Existential vertigo

In CoPhi today, a raft of Existentialists plus Freud and Russell.

Sarah Bakewell’s Existentialist Cafe nods at founding forebears Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. “Both were individualists, and both were contrarians by nature, dedicated to making people uncomfortable. Both must have been unbearable to spend more than a few hours with.” People who assert their radical freedom to reinvent themselves perpetually and unpredictably, the eternal prerogative of youth, do tend to make others uncomfortable. “This constant choosing brings a pervasive anxiety, not unlike the vertigo that comes from looking over a cliff.”

Kierkegaard, as we noted the other day, was a peripatetic. Bakewell says he was hard to walk with, as he “considered it a matter of principle to throw people off their stride.” A comfortable rhythmic gate, he thought, makes us forgetful of existence and “the dizziness of freedom.”

That’s one way to look at it. But Sartre’s companion Simone de Beauvoir saw that existential freedom can also correct and arrest the dizziness that comes from gratuitous socially-imposed and self-imposed gender restrictions.

Citizen Tom Paine also took a different approach to freedom, emphasizing less its capacity to induce vertigo than the way it empowers us all to resist dogmatism and servility to one’s own thoughtlessness, and to think for ourselves.

In Atheism today Russell writes of Paine, who was also one of Christopher Hitchens’ contrarian heroes. Hitch cites Paine‘s Voltaire-esque advocacy of free expression:

“You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”

In Bioethics, we consider “Assistance”: the idea of Assisted Living, and how it’s been compromised by charlatans who like the sound but not the reality of acknowledging the freedom of older people. What would Tom Paine say about that?

5:30/6:09, 55/81

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