The Good Place and Sartre (or Normal is other people)

“Well then, let’s get on with it…”

I read the 1944 play No Exit by Sartre in school, and its eery existentialism stayed with me.

Then in 2016, Mike Schur, the comedy god behind Parks and Rec, Brooklyn 99 and the US Office, premiered his new show The Good Place on NBC.
It is based on Sartre’s play, and it’s so good holy fucking shirtballs!

On the creation of the show Mike says: “At the beginning it was just like an accidental trip to heaven, then I was like oh no, it’s No Exit, it’s a really advanced No Exit—the Sartre play about the three people who are trapped in hell forever. In No Exit they all have very specific personality traits that drive one of the other ones insane and are miserable…”

The most famous and debated line of the play is l’enfer, c’est les autres (Hell is other People). As Sartre explains:

“Hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because … when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves … we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves.

Another way of putting it is: If we are in hell, we will see the devil in other people.

This mimics how we now know our brain makes sense of the world. We perceive the world through our senses, and any person we think we know ultimately only exists fictionally, a picture based on past experiences frozen in our memory, waged against our expectations and needs. It is impossible to see the world unbiased, and that is the true beauty of our lives.

To finish, I would like to include Bering’s 2018 conclusion on this topic:

Open the door! Open, blast you! I’ll endure anything, (…)
I’ll put up with
any torture you impose. Anything, anything would be
better than this agony of the mind, this creeping pain
that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never
hurts quite enough. Now will you open the door?


“It is almost as if Sartre is asking us—we who have an empirically informed understanding of human nature like no generation of psychologists before—to do precisely this, to open the
door and properly introduce ourselves to our species’ unique host of demons.”

Image result for red pill

Leave a Reply