PHILOSOPHY

June 1, 2010

“Unfelt” Misery of the American Workers

“None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free.” –Goethe

§1. Philosophical Examination of the “Unfelt” Misery of the American Workers/Employees

Allow me to commence this article by asking two peculiarly vague questions: Are your beliefs, in terms of work ethics,  in your own interest or in the interest of those who want you to believe it? And, what is it that you pretend not to know about yourself when you are at the workplace?

Here in the United States of America, we oddly have given unprecedented primacy and priority to the business sector over and above all other social institutions, such as the institutions of marriage, family, health, the humanities, and so on. We have unilaterally and considerably unconsciously invested the business sector, and hence the economic entities, with significant – and one might add, with “invisible” – powers to almost unconditionally reign over our livelihood and lives. In fact, such economic entities are practically treated as sovereign, untouchable, and even sacred. Not often employees dare to fearlessly and candidly criticize, does not matter how legitimately, their employers or bosses. Is it because, perhaps, while you hold the key to your employer’s profitability, she or he seemingly holds the key to your life and demise? Is this fair enough? Besides the business principles of efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability – the principle of fear is also paramount in operations of businesses, for fear makes employees calculable, predictable, conformable, and – “valuable”.

In some European nations, such as France, if a citizen loses her or his job, the government will provide certain necessities such as: money for food, housing, and transportation, plus free healthcare and subsidized telephone line and Internet connection. As a result, under the governmental protection, the French employees have certain leverage against their employers, who do not hold the key to their lives and demise as done here in the United States. Such balance of powers between employers and employees is resisted against by certain governmental elements in America. Furthermore, in a peculiar sense, the business entities, by proxy, are extensions of our government, as they are heavily regulated under various federal agencies, such as the United States Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, the Internal Revenue Service, and so on. Generally speaking, such departments are more protective toward the business entities than toward those who work for them. We all witnessed how our Federal Government bailed out various giant corporations while the common citizens helplessly lost their jobs, cars, and homes.

Have you ever wondered why workplaces impose upon their employees “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies, such as not to reveal to other employees your salary or hourly wage, or to refrain from communicating with terminated employees? Do such policies implicate elements of dishonesty, irresponsibility, corruption, and immorality within workplaces? In the land of “the free” and “the brave”, why is there so much unfreedom and fears in respect to the business entities? In the land where we take pride in our freedom of speech, why do we lose so much of it when we are at our workplaces? My point is that there is undeniably something spellbinding and hypnotic about the business entities and how we treat them in America.

A crucial question to ask is: Are the American workers complacent about their extant labor conditions because they are conveniently pacified with the rampant materialism and consumerism (i.e., pacified with possession of pacifiers such as iPods, laptops, the Internet, gigantic television sets, television programs, movies, entertainment industry, fashion, automobiles, houses or condominiums, weight loss, facelift, self-image, the American dream, and etc.) – or are they fearful, pretending not to know what they ought to know about themselves? How conscious or unconscious are we of our own states of mind in relation to the labor conditions in the United States of America?

In his book The Prince, the Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) acknowledges that most people are moved by passion (such as fear) rather than by reason. Therefore, he advises that if a ruler desires to effectively exploit his people, the ruler must first learn their passions (and fears) – and then manipulate them to his own advantage. In our time, since greater number of people are principally concerned with the immediate gratification of their senses, and that they do not cultivate and entertain (maintain) their own characters, it is left to extraneous factors to mold, control, and farm the people – by manipulating their passions, for example, for Christ, material possessions, family values, lower pleasures, patriotism, the American dream, and etc. Otherwise, what will the people do with themselves? The human farmers (i.e., socio-economico-political engineers) exploit the herd mentality by making it a priority to create jobs for the herd and to indoctrinate them to the virtues of the American “work ethics” (which is an extension of the “bourgeois morality”). The jobs will supply the herd with livelihood and the desired pacifiers, while the work ethics turns their lives into a self-perpetuating pursuit of material goods and services. This relentless cycle of capital, labor, and consumption of goods and services, under the principle of “supply and [create] demand”, has defined our personal and national characters and identities. In this article, I will critically explore, and hopefully demystify to a degree, the “unfelt” misery of the American workers (used synonymously with “laborers” or “employees”).

Milton Friedman (1912-2006) & C.G. Jung (1875-1961)

§2. Corporate Ethics vs. Morality

Economic thinker Milton Friedman (1912-2006) writes that a person has many responsibilities, such as moral responsibilities toward family, people, society, country, and etc. In contrast, a business entity such as a corporation – which the law treats as a “person” – has only one responsibility according to Friedman: “to engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” Friedman portrays a corporation as a person preoccupied with making as much money as possible, maximizing its profits. In doing so, this fictional person conducts itself in a sovereignly selfish, self-serving, and single-minded manner. It does not take much trouble, especially since the recent and ongoing global economic crisis, to realize that a corporation, as an unruly fictional person, seems to be afflicted with severe mental and emotional problems! If you, as an actual person, be blind to your moral responsibilities and behave narcissistically, you would be considered an anti-social or, perhaps, a psychopath. My point is that we legally allow this corporate person to act in deliberate disregard toward moral responsibilities which you and I cannot ignore without being socially sanctioned or punished. We treat corporations with mythical reverence, like the way Zeus, the king of gods, is revered in the ancient Greek myths – the god who would not hesitate to cheat other gods or to bed his own offspring.

Furthermore, employees of a corporation are required to ethically and morally behave themselves toward the corporation – while the corporation does not equally hold itself responsible in ethical and moral terms toward the employees. This is, of course, hypocrisy! In essence, this is tantamount to corporate tyranny, which we have come to accept uncritically and fearfully. Practically, a corporation can, and often does, freely and irrationally criticize and/or terminate its employees without any scruples. Conversely, employees of such a corporation are expected to rationally and responsibly conduct themselves at all times, always embracing the best interest of the business at heart – while slavishly losing their own freedom of speech and individualities by mutating themselves from humans to assets of the company. Here, we will do well to remind ourselves of the Socratic maxim. After the Athenian jury found Socrates guilty of trumped-up charges and sentenced him to death by drinking poison, Socrates courageously faced them and said to them: “It is not death that we should escape from but wretchedness, for it runs faster than death.” In his essay entitled “The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious”, the Swiss psychoanalyst C. G. Jung (1875-1961) eloquently states:

“Any large company composed of wholly admirable persons has the morality of an unwieldy, stupid, and violent animal. The bigger the organization, the more unavoidable is its immorality and blind stupidity. Society, by automatically stressing all the collective qualities in its individual representatives, puts a premium on mediocrity, on everything that settles down to vegetate in an easy, irresponsible way. Individuality will inevitably be driven to the wall. This process begins in  . . . all departments in which the State has a hand. In a small social body, the individuality of its members is better safeguarded, and the greater is their relative freedom and the possibility of conscious responsibility. Without freedom there can be no morality.”

Corporatism is quite an important issue in the age wherein more and more Americans are hired by corporations, which keep mercilessly swallowing up sole proprietors. It is an evident fact that corporations abuse their legally invested powers, and their “invisible” powers, against less powerful people and entities. In practice, a corporation is designed to protect itself very much at all costs. On January 21, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the long-standing restrictions on political spending by corporations. In general, the Court’s ruling empowers corporations to freely give money, in any amount, to campaigns for presidential and congressional elections. An urgent question to ask is: Are corporations for profit or for political power? The ideal corporation Friedman describes is out to do nothing but make as much money as it can “within the rules of the game.” The Supreme Court’s ruling may be pregnant with the implication that now corporations have the power to make their own “rules of the game” – which their lobbyists do anyway. By analogy, this is akin to putting prisoners in charge of the prison!

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

§3. Martin Heidegger: Labor and Time

If you agree that money is a substitute for time and energy, then you would also probably agree that what you sell to your employer are your “time” and “effort”. Verily, if your boss had enough time and energy to effectively manage all the affairs of the business, she or he would not need you to work for her or him. Time is expressive of a sacred aspect of your existence, in the sense that time, according to philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), is a precondition of your possibilities in life – and your life and your possibilities do not last forever here in this world. In this regard, how much does your “time” – as a measure and significance of your “being” in the world – matter to you? Your time is your treasure, and the sacrilege (from Latin sacrilegium, “theft of what is sacred”) of your time is extinction of your possibilities, of your life, of your being in the world.

Heidegger, in his book Being and Time, considers the question: Are you “authentic”? (The word “authentic” is derived from the Greek word authentēs, meaning “author”.) In other words, are you the author of your own “time” and “being”? If you, as an employee, are alienated from your own work products, work activities, and your own being at work, you will feel a sense of inauthenticity or not belonging to the workplace – because your time at work does not belong to you and does not serve your own being, but the employer’s – who makes profit (plus the surplus) while you make only an hourly wage (without the surplus). Is your precious time worth the hourly wage you receive? Some would argue that your salary or hourly wage is a measure of how much you respect yourself, let alone how much respect your employer holds for you. How much does your employer pay you per hour? Is your existence, your short time being in this world, worth that much? Or, does the finitude of your existence and possibilities make your time infinite in value, and above all, in significance? Think about it! This is not to imply to hold resentment toward your employer, but to be conscious of your own state of “being”, not letting it go “unfelt”.

If your workplace becomes an encagement (imprisonment) of your time, hence of your possibilities of being in the world, who is to blame? Heidegger would advise us not to be too quick to judge! And, he would insist that: a culture which confuses “being” with “having” and “time” with what is “now” – a culture which is obsessed with accumulation of entities (i.e., consumer goods) which conclusively define the culture’s spirit, orientation, values, and aspirations – is one that should alarm us. In other words, our culture, along with its fostered labor conditions, expresses the impoverishment of our ontological interest in our own existence and time. After all it is estimated that we, as a nation which presently constitutes about 5% of the world population, are currently consuming roughly about 47% of the world resources. The economic, political, and moral ramifications of this estimate are quite deplorable and atrocious! (By analogy, this is similar to 20 individuals getting stuck in middle of a barren desert with only 1 gallon of water, and one of the individuals appropriating about half of the water for himself while leaving the other half to be divided among the other 19 individuals. Hence, the one individual increases his survival at the cost of decreasing the survival of the 19.) Within this context, perhaps, the ongoing global economic crisis did not begin with the subprime mortgage market in the United States, but began with our insatiable greed, our “subprime” mentality, all the way from the governmental level to the level of the common citizens of this land. (For further exploration of Heidegger’s philosophy, see my previous article: https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/being-and-time-part-3/.)

G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831)

§4. Hegel: Labor Conditions and Phenomenology of Self-consciousness

In his Phenomenology of Spirit, German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) sets forth his history of the development of human self-consciousness, which is quite revelatory in the context of the existing labor conditions in America. The following passages will indicate that Hegel’s principles of development of human self-consciousness are subtly at work in our workplaces. The first stage of the developmental history of self-consciousness can be characterized as man’s mastery over objects. According to Hegel, at this early phase of human development, the self is conscious of objects surrounding it. The human self relates to these objects through desire for its own gratification, in order to satisfy its bodily appetites and needs. Further, the self finds pleasure in mastering the objects, for example, by handling them, shaping them, manipulating them, exploiting them, destroying them, canceling them out, or negating them. The self satisfies itself by making the objects serve him, for instance, by carving a piece of obsidian into a stabbing tool, by hunting animal objects, devouring their meat, appropriating their bones and hide. Hegel maintains that history reveals that the human self takes mastery of objects as its goal. And, there is one central principle at work in the self’s relation to objects: the principle of negation or death.

Hegel characterizes the next phase of the self’s development as the “life-and-death struggle”. In this movement, the death-dealing consciousness runs into conflict when the object to negate is a human object. The self, in annihilating the human object, realizes that the object has the same desire to master and negate the first self. Each self seeks to assert its own selfhood by overcoming the other. Therefore, the two selves engage in what Hegel refers to as the “trial by death”, whereby each self tries to negate the other. However, soon the self comes to the realization that there is a greater satisfaction to be had by keeping the other self alive. Hegel insists,

“Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it [self-consciousness] exists only in being acknowledged [by others].”

The self needs the other self to look at and recognize the first self as a self. In other words, Hegel argues, one cannot become conscious of one’s own selfhood, unless other selves serve as mirrors through which she or he can observe and be aware of her or his own self. Being conscious of our own existence requires the existence of other selves. Consequently, in the life-and-death struggle, if the self kills the other, the first self will lose on two counts: (1) it will not gain the contentment of having the other self recognize the first self’s mastery and victory, and (2) it will not have the other self acknowledge the first self as a self, and, hence, it will lose the chance of attaining selfhood. Rather than cancelling the other self out of existence, the first self takes great delight in keeping the other self alive and having it know and acknowledge who is the master, who is the self.

Hegel qualifies the next phase of the developmental history of self-consciousness as the “master-slave” (cf. employer and employee) relation, which is brought about by the immanent limitations of the life-and-death struggle. In this new movement, the victor learns not to kill the victim, but to keep him alive and enslaved – making him serve the desires and needs of the master. Hegel regards this new consciousness of master-slave relationship as a dominant factor in shaping the world history, as it commonly occurs during wars, wherein one nation overpowers the other, making the defeated nation serve the will of the triumphant nation. However, Hegel tells us that the master-slave relation suffers from its own inherent limitations or contradictions, which will eventually cause the demise of this mode of relation. In this relation, the slave is forced to work upon material things, to pour out his own existence into them, not for his own benefit and self-fulfillment – but for the welfare of the master. Therefore, the consciousness of master-slave relation renders the slave enmeshed in matter; he becomes indistinguishable from the raw materials and tools he works with; he is reduced to being a thing as opposed to a self; and, he is forced to work upon material things not for his own self-realization, but for the benefit and glory of the master.

Nevertheless, within this relationship, which, on the surface, seems to visibly benefit the master, there are certain internal factors which work over a period of time to favor the slave over the master. First, the master is dependent on the slave’s recognition of him as master, and this dependency of the master is precarious because there is no master unless the slave recognizes him as such. What if the slave refuses to acknowledge him as the master? If the slave determinedly and resolutely stops his self-belittling activities as a slave, then who will serve the desires of the master? Second, the slave has as his mirror the master as an independent person, whereas the master has as his mirror only a lowly dependent slave-self to relate to. This is the master’s only reflection of himself: an impoverished slave-self. Here, the implication is that: By impoverishing and turning the slave into a thing, the master also impoverishes and depreciates his own worth, his own selfhood. Third, and most important of all, although it appears that the master has the advantage in having the slave labor on material things for the master’s benefit, the long-run advantage of this is in fact for the slave. For in laboring, crafting, and producing objects, the slave finds himself in what he makes. He realizes that the objects which he has crafted, which he has transformed from raw materials into utilizable things, is the work of his own hands – and that he is the independent self who has created it. As a result, the slave’s labor, which materializes the will of the master, reveals to the slave that he is not a slave, a thing – that he is, indeed, distinguishable from the materials he works on. He comes upon his own independent existence as a consciousness with the will and power of its own.

Some years later, when German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883) lays open the master-slave (“Lordship and Bondage”) chapter in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, he pronounces it as the meaning of labor, insisting that man’s nature is the result of his labor. In his book Capital, Marx affirms:

“As man works on nature outside himself and changes it, he changes at the same time his own nature.”

This is what Hegel’s slave has accomplished: transforming his own nature from a degraded being into an independent self. According to Marx, the modern capitalists (corporations and business owners) are comparable to Hegel’s master, and the modern laborers (i.e., workers or employees) correspond to Hegel’s slave. For him, the modern relations between “bourgeois” (owners) and “proletarian” (workers) are a rendition of the master-slave relationship. (For the rest of the phases of the developmental history of the human self-consciousness refer to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.)

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

§5. Karl Marx: Labor and Alienation

Karl Marx is a keen observer of how the modern conditions of labor under capitalism have radically changed our lives and the course of the world history. He believes that the modern economic relations have created a battleground where everybody ruthlessly pursues her or his own private interests. This is a battle of all against all, not excluding the subtle economic tensions existing between family members.

Consider an average American laborer (or worker), who works one or two jobs that are often monotonous, meaningless, and self-humiliating – although the laborer may not be conscious of her or his own woeful situation. The moment the laborer leaves home and hits the road to go to work, the war of all against all nauseatingly manifests itself right there on the road! The laborer labors eight hours or more per day, for five days or more per week. While at work, the laborer has to deal with work conditions that are often hostile and dehumanizing. So, the laborer grows weary and numb at work. Inasmuch as the laborer’s job is the principal source of her or his livelihood and welfare, the laborer’s job defines, regulates, and proceduralizes the laborer’s life both in and – outside of the workplace. Inescapably, the laborer will be socially defined by her or his job and income. Since we popularly value labor by the wage it makes, the less money the laborer makes the less the life of the laborer is valued, unfortunately. Verily, the laborer is chained to her or his job, which by and large pays enough to keep the laborer alive to return to work. After leaving the workplace with a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction, do you suppose the laborer will be in a favorable spirit to go home and meaningfully interact with her or his spouse and children? In all likelihood, her or his spouse is already experiencing the same wretched conditions. So, the couple, feeling unfulfilled and being physically and mentally drained, expediently resort to buy junk food for everyone, rather than enjoying a healthy meal which can cost more time and money. (As Marx puts it, “The less you eat . . . the greater becomes your treasure . . . your capital. The less you are the more you have”.) Hence, the poor labor conditions of the couple – which is the same labor conditions under which millions of other Americans find themselves – pave the way toward the degradation of their psychological and physical health, for which the healthcare industry is awaiting with open arms! (Not many realize how our work conditions bleed into our personal lives and relations.) Later, after some hours of watching their favorite television programs, the couple may suddenly feel that they can find a sense of fulfillment, or even a sense of identity, by going to a mall and shop! Tragically enough, there are those who think that shopping is a great “therapy”, which is in fact a poor substitution for the “happiness” they seek. As long as the legal and political structure of capitalism keeps the working class depressed and spiritually impoverished, the shopping therapy will continue and the wheels of our economy will turn! Unfortunately, our Government seems to value our contributions to the U.S. economy as more important than our contributions to our own wellbeing.

Here, my point is that, as Marx thinks, our modern economic conditions (of which the labor conditions are an integral part) create a social setting that the more one participates in it – the less human one becomes. As he expresses it in his Paris Manuscripts:

“Money . . . transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence and intelligence into idiocy.”

In the case of the American laborer and his or her spouse, their jobs – or more specifically, the prevalent economic conditions – deprive them of their health, self-identity, and meaningful relationship with one another, with their children, and with their coworkers – and all this in the country that self-professedly is all about “family values”! In his Manifesto, Marx writes that the capitalists as “leaders of whole industrial armies” have overturned the traditional human relationships of the feudal age, leaving no other relationship “between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’” Furthermore, under capitalism, the institution of family itself has become a monetary unit, wherein members of family relate to one another monetarily. Capitalism, according to Marx, has mercilessly turned family and social values into monetary values. As he puts it, “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned. . . .” Since in capitalism capital is of “utmost value”, other values – such as values of love, marriage, family, friendship, decency, mercy, honesty, fairness, truth and so on – become subservient to the value of money and property.

According to the dominant capitalist mentality (of which the American work ethics is a byproduct that has been stealthily implanted in peoples’ unconscious minds as their own), your misery and unhappiness are entirely your own fault, and that you deserve it and should not complain about it. Certainly, there is an element of truth to this admonition. However, this truth will not run very far as long as our government does not wholeheartedly and indiscriminately provide the necessary conditions under which all the citizens can have the opportunity to educate and better themselves. By analogy, an apple seed can grow to become an apple tree – only under the right conditions: namely, proper weather and soil, adequate amount of water, and enough sunlight. One would not expect an apple seed to grow on its own accord and become fruitful in middle of a barren dessert. In the same manner, a woman or a man needs the proper conditions in order to develop as a human and to be a fruitful member of the society. One needs to be free from ignorance and prejudice in order to be free to humanly cultivate one’s potentials. What is the point if one demands freedom of speech when one is not enabled or educated enough to know how to exercise the right? The eminent Cordovan philosopher, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204), known in the West as Moses Maimonides, insisted that, “The aim of any society . . . [should be] the development of human beings and not of wealth.” In the same spirit, the Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) stated, “Create citizens, and you have everything you need; without them, you will have nothing but debased slaves, from the rulers of the State downwards.”

Marx fundamentally construes humans as adventurous and creative beings, with faculties geared toward externalizing their creativity through productions of cultural artifacts, such as tools, buildings, artworks, literature, science, and etc. However, under the present economic conditions under capitalism, laborers’ work products have become alien to them because, according to Marx, their productive activities are done in servitude to the money-God, rather than in serving their own human potentials and fulfilling their own creative nature. Therefore, per Marx, the history of human creative production has been a history of alienation from our creative nature. In his essay entitled “The Jewish Question”, he writes:

“Money is the jealous one God of Israel, beside which no other God may stand. Money dethrones all the gods of man and turns them into a commodity. Money is the universal, independently constituted value of all things. It has therefore deprived the whole world, both the world of man and nature, of its own value. Money is the alienated essence of man’s work and his being. This alien being rules him and he worships it.”

For Marx, the modern commercial world under capitalism is a religion of money worship, which disunites and alienates (estranges) members of society, including family members, from one another. In accordance with his Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844, human alienation takes on four forms:

1)    Alienation from your work products: The money economy of capitalism alienates the worker from her or his work products, which exist as things estranged and indifferent to the worker who creates them, and which also exist as objects of pleasure for somebody else.

2)    Alienation from your productive Activities: The money mania of capitalism alienates the worker from her or his productive activities – activities which are turned into “forced labor” because the activities of the worker are not of personal interest to her or him, who is compelled to perform them just to keep alive.

3)    Alienation from your human qualities: The modern money economy alienates the worker from her or his fundamental human and social qualities, such as love, sympathy, kindness, leisure, and etc.

4)    Alienation from your fellowmen: At last, capitalism alienates the worker from her or his fellow men. Marx called this “the estrangement of man from man”, whereby we all compete against each other.

Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929)

§6. Habermas: Labor, Communication, and Emancipation

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) is known for his reformulation of a pre-existing theory known as the “critical theory” – a theory whose interest is in the practical, not just theoretical, emancipation of human beings. German philosopher Max Horkheimer (1895-1973), a pioneer of this theory, under whom Habermas had studied, stated in his Critical Theory (Kritische Theorie) that a theory is vital or critical to the degree it endeavors “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them”. Critical theory is based on and builds upon philosophy of Karl Marx. Indeed, the critical theory’s longing to liberate human beings in practice is expressive of Marx’s statement, “The philosophers have so far only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (Italics are added.).

In concocting his theory, Habermas maintains that the human species has three fundamental (or critical) interests: in labor, communication, and emancipation. He insists that these fundamental interests are so essential and vital that we cannot meaningfully subsist without them. He commences his critical theory by making a distinction between labor and communication. The first fundamental interest of the human species is in reproducing their lives through labor (or work). The second fundamental interest of the human species is in communication (or interaction) with one another. Without these deeply seated interests in labor and communication, social bonds would disintegrate and society would parasitically consume itself. For Habermas, the formation of human self takes place in the spheres of both labor and communication within social context. However, he construes the communicative dimension of human interactions as having a primary role in development of human self, since he, akin to Hegel, is of the conviction that we become selves in our interaction with other selves. In this context, if an individual is incapable of adequately communicating with others and incapable of psychologically and morally benefiting from her or his productive activities, the individual would be vulnerable to self-deficiency. Habermas emphatically insists that human development is significantly contingent on how human beings externalize their creativity in their labor and how they communicate or interact with each other. Besides labor and communication, Habermas claims that the human race has a third fundamental interest: the critical interest in human emancipation, in human liberation from unnecessary constraints to their psychophysical and moral development. Indeed, a society that does not embody these three rudimentary factors in its fabric would be in a state of disintegration, and the members of such a society would become alienated from their own selves, each another, and their socio-economico-political institutions. One wonders that to what degree the United States has incorporated the three fundamental factors in its institutions of labor, mass communication, and so forth.

Emphasizing the fundamental human interest in clear and unobstructed communication with one another, Habermas makes a contrast between “undistorted communication” and systematically “distorted communication”. He lays out a series of qualifications for undistorted communication. According to one of the qualifications, truly undistorted communication must have “symmetry conditions”. In political terms, it means that everyone must have an equal opportunity to talk and to listen, to question and to receive an answer, to command and to obey. This symmetrical communication is an egalitarian principle, without which the possibility of undistorted communication among various parties becomes knotty and problematic. When an employer or government holds power over powerless employees or citizens respectively, the inequality of power between them creates a condition for distorted communication. Unequal power distorts communication. This is why employees seldom get the undistorted truth from their employers, and employers seldom get the undistorted truth from their employees. Their communication is often distorted by relations of unequal powers.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates owned nothing and was virtually in no position of power in Athens. Yet, his charm was that when he engaged in an argument with someone who had power (either of political nature or of social status) over him, Socrates would compel him to depend solely on the force of his argument, as opposed to his political power or social status. In other words, this was no situation where “might is right”. The only force that Habermas wants us to recognize is the unforced force of communicatively rational argument, as opposed to brute power of money or physical might. A free human being is one who can change his or her mind upon hearing a better argument – without feeling any shame. When a judicious argument has the force to make one see the weakness of one’s own argument and change one’s mind in accordance to it, this is the force that only a free human being can recognize.

Habermas contends that our survival fundamentally pivots around liberating ourselves from distorted communication and fostering humane practices of labor. Is it the case that the American labor force – whose labor conditions are alienable and not as humane as they seem – has managed to subsist so far because of the mass communication industry which actively distorts laborers’ perceptions of their own misery and compels them to pacify themselves with consumer goods and services? In a nation where capital is of utmost value and where perpetual mass consumption of goods and services vitally sustains the heartbeat of the nation, there may not be any other way.

Habermas’ concept of distorted communication corresponds to Karl Marx’s concept of “ideology”: the ruling ideas are in every age the ideas of the ruling class – connoting that, the ruling ideas of the ruling class are ideologies that are purposefully devised to impoverish the masses and to maintain the elite in positions of power. Further, Habermas’ concept of distorted communication passes the test of ideology by asking: Is what you believe – in the interest of those who want you to believe it? For instance, one can take “democracy” as it exists in the United States. The powerful – those who own and control the means of production, communication, information, and dissemination – want the citizens to blindly believe that democracy is a present and immanent reality in this nation. Yet, American democracy and its exportation around the globe, under the banner of freedom, is an outstanding example of systematically distorted communication – as our existing democracy gutlessly backstabs the principle of having a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. “Work ethics” in America is another striking example of systematically distorted communication. In reality, work ethics in America is not so ethical at all – for it is an ideology or sets of codes of conduct that are designed to systematically manipulate and deprive the working class for the sake of benefiting the capitalists. The American work ethics – which has been so cunningly and subconsciously embedded in the minds of the American working class – has deprived them of their leisure, dignity, humanity, family, health, and etc. – and all this serves the interest of those who own the means of production, communication, information, and dissemination. Do you think a capitalist boss is ready and willing to engage in “undistorted communication” with her or his employees? The capitalist boss may never acquiesce to engage in undistorted communication with her or his employees; however, her or his employees’ enlightened consciousness – if enlightened at all – of their own dehumanizing labor conditions would make it difficult for the boss not to submit. Money and power, as abstract systems, need to be harmonized with the rest of our social system before we can be in a position to truly communicate with one another rationally and without distortions.

(Dear reader, please feel free to make a critique of this article. I look forward to learning from you!)

For further exploration of philosophies of Martin Heidegger and Jürgen Habermas see the following links:

Jürgen Habermas (Disentanglement of Reason from Terror): https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/critical-theory/

Martin Heidegger (Being and Time, Part 1): https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/being-and-time-part-1/

Martin Heidegger (Being and Time, Part 2): https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/being-and-time-part-2/

Martin Heidegger (Being and Time, Part 3): https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/being-and-time-part-3/

May 23, 2010

Being and Time (Part 3)

An Attempt to Interpret Heidegger’s Interpretation of Time

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) – Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

§1. Preface

In my two previous articles entitled “Being and Time (Part 1)” and “Being and Time (Part 2)”, I discussed Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus Being and Time (published in 1927). In the two articles, I mainly explored Heidegger’s hermeneutical interpretation of “Being”. In this article, I will attempt to explore Heidegger’s interpretation of “time” in a way that may or may not adhere to certain Heideggerian convictions, for I will conjure up some of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical ideas, as it is my tentative conviction that certain aspects of Freud’s psychoanalysis may serve as a psychology of Heidegger’s ontology of “Dasein” (our “Being-in-the-world”). In addition, I cautiously believe that certain features of Freud’s psychoanalysis may aid us to illuminate certain facets of Heidegger’s ontology of Dasein. But why examining Heidegger’s concept of time under the light of Freud’s psychoanalysis may or may not oppose certain convictions of Heidegger in Being and Time? We should keep in mind that for Heidegger “the question of Being” is more primordial, radical, and profound than the question of knowing. That is to say – in contrast to Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” – Being precedes thinking and, hence, knowing and theorizing. For Heidegger, Being is the fertile soil out of which grows Dasein’s thoughts, ideas, knowledge, and theories. In other words, ontology (phenomenological investigation of Being) is the foundation of epistemology (theoretical knowing, in this case, of psychoanalysis). For Heidegger, knowledge and belief are founded upon the primordial Being-in-the-world. As he states in his Being and Time, “Knowing is a mode of Dasein founded upon Being-in-the-world. Thus Being-in-the-world, as a basic state, must be Interpreted beforehand”. Notwithstanding Heidegger’s position of knowing as subsidiary to Being, I will apply certain aspects of Freud’s theoretical work toward understanding Heidegger’s concept of time. I will further discuss this issue later in §5. Can Freud’s psychoanalysis, in part or in whole, serve as a psychological expression of Heidegger’s ontological expression of Dasein?

Unless the readers are already familiar with Heidegger’s fundamental tenets of Being and Time, I highly recommend the readers first to familiarize themselves with the content of my two previous articles on Heidegger, or they may not understand the present article.

Being and Time (Part 1): https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/being-and-time-part-1/

Being and Time (Part 2): https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/being-and-time-part-2/

Meanwhile, before I explore Heidegger’s concept of time, I will first introduce some of the basic ideas of Freud’s psychoanalysis, hoping that they will aid in shedding light on the concept of time.

Iceberg: Structural Model of Psyche

§2. Id, Ego, and Superego

Freud’s structural model of the human psyche is comprised of three distinct, but not separate, organically-based psychological forces or dynamisms that operate within us: the “id”, “ego”, and “super-ego” or “ego ideal”. (Freud warns his readers that his structural model of psyche can be used as a map, not to be confused with the territory itself.) He describes the id (a purely unconscious and unorganized impetus) as expressive of the sexual, aggressive, and self-preservative instincts. The id can be analogized to an insatiable, turbulent, and ferocious current of water that amorphously and uncontrollably flows to various directions. The super-ego (partly conscious and partly unconscious) is a psychic function indicative of human reason in terms of “conscience”, which regulates and restrains the instinctual urges of the id. And, the ego (as the seat of conscious awareness, yet being partly unconscious) is a developmental extension of the id (or, as Freud puts it, “the ego is a specially differentiated part of the id”) and is an organic dynamism indicative of “perception” and “reason” in terms of intelligence, which mediates between the id’s demands for immediate gratification of its instinctual urges and the disciplinary super-ego’s restrictions upon them. Furthermore, the ego, under the watchful eyes of the super-ego, functions to bring about a state of equilibrium between the impulsive urges and the external physical and social reality. In a sense, the ego is the executive while the super-ego is the legislative and the judiciary. The ego can be analogized to a dam which brings under control the turbulent water current (cf. the blind energy of the id).

The id (Latin for “it”) is associated with the “pleasure[-pain] principle”. The ego (Latin for “I”) is correlated with the “reality principle”, in terms of the external and social circumstances circumventing the psyche. And, the super-ego (over-I) is identified with what can be called the ideal principle, which is associated with the judgmental faculty discerning what is right or wrong behavior in relation to the external and social conditions under which the ego is to serve the id under the supervision of the super-ego. The super-ego continually oversees the ego’s performance, and it punishes the ego’s misconducts with feelings such as guilt, anxiety, or inferiority. In his The Ego and the Id (published in 1923), Freud associates the “consciousness”, “reason”, “perception”, and “motility” with the ego, while associating the “unconscious”, “instincts”, and “passions” with the id in the following manner:

“We have formed the idea that in each individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes; and we call this his ego. It is to this ego that consciousness [How about time?] is attached; the ego controls the approaches to motility – that is, to the discharge of excitations into the external world; it is the mental agency which supervises all its own constituent processes, and which goes to sleep at night, though even then it exercises the censorship on dreams.”

“We have said that consciousness [associated with the ego] is the surface of the mental apparatus; that is, we have ascribed it as a function to a system [i.e., outer sense perception and inner sensations and feelings] which is spatially the first one reached from the external world. . . .”

“We shall now look upon an individual as a psychical id, unknown and unconscious, upon whose surface rests the ego, developed from its [id’s] nucleus the Pcpt. [perceptual] system. If we make an effort to represent this pictorially, we may add that the ego does not completely envelop the id, but only does so to the extent to which the system Pcpt. forms its [the ego’s] surface. . . . The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it.”

“It is easy to see that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world through the medium of the Pcpt.-Cs. [perceptual-conscious system]. . . . Moreover, the ego seeks to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavours to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id. For the ego, perception plays the part which in the id falls to instinct. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions.”

“The functional importance of the ego is manifested in the fact that normally control over the approaches to motility devolves upon it. Thus in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces [of the id]. The analogy may be carried a little further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id’s will into action as if it were its own.”

(I curiously ask, “Might it be the case, for Freud, that the ego – being the seat of conscious awareness and perception, and affiliated with motility – is also the seat of time in order to organize, coordinate, and regulate its functions as the mediator between the id and superego in relation to the external world?”)

§3. The Life and Death Instincts

In the book, Freud makes a distinction between two classes of instincts: the “Eros” (depicted as the life instincts, including the sexual instincts) and “Thanatos” (depicted as the death instincts). (In the book, Freud does not utilize the term “Thanatos”, but instead “death instincts”. It is said that the former is a term dubbed by the post-Freudian psychology.) In general, Eros is characteristically a creative and organizational tendency while Thanatos is characteristically a destructive propensity. There is an ongoing tension between these two tendencies. Freud writes,

“. . . [W]e have to distinguish two classes of instincts, one of which, the sexual instincts or Eros . . . comprises not merely the uninhibited sexual instinct proper and the instinctual impulses of an aim-inhibited or sublimated nature derived from it, but also the self-preservative instinct, which must be assigned to the ego. . . . [As to] the second class of instincts . . . we put forward the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state; on the other hand, we supposed that Eros . . . aims at complicating life and at the same time, of course, at preserving it. Acting in this way, both the instincts would be conservative in the strictest sense of the word, since both would be endeavouring to re-establish a state of things that was disturbed by the emergence of life. The emergence of life would thus be the cause of the continuance of life and also at the same time of the striving towards death; and life itself would be a conflict and compromise between these two trends.”

“On this view, a special physiological process (of anabolism or catabolism) would be associated with each of the two classes of instincts; both kinds of instinct would be active in every particle of living substance [cells], though in unequal proportions, so that some one substance might be the principal representative of Eros.”

“[W]e are driven to conclude that the death instincts are by their nature mute and that the clamour of life proceeds for the most part from Eros.”

“The dangerous death instincts are dealt with in the individual in various ways: in part they are rendered harmless by being fused with erotic components, in part they are diverted towards the external world in the form of aggression, while to a large extent they undoubtedly continue their internal work unhindered.”

“Towards the two classes of instincts the ego’s attitude is not impartial. Through its work of identification and sublimation, it gives the death instincts in the id assistance in gaining control over the libido, but in so doing it runs the risk of becoming the object of the death instincts and of itself perishing. In order to be able to help in this way it has had itself to become filled with libido; it thus itself becomes the representative of Eros and thenceforward desires to live and to be loved.”

“The id . . . has no means of showing the ego either love or hate. It [the id] cannot say what it wants; it has achieved no unified will. Eros and the death instinct struggle within it; we have seen with what weapons the one group of instincts defends itself against the other. It would be possible to picture the id as under the domination of the mute but powerful death instincts, which desire to be at peace and (prompted by the pleasure principle) to put Eros, the mischiefmaker, to rest; but perhaps that might be to undervalue the part played by Eros.”

Interestingly enough, Freud’s concepts of Eros (life instincts) and Thanatos (death instincts) run parallel to the psychologizing philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s concepts of the “Dionysian” and “Apollinian”, in his book The Birth of Tragedy. In the ancient Greek mythology, Dionysus is portrayed as the god of grapes and wine – who is intoxicative, destructive, and not prone to reason or rationality. In sharp contrast, Apollo is depicted as a god of light and the sun – attributive of reason or rationality and imposition of forms. Nietzsche construes the Dionysian and Apollinian as two physiological forces or tendencies whose union creates art or beauty that is “apt to seduce us to life”, as he puts it.

“. . . [T]he continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollinian and Dionysian duality – just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations. . . . Through Apollo and Dionysus, the two art deities of the Greeks, we come to recognize that in the Greek world there existed a tremendous opposition, in origins and aims, between the Apollinian art of sculpture [the plastic arts] and the nonimagistic, Dionysian art of music. These two different tendencies run parallel to each other, for the most part openly at variance; and they continually incite each other to new and more powerful births, which perpetuates an antagonism, only superficially reconciled by the common term ‘art’; till eventually, by a metaphysical miracle of the Hellenic ‘will,’ they appear coupled with each other, and through this coupling ultimately generates an equally Dionysian and Apollinian form of Art. . . .”

“For to our humiliation and exaltation, one thing above all must be clear to us. The entire comedy of art is neither performed for our betterment or education nor are we the true authors of this art world. On the contrary, we may assume that we are merely images and artistic projections for the true author, and that we have our highest dignity in our significance as works of art – for it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified. . . .”

According to Nietzsche, when the Dionysian-Apollinian union is disturbed, the consequences can be quite unsettling, as grimly portrayed in the myths of Orpheus, King Pentheus, and King Lycurgus, who were devotees of Apollo. Upon their acts of defiance against Dionysus, Orpheus was torn to pieces by the maenads (frenzied, female votaries of the orgiastic cult of Dionysus) and his head thrown into the river Hebrus, later to be buried at the shrine dedicated to Apollo. King Pentheus was also rent to shreds by the maenads, one of whom was his own mother, Agave. And, as to King Lycurgus, when Dionysus along with his band of maenads came to his kingdom, the king drove them away with an ox-goad. Thereupon, Dionysus took refuge deep beneath the sea, and the king got drunk on wine and raped his own mother. Upon discovering what he had done, the king began slashing the grapevines, and in the process he cut off his own feet, thinking that they were vines. In this respect, Nietzsche relates the myth of King Midas:

“There is an ancient story that King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: ‘Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is – to die soon.’”

Iceberg: Structural Model of Psyche

§4. The Unconscious and Consciousness

In his Some Elementary Lessons in Psychoanalysis (published in 1938), Freud writes about a case wherein a doctor hypnotized his patient and, while under hypnosis, instructed him as follows: I am going to leave the ward, but upon my return you are to bring my umbrella and hold it open over my head. Thereafter, the doctor brought the patient out of hypnosis and left the ward. When the doctor returned to the ward, the patient grabbed the umbrella, opened it, and held it over the doctor’s head. The doctor asked why he did that. The patient became embarrassed and gave him an unsound reason, such as that he thought it was raining outside and the doctor would need his umbrella!

The point is that, the patient’s reason for why he acted the way he did belies the actual cause of what he did. There seems to be a significant difference between the patient’s post-hypnotic reason for his action (that it is raining outside) and the pre-conscious cause of his action (the hypnotically implanted instruction to hand over the umbrella). Here, Freud makes a distinction between the “cause” of the patient’s action (the “cause” of which the patient was unconscious) and the “reason” for his action (the “reason” of which the patient was conscious). Likewise, often, unknown “causes” precede our actions while our “reasons” proceed from the actions. We commonly fabricate reasons for our choices or deeds – reasons that conceal, not reveal, the underlying causes of our decisions or activities. Often our reasons for why we do something (e.g., getting married or pursuing a college degree) betray the actual causes of why we do it. In other words, we unknowingly lie to ourselves. What we consciously want may not be what we really desire. Or, expressed in psychoanalytical terms, the ego thinks that it is acting autonomously, not realizing that the id is pulling its strings. (Keep in mind that Heidegger in Being and Time is primarily looking for phenomenological manifestations of Being and time, not their cause or causes. “The question of Being” – which is the fundamental crux of his work – consists of questions such as: What does it mean to be? What is it about our condition that lets Being have a meaning for us? Why does it make a difference to us that there is something rather than nothing? What is our relation to Being?)

§5. The Ontological and Ontical

Now, after having introduced some basic thoughts of Freud’s psychoanalysis, we shall proceed to interpret Heidegger’s concept of time with the aid of the psychoanalytical ideas presented above. And, we should keep in mind that Heidegger – who construes knowing (the sciences) subordinate to Being (ontology) – does not construct his thoughts scientifically or psychoanalytically by stating, for instance, “Dasein’s unconscious anxiety of death behaviorally comes through as a neurosis of everydayness.” Nonetheless, his thoughts on Being, time, anxiety, death, and etc. may implicate such psychical dynamisms of the unconscious and consciousness.

Before we commence our exploration of Heidegger’s concept of time, it is important to set forth the distinction he makes between that which is “ontological” (such as Being) and that which is “ontical” (such as things, entities, or beings). While ontology investigates Being, ontical investigations (as done by physics, biology, or political science) focus on particular facts about a being – without paying attention to its Being. For instance, “What is Joe’s eye color?” is an ontical question, whereas “How is the way of Being of Joe?” is an ontological question. Generally, ontical questions are researched by experimental sciences while ontological questions appeal to philosophy. It is important to know that Heidegger’s phenomenological investigation of Being and time is primarily ontological, but certainly not devoid of the ontical. After all, he suggests that to understand Dasein’s way of Being, we should cyclically turn to what is to us “ontically closest” (e.g., “everydayness”). Nevertheless, the ontological questions, for him, are more fundamental than ontical questions. According to Richard Polt’s Heidegger, for Heidegger:

“Not only is scientific research unable to shed light on Dasein’s Being, but it is all too likely that it operates with an inadequate interpretation of Being in general, inherited from Greek philosophy and Christianity. The sciences ultimately take Dasein as a thing, much as they may attempt to distinguish it from all other things. For Heidegger, Dasein is not a thing at all. Things are ‘whats’; their Being is ‘presence-at-hand’ (. . . “objective presence”), and their ontological characteristics are ‘categories’. Dasein is a ‘who’ whose Being is ‘existence’ and whose ontological characteristics Heidegger dubs existentialia (. . . “existentials”).” (Italics are added.)

In reading Being and Time, it is important for the readers to recognize when Heidegger treats his concepts (such as Being, time, death, and etc.) ontologically, ontically, or concurrently.

§6. Time

In the beginning of the book, before the “Introduction”, Heidegger firmly declares, “Our provisional aim is the Interpretation of time as the possible horizon [condition] for any understanding whatever of Being”. In other words, he maintains that Being should be understood in the context of time, that our way of Being is contingent on temporality: the significative inter-relation between our past, present, and future.

I suspect that if we were immortal (i.e., if we never biologically died, and hence perhaps implying that never felt physical pain and hunger), time would not matter to us, or perhaps it would not matter to us as much. However, time does matter because we are mortal. Heidegger expresses, “This certainty, that ‘I myself am in that I will die’, is the basic certainty of Dasein itself.” Each of us appears to have only a finite time to biologically “live” and to ontologically “exist” in the world. Time alerts us to our unavoidable biological “demise”. Time reminds us of our “finitude”. And, time alarms us of our impending “death” – the inevitable end of our possibilities of Being-in-the-world. Heidegger, in a peculiar manner, distinguishes – but not divorces – “ontology” from “biology”, “Dasein” from “that which lives”, “Being” from “living”,  “existence” form “life”, and “dying” from “perishing” or “demise”.

“We still have to ask how the ontological [distinct from the biological] essence of death is defined in terms of that of life [the ontical]. . . . The ending of that which lives [as opposed to “exists”] we have called ‘perishing’. Dasein too ‘has’ its own death, . . . not in ontical isolation, but as codetermined by its primordial kind of Being. . . . Dasein too can end . . ., though on the other hand, qua Dasein, it does not simply perish. We designate this intermediate phenomenon [of perishing] as its ‘demise’. Let the term ‘dying’ stand for that way of Being in which Dasein is towards its death. Accordingly we must say that Dasein never perishes. Dasein, however, can demise only as long as it is dying. . . . The existential Interpretation of death takes precedence over any biology and ontology of life.” (Italics are added.)

In other words, Dasein – as a “thing” that is no thing at all – does not perish; however, that which lives biologically does perish. Nonetheless, Dasein can demise only as long as its “way of Being” is dying or is not a possibility anymore. In this context, death is viewed as an ontological phenomenon while perishing, distinct but not isolated from dying, is viewed as a biological (that is, ontical) phenomenon. While Heidegger neither seems to affirm nor deny our biology as a psycho-organic origin or stimulus of our Being, he implies that our Being is a source of signification of our biology.

Furthermore, Heidegger makes a distinction between the ontical (ordinary or everyday) concept of time and the ontological concept of time. Ordinarily, time is viewed linearly, as a constant sequence of points – always irretrievably extending forward, never backward – identifying (id-entity-fying) where and things we are and have now, we were and had before, and we will be and have after. (The word “identify” is derived from the Latin word identificāre, meaning “to make to resemble” or “to make into thing”, derived from the Latin word identitās, meaning “id-entity” or literally “it-thing”.) The popular phrase “time is money” is in intimate conformity to this inadequate, as Heidegger thinks, depiction of time. In contrast to this thing-like, distorted, everyday concept of time, Heidegger’s existential concept of time is neither expressed merely linearly, nor as irretrievable forward succession of instants. His ontology of time is expressive of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world in terms of its significative inter-relation of its future, past, and present – in the sense that, as an example, Dasein’s future possibilities can be a source of its past’s significances that project Dasein forward (or backward) from the present. One’s future possibilities can unconceal the meanings of one’s past which can turn the present authentically into a project (or inauthentically into a regression).

Time is not merely a linear, forward succession of points, making it possible for us to measure the quantity of things we have lost or accumulated in the present in contrast to the past. For Heidegger, time seems to be revelatory of phenomenological manifestations (showings) of the inter-related significations of our Being-in-the-world that inter-connects, rather than individuates, Dasein’s future, past, and present. Time is expressive of the unconcealment of Dasein’s way of Being in which its future possibilities, past inheritance, and present actuality and potentiality can become Dasein’s own. A rock always seems frozen in position and time; it is simply there, as it was before and as it will be after. However, Dasein’s “authenticity” unfreezes its Being and time to authenticate (to make its own) its own Being and time. (The word “authentic” is derived from the Greek word authentēs, meaning “author”.) Dasein authenticates (authors) time, meaning that, Dasein’s Being brings time into the world, into eternity (timelessness). And, to be the author of our Being and time means to be authentic. As an example, an employee – who is alienated from her or his own work products, work activities, and her or his own Being at work – does not feel a sense of authenticity or belonging to the workplace, because the employee’s time at work does not belong to her or him and does not serve her or his own Being, but the employer’s. A Marxian may beg Heidegger to answer the following question: Is it our material conditions that determine our way of Being, or is it our way of Being that determines our material conditions, or a combination of both? I presume that Karl Marx himself would interpret our material conditions (which are dialectical) as primary, while Heidegger would construe our way of Being (which is historical) as primal in terms of significance and meaning of the world. Marx, as a materialist, seems interested in causal relations of things whereas Heidegger, as a phenomenological ontologist, seems interested in ontological relations (in terms of their significances and references) of ways of Being of things. Before Heidegger attempts to answer the question, by his own principles, he would have to first understand (phenomenologically and hermeneutically construe) the Being of Dasein, entities, our material conditions, cause, and effect. And, then, under the light of this understanding, he would attempt to interpret the question and ascertain its significance. Heidegger will refuse to laugh at an untold joke!

Heidegger’s predecessor, German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), insisted space and time are part of the structure of our consciousness, not things that consciousness discovers originally outside of itself. Hence, for him, space and time are not things that we perceive outside of us, but part of how we perceive and think of things. In other words, space and time are preconditions of human perception and understanding. As he puts it, no thing is understandable “before space and time”. In the same fashion, according to Heidegger, Dasein, through its own time, unfolds and understands (stands under) its world and its Being. And, in understanding its world and Being, Dasein finds itself not as a static thing, such as a rock, but as a dynamic and historical Being.

Therefore, it seems that for Heidegger Being and time are interdependent and, perhaps, inseparable. In this sense, lack of time appears to be a deficiency of Being and vice versa, meaning that, one’s future, past, and present are not coordinated. As an analogy, consider Beethoven’s ninth symphony, sometimes referred to as “Ode to Joy”. It is composed of a series of inter-related, rhythmic, musical notes that harmoniously, through time, communicate with one another and express a sentiment (such as that of joy juxtaposed with the crescendos of horror) to the listeners. Moreover, the symphony possesses an introduction (introducing the musical theme), a body (wherein the theme is developed and ornamented), and a conclusion (whereby the theme finds both a musical and sentimental resolution). If the conclusion of the symphony is not in harmonious and melodic conformity to the preceding and is not temporally coordinated with the introduction and the body, then the resolution may never be realized. Likewise, if one’s projected future is not coordinated with one’s past and present, then one’s life story may not come to a resolution, but to an inauthentic conclusion that screams: “I never have enough time for anything in my life.” Dasein’s future is a resolution of its past, and Dasein’s past is a solution toward its future. (The word “resolution” is derived from the Latin word resolūtus, which in turn is derived from the Latin word re-solvere, meaning “backward-untying” or “untying backward”.)

§7. Future, Past, and Present

Heidegger construes the past in terms of Dasein having been helplessly thrown into the world and, therefore, having inherited a burden of “facticity”: an objective or materialistic way of perceiving, thinking, and conducting oneself in the world. For instance, one may have been born into a poor family and impoverished conditions that shape her or his perceptions, thoughts, and conducts. Facticity of a person is who the person already is. A factical person is everyday faced with dealing with what the person has already been. Pregnant with the past, the future, Heidegger interprets, is “. . . the coming in which Dasein, in its ownmost potentiality-for-Being, comes towards itself.” The future is a condition that makes possible Dasein’s acts of choosing who it becomes. And, Heidegger views the present as “making present”, i.e., revealing the entities environing Dasein’s world of references, meanings and purposes. Dasein’s future signifies its past, and the future and the past give rise to Dasein’s present. Inauthentic Dasein’s present is alienated from its future and past, while authentic Dasein’s present acquires depth, meaning, and direction in relation to its future and past.

§8. Correlation between Death and Time

Heidegger seems to propound a direct significative correlation between death and time (and, hence, between time and anxiety). For him, birth (“thrownness”), growth (existence), and death (end of our possibilities) are the revelations of our temporal Being.

“. . . Dasein exists, it has already been thrown into this possibility [“Being-towards-death” which is concentric with Being-in-the-world]. Dasein does not, proximally and for the most part, have any explicit or even any theoretical knowledge of the fact that it has been delivered over to its death, and that death thus belongs to Being-in-the-world. Thrownness into death reveals itself to Dasein in a more primordial and impressive manner in that state-of-mind which we have called ‘anxiety’. Anxiety in the face of death is anxiety ‘in the face of’ that potentiality-for-Being which is one’s ownmost, non-relational, and not to be outstripped. That in the face of which one has anxiety is Being-in-the-world itself. That about which one has this anxiety is simply Dasein’s potentiality-for-Being. Anxiety in the face of death must not be confused with fear in the face of one’s [biological] demise. This anxiety is not an accidental or random mood of ‘weakness’ in some individual; but, as a basic state-of-mind of Dasein, it amounts to the disclosedness of the fact that Dasein exists as thrown Being towards its end. . . . Precision is gained by distinguishing this [‘dying’] from . . . merely perishing, and . . . ‘Experiencing’ of a demise.”

As Heidegger puts it, from the moment we are born, our Being is toward death. With every breath we take, we take one step closer to death. When we are young, we tend to live carelessly or procrastinatingly – as though we are immortal (imperishable and undying), as though we have infinite time at our disposal. Yet, as we get older, we tend to become more and more conscious of the finitude of time in terms of our living and Being in the world. According to Heidegger, death (like the mood of “anxiety”, described in my previous article) is more pivotal and constructive in our daily lives than we are consciously aware. Death unconsciously structures our lives. Many of our daily activities appear to be unconscious ways of eluding death, or making ourselves oblivious to death, yet with every sigh we approach the inevitable. At all times, death hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles. It follows us whenever and wherever.

Taking the liberty to employ non-Heideggerian language and cautiously fusing psychoanalytical concepts with Heidegger’s ontology of time, I propound the following: the human conscious perception and thought processes, sensations such as that of physical pain and hunger, and instincts such as ingestion of nourishment and self-preservation – are, perhaps, various manifestations of the unconscious dynamisms to regulate the demise of human organism through constructing the regulative, coordinative, and organizational principle of time. (I am cognizant that my preceding, speculative statement goes beyond the scopes of both Heidegger’s Being and Time and Freud’s psychoanalysis.) Interpreting time as having no existence apart from human psycho-biology does not render time an illusion. Perchance, time, no more or less than the sensation of hunger or pain, is a psycho-biological construct or phenomenon. Perhaps, time can be ontically interpreted as an orderly organization of our biological demise, and ontologically as an orchestration of Dasein’s Being-towards-death and, hence, possibilities of Being-in-the-world. Figuratively speaking, time is a mask of death – making death manifest itself to the conscious awareness (cf. to the ego which is the eyes of the id, in Freud’s psychoanalysis).

Looking at death from a biological and quasi-Heideggerian viewpoint, human organism inherently contains within itself its own germ of demise, terminating its own life. And, it might be the case that human organism has evolutionarily constructed time which has rendered the human organism capable of cognizing its own finitude, its own lifespan, its own possibilities of Being-in-the-world. We often seem to be unconscious (to be in a state of unaware denial) of our own death. Nevertheless, this unconscious dynamism perhaps manifests itself consciously as time, as it were, to forewarn itself of and coordinate its own demise – or, ontologically speaking, to “attune” itself to Being-towards-death. (The word “attunement” is a translation of the German word Befindlichkeit, which is used by Heidegger to designate our moods, such as anxiety, as ways of finding ourselves in the world.) In this sense, figuratively speaking, time is a mirror of death, of Dasein, whose Being is always toward death – (or, psychoanalytically speaking, time is the mirror through which the id, via the ego, monitors its own strivings [the tension between the life instincts and the death instincts]).

§9. Quantification and Qualification of Time

Heidegger’s portrayal of time is expressive of our engagement and commitment to the world. Time is significative of our engagement and commitment to Being-in-the-world which entails potentiality-for-Being which in turn subsumes Being-towards-death. He asserts, “The ‘end’ of Being-in-the-world is death [Being-towards-death]. This end, which belongs to the potentiality-for-Being – that is to say, to existence [Being-in-the-world] – limits and determines in every case whatever totality is possible for Dasein.” Time is indicative of not merely quantitatively measuring but qualitatively appreciating, signifying, and apprehending our possibilities (and, hence, our choices and potentials) while we exist. Besides stressing the limits of our possibilities, time legislates our possibilities. For instance, if a person had only one day to live, the possibility of choosing to be an astronaut and to travel to Mars would not avail itself to the person. Or, if one’s futural project is to become an astronaut, one may find oneself transported back in time to a past to discern if such a possibility is presently open to be stretched into the future. Time encompasses and circumvents our possibilities from birth toward death and from death toward birth. Time is an ever-expanding boundary of our possibilities of Being-in-the-world. “Ever-expanding” because Dasein is historical; consequently, the intellectual innovations of today (in terms of science, technology, medicine, transportation, mass communication, electronic data processing, and etc.) have given us possibilities that were not extant a century ago.

From an ontical viewpoint, time id-enti-fies and individuates one’s life into diverse periods, linearly progressing from past to present to future. Through time, one gains an alleged identity (the ego or the “I”, psychoanalytically speaking) to identify time with. (“Alleged identity” because Heidegger seems to imply that there appears to be no such a thing as the “self” which endures all psychophysical changes and, hence, becomes the source of one’s personal identity. We have a tendency to think of ourselves as inherently possessing a thing-like, unchangeable self due to our “fallenness” – i.e., being absorbed into the entities and into the present. As longs as our way of Being is not ontologically understood, having a self or identity is postulated.) From an ontological vantage point, time significatively ascertains, valuates, and inter-relates the three dimensions of one’s Being-in-the-world. Hence, Dasein’s existence manifests time significatively – not merely numerically – unfolding itself unto itself toward Being-in-the-world. Ontical time and space are understood in terms of the ontological time and space. According to Richard Polt’s Heidegger:

“When we hear the word ‘space’, we may think of outer space, a void dotted with stars that glide past us as in a science-fiction movie. Or we may think of analytic geometry, with its x, y and z axes of three-dimensional space. But is space just an empty framework in which objects can occur, or a system of assigning Cartesian coordinates to things? These concepts of space cannot capture the experience of being in an unfamiliar, threatening neighborhood, or finding the scissors just where we expected to find them, or feeling that a room is spacious, or putting one’s glove on the wrong hand. These are spatial experiences that call for a richer, non-quantitative vocabulary. . . . Heidegger tries to develop such a vocabulary. . . . He tries to move us away from thinking of the world purely in mathematical terms, and towards an understanding of the world in terms of appropriateness [derived from the Latin word appropriāre, “to make one’s own”] and inappropriateness. Full-fledged space consists not of points where objects are located, but of places where things and people belong or do not belong. Full-fledged time consists not of instants when objects are present, but of right and wrong moments. In full-fledged time and space, things matter to us. This takes us right back to the contrast between the Heideggerian and the Cartesian concepts of the world. From the Cartesian standpoint, questions of appropriateness and inappropriateness are just subjective; the objective facts about the world are quantitative.

But Heidegger would reply that in order to describe the world in which we live, we have to use more than numbers – and even numbers are meaningful to us only in terms of the world of appropriateness and inappropriateness. The astronomer determines that a certain star is millions of kilometers away from the sun. This is correct, but it means something to the astronomer and to the rest of us only if we can relate it back to the lifeworld in which three kilometers are a gentle afternoon stroll, and thirty kilometers are a good day’s hike.

As technology progresses, our sense of space and time is mutating, even eroding. Heidegger’s comment on radio indicates his fears about this process. . . . [R]adio is ‘expanding and destroying the everyday surrounding world’. In a lecture course, Heidegger elaborates: ‘In the radio Dasein today realizes . . . a peculiar extension of the process of bringing the world nearer. . . . This frenzy for nearness is nothing but reduction in the loss of time. But reduction in the loss of time is the flight of time from itself.’ . . . [W]e will see that genuinely accepting our own temporality requires us to stop understanding time merely in terms of efficiency. If Heidegger had lived to experience fax machines, cellular phones and the Internet, he would shudder.”

If, indeed, the peculiar organization of animal cells into what we call the human organism is the genesis of time and space, what would that make of Albert Einstein’s concept of “space-time” or the Big Bang theory which renders the Big Bang as the cause of formation of time and space billions of years prior to the appearance of the Homo sapiens on the scene. Polt continues:

“A distinguished physicist once gave a lecture at the University of Chicago in which he claimed that physics had greatly refined its concept of time by measuring time in smaller and smaller increments. A listener objected that although physicists were measuring changes more accurately, this did not alter our concept of time, or shed light on the nature of time. ‘What is time itself?’ the physicist was asked. He answered honestly: ‘Well, I’m not a philosopher.’ Physicists take it for granted that time, space, matter and energy exist, and have a certain way of Being. Physics as such does not try to clarify the Being of such entities – that task falls to philosophy. In this sense, philosophy is more fundamental than physics. The same can be said of other sciences, sciences that [as Heidegger puts it] study ‘for instance, history . . . life . . . language.’ History [as a discipline] takes it for granted that the past, in some sense, exists. It falls to philosophy to clarify the sense in which the past exists, in the light of the meaning of Being in general.”

§10. Heidegger’s Significance of Being and Time in Our Time

The eminent Cordovan philosopher, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204), known in the West as Moses Maimonides, insisted that, “The aim of any society . . . [should be] the development of human beings and not of wealth.” In opposition to this dictum, would it be a fair assessment to conclude that our political and economic policies in the United States have been geared more toward creation of wealth than development of human beings? In the same vein as Maimonides, the Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) stated, “Create citizens, and you have everything you need; without them, you will have nothing but debased slaves, from the rulers of the State downwards.” In contrast to Heidegger’s conception of Being and time, here in America our cultural understanding of Being and time seems distorted by our crisis of imagination, whereby for us Being is tantamount to having and time is indistinguishable from what is immediate. A culture that is obliviously obsessed with the present – i.e., a culture that is depressingly absorbed in accumulation and manipulation of entities (material objects) which almost exclusively define the culture’s spirit, orientation, values, and aspirations in a now that is foolishly fancied to sustain and smear itself, in greater quantity of goods and pleasures, into the future (out of the fear of feature) – is one that should shrilly alarm us. Perhaps, the ongoing economic crisis – wherein countless numbers of people spent the money which they did not have and now are losing their jobs, cars, and homes – is a direct result of our impoverished (or “subprime”) ways of existing that we have mendaciously identified with “freedom” and the “American dream”.

The phenomenological ontology of Heidegger’s Being and Time expresses that having is subsidiary to Being; knowing is subordinate to Being; and ontical time is fiduciary to – and is understood in terms of – the ontological time. For Heidegger, Being is not a thing, and time is not merely a quantity of something to be counted; Being and time are expressive of inter-related significations of Dasein’s possibilities of Being-in-the-world. Suppose a five-year-old child walking by a stop sign in a street asks her father, “What is this?” And, suppose her father answers, “This is called a ‘stop sign’ which is made of a long metal pole that has attached to one of its ends a round red surface that is inscribed upon it the letters S, T, O, P.” Do you assume that this kind of ontical account of the stop sign will help the child to make a decision, in her later life, upon approaching a stop sign while driving a car? The point I am making is that Heidegger is telling us that this is how we have hitherto interpreted our Being: as mere things or objects. The stop sign is not merely a thing as described by the child’s father; it is primarily a “signification” that signifies a meaning that we can understand, relate to, or “care” about. Now, imagine the child, still walking with her father toward her grandmother’s house, asking, “When are we gonna get there?” And, suppose the father, looking at his wristwatch, replies, “It’s now 4:30 P.M., so we should arrive there approximately a quarter to 5:00.” The child, whose conception of time is not yet ontically developed, is baffled at her father’s reply. However, noticing the confusion in her child’s face, the father ontologically amends his response, “It takes enjoying three of your favorite ice creams before we see your grandma.” The point is that time is significantly contingent on Being. For Heidegger, Being and time are not merely things to collect and count, but to “celebrate”: to “wonder” about.

§11. Conclusion

Does Heidegger achieve the aim of “the question of Being”: What does it mean to be? What is Being? If you recall, in the commencement of Being and Time, Heidegger positively asserts, “Our provisional aim is the Interpretation of time as the possible horizon [condition] for any understanding whatever of Being”. However, the book ends with the following hesitant words: “Does time itself manifest itself as the horizon of Being?” This question seems to question “time” as the horizon or condition for understanding Being. It is said that Heidegger was never convinced of the propriety of time as the possible horizon for any understanding of Being. Nevertheless, the book has reawakened the issue of Being in an unprecedented manner and has posed the challenge of rethinking our ontological interests in contrast to our everydayness.

In the text of his lecture course of 1941 at the University of Freiburg, which has been published under the title Hölderlin Hymn “Andenken” (Gesamtausgabe 52), Heidegger poetically pours himself out in the following words:

“Celebration . . . is self-restraint, is attentiveness, is questioning, is meditating, is awaiting, is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder – the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all, that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are and we ourselves are in their midst, that we ourselves are and yet barely know who we are, and barely know that we do not know all this.” (Bold letters are added.)

(Dear reader, please feel free to make a critique of this article. I look forward to learning from you!)

April 10, 2010

Modernity

A Characterization of Modernity

Modernity, like individualism, is a socio-politico-economic phenomenon that gradually began after the Middle Ages subsided and the Enlightenment values and promise of “progress” through reason, science, and technology began to propagate in Europe. (Caution should be taken that there are distinctions between the terms “modern age/era”, “modernity”, and “modernism”. While these terms are essentially inter-related, they are conceptually distinguished.) The shift that was caused after the atrophy of the Church and socio-economico-political institutions of the Middle Ages called for a new system to supersede the old in Europe.

Modernity is not a cutting-edge technology, state-of-the-art product, latest trend of some sort, or the like. Modernity is a paradigm shift in human thinking and human relations that ushered in the advent of modern science, technology, nation-states, money economy, capitalism, and industrialism in the Western societies. This shift in human thinking and relations produced unprecedented socio-economico-political conditions that have drastically restructured our lives. Fundamentally, modernity is our post-traditional way of being; modernity is the post-Medieval consciousness that has left no human institutions untouched in the Western societies. And, scholars are of the conviction that the philosophy of René Descartes (1596-1650)which created a dualism between mind and body, and had a purely mechanistic view of the universewas a zygote of this new consciousness.

This article is an attempt to briefly characterize the complex phenomenon of modernity through Max Weber’s concept of “disenchantment”, Søren Kierkegaard’s concepts of “passion” and “despair”, Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of “death of God”, and Karl Marx’s concept of “alienation”.

Franz Kafka and Max Weber

§1. Disenchantment

Max Weber (1864–1920), a German sociologist and one of the first major scholars who systematically examined the phenomenon of modernity, suggested that the Middle Ages, with all its disquietude, was somehow enchanted (from Latin incantāre, i.e., in [“affected by”] + cantāre [“to sing”]; defined as “to attract and delight” or “to charm”). Notwithstanding all the discontent and cruelty extant in the Medieval era, Weber felt that generally there was something qualitatively human about the age. Life of a meager serf meant something in the grand scheme of things. Everything under the sun signified a purpose and had an aspect of sacredness. Or, to employ the eloquent terms coined by Martin Buber, “I-Thou”, as opposed to “I-It”, mode of relations characterized the human relations and the relation between man and nature. In contrast, Weber thought that the modern Western societies have lost, to borrow Buber’s concepts again, the “I-thou” mode of relations, which have been supplanted with the “I-It” mode of relating to one another and to the world of nature. There have been objectification and degradation of “thou” into “it”.

This is the “disenchantment” (and impersonalizing force) of the modernity, according to Weber. Fundamentally, what has taken place is that, quantitative—as opposed to qualitative—relations have become the dominant norms since the rise of science, nation-states, money economy, capitalism, and industrialism in the Western societies. According to Weber, this is a world where scientific understanding has primacy over belief, where technology is believed to do away with the socio-economic problems, and hence where social processes are instrumentally quantified (akin to physics quantifying the objective qualities of objects) and ratio-nalized toward desired goals. Accordingly, the modern consciousness has undermined the traditional values (which are not quantifiable). The decline of the traditional valueswhich previously accorded Medieval Europeans a sense of purpose and social order—called for a new set of values (hence, rules and procedures) to bring about a new social order. The modern life is infused with rules and procedures, which are often indifferently and apathetically followed machinelike.

One can consider how robotically the modern man, as depicted in Franz Kafka’s works, follows rules and procedures from the moment he wakes up every morning: conforming to his morning routines with a clock hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles, dragging himself to the workplace where he is faced with additional rules and procedures, and then dealing with the impersonal, bureaucratic institutions that generally reject or sanction him if he does not conform to their particular set of rules and procedures. Weber’s understanding of modernity entails rationalization and bureaucratization of the modern lifestyles and social institutions. The modern consciousness relates to itself and to others by standardizing, proceduralizing, reifying, and quantifying them—making them predictable. Modernity is a state of being whereby life is principally and disenchantingly lived in terms of standards, procedures, quantities, and bureaucracies—many of which are blindly unperceptive or intentionally disregardful to the ever-changing human conditions.

It is important to understand modernity and the concept of “disenchantment” within a proper historical context. In this context, the roles of traditional values on the one hand and the development of the sciences and their revolutionary discoveries on the other hand are quite significant. According to philosopher W. T. Jones:

“For the men of the Middle Ages the world was created by a supremely good power for the discipline of man, with a view to his salvation. Since the medieval men believed that God had created everything for this purpose, they held that the way to explain anything was to show how it promotes this end. The result was that medieval science was teleological in form. And since, of course, the underlying purpose was that of the one supreme and totally good God, the medieval sciences all pointed beyond themselves to religion. The universe was a vast sacerdotal system: It had no meaning or value in itself; its importance lay in the role it played—partly symbol, partly stage-set—in the drama of man’s salvation. Everything meant something beyond itself in this religious drama. Nothing was simply what it was. A tree was not merely a tree, a bird was not merely a bird; a footprint in the sand was not merely a footprint—they were all signs, just as the particular footprint Robinson Crusoe saw was a sign to him that he was not alone on the island. And what was true of the rest of the created universe was true of man. He was not merely man; he was a child of God. And his supreme task was to get back into that right relation with God that his first parent had lost.

“Beginning in the Renaissance, beliefs gradually changed. The one supremely important vertical relationship of man to God, which absorbed all the attention of men of the Middle Ages, was eventually replaced by a network of horizontal relations connecting every individual to his social and physical milieu. For modem men, the good life no longer consists in achieving a right relation with God, but in effecting an efficient relation with one’s fellow men.

“In this respect the modern view is similar to the classical [i.e., classical Greece], but there are also important differences. For the classical mind, the universe, if not sacerdotal, was at least teleological. If the classical mind did not conceive of everything as worshiping God, it at least conceived of all things as subserving some purpose and aiming at some good. Hence, for the classical mind, as for the medieval, purpose was the primary mode of explanation. In contrast—and as a result of the success of the new physics, which was rigorously nonteleological in orientation—the modern mind became hostile to the use of purpose as an explanatory principle.

“The modern mind also came, eventually, to differ from both the medieval mind and the classical mind in its attitude toward values. It never occurred to the medieval mind that values might not be objectively real. Although it certainly occurred to the Greek Sophists that values are merely the ways individuals feel about things, Plato’s and Aristotle’s reaffirmation of objectivity was for the most part accepted. The fact that men of the classical period and the Middle Ages agreed that values are objectively real is connected, of course, with the teleological conception of the universe that they shared. If the purpose anything subserves gives it value, and if purposes are objective, values will be objective. Anything will be good (really good, apart from some individual’s feeling about it) insofar as it consciously or unconsciously realizes its purpose; anything will be bad insofar as it fails to accomplish its purpose. The same consideration also yields a hierarchy of goods, for values can be compared in terms of the relative height and significance of the purposes they subserve.

“It follows that, in abandoning the teleological conception of the universe, the modern mind abandoned this easy way of establishing the objectivity of value. Moreover, modern men did not merely abandon the teleological conception of the universe; gradually they substituted for it a conception of the universe that seemed incompatible with the objectivity of values. This is, of course, the conception of the universe as a vast set of facts—facts that are indifferent to men’s values, facts that no one planned with any end in view but that just happen to stand in the sorts of spatiotemporal relations that can be ascertained by the techniques of modern science.

“The role that scientific instruments came to play in the accession of factual knowledge had an important bearing on this development. Where would astronomy be without the telescope? biology without the microscope? But these instruments, which have led to the discovery of innumerable astronomical and biological facts, throw no light at all on values. When a scientist dissects a corpse in a laboratory, he finds no evidence of the courage or magnanimity the living man displayed. Nor do microscopes or telescopes reveal God or Freedom or immortality. As long as men believe that these instruments give them the whole truth about the universe, it is difficult for them also to believe that God, freedom, and immortality, courage, justice, and piety are objective realities. It is difficult, that is, for them not to assume that what the instruments reveal—the facts in their spatiotemporal relations—is reality, and that what the instruments do not reveal—the soul, the forms, and the values that classical and medieval minds conceived to be constituent elements in the universe—is merely subjective feeling.” (A History of Western Philosophy III, 2nd edition)

Søren Aaby Kierkegaard

§2. Passion and Despair

Danish philosopher Søren Aaby Kierkegaard (1813-1855) had his own peculiar way of characterizing modernity (a term that might had been an anachronism in his time). He insisted that we lack “passion” (cf. Weber’s “disenchantment”) in our lives. The word “passion”—which is popularly mistaken for “obsession” or “fanaticism”—is etymologically derived from the Latin word patī, meaning “to suffer”, which is in turn derived from the Greek word páschein (πάσχειν), meaning “to suffer”, hence, “The passion of Christ”. Passion or lack thereof is a major theme in Kierkegaard’s philosophy. In his The Present Age, he writes:

“Our age is essentially one of understanding and reflection [cf. Weber’s “rationalization”], without passion. . . . In fact, one is tempted to ask whether there is a single man left ready, for once, to commit an outrageous folly. Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation but from deliberation.”

To emphasize the significance of passion, Kierkegaard makes a curious contrast between a Christian and a pagan in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. First, he portrays the Christian who formulaically and with great “objectivity” worships—as a matter of course—the one and only true God. Next, he depicts the pagan who inwardly and with “all the passion of infinity” worships—as a matter of infinite commitment—an idol that we know is undoubtedly false. Then, he inquires, “[W]here, then, is there more truth?” In a witty manner, he concludes, “The one prays in truth to God although he is worshiping an idol; the other prays in untruth to the true God and is therefore in truth worshiping an idol.” The essential distinction between the two men is that the Christian’s worship is a matter of what (i.e., quantitative/rationalized), while the pagan’s worship is a matter of how (i.e., qualitative/passionate). As is prevalent in the present age, the Christian lacks a “qualitative” state of being.

Kierkegaard construed the modern age as an overconfident age that thinks it knows it all. He felt the moderners’ complacency, overweening pride, and false sense of security—need to be threatened, for they, as he put it in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, “have forgotten what it means to exist”. He contended, “[E]xistence, if one becomes conscious of it, involves passion.”

Kierkegaard also signalizes the modern age with “despair”. In his The Sickness unto Death, he portentously warns:

“[T]here is not one single living human being who does not despair a little, who does not secretly harbor an unrest, an inner strife, a disharmony, an anxiety about an unknown something or a something he does not even dare to try to know, an anxiety about some possibility in existence or an anxiety about himself. . . . a sickness of the spirit that signals its presence at rare intervals in and through an anxiety he cannot explain.”

Moderners, Kierkegaard thought, suffer from despair even when they are not aware of it. Later, in the book, he idiosyncratically expresses that actual despair is the sickness in which one experiences “the hopelessness of not even being able to die”—even when one wishes it! In a very profound but discombobulating manner, he writes:

“This concept, the sickness unto death, must, however, be understood in a particular way. Literally it means a sickness of which the end and the result are death. . . . [However,] Christianly understood, death itself is a passing into life. Thus, from a Christian point of view, no earthly, physical sickness is the sickness unto death, for [physical] death is indeed the end of the [physical] sickness, but [physical] death is not the end [from a Christian point of view]. If there is to be any question of a sickness unto death in the strictest sense, it must be a sickness of which the end is death and death is the end. This is precisely what despair is.

“But in another sense despair is even more definitely the sickness unto death. Literally speaking, there is not the slightest possibility that anyone will die from this sickness or that it will end in physical death. On the contrary, the torment of despair is precisely this inability to die. Thus to be sick unto death is to be unable to die, yet not as if there were hope of life; no, the hopelessness is that there is not even the ultimate hope, death. When death is the greatest danger, we hope for life; but when we learn to know the even greater danger, we hope for death. When the danger is so great that death becomes the hope, then despair is the hopelessness of not even being able to die.”

The preceding passage epitomizes the fall of the human spirit or the lack of passion in the modern age. The modern state of being is despair, for what is worse than death? What is worse than forgetting how to exit? Ironically, the cure for this despair, metaphorically speaking, is to die!

Friedrich Nietzsche

§3. Death of God

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) dramatically characterized modernity by his provocative and often misunderstood concept of “death of God”. In a picturesque aphorism, entitled “The Madman”, Nietzsche, with an acute sense of despair and hope, writes:

“Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: ‘I seek God! I seek God!’ —As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? . . . Thus they yelled and laughed.

“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? . . . Are we not plunging continually? . . . Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothingness? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? . . . Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“‘How shall we comfort ourselves . . . What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? . . . Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.’

“Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; . . . ‘I have come too early,’ he said then; ‘my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. . . . Deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.’

“. . . ‘What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?’” (Gay Science, book three, 125)

“Death of God”, either as a concept or as an event (metaphorically presented), has far-reaching, inexhaustible repercussions and implications in many spheres of human endeavor: values, morality, Christianity, culture, society, economics, politics, history, and so on. The death of God intimates the death of our belief in God or even the impossibility of belief in God (either as a conscious or subconscious impossibility).

“Who are we anyway? If we simply called ourselves . . . godless, or unbelievers, or perhaps immoralists, we do not believe that this would even come close to designating us: We are all three in such an advanced stage that one . . . [can hardly] comprehend how we feet at this point. Ours is no longer the bitterness and passion of the person who has torn himself away and still feels compelled to turn his unbelief into a new belief, a purpose, a martyrdom. We have become cold, hard, and tough in the realization that the way of this world is anything but divine; even by human standards it is not rational, merciful, or just. We know it well: the world in which we live is ungodly, immoral, ‘inhuman’; we have interpreted it far too long in a false and mendacious way, in accordance with the wishes of our reverence, which is to say, according to our needs.” (Gay Science, book five, 346)

Nietzsche’s concept of death of God is inextricably intertwined with his diagnosis of the fundamental problem of the modern era, namely, the “crisis of values”. The death of God is expressive of the fact that, the traditional values are on their way out. He was convinced that the collapse of traditional values will lead to despair, devastation, and “nihilism”.

“The greatest recent event—that ‘God is dead,’ that the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable—is already beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe. . . . But in the main one may say: The event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude’s capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived as yet. Much less may one suppose that many people know as yet what this event really means—and how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined because it was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it; for example, the whole of our . . . morality. This long plenitude and sequence of breakdown, destruction, ruin, and cataclysm . . . is now impending. . . .” (Gay Science, book five, 343)

The death of God is a multifaceted, modern phenomenon that has been unfolding overtly and subterraneanly, with far-reaching outcomes for the entire Western civilization. For Nietzsche, the “death of God” is pregnant with unending significances and consequences, as they have been dismally unfolding and will continue to unfold in our time and thereafter. How much has to fall now that the foundation of Western values is in decay?

Karl Marx

§4. Alienation

Although German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883) may not had utilized his concept of “alienation” to characterize modernity (a term that may had been an anachronism in his time), there would had been no other way if he actually had intended to do so. “No other way” because capitalism and the ensuing alienation, as upshots of consciousness of modernity, were two of his burning issues. Marx was a keen observer of how the Industrial Revolution and capitalism radically changed our lives and the course of history. He believed that the modern economic relations have created a battleground where everyone pursues her or his own private interests. This is a war of all against all, not excluding the subtle pecuniary/material tensions existing between family members.

Let us consider the following scenario, a scenario that is a ubiquitous reality in the United States. Consider an average American worker, who works one or two jobs that are often monotonous, meaningless, and self-humiliating—although the worker may not be conscious, as is commonly the case, of his own woeful situation. The moment he leaves home and hits the road to go to work, the war of all against all nauseatingly manifests itself right there on the road! While at work, he has to deal with workplace conditions that are often hostile and dehumanizing. So, he grows weary and numb at work. Since his job is the principal source of his livelihood, he is chained to the job, which, by and large, pays just enough (i.e., subsistence wages) to keep him alive (if profitable) and to spur him to return to work. His dehumanization, self-humiliation, and lack of self-respect are what he pretends not know about himself, so he grows numb. Inasmuch as he is not able to support himself and his family without the job, the job—whether he likes it or not—defines, regulates, and proceduralizes his life both in and outside of the workplace. Unavoidably, he will be socially defined by his job and income level. Since labor is commonly valued by the wage it makes, the less money he makes the less his life is valued. After leaving the workplace with a sense of emptiness and unfulfillment, do you suppose he will be in a favorable spirit to go home and meaningfully interact with his spouse and children? In all likelihood, his spouse is already experiencing the same wretched conditions. So, for dinner the couple, feeling physically and mentally drained, expediently resort to buy fast food for everyone rather than preparing a healthy meal. Hence, the poor labor conditions of the couple, which is the same labor conditions under which millions of Americans find themselves, pave the way toward the degradation of their psychological and physical health, for which the healthcare industry is awaiting with open arms! Later, after watching their favorite television programs, the couple may suddenly feel that they can find a sense of fulfillment, or even a sense of identity, by going to a mall and shop. Tragically enough, there are those who think that shopping is a great “therapy”, which is in fact a poor substitution for the happiness they seek. As long as the legal, political, and economic structures of capitalism keep the working class uneducated, depressed, and spiritually impoverished, the shopping therapy—and the ensuing consumer debts—will continue to turn the wheels of U.S. economy which is significantly based on the senseless consumption of goods and services.

Here, my point is that, as Marx thought, our present economic conditions (of which the labor conditions are an integral part) create a social environment that the more one participates in it—the less human one becomes. As he expresses it in his Paris Manuscripts:

“Money . . . transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence and intelligence into idiocy.”

In the case of the American worker and his spouse, their jobs—or, more generally, the prevalent politico-economic conditions—deprives them of their health, self-identity, and meaningful relationship with one another, with their children, and with their coworkers. In his Manifesto, Marx wrote that the capitalists as “leaders of whole industrial armies” have overturned the traditional human relationships of the feudal age, leaving no other relationship “between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’” Furthermore, under capitalism, the institution of family itself, along with its traditional values, have been degraded to a mere pecuniary/economic affair, wherein members of family relate to one another via materialistic values. In addition, “family values” have mendaciously become a tool in the hands of politicians to arouse fervor and to manipulate the masses. As Marx puts it, “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned. . . .” Since in capitalism capital is of utmost value, other values—such as friendship, love, marriage, family, decency, mercy, honesty, fairness, justice, truth and so on—become subservient to the value of capital.

Marx fundamentally construed humans as adventurous and creative beings, with faculties geared toward externalizing their creativity through productions of cultural artifacts, such as tools, buildings, artworks, literature, science, and et cetera. However, under the modern conditions, specifically under capitalism, laborers’ work products have become alien to them because, according to Marx, their productive activities are done in servitude to the money-God, rather than in serving their own human potentials and fulfilling their own creative nature. Therefore, per Marx, the history of human creative production has been a history of alienation from our creative nature. In his essay entitled “The Jewish Question”, he writes:

“Money is the jealous one God of Israel, beside which no other God may stand. Money dethrones all the gods [cf. Nietzsche’s “death of God”] of man and turns them into a commodity. Money is the universal, independently constituted value of all things. It has therefore deprived the whole world, both the world of man and nature, of its own value. Money is the alienated essence of man’s work and his being. This alien being rules him and he worships it.”

For Marx, the modern commercial world is a religion of money worship, which disunites and alienates members of society, including family members, from one another. In accordance with his Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844, human alienation takes on four forms:

1. Alienation from work products: Capitalism alienates workers from their work products, which exist as things estranged from the workers who create them, and which also exist as objects of pleasure for somebody else.

2. Alienation from productive activities: The money mania of capitalism alienates the workers from their productive activities—activities which are turned into “forced labor” because the activities of the workers are not of personal interest to them, who are compelled to perform them just to keep alive.

3. Alienation from human qualities: The modern money economy alienates the workers from their human and social qualities, such as love, sympathy, kindness, leisure, and et cetera.

4. Alienation from fellowmen: At last, capitalism alienates the workers from their fellowmen. Marx called this “the estrangement of man from man”, whereby we all compete against each other.

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