Saturday, August 01, 2020


One of the defining features of Existentialism is that who you are, what you are, is a product of the choices you make.  You make yourself, define yourself.  While this has some compatibility with Christian thought - Kierkegaard in particular made the effort - it has more often been a competitor philosophy to Christianity.  At the superficial level that many have adopted it (as is true of most philosophies; we are seldom as thoughtful as we tell ourselves), I often thought reveling in the nonchristianness of it was rather the point for them.

It has been a powerful, influential, and fashionable philosophy among intellectuals these last mmm, 100 years or so. It is, however, about as opposite to wokeness and identity politics as one can get.  Our choices no longer matter.  The imagined choices of other people who look like you now matter much more.  The only escape is in the denial of choice and agreeing to accept other people's choices instead. This will be hotly denied, but I don't think with any intellectual force.

As group identity is now the powerful, influential, and fashionable philosophy of the rising generation, I have to wonder which will win? Are our choices everything or nothing now? My prediction is that existentialism goes to the dustbin, a least for a while.


james said...

I'm not sure it can entirely be discarded--subjectivity is too valuable a weapon against logic. "You don't what it's like to be a Z+Y*X!" or "I experience your doubt as violence."

But as you note, it would have to morph.

james said...

Although perhaps I haven't thought it through. There are groups and groups, and this article on the "woke" was pointed out to me tonight:

It seems like a religion revolving around power.

Christopher B said...

Reading a couple of other articles at NewDiscoures, and found one that argues existentialism will probably hang around under the label of 'lived experience'.

Korora said...

Well, if argument would be like launching shellfish-generated CaCO3 beads into the path of ungulates of the Sus genus...

"[I]f you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument." -- G. K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy

Texan99 said...

Not just the imagined choices of people who look like me, but the imagined choices of people who looked like me 300 years ago.

I saw a meme this week noting that DACA enthusiasts think it's wrong to visit the crimes of the parents on the children, but have no problem blaming me for what my ancestors did centuries ago. There's some sick, mushy thinking going on.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Christopher B - plausible. I was thinking logically and seeing no exit (heh). That was a mistake on my part.

random observer said...

This really left me with some thinking to do, in my personal struggle to position and categorize what I see around me. It's getting harder.

One thing that struck me was your point on choice and wokeness. It's true, substantial chunks of 'wokeness', 'cultural marxism' or other brands revolve around eternal characteristics that define us and cannot be changed, and must therefore be acknowledged and given power.

On the other hand, other wings of wokeness, while rejecting most choice and freedom and rights as we once knew them, have extended all three domains deeply into the metaphysical and both reified and deified them.

Consider race- at once a nonexistent phenomenon to be denied, and a defining feature of a person that can't be ignored. To validate it or invalidate it are both racist acts. A person is both undefined by it and defined by it. He can choose but not choose.

Or consider sex/gender/orientation. On any given day each of these is eternal and immutable or wholly a matter of choice, or not even a valid category for choice because entirely unreal, and usually any two are the opposite position from the third.

On a tangential note to the latter- I recently read the relatively conventional view of the biological imperatives of sex and reproduction described as something vile about "blood and flesh" as "peddled" by "Jordan Peterson and incels". My goodness that struck me as level of revulsion that could only come from a modern progressive or a Victorian bluestocking. Or a middle class wedding planner, female. Then again, I don't think the biological view forces us not to fall in love or care for our partner. But some do.

Much of progressive approved pop culture seems to fancy some sort of trans or posthumanism, with countless movies pitched at the youth involving blending humans with AI, or making genderswitching a frequent option, or taking fairly extreme positions on the distinction between body/brain/mind/spirit to the degree that disembodied body-switching spirit was the romantic lead in a movie a few years ago.

All of which to no definite point, save that the Woke People do have an idea of Choice that is very central to them, and it doesn't seem so alien to existentialism either. Perhaps, as with all else, they must forever take both positions on existentialism.