Every debate, every vote, every meeting is now an ‘existentialist crisis’. Every pundit peppers their arguments with words such as ‘freedom’, ‘responsibility’, ‘choice’, ‘essence’ and ‘identity’. I have even read of one columnist’s ‘existential angst’ at the prospect of a possible result.
And, then, a couple of days ago, David Davis accused the European Commission of ‘bad faith’.
‘Mauvais foi’ is, of course, a key concept in Sartre’s thinking, and in the context of the Brexit negotiations, it is damning. It refers to self-deception, the way in which we think that we do not have the freedom to make a choice because we are afraid of the consequences of making this choice. (It’s more complex than that of course but it is early on Monday morning after a late night- see below!)
Sitting in Deux Magots or Café Flore, comme d’habitude, the example which springs immediately and inevitably to Sartre’s mind is that of the waiter, who is striving to be everything which he thinks a waiter should be. In other words, he is play-acting a rôle, the role of a waiter whose essence is to be a waiter.
But in order to play the role, he must know, by definition, that he is not actually a waiter at all. He is a conscious human being who is deceiving himself into thinking that he is a waiter.
From the example of this waiter, Sartre develops the notion that while we may pretend that we do not have freedom of choice, we cannot pretend that we are not ourselves; that we are not conscious human beings disconnected from our pragmatically-lived lives. (His conclusion, famously, is that we are ‘condemned to be free’.)
Many of the ‘players’ in the Brexit melodrama are clearly playing roles. I am thinking here in particular of Johnson and Rees-Mogg.
The former is the jester, the fool, the buffoon. The latter is the “MP for the eighteenth century”, the toff from the kids’ comics of my generation.
Sartre points out that his waiter is too “waiteresque”: “his movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid”.
Johnson and Rees-Mogg – and Davis and Barnier also in different ways – are deceiving themselves into thinking that they are authentic politicians. Their over-exaggerated histrionics, their method acting, betrays them.
They are acting inauthentically.
Today from the everysmith vaults: My late night was the result of attending a gig by Live Dead 69. Tom Constanten of the Dead, Slick Aguilar of the Starship and Mark Karan of Ratdog gave forty or fifty ageing groovers a great show last night, close - on occasion - to authentic performances of some of the songs that defined us.
The show is firmly and clearly in my head, but as part of a continuing winding down from last night's high, I'm playing a show from Asbury Park a couple of years ago: Live Dead 69 with the Jefferson family.