Immediate gratification. Right here. Right now. That seems to be society's primary objective.
We replace hard work with easy credit. Personal experience with reality television. Physical effort with video games.
Twenty-one year olds with marketing degrees. Out of school for a weekend. Twitter profile would have you believe he's a grizzled serial entrepreneur who's traveled the world in search of enlightenment.
Hold the plot development. We want the climax!
Yet, life is not a Betty Crocker oven. Everything evolves. From a beginning. Entails struggle. Effort. Focus. And growth. Until, something appears that reminds you of its former self. But wrapped in wisdom. Sinew. And fiber. Made dense by the trappings of struggle and effort.
Existentialists know as much. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky, the movement's founders, recognized life's evolutionary, transitional nature. But French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre succinctly summarized the movement in three words:
Existence precedes essence.
That is, humans are not born with and for a purpose. We are born into the human condition. We love. Struggle. Grow and change. At some point, if we strive, we may attain a purpose. Become something more. Achieve our essence.
It seems that society might benefit by some existential thinking.
Aristotle believed that everything has an essential essence. The necessary properties required for a thing to become what it is. Further, he believed that all things in nature tend towards the actualization of that essence.
Initially, we are. Eventually, we become. Evolving into that which we were meant to be. An acorn eventually achieves its essence, becoming an oak tree.
A human eventually achieves its essence by becoming a mother. An artist. An inventor. Or a teacher. Aristotle believed that, unlike inanimate objects, man could choose not to follow his essence. To deny it. And that, some philosophers believe, represents the human struggle.
Yet, the human struggle is good! As fire helps to forge the sword from steel, so does life and its struggles help to distill the best of what we are. Grants us the ability to think and act on our own. To successfully contend with all with all obstacles.
Existentialists reject broad, far-reaching systems, especially those proposing to have the definitive answers to the questions of life, its meaning and purpose.
Life evolves, so must the paradigms in which we operate. Systems have long been attractive because, fundamentally, they reduce the need for individual effort. Removing the massive burden one faces should he wish to create a meaning and purpose beyond the norm.
Consider history's totalitarian governments. The Soviet Union and its socialist philosophy homogenized every facet of society, depriving citizens of the need to differentiate themselves. Eradicated the idea of thinking and acting differently. Because, in nirvana, all ends are provided. So, one need not strive at all.
The Soviets eventually discovered that, when all is given, nothing is created.
Existentialists believe that adhering to systems which espouse all-encompassing answers to the problems of life is detrimental to one's development into an authentic, free human being. Broad systems lose sight of what it means to be human. To live with the frailties, dilemmas and anxieties that litter an average life. To confront mortality, and the temporal nature of life.
If one knew that he had but one life to live, imagine how much one might embrace life? The effort that might be expended on becoming better, more efficient, capable and content. Perhaps, we might begin to focus on the journey, as opposed to the destination.
Sloughing off the conventions of the systems to which we rigidly adhere might bring less conformity. Bringing us to avoid collective means of thinking and conventional behavior. Leading us to take control of our own lives. Live by standards and values of our own choosing.
Sartre believed that humans were fundamentally different from inanimate objectives, things like cars, pens and watches, which are born with a pre-determined function in mind. We arrive without such a pre-determined essence. Accordingly, part of life's wonder involves the opportunity to create a unique individual essence. To identify and give birth to a sense of personal meaning.
Today, we want meaning without struggle. Or worse, we are happy to simply exist in a life devoid of meaning. Like those cows grazing beside the road. Munching on grass. Watching the world go by.
Big systems fear existentialism. Fearing that the systems constituents might begin to grasp its strength. Unfortunately, people are often afraid of existentialism's power, as well. For existentialism places your life and all its outcomes in your own hands. Removes the ability to blame.
If you become a smashing success? It's all on you. If you fail miserably? It's all on you. Scary? Yes. But very liberating.
Some of us choose to believe that, like the pen, our life has already been accorded purpose and meaning. Existentialists do not. They eschew concepts like fate, destiny, or any idea purporting that your life has already been decided.
Life has no script. You determine its course by the decisions made each and every day.
If you believe in destiny, then even the act of rolling a dice has been predetermined. Resides beyond your hands. Existentialists believe the opposite. That everything comes down to you. So implying the ultimate freedom. The ability to strive, fight and determine every outcome.
Nor do existentialists subscribe to stereotypes, societal conventions and labels. Believing that the arbitrary assignation of blanket roles, traits and personality types are just another systematic means of dumbing life down. Preventing critical thinking at the individual level.
Society is comprised of entire swaths of individuals willing to be spoon fed their opinions, talking points and beliefs. But not existentialists. They are free to choose what they think, when they think it, and about whom they think it. Accountable only to themselves. Responsible for nothing but their behavior and its consequences.
Having chosen to undertake life's grand journey, existentialists define themselves by their actions. Freely thinking. Liberated from convention. And its governing principles. Turning away from anything that might deprive them of the opportunity to drink from life's precious font.
Eager to define, determine, fall down and yet, somehow, prevail.