I was reminded of this bit of classic existential absurdity the other day listening to the Philosophize This! podcast.
We imagine that we are modern and progressive. Animals, yes, in an abstract evolutionary sense, but something special nonetheless. We read, use phones, we prepare lovely meals, and think hard about important things. We drive cars to work where we shuffle paper and make sure that the factory line keeps moving. We have morals. The reality, though, and we have late Frenchman Jean-Paul Sartre to thank for reminding us of it, is that we are nothing more than animals of the barnyard kind. We sit to eat at a table of cobbled together tree parts. Our meals are dead and rotting plants and animals. We grunt to each other and shrink from the dark and mysterious in fear. We have learned how to fashion rocks into metal. From a certain vantage – The Planet of the Apes? – we are no more than worms with arms and legs.
This is what existential absurdity is. That we imagine that we are something far different from what we really are. For Sartre and Camus, this opens the door to a kind of freedom. If what they say is true, then aren’t we able to forge any meaning we want? What forces us to engage in what we have had no choice in choosing?
Good stuff to try out at your next little get-together for a round of adult beverages!
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