Some Thoughts On Don Juanism

What is Don Juanism?  It is, perhaps, most easily expressed by this simple Latin phrase made famous by the film Dead Poets Society: “carpe diem!” or “seize the day!”  Loosely defined, it describes a certain disposition or attitude toward life which is explained by the French existentialist Albert Camus in his influential book The Myth of Sisyphus.

According to Camus, Don Juanism is not a system or a formula but a general outline suggesting a way in which the “absurd man” might proceed in a world devoid of intrinsic meaning or value.  Who is the “absurd man” you ask?  The man who acknowledges the world is meaningless—and, that there is no hope of a life after death—yet, seeks to ascribe or, at least, search for meaning anyway.    The absurd man, when faced with the dilemma of nihilism, may choose (following the manner of that famous womanizer Don Juan) to suck the marrow out of each moment of his existence.  He does not dwell upon the past nor does he worry about his inevitable fate (i.e., death, dissolution, and non-being) but seeks to experience as much pleasure (not necessarily erotic pleasure; but typically so) as possible here and now.  He is driven by passion, desire and self-love.  He chooses not to limit himself—to narrow himself—to the love of but one creature but to share himself with all.  As Camus explains:

“Don Juan, as well as anyone else, knows that this [i.e., love which limits itself to but one creature] can be stirring.  But he is one of the very few who know that this is not the important thing . . . A mother or a passionate wife necessarily has a closed heart, for it is turned away from the world. A single emotion, a single creature, a single face, but all is devoured. Quite a different love disturbs Don Juan, and this one is liberating. It brings with it all the faces in the world, and its tremor comes from the fact that it knows itself to be mortal. Don Juan has chosen to be nothing.”

In short, Don Juanism suggests we adopt a god complex. In the face of the void it calls for us to create meaning and value in accordance with our likes and dislikes (we, thus, become the truth). It further challenges us to extend ourselves–our vitality–as far as possible; to transcend limitations and take in as much of this life that we can. Yet, ironically, under the impetus that one day we shall no longer exist and, thus, no longer experience.

It is safe to say that this is a way of approaching life many in our culture–especially those in Hollywood and the music industry–have embraced and enthusiastically promote. We are constantly told to live in the moment; to be true to ourselves (i.e., to passively allow our irrational instincts and biological impulses to dictate who we are); to release our sexuality; to hold nothing back. We are told to liberate ourselves from the shackles of traditional mores and moral constraints. This means moving away from longterm, monogamous relationships and diving headlong into unabashed–unrestricted–eroticism. We hear this ever so loudly in the music industry (Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, or Beyoncé are but a few examples).

The lines become increasingly blurred as we seek to extend ourselves and to experience as much as we can: oral sex with members of both genders, multiple sex partners, bisexuality, polygamy, androgyny, threesomes, orgies, unrestricted masturbation, sex toy’s, hooking up with strangers, pornography, beastiality–the sky’s the limit! All this in an effort to establish our identity; to authenticate ourselves.

Note, however, the basic premise underlying Don Juanism (inadvertently expressed in the quote I shared from Camus): individuals or persons become nothing. There is no intrinsic value or dignity to the person–in the world according to Don Juan we are but brief irrational manifestations of the monolith that is the cosmos. And, the cosmos is unconscious, unaware, uncaring, and purposeless. You and I are, thus, non-being; because we (whatever “we” designates) are temporary, unidentifiable, meaningless blips, in a long series of meaningless blips, destined to fade out and be utterly forgotten. There is nothing concrete or eternal about us. We have no essence and, thus, no identity. And, to renounce identity is to renounce existence.

So I ask myself: What kind of freedom is this? The answer comes quickly: It is a freedom without hope; and, hence, not true freedom. It is a freedom built on an illusion; and, hence, not true freedom. What silly and pathetic little god’s we have become! God’s incapable of changing our fate; god’s with only the illusion of self; god’s with the mere illusion of being able to shape the way things are. Don Juanism requires the impossible–it requires something to come from nothing. It requires the unidentifiable to create identity; the non-existent to bring forth existence.

But, from out of nothing, comes nothing. The “absurd” man is far more absurd than Camus dared to imagine.


What’s Wrong With the World – Selfishness

Related Book: Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Ever Before by Jean Twenge

In exploring what is wrong with the world, I think we must discuss the aspect of selfishness. It’s not difficult to realize that we live in an incredibly selfish society, mostly because selfishness drives our economy.  Unfortunately, thought it has created a good economy, it has also created a morally bankrupt society, which ironically enough is leading us to a financially bankrupt society as well.

What is selfishness?

Selfishness can best be summed up as, “Looking out for myself first and all others second.” A selfish individual is someone who will look to his own desires first with little to no consideration for other people’s desires or feelings.

The other night I was walking into a store and saw a young person trying to wrestle away a case of beer from a security guard. When other people began to intervene, the young person dropped the case of beer and ran off. In this case, the young person represented what it is to be selfish; he gave no regard to the people who would lose money by him stealing that case of beer (most notably the store employees), but rather only cared that he got what he wanted. This, however, is an obvious and extreme example of selfishness.

Another form of selfishness is when we ask ourselves, “What can I get out of this?” For instance, if someone asks for you to donate money to the crisis in Haiti or to some other crisis and you respond you don’t have the money, you might have a legitimate excuse. Of course, if we find out that you’re paying money to keep your cable TV, your internet, to buy new clothes (when the ones you have aren’t tattered), or other uses to spend on yourself, it becomes apparent that you are selfish.

Some might read that and go, “I worked hard for that money so I should be able to use it how I desire.” And that is true to a certain extent. There’s nothing wrong with having luxury items or being rich – the problem is when we fail to use that money for good as well. It is popular in our culture right now to lament against the rich and accuse them of being the epitome of selfishness, but most of the people who complain about the rich are just like the rich, only with less money. It doesn’t matter if someone is a millionaire or lives from paycheck to paycheck; if both use their money for luxury items (like cable TV or a yacht) and barely come to the aid of those in need, then both are selfish, regardless of their income.

Even in our ethics we have become selfish. The ethic of hedonism has invaded America in full force. The belief is that so long as you don’t bring physical harm to someone, who cares what you do? If it makes you happy then do it. This argument is often used in the debate on homosexual marriage, that since two people getting married doesn’t impact anyone else (since we’ve forgotten that marriage has major social consequences), who cares what two individuals do? If an individual wants to use drugs, so long as he doesn’t hurt anyone else, who cares? Look at how many men and women don’t want to have kids because it would ruin the lifestyle they enjoy, of going out late, not having kids crying in the home, and so on. Or how many women don’t want children because it would ruin their body, or how many men bolt when they find out their girlfriend is pregnant or become emotionally distant when the wife is pregnant. The reason is we’re selfish and can’t imagine sacrificing our desires for someone else.

This ethic, however, is ignored in other cases. In the case of abortion and even some proponents of infanticide, even if the individual’s desires brings harm on the fetus or infant, that’s fine. We irrationally and unscientifically declare that the fetus or infant is not really a full human or not a person and therefore justify our selfishness. In the case of Judith Jarvis Thompson, she even acknowledges that the fetus might be a person, but still allows harm to befall the fetus in the defense of personal happiness and comfort.

We can look to the numerous cases of a man leaving his wife for another man or a woman leaving her husband for another woman and, regardless of how much that action hurt the spouse or the children, such an action is celebrated because it brought happiness to the offending party. Or what about when adultery occurs, but we justify it because “It makes the person happy!” In these cases, harm is done to an individual and a victim is created, but so long as happiness exists, for the offending party we don’t care.

So even the hedonism in America with the one clause, “Do not harm others in your pursuit of happiness” is not consistently followed; even if our pursuit of happiness will harm others, if we can justify such a harm, then we can continue our pursuit. We allow the harm to occur because we are selfish.

Selfishness is found in all aspects of our society, from the rich to the poor, among all races, all classes, and all business structures. We are a society founded upon looking out for ourselves first and other second.

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