Thursday, January 17, 2008

WHY EXISTENTIALISM SUCKS!


Yes, I really do think existentialism sucks, but that doesn't mean that I think existentialists are  stupid.  They're not. I considered myself one for years. They're simply victims of the shallow thinking that engulfed Western philosophy since the time of Rousseau.

BTW, that's Sartre in the left foreground above, and his colleague Simone de Beauvoir on the extreme right.  I love the way Sartre is so often portrayed in cafes, surrounded by beautiful women.  You have to admit that it's an appealing image.

 
 
I don't claim to have a deep understanding of the philosophy.  My admittedly limited understanding is that it says life is meaningless, and if it has no meaning, then we'd do best to give it meaning by choosing to value the things we love. Our choices may be objectively valueless,  but they mean something to us, so for us they have value.  Happiness consists of deliberately valuing lots of things.
  
Well, that's not a bad idea, particularly if life really is meaningless, but is it? It seems to me that all living things are born with a strong will to survive, eat and reproduce. In addition to that, we humans are born with a desire for friendship, comfort  and understanding.  That doesn't sound like meaninglessness to me.  Sartre seems to be describing the properties of rocks when he talks about meaninglessness.  As vulnerable living things, we are by definition "meaningful."

OK,  life is more meaningful if we value more things, but do we need a philosopher to tell us that?

Sartre's ideas about "bad faith" and "things in themselves" seem derived in spirit from Heiddeger,  who resisted logic and attempted to piece together a philosophy from unrelated enthusiasms he had.  Bertrand Russell refused to concede that existentialism was a real and consistent  philosophy, and I agree with him.  It's a literary creation.  It reflects a feeling of futility and a yearning for heroism that we all feel sometimes, and that's it's true value.  
 

 (Blogger just dropped my final picture so I'll have to struggle on without it)


What existentialism doesn't do is provide answers.  Sartre was a long-time communist in the era when Stalin was murdering people right and left.  During Mao's Cultural revolution, when millions were killed and sent to gulags for thoughts that no reasonable person would consider a crime, Sartre proudly wore a Mao button.  This from the reputed champion of freedom.  What was he thinking of?  

What I do like about Sartre is the nifty images he comes up with in his biography and plays.  "Nausea" contains an unforgettable description of the world as a gigantic warehouse filled with a black ocean where floating objects randomly, pointlessly,  bump each other in the darkness.  Wow!  Bleak, but beautiful!




41 comments:

Colin Kahn said...

Sartre supported Mao? Wasn't Heidegger a Nazi? You got to get your son off that stuff quick!

Arnaud said...

"that's Sartre in the left foreground above, and his colleague Simone de Beauvoir on the extreme right."

Boris Vian is here too !

Kellie Strøm said...

The BBC radio series In Our Time recently had what I remember as a very good programme on Albert Camus, though now I find I can hardly remember a word of it. They also have one on Sartre in the archive, so maybe I should see if that one adheres to the memory any better.

boootooons ltd. said...

you know, eddie, as a kid i struggled with religion. i grew up in a semi-religious town in a non-religious family, so the whole question of god and jesus for many of my formative years eluded me.

i'm not an atheist, i'm agnostic, but while in school i studied many religions before coming to the agnostic ideals, and existentialism appealed to me for a short time ( because, like eddie izzard, i believe religions are philosophies ), but eventually i moved on.

of all the theories i entertained as to how we got here, the most absurd, i felt, was that there's all these galaxies, and multiple solar systems and suns, a seemingly infinite universe.... and it's all here just.... because.

the no reason thing. don't agree.

what does your son think of your philosophies, or, theories shall i say?

- trevor.

Cartoon Creators said...

quote "three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind" ...Bertrand Russell...

Brian Romero said...

I think we each create our own meaning for life. Why does it have to be anything more than that? Ultimately I don't think what goes on here on our tiny speck floating in the universe has much meaning. This planet could be wiped out of existence and the rest of the universe will keep chugging along unfazed.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Colin: A lot of 20th century thinkers and artists were sympathetic to totalitarian ideas. That may be because the totalitarians believed in forging alliances with moderates, and presented them with a dumbed-down, happy-face version of what they really believed.

Once a communist friend told me that communism = democracy. If you believe in democracy then you should be a communist. I was shocked. Had he heard of Marx's dictatorship of the proletariat, or what Lenin said about a party ruling the proletariat? Evidently the party had a simplified agenda for people like him.

I wouldn't be surprised if the fascists manipulated people the same way. The surprising thing is that so many intellectuals bought into it.

Boo: My kid and I have friendly disagreements all the time. He likes Nietzsche and Heidegger and I don't. If you want to have some fun, ask someone who likes Heidegger to explain him. Watch your friend get tied in knots trying to articulate it. What's the appeal of vague writers like that?

Kellie: I like Camus better than Sartre, but even Camus came up with silly ideas. In my opinion, "I shot him because the sun was in my eyes" is good literature but bad, and possibly even harmful, philosophy. I'm told they broke up over Sartre's insistence on communism. I'd love to know the details.

BTW, thanks a million for the info about the BBC philosophy podcasts!!!!!!!

Brian: I'm not not put out because rocks, gas and empty space refuse to acknowledge my existence, or will be mindlessly bumping into each other after I die. We humans have plenty to live for, it's the rest of the inanimate universe that needs to worry about meaning.

This is why I could never understand Sartre's formulation about being preceeding essence. Of course it does, but how does that lead to existentialism? By my very existence as a mortal, vulnerable, thinking being who wants to survive and avoid discomfort, I have meaning. Any
discussion of essence has to recognize that.

Anonymous said...

right on eddie!
Do you like Alan Watts?

His observations in this video remind me of John K's posts on designy/geometric versus organic art

http://youtube.com/watch?v=8aufuwMiKmE

Anonymous said...

I love the way Sartre is so often portrayed in cafes, surrounded by beautiful women. You have to admit that it's an appealing image.

I would agree...if they were beautiful women. I don't see a beauty in the bunch. Some look like men with a woman's hairdo.

On that train of thought, take it to it's logical absurd end: What if the people who are surrounded the most by beautiful women were correct about philosophy, and those who weren't were wrong about philosophy. Rock stars and male porn stars would be considered the great thinkers of our time. hahaha

Anonymous said...

http://youtube.com/watch?v=7GvYI4VdVEI

Some Guy said...

My favorite philosophy is this one from Ecclesiasties, the first few chapters:

The poetic version

The practical, understandable version

It should be noted that the NIV edition is much close to the ancient manuscripts (and utilized the Dead Sea Scrolls) The only two versions of The Bible you need are KJV and NIV.

Anonymous said...

"Some look like men with a woman's hairdo"

sounds like a don martin caricature

Brian said...

Don Martin Woman

Jose said...

"By my very existence as a mortal, vulnerable, thinking being who wants to survive and avoid discomfort, I have meaning."

Simply being and eating is as meaningful as a dog's life.

Existence IS meaningless, I think. Why ARE we here? Existentialism says you put meaning to it.

Avoiding pain (or "discomfort") sounds almost utilitarian, I'd see that as pursuing interests (or pleasure). This is different from "exisiting" and this is where you're applying your own meaning to life.

I'm not much for pretentious 60s coffee & cigarette French "intellectuals" like Sartre(Godard, also). But I do dig Sartre's fiction. "No Exit" is also great.

I always kinda liked this philosophy because although it seems bleak, existence and its meaning has been put up for the individual to decide upon. It doesn't necessarily provide answers, in a way, because you fill in the blanks.

Jose said...

Good post, I should also mention. I love philosophy corner.

The Darwin post also enjoyable....and interesting.

amir avni said...

"As vulnerable living things, we are by definition "meaningful.""

Very good point Eddie!

I.D.R.C. said...

My admittedly limited understanding is that it says life is meaningless, and if it has no meaning, then we'd do best to give it meaning by choosing to value the things we love. Our choices may be objectively valueless, but they mean something to us, so for us they have value. Happiness consists of deliberately valuing lots of things.

Sounds a little like reality.

I.D.R.C. said...

I'm trying to figure out a way to put this that doesn't go on and on. As the great philosphers have already demonstrated, you can talk forever about this stuff and never resolve anything.

I think anyone who postulates that the universe has an intrinsic purpose of which humankind is destined to play a special part is essentially a religious person. There is simply no evidence to support a belief system based on any such thing, but such notions are perhaps the backbone of humankind, anyway. We seem to need to make sense of things we don't fully understand even if our assumtptions and conclusions are baseless. As a species it is with great trepidation that we break away from such habits, but we will break away, if we last long enough --unless a grand purpose is ever actually revealed.

Humanity searches for meaning. It's kind of our thing. We are also good at projecting meaning where none may exist. We even have a term for that --"pathetic fallacy."

For me the idea that the universe has no interest and no plan is not depressing or scary, it's liberating. I don't have to try to figure out which plan is the best.

So, when you say that you "have meaning", the question seems to remain, to who or what do you have meaning? How far does your "meaning" go? You don't mean the same thing to yourself as you mean to your own family, or to your employer, and the President has never even heard of you. What do you mean to him? All the people who came before us, a few are now statues, some are buildings, but almost all are completely erased. What is their meaning, beyond contributing to the unwritten future?

Does the Earth care what we do? The solar system? The galaxy? God? A bunch of gods?

Meaning is often an act of projection. We think things mean the same thing to everyone because we all look like the same stuff, but meaning is experiential and entirely local to the observer, and shared only by those who are similarly effected, or those persuaded by rhetoric.

I don't see that life can have a purpose other than to happen when and where it can. There may be more to it, but any such notion happens in our own minds. No indicator of celestial meaning or purpose has ever been observed, though many have been claimed.

Lester Hunt said...

What gets me is the oft-repeated myth that Sartre fought in the French Resistance. I even heard a poli sci prof repeating that one. He never did. Instead, he wrote plays about how meaningless everything is. Maybe those people are confusing him with Camus. Or possibly Bogie at the end of Casablanca.

Anonymous said...

you cant "prove" anything outside of mathematics and logic, even scientific concepts.

I enjoy these sorts of discussion when those involved are swell people like the ones who frequent this corner, and arent the pompous crazies you find in most internet philosophy debates.

Even so any "conclusions" people make is just sophism in disguise

Snurp said...

I think it helps to see some of the precursors to understand what Existentialism was going for. For example, take Kant or Hegel with "things in themselves" and life as progression of the Geist, respectively. I think philosophies like that, where there is assumed something greater/more important of which we are a part, irritated the writers who became Existentialists (Existentialism as opposed to Hegelian Essentialism). That's where you get existence preceding essence: we have a tendency to assume meaning where there is none, we give ourselves these purposes we don't have, and it's all artificial. Most people, an Existentialist might say, need some sort of meaning outside themselves, and they lack the courage to face a life without one. To say that a person has plenty to live for assumes quite a bit, it would be claimed. The inevitability of death seems to negate everything we fight for. As Heidegger (sort of) puts it, we tend to believe we are immortal in the sense that yes, death is real, and we will die, but we don't really accept that it is I who will die. Death is just 'there' and is mostly ignored. But what are all of our toils for if there is no real goal out there, if it is only death and nothingness at the end? Here is the existential crisis in a nutshell; no meaning to anything means that everything I do, in an ultimate sense, is for naught.

From here the question may become why we should even raise the existential question at all then, instead of just leaving people ignorant and happy. For some (like Nietzsche) it might be that leaving things as they are holds the "better ones" back, those who can create meaning in spite of the lack of meaning in reality, in favor of a sort of "cheapened" existence of contentment, and for others it might be that the current age is losing that simple ignorance as the old community values and work ethic begins to disappear. Either way, it seems that, for Existentialists, honesty with one's self and a view of reality that doesn't stretch to include "conceptual constructs" is an important value worth fighting for (though the real value of these things is a point of dispute). And of course, for people with a well-defined sense of self and purpose none of this would even matter. But then again, those are not the kind of people for whom Existentialists are writing.

Adam said...

I don't believe I need to construct a deeper purpose for my life. Life is life enough.

I believe I'm an animal and by that fact alone my purpose is self-preservation. But self-preservation is not a threshold you just cross. Despite what most people think life and death are not mutually exclusive. They aren't two sides of a coin. There are people who are breathing and their heart is beating but they're more dead than alive.

A lot of people think if you're living only for self-preservation you necessarily believe in living a subsistence lifestyle. Not true. I know I can preserve my life better. I know I can always be stronger or smarter. I can always become a better cook. I can build a more efficient shelter. I can become a better sex partner. I can learn how to more efficiently use my energy to better preserve my life by learning how I work and how the rest of the world works. So that's what I spend my time doing and that gives my life infinite amounts of meaning! I don't need to construct meaning out of thin air. What I was given when I was born is meaning enough.

craigp said...

in response to brian romero's comment below-
"Ultimately I don't think what goes on here on our tiny speck floating in the universe has much meaning"

i agree in that we don't (maybe can't) know anything "outside" of our universe (if there is an outside), but how well is our universe defined to us? how many of those stars even exist, what with the hundreds of light years it take for those light particles to reach earth most of the actual stars could be gone by now.

How much does the nature of the universe affect how much meaning an individual life have?

what kinds of things would constitute a life of meaning (or with meaning)?

if we came to the conclusion that there is a god and to find some sort of spiritual union with it was important or gave some kind of salvation would a life that is devoid of that be meaningless?

if you answer yes than you disregard any validity of a personal exerience outside of that 'right action'.

what's the definition of to have meaning?

I.D.R.C. said...

I think of meaning as something lent, not something intrinsically had. Only things with cognition can lend meaning to anything. Grass has meaning to a cow. Means it can eat. You have meaning to your dog, because you feed it and play with it and give it affection. A rock can have meaning, if you like that rock and consider it special. It could have more meaning than a person. But this is a trick of language. It's easy to see that in reality the rock "has" nothing. Neither does the grass. Neither do we.

In this discussion, "having meaning" has got to be about whether what we do or think or "mean" amounts to a hill of beans outside of whatever worldy impact it may have.

Before ideas like this, it was universally accepted that what we do on earth is for a reward or a punishment in some kind of an afterlife. Going to a "better place" was the accepted meaning of life. --Human life, anyway.

That's more depressing than anything I can think of. That is where true bleakness is found. Imagine a life so full of toil and misery that the only way to get through it is to believe in eternal cake and ice cream after you die. Talk about meaninglessness!

Any philosophy that calls that bullshit and says that you had better make decisions for yourself while you still can may have some problems in the details, but can hardly be said to "suck" outright.

Where Christianity or Islam could be said to offer population control, Existentialism offers individual empowerment.

I have looked to no avail for what Bertrand Russell wrote about it, but I doubt he was objecting to anything Eddie has stated.

My money says we are all gonna take a very long dirt nap with no afterparty. Make it count now, people.

pappy d said...

I'm with you, Eddie. Meaning is a human artifact. Why would you look for it outside of life itself? Or... if life has been created by a higher Intelligence, why would we presume we could understand its purpose?

I'll buy the argument that there is no ultimate moral authority but then on what moral basis would Sartre criticise me for "bad" faith? He can't fill that vacuum himself without cutting the legs out from under his argument.

anonymous:

Philosophy aside, the guy did get more tail than Frank Sinatra.

lester hunt:

Be fair! They, too, serve who hold secret, underground meetings of the "La Resistance" fan club in comfy Parisian living rooms. ;)

I.D.R.C. said...

Just read the Wiki explanation of Sarte's "bad faith". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_faith_(existentialism)

In lay terms it seems to mean denying yourself freedom due to external factors. Doing what your dad thinks you should do with your life, for example, is acting in bad faith. Inauthentic behavior, such as putting on airs, is bad faith. It doesn't seem to be an idea affected by the absence of an ultimate moral authority. It seems to reside in the individual, and seems like a pretty objective (and amoral)idea.

As for morals, Sartre is throwing out the idea that we should use authorities as replacements for an internal compass. He says each of us must always consult with ourselves in the execution of our actions:

"...instead of divesting the self of responsibility in the discharge of ones duties, be aware of ones own significance in the process. This recognition involves the questioning of the morality of all choices, taking responsibility for the consequences of one's own choice and therefore; a constant reappraisal of one's own and others' ever-changing humanity. One must not exercise bad faith by denying the self's freedom of choice and accountability. Taking on the burden of personal accountability in all situations is an intimidating proposition - by pointing out the freedom of the individual Sartre seeks to demonstrate the social roles and moral systems we adopt to protect us from being morally accountable for our actions."

Sounds like a good repudiation of the Neuremburg defense, whether or not it was intended as such.

Imagine that --people could know the right thing to do all by themselves.

I'm still writing stuff because I'm still trying to find the part of this philosophy that's all messed up. Maybe Sartre liked Mao too much but that's another matter. The philosophy says nothing about Mao.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Boy, some of the comments here were better than
any I'd seen in books! Well, I still think existentialism is somewhat shallow. It's a poor substitute for the religion it replaces.

Religious people get to bond into communities, get extra help when they're feeling low, have an ethic that decreases crime and makes close-knit families more likely, can resist loneliness and pain better, can resist suicide and hopelessness better, are more likely to get back on the horse after they've fallen off, and are generally more confident and happy. These qualities are reinforced by ritual so they don't slip away. Existentialism has no ritual, no easily understood ethical stands...it just offers a rousing pep talk then kicks you back out into the street.

Secularism also has unique advantages, especially for scientists, but not too many for the average person. I'm not arguing for theism. I just wish secular people would be more like Benjamin Franklin (who may have been secular) and admit that you give up a lot of very practical advantages when you become an aetheist. If the religious impulse really is genetic, then you can see why it was selected for.

I.D.R.C. said...

...it just offers a rousing pep talk then kicks you back out into the street.

Haha! A giant, "figure it out for yourself," using ten-dollar words! --That I'll give you. I just think that's good advice, but it's certainly no blueprint for living. It doesn't show you how to think for yourself or how to be yourself if you don't already know. There are better things for that. I like Vernon Howard. He's the only spiritual teacher who I have ever heard say that you should be critical even of what HE says.

With religions you are often encouraged instead to abandon your critical factor. Fellowship, community and charity are all great things I am in favor of, but not at such a confounding price.

I want an entire planet where everyone can think for himself. We will never get that in a world full of indoctrinated, institutionalized reasoning. The more polluted religious populations can be whipped into a frenzy over the silliest things. They believe the silliest things.

I think the cafe pic you posted was perhaps the entire existential congregation.

Some Guy said...

I just wanna add that I agree with Eddie's thesis, even though my earlier post might have seemed to contradict it. But does a religous person like me know, anyway? I'm not enlightened or logical, only happy and fulfilled. If life was really meaningless I guess it'd be better to live a meaningless live where you're aware of your meaninglessness (for about 80 years) then to live a meaningless life where you're happy (for about 80 years).

On a related note: don't you hate it when people say "I'm not religious I'm spiritual?!?!" That pisses me of so much, the fact that the word "religious" has gotten bad connotations and that we've become so politically correct and connotation-sensitive that we have to use vague terms that don't mean anything like "spiritual" to describe our belief system (if we're willing to categorize anyhting at all anymore)

"Spiritual," nigga, please! One time my hot latina religion instructor said that and I asked what that meant and she couldn't answer me. Dumb shallow idiota.

Some Guy said...

By the way, Thomas Jefferson and Hitler were both secular, so the quality of person does not depend on your belief system.

I.D.R.C. said...

I guess it'd be better to live a meaningless live where you're aware of your meaninglessness (for about 80 years) then to live a meaningless life where you're happy (for about 80 years).

Can't we be aware and happy?

It's not about living a meaningless life. Nobody should do that. It's about putting meaning where it belongs, and not where it doesn't.

When I see a bunch of Christians picketing a Planned Parenthood, I can't help but think, why aren't they volunteering at an orphanage instead?

don't you hate it when people say "I'm not religious I'm spiritual?!?!"

I like Jesus but from what I've seen done in his name I would never want to be confused with a Christian. That's something of what it means to me. Moreover, I don't belong to any faith, But I'm not without spiritual guidance. What should I say? I usually don't say anything.

Jefferson is something like Sarte, in that he penned ideology he couldn't necessarily live up to.

lastangelman said...

I may be full of something here, but I think one of the reasons The Beatles caught on and became really popular right at the time they did in America (aside from Capitol's marketing campaign) was a lot of kids at that time felt there wasn't a lot of meaningful things going on in their lives. Their lives seemed, empty, shallow, pointless, washed out, pale. Even rock'n'roll had become safe and watered down. Whether they knew it or not, a lot of American kids were pseudo-existentialists, waiting for something to jolt them, to give meaning to their lives, to fill a gaping hole that was just about Beatle-sized. The Beatles were safe exotic foreigners, they wore fashionable clothes, they were anti-establishment in a safe sitcom-way (i.e., smart-alec remarks to dumb questions by media), they made no bones about being from poor or lower middle class backgrounds and about wanting to make a lot of money, they played old time rock'n'roll in new louder amped-up way, that was exciting, tuneful and frenetic. Yep, The Beatles were an existentialist's wet dream!
Granted, 99% of those kids had no idea what an Exie was, but no doubt they all probably felt like Exies.

Nowadays one could can really rant about how really empty and jaded a lot of kids are today, so much that they fill up their lives with an irony-fused junk culture and fill up their time aping the antics of current crop of celebritards, but even that stuff doesn't fill up the gaping holes in their lives - it's all junk food, empty soul calories. It makes worry about the future - like Scott Adams, I'm cautiously optimistic we'll muddle through as a culture and the species will carry on as a whole, but I keep feeling the tail (media culture) has been wagging the dog ( everybody else) and is starting to knock over the furniture and tchotckes that define us as a people.

Snurp said...

It sounds like there's a dichotomy being made here between existentialism and religion, and it should be noted that they are not mutually exclusive. There is such a thing as an existential theist (Paul Tillich, for example, is considered one).

Also, I think it has to be kept in mind what existentialists are going for. I bet many of them at least would agree that we shouldn't all go and forsake everything that keeps us tied to others. For one, not everyone (probably most, it would be said) could deal with that. Most people need relational structures and a sort of "family metaphysics" that keeps the world together. Religion is one way of doing this. A good community could be another. Any kind of ties that give us meaning.

Now the problem comes when I start trying to say that reality for everyone reflects the story or ties I live by. Since for one, it may very well not be true, and for two, well, if it's not true and I figure that out it could get rough. Existentialists (1) like "intellectual cleanliness": it's a mark of higher integrity not to follow along, but to find out what the world means for yourself. Related to this would be (2) their individualism. This is quite obviously an important factor, both in describing problems and considering solutions. Recall, existence precedes essence. I am me first, my social identity and world membership second. Of course, if you're not one who can sever ties easily or at all, you're not going to like existentialism.

With all the above being said, it could perhaps be noted that these days, in an light speed culture where everything moves fast and no one's tied down to anything like they used to be, it might be that an existentialist viewpoint could become more useful for people in general. Either that, or everyone will just have to slow the hell down.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Snurp: Interesting points! Well, you are you first, before you're a citizen, father etc., but the "you" that you are is partly a creature of instinct, and your instinct is partly geared to joining a herd, and maybe even coercing other people to do the same.

I don't believe in coercing people but I bring up the point to show that "existence precedes essence" isn't very logical. It just sounds nice. Actually no philosophy is completely logical because it has to apply to people, and we're not completely logical. A really logical philosophy would probably be ignored by most people.

Aaaargh! I have to go to dinner! I'll get back to this.

I.D.R.C. said...

A lot of what we think or say we are is just a collection of habits. Some are good habits and some are bad but neither are the true self. There is no herd instinct in people. There is a herd habit in some. You can learn a different habit if you find a reason to do so.

If I choose to be more logical some would say I have sacrificed my humanity. They are wrong. They have been deceived by habit. They simply prefer the comfort and wiggle room of sloppy and fuzzy.

Snurp said...

When it comes to existence preceding essence and logic, remember that we're talking about existentialists. The point isn't really a point of logic, it's a point about people. Logic is, strictly speaking, a construct. But the existentialist doesn't want to talk about concepts and constructs, but about the individual. Of course they usually use reasoning processes and basic logical arguments like any self-respecting philosopher, but they would advise us to be careful how far we take it. Take, for example, Wittgenstein. He can serve as an example of a "really logical philosophy." He originally built a language philosophy of pure logic, and the result was that philosophy told us nothing but how to speak within the rules of logic. Existential questions would literally be nonsense: they talk about nothing that makes clear sense in words, and so nothing that can really be understood. This knowingly ignores the fact that, sensical or not, we feel lost sometimes. But that is dismissed as not being a problem for philosophy. In fact we can say that, in a way, where Wittgenstein ends is where existentialism begins.

As for the instinct to be part of a group, it is very real and recognized by existentialists. Not usually well-liked, though (as you could guess). Let's use Nietzsche here. The 'herd' for him is part of a basic instinct on the part of most people to survive. For the herd to survive requires security, which generally entails mediocrity. Anything that sticks out could be dangerous, so it's snuffed out. But for that reason it is dishonest and dangerous to the "better" people, those who don't need others to survive. Better to live a shorter life alone that is more interesting and a better expression of one's own power than a quiet life with others. Of course Nietzsche was something of a social outcast himself, but we find the social question in the other existentialists too. The group offers us security, a home, a meaning, something that tunes very well with our survival instinct. We can probably say it's what got mankind this far, and today most still couldn't do without it. Yet that is at the cost of a 'true' self, one free of all restrictions. And the group has a tendency to become an entity of its own, one with its own interests, truth at any cost rarely being among them. The question for many then becomes whether or not we can survive without the security offered by a society and a meaning system that's given to us if we discover that meaning systems themselves aren't really true and existing out there, but only conditional and even arbitrary. I'll let Camus speak here (this is in The Myth of Sisyphus):

"Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm - this path is followed easily most of the time. But one day the 'why' arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement."

Anonymous said...

I have no will to reproduce, I am celibate.

I don't value food, I enjoy eating because it "feels good" - but if I didn't get hungry I would never eat again.

I hate living, I most strongly wish to be shot in the face (and thus killed) by a stranger for no reason at all.

I care about drawing, about learning how to draw and creating fantasy. No one else cares if I draw, objectively it is not important. But it is important to me.

stevie said...

you deeply disturb me with this......it still gives me the creeps and i've read it a few times over!

Matthew Gilroy said...

Well. There is no shortage of shallowness in this criticism. One should tend to understand completely the theory they are criticizing before they delve into the task.
The essential truth of existentialism is that, yes, life is absurd. There is no rhyme or reason. One can either handle that or not. If you can't, then you will not be drawn to the stark realities of this philosophy.
It is individualistic at heart. It deals with each person as they are, and calls upon them to demand freedom for themselves and others. Freedom from the world that they were born into, the ideas and thoughts that were placed upon them at birth.
It forces you to understand that we DO create our own world, our lives.
I, personally, find that unbelievably beautiful and liberating.
But, this is one man's opinion.

Anonymous said...

I listened to Bishop Sheen on his "philosophy of life" where he suggested alot of people have an existential neurosis because of the absurdity of life and that normal human beings naturally gravitate towards religion or spirituality where as others just become cynical or lost. Personally, I think satre was just a cynic who had great timing. Hitler was the same way, but his message was more proactive.

The Aardvark said...

I know this will likely never be seen by many, it being a comment on a years-old post, but oh, well...

I.D.R.C.- "With religions you are often encouraged instead to abandon your critical factor. Fellowship, community and charity are all great things I am in favor of, but not at such a confounding price. "

Specific examples?

"When I see a bunch of Christians picketing a Planned Parenthood, I can't help but think, why aren't they volunteering at an orphanage instead? "

A huge number of orphanages are run, or supported by Christians. Do some research to back your prejudices. Do YOU volunteer at orphanages?