The Myth of Sisyphus is an existentialist interpretation of what Camus terms as the absurdity of life. Camus narrates the story of a Sisyphus, a legend in Greek mythology who was sentenced for eternity to push a boulder up a hill, only for the boulder to roll back to the bottom and the condemned man had to it all over again. Sisyphus’ experience captures the meaninglessness of life and the futility/absurdity of human endeavors to find meaning in this meaninglessness. In the same manner that Sisyphus’ efforts to push the boulder up the hill was a futile exercise that he had to repeat each day, human existence is entangled with the eternal search for meaning. Why do men exist? What’s the purpose of life and human existence? Is there a better after-life? What is the source of life? Is there really a God who’ll eventually deliver mankind from hopelessness and wretchedness of his existence? These are the questions that not only philosophers ponder about, but also consume the minds all mortals when faced with insurmountable life problems.
The observation that we must imagine Sisyphus happy is in recognition, and perhaps an acceptance on Camus’ part, that life is meaningless and the only way we can deal with it is to endure and live to the fullest of life. Camus points out that there are seemingly two options that man can take upon realizing that life has no meaning. He can either give up and revolt (such as by committing suicide), in so doing escape from that harsh reality, or have “a leap of faith,” by believing in the existence of a benevolent divine being (God) as a way of attaching some meaning, and by extension hope, to human existence. Nevertheless, he explores a third option; accepting, as Sisyphus did, to live with the meaninglessness of life. The fact that Camus accepted the torture of pushing the boulder daily suggests that he was satisfied with that kind of life and therefore happy because otherwise he would have revolted and committed suicide.
There is a close relationship between Camus’ fate and human experience today. The world is eternally plagued with famines, wars, and natural calamities. However, man has not given up hope. Even as millions of experience hunger annually, even as the world shudders at the thought of a nuclear-armed Iran, as conflict hot spots abound from the Horn of Africa to Gaza in the Middle East, world leaders and the U.N, (has it not been since World War Two?) are “hopeful” that one day they’ll find a long lasting solution to the world’s troubles. Like Camus, the human lot must be really happy with its present condition, since no one is ready to take a rope, go to a quite place and hang himself.
Marx’s view of capitalism paints a picture whereby the majority (the working class) is dominated economically by the bourgeoisie class (the owners of capital) who control the means of production. This situation creates an unfavorable environment for the upward mobility of the working class. According to Marx, capitalism works by concentrating resources in the hands of few people while the rest become their servants. Consequently, Marx opines, it will be difficult for the common citizenry to flourish because their potential is limited by lacking the same access to means of production (resources) like the bourgeoisie class. What capitalism does, accordingly, is perpetuate the continued enslavement and servitude of the working class to the bourgeoisies. It creates a vicious cycle of exploitation, thus forever condemning the workers to lower-class living. In a sense, Marx’s view of capitalism evokes a sense of absurdity similar to the experience of Camus’ Sisyphus. It follows, therefore, that Sisyphus’ punishment was the work of the bourgeoisies who wanted him to toil for eternity without achieving his goal of reaching the mountaintop with the boulder- symbolic of the burdens that the working class carries in their efforts to climb the social ladder.
Stuart Mill’s view freedom limits the extent to which individuals and society can exercise it. Mill argues that individuals are free to pursue their own happiness as long as their actions do not harm others. Similarly, he argues against tyranny of the majority, whereby a government established by popular vote forces its will upon the minority. In this regard, Mill differs from Marx because he advocates for the freedom of the minority (individuals and those not represented in government) while Marx advocates for the freedom of the majority (the proletariat class who suffer in the hands of the bourgeoisie minority). However, they both agree on the point of individual progress, the right that individuals have to better their lives. They also agree that those who exercise authority, and therefore curtail the freedom of their victims, do so because they control the instruments of power; the government uses the police while the bourgeoisie class has advantage of controlling the means of production-capital.
I think that Marx offers a realistic lesson regarding human experience. Like Sisyphus’ situation, the bourgeoisie would not let us (the workers) climb the social ladder; they keep throwing the boulder down by making sure that they control the means of production, thereby denying workers the means of attaining self sufficiency. Unlike Camus, however, Marx favors rebellion of the proletariats against the bourgeoisies rather than being happy and enduring exploitation. For Marx, life is not meaningless, because the overthrow of capitalism and establishment of communism will give meaning to the lives of the working class. Regardless, I do not think that the overthrow of capitalism will solve mankind’s problems as Marx argues. Instead, by establishing democratic and responsible governments, society should seek to promote equitable distribution of resources in a capitalist context so as to reward individual effort while promoting fairness between different classes. The solution is definitely not revolting by either committing suicide or overthrowing capitalism, and certainly not being happy like Sisyphus by enduring the tyranny of the majority or economic dominance by the bourgeoisie class.