After a long time, I started to re-read books on existentialism from Gary Cox. Like he says, study of existentialism can be a hugely impactful thing. I was reading his book “Existentialist’s Guide to Death, the Universe and Nothingness” and tumbled upon this chapter about “Bad Faith”. I inquired into the kinds of bad-faith projects one might indulge in and wrote this piece.
Before we understand what bad-faith means, we need to understand a few terms.
Facticity is the world around a person in so far as it presents a constant resistance to his actions and projects. Difficulties, obstacles, entanglements, distances, heaviness, fragility, complexity, his past, his body and his current situation. In existentialism lingo, this is called as the being-in-itself (or just in-itself) of a human being. Being-in-itself just is. It cannot be any other way. While it can be understood differently, it fundamentally remains unchangeable and stuck. In short: it is what it is and not what it is not.
NOTE: While being-in-itself is a generic term that can be used with anything and everything (from rocks, to plants, to animals, to oceans as so on), Facticity specifically refers to everything that constitutes being-in-itself of a human being.
Transcendence refers to the kind of choices one makes & actions one takes to surpass (or negate) one’s facticity to fulfil on one’s own possibilities. being-for-itself (or just for-itself) is what does the transcending. The fundamental nature of the for-itself is to perpetually negate the in-itself, while never ever being able to be one with itself. The choice of negation is what existentialists call as transcendence. In short: transcendence is that by which a being is is not what it is, and is always what it is not. Time is the backdrop on which a for-itself can thrive. Time offers a framework for the for-itself to not be what it is (its past) and to be always what it is not (its future). Time is the framework for the possibility of human beings.
As a human being you are a free transcendence of your facticity, for which you willingly take responsibility. As a free transcendence, you make choices that determine the meaning and actions you take in your life, for which you alone are responsible.
Modes of being and behaviours that has you not being a free transcendence of your facticity is called bad-faith (or inauthenticity). To be authentic, you should (a) identify your inauthenticity and then (b) get back to the mode of being someone who freely transcends his facticity, for which you take responsibly with willingness.
The slip into bad-faith (or inauthenticity) happens for several reasons, but one reason stands out as prominent – being authentic means being totally responsible for one’s freedom & THAT is a rather heavy responsibility. We would much rather relinquish responsibility and slip into bad-faith, lie to ourselves, use our freedom against ourselves than own up our humanity, face uncomfortable truths and get real.
NOTE: Personally, I must confess that I read and write about existentialism a rather lot. I talk about authenticity like it is a godly ideal to go after. Yet, I am the most inauthentic person I have met in my life. Literally anybody else is way more authentic than I have ever been. I constantly find myself checkmated by my own inauthenticity to the point of feeling depressed. But then again, I show up for myself as inauthentic because that’s the negation I use for myself and my being in the world. I choose to own my inauthenticity and I got to be honest – IT STINKS!
Inspite of that – authenticity is a worthy ideal to pursue.
I had written a post back in 2012, which summarises a lot of terms that one encounters in Existentialism.
Lets look at the various kinds of projects you would probably run, when you are in bad-faith. There are basically the following kinds of projects that you may run on yourself and on others.
- You believe that you are a facticity and a transcendence. But not a free transcendence of your facticity. [ IDEALIST ]
- You believe that you are a pure transcendence. [ GOD / DISGUSTED ]
- You believe that you are simply your facticity. [ OBJECT / CHOICELESS ]
- You consider your facticity to be your transcendence. [ VICTIM / SHOW-OFF or FLAUNTER / ETERNAL REPENTER ]
- You consider your transcendence to be your facticity. [ ATTACHED or RIGID ]
NOTE: as you read various sections below, I use examples to help cement your understanding. It is true that examples listed under any of the sections could be used to explain any other section. They are all examples of bad-faith and they all overlap.
IDEALIST: one who believes that he is a facticity and a transcendence. But not a free transcendence of one’s facticity.
An idealist believes that while a human being has a past, a body and finds himself in situations (his facticity), he can completely surpass it all at once simply by making a choice (or declaration) about himself (his capacity to transcend facticity) and escape his facticity permanently and all at once. Although the idealist never forgets his past or fails to recognise his situations, he believes that he need not be fully owning them & can escape them purely by making a choice.
- I have a history of being angry and loud at home. One fine day I realise the intense pain I am causing to people at home. So I go, apologise to my people and make a promise to never ever be angry. From that moment on, I actually expect myself to never get angry and people to never call me in on it; if I ever do get angry.
- You see, I am not ignoring or forgetting the fact that I was this “angry and violent man”. I just consider myself to be someone who has that aspect of him as his past, which is over and done with. Not as my facticity that I need to transcend (or negate) moment by moment, before it can truly be my past. So that I can claim that I am no-longer angry.
- If I ever catch myself being angry ever again: I am either in denial or overly apologetic/guilty for having been angry.
- I fail to realise that each promise (i.e. my choice of transcendence) has to be a promise in the face of my facticity. I have to continuously negate my facticity (as a angry and violent man) in order to realise being peaceful and calm; knowing fully well that I can never ever simply be it.
GOD /DISGUSTED: one who believes that he is a pure transcendence
In the mode of being a god a person believes that he is a free floating consciousness, who does not have to own up or in anyway be responsible for his facticity (past, body and current situation) or the repercussions of his choices. Another way this mode of being shows up is as disgust. One severely resists one’s facticity and believes that one can disown it. For such a person, uncomfortable aspects of his facticity (past, body and current situation) appear impossible to be his. For instance, even in my adult life I regret that I never looked good or hip in college, or that even after my retirement I find it difficult to accept that I flunked my entrance exam to a technical course. I am so to speak disgusted with myself, to such an extent that I refuse to believe that some aspects of me are aspects of me. I believe that I can simply transcend it, giving no validity to the existence of such aspects of mine.
- I am someone who has never ever run a full marathon ever in my 35 years of life. Suddenly one day I wake up and make a choice to run a marathon. So I go out and run 42.2 kms at one stretch. (Its hardly possible that I will do it, but lets consider that I somehow manage to complete it). In this process; I have ignored my facticity (that I have a body that is not tuned for running a full marathon) and simply chase a pipe dream.
- I fall in love with an exceptionally beautiful woman, while the general perception that I have of me is that I am an ugly looking & not so accomplished a person. I take deep offence when the girl rejects my advances. Here I believe that I am only my transcendence (my choice of being in love with this beautiful woman) and that I can completely be blissfully rid of my facticity (that I am an ugly looking person)
- Extra marital affairs: classical example of playing GOD. I believe that I can freely transcend my situation (that I am married and in a relationship) and easily indulge in an extra marital affair, never bothered by the possibility that it might hit me back.
- I don’t have the money or earning capacity to buy a BMW, but I take loans (way too much infact) and go buy it anyway. Here is consider myself be only be my transcendence (my choice to own a BMW) and not my facticity (my capacity to earn and pay back)
- I find myself in an embarrassing situation. For example I am caught watching porn. Rather than own it up and face the consequences, I believe that I can freely (just simply) transcend it. By behaving in ways as if it never happened or even killing (figuratively or actually) the one who caught me in the act.
- I constantly dream about my life after college, while in college. I dream about my life after marriage, while I am single. I dream about my life after divorce, while I am married and unhappy. I dream about my life after retirement, while I am working. I dream about the life I will have in my own house, while living in a rented house. [Note: visualising or projecting a future and being inspired by it, so that it empowers me in the present to take effective action is commendable. But that’s not what we are talking about here.] I constantly indulge in living so much in the future, that I use that as an excuse to devoid any validity to my facticity (past, body and current situation). I am an eternal escapist. Simply put, I refuse to wholeheartedly and unapologetically choose my facticity (my past, body and current situation) & indulge in a fantasy transcendence that is completely disconnected from my facticity, as if it were not mine.
OBJECT / CHOICELESS: one who believes that he is only his facticity.
A person believes that he is this human-thing or an object in a world of objects that is only determined by his facticity (his past, body and the current situation).
- What can I do? I am just a graduate. I can never be the CEO or CTO of my company. When one is in this mode, one believes that one is a “graduate thing”. Just like rock is a rock-thing; he is a graduate-thing. And there is nothing he can do about it. He is cursed to be “just a graduate” and make peace with the range of possibilities that a “graduate-thing” has at its disposal.
- Overly identifying oneself with the current situation. For example: when you have caused an accident and are caught, you objectify yourself as this accident-causing-evil-thing. Or another example, if you win a lottery and win 10 crores: you objectify yourself as this rich-man-thing. Seminar leader – thing, forum leader – thing and so on.
- What can I do? I am just a woman, a housewife, a stay-at-home-mom. And so on.
There is another common way in which this mode of bad-faith shows up, that is when people identify with their strengths and/or weaknesses. Take for example a girl who grew up in a country side neighborhood with great friends and family. She is completely disconnected from media, therefore has little to no knowledge of how the “world functions.” She grows up completely oblivious to the fact that she is very pretty and has a lovely voice. In her circle of friends and family, she is simply another person. She spends her whole childhood and early adulthood like every other person in her community. Nothing special about her life or about herself. And then, when she becomes 20 years or so old, she moves to the city and suddenly finds herself receiving adulation. Men flock around her, women are jealous of her, special treatment is meted out to her at shops and cafes and so on. She is offered modeling contracts, movie roles and she becomes an overnight sensation after her first movie is released. She suddenly finds herself rich and famous, albeit more valuable than her friends & family back home think she is. She builds an awareness about her identity as someone who is beautiful and slowly objectifies herself as such, for her own apparent benefit. She perfects her performance as a movie star to an extent that she totally believes in it. She creates herself as a beautiful-movie-star-thing and slides into bad-faith. She willingly sacrifices her freedom to be in response to a chance discovery of her beauty, because it turns out to be profitable to do so.
Growing up, I was a not so good looking guy in my group of friends and family. I had a shabby dressing sense, I wasnt all that worldly smart, I did not have the kind of fancy bikes and gadgets that all my friends had and none of the girls bothered to offer me even a first look. Around the time I was 18 years old, I suddenly discovered that I was good at giving speeches. I was able to command attention like none other in my community. I gave seminars on memory skills, effective public speaking strategies, leadership skills etc. People would flock to my seminars, pay money to listen to me speak. At one point, I was invited to speak to students at a university. When I reached the venue, posters with my name on it were pasted from the entrance gate all the way to the hall, along a walk way that lasted 500+ meters. My talk was attended by 600+ people in a hall that could barely accommodate 300. When I completed my talk, I was signing autographs with both my hands. People were jumping on top of each other just to be within 1-2 meters of me, to shake hands with me, to make eye contact, to get an autograph. I was suddenly famous. This chance discovery became very profitable for me, so much so that I spent a good part of my early adulthood objectifying myself as an orator. I perfected the performance so much that I believed myself to be an orator-thing. Until I figured that I had an even more interesting skill – computer programming, specifically programming using Qt & OpenGL. Now this was a skill that few other people in my community had. This chance discovery became even more profitable. Suddenly girls in my class wanted to be friends with me, hang around me (mostly for academic reasons) but I was popular nevertheless. I then included this chance discovery into my identity. I constructed myself as a computer-programmer-thing. So much so that I built my career as a mashup of oratory and computer programming. Today, I earn my living as a professional who offers training, mentoring and design consulting services to companies looking to leverage Qt & OpenGL in their product development. After years of sacrificing my freedom while perfecting my performance as a orater-thing & computer-programmer-thing, I can now see it as bad-faith. Bad-faith is using freedom against itself. I have used my freedom to choose against itself so much that I find myself obligated to choose from orater-thingness and/or computer-programmer-thingness and struggle really really hard hard to choose otherwise.
You can imagine a similar slip into bad-faith from people who suddenly discover an aspect of themselves or the way in which others relate to them when they for instance express anger that evokes a sense of fear in other people, express a logical opinion or write a blog post or post a video that goes on to become viral and popular, get a promotion at work and receive all the kis-assery that comes along with it, win a lottery or receive a surprise inheritence in the form of cash or property such that they suddenly find themselves rich, be applauded for a performance and so on. People may find themsleves identifying with that aspect that they just discovered and construct themselves as a thing.
VICTIM / SHOW-OFF or FLAUNTER / ETERNAL REPENTER: one who considers his facticity to be his transcendence
In the mode of being a victim a person believes that his choices are limited to whatever default choices his facticity makes available to him.
- When faced with criticism at work, a woman raises “woman-harassment” card as a means of resistance. And may be even win the argument. Here the woman believes that the only way she can transcend her situation is to dig into her facticity (her past, her body, her current situation and labels/facts about herself). She will not give herself the opportunity to up her game at work or accepting the criticism as valuable feedback or patiently explaining why the allegation is wrong etc.
- Husbands run this act of being-a-victim all the time: my wife never lets me do things that I want to do. He considers that his choices for transcendence are only from his facticity of having a “never-lets-me-do-anything-wife-thing”.
- “Rich guy” who lives as if who he is is “someone who is intrinsically rich & chooses only from the range of choices that is available for a rich-guy-thing”
- “Beautiful Girl” who lives life as if who she is is a beautiful-girl-thing & constantly chooses her response to situations from that awareness alone. For instance, “Yuck! I can’t get into that muddy mulch and work the garden”
- Eternally repenting that I no longer am employed or I can no longer run or I am no longer rich.
ATTACHED or RIGID: you consider your transcendence to be your facticity.
In this mode a person feels attached to all his choices of transcendence. He believes that he is (or rather should-be) Salman Khan: Ek baar mein ne commitment kar li, to phir mein apne bhi nahi suntha (once I give a commitment, I don’t even listen to myself – I just go about executing it). While there is something supremely commendable about this, it is not always appropriate to be that attached or rigid about any commitment.
- A person makes promise to his friend that he will help him out with some X amount of money. But when the time comes to actually pay, he finds himself constrained for money. He could go explain to his friend that he cannot loan the money at this point because he is constrained financially and make a new promise – but NOoooo, he finds himself compelled to keep his word. You see, here the person feels that when he made his commitment a future (where the commitment is realised) exists as a future-facticity and that he needs to accept that as his facticity right now (no matter what the circumstance is).
- Believing that re-negotiating any promise is a strictly a no-no & immoral.
- Wife scared of reimagining her role in the family: from cook / home-keeper to earning member or a provider.
- Husband scared of asking for help, because he thinks he simply has to be a provider in the family.
- Believing that “temporary” is “permanent”. It will always be like this (a paradise or horror-story).
I am not suggesting that all our commitments must be flexible, but being attached to something amounts to living a life as-if one’s choice of himself for transcending his facticity is the one and only fixed choice there is. Such rigidity limits one’s freedom to be.