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2014年7月19日 星期六

A living symbol of Human Freedom

Liberty is not something granted or bestowed upon us by any government, any authority, terrestrial or non-terrestrial. It is something which we are born with. Jean-Jacques Rousseau said in the 18th century: "Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains." And what is political liberty for Rousseau?  It's "immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority; political independence.".

A man who spent all his life trying to break those chains, and not merely political chains, is Jean Paul Sartre. He is a brilliant writer who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1959 but refused to accept it because he did not want to be incorporated into what he thought was the "bourgeois" establishment.

Sartre was the top student in the French national examination which may be roughly considered the equivalent of what used to be our "matriculation" examination. The second in that examination was Simone de Beauvoir, who became his lifetime lover and the author of The Second Sex.

Throughout his life, he was dedicated to the idea that man is truly free. He is free even to be inconsistent because he thinks a man has the right and the duty to go against even his own previous ideas and to deny and denounce his own past when the new situation makes such  past a hindrance rather than a help.

He became a member of the French Resistance when France was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War Two, then joined the French army and was made a prisoner of war. When he was released, he felt the need to be committed to the cause of revolutionizing France from its conventional bourgeois values. He joined forces with the French communists in the cause of its attempts to turn France into a socialist republic and for a time even became a Maoist but fell out with them in May 1968, when he helped the spontaneous student movement because of the French communists' refusal to support the revolution led by the students' and workers' own leaders, mainly because they wanted to have the revolution to go in the direction intended by the French Communist Party.

He is most famous for his idea that "existence precedes essence" meaning that a man is not subject to any pre-determined definition of what he is but instead must "create" his own values and determine the purpose and meaning of his own life not only through what he thinks but also by what he "does."

Contrary to what many people think, he thinks that to most people, freedom is a horrifying idea, something unthinkable because when one realizes that one is almost absolutely free to do anything he wishes subject only to the contingencies of his genes and his environment, with his future a complete blank, a dark void, an obscure nothingness, something completely open to his own "creation", one may find the burden too much, a terrible and insupportable weight upon their own conscience.  They would have lost the kind of "security" which their own "slave mentality" provides them. They would prefer just doing what "everybody" else is doing and follow the the majority, the herd, the crowd, the "others" and allow their lives to be guided by the latest fashion, the newest fads and the most recent trend. If not, they will have to experience and "live" the intolerable loneliness and unbearable uncertainty which a man who is the master of his own destiny must face vis-à-vis his own unknown future. They'd much rather live by other people's standards, the standards of say a Christian or some other god or some other religion, or of a political party, a particular ideology, a particular philosophy of life, in short some ready-made systems of values and form of "ism". To Sartre, this is "mauvais fois" or bad faith, infidelity to what a man can be were he willing to exercise the freedom with which he is born( a freedom which is his birthright), to make the relevant choices and be brave enough to be held accountable  for the consequences  of such choices. But whether a man is prepared to live up to his responsibility to himself, he is "condemned" to be free. He is free to act as his own master or someone else's slave. Either way, he has to choose. There is simply no way he can escape this curse of "absolute freedom".

A time for decision has come for the people of Hong Kong. Each of us can choose to be his/her own master/mistress or be somebody else's slave.

But if it's of any help, they have for reference the controversial example of the life of Jean Paul Sartre(1905-1980), philosopher, novelist, playwright, literary critic and political activist, who honestly lived in the kind freedom he firmly believes, rightly or wrongly, that everyone has and with commitment to whatever he has chosen, like a man. And what a life that was! Never in the history of the world had 50,000 people attended the funeral of a philosopher including the president of the country which gave birth to such a living symbol of freedom!.