One example of “bad faith” that [Jean-Paul Sartre] gives is that of a waiter who does his best to conform to everything that a waiter should be. For Sartre, the waiter’s exaggerated behavior is evidence that he is play-acting at being a waiter, an automaton whose essence is to be a waiter. However, in order to play-act at being a waiter, the waiter must at some level be aware that he is not in fact a waiter, but a conscious human being who is deceiving himself that he is a waiter (an excerpt from Neel Burton, M.D.)
I always thought that Sarte was right that we are no longer living a life of a human being once we let, what he calls, “bad faith” take part in our social life. It’s, as The School of Life puts it, living without taking into account the very essence of human being, which is to be free. For existentialist, the most immoral crime one could have committed isn’t the similar kinds of crime, say, that deontologists or consequentialists would condemn, such as killing (yourself or others), lying, etc. The most immoral crime for them is to not taking life seriously, either by living under the influence of scriptures, others, or any forms of traditional values or beliefs, and by not being intense about being free every moment in life. Things don’t have to be in the certain way, and we must not shut our eyes to other options. In the example above — the year was 1948 — he went into the famous Café Les Deux Magots in Paris, and as usual, spent some time there observing people around him while writing down his thoughts (most of his writings were done at this café). He began to realize that there’s something unsettling about the waiter that he was looking at. This waiter was “too much” like a waiter, both in the ways that he held his body and responded to the requests of his customers, and how he saw himself in that situation — as a waiter. Period. What Sarte saw in this waiter wasn’t the hard-working work ethics, but the senseless emotion of this being who believes that he himself was in the position of, pretty much, a servant because he had no other choice. Refusing to confront facts or choices in his life, he chose to be a waiter, although he was partly conscious that he could perhaps be doing something else more dignified and meaningful. Sarte calls this kinds of conformity bad faith. And once there’s the word bad in there we could probably guess that Sarte isn’t a bad fan of it. Yes, he wholeheartedly denounces the idea of meaningless conformity. But, what if this waiter, unlike what Sarte saw about him, wasn’t doing his job because he was refusing to be free (from his own self-imposed refusal to believe that he could be free) but doing it because he wholehearted likes his job? Fine. There aren’t a lot of observable things that about serving other people and be someone else’s bitch, but what if there’s a slight possibility that what drove this waiter to be a waiter was not the goal of getting paid, but his own interest and passion in serving other people? Do you think Sarte would see him differently?
I was getting the flat tire fixed yesterday at a big sports mall, where I met an existentialist bicycle technician. When I first saw him I thought of Sarte’s waiter. He looked like a typical 20-something-year-old man who did not have anything else better in life to do, but to work as a customer service provider in a mall. Many of these people often don’t know much about the products that they’re asked to sell, so I usually don’t have much faith in getting any knowledge from them. Usually, when I go to a mall to buy anything, rather than relying on their knowledge to give me informed suggestions I often conduct my own online “consumer’s choices” kind of research before I embark on a journey to get the product I want with the least amount of communication possible with the staff. This bike technician was different. He could identify the kind of bike that I was took to the shop (without having seen it or heard it before), and the moment he saw the problem, he could identify how to fix it within seconds. Well, you may think “what’s hard about identifying what’s wrong with the flat tire?” I thought so too, but he looked beyond the problem as it presented to us, but made sure that he looked, also, for the root causes of the problem. As he tested the pumped tire in the sink to see where the air was being released from since there’s no observable puncture on the tire, and that the tire could still be pumped which shouldn’t be the case if the tire was punctured. Turned out the tire was okay, the problem wasn’t that there’s a puncture in the tire but that the air was leaking out through the thin crack on the side of the tire. He then processed to dissemble the back wheel of my bike into pieces.
My Brompton bike, I thought, had a complicated bike with a complicated gear system, but only until I saw this technician removed everything from the core spinning wheel of the back wheel one by one, placing them on the moving cabinet very systematically so that he would remember the sequence of which parts to be put back before which parts. For a bike that one had never seen before, and he was honest about that, I must admit that his skill was stunning, and was a joy to watch. At the end, as opposed to replacing my inner tire, which would, by the rule book, be something that his boss would like him to do since that would mean the sports mall could sell the tire and charge for the labor of its staff, he decided to fix the tire for me using his own tool because he did not believe in “changing things that are still working?” He did that with astute precision, and with robust curiosity, as he was asking me about the bike and how it worked as he was working. His retinas were fixated on the bike that he was working on, and everything about him was nothing less than what Sarte described in the body’s gesture of the waiter in Café Les Deux Magots. I could almost prescribe the same descriptions that Sarte gave to this infamous waiter to this bike technician:
He made me feel as though he was only a bike technician — and not a free human being. His movement was quick — a little too precise and a little too rapid. He was alert and responded to my request a little too quick. He came to me almost too eagerly, and his eyes and his voice were a bit too solicitous. This bike technician probably thought of himself as being modeled after Michael Jordan of bicycle fixing, if there’s such a sport. He was leaving no option for himself to be a freelance designer, a pianist, an artist, a philosopher.
This bike technician, though, didn’t fix my bike for money, and was not doing it because he couldn’t think of other options he could possibly attain in his life. It’s just that he couldn’t think of his life otherwise. He offered me a full and honest service because he loved bicycles, and, as a bonus, I brought in a bike that made him curious. He himself was a biker and was always interested in learning more everyday about all possible kinds of bike in the world. He told me that he enjoys coming to work because his job is a “dream job” — he gets to fix bikes everyday which is what he likes. Can we say that this kind of person has a bad faith, Mr. Sarte?