UCLA Campus Shooting: An Absurdist Viewpoint

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

At approximately 10:00 a.m. today, two men were killed in a homicide-suicide that took place in the Engineering IV building at UCLA.

I was in the middle of graduation practice when a fellow classmate passed me by on the bleachers and told me to check out the news on UCLA.

When I read that there had been a shooting on campus, leaving two dead, my heart dropped, a wave of horror surging through my veins. I simply couldn’t believe it- my future school and home for the next four years, falling victim to such an atrocity. I immediately thought of all my friends on campus, and felt sick. After checking in with all of them via text message, I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered that none were hurt. But the feeling of unease persisted.

We hear about such cases of nefarious evil on the news, but for some reason, we seem to feel immune to such unspeakable horror. We distance ourselves from the imminence of danger, hoping that the fates will fall on our side. The truth is, though, no one is exempted. Death and suffering do not discriminate- an absurd idea, but also the truth. One of my friends from UCLA was walking towards the site of the shooting when the atrocity happened. Morbid as this may sound, if he had woken up ten minutes earlier, he could very well have been caught amidst the violence. How random, how arbitrary. Ten minutes was the fine line between safety and danger, life and potential death. Today’s shooting may have been an isolated case of homicide-suicide, but it could very well have been something worse. What if the shooter was a madman out to kill? The outcome would have been incredibly different.

But it all boils down to the same idea- no one is safe from death and suffering. Allow me to delve into a bit of Camus to support this idea.

In his works The Plague and The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus discusses the implications of mankind’s inevitable, non-discriminating fate of death and the proper response to such an absurd destiny.

When Camus speaks of the “crazy world in which men were hiked off like flies”, he alludes to the absurd reality that all humans are destined to die. The question then becomes, how must man create meaning in a world where death is the inescapable fate of all? How do we as individuals respond? Is it possible for one to escape or transcend this grim fate? Camus believes that while all people are sentenced to the absurd fate of death, one man just as prone to death as the next, people are still capable of giving their lives meaning. He argues that the most meaningful action one can perform in life is to improve human existence and fight against human suffering.

Camus’s philosophy gives us hope. Yes, this world is plagued with horrors, evils, atrocity, grief, and death. A Nihilist may say, “Screw it. There is no point to life if life always ends in death.” Camus, the  literary absurdist, argues otherwise. Yes, we are all susceptible to death. All men have “plague within [them]”- that is, all men have the capacity to both inflict and experience death and suffering- but it is the “good man” who strives to improve humanity and reduce suffering, instead of quietly submitting himself, and humanity as a whole, to his inevitable end. As Camus puts it, “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” One transcends one’s fate by refusing to allow the absurdity of the situation dampen one’s passion for life. “Scorn”, or mockery, of one’s tragic fate is a form of revolt, as one rises above one’s fate by refusing to play by its rules- that is, refusing to allow the absurd fate to do what it sets out to do: evoke misery.

So today’s shooting at UCLA was, thankfully, an isolated case. But it just as well could have been something much much worse. Philosophically, how must we respond to such an atrocity?

I’ll tell you what I will do. I will continue to live passionately. I refuse to allow the imminence evil overpower me into submission. I refuse to allow fear of the inevitable fate of death and suffering take away my love for life. When evil rears its ugly head, as it did today, it is horrible. But evil is,  unfortunately, inevitable. Today’s shooting is evidence that no one is safe. But we mustn’t let this grim fact dampen the beauty of the living. At this very moment, two families, two communities, mourn the loss of their loved ones. Heaven knows how difficult a time they must be going through. They will grieve. They will mourn. But I truly hope that one day, after sufficient time has passed, they will learn to find light in life once more.

To the more fortunate of us who’ve managed to emerge from such evil unscathed, what should we takeaway? We’ve seen today the fragility and transience of life- one pulling of the trigger, and it’s gone. Done. Finished. Should we plunge into despair, then? Or should we feel even more passionate about being alive? 

Clearly, I espouse the latter school of thought. I  believe we should celebrate life every waking moment; do everything in our power to bring happiness to this world through our individual gifts. I have a dream of healing people- this is how I plan to reduce the evil the prevails our world. Others may choose science, justice, social welfare, bringing people the gift of music and dance. Wherever your passion lies, spend every waking moment of your life chasing it down. Life is not a ticking time bomb, a perpetual waiting for the end. The end will come, for all of us. It is a question of how we fill in that precious time between birth and death. How do we create meaning in a meaningless world, a world where gunmen attack harmless schoolchildren; a world where police officers shoot innocent men; a world inundated with so much death and suffering? We must spend our lives contributing to society through our individual talents, fully aware of the absurd end, yet living with passion and happiness each day. 

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

~Camus

 

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