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Saturday, April 20
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OPINION: Embracing life's absurdity

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SPOILER ALERT: This column contains potential spoilers for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” 

Around the beginning of the school year — so, probably August or September — I started seeing a slew of videos on my TikTok For You page talking about the “indomitable human spirit.” The whole idea was that, given humanity’s vast array of gifts and talents and willingness to attempt the impossible, a better world is possible. 

It’s in direct opposition to the “doomer” ideology: that is, the belief human civilization is ruined beyond repair and will inevitably collapse.  

One name I saw again and again in these videos was Albert Camus, a 20th-century philosopher best known for his philosophy of “absurdism.”  

The concept of absurdism, to put it simply, is as follows: life has no inherent meaning or purpose, yet humans are naturally inclined to look for one. If you’re an existentialist, your goal is to follow your natural instinct, craft your own meaning and live in pursuit of it. But, Camus didn’t buy this — he thought that, rather than make up a meaning where there isn’t any, the best way for a human to reach their full potential was to just accept the fact there is no cosmic purpose. 

[Related: OPINION: Staying sane in the wake of the world]

Once you accept this fact, you can live in spite of it. To live freely is to live as an act of rebellion. 

Although it initially seems strange that a philosopher who died in 1960 has become semi-popular to the predominantly young audience TikTok attracts, it actually makes a lot of sense the more I think about it. 

For the past three years, every aspect of our lives have been touched by an invisible virus and the hell it has raised. Gen Z saw its most developmental years permanently altered — for the most part, the class of 2026 were sophomores in high school when the coronavirus forced everyone home; the class of 2023 were freshmen in college. 

It also helps that Gen Z is far more likely than other generations to identify as religiously unaffiliated, atheist or agnostic — young adults aren’t turning to faith to answer the world’s unanswered questions as much as older adults are. It makes sense they’re more willing to embrace life’s inherent lack of purpose. 

But, before I go too much further, I want to clarify that absurdism is neither an apathetic nor a pessimistic ideology — I’d argue it’s actually the exact opposite. The ultimate goal of the absurdist is to live a happy, fulfilling life in spite of the meaninglessness of it all. 

It’s OK to care about social issues or to treat others with affection or to raise the next generation to do the same thing. Doing these things is exactly how we rebel against the absurd — because if the world truly lacks meaning, then everything is just as meaningful as everything else. 

I’m reminded of the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” an absurdist picture if ever there was one. The film follows Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who discovers she must connect with versions of herself from across the multiverse to save it, all while being audited by the Internal Revenue Service in her own universe. It’s a fantastic film, and everybody should watch it. 

[Related: OPINION: Love and happiness are great, but they're not the same]

But, anyway, the film’s main character arc, at its core, is Evelyn’s embrace of the absurdity of existence. The universe is weird and it doesn’t make sense and it sometimes feels like too much. But it’s that way for everyone. All anyone is really trying to do is exist in the best way they feel they possibly can. It’s why her husband, Waymond, pleaded with her to “please, be kind.” 

Camus supposedly asked the question, “Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” The idea here being that, in an absurd world, the two actions have equal meaning. But, the world is a beautiful place and reality is an incredible experience we’re all in together. The fact we’re not predestined to chase some miraculous purpose doesn’t negate that at all.  

If both life and death are equally meaningless, then why not simply choose the cup of coffee?  

Joey Sills (he/him) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.

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