Tuesday, November 27, 2012


My psychologist gives me homework. Most recently, my homework was to approach the world with faith. Faith is equivocal here.

On one hand, faith refers to believing that the world will support my weight rather than swallow it or shrug it off. It also means having confidence that not everything is on the absolute verge of chaos, violence, and madness--for instance, that the broad walkway through the campus will not suddenly become a gauntlet of brutal punishment just for me.

For the most part, this is all true. I think I can be forgiven maintaining doubt while riding my bicycle through intersections of truck routes in Turlock. And while one goal of this exercise of faith is to release me from anxiety and behaving like prey, once again I believe it's prudent to regard myself as potential quarry while cycling. I admit, also, that on campus I have never been physically attacked, and only four or five times verbally abused, and only a dozen or so times even sneered at. (Of course, I am omitting interactions with administrators from this enumeration.)

Another sense of the word faith that I particularly draw from is Sartre's usage in Being and Nothingness to name actions with regard to freedom and responsibility. It's important, I suppose, to act as much as possible in good faith--self-consciously acknowledging that every action creates values and an image of how human life should be lived. To a great degree, I see my prey behavior as bad faith, because it is obviously an attempt to avoid what makes me anxious.

I'm reading an excerpt from Sartre's "Existentialism is a Humanism" with my Intro class, so this is coming back to mind afresh. One problem critics see in Sartre's approach is his overemphasis on a Cartesian concept of consciousness. Sartre's stuff often reads as if he imagines that we can have entirely transparent self-understanding and complete conscious control over ourselves.* But, since anxiety is a lizard-brain response (hence its emergence out of no known or visible causes when walking on campus, e.g.), the way to fight back against your amygdala is by being more aware of anxiety, not trying to diminish it by acting on it. In fact, acting on it increases it, because your stupid amygdala watches you skulking around looking for somewhere to hide, and responds by jumping up and down and shouting "See! Danger! If there weren't, you wouldn't be hiding!"

It's tough acting in good faith, as Sartre himself would tell you. Plus, it makes me want to make my anxieties public, as a way to face them. There are certain things I really shouldn't say to people I come across on campus, and my psychologist also told me to do something to make myself noticed, as a counter-strategem. Yet I'm sure it's not the best coping strategy if I want to be regarded as (1) sane, (2) reliably discreet, and (3) reasonably appropriately professional. Maybe I'll keep a little notebook.

It's a misreading, I believe. I think freedom and responsibility come at the point of decision and action. That means that I become responsible for, say, a feeling, when I choose how to value that feeling and how to act on it. For instance, like everyone, I feel very attracted to some people and very repulsed by others. That's not super significant until I do something about it. That doesn't just mean making passes at the attractive people and punching the repulsive ones. I'm still choosing and taking responsibility when I just enjoy being around the attractive people and punching the repulsive ones.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Going to remember that point about not behaving like Prey... I like it.

Not everyone is out to screw everyone else all the time. Note to self.