Sunday, December 6, 2009

There's no "u" in special

The existential video with the two dots raises an interesting question about existentialism.

One of the dots is upset because he depends on the internet for his happiness. I think that his use of the internet is very existential. When we create a facebook page, we are creating meaning for our lives. We decide which pictures to take and how they should look and which pictures to use to represent ourselves. We also describe ourselves: we list our jobs then describe them by saying “mindless but it pays,” or list books that we like to prove our intelligence or knowledge of culture. By picking and choosing “what matters” in our lives and what represents us, we are creating meaning and therefore engaged in an existential act.

However, one of the reasons that the dot becomes so dependent on the internet is because he needs to see that there are more things about him on the internet each morning. I take this to mean that other people need to respond or other people need to make reference to his life in order for him to feel fulfilled. It seems that he feels a need for other people to recognize the meaning he has made and if he cannot achieve this then he feels his meaning is not real. The friend dot’s response to the dot’s despondency pales in comparison to the honesty and realness of the dot’s statements and is characterized by the average everydayness of what “they say.” Using phrases like “oh, don’t worry about it” or “its ok” are examples of what “they say” and none of the responses from the friend dot are really comforting.

Also, I think the representation of the person as a tiny dot of color among a screen of color represents the person’s feeling of insignificance. Because the person is just like everyone else in the world he wants something to distinguish himself and wants others to recognize him. Towards the end of the film the dot states he wants to be a more famous version of God, i.e. he wants everyone to know who he is and to recognize the meaning he has made as objectively true. After that, color flashes across the screen, alternately disguises the dot and the friend dot until they both disappear completely in the field of color.

I think that this need for our meaning to be real would also be found in our desires to seek out relationships in which other people affirm our meanings. Therefore, it seems that the dot and humans in general tend to seek out objective meaning. I wanted to pose the question of what the existentialist would say about this. Obviously objective meaning is impossible to the existentialist but should we try to seek it out anyway through societal rules and organized religion? It seems that the existentialist would say that this would be shirking from our responsibility to freedom. Therefore I think that the existentialism would say that our yearning for others to affirm the meanings we make is a sign of weakness and dodging responsibility.


  1. I agree with nearly all of this. I find neither dot to be truly existential, but the very fact that the purple dot realizes his emptiness--and even states that it doesn't want its youth to be something that it did on a computer--to be existential. This brings me to my next question(however unrelated it is to the topic at hand), how does a true existential differ from someone who realizes existential thoughts? To apply this to the dot video, what keeps the purple dot from being an existential? Personally, I believe that the dot is closer to being fulfilled than the green dot is (for the same reasons you mentioned--giving empty 'they' responses). Finally realizing it wants to be god, only more famous, the purple dot (to me at least) emanates a sort of √úbermensch-ian type attitude, sort of transcending the ethical realm.

  2. I think it gets sort of tricky. It seems to me, an existentialist has to renounce objective morality insofar as objectivity says that "reality," particularly something like certain "hard" moral facts, exists indepedent of human consciousness and can be known objectively, because any sort of appeal to an absolute or objective authority to justify their values beyond them seems like supposes essence precedes existence. It's important to note, though, that this rejection of objectivity doesn't mean that existentialists don't need to justify their moral values to others or take responsiblity for the things they do. Not doing so would be doing what Dr. J aptly terms "lazy relativism.") So, in that sense, objectivism definitely is at odds with existentialism.

    However, thinking back to Sartre's "Existentialism as a Humanism" essay, it does seem, to me, like some elements of what we might call "objective" are preserved. Something along the lines of "the same choices one makes for oneself one makes for all humanity" so that we do act in a way that emphasizes the 'togetherness' of human subjectivity, rather than the mere isolation of the individual. It appears almost inevitable to move from this idea holding oneself accountable for one's choices, not only b/c you make them but do so in such a way so as to will them for every other free agent if they were in the exact same situation/circumstance, into the idea that we hold others to the same kinds of binding expectations that we hold ourselves to.

    If anything thing our yearning for others to affirm the meanings we have made appears like one of the strongest potential affirmations of our own values (though in some circumstances it certainly could function in a way that dodges responsibility as you pointed out).


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