Simone de Beauvoir believed that, “The programme laid down in our childhood allows us to do, know, and love only a limited number of things; when the programme is fulfilled and when we have come to the end of our possibilities, then death is accepted with indifference or even as a merciful release – it delivers us from that extreme boredom that the ancients called satietas vitae.” The notion that our childhood defines us is sound. Our genes (character, behaviour) interact with our environment, we form a sense of how the world works, and we build a set of values. The development of this unique set of emotionally important ideas lays down the foundation of what will or will not motivate us as adults.
Simone de Beauvoir thought our lives are programmed in childhood with a limited set of possibilities. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Like all those who place the ego’s false persona before all else, Simone De Beauvoir struggled mightily with the reality of death. She writes of “the scandal of finiteness,” referring to our inescapable mortality. When you insist on emphasizing your separateness and see yourself as merely an isolated conscious ego, it becomes inevitable that fear of the permanent extinction of consciousness — occasioned by physical death — will threaten your peace of mind. Death can become something of a preoccupation.
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre wanted more from life than it could give. (Photo: Wikipedia)
The real scandal here is de Beauvoir’s way of ignoring the bigger picture — the immortality of the human race, which transcends individual mortality. Unfortunately, for those locked into believing they are merely a self-made false persona, only the individual counts. They never look beyond the boundaries of self-absorption and never seem to learn that such selfishness comes at a terrible price. Placing too much emphasis on maintaining a false image is a massive source of anxiety. The chronic angst generated by the necessity of maintaining and defending an idealized false persona is confused with fear of death and labelled existential angst. However, it is the dread of humiliation and exposure as a fraud that really drives this kind of continuing anxiety. The more-immediate fear is the death of the false persona.
Sartre had an exaggerated need for freedom, which may have come from his experiences in Nazi-occupied France. (Photo: WPClipart)
Sartre proposed that “nothing” is both the ground of human existence and what makes human existence possible. Unfortunately, this strange reality also generates an anxiety so unbearable that we all yearn to fill the nothing with something. From the psychological perspective, arbitrarily filling the nothing with something is an attempt to falsify ourselves and become what we are not. The something with which we choose (using our freedom) to replace the nothing is the foundation of our personal inauthenticity. In other words, there is nothing within us so we must “fill the vacuum,” so to speak, with an artificially constructed sense of self. Sartre’s motive for taking this unusual line is his desire to eliminate the old notion of dualism and replace it with a new monistic vision. To eliminate the perceived inside versus outside duality of the human being, he had to propose a situation where there was but one thing.