by Winslow Myers
Absurd — ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous (Merriam-Webster)
The condition of absurdity has been examined in depth by such heavy-duty philosophers as Kierkegaard and Camus, let alone by countless undergraduates in common-room bull sessions.
Without doubt there is a random element to life where bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Absurdity is built into reality. The ultimate absurdity of death awaits us all. But Camus opposed the absurd by arguing that we can create meaning through a noble defiance of our condition, by responding constructively, rather than reacting reflexively, to inevitable limits, bad luck, and chaos.
Much ink has been spilled about the violence and cruelty of the Russian aggression into Ukraine, and now the Israeli scorched earth response to Hamas’s sadistic incursion. Less has been written about the absurdity of war, its unworkability and total waste, accelerated by leaders who misuse war to consolidate their own power.
Netanyahu’s “strategy” of bouncing the rubble in Gaza and catering to his right flank’s refusal of a Palestinian state seems to be a major part of his desperate effort to remain in power and unscathed by charges of corruption. Netanyahu is an absurdist cousin of Trump, who with pugilistic glee turns even his court appearances into campaign rallies.
A theologian once suggested that Satan is an abstraction personified in a human being aggressively pursuing a self-centered agenda. By undertaking an incongruously absurd war, Putin has put himself in a cage for the rest of his life. He can never for a moment be free of the suspicion that one of his own retinue, or a vengeful Ukrainian, or another loose cannon like Prigozhin, could manage to get past all his layers of protection and do him in.
One absurdity of the cult of Trump (Putin too for that matter) is that his admirers assume his authentic manliness. In the case of Trump, this manliness is paradoxically rooted in a bottomless, insecure need to be approved and fawned over that apparently originated in a childhood lack of paternal love. Tragically, this need will never be satisfied. Win or lose, leaders like Trump, Putin, and Netanyahu will try to paper over their pseudo-confidence with empty bravado. Authoritarians devoid of an understanding of servant leadership stand a good chance of coming to the end of their lives bitter and unfulfilled.
Nothing says absurdity like the Iowa voter, apparently speaking for all too many others, who said of Trump: “They’re doing to him what they did to Jesus.” That is the language of someone immersed in a cult.
Ordinarily sensible people are vulnerable to be sucked into the vortex. Recently New Hampshire Governor Sununu demonstrated the strain of naked absurdism running through our domestic politics when, in an interview with PBS journalist Judy Woodruff, he catalogued all the reasons why Trump must at all costs be denied the Republican nomination—and then finished by saying he would still support Trump were he to be nominated!
Netanyahu assumes that if the Israeli Defense Forces can wipe out Hamas entirely (itself an almost impossible task), they can also wipe out the rage that energizes all Palestinians without negotiating Palestinian statehood (absurdly beyond the possible). Putin’s mind-set toward Ukraine is similar. So far Trump may not have begun a shooting war, but his approach to the diversity of people and ideas is identical to Putin’s and Netanyahu’s: ruthless intolerance of any force opposing his domination.
All three profoundly insecure leaders (at least if Trump gets re-elected), along with others of their type like Kim Jung Un, have the power to use nuclear weapons and hold the fate of the earth in their hands. Tragically—absurdly—the pseudo-confidence of these leaders is matched by the pseudo-security of the deterrence system upon which we all have come to rely for our “security.” Nuclear weapons of course contain enough destructive power to rebound upon anyone who might be foolish enough to think of them as a solution to conflict. Imagine Israel obliterating Tehran, or North Korea destroying South Korea, only to have a fatal cloud of radioactive dust blow back upon Jerusalem or Pyongyang or, worse, cause a worldwide thickening of cloud cover that does us all in by way of nuclear winter and subsequent agricultural catastrophe.
Even as we risk drifting into wider war in the Middle East, the nine nuclear powers, including the United States, still insist that possession of the weapons confers advantages too great to forego, in spite of the fact that the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has rendered nuclear weapons illegal under international law.
War became obsolete with the invention of weapons of mass destruction. In 2023, parties to complex international conflicts have still not recognized this reality.
Instead, vast sums, aggregating over time into the trillions of dollars, continue to be spent on the expansion and renewal of apocalyptic weapons. One misinterpretation or belligerent overstep by an insecure leader could end the human experiment altogether.
Meanwhile the community of nations cannot seem to address with equivalent urgency, funds, and cooperation the most likely cause of future chaos and war: the global climate emergency.
That is truly absurd . . .