Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life sounds like the title of a Woody Allen comedy, but it's actually a new documentary with Richard Dawkins; see the background links below where I've written about Dawkins before. Its style leads me to believe it is from the same production team that brought us his previous clangers, The Root of All Evil and Enemies of Reason. In the third part of Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life, Dawkins discusses the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a king who displeased the gods. With typical Olympian sadism, the gods punished him by making him role a huge boulder up a hill; and once he'd accomplished that, the boulder would roll to the bottom, forcing him to repeat the tribulation, and this cycle would recur over and over again for eternity. This story made the French philosopher Albert Camus think about how it related to the meaning of life. In 1942 he wrote a book all about Sisyphus. The universe, Camus said, was "absurd"; there was no rhyme or reason at all. Some people committed suicide because they found no meaning in their lives. Camus found hope in the myth of Sisyphus, in fact for him Sisyphus was a hero and prophet who represented the rebellion against the futility of existence because his arduous task had its own meaning from the very effort he put into it. Camus said: "The struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Dawkins states that he does not agree with Camus, and neither do I. For Dawkins and me, Sisyphus' torment is pointless, as his divine persecutors intended it to be. The problem is that Dawkins then goes on to find what he thinks is a real life Sisyphus. His name is Hori Lal and his job is to sweep the streets and clean the public toilets in
. He has done this
job for over twenty years and will probably do it for the next twenty, see here
from about 27:00: https://vimeo.com/121751019.
India India has a "caste"
system, a very rigid order of social segregation. Hori Lal is a Dalit, the very lowest caste. In the programme
Dawkins riles against this system and cheers on Mahendra Kumar, another Dalit who escaped his conventional bonds
to become an IT expert. I agree, it's admirable that Mr Kumar had a personal dream
and achieved it, but this does not make him objectively any more valuable a
person than Hori Lal in my view. I understand completely the issues involved
here because as a former hospital porter, I played a role in my society very
similar to the one Mr Lal plays in his. It never occurs to Dawkins that there
is an enormous difference between Mr Lal's duty and the punishment of Sisyphus.
Nobody would suffer if Sisyphus found some way of dropping his rock and escaping.
However, if Mr Lal downed his broom Varanasi
would very quickly become buried under a mountain of its own refuse. It is
extremely ignorant and patronizing of Richard Dawkins to equate a job to the
ordeal of Sisyphus just because it lacks conventional status. Like myself,
Richard Dawkins lives in Oxford and
might have had to use the services of the .
In that case, I helped to make him better, better so he could go off gallivanting
around the place making condescending TV documentaries that pour scorn on the
essential servants of the human world. Dawkins is not the only one who fails to
grasp what I see as a very obvious concept. There were people I served
alongside in the hospital who had the same attitude, see here for more details:
I wonder if Richard Dawkins is aware that Albert Camus was good friends with
another great philosopher called Ludwig Wittgenstein, and that's a name all
regular readers will recognize. He was a professor of philosophy at John
Radcliffe Hospital Cambridge...
but was also a hospital porter, see: http://hpanwo-hpwa.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/wittgenstein-on-that-dress.html.
Did Camus get his ideas about the meaning of life from his conversations with
See here for background: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/richard-dawkins-mba-criminal.html.