Despair-A Common Condition?

by Mike Pyatt

Mike Pyatt

Few literary works evoke such vitriolic reaction to a fictional character as existentialist Albert Camus’ 1956 book,The Fall. One student reportedly reacted, “I would like to punch Camus’ absurd hero, Jean-Baptiste Clamense in the face.” Camus, as with Sartre, had no sufficient reference point for absolutes, as atheists, therefore, man must somehow authenticate himself. But how? Good works? Suicide? The hero is on trial in his own court. A successful lawyer, Clamense thinks himself a good man of high self regard. His story becomes a “confessional” of sorts. He bares his soul as an inebriated womanizer. He begs for freedom.But he’s unable to bare it. He disdains hypocrisy, yet his life is just that. An admission of his own depravity. Who hasn’t been there? He called himself “a prophet for shabby times.” Baptiste admitted that his feigned concern for others was mere condescension. Is he despicable because he’s like us?

Clamense let this darkly clad damsel drown without lifting a finger to help. He was unmoved by her splash in the river, or her midnight scream for help. Was it too cold? Risking one’s own life is fraught with danger. Was she committing suicide? Would he interrupt her fatal? No hero qualities? Was this the genuine Jean-Baptiste? He had just left his mistress. To escape his responsibility he shifted the blame from a personal pronoun to the third person. Equalitarian guilt offered no relief.

Unfettered freedom was too much for Clamense to bare. He reminds others that he’s no worse than they. Camus cleverly disguises his hero with the French equivalent of John The Baptist. He was an “Elijah with no Messiah.” Most notable is that Camus’ hero never repented. He groveled in his shame. A hollow confession to expunge his guilt. Would he have behaved differently to a “second chance” to rescue the drowning damsel? He mused of such a replay. Absent a infinite God who hears our repentance, Clamense was left with only emptiness. No second chance in his realm. When mankind begins with himself as the only reference point, he’s doomed. Although Camus captured modern man’s condition, his remedy was wholly insufficient. Camus is dead. But his legacy of despair’s alive and well in our culture.

Why is one shocked at the alarming teen-age suicide rate? Sociologist relegate it to a variety of factors that may influence such behavior. Bullying, fractured families, abusive relationships, guilt, molestation, and drugs, to name a few. Some are convinced those are symptomatic, rather than causation. Absent genuine hope, what else matters?

In the midst of tragedy, whether self induced or otherwise, self-validation is insufficient. Is despair a moment in time or a way of life? Sadly, many adolescent role models often mismanage life’s vicissitudes with opioids, alcohol, illicit drugs, and suicide, while simultaneously extolling the virtues of materialism, introspection, and conflicting messages that few youngsters are equipped to translate or actualize.

After a decade of decline in teenage suicide in the 1990’s, it has tripled over the past fifteen years, especially among adolescent girls, according the CDC. More statistics exist than hopeful outcomes. Most therapy models have disdain for Christian conversion that offers life changing intervention, and hope, both situationally and eternally. Open hostility to a Biblical option is haute couture. Public schools in particular would rather remain totally secular than offer substantial hope for students. Natrona County School District Suicide Prevention Task Force’s motto is, “Suicide prevention is everyone’s business.” They promote “Break the Silence” walks that are primarily symbolic. Their motto’s laudable, but inadequate in the real world. The Washington Post’s solution is to “limit gun access.” Rising numbers bely the efficacy of such misguided efforts.

Disintegration of the traditional family continues to disorient offsprings with a moral compass that continually points the wrong direction. In an age where cupidity reigns and self-discipline is rarer than monazite, virtue and moral instruction are neutralized.Trapped in a Camus web. Children aren’t born with a moral compass. From kindergarten through secondary education there’s a quarry of rich history and moral literature to inculcate our traditional heritage to generations we’ll never see. We didn’t mine that quarry. Many school districts elected trendy, “moral free” curricula, generally ignoring parental input. With nine year olds armed with internet devices, and virtually unlimited social networks, can one expect kids to be interested in the story of Aesop’s fables? Too simple and corny. “Once upon a time…” is supplanted by Candy Crush, Petting Zoo or Snapchat. Apps that tickle their fleeting curiosity, yet are devoid of transcending substance.

Why do you think there’s opposition to school choice among government associations, teacher’s unions, and left leaning politicians? They oppose school choice with rhetoric and massive fund raising campaigns to marginalize Charter and Magnate schools, that generally favor more traditional curriculums. Alveda C. King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., labeled school choice as “the civil rights issue of the 90’s.” The ACLU assiduously apposes school choice. Another reason the Left quickly dismissed the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Some forget that John Dewey, who helped inflict American public education with his pragmatic philosophy, also dismissed the concept of absolute truth. Public education quickly adopted enmity with a formerly dominant Christian worldview. Secularism defames moral underpinnings found in Judeo-Christian values. Any hint that there might be some purpose to the universe or life, violates their vacuous “moral free” paradigm. Students matriculate understanding that meaning is captured in the next sitcom or Facebook post, marked by cavalier insouciance. Materialism’s a flimsy foundation when life’s imploding.

Secularist fear of a theocracy can be assuaged. Evangelicals vehemently oppose an expanding secular culture. Embracing humanistic philosophies leaves one bereft of the answer to the soul wrenching dilemma of despair and meaning. Adolescents tragically conclude chastity, promiscuity, drugs or suicide have equal standing in their chaotic world of randomness. Such logic is perfidious. We’ve been too quiescent. What do you think?

Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s roderickstj@yahoo.com

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