۱۳۹۵ اسفند ۱۳, جمعه

Self Under Siege (Part 4): Herbert Marcuse and one-dimensional man

Roderick focuses his fourth lecture on Herbert Marcuse, who according to him is the philosopher of the 1960s. One important aspect of Marcuse’s philosophy is his emphasize on a contradiction that has been always a key part of modernity, understanding of which is vital to the topic of self under siege. Enlightenment is the familiar word that marks out the start of modernity, which sets out to free human being from dogma, superstition, and adherence to prejudice. This is what Kant in his essay titled “What is enlightenment” argues, that enlightenment is the era in which human beings are dared to use their own reason. The process of enlightenment is fuelled by both the rise of capitalism and the considerable increase in the power of science which in turn has given rise to technological advancement.

However, enlightenment’s attempt to demystify the world, to see the world as if it were transparent to reason, carried with itself a strange dark side. As the enlightenment project has been successful to “clear the field” of religious beliefs, and although human beings increasingly cling to instrumental reason and science to “progress”, it has not been the case that we are less afraid in the face of the unknown, if anything the unknown has appeared to be more terrifying than ever. You can clearly notice this today for example as you watch TV, or when you listen to the kind of fear mongering ideas driving the public, political campaigns, racial conflicts, etc. The rise of enlightenment, Marcuse argues, has not made us less dogmatic. As a matter of fact, the sciences have now branched out into so many areas and sub-disciplines that the only way anyone can believe in any of them is to be dogmatic because we cannot possibly acquire enough time or mental capacity to learn even a few of them. Mainstream economics is perhaps a good example of this predicament, when a good majority of economists sit in their ivory towers judging and insulting other disciplines such as sociology, philosophy, and psychology without knowing virtually anything about these disciplines, or use economic models to explain virtually everything using sometimes a very crude and naïve understanding of fundamental concepts involved.

Enlightenment, in a paradoxical way, has built up a kind of intellect intelligent enough to see through this demystification, but any intellect that powerful has the tendency to become totalitarian. Enlightenment while clearing the field of religious beliefs has created another type of obedience, perhaps through overpowering forces of technology, that is quite salient in human being’s abject surrender to technology today, which in some cases is even more pronounced than it was the case with religious beliefs. Just take a look around you: all the zambi-esque individuals you see on the subway everyday or in your fun friendly get-togethers, frantically sweeping their fingers up and down the shiny screen of their smartphones looking for “fun” or “facts”; the hysteric tourists on a trip with their eyes wide shut, unable to take in and digest the beauty of the moment, but cameras, cellphones and tablets pointing at every direction, often their own narcissistic being, trying to capture happiness and memory into digital files; Self-claimed religious critiques and social theorists who have read a couple of books from Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris and now are under the illusion that they are capable to analyze and criticize the entire history of religion and religious beliefs and unearth the ignorance buried deep within; the stronger-than-religious-faith belief in a secular system that has produced misery, violence, and despotism on par with tyrannic religious institutions; the current state of power of technology that far surpasses the characteristics we associate with God (the apocalypse, a magnificent myth in the book of revelation, has now become a technologically-achievable reality in our society, abundant as a popular theme in Hollywood movies).

Roderick argues that because the enlightenment project focused upon reason as individuated and atomic, it failed to understand that the overall outcome in many situations could defy rationality even when individual agents engage in completely rational behaviour (John Nash teaches us that the equilibrium outcome of an strategic interaction does not necessarily achieve the socially optimal outcome as Adam Smith suggests, in fact in many cases it could lead us to the worst outcome possible, the 2008 financial crisis and the driving forces behind it would be a good example of this situation). The enlightenment, despite its nobel focus on reason, in its process of demystifying religion itself became a source of mystification.  This take us back to the main theme of this course: the self under siege could never find meaning in such denuded form of thinking and living where we are only focused on instrumental reason and individuated rational decision making. This is certainly not a rich-enough notion of experience for human life which would take us down the path of an examined life that is worth living. The enlightenment project, Marcuse argues, carried myth right along with it and did not succeed to eliminate it. The entwinement between enlightenment and mythology is perhaps one of the key elements to understand our situation today, the era of quasi-mythological technologies, the era of virtual reality and scientology, the era of “I Fucking Love Science” crowds whose depth of knowledge is as shallow and their faith is as strong and as blind as an average religious man in medieval times. Here lies Marcuse’s fundamental criticism of our modern technological society. Needless to say that Marcuse does not suggest that we should through out instrumental reason altogether, he argues that if we don’t find a more balanced approach to ourselves, our world, and other people, and our relation to instrumental reason, then we are all lost.

Marcuse, in his critique of modern life and enlightenment mainly focuses on issues of social world, which is contrast to inner-world issues discussed in previous posts/lectures. Therefore, in a way his critique follows the tradition of Marx which highlights issues like alienation, or that of Weber which explores rationalization (Franz Kafka elegantly depicts the latter in Trial and Castle). Roderick adds a third issue to the list, which he calls banalization. One good example of banalization is the ideological treatment you get from TV or movies, which turn complicated social, personal or political issues such as violence, corruption, racism, terrorism, homosexuality, religion, love, or sex into banality, turns everything that is a threat to the system and its structures of power into banality as a form of social control. This also applies to our current education system and its outputs.

In exploring these issues of social world, Marcuse raises the following question: how does a way of life break down? The answer to this question is not the simple one offered by Marx, which is to point the finger at economic conditions. The are many factors in our modern life today, Roderick argues, that could break down our way of life. One general theme that he highlights is the refusal and fear of dealing with complexity and ambiguity. This is a familiar theme in the light of recent events in the US and the election of Donald Trump, which in many respects was the result of turning complex social and political issues into caricatures that could be easily digested in a culture of amnesia that is provoked and stimulated by empty talking points and shallow commentary, a culture blocked by structures of cynical and skeptical reason that wants to go back to golden years that never existed the way they are depicted today, a society where individuals believe nothing, expect nothing, hope nothing, dream nothing, and desire nothing (things that “matter” in relation to the “self”). The interesting thing, as Marcuse emphasizes, is that this is not the result of lack of rationality in our society today as many would suggest, but rather due to alienation, rationalization, and the banalization propagated in the structures of our modern life and society.

It is perhaps important to note that Marcuse’s criticism of enlightenment, capitalism, and rationality is that of “imminent critique”, which takes historic accumulated concepts and confronts them with historically existent realities to measure the gap between the practice and promise, to measure the society within those concepts that were developed within it. In other words, Marcuse does not draw on some external norms from a utopian situation to articulate his criticism, but rather uses our current terms and conditions, which makes his approach utterly fair and reasonable. However, it seems that in the 21st century we have now outlived the responses that Marcuse would have given to our current predicament. Marcuse believes in truth while we live in a post-truth time, he believes in human being’s happy destiny as we get closer and closer to the verge of environmental disaster. The irony is that while Marcuse was considered a radical thinker of the 60s, he is not radical at all by the standards of the world we have slipped in.

۱۳۹۵ آذر ۴, پنجشنبه

عینیتِ بامزه‌گی

فان فاکتور، یا سهم‌خواهی از لاشه‌ی شادی

پسرِ نوجوان با موبایل‌اش مشغولِ فیلم‌گرفتن از مراسمِ اعدام است، او هیچ ترسی ندارد، دست‌های گرمِ و حامیِ پدر بر شانه‌هاش‌اش، او لب‌خند می‌زند؛ مادربزرگ در عوضِ گوش دادن به حرف‌های نوه غرق شده در اخبارِ ثانیه‌به‌ثانیه‌‌ از یکی از مهمانی‌های دوست‌اش، دست‌های او می‌لرزند، چشم‌های‌اش خشک شده‌اند؛ پسر در غیابِ محبوبی که دوست‌اش می‌دارد گرمِ لاسیدن با یک دخترِ غریبه در فضای مجازی ست، دلِ او می‌تپد، ذهن‌اش کار نمی‌کند؛ دوستانی که هر یک حرف‌ها و ذوق‌ها و روایت‌های تسهیم‌پذیر دارند، اوجِ یک مهمانیِ صمیمانه را در رقصیدن خلاصه می‌کنند: در پایان همه افسرده اند، گوش‌های‌شان درد می‌کند، در تخلیه‌خانه کراش‌های جدید پیدا کرده‌اند. حفظ کردنِ جوک‌های ژیژک‌، پی‌گیریِ مناظراتِ روشن‌فکری و مشارکت در جشن‌‌واره‌های ادبی و سینمایی را فعالیتِ فلسفی و ادبی می‌گیرند: فرایندِ پیش‌رونده‌ی تحکیمِ نمایش و بلاهت در حیاتِ فرهیخته‌گی ایست‌گاه ندارد؛ یکی در مترو، در خون‌سردی و بی‌تفاوتیِ تام گرمِ تماشای صحنه‌ی پورن است و سه نفر در کنارِ او ایستاده مشغولِ تماشا اند و خیلی جدی نظر می‌دهند: از سردیِ خشونت و سرخوشیِ این‌ها هیچ چیز نمی‌توان گفت ... این‌ وضعیت‌ها، به رغمِ این که به حوزه‌ها و هویت‌هایی آشکارا متفاوت از هم و تجربه‌‌های ارتباطیِ ظاهراً ناهم‌سانی مربوط می‌شوند، در سطحِ شکل‌دادن به مناسباتِ قصدی و عادت‌های ما با دیگران و اشیا، در هر بعدی (فرد، گروه، اجتماع یا جامعه) از نظرِ جای‌گیریِ یک مؤلفه‌ی اصلی در ساختارِ امکانی‌شان با یکدیگر اشتراک دارند: بامزه‌گی به منزله‌ی هسته‌ی سختِ دلالت‌مندی، ایست‌گاهی که در هر تجربه‌ای منتظر ایم تا به آن برسیم تا معنا و لذت و ارزشِ آن تجربه را با میزانِ دُزِ بامزه‌گیِ مازاد در آن بسنجیم. غرابتِ چیستیِ این سنخ از بامزه‌گی همین است:  این که این بامزه‌گی، درست مثلِ پول، می‌تواند در حکمِ یک عنصرِ هم‌ارزکننده، یک قدرِ مشترکِ عام که عیارِ (نا)تجربه‌ها را با آن می‌سنجیم، عمل کند و تخمِ توهمِ تحققِ میل در باهم‌خندیدن و رهاییِ بی‌نظیرِ بودن در لحظه بدونِ دیگریِ غایب را در هر ذهنی بکارد.

جذابیتِ همه‌گیرِ بامزه‌گی، به تحققِ حسی از امنیتِ اُتیستی برمی‌گردد که ریشه در گذرابوده‌گیِ متراکمِ پدیده‌ی بامزه و توانِ آن به آزادکردنِ تجربه از پیامد، و نتیجتاً رهاییِ سوژه از مسئولیت، دارد. در مواجهه با امرِ بامزه، سوژه از تمهید تهی می‌شود، او درست مثلِ یک بدمستِ لایعقل از آزادی‌اش از تأمل، تحمل، صبر، تعهد، آماده‌گی و ایثار کیف می‌کند؛ اشتراک‌پذیریِ آسان و بی‌واسطه‌ی بامزه‌گی چیزی که در منطقِ بلاغیِ روابط در فضای مجازی، خصوصاً در شکل‌های فشرده‌ترِ آن در رسانه‌هایی مثلِ توییتر، پررنگ‌تر از هر جای دیگری بروز می‌کند  حیثِ جمعیِ ویژه‌ای را در مبتذل‌ترین و دست‌رس‌پذیرترین شکلِ ممکن تثبیث می‌کند، سنخی از عینیتِ اشتراکیِ ایمن از تمامیِ حاشیه‌هایی که هر تجربه ناگزیر بر سوژه سوار می‌کند؛ بامزه‌گی، عینیتی متعالی و تراگذر است، امری شفاف که خنده می‌آورد، می‌گذرد و درست مثلِ خودِ زنده‌گیِ بی‌واسطه و نااندیشیده، سبُک و فرااخلاق و بی‌اعتنا ست. بامزه‌گی، عینیت در سرحدِ جذابیتِ آن است. این بامزه‌گیِ عینی، عمومیت‌یافته و محوری در مناسبات، با نغز، که در سوی‌گیری‌های هجوآمیز و آیرونیک، به‌نحوی اساساً ذهنی، خاص و از موضعی سراسر اقلیتی در برابرِ پیکرِ خنثای  امرِ کلی ابراز می‌شود و اتفاقاً عینیت را به نقد می‌گیرد و نغزآفرین را به دردسر می‌اندازد، هیچ نسبتی ندارد. بامزه‌گیِ عینی، فضایی ایمن برای هیستریِ سوژه است، سیاه‌چاله‌ای صورتی که در نقابِ ابژه‌ی میل، او را فرامی‌خواند، و در غیابِ تعلق و زحماتِ آن، او را بهره‌مند می‌سازد. شباهتِ بامزه‌گی با مد، فارغ از تفاوت‌های اساساً ساختاری‌شان، در امکان‌پذیر گرداندنِ تجربه‌های هیستریک در فضاهای جمعی‌ای ست که در آن حیثِ اجتماعیِ رسته از بندِ مسئولیت، با پیوند زدنِ سوژه‌ی سرخوش به حیثِ جمعیِ ابتذال، به اقتصادِ روانیِ او سروسامان می‌دهد.  

نمی‌توان نقشِ بامزه‌گیِ عینی و دیگر باید روشن شده باشد که این عینیت مستقیماً به ظرفیتِ بامزه‌گی به (باز)تولیدِ برساخت‌های اجتماعی و ارزش‌های مشترکِ سوژه‌های اتمی‌شده در شرایطی مشحون از سرخوشیِ فلج‌کننده و عاری از آینده‌نگری برمی‌گردد را در تحویلِ سیاست، عشق، هنر به عرصه‌هایی که در خدمتِ تولیدِ محصولاتِ بامزه‌ اند نادیده گرفت؛ تقلیلِ کنشِ سیاسی، که ازاساس در جدوجهدِ ایثارگرانه در آفریدنِ گشودارِ آینده، به واکنش‌گری در بستارِ اخبارِ روز و مشارکت در مباحثِ رسانه‌ای؛ از میان رفتنِ تجربه‌ی عاشقانه به واسطه‌ی تحویلِ رمانس به ماجراجویی‌های زودگذر و کیف‌انگیز؛ تقلیلِ تجربه‌ی هنری به موزه‌گردی و گالری‌گردی و آویختنِ سیم و روزنامه روی دیوار و سقف به نامِ مفهوم‌پردازی؛ بخشِ بزرگی از رانه‌های دست‌اندرکار در چنین تقلیل‌هایی ریشه در عینیت‌یافته‌گیِ بامزه‌گی دارند. سیطره‌ی بامزه‌گی و عینیتِ سرخوشی در این عرصه‌ها مستقیماً حولِ نسخِ اخلاق و اصالتِ دیگربوده‌گی، که ناگزیر مرزهای محال و دورنماهای آینده را در زمینِ زنده‌گی می‌نشانند، و آزادی گرانی‌گاهِ این سه عرصه، این دست‌مالی‌شده‌ترین، کژفهمیده‌ترین و نااندیشیده‌ترین مفهوم که شاید، در کنارِ مفهومِ کژتافته‌ای که از "بازی" ساخته‌ایم،  (نا)شایسته‌ترین دست‌مایه در توجیهِ بسطِ زنده‌گیِ بامزه‌گرا هم باشد را در چشم‌اندازی ورای سرخوشیِ حال تعبیر می‌کند، امکان‌پذیر می‌شود. سوژه‌ی بامزه، در رهایی از اندیشیدن به آینده، حیاتی ازاساس ایمن، خشن، ناخلاق و واکنشی را زیست می‌کند.

فارغ از این که ما در تصدیقِ سبک‌های زنده‌گی‌مان در مقامِ سوژه‌های بامزه‌گر و بامزه‌خوار، تا چه حد مقهورِ تقدیر و جامعه و تکنولوژی و عادت‌واره‌ها ایم (اصالتِ بامزه‌گی در جهانِ مسطحِ بی‌مزه‌شده)، فارغ از این که تا چه اندازه نسبت به پیامدهای روان‌شناختی و اجتماعیِ رضایت از سرخوشی‌های گذرا در تبعیدِ شادمانی و سعادت، خنثا شده‌ایم (به صرفِ زمینه‌گرفتن در زنده‌گیِ مصرفیِ شتاب‌زده‌ای که در آن فضیلت هیچ ضرورتی ندارد)، فارغ از تصویری‌شدنِ جهان و پوک‌شدنِ ارتباطات از بالقوه‌گی، تعالی و اندیشه از سرِ تماسی/دیجیتالی ‌شدنِ وجود (ناپدیدشدنِ محتواهای رواییِ مشترک و حلولی‌شدنِ غایت‌های بازنمایی)، فارغ از اندیشیدن به این دلالت‌ها که در سطحِ عمیق‌تری از هستن، پشت‌واره‌های عینیتِ بامزه‌گی اند و با تزریقِ درمان‌گرانه‌ی آن به حیاتِ بی‌ریخت‌شده از فرطِ نه‌بودِ {حتا اندیشیدن به} آزادیِ عینی و شادمانیِ پایا، ما را در شکل‌های هویتیِ سیال اما محاط در فضایی منجمد و بی‌آینده زنده نگه می‌دارند، دستِ کم می‌توان توجه را معطوفِ مصادیقی کرد که آشکارا از هم‌بسته‌گیِ وازده‌گی در زنده‌گیِ ناآگاهِ تهی‌از‌تجربه با بامزه‌گی پرده برمی‌دارند، و به آن‌ها اندیشید؛ دستِ کم می‌توان از مشارکت در وضعیت‌هایی که وادادنِ بازیِ زنده‌گی به بامزه‌گی را تثبیت می‌کنند، به‌نحوی بی‌رحمانه و ایثارگرانه و اساساً پرهیزکارانه، دوری کرد. این بی‌رحمیِ پرهیزگرانه، هیچ ثمره‌ای هم که نداشته باشد، می‌تواند در شکستنِ قانونِ اعدادِ بزرگی که پیش‌رویِ زنده‌گیِ ناشادِ بامزه‌گرا به آن بند است مؤثر باشد. این بی‌رحمی ازاساس موضعی ایثارگرانه ست: وجهِ شخصاً سلبیِ آن، در رفعِ منطقِ تاریخیِ میل، سو به دورنمایی اجتماعاً ایجابی از شادمانی دارد. 

برای رضا

۱۳۹۵ مهر ۲۸, چهارشنبه

Self Under Siege - Part 3

In his third lecture of the series titled “Self Under Siege” Roderick talks about Jean Paul Sartre, one of the most famous intelectuals in the 20th century. Satre’s journey both as an intelectual and as an activist, which is reflected in his own life apart from his intelectual work, marks out a certain search for meaning in the 20th century. It is interesting to mention, especially since the last post was about Heidegger and Rejection of Humanism, that Sartre’s existentialist philosophy is very different from Heideggers’s account on human dasein. In fact, Sartre profoundly misunderstood Heidegger’s account of human being in the world, which is evident in his famous essay “Existentialism is a Humanism” where he puts himself, Heidegger, and other French existentialists in the same category (Heidegger has an important reply to Sartre which I will discuss at the end of this piece).

According to Roderick, this misunderstanding cuts very nicely in Sartre’s direction and gives him a very different project, one that is in pursuit of a road to freedom, trying to live in a way that one might say of oneself that “you are free”. We can distinguish at least two distinct phases in Sarte’s life, and in both we can identify this attempt to find the path to freedom. The first one is the young existentialist Sartre, and the second one is the Sartre the revolutionary Marxist. Accodring to Roderick many in the US are much less familiar with Sarte’s second phase, since they are not really familiar with this intelectual traditionl in Europe. It is perhaps another sign of American marketing genius and mastery of propaganda machine (quite evident these days during the US presidential election), that has hollowed out this significant intelectual tradition and has turned it into an image that projects into people’s minds Soviet-style beauracratic Marxism, cold war, and the image of Russian kids with their hands on barbed wire craving for McDonalds and Coca Cola!

Roderick believes that perhaps no one more than Sartre, in the intelectual world, has faught harder to maintain a sense of self. The best way to summarize Sartre’s existentialist philosophy is to quote him from his own essay, Existentialism is a Humanism: “What they [meaning Heidegger, himself, and other French existentialists] have in common is simply the fact that they [we] believe that existence comes before essence… What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man simply is. Not that he is simply what he conceives himself to be, but he is what he wills, and as he conceives himself after already existing – as he wills to be after that leap towards existence. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism… If, however, it is true that existence is prior to essence, man is responsible for what he is.”

The glory of existentialism is really based on the insight that it offers, along the path to freedom, that life has no meaning other than the one constructed by the self. Two important implications of this insight are that we do not have anyone to protect us, and therefore we do not have anyone to stop us. Dastayovsky delicately brings up this view through his character Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov (1880), where he says “if God does not exist, everything is permited.” For the existnetialists this is both frightening and exihilirating since one’s life becomes her own construction and the sum of her own actions. We can trace this notion of freedom in Nietzsche as well, where he says in Antichrist that “if there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god?”, or in Milton’s Paradise Lost where Satin, the main hero (or perhaps more accurately the anti-hero) describes himself as “"Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." And it is this very extreme view of freedom that comes out of existentialism, which to many was revolting.

Roderock poses a very interesting and sharp observation, as a quick aside, about existentialism in the US. He suggests that existentialism was populaized in the US through a cultural search for meaning, but the way the American soceity became familiar with existentialism was not much through reading the books that Sartre wrote, but through the cultural artifacts that were produced  through the moods of existentialism (anxiety, despair, death, dread, the absurd, etc.), namely dozens of plays, movies, novels, and also through the moods of bahaviour that came along with it: coffeeshop attitudes, the fad of non-conformity, Beat poetry and so on. And this is exactly where the rubber meets the road, this goes exactly to the heart of “self under siege”, the fact that American genius in marketing and “entrepreneurship” can even market existentialism, can even market death! It can turn on its head the very thing that is trying to revolt against self under siege in the search for meaning and freedom, and sells that to you! Roderick, in a witty remark, jokes that if Christ came back today, he would probably get a deal with Nike! Perhaps even more importantly, this cultural feature of the American society that Roderick acurately describes has propogated throuhout the world since the American culture to a large extent is now the world culture, but not necessarily due to its superiority or uniqueness, but rather due its dominant power through controlling modes of cummunication like media, cinema, pop culture, and its marketing genius.

Let’s get back to Sartre. As Sartre gets older he finds himself drawn to a major paradox that he talks about in his autobiography “The Words”. He admits that when he was younger and was writing about death, despair, nausea, and anxiety as the essential moods of existentialism, he was in fact extremly happy and was also aware of the irony. His mature view was that the road to freedom, and the only project that owns a scale grand enough to be a worthwhile project, was to be a revolutionary, and in that period in Europe, that meant to be a Marxist of some sort. However, the kind of Marxist Sartre was is not the populist version often understood (or better to say misunderstood). What is Marxism except from a secular way to try to recover the lost meanings from the previous sacred period? And this is exactly the kind of Marxist Sartre was. Sarte could see no way through the 20th century without a revolutionary change, changing radically the way we relate to each other (and we now see moderate versions of this idea in the Occupy Wall Street movement and more recently Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders campaign and supporters).

Sartre, Roderick argues, is perhaps more important as a figure, a personality of thought. He engages in experiences of three generations in trying to create an authentic worthy self: the second world war generation when he is a freedom fighter against Nazis (and Roderick argues that this is where existentialism is born, out of the hedious experiece of Europeans during the Second World War), the reconstruction generation after the Second World war and his commitment to be a revolutionary Marxist. The most major experience of Sartre’s generation was fascism, and it shaped the way he thought about many things. Fascism was completely a different experience for Europeans than to Americans. For Europeans, Fascism was both an internal and an external threat: having friends or neighbors who were Nazi collaborators, having friends or neighbors who were just silent pretending not to hear what is going on. Sartre’s career (as an activist) however came to culmination when he joins the great student strikes (his third-generation experience) in France and their failure perhaps blocks his way to escape the 20th century.

Another point or argument worth underlining about Sarte is his argument about a certain kind of ethical theory, which cuts agains Kant’s moral theory. Sartre emphasizes decion and action as what makes up one’s life, and here is the example he gives in form of a moral dillema:

You have a mother at home in occupied France and you don’t think she will survive if you don’t stay. On the other hand, you also feel obligated to go with your friends who have joined the resistence.

Sarte goes through this moral dillema using standard moral theories: Kantean moral theory, utilitarian moral theory, etc. and argues that these standard theories are not worth anything. It doesn’t do any good to come up with a categorial imperative based on what is the greatest good to the greatest number! Saving my mother’s life or saving my country’s life? Sartre argues brilliantly that this is not amenable to the kind of logic-chopping philosophers do, it is amenable however to the kind of person you are going to see yourself as. This again goes to the heart of self under siege, which really draws so little support from moral theories. Self under siege is not really what conservaties think, that it is immoral. It is, as Nietzsche puts it, beyong good and evil, it is more tokens in the marketplace upon which we trade.

I want to end this piece by going back to the start and briefly discuss the Sartre’s misunderstanding of Heidegger and his account about the self because I believe it has important implications. Sarte had read Heidegger and his account of human being in the world as a form of humanism, which is evident in his famous essay titled “Existentialism is a Humanism”. Heidegger indirectly responds to Sartre’s account of humanism in a letter to his French colleague Jean Beaufrat, which was published later on under the title “Letter on Humanism.” As a quick aside before I go back to Heidegger’s response, I should mention that  this essay by Heidegger has considerable significance as it is his first major work after the second world war and the intense scrutiny he was subjected to in the de-Nazification hearings after the war due to his continued teaching at the University of Freiburg throughout the war and thus, his apparent complicity with the Nazi regime. It would be fitting therefore to consider this essay as a first reflection by Heidegger on the question of the relationship between philosophy and action, of that between the thinker and the political. This essay is also the first fruitfull exchange between German and French philosophy after the collapse of Nazi Germnay in 1945.

Heidegger, in a direct reference to Sartre, argues that “We are far from pondering the essence of action decisively enough.” It is important to note that he is not arguing that we don’t have any theory of action, or any method to evaulate action, but rather are far away from being able to “decisively” think about action. This resonates strangely with Sartre’s Existentialism which has already taken “essence” for granted and assumes we know what it means, and assumes it is determined by our actions and deeds. Heidegger however takes a step back and argues the essence of action has not been fully carved out. He does not agree with Sartre that existence preceeds essence. He believes that our essence, which follows our existence, is determined by an act, the essence of which preceeds our esscence and also our existence. Heidegger belives that the essence of action is “accomplishment”, an unfolding of something into a fullness. For Sartre, the action that determines our essence is an accomplishment of a being that already is (hence existence comes before essence).  For Heidegger, in contrast,  that which “is” before action (and only unfolds through action) is “Being” and it is through thinking (not action) that the relationship between Being and the essence of man is accomplished. In this receiving and giving back to Being, Being comes to langauge. He writes in a remarkable passage that:

“Language is the house of Being.  In its home man dwells.  Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home.  Their guardianship accomplishes the manifestation of Being insofar as they bring the manifestation to language and maintain it in language through their speech.  Thinking does not become action only because some effect issues from it or because it is applied.  Thinking acts insofar as it thinks.  Such action is presumably the simplest and at the same time the highest, because it concerns the relation of Being to man.  But all working or effecting lies in Being and is directed towards beings. Thinking, in contrast, lets itself be claimed by Being so that it can say the truth of Being.  Thinking accomplishes this letting.  Thinking is the engagement by Being for Being.

Heidegger agrees with Sartre that essence of man is not a priori determined (idea of God, or human nature). For Heidegger that which Sartre has forgot about is Being. He disagrees with the implication of Sartre’s view that being is the nothingness of existence until essence is born through action. He disagrees that Being is human subjectivity, which Sartre views as the main player sorounded by existence, abondoned to a world where there are only human beings. Heidegger argues that since Plato it has been held that essence preceeds existence. Accodring to him, Sartre simply reverses the order, “but, the reversal of a metaphysical statement remains a metaphysical statement.  With it he stays with metaphysics in oblivion of the truth of Being.” Heidegger invites to step back from this distinction itself and examine the situation out of which this distinction between essence and existance has arised. He contends that “humanism” depicted in Existentialism is inadequate to the “higher essence of man”. Yet, he does not attach a metaphysical structure to what he has in mind about “higher essence of man”. He contests that this higher essence of man is not meant to be perceived as metaphysical subjectivism (or as anthropocentrism) in which man is the tyrant of Being to which each and all is subject. He writes in an stellar passage that:

Man is rather “thrown” from Being itself into the truth of Being so that ek-sisting in this fashion he might guard the truth of Being, in order that beings might appear in the light of Being as the beings they are.  Man does not decide whether and how beings appear, whether and how God and the gods or history and nature come forward into the clearing of Being, come to presence and depart. The advent of beings lies in the destiny of Being.  But for man it is ever a question of finding what is fitting in his essence that corresponds to such destiny; for in accord with this destiny man as ek-sisting has to guard the truth of Being.  Man is the shepherd of Being.

Heidegger believes that in order to guard the truth of Being we need to retreive the element in which thinking can properly be, otherwise thinking will turn into a technical interpretation of thought, an ideology or world view. Thinking belongs to Being, accodring to Heidegger, as an aspect of Being itself, and thinking of Being is a listening to Being.

All this might sounds very abstract, difficult, or poetic, but what Heidegger is doing is not articulating his thoughts or ellaborating on his idea, he is rather thinking in the way he believes thinking should be, he is implementing his very idea of thinking as listening to Being, he demonstrates the very structure of language prior to ideologies and divisions into sub-disciplines, prior to division into logic, ethics, and physics. Heidegger is not drawing a road map, he is walking the path.

In order to get close to Being again, Heidegger argues that we need to “learn to exist in the nameless.” We must take a step back from our seduction to the public realm and the plethora of beings and be open – in silence – to the manifestation of Being itself, and allow ourselves to be claimed by Being. According to Heidegger, we cling always and only to beings, this collapses the ontological difference between beings and Being, and leads us to forget Being.

Heidegger has received a lot of criticism for his philosophy and his poetic, abstract, and often difficult account of human dasein and being. One issue with this level of abstraction is that it provides little support/discouragement for more concrete situations, to the extent that Heidegger allegedly considered his support of National Socialism and Nazi party consistent with the essence of his philosophy. This could really questions the essence of a philosophy that partly due to its high level of abstraction and vagueness can justify such atrocious actions. Edmund Husserl lays out a similar criticism of Heidegger’s philosophy, and argues that it provides an abstract and incorrect portrait of human being and fails to contribute to an ontology independent of human existence. Herbert Marcuse, a student of Heidegger who later became associated with the Frankfurt School also criticizes Heidegger for his "false concreteness" and "revolutionary conservativism." In Jargon of Authenticity, Theodor Adorno lays out a serious criticism of Heidegger and argues that the jargon of authenticity used by Heidegger abstracts from social causes of discontent by forming an ahistorical formulation. He argues that Heidegger’s writings are infected with ideological thrust of a vocabulary that thrives on ambiguity.