I was very young when I first read The Stranger. It was my first attempt on Albert Camus and I did know nothing about existentialism. I, nevertheless, become captivated by Camus, perhaps because of the strangeness of Meursault, the hero in the novel, his inability to express emotions, his extreme individualism, and his refusal to conform to social norms, characteristics that harmonised nicely with my adolescent sensitivities, alienation and quests for identity.
Today, I have outgrown individualism, at least the kind of individualism that Hayek describes as ‘false individualism’ which is the product of “an exaggerated belief in the powers of individual reason”. Alienation, on the other hand, is still here.
Meursault, a Frenchman in Algiers, lives an isolated life focused in the present. His plans, his idea of the future, barely extend to the end of the day. He is neither unhappy nor happy, he does not feel that life has any meaning and frankly, he does not much bother about it. He is existentially indifferent. Meursault is psychologically detached from other people, even from his own mother, the only family he has. On the announcement of the death of his mother, he shows scarcely a flicker of an emotional response. ‘It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.’
He asserts that life is absurd, a series of contingencies with no purpose or meaning. ‘I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world,’ he says. Almost accidentally, he commits an unpremeditated crime, he kills a young Arab. His crime is an act of free will and he assumes full responsibility for this but he does not experience guilt, remorse or shame. He shows the usual indifference and strangeness; he cares about practically nothing.