Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Competition

Sometime last year I won a badminton tournament at work. Even before it unfolded, I realized that there was something fundamentally different between this and other competitions that I have taken part in.

I have problems competing. I don't see the point in it. No, not that I find competing obscene or vulgar but just that competitions amuse me. Because I can never want anything that badly, and it amuses me to see people act desperate. Again, not out of superciliousness or condescension but out of, as Camus would say, "a gentle indifference" to everything that has to do with existence. That said, I'm more of a golfer than a wrestler (or a fencer) -- the conquest of the absolute interests me more than temporary subjugation. The course, defeat the course. Not the opponent.

Anyway, back to the badminton tournament. The idea came around because we have a court in the garden where we thrash around in the evenings and thought a tournament would help build camaraderie in the team. So, the draw was fixed and notifications sent to opponents. But then I was already deep into my everything-is-futile mode, overwhelmed with "existential angst" and I didn't want to take part. That was also the period when I was contemplating, and sounding out, Absurdity as a philosophy to live life by. And the tournament seemed like a perfect place to try it out.

Basically the reasoning behind my taking part went like this - the fundamental choice was to take part or not, with each of the choices intrinsically not being superior to the other. This is where I've had most of my problems -- the justification of a choice. Not taking part, while going with the natural inertia of my habits, did not excite me and implied a continuation of ennui. Taking part however intrigued me. Not for the challenge of winning and the temptation of the prize, but to see if I could confront futility, acknowledge the meaninglessness of action and still engage in positive activity leading upto accomplishment, thereby pushing further out certain personal boundaries. That, to me, sums up everything -- to know something is pointless and still engage oneself with it. It is not a compromise; a compromise is a barter, but with the absurd there is no gain. It's not giving in, it's not weakness. Rather, it is the greatest of challenges calling for a greater mental and physical endurance. And probably the only one left if one ignores suicide.

In the end, I won both the singles and the doubles. Not without pain or labour ... I spent the next three days -- including a weekend -- in bed, wheezing and recuperating from a marathon doubles final played in the most gruelling of conditions. And I didn't feel anything about winning. The victory didn't mean anything -- the trophies lie abandoned in my room now. The games don't mean anything. The scores, the arguments, the pain in the knees ... nothing means anything. All that matters is confronting the absurd and choosing to live in spite of it. It is easy to dismiss oneself as being dead for feeling nothing, but to me, this is when living begins, when the faculty of feeling is heightened, when life is stripped free of the kitsch that everyday emotion is, when one is able to have a greater appreciation for things despite being aware of their inherent meaninglessness.

That then is where I stand. At the precarious precipice separating life and suicide, vacillating between action and inaction, choosing stimulation over boredom. This then is how life is going to be, to quote Camus again (I know! I know! But how can one not feel respect?), "To work and create 'for nothing', to sculpt in clay, to know that one's creation has no future, to see one's work destroyed in a day, while being aware that fundamentally, this has no more importance than building for centuries - this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions."

20 comments:

Karthik said...

Hey Welcome back !! First, the funny thigs which struck me -

1) Wasn't there any mixed doubles tournaments ?? :D

2) You sound as though u'd been to the Himalayas, had plenty of (whatever) and came back enlightened !!

On a more serious note - the whole thing is so depressing !! When you look back at life - it seems so meaningless - like what's the point of getting up daily, having a bath(on most days !!), working, chatting with friends, reading blogs, marrying, producing kids, admitting them to school, taking new responsibilties everything !! I am agnostic - but if u look at it one way - it seems as though we are all part of a grand scheme - (optimistically) A scheme which we aren't aware of, (for whatever reasons - like they dont take the lamb's permission before the slaughter), something which is being controlled somewhere !! Now am begining to sound absurd myself - Good !!

Anonymous said...

ha ha...you surely havent missed this?
http://2x3x7.blogspot.com/2005/07/parable-of-desert.html

Camus and Absurdism....I am getting cynical about that moment of epiphany...also what I have noticed is it is not everyone's cup of tea...are they denial blunt reality or people like us who espouse this missing something?

- You know Who

musafir said...

karthik

1) Well, with just 4 women and around 22 men, any pairing was bound to arouse strong opposition; so the organizers decided not to have mixed doubles, much to my regret.

2) Just been busy with a lot of things.

As for the grand scheme, gosh, how long will you continue to delude yourself?

TMWWT

Oh yes, I've read that - in fact, that's what got me started on Camus. It's been an interesting time so far. Just to clarify, this post is to probe into my thoughts on taking a philosophy out of the lab and into the field. More like saying, "I agree; it works."

Is there a moment of epiphany with Absurdism? I don't think so ... all that one feels is a sesne of quiet at having "arrived".

I agree, it is not everyone's cup of tea; it's not mine either. I still look for meaning - old habits die hard - but then the number of instances are coming down. Let's see where we go from here.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah! tell me about it!! "it works" is just an understatement!!

Btw it's an interesting relationship between "Absurdism" and "Epiphany"...kind of a paradox actually when the "realization" of "Absurdism" is a moment of epiphany ( unless one is brought up in that philosophy ) but form then once a person crosses the line the word "epiphany" becomes repugnant and anathema to "Absurdism". It is almost as if one denies the moment of epiphany in an Absurdist framework.

Err...Do I get what I mean? I have been tautological enough.. :|

- TMWWT

Anonymous said...

*you get what I mean

musafir said...

"when the "realization" of "Absurdism" is a moment of epiphany ( unless one is brought up in that philosophy ) but form then once a person crosses the line the word "epiphany" becomes repugnant and anathema to "Absurdism". It is almost as if one denies the moment of epiphany in an Absurdist framework." -- Bingo! :) In fact, that's exactly what I meant when I asked if one can associate epiphanies with an absurdist reasoning -- the feeling is close to relief than jubilation. With me, I was getting there anyway and Camus just acted as a catalyst :)

Btw, I did a little digging into Google -- and consequently PG -- since I was curious as to why you should point out that particular post of F's, considering there are so many others which are equally memorable. That MBA essay thread sure is funny :) I wish people would read "The Fall" before they post on such threads.

Anonymous said...

Nopes I guess one cannot. Once the "realization" everything just fits in magically...the irony is these are the exact kind of words which a theist would probably say....
What dost thee mean by Camus being a catalyst? In my case Camus' idea of Absurdism ( which is just a name anyway ) perfectly fit into what I was thinking. I guess you mean the same too..

Oh yeah that thread is a riot...could you think of any other post which would have been appropriate there? Do you think it made any difference? I pretty much doubt it..:)
"The Fall" wouldnt have made any difference to them either...they just dont "think" that way...which makes it all the more curiouser...what are the preconditions which would make one understand and aprpeciate Camus?
I am just trying to see whether there is any pattern...but not much sample set so far:)

Echo said...

Welcome back! I am only going to comment on the fact that they now have sponsered badminton tournaments! Wow... will leave the philosophical discussions to the more erudite blog-readers

--Anu

musafir said...

"the irony is these are the exact kind of words which a theist would probably say" -- good point, but then to each his "delusion" eh? (reason not withstanding) ... and yes, you got what I meant when I said "catalyst".

As for the thread, what I found interesting is how people insist upon "glorifying" the part about insights & introspection (almost like a child who's just discovered a new toy) -- I mean, given an intelligence capable of scoring well in the GMAT, it is not impossible to draw up a universal set of all insights possible at work and other areas of one's life and then proceed to select the juicy ones and package them properly. I don't understand why people have to get all holy about it. And I refuse to believe that such insights are tough to acquire.

That post was apt, but like you say, I don't think it made any difference. And yes, I continue to be baffled by people who seem to not be able to think that way. One would think that the logical progression of a personal philosophy would lead to the acceptance, or at least militant denial, of futility. But then most of the people I know seem to be satisfied with whatever answer fits in with their personal quests. An example would be Ayn Rand's Objectivism -- once people read her and realize that their way of living was indeed valid, they seem to have stopped questioning further. Which is very sad really.

As for the preconditions, to my mind, there seems to be just the one (if one excludes personal inclinations and natural bent of mind) -- to persistently question why till you get an answer. Even if the answer is that there is no answer.

echo

:) ... I did vist your blog from an earlier comment you had left, but there were no posts then. Things have changed now, I see.

Yes, they are getting generous around here. A one-day trip to a resort is in the offing now :) (now, now, envy is bad for health you know).

As for the discussion, feel free (you're the one at Stanford :P). Sometimes Camus is just plain common sense.

So, how's life? Did you get to meet the Ph.D comics guy?

Anonymous said...

ah welcome to my world...why do you think I am fascinated by MBTI?;) I am fascinated "why" people think the way they think in spite of overwhelming evidence against their pet beliefs? ( ok evidence according to our standards..)
Also I would be very surprised if there is not a INTJ/INTP/INFJ/INFP connection to those who think "Absurdism" might have a point...
I know I know MBTI itself is largely subjective but if that could be fine tuned a little bit better we might be on to something...

But then you know it is not as simple as merely questioning alone..I mean yes intensive questioning of "why" will lead inevitably to Absurdism but we should be thinking what would make people ask "why"..in other words ironically why "why"!

-TMWWT

musafir said...

TMMWT

:) ... ok, let's take it from the top here. So, apparently, some people exhibit certain philosophical tendenceies. And assuming there exists a system superior, and highly refined, to the MBTI which recognizes such tendencies with negligible error. So what? Where does it leave us? In other words, is that knowledge useful? There's a post-modernist talking for you :)

That is, why 'why' "why"?

Why should one bother about why people exhibit a pattern with their whys?

musafir said...

To add to the previous comment, I do believe that, irrespective of personal nature, persistent questioning will indeed lead to Absurdism, but whether people accept it or not is a totally different ball game. Similar to the atheist-agnostic distinction. Some might, in the face of Absurdism, just say, "It looks like the world's absurd, but that's for now. Things may change tomorrow - a time machine, for example." To look for a pattern is, pardon the pun, futile. I could think of aa whole lot of variables which would make two people, with the same MBTI (yes, a restrictive typing) type, differ when confronted with Absurdism. Besides, one has to remember that all this is within the framework of existing scientific progress.

The Soliloquist said...

"And probably the only one left if one ignores suicide."

Trust Me, suicide aint that great a challenge as the one you faced.

Time whizzes past you before you can catch a whiff of it,and yet one is always under an illusion of time-stasis. It is this which brings the clash between the surrender to and challenge against boredom. The purest form of joy and satisfaction, that the living can aspire for, is the cognizance of each second spent exercising one's mental and physical faculties. Its easy to fall for ennui, but to wake up from it, as you rightly said it, is akin to re-birth. One needs to experience it to talk about it. No, one wouldnt talk about it, how many ever times, one experiences it. Its way too personal a feeling.

The Man Who Wasnt There said...

oh well postmodernist or otherwise it is an exercise in intellectual masturbation....:p Ofcourse if you are going to talk about knowledge being useful ( utilitarianism? ) one can always find "use" for it..considering the "use" is quite subjective..:)

Actually my argument was aposteriori :) Reasoning back from people who think absurdism might have a point..you are suggesting a priori experiment..

Sachin said...

Hey happened has to you? You used to be ferocious about playing and winning when i was around :)

consumerdemon said...

i didn't read any of the comments above, so forgive me if this is a repeat.

"I have problems competing. I don't see the point in it... Because I can never want anything that badly, and it amuses me to see people act desperate."

and

"In the end, I won both the singles and the doubles. Not without pain or labour ... I spent the next three days -- including a weekend -- in bed, wheezing and recuperating from a marathon doubles final played in the most gruelling of conditions."

Why try so hard if you don't care?

Also, don't kill yourself. The grass might not be greener on that side.

Anonymous said...

@consumerdemon:
Why try so hard if you don't care?

That is the whole point!!! Did you read the post in the link I had given initially?

Stallion said...

Dude....wat the hell is going on? Ur a fast bowler dude....ur talking like a ****in spinner(Sorry abt my language...no offence meant). Reading a few of ur lines:

"I'm more of a golfer than a wrestler (or a fencer)" - Ur still young to be playing golf dude..I dont mean this literally but ur thinking sounds old dude!

And if u just cared abt just participating and not competing...why the hell did u strain urself? U strained urself enough to spend a weekend in bed. U might say that u wanted to keep up the spirit of the game....but ur words still sound contradictory when u said u didnt wanna compete

According to me, competition(specially in sport) just means one thing! Competition is 'pride'. Competition is an open challenge to go beyond ur physical limitations to perform.

And as Justin Langer said after getting hit on his ribs during his final test in Sydney in the Ashes:

" I feel proud abt the badges of honor on my body".

And for anybody in sport...whatevr sport u play...wherever u play...however small ur teams might be...and on whatever occasion u play...playing for pride is wat i believe in.

And for u....stop thinking like a sissy dude.:) j/k

Brood Mode said...

I agree

"...how can one not feel respect?"

Anonymous said...

@broodmode: Eh?? Is that all you have to say with respect to the post?? It's like reading "Myth of Sisyphus" and going "I agree with it. Sisyphus is indeed a myth". A truism but that was hardly the point..