Weird & Güd - What Will the Human Do?

Our lives might be a dark comedy, but they still need a plot.

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.

The Weird

What evil bubbling up from under the surface of your society troubles you today? Is it a decrease in the next generation’s intelligence or an increase in your government’s authoritarianism? Is it violence in the streets or violence on the screen? Is it dangerous ideas or dangerous dogs?

What is that evil next thing that’s only one imagined event away from threatening our very way of life? There are plenty to choose from today, but it seems like a societal rite of passage for at least one good moral panic to pop up every decade. Or every half-decade. Or every year.

Or perhaps our moral panic today is here to stay.

We’re alive and we’d prefer to stay that way. Sure, we “care” about our beliefs and the betterment of society, or something like that, but what’s really at the bottom of that care? At the very core of our concerns and condemnations is that dirty little secret that drives us all—self-preservation.

When we watch changes happen in our world that contradicts what we think is best for that world, as noble as our passion might seem, we’re ultimately responding to a perceived threat to our life as we know it. Whether it’s jazz, communism, or poisoned Halloween candy, moral panic ensues when we think our world is getting worse.

Moral panic isn’t just some hyperbolic phrase but a kind of social unrest recipe with specific ingredients. For a moral panic that yields enough to serve an entire country, you need:

  • Concern: Find some Bad People doing bad things that will cause even more bad things for everyone else.

  • Hostility: Add a dollop of classic “us vs. them” thinking and paint your Bad People as entirely, irredeemably, and unprecedentedly evil.

  • Consensus: Do you have some nuance or questions that could complicate your group’s understanding of the Bad People? Great! Throw those out.

  • Disproportionality: When baking your moral panic, be sure to set the oven to This Is The End of Civilization for 30 minutes. Add Hitler comparisons if you’re unsure about whether your moral panic is fully cooked.

  • Volatility: Set your moral panic on the counter to cool. Forget about it forever and start baking a new one.

If you’ve recognized elements of moral panic in your society, don’t be alarmed—we’ve been panicking over the end of western civilization for almost 2 centuries now. It’s not so much the panic over Bad People that should worry us, but what facilitates that panic. The development of moral panics closely follows the development of mass communication. It’s just much harder to create a frenzied population if you can’t actually communicate to that population why they should be frenzied.

As our ability to communicate with each other has sped up, so too, has our ability to communicate our ancient fear of bad people doing bad things.

In the stone age, newspapers were the first culprits for spreading sensational stories that sent average people into a scared scramble towards their politicians. That’s the trouble with panic; in our frenzied fear, we rush for the nearest, fastest, most extreme solutions in reach. Whether it’s an attempt to censor music, ban certain dog breeds, or expand harsh punishment for drug possession, legislation passed during moral panic is never as pretty the morning after.

Unlike our stone age past that bound us to the social panic speed limit of a newspaper, today the media can concoct a panic your grandma will warn you about tomorrow. Can you blame them? We make it so easy, sitting around in our full-but-hollow homes after leaving our needed-but-unwanted jobs that only make us less satisfied with our busy-but-empty lives all the while holding an instant-constant news hotline in our hands.

It’s easy to scoff at the media and their Smeagol-level lust for our clicks, but there is another factor to our frenzy. Without enough people furiously tweeting #TheSkyIsFalling, we might spend a day with our feet on the ground rather than our hair in our hands.

The Güd (& Absurd)

A traffic jam when you're already late
A "no smoking" sign on your cigarette break
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn't it ironic, don't you think?
A little too ironic, and yeah I really do think

It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
And who would've thought? It figures

And yeah, well, life has a funny way
Of sneaking up on you

If you recognize these lyrics, you probably know the famous misuse of the word ironic in this song by Alanis Morrisette. She described the kind of scenes that make us either laugh at our cartoonishly bad fortune or, you know, eventually lose our minds and go on a homicidal rampage.

The difference between those outcomes lies in how well you embrace the philosophical concept Morrisette ironically misnamed irony: absurdism.

The philosophy of absurdism is probably a larger part of your life than you realize. While it’s a little darker than a traffic jam while you’re already late, absurdism is born the moment you realize this world doesn’t give a damn whether it rains on your wedding day or not.

The apathy of our world to our very existence is what leads us to question whether that existence matters at all.

When it feels as though the world doesn’t care whether you thrive or suffer, live or die, the natural next question is: what’s the point?

Many philosophies are dedicated to answering that very question; some respond with a god, some conclude “the point” is up to you, others yet conclude there is no point and none should be sought. Absurdism’s answer falls somewhere between finding the point of life on your own and accepting there will never be any one true point to life.

Absurdism is essentially the philosophy of “Why not both?”

Never before seen footage of the moment Camus penned his absurdist philosophy.

Albert Camus is the poster boy for thriving in an absurdly meaningless world, though he isn’t the only philosopher who dealt with absurdism. Before Camus came Kierkegaard—the moody, mythologizing answer to life’s absurdity. Kierkegaard is the first philosopher to use absurdity to describe the conundrum of trying to live life as a thinking human with as little misery and insanity as possible, which is pretty much all we can ask somedays.

Kierkegaard saw life as the choice to follow distinct and exclusive paths, one being a reliance on faith, be it in religion or in some other idea beyond our total understanding. Camus wrote his answer to life’s absurdity in what was the philosophical equivalent of a diss track to Kierkegaard: The Myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, 1548 by Tiziano Vecelli.

Whereas Kierkegaard’s absurdism allows for embracing the absurdity of life with the admittedly absurd act of having faith in the unprovable, for Camus, anything besides facing up to the bleak meaninglessness of life and living it anyways was merely an escape. Just as Sisyphus was condemned to push a boulder up a hill only to watch it fall back and repeat his effort for all eternity, human beings are faced with an impossible task—living meaningfully in a meaningless world.

Yet, the absurdity of our desire for significance in a world indifferent to our lives is no excuse not to live.

The world’s lack of inherent meaning can be both a punishment and a freedom and that choice is part of your freedom. As we forge our way in a world deaf to our pleas for direction, remember that, of all choices, to suffer more than one must in a world apathetic to that suffering is the most absurd choice of all.

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.