In light of so much destruction in our world – from the violence inside individual homes to beyond and between national borders – how is it still possible to hope for and to live toward a vision of beauty and peace for the world?
It was at a community college in LA in my Psychology 4 class that I first formally encountered existentialism. When it came to the time of the semester to teach on that topic, our professor, Eric Fiazi, came alive in a new way, energetically teaching us about existentialism and Jean-Paul Sartre. Professor Fiazi dramatically gestured and sketched on the board as he explained the concept of ‘nothingness’ and Sartre’s well-known proposition that “existence precedes essence.” Teaching psychology was for him a means of teaching what he truly loved, art and existentialism. He believed these subjects helped expand students’ horizons and helped make them happy and productive members of society. And so these class sessions were his favorite to teach – and mine to experience. Immediately, I was hooked.
I remember the moment he hit the chalk to the board – leaving a speck of a mark – telling us that the tiny little mark left on the great wide chalkboard was like our galaxy, tiny against the great vastness of the universe; the earth, a particle of chalk-dust in comparison, and our individual lives, imperceptible in its midst (it now reminds me of Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot monologue). Engaging the students, he countered each one of their assertions that humans indeed have an essence, a meaning. “Humans are good by nature” – “Humans are inherently selfish beings” – “Humans are created in the image of god” – “We are each created for a purpose”; for each of these he gave a clear and logical retort. I was fascinated! What would it mean to live a life with no inherent meaning – with no essence to determine or guide our existence? How might it be different to live my life stripped of any assumed or inherited sense of meaning or purpose – to instead give these up and start from a presupposition of nothingness? Continue reading “Feminism and My Existentialist Leanings by Xochitl Alvizo”