🎃Happy Halloween! 🎃
I looked out and thought the moon was actually going to be blue but it’s just a full moon. WTH!!! So I guess that means there’s not enough particulate matter (dust n stuff) in the air over some Canadians. Disappointing! You might see a blue or greenish moon! I hope you do! I hope someone does – they might in Australia or California because of fires. (Lucky!)
Dee cut my hair. I’m looking fly and fresh. AND I got some goodies. I was cleaning up my images and I didn’t read the warning – now I have to check all my posts and replace pics AND on top of that I have to check my spelling/grammar.
Did I ever tell you that sometimes I forget how to spell words. It happened today. I wanted to spell “Flight” but instead it came out as “Flith.” Although I knew it didn’t look right, it took me three tries to get my mind right and fix it … And I didn’t even have any edibles yet. I’m gonna see what Google says. Then I may get a second opinion from my doctor.
Lecture 11: Existential Anxiety and the Courage to Be
Do you remember the story I told you about the Man in the Well ? From the first lecture? (OMG, I been taking this course for a month already. Time to wrap it up)
Well (hehe) … The Well represents the human condition, which is one of difficulty and filled with distractions. It is the dark place we find ourselves in (the Well). What if there is no liberation? No salvation? (the big tree that the Man couldn’t climb) to get away from the demon and elephant chasing him.
What if all we do is live our miserable lives, then we die? This is what existential anxiety is – the potential meaninglessness of our existence.
(God! This is already depressing) – There may be hope!
According to the French thinker Albert Camus, “There is only one severe philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Camus thinks the question of suicide is especially pressing because the human condition is absurd. Camus believes there is no “God.” No divine plan. No afterlife. Hence no overarching meaning to our lives. There is nothing we live, then we die, and that’s that for Camus. Therefore it makes no sense for us to hope that another stage could provide us with overarching meaning. He also thinks the human condition is absurd because we cannot understand our lives/the world in a way that would make it satisfying. The world for Camus is irrational, so not even reason can help us.
The Ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus helps explain the absurdity of the human condition and answers how we might persevere in the face of life’s absurdity. For his sins, including stalling his death and putting death in chains, Sisyphus was condemned to Tartarus, the abyss of torment, by the gods. His punishment was to forever push a boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down the hill each time it reached the top.
Sisyphus is the hero of the absurd because he continues to push the boulder even though he knows it will roll down again (Crazy is as Sisyphus does 🙂 ). To Camus, Sisyphus is “stronger than the boulder,” and all of us, except he knows that what he is doing an absurdity.
Sisyphus provides the answer to why we shouldn’t commit suicide because our lives without ultimate meaning can still have its own meaning. We can overcome existential anxiety by taking ownership of our lives and recognizing that life is devoid of overarching meaning. However, this recognition does not prevent our individual lives from having a purpose for each of us.
BUT … Suppose life isn’t absurd, and there is a “God,” and he has a plan. If God’s Plan is for Sisyphus to roll the boulder up the hill, then watch it roll down, then roll it up again, and watch it roll down, then roll … (you get the picture) Would that make Sisyphus’ life of boulder rolling more meaningful because it’s part of God’s Plan? Would that plan make the world less absurd for Sisyphus or more so?
Theological determinism (TD) says that God leaves nothing in creation to chance, so no one can frustrate God’s will. This model would explain how our lives fit into God’s Plan. Some don’t like TD because they see it as manipulation or that we are robots having no control over what we do, including any sins we commit. (see the problem? we don’t have free will)
Maybe God’s Plan is not TD, but he still provides us with direction and purpose to follow a pre-defined path, but we have the freedom to choose to go our own way (like Fleetwood). Would that make things more or less absurd? Or maybe God’s Plan is for us to ultimately decide for ourselves because there is no TD or pre-defined path? At this point in the lecture, it is not apparent why the human condition would be absurd if there were no God because it is not clear how God’s Plan would make our lives more meaningful than they otherwise would be and also because it is not clear that we need an overarching plan for our lives to be meaningful.
If taking God out of the picture doesn’t automatically make the human condition absurd, what would?
The philosopher Thomas Nagel considers that our lives are brief blips on the cosmic screen. For Nagel, the factors that contribute to our absurd life is “the collision between the seriousness with which we take our lives and the perpetual possibility of regarding everything about which we are serious as arbitrary, or open to doubt.”
As soon as this doubt creeps in, we cannot get rid of it. What makes life absurd for Nagel is the dichotomy between our internal/subjective view of our importance and the external/objective view that calls our importance into question. As with the last lecture, we look for meaning in things that are bigger than us to avoid this absurdity. To eliminate absurdity, the significance we look for must be meaningful – the meaning must be exact, and we should feel connected to this significant thing, whatever it is.
But maybe life’s absurdity is not something that needs fixing. It just is what it is and comes with the territory. Nagel thinks that “absurdity is one of the most human things about us. A manifestation of our most advance and interesting characteristics. There is nothing to escape because, in escaping the absurd, we would only be escaping ourselves.”
On the Courage to Be
The 20th-century Christian theologian Paul Tillich believed existential anxiety has three distinct aspects, each grounded in a particular source.
- Anxiety about fate and death. This essentially means that life offers no guarantees. Everything is contingent, and death is final. In this case, death anxiety (awareness that, given our nature, we must die) is not the same as death fearing (we will die).
- Anxiety about meaninglessness and emptiness. Driven by the worry that nothing is satisfying to us, we may search for something that is ultimately meaningful. We then may experience the dread that no such thing exists. This anxiety threatens our ability to affirm that our lives are meaningful.
- Anxiety about guilt and condemnation. Anxiety about guilt and condemnation ultimately threatens our ability to affirm our lives as morally serious.
All three of these aspects of existential anxiety permeate the human condition. Together, they lead us toward despair. Despair is a state “without hope.” When we’re in this state, we want nothing more than to escape it. If existential anxiety were simply about death and fate, suicide “would be the way out of despair.” In this case, courage not to be.
But that’s not real courage, for Tillich. Real courage is the courage to be. “At its core, courage itself is the affirmation of our existence in the face of threats. The courage to be is our self-affirmation in the face of despair. Courage is always a risk because it is threatened by non-being in many forms. One form is death, but others include losing our individuality, losing our world, and losing meaning.”
Tillich identifies three types of courage:
- The courage to be as “a part.” This is the courage to affirm ourselves through participation in something bigger than us. In this way, we translate our personal anxiety into collective anxiety. The problem with the courage to be a part is that we lose ourselves in the collective and not face existential anxiety head-on. For that, we need …
- The courage to be as “oneself.” This is individual self-affirmation. By having this courage, we become the individuals we are. BUT … The problem with this courage is that we end up losing the world and others. However, the problem with courage one and two is that neither is “beyond the threat of non-being.” For that, we need the third courage …
- The courage as “absolute faith. This is faith not in the personal God of theism, but in “the God above God” and “being itself.” In having the courage to be in this sense, we transcend the dichotomies of self and others while uniting them. We go beyond ourselves in a way that genuinely affirms the ground of who we are. (Isn’t that beautiful?)
You could say there is a fourth courage – the courage to be in the fullest sense. This is a combination of the first two, where we unite individuality and sociality in a way that transcends both.
Tillich’s idea of “the God above God” and “being itself” can be found in the Upanishads or Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (BU) specifically. In the BU, two sages, a Man and a Woman, are having a convo. (they have names, but I am not going to try to spell them). The Woman asked, “things above the sky, below the earth, between the earth and sky, and all those things past, present and future, on what are all these things woven back and forth?”
The Man replied. “on space.”
“On what then is space woven back and forth?”
“That is the imperishable. The brahmans refer to it like this; it is neither coarse nor fine. It is neither short nor long. It is without speech or mind. It is without energy, breath, or mouth. It lies beyond measure. It has nothing within it or outside of it.”
The Man is speaking of Brahman – unconditioned absolute reality. In Sanskrit, this is the neti, neti technique, meaning not this, not that. Ultimate reality is ineffable because it transcends our categories of being. This is what Tillich means by “being itself.” This is “the thing” that lies behind things as we label/categorize them.
I don’t know what he means by “the God above God.” Prof didn’t explain it but said that philosophers tried to make something like a transcendent God above God understandable in the Hindu tradition, so we shouldn’t dismiss what Tillich says.
Going back to the Man in the Well, there is something called existential flight in response to existential anxiety. We are mostly unconscious of our existential anxiety and flight. In flight, we are running from the things that trigger our anxiety. We are trying to find a place without anxiety or the things that trigger it – in doing this, we lose sight of who we really are. We don’t recognize the Well for the escape it is.
Remember … the Man in the Well unsuccessfully runs from death (elephant) and infirmity (demon) only to find himself in a far worse situation. The Man in the Well lacks the courage to be, not because he experiences existential anxiety, but because he flees from that anxiety into a place he hopes it cannot follow. The courage to be is the courage to stand your ground in the face of existential threats.
Face up to who we really are and the world as it really is. Sisyphus is doing this. The Man in the Well isn’t.
The further we flee from the reality of our existence, the more we become immersed in a fictional existence.Stephen Batchelor (Buddhist scholar)
Source: The Great Courses – Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature
Whoa! The characters are starting to fly! I come apart! (Marvin Gaye)