Existentialism’s limit: relationality

One of existentialism’s givens is isolation (or alienation). Another is death; we are mortal beings who inevitably perish.

In a relational universe, how can it be that we are inherently alone? This fact would imply that we each die alone, also.

Yet we come into being–are thrown into the world–birthed through the love shared by two individuals. We ultimately die, following a path shared by every living being whose lives already ceased.

We are never truly alone, contra-modern existentialism.

How humanity saves the planet

Learned helplessness explains, more than psychological disorder, why those with high concern for the environment are not as engaged behaviorally. We learn helplessness when a problem feels too big, threatening, abstract–or remote. Abstractness correlates positively with psychological (spatial; temporal; experiential) distance.

When psychological distance is too great, our connection to things or people suffers. When we are disconnected from a situation, it holds no sway over our actions: we feel no will to improve it. The problem persists, and we lose the game.

How do we close psycho-environmental distance? Make a situation’s proximal features apparent. Show people how a global problem is local–perhaps even in their own cities. (Obviously, don’t create problems unnecessarily!)

The above is only one path to solving (e.g.) global climate change. Psychological distance can be bridged by appealing to people’s identities, foremost. These include their political values: liberals tend to show more innate concern for the environment; conservatives are moved more by appeals to, for example, purity.

Social identity is also important: when people feel part of a global collective, they are motivated to get pro environmental. Understanding the cultural psychology of motivation and behavior (conation) facilitates global sustainability. The world’s psychological diversity can then be leveraged to solve environmental problems, like climate change (or pre-societal coronavirus). Appealing to global social identification, pro-sociality (via viral altruism, e.g. social media sharing of good deeds), and distinct political values will help us understand the diverse cultural psychology necessary to leverage.

What does the “psychological diversity” just mentioned consist of? It consists of individualistic and collectivistic sociocultures, along with personality factors. Individualistic individuals are motivated more by personal belief, while collectivists are moved by social influence. Pro-environmental behavior correlates positively with the personality factors Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Openness (e.g., appreciation of aesthetics–i.e., that of nature).

We know–further–that values, beliefs, and “norms” are important for motivating pro-environmentalism. When people believe that their values are threatened, they become more likely to defend what they cherish. For many of us, this is the natural environment.

I’ve performed case studies of important environmentalists in Rachel Carson, Al Gore, Greta Thunberg, Wangari Maathai, and Chico Mendes. By focusing on how they have led their lives in inspiring and self-actualizing ways, I determined what made–and, in Al and Greta’s cases, makes–them unique leaders. My efforts fill a gap in environmental psychology, but this is not the only gap that exists. It will be up to us moving forward to uncover the specific links between the actions taken by an exemplary few with the global plan to preserve the natural environment.

It is up to all of us to do this!

The existentialism of Yu-Gi-Oh!

Meaning – Friendship is inherently meaningful: it is worth laying one’s life on the line, and fighting, for.

Death – Individuals can be sent to the Shadow Realm, usually after losing a Duel. In the original dub, these players are killed (reversibly).

Anxiety – Any Duel can be marked by increased anxiety. The higher the stakes, the greater the anxiety!

Isolation – Players who are sent to the Shadow Realm must try to learn how to live by themselves, usually in a state of never-ending torture…rarely, the heroic protagonist must fight the final boss for himself*!

Freedom – Duelists fight to free their friends–and, ultimately, the world–from the Shadow Realm.

*Perhaps someday, herself?

Pokémon and Shakespeare

Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet (Act II, Scene II): “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. Centuries later, the creators of the Pokémon: Indigo League anime series made an episode titled, “Island of the Giant Pokémon”. In this, Team Rocket’s Pokémon Ekans and Koffing defend their actions against Ash Ketchum’s partners, claiming that they are not bad–rather, their human trainers are.

These two scenes, despite being from distinct media and stories, are related. Both deal with morality, without explicit use of the term “evil”. Hamlet says to Rosencrantz that morality is merely relative to a given observer’s subjective perception and interpretation. Team Rocket’s Pokémon have a somewhat distinct take: they state that good and evil are determined by particular kinds of beings, i.e., authoritative humans.

It is we who have the power to attach ethical valence to actions (or even things, e.g. the atomic bomb); yet we also are characterized by said valences, ourselves. To quote Rafael from the Yu-Gi-Oh! Season 4 dub, speaking to the Pharaoh of Yugi’s Millennium Puzzle: “Are you good? Or, are you evil?” This becomes the question for each of us to wrestle with.

The “good” self-actualizing environmentalist

What makes a good self-actualizing environmentalist? For Robert Hartman the axiologist, a good X fulfills its concept’s definition. A good self-actualizing environmentalist has attended sufficiently to their lower four need types–physiological, safety, love, and esteem (probably, but not necessarily, in this order). Further, they self-actualize in the 13 ways outlined by Maslow in being creative, spontaneous, humorous, etc.

Continental gobbledygook!

“Man is a useless passion” is what Nietzsche’s Superman idea boils down to, and the meaning here ought not to be misunderstood. There can be no greater absurdity than the annihilation of inherent, objective meaning in life, other than to negate the value we place on our selves. Once the latter is done, there is no ideal worth striving for–and so, no life really worth living.

An ideal that would even dare to be so hollow as to be attainable is no real ideal. This is laughably reflective of the all-too-familiar tendency we have to think happiness–happiness in its most basic form!–is something we hope to finally reach. And to place the fool’s foot one step past this inconsistent nonsense, to physically touch an ideal? This is the end of one non-truth and the beginning of the most self-destructive project: the negation of any existential truth, whatever.

Man is a useless passion, and I hold out hope that he’ll stay that way. He is free when he realizes and affirms it!

Walking the middle way of acceptance

At the end of his TEDx Talk, speaker Dylan Woon presents two possibilities following acceptance. These routes are:

1. Live peacefully with the situation

2. Strive actively to change things

Might there be a third, hidden middle route to walk between these two paths? Perhaps one must shift back-and-forth between these options until the new situation solidifies. Whatever mode of existence one has decided on at this point may be the middle way of the accepted reality.

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