit the road on an adventure with no final destination. The one guy out of the four who’s happy (Izzy), lives an honest life of freedom, and one in which he rebels against the absurdities of human life. When one of his (unhappy) friends tries to guilt him into coming, by judging him for the fact that the most exciting thing he ever does is go ice-fishing, he responds in true Camusian rebellious fashion. “The thing you don’t get is,” he says, “is that I like ice fishing.” And he’d be happy doing it for the rest of his life.
In Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, Sisyphus is punished for his crimes and is sentenced to push a boulder up a hill, over and over, for eternity. But despite being eternally condemned to such an oppressive, monotonous and arduous life, as Camus says, ‘We must imagine him happy.’
When distractions, choice, ambition, or the pursuit of immortality through legacy (whether or not out of a fear of not being remembered) are removed, we can focus on the one task we’ve been given the privilege of doing: living.
It’s not that Sisyphus has to push the boulder up the mountain, he gets to. The list of possible alternatives and choices (about what to do) have been narrowed to one, so why not put everything into it? If you’re reading this, you are alive. So during the thing you’re lucky to have –life– you can choose to be happy during whatever you do in the process of it.
What do you think is the point of life? There’s a range of existential approaches to the question, that range from guys like Schopenhauer saying that life is nothing but tragic misery, to guys like Kierkegaard saying that we live and die, but God (or more, our hope and faith in Him) will help us find meaning. There’s also a bunch of philosophies in between those two, and somewhere in there, lies Camus’ (just don’t call him an existentialist). And it’s something that could possibly be described as Optimistic Nihilism.
Camus, who much like his character Meursault in The Outsider, believes that once we open ourselves up to the ‘benign indifference of the universe’, we can then understand that yes, we live and die, and yes the universe doesn’t care about us, but during that time there is great joy to seek out and experience. So many interesting people to meet, experiences to have, conversations to engage in, and good coffee to have.
So yes, maybe life has no objective meaning for us. But it’s us that give it meaning individually. And the embrace of nothingness, the universe’s indifference to us, and the sheer incomprehensible quantity of living organisms that lived for billions of years before us, and the number that will live for however many years after us, is all the more reason to enjoy it. In this moment right now.
In an episode of Mad Men, Don Draper says, ‘ Happiness is the moment before you need more happiness’. Well, goals are the same.
What exactly are goals? Are they not the thing you aim for before we go for our next goal? And then our next? And then our next? At what point are we enjoying possibly the only real moment that exists (this one now), as opposed to the one that never does (the future)?
I have no ambition. I study philosophy at university and I teach ESL. My goal is to study philosophy and to teach ESL. And okay, so it’d be great to wake up tomorrow, and life is the most important thing to me, but living every day with the thought, “If this actually is my last day on earth, would I be glad if I did this thing I’m about to do?” leads us to be able to address the next question: “If it did end tomorrow (or even later today), would I be okay with what my life was and how I lived it?”
It’s possible Camus would say goals are an absurd attempt to shape the world (and nature) to fulfil our own objectives, and they are anything but opening ourselves up to ‘the benign indifference of the universe.’
The universe doesn’t care about you. It does what it wants. Wild weather, natural disasters, it doesn’t concern itself one bit with whether you like it or not. But neither does it care about anyone else. So not only is this all the more reason to realise that you are just part of nature, it also shows that you have no control over it.
Aspiring for goals, and more goals, and then another goal, and another goal after that, and then maybe six more goals, and then another goal after that until eventually your life clock stops ticking, in Camus’ eyes may be attempting to achieve Godliness –to control the universe. And that no matter what the universe does, even though we are mortal, having goals are our hopeful and vain attempt to reach immortality for eternity.
But as mortal beings, our time always runs out. And if you’re always spending this moment, and this one, and now this one (and so on) chasing goals, when are you ever actually just present in the current moment?
Life is just a series of ‘nows’. There’s this ‘now’, and now this ‘now’. In Witness of Decline, Lev Braun writes that “it’s not that life is absurd in itself, it only appears so to man”. It’s the conversations, the experiences and maybe even the coffee that make this absurd life a life worth living.