On Rebellion, and How To Use It For Good

Reading time: 5 minutes, 1000 words

As a kid, I was a bit of a rebel. And I believed I was this way because there was something wrong with me. At least, that's what they told me. Well they were wrong. They were wrong about me, and they're wrong about you.

Rebellion originates in a sacred place. And whether you're rebellious or not, this place has spoken to you. Occasionally, you sense it. There's a part of you that feels out of place, a part of you that feels alone.

Sometimes you get the disheartening feeling that death is permanent; you question your beliefs and religious traditions; despite your successes, you feel a lingering vacancy; and you realize love—as grand as it is—is work, and not the fairy tale you imagined it would be. Yes, there are times when the world seems right: when your desires are sated. Then there are times, if you're paying attention, when you get a glimpse of our insignificance. And when you catch this glimpse, the heart wants to fight it—it wants to rebel.

French existentialist Albert Camus wrote extensively of this conflict between the heart and mind. He believed that with a bit of honest reflection, one must recognize that life is meaningless. "The world in itself is not reasonable," he wrote. "I want everything to be explained to me or nothing. And the reason is impotent when it hears this cry from the heart." Ultimately, our searching yields no answers. Living can be a sort of mechanical drudgery. And without meaning, suffering is pointless. 

If this is true, life then becomes a question of whether one should live or commit suicide. Why endure suffering if there is no point to it? But the body shrinks from death, so we resort to hope. Though for Camus, "seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable." Hope, particularly hope in the supernatural, is debilitating. It requires a sacrifice of the intellect, and renders one a slave to an unknowable future. Instead, Camus saw a third alternative: revolt.

The task of real living becomes a matter of confronting the absurdity of life – the fact that we long for purpose but cannot find it in the universe. Rejecting death and false hope, we are faced with one challenge: this moment, and how to live it. It is what Camus called metaphysical rebellion, and it's characterized by "a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being." It is to blaspheme our lot in life, to indulge experience for its own sake, to be rapped with wonder and uncertainty, and to resist the tendency to grapple for hope in mysticism and fall into conformity.

Despite what we've been taught, rebellion isn't about fear, or arrogance, or stupidity—it's about courage. Camus suggested that rebellion reveals the part of us worth defending. To rebel is to fight for the integrity of that part of our being. It expresses an aspiration to order. Rebellion originates in the same quiet place that reminds us of our aloneness. That same place that drives us to love. That place in the heart that whispers things should be better, life should make sense, love and freedom should conquer.

To live rebelliously is to not give up the search, yet accept that it might lead nowhere; to not flail for hope in supernaturalism, but to let go; to engage the world with reckless abandon; and to be made alive by the tension that is wrought from trying not just to paint a masterpiece, but to live one.

Rebellion originates in the same quiet place that reminds us of our aloneness. That same place that drives us to love. That place in the heart that whispers things SHOULD be better, life SHOULD make sense, love and freedom SHOULD conquer.

It is only now, 20 years on, that I realize my own rebellion has always been about a longing for order, about a feeling that the world is fucked up, about an unwillingness to go along, or the sense of sickness when I did.

We feel rebellious, or hopeless, or alone because we have a sense of the absurdity of life, not because we are broken. And however dormant this intuition, our hurting is about the awareness of it. Ultimately, life's absurdity is the impetus for all our meaning-making. This notion of rebellion suggests that if we're going to engage the act of making meaning, let each of us make our own, let's do it consciously, and let's make it about the here and now, tangible and real, as art and as contribution.

It is in the same recesses of mind where the question of suicide is contemplated that art originates. So is it about hope? Damn straight. But it's not about hope in stories of a fantastical afterlife. It's about hope in creation—our creations. And it should move one to do something. In the words of Osho, "There are more ways of committing slow suicide than ways of living passionately and intensely."

So whether one agrees with Camus that the only question worth answering is whether to live or die, until one works out what it means to affirm the former, as an individual, living is but a slow suicide anyway.

That's the fight, and we're in it to the death. To live, to really live, is about engaging this battle—sometimes loving it, sometimes hating it—but, if we're honest, never making sense of it. The point is to be courageous enough to explore and love and create and make art in spite of the senselessness of it all. And it starts with rebellion.