Guilty Of Absurdity

Nick Williams
6 min readDec 3, 2023
Image — gallica.bnf.fr

All structures — without exception — are ‘made up things’; there isn’t a structure anywhere that can claim otherwise. Or rather there is no structure anywhere that can honestly claim otherwise, that can honestly claim to be ‘true in its own right’. It is a peculiarity of logic to be ‘overvalent’ in this way, just as it is a peculiarity of all theory to implicitly claim the capacity to explain far more than it actually can.

All structures claim to be more than they are; that’s part of what being a structure means — it means that we assume a universality that doesn’t actually exist. If I come up with a theory — for example — then that theory has to explain stuff — what good is a theory that can’t explain anything? What good is a map that has zero correspondence with any real territory? Such a thing is nothing more than a philosophical folly.

All structures are artificial (which is to say, ‘only provisional’) and yet our basic outlook on life is to claim the very opposite. We will say the structures and systems which other folk swear by are only ‘made up things’ (and therefore fake) but that — crucially- the structure which we’re adhering to isn’t fake but is in fact ‘the real deal’ — preposterous as this may sound. There are very few of us who are not guilty of this type of one-sidedness — the type of one-sidedness which arbitrarily picks one side of the argument to believe in, and then steadfastly ignores the other! We’re using the word ‘guilt’ here but it’s not as if any serious crime or sin or wrongdoing has taken place — we’re guilty not of ‘wrongdoing’ in our one-sidedness but absurdity.

This Great Absurdity — the absurdity of us acting as if only stuff on one side of the dividing line is real — underlines everything we do, everything we think. If the basis for our whole existence is ridiculous then that existence must itself be ridiculous; there’s no way around this and so the only way ‘forward’ is for us to ignore or deny the absurdity (just as we originally ignored and denied the fact that there is no such thing as ‘a boundary with only the one side’. The distinction between committing an absurd act and committing a sin or unforgivable error is very significant — in the second case we’re going to be punished for breaking a moral rule (and our name is going to be blackened), whilst in the second case we will also run into unwanted consequences, but this isn’t a punishment. There’s no punishment and there’s no moral culpability. The idea that there is (or should be) some sort of culpability for ‘committing an absurd act’ is itself absurd.

Another way of putting this is to say that there are always going to be consequences when we operate on the basis of a model that’s incoherent, a model that conflicts or disagrees with the actual reality of ‘what’s going on’. The incoherence — when it’s one-sidedness that we’re talking about — has to do with the way in which we act as if only one half of the picture is real (and pretend that the other half of it doesn’t exist). In general, when our approach is incoherent then instead of obtaining the result we wanted, we get a result that we didn’t want, and this is what we call ‘counterproductivity’ — we put the effort in but it works against us, not for us. We’re secretly sabotaging ourselves every step of the way. Counterproductivity isn’t a punishment though, it’s just what inevitably happens when we fail to take the sheer breadth of reality into account.

Counterproductivity reaches its apogee when it comes to one-sidedness — when we say that ‘only stuff on one side of the dividing line is real’ what we’re saying is that there can be such a thing as a ‘plus without a minus’, a ‘movement in the positive direction without there also being the possibility of the corresponding complementary movement in the negative direction’. We are acting as if this absolutely is the case, even though such a proposition is utterly and irredeemably preposterous. When we make a wholly preposterous assumption such as this the counterproductivity involved is also total, is also complete, and this means that whatever progress we think we have made is always going to be completely reversed later on. Whatever money we make in the boom we’re bound to lose in the bust. Instead of talking about counterproductivity we can come right out and talk in terms of reversal therefore — one pole is replaced by the other pole, the denied (or forgotten) pole. Just because we have denied it doesn’t mean that it isn’t real, after all…

This is nothing if not simple to understand — when we act as if there isn’t a compliment to the polarity that we’re seeking to emphasise then we’re acting as if what we’re doing isn’t absurd when it clearly is. This is a classic example of burying one’s head in the sand and then believing that because we can’t see the bad thing then it can’t be there! It’s only ourselves that we’re fooling here — the thing is going to happen just the same, but now it’s going to take us by surprise (which isn’t really going to prove much of an advantage for us). And to say that being stuck in denial ‘doesn’t help us any’ is of course a truly fantastic understatement.

We are necessarily invested in the one-sided picture of the world that we started out with — we’re ‘invested’ because we can’t see the untenable nature of the world that we have created. We’ve made ourselves blind to this. We naturally believe that we can ‘build upon this beginning’, that we can ‘reach somewhere real’ in a step-wise progressive manner, just like climbing up a set of stairs, or up a ladder rung by rung. ‘Building up’ via a process of accumulation, via a process of progressing in a linear, step-wise fashion, only works where there is a solid and reliable foundation, and this is the one thing we don’t we absolutely haven’t got here. We haven’t got a solid dependable consistent foundation — all we’ve got is a mirage, all we’ve got is a Will-O-The-Wisp taking us on a merry chase, a beguiling Siren Song leading us on to our ultimate ruin…

We started off this discussion by saying that all structures, without exception, are invented things, artificial things, fake things, and so we’re talking about ‘artificiality’ here in a very particular, very specific sense of the term. ‘Artificial’ means here that we’re taking it to be the case that any positive movement we make isn’t automatically compensated for by an equal-and-opposite negative movement, separated only by linear time. ‘The road up is the same as the road down’ says Heraclitus, but we’re taking it to be the case that <up> isn’t the same as <down>, that they are two independent things that can be considered as existing completely independently of each other in two ‘non-communicating’ compartments. This being so, we can entertain the notion of progress and advancement and accumulation and so on and get all fired up about it and make this be ‘what life is all about’. We say life is all about who can progress the most, who can accumulate the most, but this is just a game because there’s no such thing as progression or accumulation when it’s circular motion that we’re talking about. There’s no ‘glorious advancement’ in a mechanical vibration; after all, a mechanical vibration’s only function is to constantly and consistently negate itself. We can’t expect any more than this from it…

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