Monday, February 21, 2011

Demoniac Madness

Life is absurd, is it not?  If there is purpose to existence, we can't ever really know it, can we?  Since rational value judgments are ultimately impossible, there would be no way to persuade an individual that such a value judgment is correct.

Kierkegaard wrote about the absurd, all the while defending religious faith.  He called acceptance of the absurd "demoniac madness,"  and said that a person who refuses to accept unfounded beliefs "rages most of all at the thought that eternity might get it into its head to take his misery from him!"

Kierkegaard defends the "leap of faith," the acceptance of something that is not necessarily true.  He admits that there can be no rational purpose to life; even if life's purpose is determined by god, what is the purpose of god?  So the absurdity of human existence is not in anyway assuaged by the concept of god, because god's existence is equally absurd, if not more so.

I, as a human being, am doomed to die.  Likely, this will be the end of my awareness, something to which I feel a strangely powerful attachment.  So, I experience fear, though I know nothing of what it will be like to die, and can hardly expect that existence following death will be in any way unpleasant... or in any way anything!
Yet, as a "sane" person, I go about my daily life, working, resting, talking, engaging in a repetitive life that seems as if it's always been, and will always be.
This is absurd.  Would I really be doing the dishes if the shear, animal terror of death were truly in my mind?  Looming at the end of my short life, with the seconds flying by and completely out of my control, lies my end. My decease.  The black pit that I hurtle toward every moment.
All that I do to "improve" myself will be gone in that instant.  All that I am will be forgotten not long after.  This flourishing planet, covered in life, is just in a transient state, but will eventually reach the steady-state: lifeless, cold, silence.

And we take ourselves so seriously!  It's hilarious, really.  We think we matter.  We think that anything matters!

And when we can't ignore death, we turn to the wild realm of fantasy.  Religion, superstition, spiritualism, pantheism... all coping mechanisms evolved by a bunch of primates who have been the victims of runaway brain evolution.  We are too smart, and so our nature is to cling to denial.

What separates man from the animal?  Not a whole lot, genetically.  Tool use, abstraction, language... these can all be found in the animal kingdom.  But no other species does much of what we do... why?
Maybe it's because no other species has stumbled upon the ability to clearly and systematically describe their own existence.  Human beings are the one species that we know can gaze into the abyss and realize that all we have, all we are, and all we do is for naught.
In response, we become nature's masters of self-distraction.  We fight, we pray, we pretend the dead are still around somewhere.  We build, we make up words like "destiny," and we try to force a place for ourselves on the uncaring universe.

As someone willing to distract myself by undertaking pursuits that will allow me to further distract myself in the future, I am called "sane" or "well-adjusted."
And when a person talks about the absurdity of life and existence, others dismiss her.  They smile knowingly, having perhaps experienced a tiny hint of existential crisis in the past.  But they are beyond such things.  They have managed to not believe in death.

The ultimate human triumph is denial, for without it, the human race might see themselves clearly.


  1. Be a pessimist if you want, don't bring me or my man Kierkegaard with you!

  2. Nihilism > Absurdism

    Oh, and pessimism implies that meaninglessness is inherently bad. It's not.

  3. Oh, and Kierkegaard was a nihilist by the way. The irony.

  4. not an attractive writing. i am left feeling.........i am glad you are not in my circle of friends.

  5. I, too, sometimes feel .......

    If you want to talk about your objections to my musings, please let me know what they are. I can't very well respond if you only tell me that my writing is "not attractive."

    And for all you know, I am in your circle of friends. ;)

  6. Everyday I lift this rock up this hill and just when I think I've finally found the answers to all my questions, my rock rolls back down, with me running behind in earnest to lift it again and again and again and again...There's an unparalleled strength in going forward even in spite of the absurdity of it all.

  7. I can't help finding our strange ability to acknowledge this lack of meaning amazing. Why would we have it if there is no meaning at all?
    I fight each and every day against this sense of absurdity, I try to distract myself, but once a person realizes that we can't know for sure the purpose of all things, they suddenly became irrelevant and somehow despairing.
    And the most incredible thing is that THIS, I mean, these questions that burn, they must be the most important thing in our life and we just dismiss it because we're caught up in this alienating system. I can't decide if forgetting them is a sign of strength or not. Forgetting feels definitely like demoniac madness.

    1. And here I was hoping to find acceptance of the absurd liberating, where infact I find the realization there are no answers causing me despair. Forgetting may one day liberate me, however for now all I feel is a great sense of loss.

  8. I've too, think upon this from time to time. It doesn't leave me in despair, however. Everytime I get down to the absolute absurdity of everything, I begin laughing hysterically. Yes, I keep going on with my life. Sometimes I try, sometimes I don't bother. The honest truth is, ever since I've come to the realization that there is no point to anything, not trying doesn't really bother me as much. Although this has left me with far less stress in my life, I do understand that it also leaves me far less productive. I try to find some balance, eeking along through this senseless life with a stupid smile on my face. Most people do it, they just don't realize it.


  9. Pick up a shovel and dig. And if anyone asks why you are digging a hole. Tell them it's a metaphor.