To Sartre, consciousness was freedom. You're probably thinking, "Well, I have consciousness...," but just having it isn't enough. Consciousness is not a thing "en-soi" or in itself. But fear not, because the way human consciousness is constructed, it's always aware of something other than itself...which means, even if you don't find yourself today thinking you'd reject a Nobel Prize, there may come a day when, in fact, your consciousness will override your sense of ego and pride.
Hopeful, isn't it?
Sartre's "big deal" was that humanity is self-responsible. The danger of always looking to a higher power is that humanity tends to blame-shift a bit, shirking our own responsibilities. And it's true. We do tend to look up or down when looking for the "why" of any situation. "The devil made me do it" is a classic cliche that exhibits this kind of wrong thinking...or as Sartre would have put it, "mauvaise foi" or bad faith.
In order to truly be free, a person has to accept their total and complete consciousness in good faith--that means that you must ALWAYS be mindful, not by virtue of human constructs you've been taught (or preconceived notions such as religion or politics), but by CHOOSING to think and feel in the context of true reality. If an individual chooses to live consciously in good faith, that person, through self-responsibility, is truly free. Sartre believed freedom to be the universal human condition. We CHOOSE to be ignorant. We CHOOSE to be at war. We CHOOSE things like poverty. And to some extent, that is very true.
Of course, there are things we do not CHOOSE--like disease, like disability--that can effect our employment and so therefore, our wealth. And we may wonder what CHOICE we had after 9-11? How do you meet terrorism? What CHOICES can you make? Ah, so these are political problems, yes? Corporations don't exactly love to hire those who are sick or disabled--they are "liabilities." A good example of bad faith or mauvaise foi--but on the collective level--many individuals in agreement and acceptance of mauvaise foi. And governments don't take kindly to being attacked by terrorists. Naturally, the reaction is to defend the country. But what happens when that defense turns into offense? Collective bad-faith decisions that limit the freedoms of other individuals, like the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces. Soldiers do not make individual decisions to go to war. Their individual decisions usually include making their lives better through education and experience. But Sartre might argue that making a decision to be a part of a "militarized culture" was mauvaise foi en-soi, or bad faith in itself.
So we begin to see the conundrum with consciousness and freedom. The military is a way for many with social and economic disadvantages to gain education and experience in a world that requires both for financial success. So yes, ALL of us trade freedom everyday to make money...we have to to survive.
And that's why Sartre believed in Marxism. Though it would seem counter-intuitive with his ideas on self-responsiblity, we cannot be free as individuals to make good or bad faith decisions when ruled by capitalism. How about that piece of dry toast to go with your morning coffee??? ;)
That's the beauty of human consciousness: It sees more than itself, which means our consciousness has a tendency to evolve. And evolutuon doesn't stop. Evolution, by virtue of constant motion, is chaos. In a good way. We humans don't always like change. That's because we hate the idea of impermanence...hate it because we fear it. We are mortal, unlike our fantastical vampire friends in pop culture. Change brings each of us closer to death. But that's a philosophy lesson for another time. More on the Buddhist end of the spectrum.
For now, we'll have to settle for just considering how to IMPROVE our freedom through increased self-responsibility--it's an existentialist journey you'll want to take, especially for your future generations. Sartre's ideas on consciousness had their flaws (naturally, all human ideas are flawed by virtue of our limited condition), but the one thing that is remarkably empowering about Sartre's consciousness is that it takes away the victim-mentality. Yes, bad things happen that are beyond an individual's control. But so what? If that individual lives in good faith with her consciousness, she has the ability to move beyond the circumstantial.
So while Sartre couldn't solve all of our problems for us, his ideas about self-responsibility and consciousness certainly earned him his place as an icon of twentieth century existentialism (the philosophy of human existence). The next time you find yourself blaming others, think again. Don't be a victim. Lead yourself to increased freedom by taking self-responsibility. It's not an easy path, this I know too well. But the first step is making a good faith decision to be more mindful. Everything follows from there. It's a journey--and we are all learning. The excitement and joy at such discovery is like walking in the woods with a blue sky overhead, a summer breeze warmly caressing your cheek, and seeing a volpus volpus, or red fox, unexpectedly and serendipitously cross your path, with three babies in tow.
Last weekend was cupcakes, this weekend--consciousness. Both are equally delicious, though working on your consciousness is infinitely less fattening (at least, in certain ways...).
Until next time, dear readers!