Sisyphus

Camus has written about the insignificance of it all though he stopped at saying that notwithstanding this truth we have to endure.

For what?

Philosophers have busied themselves making sense of our modern existence, but no matter how lengthy their treatises are on life and its supposed meaning, none of their obscure and vague language will fully capture the concreteness of the insignificance felt by that lonely individual who has to endure the drabness, boredom, and life’s obvious lack of purpose.

Monday reminds one of that cycle that doesn’t stop. Of the endless repetitions and unfillable hollowness of modern existence. One usually closes in upon himself by plugging his ears with music or noise, anything that will keep his thoughts from successfully arguing with and persuading him that jumping off the train is a more rational option than raging against the light which, sooner or later, will die.

“Life’s a calling, make it matter,” says a Teleperformance billboard. I don’t know which is worse, admitting that indeed having a mission is a b.s. and to altogether call it quits is a more rational choice or continually deluding oneself that there is a lofty purpose for all these.

But perhaps, Camus was right. That there is virtue in rebelling, in continuously pushing that boulder up a mountain only to see it falling down and pushing it up again until one’s dying days. That I think is my mission. If it can be called such.

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Why “Why did the chicken cross the street?” is the most frivolous question ever formulated

There are questions about life whose profundity is worth reflecting about. For instance these three questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go from here? are very critical questions for the spiritual survival of mankind. The attempts to find the answers to them sparked the birth of specific bodies of knowledge such as metaphysics, semiotic, and ontology that can stand on their own right as an independent branch of philosophy.

There are questions that are asked because they require practical answers which, although not philosophical in nature, are still necessary to maintain civilization. For example: If the slope of the line is the tangent of cosine b, what is the angle of the line opposite teta as it approaches the asymptote of the 4th quadrant 28 degrees east northeast of that toilet bowl to your left, granting that the formula y=mx+b is half of the diameter of that circle whose pi is not 3.1416 but 2.3X10 raised to the 23rd power of the speed of light in a vacuum?

Questions like the one before this paragraph may sound pedantic but they have actual applications in the field of civil engineering, architecture, weather reporting, space technology, communication, etc. They are not meant to be answered by laymen not because they are not capable of answering them but because there are specialized groups of people who are paid to answer them. Answers to these questions make our existence on this planet more comfortable, our lives easier, therefore allowing as to pursue the answers to questions of the first type.

There are questions that keep the society in order, at peace, and well-functioning. How are you? How’s your day? Can I call you tonight? Do you love me? Can we make love tonight? Will you marry me? Can I have a divorce? are of this kind. These questions maintain human conduct, the foundation of an urbane, civilized, humane, and cosmopolitan living. Without questions like these, we are nothing better than wild beasts or members of a barbaric tribe who are yet to be tamed by what we universally refer to as ecumenical acculturation (I am literally clueless as to the meaning of this phrase, but it sounds good so I am using it anyway).

The last kind of questions, which, I believe, is the least studied but the most interesting, is where the Why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-street? type of questions belong. These questions are devoid of any spiritual, utilitarian, or cultural significance. People who ask these questions indulge in their own frivolity and the buffoonery of the questions they ask. Mankind asks “Why did the chicken cross the street?” because of a combination of boredom and unabashed narcissism.

Different societies around the world have their versions of jokes involving the innocent chicken. This particular chicken, however, did not even think of crossing the street because, as all of us know, there’s nothing to be seen on the other side of the street that can’t be found on that side of the street the chicken is standing. But man’s prying won’t give the chicken his peace. Despite the apparent absence of any laugh-inducing tales that are truly humorous involving our chicken, mankind doesn’t stop concocting stories that explain why the chicken crossed the street (or if our chicken indeed did cross the busy street).

But it appeared that on the other side of the street, the chicken in question is staring at the entire of mankind wondering why the most advance species in the animal kingdom is wondering why the lowly avian crossed the street, which in fact he did not.

“See what boredom can do!” The chicken exclaimed.

Getting physical: how to be safe in a dangerous world

Primitive man

As usual I was in a hurry. Holding a copy of Time magazine with my left hand, a gray duffel bag on my right shoulder, my right hand inside my pocket, I pressed myself inside a crowded elevator going down. Mirrors surrounded us, so it gave me an opportunity to look at people’s expressions without directly staring at them and scaring them with my gaze that always appears malicious. With my look, I can be mistaken for a serial killer: torn jeans, dirty shirt, unkempt hair, and an unknown demonic symbol tattooed on my right arm. After sometime of going to a gym, I’ve developed a built physique that completes the description of a stereotypical killer.

Living in Manila is only a matter of intimidating or being intimidated (my imbecilic logic at work this time). I cannot always speak my mind out loud in a crowd so I have to come up with ways to display my might and make use of available visual cues to signal that I am armed and ready to fight til death. By working out in a gym to attain a certain level of acceptable bulge, having a height of 180 cm (5’11”), and a fashion statement to complete a caricature of a villain in Pinoy action films during the 1980s, I’ve just crossed my name off the list of would-be victims of robbery, murder, and, least of all rape, on Manila’s dangerous street.

Odilon_Redon_-_Primitive_Man_(Seated_in_Shadow)

Odilon Redon “Primitive Man (Seated in Shadows)”

I cannot survive by being a wimpy intellectual. My thinking must go beyond the thought bubble of my intellect and theories for these will not protect me from the dangers that lurk in the dark alleys of this physical world.

Challenging my assailant on a debate will not be practicable if he has already lunged his knife into my aorta and sliced my larynx, not to mention seeing myself bleeding to death. By then the debate is certainly moot and academic. But developing a muscular legs will do me good if I am running after somebody who just snatched my mobile. Or running from somebody whose intent is to obliterate my face on the face of the world. Explaining to a pickpocket the alienation he is experiencing in a modern society and how to cope with it is futile if he has already emptied my pocket. But having a strong shoulder and a powerful jab will do me so much good to give the man good beatings he’ll forever remember.

Staring myself on the mirrors inside that elevator I saw a body poised to conquer anything that comes his way and capable of defeating anybody that dares to challenge him. That for me is something that transcends Gramsci, Foucault, or Descartes. That is worth more than all the theories and philosophies that explain man’s very existence. I can almost feel my power.

When man lives like an animal in a jungle, his humanity is emphasized. When he is confronted by the rawness of the world, he sees himself more attuned to what he really is – not an animal but definitely not God.

Primitive man3

Questions of a twenty-something who feels life has reached its end

I was in the middle of my lecture when it dawned on me that I have so many suppressed resentments inside me. I am stuck in this humdrum of pedantry set in the context of futile existence. In my subconscious, I cannot anymore remember how many times I asked this question: “will there be somebody who will shed tears for me in case I die right at this moment?”

We all think that what we are doing is indispensable, and that as a person we are indispensable, but how many times have we been proved wrong? That the world will remain as it is even after we die? That our family will grieve, yes, for a while, but live their own lives (and forget about us) after we die?

Why am I doing all these things? Before I thought that the best answer to this question is that these make me a better person. But after I have proved to myself that I have indeed become a better person, what is next? Being the best person is the logical next step, I know. Although it is impossible to achieve, for the sake of argument, let’s say it is possible. The lingering “so what?” remains.

Questions that reminded me of the philosopher in Ecclesiastes.

I was almost in a trance. Philosophical realizations are like this – they occur in the middle of a very mundane task, something that I don’t think as inspiring enough to cause me to ask questions that I know I will not have any concrete answer now or anytime soon. My student laughed at the joke I just told. This reaction is too seldom when you teach something in English to foreigners whose mother language is world apart from English.

A glimmer of hope, I thought.