You wake up 1 January. And what is different? Almost nothing in life experience. It would be an extremely rare occasion that someone would wake up 1 January and be a completely different person that they were on 31 December.

 

Yet weirdly we go through this cultural cycle of New Year’s celebrations, year after year, after year. The feeling that a few of us get when we stand back, and have a hard look at it, is of a mouse condemned to the spinning wheel. It is The Myth of Sisyphus. Contra to Camus, however, I do not conclude that, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Kafka did not fail as an absurd writer because he retains a glimmer of hope, as Camus claims. Without hope, it makes no sense, even as the absurd. We absurdly repeat New Year’s celebrations, because we have hope!

 

The world may be irrational, and we are in disjunction with our desire for clarity (reason) – what Camus describes as the absurd condition, but New Year revellers and Camus have missed the factor of our evolutionary existence. The Gods can no longer cast us into a static perspective of our existence, unless we let them through our thinking. But if our minds are fixed on eternal cycles, we miss comprehending the change and chaos of our condition. Contra to the old scientific worldview, we do not live as a deterministic existence. On this point, Sartre was right and Camus was wrong. We do have agency in the repeated cycles. There is the change of perspective, and hence the ability to change our irrational world with clarity of thought. Of course, this is itself a repeatable cycle, but it also a spiralling lineage in that, with a change in perspective, we have gone from a former condition to a new condition.

 

The problem with the Myth of Sisyphus is that the Gods’ condition of a completely unchanging pattern, where nothing changes except the fixed motion, is artificial! Our nature is a matter of change, but change which is extremely gradual. In a naturalistic perspective, the rock which Sisyphus is forced to roll up the mountain will erode. If the rock erodes, then Sisyphus has defied the condemnation of the Gods. Certainly, it is open that the changed conditions may prove to be just as unhelpful for Sisyphus; indeed, perhaps another unexpected problem may be its consequence. That is the risk with change. The point is that we are not statically locked into the repeated patterns of the past…if we choose to make such a resolution for change. And importantly, such change cannot occur magically between 31 December and 1 January.

 

We must find change gradual. And ironically it means taking another rock of habit and pushing it up the mountain. However, in this case, there is not absurdity; there is purpose we choose in good faith. Happy New Year.

 

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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.

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