For a while, #JamaicaIsNotARealPlace has been circulating on social media, and I noted it, but passed it by, mainly because much of what people find unreal about Jamaica is stuff one sees in lots of other places—are American college students trying to dive bomb into a vat of ice cream not unreal? Admittedly, a lot of seemingly absurd things happen in every day life in Jamaica, and it’s hard to say if they happen more here than elsewhere, or are being reported more and faster now than in the past because of social media, or some other feature that makes comparison hard. What’s clear, though, is that the absurd seems to happen here in some kind of clustered fashion. That’s what made me pay attention—economists are supposed to pick up on trends and have them help foresee events and help explain past events.
Now, I don’t have or wont dare try come up with a theory of absurdity. Fact is a theory of absurdism already exists. Wikipedia gives a good nerdy summary:
‘In philosophy, “the Absurd” refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously.
As a philosophy, absurdism furthermore explores the fundamental nature of the Absurd and how individuals, once becoming conscious of the Absurd, should respond to it. The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence. He then promotes life rich in willful experience.
Though, Camus and other early-20th century philosophers get a lot of credit for Abusrdism, it’s not hard to see it existed in form, if not philosophy, from much earlier. In that regard, the ‘theatre of the Absurd‘ or ‘New Theatre’, which is seen as a post-World War 2 creation, with the likes of playwrights such as Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Tom Stoppard, clearly had its origins and influences well back into the Elizabethan era, with famous absurd dramas and characters penned in plays by William Shakespeare, for instance, often helping the audience better understand complexities by showing them in a ridiculous light, such as ‘Dogberry’ in Much Ado About Nothing and ‘Bottom’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But, it can also be seen in the satirical writing of people like Jonathan Swift in, for instance, his 18th century Modest Proposal. It’s also evident in the satirical cartoons of that era, often bawdy.
James Gilray is perhaps the most famous of the caricaturists of that time.
If we fast forward, we can easily set the satire of Monty Python clearly in that same frame.
So, I’ve often positioned many things I see and hear in Jamaica within this absurdist tradition.
Don’t take my word for it, take a look at a sample and have a think for yourself.
— DJ Dav Muzik (@Jus_Davi876) June 9, 2019
— Lee (@xo_lee21) December 20, 2019
— Shaeberry (@Miz_Fructose) March 27, 2019
Cabbie uses G-string as COVID mask https://t.co/Xm4JH5TF9W
— Jamaica Star (@jamaicastar) June 17, 2020
Some of our best literature and drama play on this, sometimes with the easy get out that we are dealing with ‘mad people’, but often understanding that ‘ordinary people’ are as afflicted.
Now, some may argue about what motivates Jamaicans to act as they do, but that’s not so important in seeing the actions for what they are. That said, many situations arise out of ‘need’ in some fashion, and how people ‘cope’ with a life that is not as filled with resources, so have to craft solutions. It’s also true that we are a society that tends to exaggeration, and that makes the absurd much less of a leap.
On one hand, we can credit the ingenuity, on another hand, we have to wonder if people realize what they are doing. But, we also have a long tradition of making light of serious things (‘tek serious ting fi joke’) and laughing at ourselves in the process. Which, be warned, is not the same as others laughing at us, no matter how absurd we may appear to be. But, to be honest, some people are just plain stupid.
The notion of embracing the absurd is not far from that of being fatalistic, and that’s a common feature in many societies where extreme struggle has been a common feature of life.