"It is absolutely impossible for a subject to see or have insight into something while leaving itself out of the picture, so impossible that knowing and being are the most opposite of all spheres." Friedrich Nietzsche, 1873, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks
As a school of philosophical thought, Existentialism seeks to answer a basic question that has long plagued mankind: Do I do what I do because of who I am, or am I who I am because of what I do?
In a recently released deposition, former Mayor Richard M. Daley added a new twist to the old debate: If I am Mayor of Chicago, do I know what I am doing?
Daley testified in August about controversy surrounding Millennium Park, the $475 million downtown tourist attraction that includes the popular sculpture known as “The Bean.” The deposition comes as part of a two-year-old lawsuit started by current mayor Rahm Emanuel that seeks to break an incestuous 30-year deal that friends and family of the former mayor got to run a restaurant on the site.
In the deposition, Daley was accompanied by lawyers who sought to protect their client by challenging the very nature and meaning of many of the questions asked of Daley, providing an extremely existential nature to the proceedings.
As developed by noted philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. For many, however, existentialism is really about whether a person can find meaning in a universe that doesn't have any to begin with.
For Daley, however, being mayor of one of the biggest cities in the country was really a question of consciousness. As in, being completely unconscious about what was happening in his city, his administration and his own mind. Ergo, Daley seems to argue, without prior awareness there can be no action, so how could he know what the hell you’re talking about, really?
Q: Were you ever asked in the 22 years that you were mayor whether the city should enter into a particular contract?
Daley: I don’t recall.
Q: You don't recall that ever happening?
A: No, I don't recall
Q: If you, as Mayor, did not nominate a particular person to be the superintendent of the Park District, could that person be -- could that person have been appointed Superintendent?
A: The board could appoint one.
Q: Without the Mayor's nomination?
Q: Did that ever happen while you were there?
A: Gee, I don't know. I can't recall.
Q: Which superintendents did you appoint during your tenure?
A: I don't recall.
Q: Did you appoint [former Park District Superintendent] Mr. Tim Mitchell?
Q: Did you develop the concept of having — what do they call it, “The Cloud” or “The Bean” over in the park?
Q: “The Bean.” Let’s start with “The Bean.”
A: No. I could never — no.
Q: Did you know there was going to be a Bean?
Q: At the park?
Q: One day, you saw it, and that was the first time you knew about it?
A: I don’t even remember. I never knew it was coming.
Q: So you were involved in some of the details at least?
A: Trees, size of trees, just making sure that the facility would be up-to-date. Trees. I’m a tree lover. Put that on the record.
So, there you have it. One of the most powerful politicians in the last 50 years in this country, a man who’s family name is on more public parks and monuments in this city than any other, a man who famously micro-managed every aspect of how his city was run, who got hired and what contracts did or didn’t get signed, was a man who didn't know anything about anything that happened in 22 years he was mayor.
Judging from his testimony, I think we can add the name of Richard M. Daley to the long and distinguished list of existentialists seeking to probe the depth of man’s understanding of himself and the universe he lives in.
After all, for Daley questions about the relationship between knowledge and actions are deeply intertwined, as in: if I didn’t know about something, how can I have done anything about it?
And, more importantly, who’s even to say what it is a mayor does, anyway? And why are you asking me these questions?
What are you---some kind of philosopher?