Albert Camus: The Absurd, Rebellion, Freedom, Passion, and Solidarity

Here’s Albert Camus from the “Myth of Sisyphus”: “I derive from the absurd three consequences: my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the sheer activity of consciousness, I transform in a rule of life what was an invitation to death—and I refuse suicide.”

In other words, Camus suggests that an honest encounter with the universe’s absurdity—the suffering and death in it, and the universe’s apparent lack of purpose and indifference to us—paradoxically can lead to a vital life. It is an outraged person’s refusal of the absurd that can then affirm rebellion, freedom, and passion against it.

Put another way: Once you face blind fate directly, and pass through nihilism and the dark night of the soul, there is still the possibility for making a meaningful life via rebellion, freedom, and passion. And one of those components in a meaningful life is your fellow human beings. Camus suggests that there is at least one “higher meaning” to existence in the universe: other people. And it is a “higher meaning” in part because human beings, in their conscious encounters with the universe, are collectively outraged at the suffering and indifference here, and demand that human consciousness be valued (since nobody else—or nothing else—will value it). In other words, the higher value of human life comes from our experience of it ourselves, and the empathy we feel for others in a similarly bad situation (think The Plague here). That’s part of the rebellion of human consciousness against an indifferent universe—an affirmation of the value of the consciousnesses of others—and of oneself as well—against a universe that doesn’t care.

As Camus wrote in “L’homme révolté”: “The solidarity of humanity is based on the revolt, and the justification of the revolt is man’s solidarity with others.”

In other words, human connection and solidarity are justified by the revolt of human consciousness—and thus by our ourselves (and ourselves alone). No one else, and nothing else, justifies it—or needs to justify it.

Camus’s atheism and existentialism thus constitute a robust and moral humanism grounded in outrage at the absurd nature of human experience.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to Albert Camus: The Absurd, Rebellion, Freedom, Passion, and Solidarity

  1. Logicel says:

    “I mean why, afterall, does anyone become religious in the first place? To avoid an honest encounter with death, right?”

    Hmmm, my mother was extremely religious, cleaving to Catholicism, to the point that she disowned her eldest daughter when she marred a Jew. And yet in the 18 years which I lived with her (and we were very close, more like sisters), never once did she talked about the afterlife. For her, religion meant how one led one’s life, that there was a right and a wrong (like Catholics marrying Jews) or her consideration to leave my father (she finally did, via a legal separation as divorce was not approved by the parish priest). Another relationship with an evangelical Christians showed the same emphasis, that she sought guidance to how to live her life NOW. Though she did discuss the afterlife, she was much more vague about that aspect of her beliefs, than the passionate discourse she claims to be having with Jesus during the five minutes she would retreat in her tiny bathroom in her and her husband’s small NYC apartment. Another religious believer was not so concerned about the afterlife, as much as he was concerned that his present life was so disappointing that it could just not be the only thing that there is.

    I am unable to remember or find the word that psychologists have coined for our ability to live with death hanging over us. This ability is an aspect that has been studied and is on-going. Many of us have that ability. Period. It seems hard-wired. Is religious belief really required then to stave off death fears (if you are correct in assuming that is the basis for religious beliefs)? Religions and its psychological effects need to be studied. And it seems, that as the taboo of not disrespecting religious beliefs is lessening, the studies will become even more focused.

    For many atheists today, the focus is more on critical thinking with atheism becoming the result of that kind of thinking. And as I have said previously, atheism for me is simply a lack of god belief. It is not a rallying cry for anything. In the highly secular culture in which I live, no one discusses atheism or theism. We do discuss the quality of life often though.

    I think you really are out of touch with modernity. I really do. Psychologically our culture and mores are different that the ones that were around when Camus and Sartre and ‘the Beaver’ was around. Our knowledge base is different than the one that was around when those people were ruminating their perspectives. Focus on critical thinking and have good societal support systems, and they will come.

  2. Logicel says:

    I have been wanting to give you this link for a while now: http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2009/06/into_the_ancient_min.html

    He is a young British psychologist active in his field who is a fantastic and prolific blogger. (Your stuffy, outdated, and often useless psychological references personally drives me nuts).

    He also provides excellent links to current psychological research and re-interpretations of past research. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do (providing of course you do not already have his site on your News Reader!) What, you do not know what a News Reader is? Get thee to Wikipedia and then to a News Reader (I use Google).

  3. santitafarella says:

    Logicel:

    You make a good point. Not everybody goes to religion first and foremost for hope in an afterlife. I certainly might have overgeneralized.

    The psychology terms you might be thinking of: “denial” or “cognitive dissonance”? Ernst Becker’s 1960s classic, “The Denial of Death”, suggests that all of life and civilization is an elaborate concealment of death from the psyche.

    I know I’m a fossil when it comes to literature and psychology. I salivate to the oldsters (Freud, William James etc.). I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad not to be “modern” in this sense. It’s usually good to have hold-outs from whatever is new. It lends a bit of edge to life.

    The Amish (for example) sport cool prophet beards.

    —Santi

  4. Pingback: Albert Camus: The Absurd, Rebellion, Freedom, Passion, and Solidarity « msogrady

  5. Great text, you’ve voiced a lot of ideas I was trying to say but were not finding the right words😉

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