Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Unselfish Selfishness of Absurdism

It's an odd one, this. Listen to that Angel speech in the this blog again. This is the Absurdist's creed, packaged into a bit of Joss Whedon-penned monologue. It's fairly obvious and should ne no belaboring: if there's no one and nothing to provide 'meaning' and that all meaning emerges from oneself; all deeds are based on decisions ultimately prompted by what one thinks is right; and that said deeds are executed because for of one's 'liking', if you will, doing what one considers 'right'.

Religioids will claim that this means that the Absurdist is selfish, since her decisions are based on satisfying her own desire (to do as one likes). And ''selfish' is bad, as we all know. Hence the Absurdist isn't a good person. He'd be a much better one if he were to obey God—or whatever stupid authority one cares to dream up—instead of using his own pathetic judgment as the ultimate reference on which to base his deeds. Et cetera. Et cetera. And indeed, considering the self-indulgent, narcissistic self-love mantras of the New Age movement and its precursors and descendants, one might be inclined to be sympatico toward such sentiments.

However, 'selfishness', as might be implied from the above, is actually not what we're talking about in the Absurdist context. There is a difference between doing something because it satisfies one's desire and doing something because it benefits oneself. The former need not, and indeed often does not, lead to the latter. New Ageist selfishness, of course, does; as does the jejune kind that is epitomized by the phrase "And what about me?", or which takes any imagined or true action by someone else that is not of benefit to oneself as being personally directed at said 'oneself'. It's not "How could he/she do it?" but "How could he/she do it to me?": two words that completely and profoundly alter the subject of the phrase.

The Angel monologue is a mirror of the transition from selfishness to a state that is still self-motivated, but changes the focus of the speaker's motivations. The desire for personal redemption—often glorified as being a worthy personal goal, and not just by vanilla Hollywood fare, but also by a large sector of far more pretentious, nose-up-its-own-ass literature and film-making—is replaced by a desire to help others and to relieve suffering. Not for the glory of God or righteousness or something else outside oneself, but merely because one does not like people to suffer and desires to do what one can to make things different.

So, no, Absurdism is not selfish. It may well degenerate into Nihilism and from there lead to a life in Anomie, and this is prone to giving rise to all sorts of excesses. But it couldn't possibly be worse than the less appealing excesses of religiosity or ideology in general, and indeed it is much less likely to lead into such directions. There are good reasons for this, but I have decided that all of them will insult so many people in so many ways that I'd better shut up.

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