It's December and we’re 9 months into a global pandemic. It's a rainy Tuesday and my bedroom window is stained with condensation and water droplets against a bleak gray background. My city of Toronto recently entered its second full scale lockdown in less than a year. As an introvert staying inside never bothered me, this is probably what I’d be doing regardless, but there’s a certain bleakness that accompanies a mandatory lockdown that forces you to question everything. I’ve been able to stay optimistic for the past few months because my reason and purpose always seemed self evident. I had a goal and an ideal I was constantly chasing, and the pursuit of creativity always seemed like the most obvious route to take. Yesterday as I was facing a writer's block I asked myself, why do I write? Its a question whose answer seemed obvious until now. Why create anything during unending turmoil?
In philosophy, "the Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously. As a philosophy, absurdism furthermore explores the fundamental nature of the Absurd and how individuals, once becoming conscious of the Absurd, should respond to it.
A pandemic is a form of absurd suffering, it's by definition cruel, illogical, disproportionate and inappropriate. Hospitals are packed with regular people of different races, ethnicities, classes and sexualities. The absurd is an equalizer, its indiscriminate and inherently void of absolute meaning. Everyday doctors and nurses are forced to make tough decisions on who to prioritize and who to keep alive.
In his essay titled The Myth of Sisyphus, the absurdist philosopher Albert Camus discusses the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a King punished by the Gods for all eternity to roll a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he nears the top. Camus claims that Sisyphus is the ideal absurd hero and that his punishment is representative of the human condition: Sisyphus must struggle perpetually and without hope of success. So long as he accepts that there is nothing more to life than this absurd struggle, then he can find happiness in it, says Camus.
In the past, people have been able to find solace in religion as a meaningful answer to the absurd suffering in life. We could easily reason away plagues as the anger of the Gods against the wicked tyranny of evil men. With the rise of science, religion has taken a backseat, and with science's ability to understand the mechanisms of reality, modern society has lost that inspiring sense of spiritual mystery, awe, and fascination.
Regardless of people's individual beliefs, the way in which modern society operates is mostly pragmatic. We want the general infrastructure and mechanics dealing with things sensibly and realistically, in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations. We want our vaccines from doctors and not mystics. This way of thinking has provided us with some of the greatest inventions in history like electricity, agricultural systems, railways, chemistry, vaccines, engineering and space flight, but modernism, the rise of technology and industry, and the prioritization of science has eroded some of the mysterious and inspirational aspects of human life.
Humans create meaning. In fact, it is a fundamental trait of humans to attach meaning to the objects we perceive in the world, to our relationships with others, to our own physical form, and to the various manifestations of agency encompassed by the category “self” – a trait that is as universal as that of language. The complex operations that characterize human cognition carry this meaning-generating function on many levels. Classifying an object according to selected criteria, attaching value to it, and judging its aesthetic appeal, are all mental operations that, in one way or another, give meaning to the phenomenal world.
Understanding the mechanics of meaning in life does not negate it. Our capacity to create meaning and understand meaning is the reason why we evolved into what we are and has benefited us in furthering humanity to think critically and communicate (and widely agree about) abstract concepts like ethics and morality. Language and symbols are how we have created our infrastructures and superstructures in every scale imaginable, by being able to create, communicate and understand the meaning of our individual ambiguous abstractions to the group.
A highly pragmatic view of life is able to get rid of the mystical nature of reality until you realize that however much we can uncover and understand, our universe is much more mystical and awe inspiring than we can imagine. Despite being able to create a vague map of reality and the cosmos, every piece of information we uncover holds a kaleidoscope of information within it that sparks infinite amounts of questions. Regardless of how much we rationalize it, the sun is still a giant ball of fire that we are hurling around at ungodly speeds, and we are conscious monkeys, made up of quantum waves, that have learned how to alchemize Earthly matter to make visions that appear in our brains tangible. The way we do that is by making meaning inside all of this chaos, and that’s why I write. Writing and creativity is the way we make sense from the absurd.
What makes us different from Sisyphus is our ability to create something new in the current moment that might add meaning in or help other people's lives throughout the course of their lives through the absurd, for generations to come. Camus coping through his existence by philosophizing has helped the lives of people for generations after him, that is the effect creativity can have. We create because creativity is a physiological phenomena that can compel us to alchemize abstraction into reality and bring forth meaning for ourselves and society at large.
Another reason to create is due to the intrinsic value it offers. A hyper-materialistic view of the world can lead to an extreme focus on the external world, hedonism and materialism for fulfilment. People can be motivated by external factors but we are also motivated, stimulated and fulfilled from within, by interests, curiosity, care, creativity or abiding values, that have tangible effects on the state of the external world. These intrinsic motivations and fulfillments are not necessarily externally rewarded or supported, but nonetheless they can sustain passions, creativity, and sustained efforts.
The interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on a person and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature is the territory of Self-Determination Theory. The theory states that conditions supporting the individual’s experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are argued to foster the most high quality forms of motivation and engagement for activities, including enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity.
Creativity is an act of relying on oneself, being mindful of the moment, learning a new tool, displaying autonomy, competence and embarking on a new adventure, it requires venturing into the unknown, facing failure and welding some meaning out of chunks of chaos. Camus believed that the creative act of asserting one's own perspective on the world epitomizes the revolt, freedom, and passion of the absurd man. Humanity and civilization is the totality of that rebellion. We’re generations of people that stood in the face of certain death and built something that lasted far beyond their lifetime, a symbolic immortality. Everything we see in our societies, including ourselves, were created by people who rebelled against death, decay and absurd suffering. Man evolved escaping predators, going through wars, diseases and dark ages and we were still able to imagine a better tomorrow for those that come after us and built new forms of agriculture, systems of social and political governance, art, architecture and space travel. We were still able to extrapolate beauty from the guaranteed suffering every human being must face and alchemize it to create a better and more meaningful society.
If we are seeking social, political, technological or economic change, the advent of the internet has given us the ability to exercise our creativity to connect with others and build new and disruptive models and systems that make the existing models obsolete. The internet is a spatial dimension, encasing amalgamations of the worlds most important creations. Everything, everyone and every piece of information ever, is a finger click away from any destination. That means the walls separating people have become brittle.
The creations of Bitcoin, Wikipedia, Uber and AirBnB are proof of the disappearance of old models that made certain levels of access and information exclusive to class and location based opportunities. No matter where you live, what faith you practice, what class you fall under, if you’re low, high class or middle, we have access to the same things and can widen the margins of success based on our skills and merits. Information and wealth are becoming decentralized. We’re all connected and a click away, everything is seconds away with instant precision.