Rembrandtplein

For someone who assumes the role of passive observer and narrates the events and occurrences of his or her surroundings through a first-person narrative or point of view, there also has to be a certain set of philosophical underpinnings for their observation and analysis. One writer in Washington who comes closest to having very European philosophical underpinnings for their first-person narration and passive observation of reality is the legendary Bob Woodward. My SRP/thesis on American policy towards Afghanistan as a graduate student would have been incomplete without Woodward’s work. Thus, as writers, we build on the backs of those who came before us, and in turn many of us are open to the prospect of our contemporaries as well as our intellectual posterity building on our own backs.

Thus, a passive observer role and a first-person narration and point of view of reality are largely the equivalent of an existential and phenomenological method. And an existential and phenomenological method has its own set of philosophical underpinnings. At the heart of the philosophical underpinnings of an existential and phenomenological method is the concept known as “Absurdism.” This concept gained traction in the Western world through the famous Franco-Algerian writer Albert Camus. The core principle of detachment from one’s surroundings is to preserve the objectivity and truthfulness of one’s observation and analysis through the assumption and belief that absurdity lies at the core of human existence. As Camus wrote in “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “The principle can be established that for a man who does not cheat, what he believes to be true must determine his action. Belief in the absurdity of existence must then dictate his conduct.”

However, the paradox is that the belief in the absurdity of existence does not render one’s existence as being void of meaning. After the realization of the absurdity behind existence, what follows is perhaps “consciousness” and a “definitive awakening.” As Camus wrote:

“Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery.”

In previous blog posts, I equated my blogging endeavor with “recovery” and therapy to a certain extent. Existentialists and phenomenologists also believe that anxiety is at the core of everything. What looms large over ordinary anxiety is what the existential psychologist Irvin Yalom called “Death Anxiety.” Thus, “Death Anxiety” manifests in many different ways.

During a brief trip I made to Amsterdam after a conference at The Hague in the Summer of 2015, I was sitting at the hotel terrace right outside of the entrance door in the Rembrandtplein neighborhood of Amsterdam on an unusually warm and sunny afternoon for European standards. Rembrandtplein is perhaps the busiest and bustling of Amsterdam’s various neighborhoods. That afternoon, as I was sitting outside of the hotel observing my surroundings, an entire horde of nude bikers came flying past me while shouting discordantly. The last of the nude bikers to fly past me asked: “Why are you wearing clothes?”

After that startling incident, I went to sit inside at the hotel lobby in order to digest what just occurred. Coincidentally, a Russian businessman was checking out of the hotel at that particular moment. He then turned, glanced at me, smiled, said hello, and came to sit across from me on the lobby sofa for a brief conversation. He asked me why I came to Holland. I told him I was here for a youth conference at The Hague. He smiled, winked at me, and then he told me that he was on his way to the airport for a business trip to Ghana. He then asked me where I was from. I told him that my parents are originally from Afghanistan, but I was born in the United States. He was pleased to hear that, and he responded that Russians and Muslims are very similar to each other in terms of culture and religion, and that Russians and Muslims can never fully connect with Europeans because in his words, Europeans were “crazy people.” He then bid farewell, wished me good luck with my endeavors, and was then off to the airport.

That craziness which the Russian businessman referred to – and which manifested through the horde of nude bikers that flew by me just moments before – very much prompts a divergent method towards the analysis and observation of reality so that one can get a grasp of what really lies at the heart of the craziness and madness. But as Camus said, if one were to settle for an answer, the settlement would amount to “philosophical suicide.” Therefore, the quest will go on.

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