divinemagicianheader new

You Are Responsible For Nothing

June 06, 2013


The famous philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that we are “condemned to freedom”. For Sartre this meant that we are responsible beings. However we are not merely responsible for the decisions we make. In addition to this he drew out how we are also responsible for the decisions we postpone or fail to act on.

This means that we are not only responsible for what we do, but also for what we don’t do. Like a poker player in the middle of a tournament, even doing nothing is an act that will help decide the direction of the game. In this way we are constantly waging on our existence. Every move, and every failure to move, closes down an infinite range of possible worlds while opening up an entirely new range.

There is then no way to escape the feeling of regret except through fully embracing this experience of freedom. For if we don’t act on something we can regret not doing so, if we delay an act we can regret not acting sooner and if we act straight away we can regret that too. Decide on something, or not, act or don’t, speak or stay silent: we are responsible for them all.

For Sartre it is common for us to try and escape the weight of this responsibility. In describing how this happens he once related a small incident he witnessed while watching a couple sitting across from one another. As he glanced over he noticed the man reach across the table and take hold of the woman’s hand (a sign of his desires). In return the woman neither pulled her hand away (that would send a clear sign that she was not interested in his advances), nor did she grip his hand (which would have signaled her acceptance of the advance). Instead she allowed her hand to lie limp in his.

For Sartre this little moment can help us understand what the attempt to abdicate our responsibility looks like. He called this desire to become passive passengers in life “bad faith.” Bad faith being the attempt to flee our responsibility in the hope that we might not have to bare the yoke of our freedom.

Yet Sartre’s point is that this attempt to flee freedom is just another manifestation of freedom. It is simply a futile attempt to deny it.

Instead of the impotent and impossible attempt to flee our freedom Sartre encouraged us to face it, embrace it and make resolute decisions in light of it.

The choice for him was not between taking responsibility or not, but rather between acknowledging our inherent responsibility or attempting to deny it.

So what do our current actions or inactions say about our relation to freedom? And what might we do differently if we were to fully embrace our responsibility and make decisions in the full knowledge that there are no guarantees and no way of going in every direction we would like?

5 Responses to You Are Responsible For Nothing

  1. Lana says:

    Great points. Its not just our actions that matter, but what we do not do with our lives is equally defining of them. We also see this very much in the postmodern generation in its cry for social justice.

  2. Jon says:

    In therapy this allows people to make HUGE strides in their lives. Being fully responsible for themselves and not expect others to take the blame.

  3. sharme says:

    Truth has set me free and that’s the problem.

  4. Samson says:

    its difficult to fully embrace responsibility when facing the abyss of freedom or no guarantee of direction/meaning. it likely will bring someone to despair… (did i see kierkegaard somewhere?)

    the answer lies i think somewhere in faith, not faith that even though i know theres no meaning i hope for it anyway, but faith that jumps right into the abyss, accepts the freedom, accepts the forgiveness of sins, and begins action, rather than dwelling in despair.

    I always found the image of the self inflicted wound that heals itself and leaves no scars very helpful here as well.

  5. Leah says:

    Human difficulty is inherent in the world-process, during life and after death too.
    There is no absolute Other-Power causing things to happen.
    Countless beings and forces both visible and invisible are causing things to happen.
    This is a beginningless and endless cause-and-effect comos.
    The pattern of the cosmos as it appears in any and every given moment is itself the totality of all causes and effects.
    There is no single anything in charge.
    Every thing is in charge.
    Every one, or every space-time located apparently separate individual,is in charge, as both cause and effect, moment to moment in space-time.

    Every one is having an effect on all others, and every one is suffering from the effects of all others. Which is to say that we all transmit our actual existential energetic condition throughout all of space-time.

    Which is why the collective human condition is in complete chaos.

    Scary huh!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *