It is doubly fitting to have contemplated the end and then discovered just a little later in the day that our editor, Sarah Kass, will no longer be a part of this enterprise, this New Existentialists blog that has meant so much to me—and hopefully to a lot more people. I understand the readership I somewhere around 10,000 unique visitors each month. I think that means we’ve been important to somebody, a few tens of thousands of somebodies, along the line.
As my writing career slowly accelerates, I find I have less and less time to keep up with this project, with aNewDomain, with novels, with scholarly writing (do keep an eye out for Values of Pain in the indefinite future) as well as teaching at two schools. Due to the demands of the economy, I also find myself less and less willing or inspired to write for free. I’ve always told Sarah that when she leaves the blog, I will follow her out into the night.
The glass doors are closing behind us now, just the whiff of air behind us as the pressure equalizes.
This will be my last piece of writing for the NE.
I have immense gratitude for Benjamin Wachs, our first editor. He built the blog from essentially nothing. Made it a project to be proud of. To Louis Hoffman, who conned me into starting to write for it oh, four years ago or so.
And especially for Sarah, who has bled for this forum.
If the blog has a soul, it is Sarah Kass’ soul. She has been the one to chase down writers, prep their articles, and try to keep them motivated with everything short of spendable gratitude. When people are rude she takes the brunt of it. When they want to write but are not up to par, she has to give them the bad news. And when they make but do not keep promises, it is Sarah who fills in. While she’s been here a fraction of the time, her post count is close to mine.
In the Benjamin Wachs’ days, there was some pressure to be scholarly—to stick strictly to the issues of existential psychology. Sarah and I have felt differently, that the point of existential psychology is not just scholarship. Not just to swap references with other existential psychologists.
It’s activism, too.
We have to face directly, bravely, the real world in which we find ourselves. That real world is often far from ideal and the facts of the matter lie outside dusty library stacks. To be embodied and actualized is to live in a world of income inequality, for-profit medicine, sexism and racism, war, hunger, depravity and deprivation.
And to live in that world as an existentialist means to point out where we are failing, raise our voices, not accept that these apparent limitations of our cannot be changed.
As humans, we lend our shoulders to the work when we can. We stand together, march, pick up the hammer when something needs building. This is just a blog, of course: no hammers or marches here.
But we have done something to raise consciousness. Our work has included taking on the DSM-5 and winning, at least in small ways. We’ve spread knowledge about the uses and misuses of this document, and about the overuse of drug prescriptions as front-line treatment for human problems. I’ve written endlessly about racism even though that has been interpersonally costly at time.
Last night (from where I’m writing, well in advance of publication) Lester Holt was in Baltimore talking about the riots in the streets. A year ago, I don’t imagine he could or would have said what he said.
He told us in fact there had been peaceful demonstrations for days. That in fact it had taken violence—fires, looting, attacks against police and citizens—to bring the news to Baltimore. And he said that wasn’t good enough. Waiting for the trail of blood and ashes was not good enough.
He said—perhaps for the first time outside of the satirical news—that the origins of the riots are not to be found in the latest tragedy (Freddie Gray’s death in police custody) but in decades of poverty and injustice. He came right up to the edge of saying “racism,” didn’t quite cross the line.
After all, the news has demographics to worry about, ratings and sponsorships to keep track of.
Writing, blogging, changes culture. It changes minds and changes mass opinion. Holt was able to speak truth to power—almost the whole truth—because of Jon Stewart, sure. But also because of Twitter and Facebook, because of Copwatch, because of a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand blogs out there calling out the lies we are fed as news every day.
He was able to say the truth, most of it, because we already know the truth.
And we already know it in part, in just a tiny part, because of Sarah Kass. Louis Hoffman. Benjamin Wachs.
There have been a million protests, marches, sit-ins, demonstrations in America since the days of our founding. Hell, our founding was a demonstration. From dumping tea in the Boston Harbor to slave uprisings to a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to confront armed thugs in police uniforms, from Tea Party protests of taxes to college campuses brought to a standstill by peaceniks trying to get us out of Vietnam, nothing is more American than protest. When our votes aren’t counted, our raised voices and massed bodies are our last and most effective recourse for democracy.
Take any one person out of the march on Selma—John Lewis, for example, who I admire tremendously. The march still meets its destiny, history is still made, the law and the culture still changed.
I’m not saying we have changed the world here at the NE, me and Sarah and Louis and Benjamin, the dozen or so other writers, contributors, staff who keep this crazy thing rolling month after week after day. But I am saying it has been a privilege, an honor, a sacred trust and a duty, to sit here behind my computer screen and type words and fling them out into the void.
That I have sometimes heard back some echo—about using behaviorism in a humanistic fashion, or about being an autistic person in a world that wants to eliminate us, about doing the costly work of saying Black lives matter—that’s a bonus.
Often, perhaps too often, it is easy to identify the right thing to do by its futility, hope by the measure of despair it takes to realize.
Let these by my last words, my last column for the endeavor that has meant so much to me, that has launched me—unsteadily, uncertainly—into a new void.
Goodbye, New Existentialists.
I love you, and goodbye.
— Jason Dias
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