Philosophy

The true meaning and power of Absurdism

9 Mins read
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absurdists

As humans we always struggle with trying to know the meaning of everything, we strive to find purpose and order in this chaotic universe. However, Absurdism shows things in a different but yet similar light.

Personally I’m a big fan of order and purpose in this chaotic world, my favorite books is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, in which he strives to tell us that each and every one of us has his/her own personal legend that we must follow in order to be happy, this in itself is order and a provision of hope to all this mess.

However, it is so hard to argue with the philosophical standpoint of true absurdists. As we look around we see a lot of disorder and disarray in the lives we live; the violence, the pandemics, the evil, the corruption all cooked up in our concepts of joy, happiness and pleasure.

Religion and cultural beliefs have tried to make sense of all this madness by trying to show us how everything connects with everything, how order is disorder at the same time, how karma is real, how both good things and bad things happen for a reason.

However, with our mere mortal minds, we most of the time fail to see this grand ‘plan’ and order in everything. Terrible things happen a lot and most of the time we don’t understand why, bad people become prosperous while good men die of poverty and struggles.

We also fail to find the true key and secret to happiness even though we all know its tailored deeply to our sense of self knowledge and self awareness. The short version of this point is that as much as there may be a way to make sense of everything, most of the time what we are able to see is disorder and disarray that is totally out of our control.

As much as we have morals, culture, laws and rules that bring about some sort of togetherness and order, not all of us agree with them and not all of us are going to follow them, this ends up begging the question whether there is the possibility that all things are just random and purposeless.

Which brings me to the philosophical element of absurdism.

The meaning of Absurdism

Absurdism is the philosophical stand point that emphasizes on the lack of order, purpose and meaning to life, the universe and existence as a whole. Absurdists belief that we are living in a universe that is purposeless and chaotic.

This may be shocking or at least looks ignorant specially when said to someone who is religious or otherwise overly optimistic, but the reality is, absurdism is one of the most realist beliefs that we could ever have as humans.

I say this because one of the downfalls we tend to have is seeing the world for what we want it to be rather than for what it actually is. This applies to our relationships and dreams. Absurdists tend to see the world for what it is. You can call them the doubting Thomases, because they only believe what they see, they don’t focus on what things mean and they don’t try to put meaning to things when there is none.

Albert Camus, who was a French philosopher, author, and journalist, once said,


“Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

Albert camus

The origin and beginning of absurdism

Absurdism stems from the existential crisis question that arises from our search for meaning in the meaninglessness of the entire universe – which in itself is the meaning of “the Absurd”. 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.

Absurdism is a philosophy that is most attributed to Albert Camus, who stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence. In his book, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, he goes ahead to skillfully and poetically illustrate and explain his philosophical stand point and how it is superior to other views.

Two of his notable quotes form the book are;

“Existence is illusory and it is eternal.”

“The human heart has a tiresome tendency to label as fate only what crushes it. But happiness likewise, in its way, is without reason, since it is inevitable.”

Our search for meaning is more of us trying to make ourselves feel safe and protected rather than that safety and protection actually existing. As beings looking for meaning in a meaningless world, humans have three ways of resolving the dilemma. Camus described the three solutions that humans have to this;

  1. Suicide – this is where a person decides existence is completely meaningless and that living or not living doesn’t make any difference, hence chooses death as a solution of escaping the unnecessary chaos of the world.
  2. Religion, belief in an idea – this is where a person chooses to look beyond the reality of things as they are and choose to believe in something bigger than themselves that is by far more in control of a situation than the feeble mind of a human could ever comprehend. It is an irrational but yet necessary choice that helps bring the chaos to a stop and enacts safety and a sense of peace of mind.
  3. Become an absurdist – Camus himself said that becoming an absurdist plays a major role in truly being happy and being fulfilled in your life. By seeing the world for what it really is rather than what we try and make it to be, we may stand a better chance of truly taking the most needed steps to make it glamorous.

READ ALSO: Why do people love art? Its importance and how its culture is our new religion.

Absurdism vs nihilism vs Existentialism

Since the emerges of existence as a philosophical problem back in the 1920s with the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger’s 1927 Being and Time, an inquiry into the “being that we ourselves are” (which he termed “Dasein,” a German word for existence), these three topics have been considered as the major existential crisis questions.

Absurdism as already stated is the philosophical stand point that emphasizes on the lack of order, purpose and meaning to life, the universe and existence as a whole.

Existentialism in simple words, is a philosophical approach that believes in humans as beings with free will who are responsible enough to determine their own development and lives through exercising that free will, even though they live in a universe without a a will or consciousness.

No one can be completely sure what existentialism is, since its own chief thinkers disagreed about its tenets and many of them denied being existentialists at all. Among the few exceptions were the two most famous, Sartre and his companion Simone de Beauvoir, who accepted the label mainly because they grew tired of telling people not to call them it.

They worked their philosophy out carefully, but their followers often treated existentialism more as a style or attitude than a set of beliefs.

Lastly, nihilism is the basic and simplest of them all, it is a philosophical belief that all things and values are baseless and that nothing can be known, communicated or understood. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence.

For a quick reference I formulated this table to show you all the differences.

NihilismExistentialismAbsurdism
Is there a permanent well defined meaning to life?NoNoNo
Is there a possibility of still finding meaning in life?NoYes, finding meaning in a world that has no meaning is by far the whole purpose of existentialism.Yes, but you still have to acknowledge the absurdity of it all, that the pursuit of this meaning is in itself absurd but must be done because of its necessity.
A table of differences between absurdism, nihilism and existentialism

The meaning of life is absurd to absurdists

Emphasis is always put on the human condition, our constant need and urge to search for meaning, purpose and order.

In this short video, Alain de Botton, a modern philosopher, dives into the purpose and meaning of life by trying to explain why we search for it and how to truly find meaning;

It is clear that our search for meaning isn’t based on whether meaning exists, its just based on us wanting the meaning to exist.

Religion has for centuries brought everything under one spotlight, the existence of a superior being that takes charge of everything and does everything for a reason and purpose. This is one of the many comforting thing things about religion, that is why I’m still a Christian even though I’m one of its biggest critics.

However, with the very many advancements made through science and technology, the weight and power that religion had held long time ago is fading away pretty quickly. Its reliance on trying to exert order has a few portholes one of which is the fact that its based on faith rather than facts.

Science tries to rectify this by showing the order in which everything on the universe is made, hence the availability of facts. Even though science shows us the complexities of the relationships in the universe, our lives, the human anatomy, our emotions and the psychology of everything, it fails to answer one important question;

Are all things interconnected and related to each other because life and the universe has meaning, or is it so because it has the capability to be like so? Is meaning there because meaning is there, or is the meaning just something that we try and derive from the scientific order of things?

Dominic nyabuto, me

This is why being an absurdist is logical to me, and to most of us actually. Absurdists see that as humans, we tend to project what we are feeling and what we are longing for onto other things and people.

We strive to find meaning not because meaning exists but because we want meaning to exist.

Which is not wrong or bad, but it begs the question – does it even matter?

To an absurdist, Yes, it does matter. If the meaning and order of life exists because we try to make it be so rather than it actually being there, then it truly doesn’t exists. The meaning and order we assign it isn’t a real meaning but a projected one, even though it serves a purpose by giving us comfort and assurance the fact still remains that the meaning doesn’t exist.

Our sense of meaning is mostly derived from what makes us happy, which is why I’ve said it on countless occasions that the only true meaning and purpose of life that we can ever come up with is the pursuit of happiness, it is the only thing that we are all aiming for, everything we do, everything we desire and strive to achieve is painted by own pursuit of happiness.

FYI, I post a lot on twitter on major topics ranging from philosophical to psychological absurdities to life, follow me to check them all out everyday, might just be what you need to change your life.

Another reason why true permanent consistent meaning doesn’t exist to absurdists is the fact that our belief systems and meaningful aspects of our lives tend to deteriorate over time no matter how firm we are held in them.

This is evident in things like relationships, careers and lifestyle. We know how marriages are these days, some statistics are so outrageous to the extent of saying that the success rate of any marriage is 50/50, with almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States ending in divorce or separation, on top of which researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce.

FACT: Every 13 seconds, there is one divorce in America.

Our relationships especially marriages help us find meaning, countless philosophers and rich gurus have emphasized on the meaning of life that is assured to be found in marriage and families. Countless articles and books have been written on why meaningful relationships provide meaning to life.

So what happens when love fails us, what happens when the one thing that gave us a sense of purpose and meaning ends up collapsing in front of our eyes with nothing left for us to do, will that meaning still stand? Of course not, most of us end up losing faith in relationships and marriages all together because of the love lost, with a good number of heartbreaks, we tend to stray farther and farther away from it.

The same thing happens with our careers, the most fulfilling work in our existence may sometimes turn into a monotonous repetitive vanity act, like chasing after the wind, you keep running towards it but can never catch it.

Therefore, with all this said, does meaning truly exist? or should we all become absurdists.

The interesting fact to answer that question is this:

We should embrace the Absurd (the contradictory co-existence of the value-seeking human mind and the valueless world) and defiantly seek meaning anyway. The search itself is meaningful.

Albert Camus himself recommended this solution, he believed that by accepting the Absurd, one can achieve the greatest extent of one’s freedom. That by choosing to recognize no religious or other cultural/moral constraints, and by rebelling against the Absurd (through meaning-making) while at the same time accepting it as unstoppable, one could find contentment through the personal meaning constructed in the process.

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About author
I'm a psychology enthusiast and a fried chicken lover. I write bite sized articles unpacking the complexities of the human mind. The mission is to advocate for what's more important in life - the pursuit of the truth and the highest good one can do with that truth - for themselves, the people around them and the society as a whole.
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