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The Age of Absurdity: We're in it, but we don't have to buy into it!


Picture credit:  JamiesRabbits

When I was a kid I discovered something amazing.
A golden treasure.  A most wonderful thing that's defined my life and made it infinitely richer.
Look at it another way, and that beautiful gift has been a pain in the arse. 

It's helped me fit in, get on, and do well.  It's also made me stand out, fall out, and go against the flow.  It's gently nudged me into a life that leans more toward non-conformity.
I'm talking about my constant tendency to ask questions.

Big questions.

Picture credit:  h.koppdelaney

"Why do we do that?"  "What's the point?"  "Who says that matters?"  "Where's the evidence that thing you say is important really is?"  "How does doing this make us happy?"
On and on.  Non-stop.  Day in.  Day out.
Hey, I'm not looking for conflict or to be awkward. 

Not at all. 

Like the folk in our ReallygoodThinking.com community I want to help build a kinder, more caring world. 

I love people. 

I want to work with as many good folk as possible to make something great together, don't you?
But can you see how this constant questioning's got me into all kinds of trouble?
The other night I was at a media biz dinner and I kept thinking:

"Why do so many people talk bullshit about things that don't matter?".  "Why do they elevate meaningless, mundane, empty ideas to such high positions?". 

"Will they ever wake up and see they're missing the point and failing to spot the truly good stuff life offers us right now?".  "What if I'm asleep to important things too, and I just don't know it?". 



I know exactly what Michael Foley means as he delightfully describes some of the silliest, most misguided ideas of our so called "advanced" cultures in his crackin' new book "The Age of Absurdity:  Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy".
"Hey Michael, I hear you man!

This is "The Age of Absurdity".  I'm here.  I'm in it.  But I don't buy into it.

What Michael's saying (and some'll think he's smacking them in the face, and some'll say he nails the problem but offers no really deep, workable solutions, and some'll say he delivers well-judged wisdom!) is that modern life has made us dummies: it's retarded our capacity to seek understanding.

Whatever anyone else says, I say Michael Foley takes us on a fascinating journey uncovering common threads connecting our thinking about happiness and meaning throughout the ages. 

He finds ideas shared by philosophy, spiritual teachings, and contemporary psychology.  He finds Christ and Buddha, Marx and Freud, Spinoza and Nietzsche, Joyce and Proust, and a dollop of what we currently know from brain experts about how our minds work.

And when we throw all that against the wall, guess what sticks?

That pretty much everything about our contemporary, consumerist, me-centred living, goes against the flow of almost all intelligent human thinking - a consensus of thousands of years, right up to the present.

Michael Foley reckons it's difficult to apply this consensus of what's good for us since modern life has massively devalued these attitudes in favour of the vacuous pursuit of the superficial. 

"The Age of Absurdity" is a good read.  I love Michael Foley's humour, surprising observations, and great writing style. 

He was on a radio programme (here from 17 mins 54 secs) recently talking about the bright ideas that can help us move closer to the good life and guess what?  They really do sound like words from another world.

Personal responsibility? detachment? humility? autonomy? the pursuit of understanding? acceptance of difficulty? awareness of mortality? 

You seldom hear that stuff at the bar of the Whippet and Whistle do ya?

I'm not necessarily saying we should be talking constantly about these ideas, nor do I think there's any reason to think of them as austere. 

But heck, if some of the smartest people on earth have concluded they're generally good for us, maybe we should give 'em a bit more room don't ya think?

Or, forget all that hard stuff:  let's just go back to our consumerist sleep-walk, keep missing the point, and losing out on all the goodness that's there for us.

Personally, I'm gonna follow my DNA and carry on letting my questions get me in trouble, and perhaps a bit closer to what matters.

I'll take comfort from Mark Twain who said "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect".

And whilst Michael Foley's given us an admirable, witty, and perceptive analysis of our modern problem, I'm going to focus on finding alternatives that give us hope for a more nourishing future.

Picture credit:  sfjalar

Hang on though, here's a final thought:  I am not alone.

By connecting with thousands of people across the globe who're asking similar questions, I've discovered so many champions saying:

"Yes, this may be "The Age of Absurdity" (or not!) but I'm choosing a different way.  I'm not buying into that empty self-centred, ungrateful, never-satisfied, always wanting more, more, more, thoughtless lifestyle. 

Not me. 

I'm using my time and talents to serve others, to make meaning, and to make a difference". 

Wow.  That's you!  And I am delighted to meet you!


Thanks so much for connecting.  I love it that you bothered to read this and I love hearing what you think.  Have you read "The Age of Absurdity"?  As always, please let me know what's on your mind.  Much love, Ian.

Your comments:

Frank says:
22/03/2010 12:04:14

I've just come home from a week in a Franciscan monastery. I was a guest there with 4 others and prayed and worked and ate with the monks. I do this every year to find rest, strengthen my faith, learn to be humble again and to find back to what is really worth. There are many people following that way. And we are getting more. Young people as well. I am 48 years old and work as a senior copywriter in a advertising agency. I am doing this for to longnow and I am geting sick of helping companies earn more money. There is a lot of absurdity. But the situation is not hopeless. We can work out a change. Slowly an d carefully. But we can.
Nicole says:
21/03/2010 17:57:49

It's nice to think that it's some accidental consequence of everything that went before, but what if the age of absurdity is simply an evolutionary step? What if the loss of the extremes, regression toward the mean, is appearing when it comes to intelligence, values, and ability to distinguish meaningful versus nonsensical concepts? Those of us who value the substantial may simply be vestiges of the past. In current society, Nature may be favoring a different mindset.


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  • Ian AspinLocation: Lancaster Lake District, UK
  • Bio: I’m passionate about my work:TV journalist, producer, presenter, business ideas person. I care about: family, friends, helping people, finding meaning, running