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Existentialism: A Moot Point

One of my bête noires lately is the misuse of the word “existential.” Anyone who uses the word to mean a life-or-death situation clearly did not read Camus’s THE STRANGER in school like they were supposed to.

Existentialism emphasizes the individual’s free will and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions. An “existential crisis” describes individuals who are overwhelmed by the enormity of the world, and who struggle to find their place within it, not whether or not they live or die.

I wish many of the things being characterized today as existential questions WERE actually being addressed as such. It might lead to more human-centric answers.

Unfortunately, misunderstanding, continual misusage, and general dumbing down has resulted in the popular understanding of the word being the complete opposite of what it really means. At a certain point, the English language throws up its metaphorical hands and surrenders, updating the dictionary to reflect public opinion.

You could make the case that for certain elements of society, this is a good thing, as they don’t want the rabble questioning the purpose of their existence, only whether or not they are allowed to have one as long as they stay in line.

The closest analogy I can think of is the word “moot.” If a point is moot, that actually means it’s worthy of discussion, not bygone.

The only person I ever heard use the word “moot” correctly in a sentence was Rod Serling, teaching a creative writing class. A student raises appoint when she calls “altogether moot,” and they proceed to discuss it.

Anyway, it’s been bugging me for a while. You could say it’s trivial, but language is the potholder for the hot iron of policy.

But I acknowledge that sufficient time has gone by that the point may no longer be moot.