In the old Sartre vs. Camus dilemma, I would always choose Camus
Expect incoherent rambling
I wouldn’t choose Camus *just* because he was so much more handsome. That would be incredibly superficial and unfair to all of us passionate, fast-talking, loud, pudgy four eyes. When it comes to aesthetics, as in, what I see and sneer at when I look in the mirror, I definitely identify with Sartre.
I also will never forget the feeling of reading “Being and Nothing” as a twenty-something and understanding nothing except the overwhelming notion that something important was happening to me.
Like maybe I was becoming an adult, or maybe I was beginning to understand what being an adult could be like: freedom, existence, choice, and everything around me reverberating with life and with possibility. With *meaning*.
Of course I didn’t become an adult then and haven’t become one now; if anything I’ve understood that there is no longer such a thing as an adult, but that’s another post.
Yes. What was I talking about? Sartre vs. Camus, right. Why is this important now? Mainly because I’m reading “At the existentialist café” and it all seems so relevant. But then again, when are these questions not relevant? Maybe that’s our problem, that we think there are moments when certain philosophical questions are more relevant than others, that there are even times when we are allowed to ignore some ethical or moral debates. As in “that’s not what matters now, that’s not important, let’s focus on our goal and we’ll worry about fixing those other things later…”
Wait, what? Oh yes, Camus. What’s my point? This is my point: there was a war in Algeria, where Camus was born. A rebellion, natives against colonial forces. Being positioned on the left of the political spectrum, it was expected roof him to side with the rebellion. But Camus didn’t. He didn’t side with the colonists either. He said: using violence is always wrong. He said: the rebels might attack a tramway. My mother might be in that tramway, she might die.
He said: I choose my mother.
Companions on the left harrumphed. They said: you can’t choose your mother. You can’t put you personal interests before a larger, more lofty goal. The goal here is liberty, is freedom from oppression. Sacrifices have to be made. Break an egg or two thousand to get a great omelette. That kind of thing. Camus said: I don’t know about the future, I don’t know if freedom from oppression will come. But I know my mother lives. I love my mother. I choose her.
He also, less personally, said: gulags are bad. The communist future may be awesome, but if people are dying now to achieve it, it’s not worth it.
Ultimately, he wrote a book about it called “The Rebel”. Communists were upset. Sartre had a young journalist rip it to pieces in his magazine. Camus responded (maybe a bad idea). Sartre responded more. Camus gave up. They never spoke again.
They had been good friends. They had different opinions. They could have held each other in balance.
But maybe there are questions where there can’t be a “yes, but…” or an “I don’t really know…”.
There are times when you have to choose, and who is to say this is not one of those times? Who is to say it isn’t always that time? Camus chose humans now. Sartre chose perfect happiness then.
All this incomprehensible gibberish to say: I choose with Camus. I choose humans now. I choose what we have instead of what we could have. I choose tomorrow instead of five years from now. Oh, I am all for long term solutions. But if they are not based on the suffering we have now and how to end it, I’m not interested in them.