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From Vol. 4, Issue 8, August 2022

Living with absurdity


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“What can we do to better understand our role in the world once we realize how illogical it is, and how little we can influence and shape events? How can we move forward while refusing to give up or give in?”

Is human life planned and ordered?

Ancient Stoics, and some modern ones, subscribed to the notion that human life is planned and ordered by the gods. Personally, I do not agree. For me, there’s just too much chaos and luck and absurdity in our world to justify that conclusion.

Instead, I turn to a combination of Stoicism and Existentialism for my sense of how the world works – or doesn’t work – and how we should react to it. I’d like to explore here one way in which the Existentialist vision contributes to my Stoic worldview.

How live in a illogical world

It comes down to this question: How do we live in a world where so much is outside our control, and where there is no logic to what is happening around us? How can we find a path forward of meaning, courage, and resilience? This is crucial to Stoicism, and also Existentialism.

To see how out of control and distant from logic our world seems to be, take just a few examples from recent news here in the US. A mass shooting at a parade in a suburban town, perpetrated by a 22 year old, left 7 dead and many wounded. Decisions by the US Supreme Court gutted long-recognized rights and abrogated the role of government regulators to regulate. Congressional hearings revealed how leaders of the US government have worked to destroy the democratic process. And inflation has kept increasing just as the stock market crumbled.

Sometimes I think about the conspiracy theories that have gained traction in American politics in recent years. These theories became more comprehensible when I realized that the mechanisms of political power in the US are often hidden. Much of our political system seems to misdirect people from understanding how the levers of power actually work. Often, votes don’t seem to have a huge impact on what our government does or doesn’t do. Therefore people come up with their own theories to explain it, no matter how lurid and irrational – theories that offer their believers a sense of control and understanding. It’s tempting to get lost in this morass, and to either give up or give in to conspiracy ideology.

So, back to our vital question: What can we do to better understand our role in the world once we realize how illogical it is, and how little we can influence and shape events? How can we move forward while refusing to give up or give in? Here’s where my Existentialism plays a part.

One of my philosophical heroes is Albert Camus. I still recall my high school English teacher Mrs. Kelly telling the class how the first time she read Camus and the Existentialists, she literally threw the book violently against the wall. It shook up her worldview. The same holds for me – but rather than tossing it away out of frustration, I got pulled deeper into Camus’ works, appreciating them more and more.

We can give meaning to our lives

Life may have no god-ordered meaning, but humans can nevertheless give it meaning, Camus says. For me, one of his most influential works was The Myth of Sisyphus, published in 1942. The essay focuses on Sisyphus, who, in the Greek myth, was sentenced by the gods to push a heavy rock up a hill every day, just to see it inevitably fall back down. He would have to start pushing it up again the next day – a punishment for trying to help humans avoid death.

The message is that life can be a difficult, torturous mess, filled with unachievable, thankless, and pointless tasks. Yet we carry on. Ending our lives is not the answer, Camus says. Rather, he argues, we should accept the absurdity of our condition – including the lack of control and the inability to change our situation fundamentally – and dedicate ourselves to continuing to live and resist, with a sense of personal meaning.

Facing the falling rocks with courage, wisdom and justice

Camus pictures Sisyphus looking down at the rock falling down the hill. The legendary figure does not have hope or purpose. But he feels a sense of “scorn” for the ridiculous nature of what’s been handed to him, rebelling inwardly. He accepts and, in fact, comes to rejoice in the act of rolling the boulder upwards, to relish his own persistence. These responses make his existence meaningful in the face of a purposeless world – and we all could follow this example.

“We must imagine Sisyphus happy,” Camus wrote.

This offers insight into how to live in today’s chaos. We must imagine the modern Stoic’s life as “happy,” too, in spite of everything, as we continue to face our falling rocks with courage and justice, with wisdom about the nature of our world, and with the self-discipline to carry on.

Meredith Kunz is a Silicon Valley based writer. You can read her blogs at and her tweets at @meredithkunz.