Disclaimer: This is my interpretation on the first chapter of Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus. It is a difficult to read, so flaws are unavoidable. Also, I was not suicidal when I sought and read the book 🙂
Judging wether or not life is worth living is the only serious philosophical problem. It is important, because many people die due to their judgement that life is not worth living, while no one ever dies from his conviction that the world exists in 17 dimensions. Even Galileo, who holds science in the highest regards, renounced his belief when his life is threatened.
Humans continue to live out of habit, so to die voluntarily implies that you have recognized that such a habit is ridiculous, futile and absent of any profound reason. Such recognition divests the universe of all illusions and lights. It alienates men. It evokes the feeling of losing the memory of a lost home and deprives the hope of a promised land. It makes people long for death.
The divorce between man and this life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.
Does investigating the precise degree to which suicide is a solution to the absurdity necessitates abandoning human’s incomprehensible inclination to be in harmony with themselves? People who think we should stay true to our beliefs by acting them out often don’t act out some of their beliefs. On the other hand, there are indeed people who take their lives out of their determinations on the worth of life. There’s a constant contradiction: we act out some of our beliefs, but we don’t act out others. In this regard, we’re always in constant disharmony with ourselves.
The essence of this contradiction is the act of eluding. Eluding is the act of evading or escaping in a skillful way. In this context, it means to evade skillfully from hunan’s inclination to be in harmony with ourselves. We acquire the habit of living before we acquire the habit of thinking. Our thinking always attempts to catch up, but our body often takes the lead. In a sense, our bodily life eludes our thinking. An evolutionary justification would be the fact that such condition has maintained the survival of our species long before the arrival of the act of thinking. If one’s suicidal thoughts catch up to one’s bodily life, then he will feel the need to take his own life.
Pascalian uses diversion to refer to our inability to stay in our current, pleasant situations, and always let our thoughts carry us away, yearning for something more, which often results in our own unhappiness.
- Diversion.– When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town. A commission in the army would not be bought so dearly, but that it is found insufferable not to budge from the town; and men only seek conversation and entering games, because they cannot remain with pleasure at home.
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Camus states that the act of eluding is less than the Pascalian diversion in the sense that it is not as extreme a statement on human nature. the act of eluding, at least at this point in human’s evolution, has become an option that we choose to exert, while the inability that characterizes diversion speaks of something in our nature.
However, Camus also states that the act of eluding is more than the Pascalian diversion in the sense that it doesn’t only lead to unhappiness, but may also lead to meanings. Allowing our bodily life to lead the dance while our mind contemplating the absurdity of life opens up the possibility of meanings as a result of exploring such confrontations. In other words, we should not be subjugated by our weird inclination to be in harmony with ourselves which compels an enactment of fatal beliefs.
A typical act of eluding is hope. Hope in the afterlife that we deserve, or hope in a man-made ideal that transcends even life and its absurdity.
Camus argues that people who kill themselves because they think life is not worth living is acting out their inclination to be in harmony with themselves, which is unnecessary and emotional. A more logical mind presses on and ask the most important question: does the absurdity of life require one to escape it through hope or suicide?
In a related note, this reminds of something Jordan Peterson often quotes, that seems to point to a similar idea: “The purpose of thinking is to let the ideas die instead of us dying. ” – Alfred North Whitehead.
He believes that we cannot know if there’s a logic to the point of death without dispassionately pursuing it in the sole light of evidence. Such is what Camus calls an absurd reasoning. The real effort is to stay in the abdication of your thoughts, instead of your life, when confronted with the absurdity. Stay in that space, and you can start to examine and analyze this inhuman show in which absurdity, hope, and death carry on their dialogue.