Every so often, when things get really crazy, I like to think about Albert Camus. I turned to Camus’ writings a few years ago when my personal life fell off the rails. Yesterday, when Pro-Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol, I began to think of Camus again.
American politics right now are definitely absurd. People have been throwing around a lot of words to describe what’s going on: unprecedented, dark, nihilistic. Absurd is a good adjective, too.
I was working yesterday afternoon when I became aware of what was happening in the nation’s capitol. As I watched from my computer, I had the strangest feeling that I was watching a reality show. This couldn’t be real. But yet, it was. Despite my best efforts, I’ve spent the past day doing a fair amount of “doomscrolling.”
Based on several articles and op-eds I read, it seems like many of the hundreds of thousands of people who descended on Washington, DC, yesterday are completely divorced from reality. Journalists who spoke to the protestors (or rioters) described them as saying strange things, things you’d expect from members of conspiracy groups like QAnon or white supremacist groups.
These protestors (or rioters) don’t believe there’s a pandemic going on, think Trump is possibly appointed by God, think the United States is locked in some epic, biblical fight of good versus evil. Recently, a man blew himself up, along with several city blocks of Nashville. This man apparently believed in similar conspiracy theories and perhaps even believed in lizard people.
Growing up, I used to love a TV show called The X-Files. It was about an FBI agent named Mulder who’s wrapped up in conspiracy theories about aliens and UFOs. Back then, it seemed so quaint. Fast forward to 2020, and a scary amount of U.S. citizens are wrapped up in delusional theories. Not so quaint anymore.
I bring up Camus and absurdity because, well, that’s the best way to describe the current situation. I also bring it up because it brings me comfort in times like this. Humans are irrational beings and, as Camus argues in The Myth of Sisyphus, we search for clarity in a universe that often offers none.
I take a strange solace in this sometimes. I consider myself a man of faith, but I also put faith and God aside sometimes. I’m also highly aware that many of the pro-Trump loyalists who descended on DC are overwhelmingly white and Christian and carried signs bearing Jesus’ name. This is the kind of toxic, rigid Christianity that has a lineage in many past atrocities.
Back to absurdity. Instead of trying to find some ultimate meaning in this utter mess, I take solace in the fact sometimes there is no meaning. Wikipedia defines absurdism as “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.”
This seems rather dark, and it can be. In The Myth of Sisyphus, where Camus lays out his absurdist theories, he begins the book by talking about suicide. He calls it the only real philosophical question. By the end of the book, he argues against suicide and nihilism, saying we instead have to each act as Sisyphus and continue pushing the boulder uphill.
There’s a freedom for me in coming back to this thought. I’ve heard people say the storming of the Capitol was the last death throes of Trumpism, but I don’t believe that. Maybe I’m too much of a pessimist, but I think there’s going to more dumb shit like this in the future.
In the end, we just have to keep pushing the boulder uphill.