Awkward truths matter.
What is worth living and dying for?
The question seems so big that most of us instantly distance ourselves from it with rolling eyes or a tired disinterest. In other words, like a night in alone with a scary movie, we shove a metaphorical pillow in the way. It’s the same thing we do when we watch news reports on terror attacks, or pass a homeless person who gently pleads for our change.
Albert Camus describes this effect as abstraction; when people put barriers between themselves and the things about the world that are difficult to fight or understand. Through politics, the words we use, through mountains of bureaucracy and now increasingly through technology we put a shield between ourselves and other people. Deliberate or not, the effects can be severe.
Camus was born in the early twentieth century and his thoughts on the world were coated in the shared experience of the things that people do and justify to each other. And what a generation learned from the horrors of two world wars and the injustice of a market crash is eerily reminiscent of the inner struggle we all face about the world today.
In a speech the French philosopher gave just over 70 years ago in New York, he explained the devastating effect of this tendency to numb ourselves to the terror and indignity that goes on all around us in a lecture called ‘The Human Crisis’.
I came across a video on open culture of Viggo Mortensen (of all people) retelling his lecture in the same spot, 70 years later to the day.
If you have the time or inclination to be reminded why honesty matters and why the freedom we allow each other; to speak from the heart without the threat of repression or violence, even and especially when we disagree, is so important then I can highly recommend a watch.
Note: the footage is shaky and Viggo doesn’t rock up until about 11 minutes 30 but the words and delivery are powerful.