Existentialism could only have arisen from the ashes of nihilism; Western Philosophy, spanning the spectrum of metaphysics, epistemology, Rationalism, Empiricism and the tradition of questioning origins, essences and the compendium of who we are and what it all means, does not lead to the natural annihilation of intellectual curiosity. But Existentialism, does. Why? Because Existentialism is an emotional reaction, rather than a rational rebuttal.
From the horrors of Nazi concentration camps and the denigration of human dignity reduced to mere abstractions, the philosophy of negation of which it is characterized, is more of a “sense” approach than a logical methodology of comprehension and understanding. Thus, while traditional philosophy was always denoted by a curiosity towards abstraction, Existentialism was pulled back by a retractive revulsion because of the alienating impact of conceptualization.
That is why the most powerful explication of the philosophy of Existentialism is found in a novel by Camus (reference, The Stranger or The Plague), and not in reading Sartre’s meandering explanation (Being and Nothingness) of a confused attempt to systematize the emotive side of man. Thus, in reading Camus, one gets the “sense” of separation, abandonment, distance and alienation of man from the community of others; whereas, in reading the traditional philosophical works — take any page from Plato, Aristotle or the Medievals — one enters an universe of order, systematized approach, and methodological rationalization emanating from curiosity and questioning.
The two approaches, however, are not unrelated; for, it is precisely because of the traditional training of discussing concepts in abstract form (and thereby separating the thought-process from human touch and interaction) that disregarding the humanity of a living being could be achieved. In more provincial terms, it is easier to be cruel to a concept, than to one’s own child or spouse. And, indeed, that is how we survive in advancing our purposive actions of harassment and sheer meanness; by objectifying “the other”, we can bifurcate our minds and categorize the subject into something less.
Supervisors do it to workers and underlings; no longer is the worker a fellow human being, but “that ## % !!”.
For Federal Government employees and U.S. Postal Service workers who are contemplating filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the lessons learned and gleaned from the reactive lens of Existentialism may be twofold: First, don’t expect sympathy from the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service because you have a medical condition (that, unfortunately, is probably self-evident and a “given” already), and Second, do not expect cooperation or efficiency to suddenly prevail when engaging the Federal Agency or the U.S. Postal Service, merely because the need to obtain Federal OPM Disability Retirement should in and of itself touch a sense of empathy.
In neither case will a positive response be evoked.
Ultimately, the bureaucratic process of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal employee or U.S. Postal worker is under the FERS or CSRS retirement system, is a surreal experience, and one in which the sense of alienation felt by Existentialism is encountered throughout. That is because, in the end, the Federal or Postal applicant in a Federal Disability Retirement case is none other than a mere “other”, and no more than an abstraction to be gotten rid of, like the distraction you became when once you were no longer fully productive on the assembly line of life’s refuse of illegitimacy.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire