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Being is Slavery, Nothingness is Freedom (Sartre's "Being and Nothingness", FIRST LECTURE)

Uploaded 2/11/2021, approx. 41 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and a professor of psychology.

And you know by this very serious opening that it is going to be a deep convoluted video lecture. And right you are.

How could anyone discuss nothingness without mentioning the drop-dead gorgeous Jean-Paul Sartre. Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher, the father of modern existentialism, and he had operated in Paris between the 1930s and the 1960s, so quite a stretch.

Jean-Paul Sartre had written the epitome of Western thought about nothingness, a book titled Being and Nothingness, which is the topic of today's video lecture.

But before we go there, I would like to read to you an excerpt from a much forgotten tome regrettably. It is titled The Empty Core, and it was published by Jason Aronson in 1991. The full title of the book is The Empty Core and Object Relations Approach to Psychotherapy of the Schizoid Personality, and it was offered by Jeffrey Seinfeld.

And here is the excerpt that I want to read to you.

Sutherland in 1989 stated that if there is a disruption in the child's relationship to the actual parent, there must be a re-establishment of the object connection with the parent. Or failing this, the child must have an actual substitute figure, a surrogate parent.

When there is no substitute for the parent, the child creates a substitute, imaginatively, because the individual cannot shape his own self without an inner image to fill the void, to fill this empty core in which a parental image must be inserted.

One might be quickly disposed to the view of an empty core as disadvantageous to the personality. The empty core is in fact central and necessary, says Seinfeld, and has a positive, self-formative value.

The child does not only fill the void with an internal image, rather he plays at comforting, soothing and mirroring himself in the image of the parental figure.

Through this experience, the child has the experience of trying out varying modes of the self, parenting himself and even shaping the self.

This idea suggests the existential phenomenological principle that nothingness is the core of freedom, allowing for the individual to shape himself to become what he chooses within the constraints of the given biological and social facticity.

Given the emphasis on biological determinism, this reminder of a core of human freedom beyond biological contingency is important. As will be shown in a later chapter, the awareness of lack creates desire, creates ideals.

In Sophocles Theban play, Oedipus of Colonus, Oedipus asks his daughter Ismini, When I am nothing, so then I am a man? Ismini can only respond in the affirmative, she says yes.

And so if the void does not become traumatic, does not become intolerable, it provides the infant with a freedom of nothingness to practice at shaping himself in the imago of the object.

The empty core gives rise to the grandiose self, as Kohut had observed in 1977, and this results in realistic ambitions and ego interests.

I believe, says Seinfeld, that this void would be created by the child himself in his own spontaneous striving toward autonomy if external circumstances had not created the void through disruptions. If the disruptions become traumatic or prolonged, the internal object world becomes disappointing because it is basically insubstantial and unreal.

The empty core may become the bottomless pit of the schizoid patient.

He generally adopts one of two strategies to deal with the empty core.

The first strategy is the effort to eliminate all need by maintaining himself as aloof, self-sufficient, isolated.

Emptiness becomes an ideal. The individual strives toward extinguishing all need.

The second strategy is the endeavor to arrive at a stage of absolute completion, fullfulness, fulfillment.

It, too, is an endeavor to extinguish need, but this time through satiation, satiety.

So this is the empty core by Jeffrey Seinfeld. And now Jeffrey Seinfeld himself mentions the existential phenomenological concept of freedom through nothingness. And this leads us to the person who had come up with this idea, Jean-Paul Sartre. His masterpiece, Being and Nothingness.

In this book, Sartre defines two types of reality which lie beyond the conscious experience.

There is the being of the object of consciousness and there is consciousness. He separates the two.

The object of consciousness exists in itself. In other words, it's independent. It's non-relational. Whether we look at it or not, it's there. Whether we assimilate it somehow or not, it's there. It's always there regardless of our consciousness.

When we go unconscious or when we die, it's still there. So it has an existence in itself. Consciousness is an entirely different story. Consciousness always must relate to something. Consciousness is always consciousness of something. Consciousness is defined in relation to something.

It is not possible to grasp the consciousness within consciousness. It exists for itself, not in itself, but for itself by relating to the outside, to the environment or to internal objects, but to objects.

An essential feature of consciousness is the power of consciousness to negate. Consciousness can negate, can vitiate, can destroy, can eliminate.

In other words, consciousness has the power to experience nothingness. And it raises the question when we discuss God, for example, and we equate God with a kind of infinite consciousness, omnipotent, omniscient, admittedly non-human, but still some form of consciousness.

Consciousness has the capacity to create by relating to objects and incorporating them in a narrative, but it has the capacity to negate. It has the capacity for nothingness.

Does God have the same two capacities?

According to the Kabbalah, He does. Indeed, He had to change Himself, reduce Himself, in order to allow for the emergence of creation.

This power of nothingness, this power of negation, is out-directed, directed outwardly, but also directed inwardly towards the Self.

And so when it is inwardly directed, it creates identity disturbance. It creates an intrinsic lack of self-identity.

The unity of the Self is a task of the consciousness.

The consciousness must work hard to create this unity because it has the proclivity, the tendency to engage in nothingness.

It would seem that consciousness and self are not the same thing at all, at all, which raises interesting questions about babies and infants.

Are they first conscious and then develop a self? Or are they born with a self?

We'll limit aside for a minute.

The unity of the Self is a task of consciousness.

And in order to ground itself, the Self engages in action.

The Self invents, comes up with projects. Projects are aspects of the individual.

The individual can be perceived as a fundamental project, and all the other projects, actions, choices, decisions, relationships, object relations, everything would be mere aspects, facets of the fundamental project which we call personality or individual.

There's a desire, there's a motivation of the individual to be. Being, being is an element of consciousness, but being is the totality of the Self.

It is this resonance between consciousness ability to engage in being and the self, the need of the self to be. It is this resonance that allows consciousness to unify, to integrate the self.

But consciousness is a mind- fit. The soul is there, lurking, awaiting, like a Damocles sword. The soul is the capacity for nothingness, which the self cannot contemplate or countenance or accept.

There is this inner terror because consciousness can suddenly unleash negation and nothingness upon the self. This is the source, one of the major sources of angst.

And there is a spontaneous original choice. And this choice, by definition, depends on freedom because whenever you have a choice, you're free to choose.

We have an inherent contradiction in the human condition because freedom depends on negation. Freedom depends on nothingness, as we will see shortly.

And yet, in order to constellate the self, in order to create the self, we need to make choices and to make choices we need to be free.

In other words, the only way to be, the only way to become being, the only way to attain the state of being is via choices. And the only way to engage in choices is to be free. And the only way to be free is to experience nothingness. Nothingness is the precondition for being because without nothingness, there's no freedom. Without freedom, there's no choices. Without choices, there's no being.

The self is a project and it requires multiple choices and decisions predicated on freedom that emanates from nothingness. The source of our being is nothingness.

And some of these choices are authentic and some of them are what Sartre called bad faith choices. It's a project of self-deception where one's real nature is discarded in order to adopt an object's nature, the nature of some object, some person in the case of codependency or borderline, some physical object in the case of psychopathy, narcissism.

So we could engage in an authentic, genuine, loyal, faithful to ourselves project, thereby we come up with a healthy self or we can engage in self-deception.

Adopting an external view, an external project is our own.

The only way to escape this self-deception is authenticity, choosing in a way that reveals the existence of consciousness as both factual and transcendent.

Sartre said that the proper exercise of freedom creates values that any other human being in the same situation could experience. In other words, universally shared values.

These universally shared values are context dependent. They are derived from circumstances in a specific environment, but within this specific environment under these circumstances, two people, two hundred people, two million people and two billion people would develop the same values, would come up with the same essentially project or the same self.

Authentic projects express a universal dimension in the singularity of a human life. That's why I keep saying that we are all connected, not in the mystical Indian pretty primitive perception, not in this stupid way, but we are intimately connected because we are programmed, we are coded in advance to react identically to any given environment.

Identically, not in the sense that we will become indistinguishable mass production units, not in the sense that we are commodified, but in the sense that we are likely to develop selves that can meaningfully communicate and resonate and interact in order to form a whole, a collaborative, instinctual, reflexive, collaborative effort of selves, all of them equipped with a resonating capacity, with a communicative capacity.

Sartre contributed the concept of nothingness to metaphysics and he made nothingness the center of the heart of being. He was not the first, of course.

I have another video on my nothingness channel which discusses Buddhism and Japanese contributions to the concept of nothingness, pre-dates or anti-days western philosophy by, at the very least, two or three thousand years.

But Sartre incorporated nothingness into a modern and later post-modern view of life, rendered nothingness the core and heart of being, which is a largely original contribution.

Sartre discusses the example, he gives an example in his book. It says you enter a cafe, yeah? You fix a meeting with Pierre. Pierre, of course, he lived in Paris, so it would be Pierre. You fix a meeting with Pierre and you had agreed to go to a coffee house to have coffee together and come to the cafe and there's no Pierre. Pierre hadn't arrived yet or had left or never made it, stood you up.

He says when you enter the cafe and you don't see Pierre, what you see is Pierre's absence.

It's not that you don't see Pierre. You see, you do see, Pierre's absence. His absence is haunting the cafe like a ghost.

It's not a psychological state. The nothingness is truly experienced because it's there. It's almost a physical entity.

The nothingness is not just some logical deduction or this chair is empty, so Pierre is not here.

Well, a giraffe is not here as well, you know?

So what? This is a logical deduction. You don't experience Pierre's absence as a logical deduction. You experience his absence as though it were some entity with which or with whom you are reacting.

And so it's a construction that reveals something about the structure of the world.

Nothingness teaches us a lot about the structure of the world and I want to digress a bit.

One of the main techniques in my cold therapy, I've developed a new treatment modality mainly for narcissists and depressed people, people with depressive disorders, and one of the main techniques there is called erasure.

It's when I don't allow the patient to talk or to say certain keywords and the technique learns, derives information from the strategically placed silences.

Silence can teach us a lot more than verbiage. Verbiage, as any Zen Buddhist would tell you, verbiage, camouflages, distorts. Words are intermediaries and they are biased intermediaries because they have associations. Words are a very bad way of communicating. Direct communication involves either actually touching the object, interacting with it in real life, physically, or silence.

So in cold therapy, I force the patient to be silent about keywords that are associated with trauma and observing the pattern of silences, their distribution, their frequency, etc.

I learn a lot about the trauma. That's a digression just to show you, to exemplify, to demonstrate that Sartre was right.

This objective fact of absence is one of the few facts in the world which is dependent on human beings because if you were not there to observe Pierre's absence in the cafe, this absence would not have kind of materialized.

This absence, this nothingness, is produced by consciousness.

It seems that nothingness is something that human consciousness brings into the world.

We are the containers of nothingness. We are the messengers of nothingness through our consciousness.

It's a bit reminiscent of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics where the observation of the experimentalist determine when and how an elementary particle will materialize. The experimenter determines the outcome of the experiment, the collapse of the wave function.

So the experimenter, according to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, is creating the universe.

But he is creating the universe via nothingness because for every particle that is materialized, for every collapse, the rest of the wave function is annihilated, disappears.

Nothingness.

We create being. We are generators of being and we are generators of being via our consciousness because our consciousness is capable of nothingness and probably only our consciousness is capable of nothingness.

Sartre considers the phenomenon of destruction. When there's an earthquake or a landslide, it modifies the terrain, but the terrain is still there. It has new features, new characteristics.

You have to… it has new specs.

But it's there. It's not gone. But if the airport… the same earthquake had demolished a city, Katrina, New Orleans, when the city is annihilated, the earthquake is perceived to have created nothingness.

Why? Destruction is the introduction of nothingness into the environment. And only human beings can do this.

By perceiving the outcomes of the earthquake, we introduce nothingness into reality.

For Sartre, destruction is crucially dependent on human observation.

Humans identify the city as a structure of order. And humans had identified what remained of the what had remained of the city after the earthquake as fragile, destructive, destroyed.

Humans introduce order as much as they introduce chaos into the world. That is why the Jordan Peterson project is doomed, because he's trying to use the tool of chaos to introduce order.

Consciousness is not a tool of order, only. It's arguably, mainly, a tool of nothingness and chaos.

The very negation involved in characterizing something as destructible makes destruction possible.

If we were to consider the city as re-arranged, redesigned by the earthquake, there would have been no destruction. Destruction is a decision, conscious decision, a choice, a reframing of reality.

And in this sense, perhaps all of consciousness is one defense mechanism writ large.

But how is negation possible? How is negation possible at all?

The power of negation is an intrinsic feature of the intentionality of consciousness.

To further identify this power of negation, we must consider the phenomenon of questioning.

What is it when you question something? When you question something, you assume that there are two possibilities, a positive reply and a negative reply.

So whenever you question something, you take the risk, you take the chance that something called negation.

In other words, it's like shredding a cat.

There's a famous thought experiment in physics. Before you open the box, you don't know if the cat inside is dead or alive. So before you open the box, the cat is half dead and half alive.

Only by opening the box and observing the cat, you can decide whether the cat is dead or alive.

And according to quantum physics, you actually imbue the cat with death or with life. You render the cat alive or dead.

It's a paradox, but it's reality. It's been proven in numerous physical experiments.

Sartre is saying the same. Whenever you question something, and of course, physical experiment in physics is questioning nature. It's a form of questioning nature.

And Sartre said, whenever you question something, you take the chance of receiving no as an answer. You take the chance of negation.

Everything, he says, fluctuates between being and nothingness. You would call it the Sartre nothingness uncertainty principle if you want to be as highfalutin as I am.

Now, Sartre notes that to engage in questioning is very courageous because it requires the questioner to be able to detach himself from the causal series of being. By annihilating the given, the questioner detaches himself from any deterministic constraints.

What Sartre is trying to say before you question, if you don't question, you have certainty. You have certainty.

By questioning, the very act of questioning introduces a doubt. By questioning, you transition from determinism to uncertainty, to probability. By questioning, you transition from all yes to possibly no.

It takes courage. Sartre says, the name of this possibility which every human being has to secure a nothingness which isolates it is freedom.

I repeat this crucial sentence. The name of this possibility which every human being has to secrete a nothingness which isolates it is freedom.

Sartre says, when you question, you are free because you assume the risk of nothingness.

Our power to negate is the clue, is the clue to freedom, is the path to freedom.

And Sartre's notion of freedom is constructed almost entirely not on what there is, not on being, but on nothingness.

The structure and characteristics of consciousness are the main focus of being and nothingness because only consciousness can negate and only consciousness can fearlessly explore the ramifications of negation and nothingness.

And this leads to the human condition.

What is the human condition if we accept and embrace nothingness?

Many of you asked me repeatedly, okay, these are the practical steps to nothingness. Don't be a drama queen. Don't be a victim.


But what is this nothingness that we aspire to? Is it emptiness? Of course not. Nothingness is not, the opposite of being is not emptiness. The opposite of being is freedom.

The opposite of being is freedom.

I want you to understand this. Nothingness is freedom. And that's why we have nothingness as a capacity of our consciousness because it has evolutionary advantages. It is a capacity of our consciousness and evolutionary advantages.

Had nothingness been destructive, had nothingness been empty, had nothingness been a dead end, evolution would not have allowed consciousness to become a nothingness machine and nothingness generated.

To understand consciousness, we must understand the negating power of consciousness and how this negating power underlies the self.

Nothingness, the self is one huge nothingness.

I opened with a statement by Jeffrey Seinfeld that this schizoied core, this emptiness, this nothingness at the heart of the self, this identity of not being is actually an engine of accomplishments, of ideals, of striving, of efforts, of energy, of joy, of cheer, of happiness.

Seinfeld considers the empty core as a positive thing, not negative if it's not associated with trauma.

So self is founded on emptiness which is essentially not empty but it's nothingness, it's the negation of being.

And so when we consider for example questioning and reflection, yes, we consider question and reflection.

We can ask yourself what does it mean to reflect on nothing? What does it mean to question nothing?

Our very language betrays us because we had constructed human language around being.

We are so terrified of nothingness because we're terrified of dying.

And so our language is deceptive. It's a psychological defense mechanism writ large. It's denial. Our language is in denial so it's very difficult to use language to discuss nothingness because for example again, what does it mean to reflect on nothingness? How do you question nothingness?

Sartre shows that reflective consciousness negates the pre-reflective consciousness that it takes as an object.

So when we reflect on something we also reflect on the state of mind before we had reflected on this something.

So there's like pre-reflection and reflection phase and the reflection phase involves reflecting on the pre-reflection phase.

And this creates an instability within the self because the self is torn between a unitary being a unity because the self wants to think of itself as a unity. So the self is torn between the sensation that it's a unity and this duality pre-reflection, reflection. Any act questioning, reflecting object relations, any act creates immediately two states. One state that preceded the act and one state which is the act.

The action breaks down the self. Action breaks down the self. At the very least it creates duality sometimes more. Action conflicts dramatically head on with a sense with a unitary sense of the self.

But of course this unitary sense is self deceptive. It's a bad faith project.

This lack of self identity is given another twist. It's a kind of task.

The unity of the self is a task of consciousness.

And it's the self using leveraging consciousness to ground itself somehow.

It's unity is like without unity I'm going to die, without unity I'm going to dissipate, I'm going to evaporate, I need to feel unitary. I need to feel there's a core.

And even in psychology we have this value judgment that if you don't have a stable core of identity something's wrong with you. You need help.

So we have identity diffusion with adolescents. And we have identity disturbance with borderlines and narcissists. And these are bad things.

Because in identity disturbance and identity diffusion there's no core stable identity and that's not good.

You see biases and value judgments permeate our sciences, our psychology, the way we speak even.

The dimension of this task to create a unitary self, the task that consciousness is engaged in, is intimately connected to temporality, intimately connected to time.

The lack of coincidence of consciousness with itself is at the heart of what it is to be conscious.

Consciousness is not identical with the past, with its past. Consciousness is not identical with its future. It is already no longer what it was. Every split micro milli nanosecond our consciousness is no longer what it used to be a nanosecond ago. And it is not yet what it's going to become. It's a process of becoming.

So consciousness is not this core, is not this immutable identity, is not even a process which is essentially invariant.

Consciousness is a kaleidoscopic stream of ever-changing, ever-shifting, shape-shifting, sometimes mutually exclusive states, with the capacity to negate.

And the self, the ego wants to use consciousness to create the exact opposite, a stable, rock-solid foundation of identity and feeling of who I am. And of course, it's very difficult.

Because how do you use mercury, mercurial elements, to construct the Empire State Building? You need stone. You need rock. You need cement. You need glass. You need stable, strong things.

And consciousness is anything. It's ephemeral.

And so when I make who I am the object of my reflection, I can take that which now lies in my past as my object while I've actually moved beyond it.

And that is the core problem in psychotherapy. We deal a lot with the past.

And even when people talk to us in real time, mindfulness, it immediately becomes the past. Everything immediately becomes the past. The present is infinitesimal. It has no dimensions, no length and no duration.

So, I am is never who I am. That I am is no longer who I am, because that I am immediately becomes the past. And it's no longer who I am, it's who I was. It's the same with the future, of course.

I never coincide with what I shall become, what I shall be. Temporality is another problem, core problem, in the way in which negation is at work within consciousness and exercised upon the self.

These are fundamental features of consciousness. The past corresponds to a facticity of human life that cannot choose what is already given about itself.

So, when we talk about the past, we cannot change it. It's given. And the future opens up possibilities for the freedom of consciousness.

So, the past is the opposite of freedom because it is. The past is being. The future is nothingness.

I want you to listen to this very carefully. The past is 100% being. It cannot be changed. No decision you make can affect it. Nothing you can do about it. It's 100% rock solid, impermeable, osmotic being.

The future is 100% nothingness. Why?

Because it involves choices and decisions. And choices and decisions involve freedom. And freedom emanates out of nothingness.

The future opens up possibilities for the freedom of consciousness.

The coordination of future freedom and past facticity is a problem. It creates conflicts, dissonances, incoherence. And it's another aspect of the essential instability of consciousness, let alone the self.

And this leads us to self-deception.

Because when we are faced with all these conflicts and dissonances, we are very tempted to lie to ourselves and to lie to others about ourselves.

And this is what Sartre called bad faith.

The project of bad faith. We said that self-identity, consciousness that operates on self-identity, in self-identity, is a task. Consciousness is engaged in generating and gendering the self as it goes along on the fly.

But it's a task. It's an assignment. It's a defining project of consciousness, the generation of self.

And all the resources of the individual go into this project. It's the number one project, the most important project.

Because the self is to be continuously generated. The self is not a construct in some ways. Largely it's a process or a construct that is engaged in a process.

And if the process stops, the construct disintegrates.

So it's energy-consuming, resource-consuming, and everything, all the internal contributions are aspects and facets of this fundamental project.

But when consciousness engages in creating the self, because consciousness is introspective, we are the only animal species, sentient beings who can introspect.

In other words, create a model of the world in which we are and then observe ourselves from the outside, so to speak, within this model.

So we can introspect.

How does consciousness introspect? How does consciousness understand itself? How does it define itself as a specific individual?

In other words, why does my consciousness define itself? Why does my consciousness understand itself as Sam Vaknin and not, for example, as Jean-Paul Sartre? Why don't I consider myself to be Jean-Paul Sartre?

In which specific ways my consciousness is channeled and directed to reach the continuous conclusion that I'm Sam Vaknin, what's the connecting thread?

That's the first question that we should ponder.


This core identity seems to be a statement, a self-referential statement of consciousness, and it is disrupted in psychotic disorders, where the identity disturbance reaches the point, where the consciousness is no longer sure, no longer ascertained as to who am I.

That is psychosis.

The project of bad faith is very important for existential understanding of what it is to be human, because unfortunately, it's the easy way out.

You see, I gave you a list of all the conflicts that create a lot of instability and coherence and lack of cohesion and conflicts and dissonances.

It's an unpleasant egodystonic state. You want to get rid of it. You want to finish it.

And one way of doing this is to deceive yourself.

So what is to be human? What defines human includes regrettably bad faith and self-deception.

And that is why we have morality and ethics, because all of us engage in bad faith, self-deceptive projects.

We need an external body of agreed upon edicts, tenets, to keep us in the straight and narrow, to keep us honest.

Because we have a tendency to dishonesty, as the studies of Dan Ariely had conclusively proven.

Sartre's analysis of the bad faith project, the lack of genuineness, lack of authenticity, self-deception, is the best part of the book.

It's an amazing part.

And one of his most famous examples is a waiter in the aforementioned cafe.

So there's a waiter in a cafe, and the waiter has precise, manneristic movements. He's like a doll or a puppet. And the waiter is identifying himself with his role as a waiter.

His consciousness renders the waiter a waiter. The waiter is discarding his real nature, his real consciousness, his freedom.

And instead, he's adopting an external identity, external set of guidelines, the guidelines on how to be a waiter.

Waiterhood, if there's such a thing, waiter, that's an external object.

And the waiter takes on the features of this external object, suspending his own project.

That is bad faith. That is self-deception. He's denying the transcendence of his consciousness in favor of a kind of transcendence characterizing the object of waiter.

The burden of freedom, because freedom is a burden, the requirement to decide for himself what to do, who he is.

The minute he adopts the waiter external object as his project, the minute he becomes the waiter, the minute he becomes this external thing, he no longer is free.

And because he no longer is free, he is liberated from decision-making.

He doesn't have to do. He's exempt. He doesn't have to do. Make any decisions.

And because he doesn't have to make any decisions, the burden is lifted. His behavior becomes automatic and robotic, dictated fully by the role that he had adopted.

And so he feels unburdened but actually is a slave.

Most slaves feel very free. And it's part of their own self-deception.

Slavery makes you feel free because you no longer have to worry. You no longer have to choose. You no longer have to decide. And above all, you have no personal responsibility.

That's very liberating. That is experienced as freedom when actually it's bad faith. It's fake. It's false.

And you are 100% a slave. That's why people give, empower dictators. They want to be slaves because slavery feels good.

The mechanism involved in bad faith projects is an inherent contradiction.

The very identification with an external object like being a waiter, being a driver, being a father, being a husband, these are all external roles.

So when you identify with these external roles, it's possible because the waiter is conscious.

Consciousness enables projects of self-deception and bad faith.

The irony is you need to be free to become a slave. To become a slave, you must make a decision. You must make a choice.

Becoming a slave is a choice. Becoming an abuse victim is a choice. These are choices.

And to make choices, you need to be free. And to be free, you need your consciousness.

So it's a conscious choice to actually commit suicide, to suspend itself.

The sequence is, I have consciousness. I'm going to choose to not be me.

That moment, I have no need for my consciousness anymore. Suspended, dismissed.

That's the sequence.

But of course, remember, choice is freedom.

Freedom is nothingness. When you are free, when you are free, you take the chance of getting no for an answer. You take the chance of annihilation, of negation, of vitiation, of destruction. To be free means to risk nothingness.

So when you make this choice to be a slave out of freedom, you make this choice out of nothingness, in effect.

But it's the wrong choice.

Because instead of nothingness, you come out of nothingness, you emanate from nothingness. This is your base point. I mean, this is the base.

And then you end up being, you end up in being.

You start with nothingness and you end in being.

What being? Not your being.

The role that you had adopted, what society had told you to do, what your family forced you to do, what your wife insists that you do. You adopt roles, you role play.

But role playing is embedded in consciousness, says Sartre.

So the freedom of consciousness is a precondition for the project of bad faith, which denies the freedom of consciousness.

The agents defining his being as an external object is the result of the way in which he had represented himself to himself.

This is a misrepresentation, of course. This is self-lying, but it's still the responsibility of consciousness. It still represents a choice and a decision. Nothing is hidden.

Consciousness is transparent. The project of bad faith is pursued while the agent is fully aware of how things are in pre-reflective consciousness.

Bad faith is self-deceit. It raises the problem for accounting, for contradictory beliefs.

So self-deceit is a project which is constructed on healthy foundations.

Consciousness is healthy. Nothingness is very healthy. Choices, decisions, they can all lead to a healthy path of self-actualization, to use Maslow's term.

Why don't they? Why sometimes these healthy foundations become a poison tree? Why do they end badly with a bad faith project with inauthenticity? Why self-deceit? How can self-deceit be constructed on such extremely good foundations?

Because of inadequacies, inadequate representations of what one is.

Sartre dispensed with the unconscious. He seriously disliked the idea of unconscious. He said that the only lack, the only problem could be if we don't know who we are. If we don't have a clear view of our identity, if we don't have a path, if we don't know where we're going, not in the sense of mission-oriented, not in the sense of accomplishment-oriented, but who we are, the essence, the quiddity.

He said, if we don't know who we are, we misrepresent ourselves to ourselves.

And then if you are nobody, it's easy to become anyone. If there's nothing there, it's easy to put anything there. If there's no core, it's easy to adopt a core from the outside.

This is the bad faith project.

If you don't have a self, it's easy to not be yourself, but to be someone else.

I'm not expressing my views right now. I'm just describing Sartre's work. It's a point where I strongly disagree with him, but we'll come to it perhaps in a future lecture.

So there's a dichotomy, you remember, of consciousness and external objects.


And the first consequence is self-deceit in the case of a bad faith project.

But Sartre conflicted with Freud. He didn't buy Freud's theory of self-deceit, censorship mechanisms, repression, denial, something beyond the awareness of the subject, the unconscious.

Sartre rejected all this. He said that all these were copouts. He said Freud's theory is a copout. It's an alibi. It allows people to say, well, it's not my fault. It was my unconscious, or I don't know what came over me, or it's not me.

He said, forget all this. The agent is 100% responsible 100% of the time. I don't buy hidden forces. I don't buy hidden powerful energy-laden content that is repressed. I don't buy any of this. There's non-conscious. You are responsible, and you are responsible 100% of the time.

And the individual is responsible for any form of behavior, whether it's widespread or not, whether it's evil or not. The responsibility is a core pillar in Sartre's work, and existential psychology builds on this, even existential psychoanalysis.


Okay. So we said that bad faith projects of inauthenticity involve a misrepresentation of what it is to be.

Who are you? Your identity in the deepest, most essential sense. Not what are you going to do, because people confuse action with identity. What you're going to do is not who you are. What you're going to accomplish is not who you are.

The children you have is not who you are. Your wife is not who you are. Your car is not who you are. Who are you?

If you don't know the answer, you're going to fake it till you make it. You're going to improvise. You're going to lie to yourself. You're going to misrepresent yourself to yourself.

And then you're going to adopt a role, because you don't know who you are.

There's a void that needs to be filled. You remember Seinfeld? You're going to import something. You're going to bring in something from the outside, and this is going to become you. You're going to live an inauthentic life.

And Sartre has many forms you can read being in nothing. Sartre describes all of them.

But Sartre leaves out a very critical question in my view.

He tries to grapple with it, but not too successfully.

Why? Why would I adopt? Why would I serve Deceit?

Given the choice between authenticity and inauthenticity, why would I choose the latter? Why don't I choose to be me?

Put differently, why do some people misrepresent themselves to themselves, and other people are successful? They don't misrepresent themselves. They represent themselves faithfully. Faith. Faith is lacking here. Faithfulness.

All projects are part of the fundamental project of the construction of the self.

So what is the motivation?

When you're constructing the self, which is the most precious thing in the world for you, it's who you are. It's what you are.

Why would you go astray? Why would you risk your very consciousness? Why would you risk yourself, your self identity? Why would you risk all these supercritical things just to deceive yourself or to lie to yourself?

Remember when we were both younger and I said that every act of reflection and every act of questioning breaks down consciousness? This destroys the self because the minute you question, there was the period before you question and the period that you question.

The minute you reflect, there was a pre-reflective period and a reflective period. So these are cleavages, reflection and questioning, temporality, past and future and present.

All these break down, constantly break down your attempts to integrate.

You create a self, it's broken down when you question something. You create a self, it's broken down because time has passed.

And this self that you had created is now in the past. Time, human existence which involves all the time curiosity and questioning and reflection.

You can't help it. You can't suspend reflection. They break down the unitary nature of consciousness and the self.

They create cleavages. In other words, they make it impossible for you to form a self identity.

Sartre went as far as calling it the desire for being. I would have added the frustrated desire for being. This desire is universal and it has three forms.

It can be aimed at direct transformation of consciousness into an object, into an external object. Or consciousness may affirm the freedom that distinguishes it from external objects.

So it seeks through freedom to become its own foundation, to become essentially God.

So this is the second option.

Option one, identify with an external object.

Option two, consciousness becomes its own external object. So it becomes self-contained, self-sufficient, God-like.

And when you put these two together, it's consciousness aiming for another mode of being.

For a mode of being that is combo, combination of internal and external.

Unfortunately, none of these three is sustainable, even realizable.

If you adopt an external role, it's going to wear thin and ultimately you're going to be exposed.

The imposter syndrome, it's going to break down. It's not going to work.

If consciousness wants to become its own object, God-like, it's a problem. It's a problem of self-reference. It creates infinite regression and it creates an internal dialogue, which is bad faith dialogue.

And of course, it's near impossible to combine an external role with your genuine authentic identity, because by definition an external role is not yours.

So all three are very problematic. And they are reminiscent of Hegel's thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

But while Hegel's triad is stable, these attempts to integrate the environment, to integrate external roles and external objects, with internal processes such as consciousness and the formation of self, these attempts are unstable because they generate a lot of conflicts and a lot of dissonance.

We all desire to be, desire to being. Sartre said that the human condition is characterized by a desire for being.

But the only three ways we know to be, to become, they are irrational. They are dissonant. They are impossible. They are contradictory.

So we can't realize this desire for being. It remains forever unfulfilled.

And that is the core of mental illness and other phenomena. It's unhealthy state, actually, the desire for being.

So if desire for being is unhealthy, because it's irrational and impossible and so on and so forth, unsustainable, what's the alternative?

Well, the alternative is desire for nothingness. And desire for nothingness can be accomplished. It is rational, as I will show you in a future video, a future lecture.

So in Being and Nothingness, there are projects, projects of love. He describes projects, projects of love, projects of sadism, projects of masochism.

And he analyzed the lives of Baudelaire, Flaubert, Jean Genet, others, you know.

And he was the desire for being, the motivation for the fundamental project. And he said that it impacts the very nature of consciousness.

So it's a feedback loop. The desire for being leverages consciousness in ways which are frustrating, irrational and impossible.

And that inadequacy, this constant failure at the core of being human affects consciousness in return, modifies it.

The source of motivation for the fundamental project is within consciousness. Bad faith as a type of project is motivated exactly the same way.

The individual choice of fundamental project is an original choice.

But consciousness is ill-equipped to realize any fundamental project that is focused on being.

Why?

Because being involves an external dimension. There's no being. There's only being in. Being is not standalone. To be, to become, you must have an environment. You must be embedded in something. Being in reality, being in the world, being in the universe, being in God. You need an external context to be which negates consciousness, primary features, one of which is nothingness.

The rejection of the external, the rejection of external objects, the rejection of external roles is fake. Authenticity.

Authenticity is the opposite of being. You can't be authentic. To be authentic, you need nothingness. You need to engage in nothingness because then you are able to leverage your consciousness to the maximum.

No internal contradiction, conflict or dissonance is created. The minute you ask your consciousness to collaborate hand in hand amicably with reality, you had created an impossible conflict.

In a mutually exclusive situation, the minute you ask your consciousness to leverage its own properties, including the capacity to engage in nothingness, you have it going. You're successful.

Because consciousness is perfectly capable of generating choices and decisions out of freedom, which is a derivative of nothingness.

And with these choices and freedoms, you can construct yourself. You can finally reach the core of your identity.

An understanding of what it is to be someone must involve an attempt to decipher that someone's fundamental project.

The original choice of that someone. It's an hermeneutic exercise. It's an exercise at interpretation.

We need to reveal what makes an individual a unity.

Existentialism and especially existential psychoanalysis works around this. What was your original fundamental project? Was it a bad faith project? Are you deceiving yourself? Or are you willing to confront your responsibility, your freedom?

In other words, your nothingness? Are you willing to countenance? Are you willing to embrace? Are we willing to accept the anxiety that attends upon accepting responsibility?

Because responsibility means anxiety. Why?

Because when you act, when you question, when you reflect, you risk no answer. You risk nothingness. You risk negation. You risk annihilation. You risk annihilation.

So you need to analyze your behavior. You need to grasp the nature of your unity. You need to extricate the world from you. You need to be you, unadulterated by the world.

Allowing your consciousness to guide you into your personal unmitigated freedom via its capacity for nothingness, which gives rise to this freedom, which then allows you to make the appropriate good faith, authentic choices and decisions that will help you to become you.

Thank you for listening. Stay tuned.

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