Ever since we discussed the true meaning of life and what our values actually mean, I’ve been thinking about the idea of existentialists being a “threat” to society while also perhaps being the smartest (and maybe the dumbest?).
The reason why I think characters like Mersault, from The Stranger, is incredibly smart and self-unaware at the same time, is because of the fact that he disregards the feelings of others when making choices about how he acts. In some sense, he ignores what we think of as core values; with that, he also avoids the suffering and pain that comes with each of those values. Of course, he still is confined to certain parts of society; such as work, living expense, etc. however, he’s either hyper-aware or unaware (or at least works to be unaware) of other’s actions and feelings. Despite these things, Mersault is perhaps on the smarter end of society (according to existentialists) because he is aware of the illusions of our core values (or is he?). He therefore escapes all the pain and suffering that comes with these values. The idea of avoiding pain and suffering by detaching yourself form the societal norms is smart in some sense but also makes people around you think you’re a sociopath.
I think one of the main reasons we, as a society, find people like Mersault so repulsive, is because he does not abide by what we consider as societal norms (such as being empathetic or sympathetic towards different people and situations). He is what we define in society as a sociopath. If he ignores people’s emotions and puts no effort in being sympathetic and empathetic towards others, he is therefore following what existentialists believed living for yourself meant. Be truthful to others no matter what? Fulfill human potential by living for yourself and only yourself? A.k.a, radical subjectivity. However, because these are the core values of radical subjectivity and existentialism, does that mean all existentialists and those that live by the idea of radical subjectivity are sociopaths?
Honestly I think I’m going off on a tangent at this point. Let me move on. Mersault is seen as a threat in society to not only the other characters in the book, but also to us, the readers. He lacks so much in human empathy and sympathy that we view him as unable to have these thoughts and therefore a sociopath– which we often view as a threat. Because we view sociopaths as a threat to society, it often leads us to punishing them. This is seen in The Stranger when Mersault is punished and faces consequences for killing the Arab. He showed no remorse in court when he was being tried for the murder which is exactly what the prosecutor used to his advantage when he was speaking to the jury (83-102). Because we view sociopaths as a threat to society, is it just to punish them? I think it depends on what they do and how they act on their lack of empathy and sympathy. In Mersault’s case, I think yes, he is deserving of punishment but the idea of shaming sociopaths BECAUSE they are sociopaths does not make sense to me. Again, I’m going off on a tangent but I’m thinking of some comments people made in my class today.
The idea that Mersault has a mental issue, is often brought up in my class really intrigues me. Do we shame those that have a hard time showing emotions in society? Why do we do that? I’m ending here because I think if I write anymore, I’m just going to get more confused with myself and my tangled ideas.