Life as we know it now is great. We have freedom of opportunity, freedom of speech, freedom of resources in the form of the internet. We have stripped most, if not all, American legislation by its racial biases. The only thing which separates man from achieving the full potential of his power is now himself, as the transcendent being is able to accomplish what others before him had thought impossible, unconstrained by introspective or social dilemma. Despite being a newly liberated society, we still suffer and many people cannot get out of the trouble they find themselves in or thrown into. I think the greatest impact to social change relies not in a reform of systematic approach, but in a micro-level consciousness of existentialist ethics within each member of society.
Throughout time, determining the most efficient ways of organizing society and the liberties of its people has been a series of trial-and-error Across socialism (from Hegelism to Marxism) to fascism, all the way to capitalism, it seems as though everything has been considered and experimented with to an extent. Now, we exist in a capitalistic society, where competition is on the rise and survival is dependent on the production of material means. In other words, a life in a capitalistic society is one of hard work, and success must be achieved alongside the expansion of knowledge through battling failures. In an essence, capitalism is the materialistic interpretation of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”, which actually demanded the triumph of one life over another in order for evolution to occur.
Growing up in a civil society founded on the principles of the competitive and individualistic free-market, it is hard to imagine living in a society where its values empowered the government, providing them with more control of their people’s money – such as socialism. Despite its prevalence in history, the concept of government-controlled wealth and regulation has not dawned on me until the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century. Coincidentally – and maybe not so coincidental after all – the emergence of socialism in my daily conversation grew drastically when I moved here to Portland, Oregon.
Though very vague, I was able to attach the concept of socialism to the redistribution of wealth (as well as the others listed, another fresh phrase included to my repertoire), to politicians such as the beloved Bernie Sanders, and even totalitarianism. And by all of this, I was very confused. In my given facticity, I hear cries from both Left and Right – liberals and conservatives – that regard appropriate and proper management of the means of production in a society. It was not until I read Sartre’s account in Existentialism and Marxism, that I was able to better able to connect those dots I have been accumulating throughout my chapter out here in Portland. Out of all of the systems of which I am aware of, I argue that capitalism is the best system for societies to practice.
Marxism, a political theory crafted by Karl Marx, is an attempt to balance the worlds of order and chaos by spreading awareness to man of the duality’s very existence. The goal of Marxism is to It is through the fused-group, a term mentioned in Sartre’s Collectives, that the cultural consciousness migrates into the lives of the collective society. It is with high hope that the purposes of said fused-group – in the case of Marxism, “ …with universalising and totalising schemata” (Sartre) – will remain the dominant knowledge expressed in a given society. I think this was Sartre’s biggest discrepancy with Marxism. Though, Sartre shared the belief of acknowledging the objective world (order) alongside our subjective accounts (chaos), he had felt the practice of Marxism, overtime, had negative yields of effect. Sartre recognized that inherently, “living Marxism is heuristic; its principles and its prior knowledge appear as regulative in relation to its concrete research” (Sartre). And that sentiment should be good enough for any theorist, but the true practitioner becomes aware of the faults at hand in applied Marxism. Instead of creating a conscious and self-aware society, many of the population become a member of what Sartre labels, “Marxist voluntarism” (Sartre).
If one follows under Marxist voluntarism, they are what Sartre would call a “voluntary ideologue”. This means that, though one exists in a society which, as a whole, holds existentially-regarded belief systems towards individuality and the pursuit for “abstract knowledge”, the individual themselves are behaving purely out of praxis (practice) as opposed to a priori (knowledge). As I would read his essay, I would become more excited about the potentials of Marxism than I had prior to reading his introduction, but at this moment, I cannot think of a way to prevent people from speaking purely from the perspective of hearsay, as opposed to a mindset for learning and growth. I think the issue is deeper than determining conditions which all must follow, I think there needs to be a change in the way which everyone views life. I think that we must integrate ourselves into a system which enables the individual to prosper in whichever field they wish, but at the same time, strive for the greater good of man and mankind. It seems to me that capitalism is the better suited for the liberation of man than any other political domain; It seems to me that capitalism is better suited for the existentialist to flourish.
In Simone de Beauvoir’s work The Ethics of Ambiguity, she recognizes that the facticities in which we are thrown into are ambiguous world of meaning, and offers an insightful approach to our uncertain life purposes. “It is because man’s condition is ambiguous that he seeks, through failure and outrageousness, to save his existence” (Beauvoir, p. 413). This is what each person in today’s world should be acknowledging in their own triumphs, but it is hard concept for most to accept. In this quote, much of the obstacles of human nature shine through: our tendency to uphold static lifestyles and to avoid failure. It is an unfortunate circumstance. If more people read existential literature, they would be able to better cultivate the fruit of their being. Instead, we have many people giving up, hopeless, hanging onto a single thread. As such, we have a lot of people utilizing government resources as life support for decades of years.
De Beauvoir questions the ethics of man, leading to the line of questioning that the good moral man ultimately asks himself: “Am I really working for the liberation of men? Isn’t this end contested by the sacrifices through which I aim at?”. The notion of an individual working not only for the liberation of himself by default, but also the liberation of his people, is a notion of authenticity practiced on the world-scale. If more people sought an internal truth, an a priori such as those of ‘living Marxism’, as opposed to focusing only on the “…conformity to an external [kantian] model” (Beauvoir, p. 420), I believe there would be many more competitors and allies for growth in this world. Not only does Beauvoir advocate for the liberation of all people, she also claims that, “if we do not love life on our own account and through others, it is futile to seek to justify it in any way” (Beauvoir, p. 418). This means that the love of life, on our own terms, alongside the love through others, is inherently a justification for life itself. In Beauvoir’s interpretation of ethics, I have been convinced that life is about individual purpose and compassion.
Though, maybe these quotes coupled with personal reflection are not enough to persuade you of the practical usage of Beauvoir’s ethics in our capitalistic society. These quotes serve as a mere interpretation of my gathering in Beauvoir’s simplest terms. So, maybe it is not enough that I am providing you the most pleasurable and optimal of situations. Surely, there are pluralisms that lurk under the floors of capitalism and my attraction towards Beauvoirian ethics. Which is why existentialism is not only important to myself, someone who is fresh to the world of its contents. Existentialism is also important to those with counter-arguments or perspectives which question my own understanding.
As a whole, existentialism is about liberating the authenticity of human from the constraints of society. There are many perspectives which concern religion, others claim that no such God exists. There are existentialist arguments from both sides, and almost everyone can formulate an opinion on an account if given the appropriate amount of time for comprehension. Existentialists philosophize their own lives and beliefs through personal or fictional narratives, deliberated in order to achieve an overall emotional sentiment in the reader. Reading existentialism is a powerful action, as it is not a set code or recipe of actions to practice. It is the exploration of the cultivated and nurtured inner truths of some of the world’s most important thinkers. It the most ideal way to study the existential account: a truly subjective look into one’s own existence.
It is the compelling qualities of subjectivity and connection that engage reader to writer, and serves as a medium of expression uncommon to objective and formal literature.
You could say that reading existentialism provides emotional strength, especially when reading a work of a thinker who you regard high sympathy and respect. There is a psychological “link between readers of fiction and empathy” (Peterson, 2009). Jordan Peterson, Keith Oatley, and Raymond A. Mar studied readers of fiction in an academic article from 2009. They found that those who read fiction have better abilities of empathy and theory of mind. They also found that those high on the personality trait Openness were likely to provide social support. This also creates an interesting connection to another study by Jordan Peterson.
In a study from 2010, Peterson also discovers that conservatives are associated positively with the Conscientiousness personality trait and negatively with Openness-Intellect (Peterson, 2010). Conservatism, at its core, is power to the individual. In contrast, its counter-perspective, Liberalism, is power to the government. Based on her account for the ideal ethical code of individuals in society, I believe Beauvoir to fall more into the conservative side of the spectrum.
Regardless of your personality or your party, there will be an existentialist who has iterated and explored the territories of your own beliefs to a high extent, and the account is definitely worth the consideration for the sake of critical thinking and learning. The reason why existentialism is so crucial in our capitalistic society is that we, as humans, have the capacity of growth. We are able to cultivate our perspectives with the perspectives of like-minded existentialists so that we are able to be challenged by differing arguments from opposing viewpoints. With a focus on applying and exploring the world of existentialism in our own lives, people are better able to shape, grow, and even completely change their inner and subjective truths in what seems like a matter of days.
It is because of our capitalistic society that we are as free to do what we want to do. Though, we often mistake the cultural vibrations that enter our psyche for objective fact, we are not confined to the arbitrary presuppositions in which we are sprouted in. That is why we must inform ourselves of the struggles others go through in maintaining an authentic lifestyle, so we can explore what it means to be a self; so we can explore what it means to be ourselves.
Imagine a society where people not only had the hows of their practices, but also the whys. Imagine a society where you could have an intellectual conversation with existentially and academically founded people. The movement towards this type of thinking in a society implies an increase of explorers towards inner-growth, in such, higher counts of failures, and therefore, higher counts of successes people encounter in the world. And everybody is still free. What an existentialist and capitalistic world we could live in!
Sartre, J. (n.d.). The Search for Method, Jean-Paul Sartre 1960. Retrieved March 17, 2017, from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/critic/sartre1.htm
Marino, G. D., & Beauvoir, S. D. (2004). Basic writings of existentialism. New York: The Modern Library.
JB Peterson, RA Mar, K Oatley (2009). Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes. Communications
JB Peterson, JB Hirsh, Colin G DeYoung, Xiaowen Xu. (2010). Compassionate liberals and polite conservatives: Associations of agreeableness with political ideology and moral values