The Existential Nihilism of Cricket
I apologise beforehand to those who comprehend philosophy and its various terms better than I, and to those who love cricket to death.
“The universe is a cruel, uncaring void. The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.”-Mr. Peanutbutter (BoJack Horseman)
The ICC T20 World Cup season had just arrived. You could not ask to meet anyone during match hours, unless it was to attend a screening. It is an unspoken rule between all Indians that he-who-watches-cricket will not be disturbed for anything less than a national emergency during an ongoing match.
I watched my father curse at the TV during every match the Indian team played in. The crumpled newspaper in his hand displayed an iteration of cricket or Dream-11 based advertisement everyday. Every booming business you could think of sponsored at least one team or event. Cricket, in all, was the centre of a flourishing micro-economy and social discussions.
But what is cricket in its essence ? It was comical to me that we gathered our hopes, emotions and money around a few men hitting a ball across a field. We scream at the TV, fight with our neighbours as adults and place bets over something we played even as little children.
Cricket, if looked at from a certain viewpoint, is the personification of what existential nihilists would term as an attempt to conceive meaning into a meaningless and absurd world.
So, what is existential nihilism?
Existential nihilism is the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism suggests that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence.
The idea that meaning and purpose are baseless in their essence is a nihilistic ideology. The existential retort to this is that purpose and meaning thus can be assigned to whatever one pleases, through commitment and engagement.
To put it simply, if one finds everything is inherently meaningless, there is no harm in faking meaning in whatever brings us joy. Case in point : cricket.
The cosmic absurdity of cricket
“Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye opens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. Hence anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”– Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard is regarded as the father of existentialism. He believed that despair was an integral part of the human condition, which he referred to as the ‘sickness unto death.’ This despair, and anxiety, is a result of freedom. Since we are free, we are presented with a plethora of roads to take. But at the same time, each road we take stinks of regret because we didn’t take the other. Thus we stare at the abyss of possibilities and our head spins.
For Kierkegaard, the only way to work our way through this anxiety and despair is to accept this cosmic absurdity of reality, and live one’s life by faith. However, not all of us can live by Christian faith like Kierkegaard.
Kierkegaard’s idea of combatting absurdity with faith, is the same as combatting the meaninglessness of cricket with our passion for it. Faith is an attempt to assign meaning to a meaningless world, just like any attempt to shape our life into the mould of purpose.
In essence, screaming at our TV over a flying ball is an attempt to make ourselves happy, and undeniably a brave one.
According to Jean-Paul Sartre, existentialism is a way to respond to the meaninglessness of the universe, by creating meaning ourselves. You can wake up every morning and choose to believe something has meaning, to stop yourself from despairing over all the meaningless opportunities which surround you.
“I’m responsible for my own happiness? I can’t even be responsible for my own breakfast!”– BoJack Horseman
While it is easy to find joy and meaning in cricket, one must also stop to think about it’s meaninglessness. Atleast, before fighting with people we know or don’t over who will win.
What I mean though, is that it is easy to assign our philosophical notions to the real world, but one must do it with a sense of responsibility. It is just as easy to assign meaning to murder, as it is to cricket, in a meaningless world. We do, however, owe a sense of ethical responsibility to those around us.
A good cosmic nihilist would argue that it is logically consistent to murder your friends in the morning, and watch cricket with them in the evening. A good friend,however, would tell you that perhaps philosophical excess is better left as what it is : thoughts you have when you can’t sleep at 3 a.m.