Sartre understood the angst that came with freedom, long before we all became so affected by it. It was in the 1940s that he wrote Being and Nothingness, and thus revolutionized philosophy at the time by claiming “we are all condemned to be free”.
It is important to put emphasis on the condemned part because Sartre himself did so. Freedom is not some dream goal we all should want as philosophers like Rousseau had claimed earlier by stating: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” Freedom is, according to Sartre, mandatory and inevitable. Sartre that every action is fully your responsibility. He stated that even inaction is a choice that comes with all the responsibility.
And nobody understands existential worry better than todays western millennial. We have been condemned to live in a world where we have no more excuses left. Our parents told us that we could become anything we want, and they are right. We can.
The educational system that once guaranteed you a safe and successful future doesn't anymore. 43% of the jobs taken by newly graduates do not require a degree. And there is no other way that guarantees safety either. But on the other hand much to the credit of the world wide web we are able to turn any hobby or interest we have into our job if we set our mind to it.
But despite all of these opportunities, my friends seem worried about everything. And no wonder they are, right?
After all, our planet has to be saved, our society has to improve, and we all feel like we should be billionaires like Kylie Jenner is at the age of 21, but we’re not. And we have no idea how the world is supposed to be saved, or how to end racism and sexism, yet it feels like we have to find an answer to it and preferably find that answer real fast.
We live in this amazing time with so many amazing opportunities, and it’s great and amazing but also terrifying. Analysis paralysis is very real. Sartre understood this very well. And spent a lot of his time exploring anxiety. So I’ve dug up some wisdom from his teachings that I think is relevant to most 20 somethings today.
In his novel Nausea, Sartre explores the existential angst that comes with realizing we are all free to choose any life for ourselves. The novel is graphic and describes in great detail the nauseating feelings that overwhelm the main character Roquentin from time to time, and although many people would perhaps look at a character like Roquentin and dismiss him as neurotic, he makes a good point when he says that: “The Nausea is not inside me: I feel it out there…everywhere around me,”
He insists. “I am the one who is within it.”
This quote takes anxiety away from being a mental disorder that you have developed and thus one you have to deal with, and instead views the angst as something worldly and inescapable. It is about not giving it more power than it already has.
Realizing that anxiety is not something we should wish to “overcome”, but rather accepting that angst might be a natural occurrence or result of the world we currently live in. And that the answer perhaps is to go on in spite of your anxiety.
Nausea has a happy ending of some sort. An answer is at least put forth as to how Roquentin can best deal with the existential dread. and this answer is Jazz. Specifically a song called “Some of these days”.
This might seem a bit too simple an answer to be true. After all it seems rather ridiculous that something as all-encompassing as existential angst can be cured by merely listening to a song, but perhaps there is something to this simplicity.
In fact if you look at the statistics this truth might be very real after all. It’s been proven that relaxing music is just as effective at reducing anxiety as a massage and that jazz listeners are in fact 25% less depressed than non-listeners.
I guess to avoid anxiety all together you can excuse the choices you’ve made, accept a “safe path” and live a life that is unfulfilling and inauthentic. This is what Sartre referred to as bad faith. Bad faith is a self deception that denies the existence of human freedom.
The problem with bad faith is one that allows us to escape responsibility of our choices by claiming they are the result of something greater than us. Whether that is a God, “Human Nature” or social pressure is truly irrelevant. What is important is that someone who has fallen into bad faith has given up on creating themselves and creating a future for themselves. Instead they carry on a path of environmental, economic and social destructiveness.
So Sartre was correct when he claims that man is condemned to be free, because the option is to live in bad faith, which is to say to not be true to oneself. Which in turn is another way of saying: You can either choose to be uncomfortable and angsty now or wait 20 years and be even more angsty and uncomfortable by the choices you made now.
I hope this helped all you uncultured swines who have never read the likes of Sartre, beauvoir, Camus or Heidegger.