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Fragments of humanism

Da Vinci's classic illustration

L’enfer, c’est les autres?— Contrary to what Sartre pessimistically thought, if hell exists, it is not other people. It is the absence of other people. An eternity of not being reflected in an other. After a while, in fact, the self would simply dissolve for lack of something to contrast itself with and define itself in relation to. The “abstract Other” in its consciousness, which is essentially a half-conscious or unconscious residue of the totality of the self’s experiences with other selves (including their expressions in books, television, magazines, etc.), would eventually lose whatever determinateness it has, which means that the self would lose its opposition to itself (in losing its internalized Other), thereby losing its self-consciousness. One would revert to an animal state.


Clues to human nature.— It’s the little things people do that are most revealing, the unnoticed things that reveal humanity. Like in the park today when the woman talking to her friend sitting on the picnic-blanket burst out laughing very hard, tipped backwards and raised her legs in the air and kicked them gleefully in a vertical sawing motion for a few seconds. I saw that and thought to myself, “That’s a very natural, fun thing to do when you’re sitting on the grass and laughing. Kick your legs up in the air! It doubles the pleasure of laughing. But why? Why exactly did she lean backwards and kick her legs in the air? It wasn’t a considered, intended act; it was a spontaneous expression of glee. But why does glee express itself in that way? Waving your limbs about, running around, jumping up and down, just moving your body senselessly in any way can be a joy. Why? Because that’s the way humans were meant to be: to be animals that take joy in their living, in their physical activity, in their throwing themselves into the world,[1] acting on it wildly like the wild frolicking animals they are.” A whole world, a whole worldview can be contained in the simplest act of a woman on a picnic blanket in the park.


Innate humanism.— When you watch a young child dancing and singing along to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, or a child inquiring about the world’s causes and life’s purpose, or a child painting a picture vibrant with color, you realize that the higher things in life are not taught to people but taught out of them.


The essence of humanity.— The human spirit (the self) has three spontaneous manifestations, which are experientially united but can be analytically distinguished: to freely create, to freely understand, and to freely love. Each of these is a manifestation of the human mind’s—or the body’s—essential impulses to, on the one hand, project itself into the world, i.e. remake the world in the image of itself, and, on the other hand, to assimilate and internalize the world. The self wants to abolish the separation between itself and the Other, the not-self; its goal, its unfulfillable project, is to be at one with the world. The frustration of one or more of the aforementioned urges to create, to love, and to understand may result in psychological disorders. Psychologists should take this fact as their starting point.


Against Poeian pessimism.— Edgar Allan Poe thought that the desire to do mischief is buried deep in the human psyche. To do evil, like carve out a cat’s eye with a knife (as in his story “The Black Cat”)—there’s a fascination with it and a suppressed desire for it. But can it really be somehow innate in the psyche? Surely not. Poe was wrong. It isn’t a spontaneous upsurge of the human spirit. It is but a reaction to circumstances. It arises, in fact, from boredom and depression. Poe’s “imp of the perverse” is a manifestation of boredom—and curiosity, of course. It can have more pathological causes too, but insofar as it exists among millions of people nowadays it’s mainly a sublimation of boredom, or rather of the instinct for life in conditions of boredom. Yes, it actually arises from the desire to affirm life, to be creative!—but at the same time from the desire to deny life, namely this particular boring life. It’s a revolt against alienated modern life, that’s really all it is. This fascination with the dark side isn’t an eternal fact innate in the psyche. —Well, no, the fascination itself may indeed be such a fact, just insofar as the “dark side” is very different from ordinary life; but the desire to actively descend to the depths is not, and that’s what Poe was talking about. This desire is a historical creation.

The passion to negate is but a perverted expression of the deeper passion to affirm, to reach out and remake the world in one’s own image.


Life for its own sake.— The universal fear of death shows that in life itself is a profound, though profoundly subtle, pleasure.

[1] Take that, Heidegger, you pessimist! [Heidegger emphasized man’s “thrownness.”]


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