Reflections On The Meaninglessness Of Life

We act as if the world cares about us. As if there is a future which is predictable and certain. If you follow the right steps that you may be happy at some point in your life. If you match the steps of people that have come before you, that you may find this life worthwhile. Our minds are meant to be chained to some meaning so we grasp at what is comfortable, what is easily attainable and believe that to be the truth. We seek stability for in a stable world we can make progress, we can make plans for the future, we can project ourselves 10 or 20 years from now and see the improvements we have made and thus, we can keep going, living the same rhythm of life that we have been living.

Such a belief is absurd. The world does not care about our needs.

It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm—this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. “Beings”—this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery.

Such a feeling may strike someone “on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door” as Albert Camus put it. The feeling of absurdity. The absurd is the divorce between what a man wants and what life can offer. What man wants is meaning. A “why”, a reason for his struggle, for the hardships he faces, for the pain he endures. What’s heaven if not a prize for handling the hardships of life with grace. A possible reward for being a good boy. The same way we treat children or our pets. Behave yourself and you may get a treat, but there is no guarantee.

The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.

There is freedom in this silence, in the meaninglessness of life. That freedom being that one is free to be who he or she wishes and do what they like. You are not destined to be someone. Your life has no fate. You can give your own life meaning without having to be chained to the coping mechanism of other people like God or the rat race to get to the top and buy the newest car and live in the most expensive house. You are not chained to such things because such things are just man-made concepts to keep the absurdity of life from overwhelming you. But the absurdity can be freeing if you embrace it and understand that your life can be completely your own if you figure out what matters to you, what you truly desire, what you want and through this, you can figure out what gives your suffering meaning and your life meaning.

Most people rather not go through the trouble of giving their own lives meaning. They rather just follow the prescribed formula imposed onto them by others and be fine going in circles, over and over. It’s hard to blame such people because life is difficult and it is hard and it ends rather quickly. Why torment yourself further by revolting to the world, confronting your beliefs, examining your limitations and constantly seeing the world anew. Such revolt may give your life value but it is also a struggle to live this way. It may be simple just to conform. Hence why there are much more conformist in the world than there are true individuals. I suppose spending your life trying to act as if life isn’t absurd is one way to cope with its absurdity.

Man is always prey to his truths.

The Myth of Sisyphus: And Other Essays by Albert Camus.

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Understanding Camus’ Meursault

In Psychology, there is believed to be six main personality traits. There is Honesty/Humility (truthful or honest vs hypocritical or sly), Emotionality (anxious vs calm), eXtraversion (outgoing vs shy), Agreeableness (compromising or cooperative vs revengeful or stubborn), Conscientiousness (disciplined vs disorganized) and Openness to experience (creative vs conventional). These are the very basics of the model and of personality studies. For a deeper understanding of the model click here. In reality, personality is very complex and difficult to box into six categories. However, these six traits otherwise known as the HEXACO personality structure seem to be the most common universal traits. Hence, using these categories, one can come to better understand another person, even if that person is fictional as is with the case of Meursault.

Meursault is the main character of Albert Camus’ novel, The Stranger. Camus is famous for his absurdist philosophy which puts forth the notion that we, as people, are constantly yearning for a purpose and meaning, however, life is meaningless, hence the pursuit being absurd. Eventually, one must understand this absurdity and come to terms with it and create your own meaning that can justify your suffering and work. Meursault is a character who embodies Camus’ philosophy as he is completely detached from normal social norms of everyday life because he finds no value in them. This character, who does not value anything, does not care about anything, does not judge anything and is often emotionless in situations that almost demand an outpour of emotions, comes to be one of the most intriguing characters ever written. Hence why the HEXACO model is used to study him, in order to better understand the character. 

Meursault would be described as a character with a high level of honesty/humility. The reason being, Meursault values very little in life and by behaving so, he never masks his thoughts or feelings. Hence, he often says things that may seem socially off putting but are his true feelings. His response to Marie’s marriage proposition is an example of this. Furthermore, the novel stars with the news of the death of Meursault’s mother and instead of reacting like how society would expect a son to react, Meursault reacts with a lack of emotions, for that is who he is. He does not try to manipulate people by falsifying his emotions and neither is he interested in receiving special treatment during this time. Additionally, once Meursault has been imprisoned for committing a murder and during the trial, the attorney asks Meursault many times to share his feelings and emotions which he felt during the incident so that the attorney could present to the jury an emotionally unstable individual and so that he could receive a lesser punishment. However, Meursault denies such vulnerable feelings and constantly informs the attorney that he was aware of what he was doing when he pulled the trigger.

As for the extraversion trait, Meursault would rank somewhere in the middle, neither too high nor too low. The reason being that although Meursault is a detached individual who likes to spend a lot of time alone, at home, reflecting on his inner state and the state of the people around him, however, he does not mind conversing with his neighbours and listening to their problems and giving his own input if asked. Additionally, Meursault willing goes out to the beach or goes swimming where he interacts with new people and even meets a woman, Marie, with whom he starts a relationship with.

Meursault would rank very low in emotionality. Meursault is extremely detached from societal norms and expectation. He does not feel sorrow when his mother passes. He does not protest his neighbour Raymond’s plan to beat his girlfriend for cheating on him. He does not offer support to his other neighbour whose dog had ran away. Even at the prospect of marriage to Marie, his attitude is one of detachment for he says that he would have married anyone who spent as much time with him as Marie had. Lastly, he does not feel remorse for killing someone at the climax of the novel.

In the agreeableness trait, Meursault would rank on a higher level mainly due to his willingness to compromise and cooperate with others. However, such willingness is not due to his desire to be with others but rather because he simply does not care enough to argue and fight. Hence, Meursault then ends up writing a letter to Raymond’s girlfriend, informing her that Raymond would like to meet and talk to her. He does so at Raymond’s request even though he knows that Raymond has ill intentions and most likely will cause harm to her. It is his lack of care that makes him go along with other people. 

The conscientiousness trait is one of the more difficult traits to judge when it comes to Meursault. The reason being that he does not care about anything. So, there would be a belief that he is low in conscientiousness because nothing in the text suggests that he would be an individual who is constantly challenging himself, setting new goals, working harder than expected. Rather, he would most likely be an individual who meets the work load expected of him and that is it. He describes his flat to be messy which could also indicate low conscientiousness. Overall, Meursault would most likely be at the lower level of this trait.

Openness to experience is another trait that is difficult to measure with Meursault. On one hand, Meursault never speaks about art or beauty or anything related to the creative fields. However, he is imaginative and he does have unusual ideas and is willing to explore what is known as absurdist thought or philosophy. In doing so, one could argue that Meursault is above average in openness to experience for he is willing to explore unusual thought patterns and behaviours. In fact, once he has been sentenced to death, Meursault reflects upon the absurdity of life and how nothing matters, he finds relief in such thought and makes it easier for him to accept his death. This could indicate somewhat higher levels of openness to experience.