by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
"Hell is other people." — Jean-Paul Sartre
The fact that others objectify my subjectivity momentarily devalues that subjectivity. However, in objectifying their subjectivity, I restore my own. I am the world, so don’t butt in with your own. This, I think, is what Sartre was saying in this oft-quoted line. I would like to give it a different spin.
Other people are hell to the extent that we ever expected them to be anything else than what they are, namely, people. If we expect them to be saints or sages, they will most certainly disappoint us. And, if we let it, that will torment us.
Perhaps I am just a misanthrope, but it seems to me that every individual human being, and humanity as a whole, is pretty messed up. Yes, there are wonderful qualities in most everyone and in every society, but the fact remains, we are a mess. Ask Earth. Spend time in Africa. Consider your own country. Join a ‘community’. Be honest with yourself.
Or maybe it's just me.
Every religious sect, or spiritual persuasion (which usually amounts to the same thing), has its hagiology, its saints. The best saints are dead. Indeed, the only truly good saint is a dead one. Otherwise, if they are assessable to us, they are eventually revealed as just people. And to discover that your saint is an ego-bound mess just like you, is hell indeed. Perhaps this explains the cognitive dissonance required to see any living person as a saint, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. It's easier to believe a lie than to face the truth.
The fact is, of course, that as I said before, Pogo had it right: "We have seen the enemy, and they is us." We are people and part of being a person is to find the imperfections of other people hellish. This is a curious thing, since we are all equally imperfect. And there is no greater evidence of this than that another’s ego should upset my own.
True 'saintliness', if there is any such thing, must certainly be to care nothing about, and be absolutely unaffected by, any of these messes at all, including one’s own. And that would seem to require a transcendence of ego whereby there would be no ‘face’ or ‘space’ to lose. That would be heaven indeed. But to believe this 'saintliness' to actually be manifest in someone else, would most likely be to just invite more hell. It is never really about ‘other people’ at all, saintly or otherwise, but always just about ‘me’.
You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.