The Existential Kitchen

action 1Action Bronson’s show, Fuck That’s Delicious, is one of my favorite food shows. Bronson is hilarious and true to the disposition I’ve come to enjoy from the men and women who work in kitchens. It takes a certain kind of madness to be a cook and the show does a good job of displaying the feral nature of the back of house.

Chef culture has always reminded me of the last line in Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus: “The struggle itself […] is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Each night these pirates don their checkered pants, sharpen knives, curse, sneak shots of Jaegermeister, and do the good lord’s work as only the devil’s children can. They, like Sisyphus, push a stone uphill each shift, only to return again the next day to find it at the bottom. Camus uses this myth to explain that the only real philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide.

Winona Forever, ya’ heard?

Camus makes a claim that on balance, life is more pain than pleasure. If the path to happiness is to avoid pain, then taking yourself out is the only logical option. Now, if you are a person of faith, you will likely take this opportunity to assert some sort of belief in the afterlife. Camus would have us table this until there is some definitive evidence that there is a world after this one. No matter how great your faith is or how much comfort it brings you, there simply is no proof of an afterlife.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, it just means you can’t build a proper philosophical argument on it without making some leaps. Most of the heavy lifting on this topic was done hundreds of years ago. One of the classics I recommend is Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici. It’s hard as fuck to read, but it’s worth taking on if you’re the type of person who likes thinking about this stuff.

Philosophy will make you unhappy.

In Alcoholics Anonymous they have this concept of “acting as if.” Acting as if the universe has your best interest at heart is certainly some mixture of childish and narcissistic, but it just might force you to make the best of a lifetime of Ls. I think the best thing faith can do is insulate you from existential horror. Camus basically calls people who do this pussies, but I’m not so sure he’s right. Faith can help you change your perspective and that shift can cause you to make better choices.

You might argue that these faith driven choices are better (hello, Inquisition), but at the very least, faith can be something of an opiate. Grisly old Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses as a dig, but what he didn’t consider is that opium feels really good and it’s relatively cheap. Whether you use it to dull pain or turn yourself into a useless junkie is up to you.

I often think about a speech Steve Martin gives in Leap of Faith. He plays a revival preacher name Reverend Jonas Nightingale. His act is explicitly fraudulent, but as he puts it, “what’s the harm in giving the people a little show?” The film presents the protagonist with an interesting dilemma. He knows he’s full of shit, but he’s forced to reckon with a “legitimate” miracle in the form of a kid who is on crutches suddenly being able to walk.

Now, if you whip out Occam’s Razor, there are of course a whole lot of non-supernatural possibilities explaining how a kid that appeared to not walk, suddenly can. My first pick would be that he wasn’t that injured and was pretending in order to gain sympathy. This is hugely fucked up, but is certainly something that happens in real life. There’s actually a class of mentally ill patients called “disability pretenders.”

Steve Martin’s Leap of Faith is a theological masterpiece and it’s way better than Religio Medici.

If you take the film’s plot as it’s presented, you have to go with the miracle being real. If you witnessed a supernatural occurrence of that order, you would probably be forced to accept the existence of some kind of other worldly phenomenon. The reverend in this film has his opportunistic and atheistic world view upended, forcing him to take action. Give everything up and hit the road with trust and faith in the lord. If you suddenly took the Gospels at their word, this would be the right move according to Matthew 19:20; “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

This is essentially what Jules does in Pulp Fiction after he survives a point blank shooting without a scratch. He decides a miracle of that magnitude can only be answered by wandering the Earth like Cain in Kung Fu.

king james
Most religious books can’t even fuck with the King James, son.

I’m not sure if it’s some sort of vestigial superstition, but despite a thorough exploration of the writings and videos of all the most famous atheists, I still believe there’s something mystical afoot. This belief informs my morality and helps me sleep at night because it’s the only thing that shuts down the cosmic terror that creeps into my mind when it’s 2am and I’ve smoked half a gram of cannabis.

But there still isn’t proof of anything beyond the cold hard fact: we are higher primates flying through space on a rock with a unique ecosystem under continual threat by our own behavior.

Let’s get back to Bronson for a minute. He was on the Joe Rogan podcast last week and he told a story about how he became a rapper. He was working as a chef, staring down a life in the kitchen as a short order cook, when he slipped and fell. He broke his leg, forcing him to take time out of the kitchen. He made the best of it, started rapping, and his life has been killer ever since. There’s no better way to make a living than by being yourself professionally.

Is there providence in bones breaking? I don’t know. There are probably a lot of people who ended up on the street after suffering an injury like that. The difference would certainly be how good of a support network he had and how much of that Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) Bad Brains sang about he could maintain.

I got that PMA, but mostly on weekends and evenings.

Viktor Frankl wrote about this kind of outlook in Man’s Search for Meaning. Fuck The Secret, Frankl’s is the only self help book anyone ever needs. If you took the lessons of that book and applied them to your life right now, there’s no way you couldn’t become a champion at whatever nonsense you’re into.



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