I didn't realize until today -- while happily riding around on my Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter, naturally -- that I had an overwhelming desire to use "Sartre" and "scootering" together in a blog post title.
Well, why not?
I've been re-reading John Paul Sartre's "Being and Nothingness." And I ride a scooter. There's got to be a connection between existentialist philosophy and the joy I feel zipping around on two motorized wheels.
To me, it is sensuality. Which is why that word earned a place in the title also.
Since I got my Burgman in June, I've been leaving our Toyota Prius and Highlander in the garage whenever I can. Driving a car just seems so boring, so detached from the natural world, so insulated from sensual reality.
On the scooter I feel every bump in the road and each change of temperature. I'm much more aware of smells, sounds, sights.
Going around a turn, even at slow speed, isn't the bland routine two-dimensional experience that a car offers. A scooter or motorcycle adds a third vertical dimension of being: leaning, which is barely noticeable in most four-wheeled transportation.
For many people, and this certainly included me at one time, the meaning of life is to be found in something other than what is directly experienced.
Abstractions -- love, honor, truth, divinity, god, or whatever -- are viewed as the real thing, while physical appearances are considered to be distractions, veils, coverings that hide the Platonic essence of life.
Sartre disagrees. So do I.
Riding on my scooter, I don't feel that reality could be any more real. Here's some quotes from Sartre's "The Pursuit of Being" chapter (Hazel Barnes translation).
The obvious conclusion is that the dualism of being and appearance is no longer entitled to any legal status within philosophy...For the being of an existent is exactly what it appears...The duality of potency and act falls by the same stroke. The act is everything.
...That is why we can equally well reject the dualism of appearance and essence. The appearance does not hide the essence, it reveals it; it is the essence.
Pleasure can not be distinguished -- even logically -- from consciousness of pleasure. Consciousness (of) pleasure is constitutive of the pleasure as the very mode of its own existence, as the material of which it is made, and not as a form which is imposed by a blow upon a hedonistic material.
...Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is.
When I drive a car, I feel a duality akin to a hypothesized "being" and "appearance." Meaning, what really counts for me is getting to where I'm going. Then, I think, my day will finally get going.
Once I get to the store. Or my Tai Chi class. Or the coffeehouse. (I'm retired, so getting to work isn't on my list of to-do's.)
On my scooter, though, I enjoy the traveling as much, or more, as the destination. The Burgman is faster and more maneuverable than my car. Yet I find myself in the slow lane more often, because I don't care if it takes me a little bit longer to get somewhere.
The getting is as much my where as the place I'm headed toward.
Which leads to the nothingness side of Sartre's "Being and Nothingness." He talks about walking along a precipice. It is something to be avoided, a danger, because of deterministic causes outside of himself.
Loose pebbles. Crumbling earth.
Through these various anticipations, I am given to myself as a thing; I am passive in relation to these possibilities; they come to me from without; in so far as I am also an object in the world, subject to gravitation, they are my possibilities.
Some people are afraid of riding a scooter or motorcycle. But the truth is that motorcycling or scootering is as dangerous as you make it.
You. The world is what it is. Like Sartre said, "Being is." There's a lot to be afraid of in life. Dangers abound if we view ourselves as objects capable of being hurt or destroyed by other objects.
Such as cars, if you're on a scooter. Here's what Sartre has to say about dealing with a precipice -- of any sort, really.
My reaction will be of the reflective order; I will pay attention to the stones in the road; I will keep myself as far as possible from the edge of the path. I realize myself as pushing away the threatening situation with all my strength, and I project before myself a certain number of future conducts destined to keep the threats of the world at a distance from me.
These conducts are my possibilities. I escape fear by the very fact that I am placing myself on a plane where my own possibilities are substituted for the transcendent probabilities where human action had no place.
That's just how I feel on my scooter. A whole lot more me than when I'm driving a car. In the car I'm surrounded by airbags, crumple zones, roof pillars, a whole lot of metal.
Scootering, my safety depends mostly on how well I pay attention to what's going on around and within me. I'm much more actively involved in creating my possibilities -- moving from one side of a lane to the other as traffic circumstances change, for example.
Sartre calls this sense of freedom, "anguish."
Yes, choosing what to do can have an anguish'y quality. But I think this French existentialist was unduly negative, or maybe something has been lost in the translation that produces the English "anguish."
On my scooter I feel that I'm making many more choices than I do while driving a car. That's part of why scootering is so much fun!
To stop or slow down I've got two brakes to squeeze (front and back), not just one pedal. I have to pay more attention to sight distance, the radius of curves, which way a parking space slopes. Like Sartre says, I'm creating my own possibilities through action, not largely passively motoring along.
I think a lot less on my scooter. I'm sensing a lot more. The natural world is very much with me, not the conceptual world of talk radio and PBS, which used to often be a focus of my attention as I coped with boring car driving with audio stimulation.
Now, what is right around me, is enough. Sartre would understand that, I'm pretty sure.