Wednesday, 5 July 2017
Go on, admit it. Your life is absurd and you are absurd. You might think you are different from everyone else, but are any of your thoughts or deeds original in even the smallest way? Look around you. This is a mad world, and sometimes the only thing you can do is shake your head, grin, and...carry on. Welcome to our crazy world!
1. You pay taxes for essential services. Governments use this money on weapons and then raise taxes.
2. Adverts routinely lie and misrepresent.
3. Companies exist to make money for banks which loan money to them and skim off profits.
4. Gurus religions and cult leaders charge money to "get closer to God". If God exists why do you need to pay money to talk to the Divine?
5. If God is everywhere then why go for a"special powerful mantra"?
6. Angry people enforce rules for the gentle.
7. Humans are economically disadvantagedthrough gender, skin colour, and culture even though every country proclaims "freedom of opportunity."
8. Insane rules exist to limit the ways of ecstacy for humans.
9. We never think we will die. Then we do.
There's a famous cult US film from the late 1990s called The Big Lebowski, by the Coen Brothers, which is a wonderfully crafted comedy of errors, based on mistaken identity. The central figure, the little Lebowski, is an amiable and incurably lazy stoner with one sole hobby — bowling. The film includes a mysterious character, who actually narrates the movie, and can be interpreted as God walking here and there on earth (as a grizzled cowboy with a big moustache, acted by the wonderful Sam Elliott) and at one point "God" sits next to the hero at a bar in the bowling alley and says something to the tune of "I like your style." The hero's response to the utter absurdity of events unravelling around him is almost Zen -like. "F... it," he says to his friends "Lets go bowling."
Lets go bowling... this acceptance of the absurd, and carrying on despite the acknowledged absurdity, is pretty much all we have left in life. Of course many of us have plans, have a wish-list, or a burning desire to prosper and get ahead and show our relatives how great we are, or want to marry the perfect person, live in the perfect house, live the trouble-free life. This, too, is deeply absurd and crazy. it always turns out differently from how we expect it.
One generation in the world tried the concept of "perfect material life" out, Americans who lived in the Eisenhower era in America in the 1950s. This "perfect" world still haunts western popular culture, with its shiny cars, drive-in movies, high school proms, and orderly little houses everywhere. Husbands wore hats and went off to work. Wives cooked and raised children, who watched that new mass addiction TV. People consumed products, urged to buy, use and discard by adverts. Everything was simple to understand: this culture had an ideological enemy, had an unacceptable "other" or externalised shadow — communist Russia and China. The much later movie The Truman Show encapsulates this bright primary colour world.
Behind the perfect facade, lurked the reality - hidden from sight - that in fact America was assembling an arsenal of nuclear weapons so numerous they could have destroyed human civilisation many times over. Another was that American military spending began to grow out of control. In one of his final public addresses the elderly president Eisenhower issued a warning against the spreading power of what he called the "military industrial complex" — and spawned a thousand conspiracy theories ever after.
Also behind the facade was the bizarre fact that this was a perfect white world. If you look at Hollywood films of the era it's astonishing how white and protestant Christian America always looks, when in fact 1950s America was made up of a huge mix of races, especially African Americans who had no civil liberties or equal standing with the whites. All this was airbrushed away.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the absurdities of this perfect society became icily clear in the 1960s. And it all unravelled pretty quickly, the catalyst being the assassination of president Kennedy in 1963. What really killed it off was an inside job: the generation who grew up watching TV in the 1950s. These clean scrubbed young people with excellent educations, took a step back and realised how crazy society actually was. Drugs, especially LSD, and the killing machine that was the Vietnam War, opened the eyes of this young and naive generation.
Out of this breakdown grew the spiritual movements of the West based on the teachings of the East, which grew in numbers as the above mentioned naive generation got to grips with what drugs had unveiled in them. Absurdity subsequently piled up as westerners bowed and scraped before imagined godlike beings, mostly from India, and enthusiastically planned for enlightenment in a few short years. All very exciting, but all to often these organisations quickly became abusive, heirarchical and disfunctional, a sort of shadow form of the very concept of a communist structure based on a strong leader that their parents feared so much in the 1950s.
Having gone through this particular experience, I still laugh at the craziness of some of these movements. In one such, a bizarre habit developed of "coaching" the speaker at weekly satsangs - esssentially exerting corporate control of what should be said and whether it was on message. This produced cringe-making stiff and awkward speeches time and time again in an organisation supposedly dedicated to freedom. In another, the meditation teachers all had to wear suits all the time, which made them look like minor corporate executives rather than teachers of the spirit. All these customs and behaviours went unquestioned because of course the charismatic leader was "enlightened". Another equally strange thing - the creation of "sannyasins" in the Osho organisation that merrily indulged in sex.
At the time, I went through this spiritual mill with eyes closed, emerging battered and bruised and scratching my head. What had all that been about? Still, surely it was better than going to an orthodox religion like Christianity that basically told everyone "thou shalt not kill" but encouraged wars and mass murders against "infidels" including slavery of entire populations - and of course the mass slaughter of animals who were judged not to have souls.
Absurd, absurd, absurd.
It seems to me now that the only truly sane approach is simply to wonder at everything, and be on the alert for the latest development in this theatre of the absurd. There are numerous examples every day - for example the craziness in London of trying to ease traffic by applying congestion charges for driving into the city centre, only to encourage Uber taxi drivers. It is estimated 100,000 extra vehicles, all Uber taxis, have flooded London. And most Uber drivers have no idea of where to go or how to drive, indeed drive so slowly and badly they cause massive traffic pile ups. Utter madness!
The absurdity of it all, coupled with simple wide-eyed wonder, both combined give you a grandstand view of some fantastic synchronicities and serendipitous happenings. I enjoy the stupidity of we humans, but love too the workings and patterns of birds, animals, insects. God? Surely God must be smiling too. If you believe in a God, he created some awesomely funny things like puppies, blowfish, praying mantises, squirrels. Humans in turn have assembled truly bizarre cultural ways of living alongside each other.
Embrace the absurdity of it all!