Existential Freedom: Albert Camus

Camus wrote the Myth of Sisyphus as an essay on the relationship between individual thought and suicide as a solution to the absurd (6). Camus used the Greek myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor for life and the seeming absurdity of living. Understanding Camus conception of absurdity is necessary for grasping the role of freedom in human existence.

According to Camus, absurdity can be found to occur anywhere, on street corners or in revolving doors. (12) It strikes in moments throughout a man’s life when the uniformity and routine of existence—the habituations of thought and regularities of action—are broken and man seeks to reconnect and repair them again (12). Camus says that “before encountering the absurd, every man lives with aims, a concern for the future or for justification (with regard to whom or what is not the question).” (57)

Absurdity arises when the inference of reason reveals itself to be wholly dependent on cognitive activity alone, the sole work of consciousness. In this event inference ceases to follow from the nauseating compulsion of objective necessities and the world readjusts itself as a relative, subjective condition of man. Camus says that “A man’s failures imply judgment, not of circumstances, but of himself.” (69) Inference positions itself as alien to the world from which we attribute it (21). When man posits the question ‘why?’ and weariness sets it, he reveals the lack of inference in his mechanical routines, and elucidates an impulse of consciousness. (13) This consciousness either dissipates as man falls back into his life’s motifs, or he realizes, through an awakening, that inference is a device imparted to the mind, rather than a process inherent to the world. Camus says man comes to terms with this awakening by embracing suicide or recovery. (13)

Camus holds that life is indeed meaningless, full of contradictions and confusion, and has no inherent values other than those that we create. He entreats, however, asking “In the face of such contradictions and obscurities must we conclude that there is no relationship between the opinion one has about life and the act one commits to leave it?” (7,8) Certainly not. Rather accepting the futility of our world as an excuse for suicide, and rather than accepting the leap of faith that religion calls for, Camus proposes that we consciously accept the futility moment by moment by revolting with freedom and passion (64). In this way living is keeping the absurd alive, retaining the possibility of happiness and meaning in moments in between, whereas suicide would negate the very absurdity and possibility that established it. (6, 54) According to Camus, revolt as “the constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity” is one of the few acceptable philosophical positions. It means we must “challenge the world at every second” (54). This revolt is defiance, an exercise of freedom, which intensifies life’s value maximally in a way that no other ideological thinking can guarantee (55).

Camus paints three extreme portraits of absurd lifestyles given the form of the lover, the actors, and the conqueror (90). While there is nothing exclusive about these lifestyles they provide a caricature of the absurdity as a joy of living creatively. Inasmuch as life is absurd, life is creation (94). “To think is first of all to create a world” Camus says. Through creation man manifests ends and aims and realities so that just as an artist “commits himself and becomes himself in his work”, a creative being commits himself and becomes himself in the tasks he lovingly chooses for himself (97). Intelligence must refuse to reason the concrete, concluding that “expression begins where thought ends” (99).  According to Camus, gratuitousness is a hallmark of the absurd life and a life with hope: with no revolt or divorce from illusions, there is no gratuitousness. What is necessary then is this constant passionate detachment (102).

Works Cited

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. New York: Vintage International, 1991.

On Selfishness, Values, Creativity, Death

There is no selfless act. Though you die for values and ideals, they are nonetheless yours and yours alone, subjective and independent of external facts and realities. Insofar as self-preservation is the prerogative of all life, the preservation of ideals and values is the prerogative of the human consciousness.

But what of love? some may say. Love is a selfish conception. If it is not predicated as a pleasure or passion, it is predicated as a subjective concept projected onto the world to characterize a type of relationship. To die for another is to die for your ideals and values, not the subjective values of others. The act of dying for another or another’s values is embedded with subjective valuations. Camus said that what man believes to be true must determine his action.

Echoing Nietzsche in his essay On Truth and Lies in the Non-moral Sense, truth is a metaphorical representation that is coined from an originally subjective perception of experience and passed on as an objective fact of experience. Though it may be passed on as objective, its application in life through experience is nonetheless a subjective assertion. Insofar as we exist before we perceive the world, all that is conceivable and doable is a sui generis selfish act, whether it’s to preserve the well being of the body or preserve the conceptions of the mind.

But what of martyrs or saints? others will say. Are not these selfless acts of death or denial? I would reply that they are no more selfless than suicide or any other act that preserves a subjectively possessed belief or ideal.

The only selfless acts are those selfish deeds which indirectly and consequently improve upon the lives of others so that they must do the same when taken to denouement. That is, selfless acts are no more selfish than any other act, only that their corollary influences others to perform actions which empower others to empower others.

In this way one may pursue the ideal of freedom selfishly but in doing so he not only apprehends freedom personally, but apprehends this freedom for others as well. Likewise it is with equality, so that by cherishing equality for selfish motives he secures equality for all. What must be preserved in these acts is an inherent method of propagating the power of others to do the same.

Creativity must not be confused as being exclusively devoted to the arts. Creativity is the ability to stipulate something from nothing, to instantiate new conceptions according to new or existing demands. The constructive value to life inherent in creativity also contains an equally threatening detriment to life. By their very nature new and original conceptions destroy uniformity, disrupt equilibrium and threaten the familiar. The foreign and alien, the new and novel, have no place in circular systems. Circular systems arise from habits formalized as convention, routine, pattern, method and the like. They allow predictability and consistency and uniformity. Their adoption requires a suspension of familiarity so that a leap of faith is required for their assimilation. In many cases the familiar must not only be amended, but totally destroyed and annihilated to sufficiently accommodate change. In this way change requires adaptation, an alteration of existing units and relations within a system.

These systems may represent cultural practices, or histories, or traditions or rationale. One must not rely on the past to sufficiently guide and navigate the future. So long as there is time, there is change, and all change must be embraced accordingly. Negating the existence of changes is the source of all problems. If life is an activity characterized by growth, problems are a natural phenomenon and must be welcomed as such. But what is growth if it is not life? And what is life if not a continual pursuit of preservation? To preserve the past is to celebrate death; but this is precisely the natural character of humans. Nietzsche said “Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.” As with all things living, it is human nature to preserve the self, to struggle to exist, but the rarity arises in man’s specialized ability to preserve. This ability resides in the act of perpetuating equilibrium through adaptation, through the creative employment of reason and imagination to adjust to changes. Non-living matter can be said to be in the greatest equilibrium of all.

But this is where man diverges from other life. It is not enough to maintain equilibrium. Man contains a will to create equilibrium where there is not, to dominate his surroundings in an effort to project an ultimate equilibrium that renders a congruency between the inner life of the self and his environment. This is why Nietzsche dismissed the Darwinian notions of struggle for existence in favor of the will to power which more accurately reflects the nature of man. Evidence of the will to power becomes obvious when we turn to the modern day manifestations of man and witness artificial disequilibrium instantiated as civilization and technologies. Going far beyond all the past pursuits of life that merely sought to preserve corporeal existence, man has successfully learned to preserve the inner self. He has fully exercised his freedom to impress his inner world onto the outer world, to fashion it according to his liking.

Leaders are creators who operate to conjure and implement new realities and visions that accommodate real or perceived changes. While leaders can be oppressive in this way, they can be, more importantly, liberators who sow new realities and ideas that empower others. The difference lies in the values contained in the given vision and whether or not these values empower others to empower themselves to empower others.

Doctored.

I visited the doctor this afternoon. The psychiatrist.

We met for roughly an hour.

He was a gentlemen in his early fifties with an opinionated air to him. Dr. Chris White I believe. Approachable and easygoing, but always ready with a response.

I sat down in his office and, for the first time really, I began to consider why I chose to make this appointment. The obvious answer was medication for my distractability… a crutch to aid my attention. But as I sat there, I realized that simply handing over some IQ tests and explaining that I thought I was a candidate for medication wasn’t going to convince him to write a script.

Since I’ve come from a long history of psychiatric therapy and evaluations, I began weighing my options: I could manipulate him and play the role I knew would satisfy his clinical diagnostics, or I could be straightforward, transparent and honest about my history. I decided in a split second decision to let him into my life.

This is not without risk, however. I am painfully aware of a psychiatric system that is inherently flawed. It approaches humans as simply a sac of DNA that secretes neurotransmitters that contribute to our personality and mood. I disown this philosophy. Obviously they are aware of environmental and nurture factors, but genetics take center stage when chemical therapy is sought as the solution. I also knew how dangerous it is when doctors label you with these mental disorders. The reasons might be far removed from the reality, but they hold the MD so they decide. Its actually scary when you lose your rights and the ability to advocate for yourself because they told you what and who you are.

Anyway… I decided that I was safe at this point in my life. I had gone years without any sort of depressive relapse… or any severe mental relapse for that matter. I continue to succeed and am mentally at peace with myself and the world that I create using my thoughts. (Attribution theory and explanatory style is my modus operandi).

So I began… the story of my life… told soo many times. Starting with first grade… mentioning the suicides, the thirteen moves, the six elementary schools, two middle schools, and three high schools… along with my stint in home school. I went over my psychiatric history with doctors and over all the diagnosis I was labeled, and the medications I was prescribed. I talked about the oppressive and destructive relationship I held with my parents growing up. Then we got into a little of my most recent history with my revelations about life… my turnaround. Then we proceeded to recap in detail all the events… mutilation, suicide pacts, overdoses, substance abuse, moves and transitions, etc.

After an hour all we got through till about my senior year than had to call it. He told me to set up an appt in two days… and to bring back additional ADD testing… and if I was up for it any of my past medical history and documentation(and I’m probably not… cause I’d rather not having too much of this crap on a file… insurance reasons etc).

The doctor was an uppity doctor. He definitely exuded an air that said “I’ve got it figured out”. Throughout my retelling he would interject with an explanation as to why something turned out that way… sometimes I corrected him with additional information and my own explanation and he would appear thoughtful and say ‘Interesting”… other times I just nodded and agreed…mostly to boost his ego and build an receptive relationship. I’ve heard so much of their explanations that I could practically be a psychologist.

The whole time I was telling this story I was trying to imagine what exactly he must be thinking. I mean, if you heard my story you would think that I was clinically insane. Based on my adolescent history, there is no logical reason why I made it out of all that with my mind and emotions still intact. He was asking me if I was bipolar, depressed, or suffered any of that stuff… I stolidly replied no. Not in the slightest. I could tell he wasn’t convinced… he was fighting to believe it.

He was like… “its important that we talk about all this so I can help you… so if you have another depressive relapse I can set you up with the right doctors and get you help.”[sic]

My reaction was like… um… that is the farthest thing I could ever imagine. No way could I go back to that place. He, of course, reminded me that those with depression have a 50% chance of relapse. Although I didn’t say it, I was thinking “… that is impossible. I choose my world… it does not choose me.”. In the end I had to agree with him… i mean… there is a statistical chance that my whole family is tortured and dies a horrible death, and I am forced to watch, and I have to bear that burden for the rest of my life…. and even then I still believe I’d make it out alive. Other than that, I am not a victim of circumstance, my world, my past, my feelings. I choose thoughts… and they make up my world.

Anyway… It was sorta funny. He was extremely fascinated with my whole story… often pondering after one of my responses to his questions and responding with “Let me be selfish for a moment… and when I say selfish, I say that as a joke really, but let me be selfish and ask you a question…” and he’d ask some question to satisfy he personal curiosity.

I won’t lie, the last doctor I saw about medication simply wrote me a script 15 minutes after I introduced myself and told her my academic history with ADD. Probably illegal, or unethical, but I was happy. Expedient drugging.

Dr. White told me at the outset that pretty rigorous ADD testing is done to protect the phenotype…. or people who have are legitimately disposed to ADD. I was fine with that.