Bad Faith is one of my favourite philosophical subjects. What better breakdown of the freedom paradox (that it’s the world’s most desirable and terrifying commodity) could there be? What better way to explain the phenomena of professional personae and the other strange, self-defeating ways in which we behave?
“A load of French twaddle”, as my university philosophy professor had it? Non, monsieur!
Sartre believed that we have much more freedom than we tend to acknowledge. We habitually deny it to protect ourselves from the horror of accepting full responsibility for our lives. In every instant, we are free to behave however we like, but we often act as though circumstances have reduced our options down to one or two ways to move forward.
This is bad faith: when we convince ourselves that we’re less free than we really are, so that we don’t have to feel responsible for what we ultimately make of ourselves. It really seems like you must get up at 7:00 every Monday, because constraints such as your job, your family’s schedule, and your body’s needs leave no other possibility. But it’s not true — you can set your alarm for any time, and are free to explore what’s different about life when you do. You don’t have to do things the way you’ve always done them, and that is true in every moment you’re alive. Yet we feel like we’re on a pretty rigid track most of the time.
We often think of freedom as something that can only make life easier, but it can actually be overwhelming and even terrifying. Think about it: we can take, at any moment, any one of infinite roads into the future, and nothing less than the rest of our lives hinges on each choice. So it can be a huge relief to tell ourselves that we actually have fewer options available to us, or even no choice at all.
In other words, even though we want the best life possible, if life is going to be disappointing, we’d at least like that to be someone else’s fault.
That’s Samara‘s drawing of Sartre on a plate, by the way.