According to existentialism, authenticity is living life with willingness that who I am is a free transcendence of my facticity. Therefore, I willingly own-up my facticity and make choices & take action by being fully aware of my freedom to do so. I also take note of the fact that my choices & action lead to consequences that I must willingly take responsibility for. The key here is willingness.
Inauthenticity (or bad-faith) refers to modes of being and behavior that has me not being a free transcendence of my facticity. Basically I am inauthentic if I am not willingly owning up my facticity, or willingly take responsibility for my choices & actions, or crib about my lack of freedom and so on. In a previous post, I have shared my understanding of bad-faith and also enumerated a few ways in which people run project(s) of bad-faith. I strongly recommend that you read that post, if you haven’t already.
In this post, I want to explore the question – “Is bad-faith directed at another person an act of my bad-faith?”
Stated more clearly, the question I want to explore is this: if I dont consider another to be a free transcendence of his/her own facticity, is that bad-faith (or inauthenticity) on my part?
Sartre and others carve a phenomenon called being-for-others, that leaves a human being with an experience of being an object in a world of objects, with fixed properties, labels, behaviour etc. Given that people are seldom, if ever, truly alone these days, each person constantly confronts the existence of other people, not simply as objects in his world, but as subjects who see him and judge him and reduce him to an object in their world. To be an object for the Other is the meaning of being-for-other. My being-for-other is the awareness I have of my own objectification in the eyes of the Other.
As a being-for-itself, I am a free transcendence of my facticity. I am indeterminate, ambiguous and unboxable. However, when I come in touch with the Other, thats precisely NOT how I experience myself in the eyes of the Other. I experience myself as determinate, fixed and boxed in the eyes of the other. Sartre calls this “transcendence-transcended”. The Other transcends my transcendence and leaves me behind as a transcendence-transcended, as if it were facticity.
To be honest, thats what we also seem to be doing when we are the Other for the Other. In the world of the Other, we transcend their transcendence and leave them with an experience of being determined, fixed and boxed.
Human interactions, accordingly to Sartre et all, is mostly about denying humanity to each other, accomplished by objectifying each other. Not all of this objectification is uncomfortable. For instance people may love being objectified as a star, a successful-entrepreneur, a beautiful or sexy looking person, a skilled athlete or programmer and so on. At the same time, we can also enumerate modes of objectification that people feel very uncomfortable with. For instance, being objectified as a loser, criminal, hypocrite, ugly, unsuccessful and so on. In either case notice how other’s objectification of us leaves us with an experience of our transcendence-transcended.
Masochism and Sadism
Lets say that I have successfully completed a project and am being applauded for the same. As a being-for-itself, I have to willingly own up my having been successful in that project as my facticity and transcend it. I have to constantly bring to awareness that I can never simply be successful while fully owning up my success in this project and take responsibility for the repercussions of having been successful in it. I can, however, never be a successful-thing, just like a rock can simply be a rock. So I am never ever successful-in-itself, so to speak. To live as if I am successful-in-itself, is inauthentic. Its an act of bad-faith. Nevertheless, I find it pleasurable to indulge in some masochism, if you will, and be a successful-thing for the Other (or Others) as long as they are ascribing that label to me. I am ready to give up my transcendence, evade my responsibility and trick myself into believing that I am a successful-thing, who can simply be it without having to generate it over and over and over again. By evading my responsibility and my undeniable freedom (or obligation) to transcend my success, I may trick myself into believing that as a successful-thing I will be successful in anything I take up.
At the other end of the spectrum is this domination I want to have over other’s objectification of me. Lets say I was caught stealing something. In the eyes of the Other, I am a thief. Once again, as a being-for-itself, I have to willingly own up having been a thief a moment ago and transcend it. Even though I am never ever a thief-thing, I have to willingly own up having stolen something and choose and act in the face of that. It surely doesn’t feel comfortable being labeled as a thief, or to be a thief-thing. So while I am free to transcend it, the Other will box me into it. I experience being arrested, as if my wings of transcendence were clipped. I resist my label so much that I now want to dominate other’s objectification of me. I might want to showcase myself as a Robin-Hood and so on. Nevertheless, I want to dominate. I indulge in some sadism to deny the Other his absolute freedom to choose meanings about me.
If you look at the news today, we have several instances where successful-people are being pulled out of their success-aura with sting operations, fake news, conspiracy theories and so on. At the same time, we can see instances where thieves are being portrayed as innocent or as leaders with documentaries, stories, advertisements and so on.
Given that one’s being-for-other, while still ones own, is over there for the Other to control and manipulate, you can see why human relationships are full of conflict. Masochism and Sadism (or domination) are inescapable aspects of human relationships, according to existentialists. It is as if we use one rule for ourselves and a different rule for others. While we want to transcend freely, we want to clip other’s transcendence.
Coming back to the question…
If I am inauthentic (or in bad-faith) when I behave as if I am not a free transcendence of my facticity, then am I equally inauthentic (or in bad-faith) when I behave as if the other person is not a free transcendence of his/her facticity?
Specifically, is it my inauthenticity (or my act of bad-faith) if ….
- I believe other people to be ideal, that they are somehow independently their facticity and their transcendence.
- For instance, my spouse has a habit of getting angry. One day she says that she will no longer get angry. From that moment on I expect her to simply be-not-angry and deny her any chance of being angry. I throw at her this attitude of “past-is-past”, “future-is-future”. They are both independent orders of reality.
- I believe that other people are gods, that they can somehow take up any project and simply be trusted with it.
- For instance, my friend who has never ever run a business comes to me with a business plan and asks me to fund a huge sum of money in his business. I simply relate to him from his new choice of being an entrepreneur and lend him that huge sum of money and crib later on that he didn’t pull off that business.
- Or for instance, I pull my friend along with me to a marathon run knowing fully that he has never ever exercised in his life and is a chain smoker. When my friend collapses out of sheer exhaustion, I yell at him or belittle him. I dont respect the fact that he has to transcend (by choosing to run) his facticity (knowing that he is a chain smoker and that he has never run), while not being able to simply ignore his facticity and be a pure transcendence.
- I believe that other people are objects or choiceless, that they are simply the labels I ascribe to them.
- All of the name calling we do on other people falls in this category. Calling a woman slut, bitch and so on. Limiting my relatedness towards a woman to her sex-appeal alone, while all the time ignoring her inherent nature to transcend her facticity, to be a sports person or artist and so on.
- Limiting our awareness of film-actors as celebrities alone, with perfect lives, unlimited money and so on, while denying them their humanity, their need for privacy and so on.
- I have been friends with a guy, who for several years has been working hard at scaling a company. After several years of hard work, his company suddently scales big. He becomes rich and famous. I now use this chance discovery to objectify him as a rich-and-famous-entrepreneur-thing. — OR — I refuse to recognise him as a rich and famous entrepreneur and only objectfiy him as my friend-thing who was struggling.
- I believe that other people are victims of their circumstances, that they are always and only causally determined.
- For instance, suppose that someone I know got raped. I limit my awareness of him/her and my relatedness to him/her to only his/her now being a victim of that rape. I never ever give him/her the space to transcend his/her situation and create new meanings for his/her life.
- Or for instance, someone who was once high-flying and rich loses everything due to a bad business decision or economic environment. I only treat that person as has-been-rich, which as you can imagine is quite distinct from how I would treat a person who has-never-been-rich.
- Or for instance, I find myself using statements like – “what can she do, she is just a woman” OR “what can he do, he isnt smart enough”.
- I believe that other people are obligated to honour their word or the status-quo that they seem to project.
- For instance, I judge and hurl abuses infinitely at a a girl who broke up with me, because as far as I am concerned she suddenly decided to not honour her word to be in a committed relationship with me. How can she? She is obligated to honour her word forever!
Clearly when any of the above attitudes are directed at myself, it is bad-faith or inauthenticity as shared in this previous post. Is it therefore bad-faith or inauthentic if these attitudes are directed at others? Am I limiting my own freedom to be, when I direct such attitudes at other people?
I just want to ask that question and leave it at that. I dont know the answer to that question. Or rather, should there even be an answer? Perhaps, as with most profound questions, it should be left open all the time.
The holy-goal of an existentialist is to detest inauthenticity and strive to be authentic, knowing fully that he/she can never simply be authentic. The additional question I want to leave you with is this: how will our interpersonal relationships be, if we viewed all of the attitudes listed above, when directed at another as inauthentic just as we view them as inauthentic when directed at ourselves?