The past few months have shown a resurgence of interest in popular philosophy. Of course, there have always been those who chose to study philosophy, but it seems to have extended to a wider range of people — including young people who are learning philosophy recreationally. With the help of social media (primarily TikTok), certain philosophers, quotes and theories have begun to trend.
It started with Camus. Videos casually referencing Albert Camus began to surface on TikTok, creator @_edgar_allan_hoe stating that “hot girls read Camus” and @ubermensch6969 remarking on his popularity among depressed teenagers. Intellectuals caught on to the trend, people began reading Camus’ most famous book The Stranger — it is now displayed on the “booktok” stand at bookshops such as Hodges Figgis in Dublin, and many more around the world. Camus’ primary philosophical theory is absurdism, which informs all of his work and views. Absurdism can be perceived as a response to nihilism, attempting to put a positive spin on the view that life is utterly meaningless. Nihilism views the universe as devoid of meaning, and that moral values are worthless because of this. It is a pessimistic perspective, at best. Absurdism sees meaninglessness as liberating — if nothing matters then you can do whatever you want. It gives you the freedom to get what you want out of life.
The famous quote; “Kill yourself, or have a cup of coffee” has been quoted all over tiktok. However, Camus never actually said this. It surfaced in Schwartz’ The Paradox of Choice, but there was no source given. This quote, while not by Camus, provides an apt summarisation of the concept of absurdism. In accepting that life has no meaning, your response should be to rebel and not concede. Camus’ view of suicide is that death is equally as meaningless as life. If you delve into Camus’ work, he criticises the search for meaning, saying “You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Camus’ philosophy rejects religion, and any attempt to form beliefs at all.
“It is often easier to scroll through TikTok to learn about Camus than to read one of his books.”
It is difficult to know why these philosophies are trending and consuming young people. It would be easy to blame it on modern society — the work-to-live lifestyle, hook-up culture and the death of religion, but the truth is that absurdism has been around since the 19th century, when Kierkegaard first came up with it. It is true that aspects of modern life inhibit us from living life to the fullest and pursuing what we love. The heavy emphasis on money and career overshadows much of what life is truly about. Young people rejecting this is not a new thing, but the sad reality is that after a phase of rebelling, most people realise that there is nothing they can do about the society we live in. Modern life can be compared to Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus, which tells the story of Sisyphus, who was sentenced to repeatedly pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down. This is reminiscent of making it through the day at work, only to have to relive it all the following day. While this sense of meaninglessness may not be modern, social media gives it the ability to grow and capture many people’s attention. Posting about it on TikTok means that it can reach many people who are already struggling with existentialism. Tiktok gives people the ability to fall down a rabbit hole. Videos about a certain topic often use the same sounds or use hashtags, making it easy to find a multitude of thoughts and opinions. It is often easier to scroll through TikTok to learn about Camus than to read one of his books.
“Creator @melissa.stc posted a TikTok explaining that discovering nihilism, Nietzsche, Kafka and Camus as a teenager has the potential to ruin their youth.”
The danger of this relates to the impressionability of teenagers and young people in general. Creator @melissa.stc posted a TikTok explaining that discovering nihilism, Nietzsche, Kafka and Camus as a teenager has the potential to ruin their youth. One comment on this post says that “Reading Albert Camus actually makes me happy and helps me feel content with how I live” — showing that absurdism can be interpreted in a positive light. However, if taken at face value, without looking too deeply into it, the idea that life is inherently meaningless is a depressing one. It is possible to find it liberating, but maintaining this outlook requires a constant effort to keep the uncertainty and sadness of meaninglessness at bay. Upon realising that the world is devoid of meaning, one must repeatedly remind oneself to not get sucked into it. Many people in the comment section stated that “Nietzsche ruined me”, but many found Camus to be very positive.
It takes hard work to accept meaninglessness and not let it phase you. For most people, it is much easier and more convenient to believe in religion or spirituality. It helps us to face the idea of death, and make sense of life. Suffering is more tolerable if there is meaning in it. Spirituality and religion have helped people come to terms with their struggles for as long as time has existed. So, regardless of whether there is ultimately a positive message behind absurdism, to have meaning stripped from life is still a blow to many people.
While it is certainly beneficial to have intellectual discourse happen on social media, we must consume the information with caution. The most important lesson to take from this, which we talk about in terms of regular news, is to read further into something before you choose to believe it. Further reading and research may show a much more uplifting message than what is being fed from the internet.