This was Albert Camus (1913–1960) who was a novelist, and arguably, although he came to deny it, a philosopher, who helped to spearhead the idea of existentialism. Camus is right about the fact that we have to choose to be before we can choose which teaching from which school of thoughts to believe in. He’s right that we’re all thrown into the world without having been given options whether or not you’d like to be or not to be. But since we’re all being thrown into the world, the sound default is then to be, because we are in the world. That said, in the spirit of existential freedom, one can always choose to not to be by ending one’s life — and therefore the philosophical argument over the idea of suicide that Camus has famously posed. Camus may have be wrong on one thing: it’s not that easy to stray away from the default, which is to be. The decision to end one’s own life is arguably the hardest one to make. You’d need at least two main ingredients: depression and impulsibility. The first ingredient is what makes you want to not to be, and the second one is what makes you want to go ahead and make it happen. So, for many, it’s easier to be, because they cannot put together the two ingredients. There’re also many who may add the third ingredient, which is philosophy to the equation. Once one sees no point in moving forward, and one finds comfort in the moving in to the terrain of the unknown, one doesn’t need to be depressed or impulsed to take one’s own life.
There is only one really serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.
So, “to be” — to not committing suicide — is, by default, the state of being. You can’t opt in, but instead you’d have to “opt out” in order to end it. That said, what’s worse than being thrown into the world (opted in) without your consent is when you choose to believe that your life has no other choices but to do whatever it’s said to be your designated path by other people.
The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has written extensively about “bad faith” or what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines as the way in which an individual is lying to oneself that the way one lives is “the only way one could possibly live; thus shut down all the opportunities for other ways of living one’s life.” In other words, you have a bad faith when you decides to place your complete trust on, or confidence in, someone or something without thinking that you don’t have to, you don’t need to, and, most of time, you shouldn’t be doing it because whatever it is in which place your complete trust on or confidence in might not be based on anything mildly reasonable. Taking marriage, for instance, Sartre never got married, and he didn’t see why that was a problem. Many great people in my life also have never gotten married, because they never think that they need to since the contract that bind them and their counterparts are neither social or legal, but moral. They question the convention of the institution of marriage, and therefore decide that the rationale basis of which existence of such institution is based is too weak for them to believe. Many couples get married simply because “they couldn’t think of other ways or options to live their lives as full citizens of a community,” therefore they get married, therefore they suffer, and therefore they live a life that, according to Sartre, is not worth living.
Sartre calls this way of thinking “bad faith,” which, for a long time even before I began to read Sartre, I also believe to be the underpinning cause of my meaningful existence. Again, I don’t believe that I have any essence before I exist. In fact, I exist, and I choose to continue to exist, therefore I possess the essential characteristics of a human being, namely a being who live freely (according to the moral rules that I have set for myself), with good faith (meaning that I would never reject anything outright just because someone has said that by doing so I would be perceived as having more valua).
Many people whom I have met lately seem to believe in bad faith. Although I don’t blame them, I don’t want to associate myself with them. I don’t even have time to judge them. I just walk away. As the German enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, a human being is a human being because he or she is rational; once he or she is no longer being rationale, he or she is no longer a human being. I tend to think that a person who has bad faith is not rationale, and therefore does not deserved to be categorized as a human being. We are human beings simply because we are able to think for ourselves. I get upset when someone comes to me and tell me he/she wants to learn; yet, the last thing he/she would like to do is to critique the convention of the society in which he or she is living. That’s not learning. That’s living a bad faith kind of life.
I often respond, “there’s no learning here if you don’t even fucking know what you are learning for.”
Many people often believe that they are learning as long as they are students in a classroom, or are mentees to some kind of academic mentors, or registering as learners at institutions offering quick-fix courses. I don’t see any of those as learning. I believe that one can only learn when one has “good faith.”
So, most of the time, even thought I’d love to help someone, I have to give up the moment I realize that the person who I was about to help believe in bad faith, therefore has no goal in life. Wanting to be the best in one’s field isn’t good enough for me. In fact, that’s the worst.
When someone wants to be the best without knowing what is to be the best for, I often ask them what’s the point of being the best beyond the individual recognition that someone could get? I only compete with myself. I set my own standards to achieve, and I achieve the goal I set for myself everyday. I want to do my best everyday. The most important recognition that one could have is self-respect, and that often doesn’t come from achieving what other people believe to be good. It’s what you, based on your moral belief and critical thinking, believe to be valuable enough for you to strive for. Mos of the time, and for most people, it’s not money. Most of the time, also, it’s not the material benefits, but the good feeling that you are doing something to help others, or doing something that isn’t simply based on your often-false belief that by doing so other people would think that you are a proper member of that particular community. I have a very high standard for intellectuality; therefore I don’t have time for bad faith.
These are ways I think could help combating bad faith (most of these are “don’t” rather than do, and I do apologize):
- Don’t be too quick to say no — just because saying “no” would make you feel as though you are in the position above the person who is looking forward to your yes. In my life, I have met so many people who say no just because they believe that saying no would make them look good, e.g., “I am a girl I can’t say yes to a man whom I just met [although I like him],” “I have to say no because by saying yes my counterpart would think that I am too easy and will take me lighly,” and so on. Don’t you think that the world is pretty complicated the way it is already? Come on. Let’s be honest and believe in who we are. I don’t usually cite Martin Heidegger because I don’t think that he’s that right about many things, but I’d like to cite him here: we have to be authentic. I don’t believe that avoiding certainty, or showing your interest in someone or something will make you look bad (and if that’s the case, then why would you care about that person who would judge you so superficially anyway?). Most of the time, if not always, we say no because we think that saying no is “culturally good.” Taking some time to think about your answer carefully would allow you to develop your ability to resist the temptation to simply conform, because, sadly enough, it’s so easy to conform rather than be yourself.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover. Many people I have met say “no” to things, persons, places, activities, simply because they don’t like how the cover looks. These are the worst kind of bad faith people because not only they take very lightly the human’s dignity that everyone deserves, this person also believes in the idea that is not his or her own. When you judge a book by its cover, it’s pretty clear that you are based your judgement on your subjective sense of beauty without even wanting to spend some time understanding the contents. Those bad faith people who fall into this category, needless to say, may not deserve to have honorable roles in any societies at all.
- Don’t think of yourself as better than anyone else. You are not. We’re all the same. Wait. People with good faith all the same. This “we are all the same” doesn’t apply to people with bad faith. The bad faith person with a PhD from Harvard is, to me, a scum of the earth. I would rather talk to someone, a stranger perhaps, whom I might run into on the street with whom I could share with him or her the free conversation about his or her good faith life.
- Always act spontaneously. Many people whom I met don’t do so. Whatever questions they’d get, they’d think over and over, weighting pros and cons, doing a detailed calculation of the material benefits they would get from saying yes or no. By doing so — being calculating — you are simply making yourself a slave of material profits, and most of the time you’ll miss so many things in life simply because you never leave room to think about other kinds of benefits, which sometimes have the ability to make your life more meaningful. I have this problem all the time in Shanghai. Many people I meet here are extremely calculating (and being an expert on Shanghai, I can only say that it’s something that cannot easily be educated), and therefore in everything that they do, invest their time in, has a very deep foundation in how they believe that they will get something back in return. Being overly calculated pretty much kills sincerity.
- Don’t take life lightly. Nietzsche and Heidegger might not be the best role models on how to live your life, but at least what they have shown all of us is how to live your life with intensity, and to the fullest. The key here is not to take anything lightly. Be focused on things that you do. Be careful of the path on which you walk. Be professional. Be mindful of the feeling of the person with whom you are engaged. And, most important, be true to yourself as if there’re always someone watching your every step. There should be no single moment in your life that you’d wish you are alone per se. You can’t commit a crime even if no one is watching you, so to speak.
- Don’t simply believe that you are at the top of your game already. I know that I have written a post about how I believe modesty is bad for the society — this only applies when you know for sure that what you know is morally sounded. But in most cases, you don’t. So, when you don’t, always leave room for the possibility. There’re always chances that you aren’t the best person (and believe it or not, that’s always the case), so in order to save yourself from disappointment you might as well believe in the philosophical idea of fallibilism, or the idea that you could still be wrong even if you absolutely believe that you are right (personally, I define fallibilism as what open-mindedness and skepticism have in common).
- Don’t think you’re so good, pure, and superior than others, just because your parents are wealthy or have given you advantage. Many people whom I have met think that they are better than anyone else because they are not aware that they have better “quality of life changes.” Many of them just want to take advantage of me; and therefore I don’t have any other option but to turn them down. Many of these people have been getting things handed down to them their entire life. So they are expecting everyone to like them, give them what they want, and support them to pursue competitions that, unfortunately, they themselves don’t know what they’re competing for. In most cases, I have to turn them down just so that they could feel the sense of not being satisfied, and hopefully by that they would come to term with the idea of good faith.
- Value silence as much as your words. As Sartre once said, both words and silence have the same responsibility. You can’t simply deny your responsibility for an action just because you refrain from getting involved verbally. Everything counts. When you say nothing is all, it doesn’t always mean, to others, that you mean yes. Make it clear. Don’t avoid clarity. As the psychologist Geert Hofstede once said, uncertainty avoidance is good for no one.
- Don’t believe in luck. There’s no luck. Everything happens for a reason. I do believe in destiny, but not luck. When you don’t believe in luck, you would be more focused on the actuality of the situation and would make your life worth living based on it.
- Don’t fall into the belief that your life will be over if you don’t act the way you are acting. Among many fallacies, many would call this an “Appeal to Consequence” fallacy. Arguing that a belief is false because it implies something you would rather not believe already sounds, at least to me, pretty stupid (this kind of argument is, by the way, also called argumentum ad consequentiam). I have met so many couples who are so unhappy with their marriages or their relationships, but all they said, as a reason to not getting divorced or breaking up, is “I can’t think of my life without him (or her).” What this means is that the person not only disrespect the fact that we are all much more stronger than we think (and the fact that everyone is born, in order to depart from you either by death or other often more painful and more difficult-to-accept forms of departure), but also the fact that one has the freedom to control one’s life. If something is not right, make the effort to change it — don’t wait until it reaches the point where you’d have to commit a crime to change it.
Now, go live a good faith life.