Archives for posts with tag: Sartre

Any active user of Facebook is likely a witness to the veritable deluge of motivational memes that make up every other item in their daily newsfeed. No longer content with desperate-looking kittens telling us to “Hang In There”, Internet users will now search far and wide for quotations from well-known public figures, such as Gandhi, Oscar Wilde, or the ever famous Anonymous telling people how to live their lives, often with poetic flair. Or those weird E-Card things that always seem to involve wine offering simple comforts to those who might read them.

What these hokey memes tell me is that most people are miserable. The lady doth life-affirm too much, me thinks. Nobody shouts out life advice into the void unless they’re trying to make themselves feel better about whatever bullshit-du-jour is troubling them.

So since everybody seems to have a perpetual case of the Mondays, I decided to let everybody in on a little secret: you are awesome. Not you as a person, obviously. You’re probably an asshole. But you as a Self.

The Self is an amazing concept. Nietzsche hypothesized that we as individuals are all value-creators. What this means is that nothing actually has any inherent or objective meaning and value. While some might find this depressing, in reality it is actually empowering because we can realize that the value of things actually comes from us. The example I like to use is of that of the jilted lover. Say you just got dumped, and you’re all sad because of emotions. If you realize that you are the one creating value, you realize that the love you felt wasn’t inherent to that jerkwad who doesn’t know what’s good for them, but was something that was created by you. That power, that passion, comes from you. You can feel it again, because you are the one that is capable of creating it in the first place. You might think this is a fairly self-centred way of looking at things, but if somebody loves you, realize that they are creating that value, and choosing you to be the recipient of it. To be loved becomes an incredible honour.

Value-creation doesn’t just apply to love, but to everything. Before I left for India, I was terrified, but I repeated to myself over and over: “The only reason I find this scary is because I believe it to be scary. The act itself isn’t imbued with any actual value.” Does this lessen the value of things if we are the ones deciding what has worth and what does not? If you have low self-esteem, maybe. If you don’t think you are worth the things that you feel, then perhaps you should keep reading because I’m hoping this post will inspire certain amounts of self-worth. Or you could just abandon ship here and go find some more motivational E-Cards. I’ll never know the difference.

Another important aspect of the Self is Sartre’s theory of Existence before Essence. If what defines you, your essence, exists before you do, then you are bound forever to that definition. However, if what defines you comes after, then your life becomes the definition of your being. Each act that you partake in adds to the collection of moments that make up who you are. With your boundless freedom, you can perpetually create and recreate who you want to be.

Lastly, when you truly know your Self, you become invulnerable. Switching from Existentialism to Buddhism now, let’s look at the words of Chagdud Tulku: ‘Sit in front of a mirror, look at your reflection, and insult it: “You’re ugly. You’re bad.” Then praise it: “You’re beautiful. You’re good.” Regardless of what you say, the image remains as it is.‘ What this means is that when you know your strengths, when you know your faults, everything else becomes superfluous, because you know the truth. When you know what you’re capable of, when you know who you are, you no longer fear rejection or criticism, nor do you require praise. This isn’t to suggest stagnation, nor an assumption that the Self should never be challenged. However, when you know the truth about your Self, you will know what challenges you need to face, and can endeavour towards overcoming them. You will know what matters.

Is this the equivalent of a drawn out meme with a picture of a smiling Leonard Cohen with a heart-warming quotation next to it? Meh, could be. But I’m not suggesting good things are going to happen to you if you understand what it means to have a Self. Nor am I suggesting that recognizing these things will make you a better person. Like I said, we’re working under the assumption that you’re an asshole, and I doubt a blog post is going to change that. This isn’t the power of positive thinking, nor is it putting out good energy results in the universe smiling down on you: believing in bullshit will get you nowhere.

Knowing about what makes up the Self, however, will at least give you the confidence to be an asshole with decent self-esteem, because having a Self, no matter who you are, is actually pretty sweet.

Post-Script: not to devolve this into a religious post, because it’s not, but believing in a creator God negates all of these things. God creates value, and God gives the purpose to your life before you are born. Not saying that one way is better than the other, but just keep in mind the discrepancy if you want to believe in both.

There was a video I watched a few months ago (that I can’t find, otherwise I’d link to it) of a woman giving a lecture about women and objectification. She spoke at length about the perils of sexual body imagery, and how the cultural trend of the sexualization of women is destroying the psyche of women and girls everywhere. At the end of the lecture, she removed the make-up she was wearing as a final statement against contemporary beauty standards.

But if dressing “sexily” turns someone into a sex object, then how come dressing stylishly doesn’t make someone a “stylish” object? Or someone who dresses in skinny jeans and plaid a “hipster” object? Or someone who removes their make-up at the end of a lecture a “feminist” object? There is a discrepancy in there somewhere that concludes that only when someone exudes sexuality does it make them an object.

Jean-Paul Sartre suggests that we can only ever relate to people as objects, so to consider one aspect objectifying over another is moot. I tend to agree with him. Have you ever ran into a professor while you were in a grocery store? Did it seem a little… weird? Or your doctor, or maybe an employee from the butcher shop that you routinely frequent? When you see someone outside of the context that you’re used to them in, it tends to make people uncomfortable. The reason is because you’ve objectified them in relation to their profession: the teacher object, the doctor object, the butcher object; when they don’t coincide with the object into which you’ve made them, it weirds you out a little bit.

Maybe you think this only relates to the simple relationships in our lives, but think of your dad. Imagine running into him at a strip club. Or your sister being at a strip club in a slightly different context. This obviously doesn’t work if your family is very open about their relationship with the peelers, but say they aren’t. You would feel uneasy, and part of the reason would be because you can’t grasp your relationship with those people outside of the context that you’re used to them in. Being at a strip club does not coincide with how you have defined the Dad object. You can say your dad would never do such a thing, but how can you actually know that?

It’s impossible to grasp the consciousness of another human being, so all we really do is just guess based on the evidence of that person’s actions, come up with a little box that we assume that person fits into, and presto chango, that person is now an object that we can comprehend. That’s how it works.

So the problem isn’t objectification, and the problem isn’t objectifying a person down to the simplest of terms because we do that with our teachers and doctors and butchers. So all that seems to remain is the sex. Awful, dirty sex.

The biggest targets of controversy when it comes to the objectification of women are pornography and prostitution. These are women (and some men) that get paid to have that awful, dirty sex, and that’s apparently terrible. When one adult purchases a service from another consenting adult, money exchanges hands, and then both of them leave happy, that is the greatest sin of all. I’m talking of course about capitalism, which is a horrible economic system and should be abolished to make way for glorious communism. Selling sex is peanuts in comparison.

So outside of the inherently flawed nature of capitalism, these two acts are unhealthy because some guy is getting his rocks off. Which is… actually considered very healthy. And so long as he can separate fantasy from reality, his perception of women shouldn’t change. Most people don’t actually freak the fuck out when they discover their teacher doesn’t sleep in the school, neither would somebody be so surprised that the acts going on in pornography or in an escort’s bedroom don’t exactly line up with reality.

Or is the problem that prostitutes and porn stars degrade the very nature of sex by keeping it out of the realm of harmonious love? They’re not melding two souls to become one in the most physically intimate act that love and passion can create. And if that’s your idea of how sex should be, that’s fantastic. Honestly. But when you impose your own beliefs of how sexuality should be practiced on an entire culture, doesn’t that seem a little… phobic? Their sex doesn’t affect you in the slightest, and you should get over it.

So objectification is normal, selling things I will grudgingly admit to being fine, sexual release is healthy, and non-intimate sexy times is a-okay. So what’s the problem?

The problem is when sexual objectification occurs outside the realm of sexuality. When it’s used to sell cars, or beer, or things that have absolutely nothing to do with getting a hard-on and doing something with it. When it is literally everywhere you look. When the world is swamped with the image of the sexualized woman, when you have to go out of your way to find a woman in the media that isn’t sexualized to some degree, *THAT* is the problem. The world needs a variety of imagery so that people can see that there is more to being a woman than just a vagina on display, but we don’t need to devolve to puritanical dogma to achieve it. You certainly don’t need to throw out the heels and nylons. Even birds flaunt their plumage from time to time, but they’ve got amazing singing voices too.

We live in a world where everyone wants to label everything. Far from it for us to admit to shades of grey, things all have to be black or white. A thing is either this, or it is that. At best we can concede that this has a bit of that tendencies, but for the most part, when we define something, we have a pretty good notion that the words in the English language do a suitable enough job of defining what it is we’re looking at, and we stick to them.

To define, from the Latin, literally means to limit something. When you start to assign attributes to things, you’re saying that this can’t be that, it can only be this. When you say grass is green, you’re saying that grass cannot be blue, or red, or black, etc. But some grass is yellow, and if you spill paint on it, that grass could have a tasteful, subtle off-white colouring. So you could say some grass is green, some grass is yellow, and some grass is soft eggshell white. There are few enough strains of grass and paint colours that to define the colour of grass isn’t that strenuous.

However, when you get to people, to define becomes impossible. There are far too many of us, with all of our own individual quirks that make each and every one of us unique. And that’s just those of us alive now. Think of the billions that have already died, and the trillions yet to be born.

Even to bring it down to one person is impossible. Jean-Paul Sartre describes the human condition as two fold: one part set and finite (the sum of our experiences) and the infinite potential we have in front of us. As a free creature capable of doing pretty close to anything humanly possible, to set a limit on our infinite freedom is (as Sartre would call it) living in bad faith. If you claim to be, say, a good waiter, and then live your life as a good waiter, serving people their water before even they themselves know they want it, sure you’re a good waiter, but you’re denying yourself your freedom of being anything beyond a good waiter. You’re not a good waiter; you’re not any label, because you can be anything.

This would apply to every aspect of yourself you might be defined as: happy person, sad person, funny person, handsome, ugly, straight, gay…

So why do we label people when it is impossible to do so accurately?

Because we have to. Our brain works by understanding labels. We think in definable concepts, not impossible to nail down abstract ones. If someone asks you about yourself, and you say, “oh, I don’t believe in labels” what you are telling this person is that the grass isn’t green, nor is it yellow or blue; the grass is a colour that doesn’t exist. In your mind, try to imagine a colour that doesn’t exist. You may give up after you get to the sort of murky brown one.

So pick something. Anything. If you want the grass to be fuchsia, that’s perfectly fine. If you can find a way to explain the history of how that grass became fuchsia, and what that means to the world around it, then you can be relatable instead of alienating. If you’re trying to explain to someone about something they have never heard of before, remember that it’s not their fault that it’s difficult, they’re just trying to imagine a colour they’ve never come across.