We are born into pre-made worlds, or thrown-in as it was so aptly stated by the philosopher Martin Heidegger, which starts us out with somewhat of a disadvantage. We are raised within our respective societies which are full of conventions and relationships. Our parents and teachers infuse us with what we ‘need to know’ in order to get by, but as we grow older many of us begin to question some of the things we have been told. If the answers are not satisfactory to us, then we tend to question even more. We feel that something isn’t quite right. This feeling is described perfectly in the movie, The Matrix, where Morpheus says to Neo, “You know there is something wrong with the world:”
The major theme of existentialism is that every human is a free individual and not a manufactured object coming off a conveyor belt. Objects are created for a specific purpose, but humans have no predetermined purpose. The first principle of existentialism is that humans have no purpose other than what they create for themselves. You are, therefore, responsible for your own life; responsible for what you make of your life. Freedom is fundamental to being human, but existential philosophers in the past have tended to see this from a rather gloomy perspective:
Whereas Ronald accepts freedom as an exhilarating positive, something you can do a lot with, so he encourages throwing away the ‘gloom and doom’ viewpoint. He does acknowledge, though, that this freedom and its associated responsibility can bring about a case of fear. Especially when you realize that you are standing alone. However, you can overcome fear by first internalizing the acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real. Will you allow fear to prevent you from achieving the life you want? You may also derail yourself with excuses, that external forces are standing in the way of what you otherwise would be doing, but these are delusions. The only thing that will cure fear is action, and if you start with small steps and develop a bias towards action and accomplishment you will soon be living the life you want. Looking at this another way, realize that genius is only known by the product. You may have a masterpiece inside you, but unless it sees the light of day you will remain an unknown. The world does not care how smart or educated you might be, none of that matters.
The only thing that matters is results, what you actually do.
Existentialism places us alone, and as unique individuals we accept that. But by recognizing that there are thousands of other people in the same situation we begin to introduce the human part of existential humanism. We are free to join in the community of other ‘alone people’ to learn and share from each other. More on this in the part on humanism.
Deviation from Existential Thought
Part of the problem that I feel that resulted in the angst that Sartre and other existentialists wrestled with was a sense of completion. I’m continually upbeat, even when examining existential philosophy, because I focus on the process and don’t concern myself with completion. While there is goal setting, the freedom and pleasure comes not from the achievement of the goal but in enjoying the path to getting there. Nietzsche actually nailed it, but he didn’t run with the idea.
Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman — a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal. ~ Frederick Nietzsche
Where you experience the sense of control and freedom is when you are actually on your journey, spanning the abyss between what you left behind and the splendors that lie ahead of you. That is life.