For most of humanity’s existence, our goal has been to stay alive, and for this outward struggle for food, shelter and security, against disease and nature, we are well adapted and well experienced. This endless toil has been like the boulder of Sisyphus for us – but this toil has ended. We have created societies and states in which all this is provided, from birth, in great abundance compared to even the very close past. But our bodies are made for working, and our brains for thinking, and so we will always struggle against something. And in the modern day this struggle is not for staying alive, but with living, and for this, we have no experience and the education and social structure of our societies leaves us wholly unprepared for it.
This boulder of the past seemed to our natural instincts of utmost importance to roll, and thus we proceeded to do so with a sense of purpose and urgency – even if the weight would break many of us. In the end, with the power of creation that our minds possess, we became so successful at rolling this boulder, that it proceeds almost automatically. Thus we surpassed other animals, which still persist in their endless struggle for survival, and we look back with great pride and praise ourselves lucky for having overcome the hardship of old – but the absence of the boulder has inevitably created a gap in our existence. For we have escaped our natural environment, into one of leisure and peace, and also without purpose. Although seemingly pleasurable, this state is not natural for us. Without the outward struggle, we struggle inwards, with ourselves.
In western civilization (and I can only speak for this), the filling of the gap sought after have been simply to find new boulders to roll – and to continue to be a Sisyphus. The goal, although probably not consciously so, is simply to keep oneself occupied, by work, by hobbies, by sports, by social events; we seek distraction. These are not bad in and of themselves, but for what purpose are they chosen and performed? The old boulder was one of necessity – these new ones are constructed in absence of purpose and necessity, out of our basic need for activity. Hence it is for many people only this need that is covered – and this is not enough for everyone.
The old boulder, though heavy and oft hated, was a necessity and lacked alternative, thus satisfying our need for purpose and importance of what we do, for our survival, if nothing else. Most modern jobs lack this clear sense of necessity and purpose: Their necessity to society is often abstract and impersonal, we may rationalize it, but we do not “feel” it, and motivation, purpose and importance – these are feelings. And for the individual, the particular job is not important in itself. In theory, most jobs are open to everyone, and this freedom of choice removes importance of any particular job in terms of activity and wealth – which is our current scale of measurement.
This freedom of choice is being praised as unconditionally good, but it is only a tool – and as with any tool, it must be applied correctly. We have yet to learn how to deal with the freedom given to us – that we have given ourselves: We have removed the ball and chain from our legs, but we do not know where to walk. Having struggled under the tyranny, desperation and countless hardships of the past, as the dawn of the modern age came upon us with technology’s promise, we sought to make man free of this. In such a time and under such conditions, it is easy to imagine that the peace, leisure and freedom of today must have seemed so sweet and tempting, and so in forming the new societies and states, this freedom for one to make one’s own choices, to set one’s own path, became a goal. Now we are wasting away at jobs we choose out of our freedom; we are leading lives we find meaningless out of our freedom; we become addicts, miserable and even suicidal out of our freedom – what good is a tool we do not know how to use and which purpose is mostly unclear for us? This freedom and leisure are only means to an end, not an end itself – the end is Man.