Something strange and dangerous is happening in Amerika. Organization imposes an ethic of conformity on its employees. Businesses test for levels of conformity. There are monotonously similar ideas of success: a house, a wife, a good job with some company, perhaps even a gigantic monster multinational corporation like Coca-Cola that destroys environments in India and elsewhere, to enable one to own a car (maybe two or three), and raise a family (at least 2.3 offspring) …
The real difference between people is the degree to which they are other-directed or inner-directed. In parts of Europe, especially England, even in parts of India, China, and Japan, and certainly in the “United States” itself, the character of the last few generations of youth is formed mainly by television and cinema. The so-called “good characters” are socially well-adjusted. The so-called “bad characters” are curmudgeons or are obviously self-centered.
[note: curmudgeon = “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man”]
Our problems are fundamentally psychological. They spring from the fact that the complexity of our society tends to create a defensive attitude in many people, the sort of acknowledgement of defeat that a schoolboy might feel on looking into a volume of higher mathematics. The result is a sense of diffidence, a loss of the feeling of being self-determined. This diffidence gnaws into the nervous energies. It narrows the individual’s conception of his own abilities and values.The powerful forces of our age are mass media. In America, they worship success. In England, they worship royality. Revolt for its own sake is not enough. It fails to get to the core problem: the increasing other-directedness in modern society and the disappearance of the hero, the inner-directed man in literature.
[diffident = “hesitant in acting or speaking through lack of self-confidence”]
The hero of our age would have to be a sort of metaphysician, perhaps even an angry grump like Arthur Schopenhauer. The hero cannot accept the status quo. A wife, a house, and a bottle wine is not a heroic life. In the cinema, the so-called hero always gets the girl. Maybe the hero of our age will have to defy that image and fail to jump through the hoops necessary to be an “acceptable catch”. Or the new hero could be a disgruntled woman who doesn’t give a fuck about “catching a so-called good man.” Wasn’t the original woman in the story of the Garden such a disgruntled, independent woman? She was replaced with submissive Eve after the patriarchal Hebrew scholars wrote down the stories they had stolen from whoever it is they had destroyed (the oral peoples … the original peoples). I will spare the gentle reader my useless insights into such matters. We have, after all, bigger fish to fry.
Anyway, Goethe himself had no illusions about successful love. Goethe analyzed the peculiar psychological complexities of the new hero in Faust. The result of knowledge seems to be a disillusionment that involves the whole universe: a feeling that, if a man could shed all his illusions for a moment, he would not want to live. There is no doubt in my mind that I am inner-directed. I have a deep and complex Vision, and I can not contain the helpless rage I feel against the stupid oversimplifications upon which society bases its judgements. Isn’t this the central preoccupation of existentialism? Existentialism is an attempt to map and explore the complexity of the human condition. Sartre said that “Hell is other people.” Are other people really the main problem? When we are robbed of our subjectivity, we have nothing left. When we are categorized as “caricatures” – and we accept the perceptions of us that others have formed in their heads – we lose contact with the basic “urge to life,” the reality of the non-human forces within us such as our emotions and our deepest sense of what is real. Freedom is any intense emotion (like terror) that restores our subjectivity. How’s that? What did I just write? Terror is Freedom. You can quote that.
There is a war on freedom. I am not too crazy about Sartre, but a less famous quote runs something like this: “I know there is no other salvation for mankind than the liberation of the working classes.” Most people fail to understood that even the unemployed who are on public assistance are still members of the working class. We are the broken machinery – or simply out of order — or in a state of perpetual revolt.
Existentialism itself began as a revolt (against Hegel), and revolt is essentially NEGATIVE. The writers responsibility is heavier than that of the politicians and church leaders, for what is in question is a revolution in thought itself, not a five-year plan or some recipe for “getting right with God.” It is a fallacy to believe that action can get closer to life than contemplation (or writing). The aim of philosophy itself is depth and vital intensity. People can’t get away from existentialism – even if they never heard of it, they experience it. It starts with our feeling of the world’s hostile strangeness. There is a reason why there is a “negative” ambience to critical thinking, for often we are in attack mode – against Freudianism, Marxism, Logical Positivism, and any other “isms” that foster the insignificance fallacy.
Is true freedom pure chaos? Cioran said that being oneself is chaos. Some of my heroes were not exactly well-received by their contemporaries. It is said that Van Gogh was never an easy person to live with; fits of nervous depression made his temper uncertain. He took in a woman off the streets who was pregnant, thereby scandalizing all his friends who abandoned him as lost. And so it freakin’ goes, I guess.