Existentialism Philosophy

Anxiety about unlimited freedom

Tight rope walking is scary because there are no rails to hold on to while walking on the tight rope.

So, it causes an obvious anxiety about walking on the rope. Anxiety stems from the fact that, without support, one might fall off to the left OR to the right OR forward OR backward OR slip from both legs and crash land on the abdomen OR many other possibilities. If only there was a railing that one could hold on to, walking on the tight rope would be much easier.

Life is like walking on a tight rope, except that not only are there no rails to hold on to while walking on the tight rope; there is no rope either.

We occupy a space of nothingness and have unlimited freedom. Which freedom can scare us to the core. As free beings, we can choose any which way. All choices are possible. All choices have consequences which mostly present themselves after the choice has been taken. Making any choice likely removes all other choices that had hitherto been presenting themselves. Making any choice also instantaneously presents consequences for which we have to be responsible.

Choosing one way means choosing to discard all other ways and the possibilities that they could have brought forth. How can one choose one way and be a willing participant in discarding all consequences of that the other choices could have brought forth?

We occupy a sort of emptiness or nothingness. We would much rather have rails, walls, bars, floors in that space just so that we can reduce the anxiety that emptiness seems to cause.

On the one hand, constructing walls, rails, bars, floors may seem limiting. Because it chips away certain possibilities that would have otherwise been available to us when we were simply “floating in nothingness”, when “all possibilities were available”.

On the other hand, one cannot deny the value of “such construction of walls, rails, bars, floors”. Reduction of anxiety makes available to us a certain amount of strength to deal with our daily lives. We will likely never be fully rid of our “walls, rails, bars, floors”. However, allowing ourselves (once in a while) to be present to “nothingness” allows us to discover freedom and make new choices rather than live in total anxiety all the time.

To be authentically human is to accept that while we are fundamentally free, we have chosen to live inside walls, rails, bars and on floors. To be authentic is to be aware of those “walls, rails, bars and floors” AND aware that we have chosen to put them there and keep them in place. To be authentic is to be aware of our own inauthenticity. While at the same time, knowing that we can never ever be fully rid of our inauthenticity.

This blog post is inspired from a paper I read this morning on bad-faith. You can download the paper from here. It is totally worth a read. I highly recommend it if you are a student of Sartre or have read his work at length.