Existentialism, Absurdism, Having to go to Work

Philosophy takes a lot of time to study. If we define it as ‘the study of how to correctly think about things’, then it follows that you’ll have to push yourself to think in many different ways. Most of us are living in a world where ideas are moved around in 140 characters. When most people do actually click a link to an in depth article, they typically only read a few paragraphs and skim the rest.

Truly understanding the work of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus, and Sartre does not fit into that world. Just reading one work by each of them is a monumental investment of time. Nietzsche spoke of Slow Reading, where one reads much slower than their maximum rate to increase their understanding of the material.

It feels hard to be in control in a life that zooms by so fast. I often find myself wanting much more free time, so that I can do things like read Camus and think about what he is really trying to say. It creates a lot of internal discord, and eventually leads to frustration with the 40 hour work week and many other basic responsibilities.

But why is that? Why is it so frustrating to not have time?

Well, I think the answer is in the Existentialist work itself. I find Camus’s Absurdism particularly relevant. In reading The Plague, one sees characters who’s sense of meaning has been disrupted by the unusual circumstances of the novel. This reveals the absurdity that is created by the human desire to find meaning in a world where our sense of meaning is incidental.

I am of the belief (like Camus, I think) that the human ability to know meaning is mostly non-existent. Our grandest realizations seem to mostly pertain to understanding that we can’t understand. There is a basic absurdity about the way our minds search for meaning.

Thus, we find ourselves in a state of Aporia. An irresolvable conflict of truths.

Perhaps deviating from the course of thought of the Philosophers who founded these ideas, I think this fits quite nicely into a part of the Buddhist perspective. I find that rebelling against the Absurd entails letting go of dissatisfaction with the conditions of your day. This is because the nature of Being does not fit into your idea of what constitutes a meaningful use of time. This is because nature does not have a sense of meaning that we can know. These facts about existence influence our day to day life. Leaving us with a life that is similarly pained with contradiction.

Recognizing the Absurd should not stop you from studying when you find the time. But perhaps it should stop you from insisting so much upon a world which is indifferent to your demands. The Buddhist concept of 'showing no preference’ has a similar lesson at its root.

  1. We exist
  2. Our existence causes contradictions and absurdities ('suffering’ in the Buddhist lexicon)
  3. There is still a way to be fulfilled
  4. Accepting those absurdities and not being dismayed by them may allow you to find fulfillment.