As I stood in line at Subway this afternoon, watching a lady order fifteen sandwiches for her co-workers while my lunch hour ticked away, I thought to myself, “Jean-Paul Sartre was right. Hell really is other people.”
Then I got to thinking some more (because I had a lot of time on my hands).
If things seem crowded here, I wonder what they’re like in Beijing (Peking) or Calcutta (Kolkata). Those places are jam packed with people and I imagine that a 45 minute wait for a sub sandwich is a luxury few people in that part of the world ever enjoy. Also, you have to consider the sheer number of people over there. Even if you’re a one in a million type of guy, there are still several thousand others just like you running around nearby.
Then I got to thinking about how difficult it would be to make a difference in that part of the world. You could go to school and study real hard, and to get a good job that allowed you creative freedom, chances are 1000 to 1 against you getting a job instead of one of the clones of yourself I just mentioned a minute ago. The same goes for finding a nice house or getting a girlfriend. There may very well be other fish in the sea, but with so many others just like the one you threw back, what’s the point of even trying? That must be depressing, knowing that happiness and success are dependent upon dumb luck or a happy turn of Fate.
Maybe the answer is to move to Montana, where you can stand in a field and scream obscenities until your head turns blue and nobody will give a damn. Try doing that in your local mall.
Or at a Subway restaurant, directed at that crazy lady and her hungry co-workers.
Of course, there is the possibility that Sartre was wrong. Maybe his particular type of Hell has degrees of severity that vary according to certain fluctuating characteristics. For instance, if you are in a crowd of, say, 32,000 of your closest friends watching fireworks explode over a ballpark as your favorite team wins the big game, that might not be a definition of Hell despite the proximity of other people. Next, try standing in a room with Gilbert Godfried after he has taken an extra large dose of speed and mescaline and tell me that you don’t understand the depths of human depravity.
So maybe Hell is other people in certain situations and in proximity pursuant to your ability to get away once you have noticed the existence of said state. Yeah, that sounds a bit more like the truth, but it isn’t catchy and I doubt Sartre would have said it like that.
He was French, after all, and the French have a mind for catchy things.
Maybe he just dumbed down his definition in order to sell books. But if he did this, it take away from his credibility as a philosopher. Aren’t philosophers supposed to be seekers of truth and not merely seekers of money? Is Sartre not who I previously thought him to be? Is he guilty of mere Sophistry in the face of one of the least interesting questions man has ever sought to comprehend?
Who knows? Certainly not me. And by the time I had come to the beginning of the questions behind the question that first caught my fancy, the lady in front of me had left. So I stepped forward and ordered a chicken and bacon ranch on wheat with lettuce, pickles, and tomatoes. I wished to have my sandwich on a Parmesan Oregano bread loaf.
“We’re out of that,” the sixteen year old Subway employee said as she popped her bubble gum and stood there with her mouth open.
No, Sartre was right. Hell is other people.