Harry the potter’s jars of clay

Harry the potter’s jars of clay

            In the wake of J.K. Rowling’s unabashed comments regarding the reality of sex and the charges of transphobia that were issued in response to them, it may be germane to discuss some of our current conceptions concerning human identity and the politics that follows therefrom. Ultimately, one’s definition of reality is at stake, and we will see that this is the truer import of all such debates, however popularized or taken to the streets.

            There are five major biological sexes in the human species, and the so-called ‘sexual dimorphism’ that allows for convenient categories is splayed out along a spectrum which meets in hermaphroditism – of late relabeled ‘intersex’ – the central variants of which account for at least one in every 2 to 2.5 thousand live (‘female’) births. There are no doubt ‘more’ genders than there are sexes, but who’s counting? The point is that both gender and sex are social constructions mainly based on national health policy and indeed the identity of the particular nation state in question. Biopower, Foucault’s simple but arresting conception of an originally bourgeois transformation of the older labor power, demographic concerns such as pension fund viability, voter franchise, relative strength and weakness of employment markets, and more darkly, bigotries surrounding equally moribund concepts of race and ethnicity – the ‘fear of a black planet’ thing – influence who we are liable to label a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’. If I were a woman of any cultural or even individual construction, I wouldn’t take kindly to Rowling’s ‘offer’ of a potential definition of myself as ‘one who menstruates’. This appears reductive in the extreme while at once suggesting that I am the same as every other woman out there. Indeed, it is this urge for sameness while simultaneously drawing up boundaries of difference that is at present threatening to do us in.

            One could simply play at language, avoiding a deeper dialectic and thus also the confrontation that adheres to it. Perhaps sex and gender are both equally ‘real’, or neither are real and a truly hard-nosed scientific-minded reality has nothing to do with the human imagination. Perhaps sex is the old reality and gender the new, or that the former’s hold upon an actually unmoving reality is supplanted by the latter’s emergent identity politics. Or perhaps reality is itself irrelevant, and human consciousness, only partially conscious of itself and much less so of others, is the only arbiter of what can become real and thus also unreal.

            But I am going to suggest that our reality is in fact being covered over by such discussions, whether they are violently performed in confrontations amongst people who imagine themselves to be so different as to not share even an iota of humanity with one another, or more banally, literary celebrities and entertainers who imagine that their unstudied opinions should carry such misplaced public weight.

            Diversity in every known species is an evolutionary positive. Not only for that self-same species regarding its adaptational acumen given changing ecological niches either over the course of geological epochs or, in our own time, over a generation or two, but also for other species, as when humble fungi contain the key to cancer cures or other medical breakthroughs. Though cultural evolution as a theory of human cosmogony is a long out-of-fashion sensibility, one aspect of it that remains salient is that human diversity along cultural lines is also a positive. No one culture, says this view, holds all of the truths for all of the myriad of changing contexts in which we humans find ourselves. And yet each culture does hold truths. Though not ‘eternal’ – the mere fact that we can identify such ideas in history tells us that their origin too is historical and not so much otherworldly – they can nevertheless be timely. One conception that is apropos to consider during this time of too-easy offense and counter-offense is that of compassion.

            Compassion is an ethical hallmark of the newer agrarian world-systems, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. It is sourced in the then equally novel sensibility that each human being has an intrinsic worth, apart from one’s accomplishments, abilities, and most importantly, apart from one’s social status. This last includes one’s self-identified gender, sex, race and ethnicity, one’s role and job title, and one’s address and education, let alone one’s cultural persuasions. An example: it is of interest that one’s individuated tastes can make for strange bedfellows. I despise swing music and am certain that Bruckner is a markedly superior composer to Tchaikovsky, not that Peter Ilyich was a slouch. In these two things I fully agree with the Nazis. Happen to agree, that is. It is this happenstance of the confluence of historical identity politics and one’s personal experiences that fraudulently drives much of our current predicament.

            Consider that no white owners of black slaves exist in North America today. Wage-slavery aside for a moment, all these other folks are long dead. But it is also the case that white persons are less likely to be enslaved by what reaches out for all of us from beyond the grave. Yes, the dead must bury the dead, but you have to kill them first. Just so, how does one commit an idea to the ground of non-being when the vast majority of the very people who are most hurt by the current social organization of difference maintain beliefs in the afterlife? The overcoming of the ideologized politics of difference is both a recognition of human diversity as it is and not as we would desire it to be, as well as being the beginning of a self-recognition that I am also not one thing, not these things, not a ‘thing’ at all.

            Dressing oneself up in difference is not a way to confront the reality of human diversity. Only being with another human being in as personal a manner as possible will make one more aware of just how similar our differences are, why they exist, where they come from, and of vital import for humanity today, where they are going. Daniel Radcliffe responded to the author of his career freedom and perhaps more than that by restating the basic ethic of Harry Potter; that ‘love is the most powerful force in the universe’. Though Rowling’s epic appears to imagine love as an inherent good, which is only forgivable because these are books for children, Radcliffe’s well-meaning naivety yet touches upon the desire to get along with the others in spite of their differences, which in turn threaten us not because they are alien, but because they remind us too closely of ourselves. To begin to consider the other as a means to understand the self and my self as a means for the other to recover her authentic freedom is the first step to a world wherein reality is something that all human beings are at liberty to help construct.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of forty books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion, and social theory and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Desire to Possess through Transgression

            The Desire to Possess through Transgression: an excursus

            Durkheim’s brilliant ability to take the mundane and through it understand social structure makes this sort of impression. Deviance is necessary because it reinforces what is normative and we can thus know what it means to transgress without ever having to actually do so. Crime is thus functional, and while the judge, in organic solidarity, ‘speaks nothing of punishment’, he is still evaluating a condition which has been impressed with an imbalance. It is the same metaphor that is used in the health sciences, since the ‘body politic’ takes its Aristotelian homology too seriously in its bid to outlast the eroticism of bodies in general: “…we can say that in biology it is the pathos which conditions the logos because it gives it its name. It is the abnormal which arouses interest in the normal. Norms are recognized as such only when they are broken. Functions are revealed only when they fail.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:208-9). A hammer, to use Heidegger’s oft-cited example, is understood in its very being only when it breaks, fails us, becomes something other than it was fashioned to be. And so we too become ‘something other’ in this manner; indeed, our ‘arousal’ for the normative might be seductive in its own perverse way. Who, after all, desires the norm with the lustful ardor we bring to the taboo? The too-young woman is a cliché at best, at worst a sacrilege, though such a conception is itself akin to an authentic blandishment pronounced upon a sacrality, not so much of childhood itself as females mature at a far faster rate than do males, but rather of the idea that we ourselves should be able to regress so that the youth would actually desire us. This is worse than a joke, and all those who anchor close in to the official definitions of pedophilia – the American Psychiatric Association speaks of ‘prurient interest and desire for children under twelve years of age’ – are attempting to throw themselves across a backward looking chiasmus that has become in due course a chasm. While it is historically accurate to portray the sexual exploitation of young children, those who are not yet biologically sexual in any consistent manner – under most national laws, children under twelve can only have sex with themselves, as it were, and are not beholden to wider legal sanctions as are youth; this is a far cry from the nineteenth century wherein the bourgeois sense of blood and biopower took shape, culminating in our contemporary understanding of childhood; until circa 1892 in the United States, for instance, the universal age of consent was a startling ten years of age – as a figment of the bourgeois imagination, compelled as it was by the sense that it was the heir apparent to the aristocracy and indeed, also divinity, yet there is something more authentic to our protective and at least, official concern that true children are not exposed to eros ‘before their time’. It is, intriguingly, a successful measure of familiality that adults and older children do not exploit the young in this manner. The bourgeois family was understood as a seething crucible of repression, resentment, lust and violence, and in many cases, this combination of Dasein’s entanglements in the world of others was indeed manifest. But if this was the rising class’s predicament, only a bourgeois perception would have privileged its own children and more or less utterly forget about all others. The children of elites were a dying breed in any case, and could be dismissed. The children of the working classes were simply younger animals of the same stock as their parentage, and if they were sexually abused they would accept it as part of their ‘training’. It is only recently, in post-war democracies, that childhood in general has been granted the belated privilege of being sacrosanct: “This explains the problematic, or if one prefers, ambiguous nature of bourgeois consciousness. It also explains [ ] the contradictory reaction of fascinated contempt the idea of ‘success’ has evoked during the last two hundred years.” (Moretti, op. cit:84). On the one hand, the French Revolution ontically exposes a moment in which power is shown to be a simulacra of a certain kind of politics, rather than the traditional obverse of this. The bourgeois sensibility – I must attain the status of the aristocrat but through my own individual merit and not through blood; yet I must make sacral the blood of my class as something preserved and inviolate so that my children may also be meritorious – is ‘by definition’ ambiguous. The supposed meritocracy of bourgeois dominated democracy prefers the nobility of wealth to all other merits. In this it mimics more closely the assignation of divine rule than it would acre to admit. But all of this is old hat. The most important aspect of nineteenth century class self-understanding is that it took upon itself the mantle of authority and not so much power. This is also the age in which direct sexual abuse of children became surrogate in direct physical abuse, which lasts to this day amongst the ironically most recent social groups to ape the status and trappings of bourgeois life: evangelical sub-cultures the world over.

            Not unlike the developing world, which is seen as passing through the same industrial and technical phases in a series as did Europe et al before it, sub-cultures once very marginal to the bourgeois revolution are now in that phase of attempting to take over some of the politics and authority of their once betters. They have adopted all of the modernist rationales for the discipline of youth and cloaked it in irrelevant scriptural nonsense which was directed at only very young children, ironically, the very same age group that the nation state defines as chattel today. Such sub-cultures are able to display such oblivious hypocrisy only due to their sense that history in their case does not truly exist, or at least, it is telescoped radically from its inception in the messianic period to its end in an apocalyptic judgement. For them, pursuing the revolution in reality means speaking only of revelation in the imagination: “For a man whose future is almost always imagined starting from past experience, becoming normal again means taking up an interrupted activity or at least an activity deemed equivalent by individual tastes of the social values of the milieu.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:119). Of course, the tendentious and irascible marginalia of the Levant was never ‘normal’ in any contemporary sense. While it may have been that messiahs were a dime a dozen, the vast majority of persons in every culture lived without their credos. This was, after all, the this-worldly aspect of the Pauline injunction. Even so, as Weber has noted in detail, the ‘routinization’ of charisma begins with the first apostolic missions; begins in their wake, as it were, for the mission itself must be couched in a mimesis of the original kerygmatic experience, one in which acolytes must feel the sense that they too can be, or would be, ‘overwhelmed with joy’. But after the fact, one can only experience the glad tidings and not the being himself. Being, on the other hand, is to be found within such revealed truths of existence and is thus intended as universalistic in its ability to impart the same sensations and feelings.

            And it is this last dynamic that lasts, so to speak. The living-on through each era casts Being as a shadow over the past. History on the one hand, life on the other. Achievement and newness. For human beings, “…these two desires are not hostile and irreconcilable, but form a homogenous and complementary whole. Only the man who is always able to achieve happiness can [ ] do without it.” (Moretti, op. cit:112). ‘Always able’? Now who is that? Moretti immediately accedes to Freud; no, such constant happiness is in fact impossible and streben, which Freud referred to as a ‘benevolent illusion’, must be recast as being a dynamical synthetic term that brings together two things that are forced upon Dasein, ‘change and freedom’ (cf. ibid:112-3). This is more realistic, surely, but at the same time, any evangel raises neither of these. His version of streben is perfect happiness in the ambit of heavenly arc. This is the lighter side of evangelical satisfaction; the darker is of course that the rest of us our damned. As Natanson comments, “…there are some insults for which apology is out of the question.” (op. cit:185). His general remark may be taken however one wishes, as it is generally applicable to social circumstances in which all of us must find ourselves once in a while, but his conception of ‘noetic failure’, the phenomenological equivalency of what he refers to as ‘social aphasia’, fits the bill. Any reactionary or regressive social movement is proclaiming not so much the end of the world but rather their own inability to adapt to the world as it is. These persons are, aside from their entanglement with an imaginary history, or better, the imaginal cast as if it were history, are always already ‘abnormal’ due to their ‘attachment’ to values which have, in this case and to be fair, for better or worse, been passed by: “To define the abnormal as too much or too little is to recognize the normative character of the so-called normal state. This normal or physiological state is no longer simply a disposition which can be revealed and explained as a fact, but a manifestation of an attachment to some value.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:56-7). Now this is not at all to suggest that all those who do not publicly cleave their hearts to some antique religiosity are necessarily ‘normal’ in any way. But they are normative. And both behind and beyond this sense of what is ‘normal’ lies, as Canguilhem assiduously points out, the conception of perfection (cf. ibid:57).

            Perfection is not available in the this-world. Both evangel and once-born agree upon this. The latter shrugs this condition off, arguing that perfection is not necessarily a human or humane thing. The former agrees that ‘too err is human’ but that we should seek to ascend from this sorry condition to something higher. Perfection may not be available here, but it awaits in its fullest presence elsewhere. But the turning away from reality and the celebration of the inner life are the two most important aspects of Bleuler’s original definition of autism (cf. Minkowski, op. cit:74).  Evangelism is autism projected.

            But if that is so, eroticism, so often portrayed by evangelism as its patent enemy – apparently these persons prefer surrogate sex to the real thing, and perhaps ironically, more radically than do those ‘normative’, since they use their children in this manner under the euphemism of ‘discipline’, a fitting abuse of the word of which the Reich would have been proud – is autism internalized. It is a compulsion betraying itself through self-love, a sensuous narcissism that is oddly more tolerable to others because it involves them, even if only as objects. But to be someone’s ‘toy’ is better than to be someone’s enemy, the masochist argues in turn. This obsession (cf. Natanson, op. cit:264, for references here), because it does not compel the entangled Dasein to seek happiness or contentment either in the otherworld or in the underworld, but rather simply enjoins the other to join the self of self-annihilation – who, in the end, can resist this hortatory appeal when all of us are potentially alienated? – allows the Dasein to imagine that it has triumphed over delusion, specifically, the religious delusion. For the evangelical, sex is not so much a villain as a competitor. It is a decoy of the devil, perhaps his ‘pet’ decoy, to stay within the torrid vocabulary of BDSM for a moment, because the devil wishes to convince humanity that earthly life can be even better than that heavenly. Hieronymous Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ portrays this tension brilliantly and yet not without some sardonic skepticism as well. Hollywood and pulp fiction have transfigured a great artist into a half-man half-bully in their detective Harry Bosch whose ‘manhood’ is expressed at one point by him threatening to assault his own daughter (season one, episode ten). Whether or not evangelicals watch cop shows, this would be one to their taste.

            But neither evangelism, our somewhat straw man, nor eroticism, our somewhat stuffed shirt, exemplifies a ‘lack’. Rather, cites Minkowski, we are after a ‘difference’ because it is the entire ‘structure of psychic life’, recall for a moment, this is held to be a unity by almost all of our sources here, that is altered (cf. op. cit:248). What brings these two apparent poles together is that both religion and sex must be pursued as serious hobbies only. The ‘dreaded hobby’ of Adorno is metastasized into a pseudo-vocation that makes time off from work into a consistent ‘vacation’ of the spirit. This word is used advisedly; the spirit does indeed vacate the scene in both eroticism and evangelism. Like art, religion and sex, if taken to the nth degree – the reader should already be aware that the author has no quibbles with either in moderation – can be ‘taken under’ only if some other station is maintained: “In short, the pursuit of art is sanctioned when it is undertaken b people who have achieved identification with some other socially sanctioned role.” (Griff, 1960:221). So our unknowing and unbecoming selves go to workplaces wherein an evangelical or a BDSM artiste lurks, the one hiding in the light which blinds viewers to his ‘true identity’ and the other in the usual murk of the shadows, suitably cliché and melodramatic. Both partake fully of the theatre of comic books; one relishes his superhero aspirations – he has the strength and build to beat his kids, at least – the other his sultry villainy – he has the strength and build to beat women, perhaps, or maybe it is the other way round. Well done both! The only problem is that the rest of us are not inclined, as it were, to tread either set of boards alongside these would-be teachers. Indeed, all sense of pedagogy is lost to the one who ‘knows the truth of things’, as both the evangelist and the eroticist proclaim, the former to the world, alas, but the latter at least only to himself. And there is a good reason why neither is art, in spite of our indirect comparison: “The creative powers of teachers disappear because the teacher tends to lose the learner’s attitude.” (Waller, 1960:341 [1932]). Perhaps the closest normative world analogy to these extremities of entanglement would be the journalist, especially the one who heads up the media room, editors, producers and the like. Kristeva’s amusing update on Proust’s character Mme Verdurin is called to mind, wherein this ‘Mistress’ of what is fit to print is a vulgar Pauline figure – well, how much more vulgar than a fellow who exchanges ethnic identities, travels with an amanuensis with who it would have been culturally normative to be involved in a pederastic relationship, and then criticizes everyone else for being hypocrites will be left to the imagination or perhaps even to one’s taste – who can be everything to everyone and maintain her utter mastery of every situation (cf. Kristeva, op. cit:69-70). All of this “…suggests that the narrator believes in transsexuality, the idea that every individual belongs to (at least) two sexes and that each of us negotiates the officially unbreachable partition of sexual difference by way of an underlying, implicit, ‘involuntary’ passage.” (ibid:71). Transsexuality is itself a transformative concept; it itself has its own ‘transsexual’ character in the loosest sense, shall we say. If we are also charged with narrating our own lives, giving at least the air of existence to a biography that no one else would read let alone write for us, then are we not also faced with the transsexuality of personhood, the eroticizing substrate of an existentiality which knows itself as these changes and not so much as change in principle?

            Akin to the narrator whose Pauline burlesque hardens himself against not worldliness but the world, just as passion is available to us but never as a replacement for compassion, so an internal conflict is engendered, given bodily form, sensuous appetites, desireful urges, and the like. It is, in its either vulgar or overindulged sense, a grassroots claimant upon the breaching ‘behavior’ of any scientific or philosophical analytic: “Existential analysis, therefore, constantly has the character of doing violence, whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquillized obviousness.” (Heidegger 1962:359 [1927], italics the text’s). This is not quite the same thing as Boss and Binswanger would later develop out of Heidegger and Freud but the principle of non-acceptance of the normative world remains. This is, by virtue of its ownmost question – not, though, by virtue of the direction such questioning may lead – no different than Paul’s critical interrogation of the cultures of his day. Discursive questioning sanctions its own question, sometimes questionably, pending academic and institutional circumstance. But this aside, there is a socially sanctioned space wherein the question of Being might arise. Yet for the phenomenologist, this is merely another example of what is ‘tranquillized’; one does not feel the violence of the question from within the insulated interior of an institution. It is bracketed in much the same way that the authentic radicality of philosophical reflection brackets the rest of the world, object, other, and norm. For a question is not just an objection. In erotic action, objectification is part of the dynamic that does a violence upon the personhood of the Dasein involved. But this is, ideally, agreed upon as its own social convention. An authenticity of question, the question of Being, does not harbor in its action a ‘safe word’, as it were. This is more than restating the cliché ‘nothing is sacred’. This is more like a carnival, however Pauline in intent. It inverts the social order in order to expose its iniquities and perhaps also its vices. Indeed, it can use vice to expose virtue. This is what any modern erotiste, at least since De Sade, in fact does. The facticality of his repetitive and projected onanistic activity at once takes away any edge of incipient critique – the violence here is all theatrical even if sometimes physically risky; there is a reason, aside from our misplaced esthetics, why BDSM models are young and built like a certain kind of athlete – as well as confronting the ‘vanilla’ Das Man to at least nod his head to his own desires, however suppressed. Even so, we rapidly regress into farce, and much literature of this tenor cannot be said to entirely escape this same fate: “The narrator keeps his characters’ ambiguities alive, and he also engages in the inversion of values, either through the passing of time or by merging disparate points of view into a single instant. In doing so, he amasses contradictory meanings that produce a comical effect drawn from the inadequacy of meaning.” (Kristeva, op. cit:154, italics the text’s). Not to mention his own inadequacy as a writer, perhaps. For him, the reality of his characters is a parody of all that he suspects in real persons around him. What he suspects of himself he keeps to himself, as if he were the carnival landscape embodied, a Las Vegas writ yet smaller and into an interiority which objects to its presence along with the co-presence of a theatrical Eros. If the circumstances are pleasant enough – who would not want to have a young person worship one and service one’s every sensual desire, even if it were not real? And then again, whose to say either way? – then one could call it ‘time well wasted’. But the idea that time was lost, either Time itself or as in Proust, some experience of time that had thence to be regained though in a most circumlocuted fashion as imaginable, is debatable. We are told that Proust maintained both ‘the violence of marginality’ and the ‘grace to construct a world of communion’ (cf. Kristeva, op. cit:171). The nightmare one engenders dreams of the other, one might well imagine. The observation of the first suggests the vision of the second, and so on. Even so, it is very much the wider case that, outside of this ‘lost time’, Dasein runs along, tarries, is distracted, curious, fascinated, just as par for the course. One manifestly does not need Eros to extend, deepen, heighten, or yet transfigure any of these commonplace situations. So what then, does Eros as an existential critic actually and authentically accomplish?

            Let us begin again, in a sense: “Common sense misunderstands understanding. And therefore common sense must necessarily pass off as ‘violent’ anything that lies beyond the reach of its understanding or any attempt to go out so far.” (Heidegger, op. cit:363). Right away we have a reiteration of Heidegger’s two basic senses of the ontological structure of Dasein: one, that understanding is mode of Being-in Dasein, and two, that such a Being is ‘constituted as care’ (cf. ibid). Now it is not that ‘common sense’ – a term that is the unabstracted sibling of ‘human nature’; the person who uses the one will inevitably use the other and very often in the same conversation – does not ‘care’ about things. But just here, we have the objectively apprehendable duality that obtains between Anxiety and anxieties: Care and cares separate the authenticity of Dasein’s in-Being in the world and Dasein’s being in the world of forms, norms, and others. Of course we care about things! The problematic term is not care, but rather ‘about’. The denial or avoidance of the primordial structure of Dasein’s subjectitudinal complex is contained in the projection of Sorgeheit only as a reaction to this or that which is already in the aforementioned list of worldly realms. Heidegger is rather stating the Dasein is care, as the primordiality of its also being interpretation or understanding. But in reality Dasein reacts only when its own being is already understood as care. It is almost as if Heidegger is responding to Kant: how do we have an experience (in the first place)? How do we exhibit care or act caringly or ‘care about’? But there is more: “If we make a problem of ‘life’, and then just occasionally have regard for death too, our view is short-sighted.” (ibid, italics the text’s). This is, in a way, saying the least of it. We are rather more literally narrowed, made stenochoric, by this sense that life is to be lived apart from death – here is an in for both ‘common sense’ and human nature’ to respond at once and in chorus, heaven help us – and it is this lack of perspective, this myopia of which Heidegger speaks, that allows for time to be ‘lost’, whether through nostalgia, transference, projection in the analytic sense rather than that Schutzian or phenomenological more broadly, and of the utmost, through eroticism. In his efforts to narrate an autohagiographic epic, Proust comes across more like Augustine than Cervantes. For a gay Jew this would seem to be an error, at least of taste if nothing else. To be fair, Proust also should be credited with maintaining a desire for what is, on the face of it, despicable or even grotesque, so that he can show the rest of us what it means to inhabit the ‘deontic facticality’ of an absurd projection we call ‘social life’, especially one in which D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf were confronted with the same basic problem as was Proust; where lies the meaningfulness of intimacy within social strictures? What can be maintained of the reality of love, for example, which can only gain meaning through the reality of death – Isolde realizes this perhaps right at the proper time – within the structure of social organization as a whole? “It can be maintained only on the condition that one discover what was alluring in the fact that an object is horrible – or shameful – and, in the face of shameful nakedness, make shame and desire a single, violent convulsion.” (Bataille, op. cit:78). Violent, once again, because norms are here not so much transgressed in principle – this occurs during the contemplation of the act – but they are subverted and bent to the new principle of possession. Once possessed ,the object is no longer part of the world of forms, others, or norms, and though much of lovemaking and associated mischief may be highly scripted, Eros as a force is kindred with the neighbor, irruptive and perhaps even uncanny, as when it discloses to participant Daseins the reality of once lived-through horror. Even as it heals, it reveals that healing is necessary. Thus the horror and shame of unshared life is also revealed in its nakedness. The object is horrible, but so are we.

            Norms provide cover for their transgressors. The form in which such a blind takes place, takes over, takes cover or even undertakes to fake its own death, is torn asunder by the desire to possess anew and again. Both chicanery and theater aside for a moment – and who can tell the lover from the love? – what Eros itself desires is the dissolution of the personhood of the persons. Generally, even the carnival does not admit to this more radical understanding: “Where there is no such practice or understanding, however, benign deviation becomes malign deviance. To violate the acceptable social patterns is to put myself outside of society, to be alienated from it, to be considered obscene, insane, criminal, traitorous. My freedom is to be whom I choose within a kind of personhood that is never itself in question.” (Allan, in Cook, op. cit:26). More’s the pity, Bataille might respond, but of coursed pity, like forgiveness and guilt, is one of those archaisms that authentic freedom frees itself from. This is not a naked will to power simply due to the facticity of anxiety and the facticality of desire. Power desires but more of itself, but will focuses and restrains power because it, in turn, must be bent to the purpose at hand. At-handedness must become in-handedness, being-in to in-Being, the finite goal must overtake, or even ‘take over’ as being must do to Being, the absolute value. At ne level, of course, is the usual sense that one’s loyalty cannot be divided, at least in public, between self and society. This is Spencer’s discussion, inherited somewhat obliquely from Kant. It is still a reasonable conversation in which to engage, and if it is a trifle Whiggish at least it is not downright quaint. At the same time, the necessity to maintain what is also beautiful – though there is also beauty in horror, as the twentieth century attempted not merely to experience but also to celebrate; perversely, precisely because it desired to make the horrible itself horrible instead of letting the being of horror simply Be – constrains our freedom: “Because all human beings are subject to necessity, they are entitled to violence toward others; violence is the prepolitical act of liberating oneself from the necessity of life for the freedom of world.” (Arendt, op. cit:31). This is why, when political regimes retreat into violence, they lose their authority. Authority is always lost before power. Will might remain but it too does not endure. This is why shame and desire exert a moment of violence, because anything more would destroy both subject and object instead of simply placing them sous rature, as it were. I have used this transparent analogy before, but imagine a Durchstriechung in the form of the Reich’s swastika as juxtaposed with the Buddhist emblem, for instance. Place either over text, certainly, but go further than this; Eros as willed desire must adorn the beloved with some kind of effort at erasure. Not a complete success, for we do not desire the object of desire to simply be obliterated – this is not a private genocide – but rather to behold the beloved dressed in the violence of our will. She may resist but once again, as above, her resistance too is necessary. it brings the horror of desire to the fore, it makes naked the shame of eroticism. This is not the shame of guilt but instead the term used more like ‘is it not a shame that such a beautiful face should be contorted in the agony of ecstasy, that the ‘tears of eros’, to borrow from Bataille, should arouse me so, that her own objective nakedness should be turned to a prosthetic nudity, and so on. I desire to possess her, but on my terms. This is Eros naked, shameful, and yet full of desire.

            So while sex, and especially in our time, sexuality, may be a political act, having sex is prepolitical in the Greek sense that Arendt is discussing. Authentic shame cannot be found within its folds, however manifold. No, the shame of a post-agrarian worldview must be felt in the horror of inequality and poverty, very much real and not esthetic, let alone aesthetic, circumstances: “Everything that ‘justifies’ our behavior needs to be reexamined and overturned: how to keep from saying simply that thought is an enterprise of enslavement; it is the subordination of the heart, of passion, to incomplete economic calculation.” (Bataille, op. cit:105). Once again, tell me how this is not a proclamation of the humane, for humanity as a free disclosure of Dasein’s authenticity? Yet for Bataille’s scalpel and scythe, even here there is slight reservation; the term ‘incomplete’ might have been rendered as ‘incompetent’ if one took a different tack. Of course, there is a sense that all is indeed calculated, that suffering if measured out in proportion to the relevance of this or that segment of global society that will act, submissively of course, to keep power channeled the way it has been so: through national states of varying degrees of ultimate power. Now this is shame, and not ‘a shame’ or ‘a pity’. Now this is horror, and not simply horrible or horrifying. Now this requires little reexamination and much overturning.

This Time the Government is Good for You

This Time the Government is Good for You

            Relax, I’m a doctor. Of philosophy, that is. I hold a world top-40 Ph.D. in the human sciences and partly because of this people often ask me to ‘explain’ what is going on right now. I can’t cure the virus, so my skills are not front and center. But step aside with me for a moment, and I’ll attempt to tell you why I think that this time, the government is the right pill for the right job.

            Needless to say, as a thinker I am no great fan of the state. Our official apical ancestor, Socrates, was executed by the state for ‘corrupting youth’, which remains a large part of my mission. Kant was ordered by his state to stop writing about religion, a particularly delicate theme in his time even more than in our own. He ignored the order and no doubt said something that wasn’t fit to print in return. So that’s pretty much where I come from in the day to day, when times are mundane and life seems long.

            But for the moment, our times are neither. I recently published a new theory of anxiety and so one thing I can tell you right off is that Anxiety, capital ‘A’, is seen by philosophers as a good thing. It’s like an early warning system, an impetus to care, which Heidegger stated was the most fundamental aspect of our beings. This ‘concernfulness’, as he put it, orients ourselves to the most pressing of issues which underlie the day to day of living on. These include the condition of others to self, the future as ‘being-ahead-of-ourselves’, and our thrown and fallen state as beings who exist in the envelope of both ‘finitude’ – existential finiteness that cannot be located at a precise time, just as we cannot know the hour of our individual deaths – and ‘running on’ – moving towards our future deaths but in no conscious or systematic manner. Large-scale crises are certainly something to work against and around, but they also serve to distract and decoy us away from confronting the intimacy of our own deaths, which cannot be shared with any other human being.

            So ironically, part of our anxieties regarding COVID-19 concerns how well this crisis will distract us from ourselves, our own lives as we have lived them, and whatever regrets we may have suppressed about them. Anxiety, on the other hand, alerts us to these more intimate aspects of selfhood and does not let us be distracted by the world in any inauthentic manner. Generally, the state is part of this decoy world, issuing this or that decree that appears abstracted from our daily life, even arbitrary. The State is one of theological philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s two examples of the ‘evil of evil’ (the other being the Church). The evil of evil is defined as ‘fraudulency in the work of totalization’. What does this mean?

            Traditionally, only a God was omniscient and omnipresent. As secular political life elbowed spiritual life into the margins, indeed, sometimes into the shadows, the state replaced the church as the center of social power. Even so, as a human institution, government is flawed, not at all all-knowing, and not quite everywhere at once. It often pretends that it is both, and in this it is a fraud. Many modern institutions partake in this ‘fraudulence’ as they pretend to be everything for everyone. The university is another obvious example. But with the stern demands the state is placing upon us these days it is flexing its absolute power over civil society, in part, again perhaps ironically, to keep it thus. We are reminded of Lord Acton’s now almost cliché epigram, originally in epistolary form, that ‘power corrupts’, and further ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. So we might be adding this worry to our list of anxieties and generally and in principle, we should always be concerned about limiting the power of the state, lest more governments arise around the globe that lengthen the list of authoritarian regimes.

            But this time I’m going to tell you that our governments, at least, are doing the right thing. Listening to real doctors, for instance, and following their advice to the letter. In turn, we as civil and unselfish citizens need to do the same. This does not mean that we shed our individuality for automata, slough off our would-be immortal coils of freedom for slavery and obedience, or regress to the status of young children. It is a choice we make based on the best of knowledge at the time, and one that the vast majority of us, myself certainly included, could not make for ourselves. We do not become thoughtless morons by acceding to this general will. Indeed, it is thinking that has brought us to this point and it is thinking that will see us through to its far end, however indefinite this may appear to be today. At both federal and provincial levels then, we should heed to the letter the demands of the day. So relax, take two governments, and call me in the morning.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of almost forty books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

Me Tar Sand, You Pain

Me Tar Sand, You Pain

            On the general culpability of misogyny and self-hatred

            With the confluence of International Women’s Day whose major theme was domestic violence and misogyny, and the appearance of a misogynistic cartoon of Greta Thunberg emanating from Alberta’s resource heartland, it would be sage to note that these kinds of events are not at all unrelated, as Hillary Clinton publicly did some days ago. Yet there is more to such a dynamic than vested interests and the conflict of gender iniquities. Men tend to keep their emotional resources locked deep inside a sediment metamorphosed by machismo, the shallow equivalent of honour, bravado in lieu of bravery, and paternalism instead of chivalry. Such patriarchy may indeed be ‘viral’, as the French protesters aptly suggested, but it is more than that. We men are the human equivalent of the tar sands. Costly to parse from our violent socialization, with dubious merit once so distilled. But if we carry the strata of another epoch within our spirits, women must appear to us as the painful perspective upon our own internal undoing.

            Because men have great difficulty in excavating their own human feelings and communicating their experiences in a richer language than that of the joint fascist aesthetic of desire and control, we have projected our still present curiosity and ingenuity into the world. An objectified nature can be subjected much more easily than can be the subject himself, and our subjection of nature is in fact a thinly veiled objection to ourselves. This projection of the will to life in carnal form using only carnival norms threatens to destroy the species. But more intimately, and with a greater resentment, we have also projected our inability to practice an examined self-understanding onto women. It is this that actually provides the clue to the more general problem at hand.

            My wife astutely remarked, upon hearing of the Thunberg cartoon decal and the reaction to it, ‘forget about child pornography, this is a hate crime’. Quite so. Instead of listening with compassion and risk to the other who challenges us, who has another perspective, who is sincere but who also does not know us, simply assault them, rape them, beat them down. In doing so, men are once again projecting the violence they feel toward themselves into the world, this time not of nature, but of others. This in turn divides the question of who is human and who should be the steward of the world at hand. For humans, in general, a world in hand is less threatening than a world merely at hand. Women and children as chattel – in many countries yet today they are still defined in this manner; witness the elites of Dubai or the peasants of Afghanistan, the lack of legal deterrents against domestic violence in a Russia hell-bent on increasing its birthrate, the lack of protection against physical violence for children in the United States, the list goes on – are to be taken in hand. The similarity of phrases is not a coincidence.

            Violence against women and children, as well as against other men, is the same thing as violence against the world. But women are not nature. The popular mythology of ‘mother earth’ is a distraction that pushes both men and women and all other genders away from truth of things: the world in fact is an anonymous set of forces which is not at all dependent on human life in any manner. It worlds itself without us, and we have, of late, made ourselves a danger to it mostly in relation to our own tenure upon it. Perhaps not only to this, but as well much of life as we have known it. The ‘male gaze’ which objectifies the world of forms and indeed helps to create that world as form and not as an unformed mass of unrelated sense and image, is one of appropriation. It seeks to possess but it also seeks to maintain possession. In this, it is in conflict with itself. For how can one attain the mastery over something and thence forth keep still in one’s mastery? What does it mean to be the master of all things when the attainment of which can afford no further means to satisfy one’s desire for mastery?

            The fear of an anonymous and even uncanny nature led in part to the advent of civilization. It is Glacken’s (1967) uncommonly fine historical analysis that allows us such insights in our own time. Today, we hold not so much an antique fear within ourselves but rather resentment. With all our accomplishments, yet we must perish as unique individuals. This is an unquiet thought and men specifically are socialized to feel responsibility for it. We reach out from this disquiet towards an ungodly future; from the desperate quest to evolve the species artificially to the perennially popular fantasies concerning contact with other civilizations to the sense that stem cells etc. can prolong the lives we do have, we struggle with the new role we have assumed; we are now our own gods. Yet we also strain backward towards the all-too-godly past; from the recent resuscitation of the authoritarian family made manifest in ‘intensive’ parenting and strict control over children, to the idea that the family – an institution constructed during a time when women were chattel, hence the prevalence of contemporary violence now reported because in fact women are not chattel, and neither are our children – should even exist as a viable social institution, the return of young people to popular ‘religious-based’ organizations as if these could have any profoundly relevant meaning to the world-as-it-is, we as a species are challenged by the mortality of our condition as never before.

            Yet we can ask ourselves, what is the loss of an individual future as against the loss of the future itself? Humans die, but humanity lives on. A man dies after all not as a man but as a human being, his reason suppressed, his soul unexamined and his heart enslaved to a vain desire. A woman dies before her time if she is forced to be less than her own future makes openly possible. A child dies before she even becomes fully human, sentenced to the unutterable violence of the chattel definition and the dictates of moribund institutional ‘life’. Can any of this be called a ‘future’?

            The human condition summons us in ways both threatening and non-threatening, says Heidegger. But however we respond, we do not avoid these summons. The climate crisis is a mere symptom, as is that geopolitical. Let us not be decoyed into becoming entangled by a symptomatology in the same way as we would not, disingenuously and with a transparent duplicity, allow ourselves to be seen to too publicly eviscerate courageous women or too harshly discipline equally courageous youth, though both conditions remain the desire of most men and indeed, perhaps most ‘adults’ as well. Instead, confrontation with compassion, heroism without hedonism, chivalry without paternity, honor within authenticity; these are the characteristics that make the noble character from which humanity has gained its only marque of self-respect. In our own time, when respect for others and for the world is at a premium, we must begin by staring not at the mirror, but staring it down, staring through it, until we reach some more insightful sensibility that does not rely upon the force of will alone.

Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of almost forty books in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

Being as it has Been: an introduction

Prologue:

Who am I’ is the most difficult question yet posed to any human being. Not ‘what am I’, which bears several immediate responses from biology to sociology; not ‘how am I’, which can be answered by evolution and psychology alike; not ‘where am I’, which is a geographical and astronomical query, and not even ‘why am I’, which cannot be responded to unless and until the identity of the being in question is established. This ‘who’ is a moving target, changing over the life-course or yet from weekday to weekend. It is intensely personal, confrontational, intimate, subjective and liable to libelous label. It is something that simply being human does not directly address. Humanity is a ‘what’, an objective facticality of history and evolution both. It is also a cosmic fact, though an insignificant one, so we are assured – and is this not the beginning of the avoidance of the other question? – and it is, in the end, an ‘essence’ that does not alter itself in any serious manner over the generations. The basic constitution of the human species bears little resemblance to its much vaunted ‘humanity’, relatively present or absent, leaning towards the humane inhumane, aping its apical ancestry too closely or shunning it altogether. No, this ‘who’ must needs remain uncategorized in that way. And yet the question remains.

            It is the kind of question that tests also the remains of human faith, for to ask a question one must make the leap of faith that there can in fact be at least a response, if not an outright answer. An explication, an interpretation, if not an explanation or a certainty. In short, that there is a way to understand the question, of whatever character, and that in turn this understanding will contribute to the Selbstverstandnis of selfhood. The specific question of the ‘who-ness’ of beings involves us in a lengthy journey through some of the shadows of modern thought. The stations of this unholy book follow below, but though its finite goals are charred with the flames of desire and the smoke of despair its absolute value is a new humaneness from which humanity can only benefit. I ask the reader to tread this fearsome sanctuary with me, to walk on the proverbial coals that linger like the spilled blood of a murder, spreading still.

            To do so, an examination of many of the key thoughts that animate, or reanimate, the thread of discourse known loosely as ‘anti-humanism’ must be accomplished. But such an analysis must differ from the liberal humanist stance that calls out anything that appears to deny the sovereign soul inherited from godhead, lately truncated. No, decapitation leaves the head intact. That it is parted from the body of works is not the final thing. It is not fatal to thought, for thought, in its freedom and its interiority, needs not the ability to speak its name. John the Baptist’s head spoke onward gifted with divine force. The solitary head of the old god still nods sagely at us in its afterlife. No, the mind of this our own artefact must be exhumed and vivisected while it is still within mortal memory, while it speaks in its own unhurried silence the language of the inexistent. It whispers without lips this message: that you as a human being are yet more than Being could ever be.

            This is the call of lived time. Being retreats, yes, but not merely in the presence of beings. More so than even the presence of others, it is the Das Man of the social world at its least social and most sociable that forces upon Being a self-recantation. But the response has ever been, ‘civilization is a thin veneer, it is Eros which is the more serious mode of beinghood, that and the thanatic.’ This is too simple, for the erotic life, as we shall see below, is not only not the fullest life – only love is real, as the artist tells us – it is also not a rehearsal for death. It is already death in life, for it wishes the timeless, the non-conscious. This is why it can easily be an addict. It commits life to live on in the penumbra of fuller being. We will examine this problem in some detail. Along with this, ‘anti-history’ accompanies the so-called ‘anti-humanism’ as its own shadow selfhood. What then, is it? There are various candidates: the unwritten, the prehistoric, the structural – deep or mythic or naked or what-have-you – the phenomenological. One thing is more certain; it is time bereft of time, which in turn will be examined to further the sense that a rejection of an historical consciousness that is effective in lived time poses the greatest ethical risk to a human future. That said, after the dark reaches of a cloying and clasping unadulterated Eros, we shall encounter a compendium of ethical implications to understanding that ‘anti-humanism’ in fact is our singularly best hope for that self-same future. Indeed, it may be the case that humanism anew, the topic of the conclusion to this book, must rest solely upon the series of drastic insights brought into the lighted space of beings now, and not Being, that resolves the challenge of all modern thought presents to its authors.

            Being as it has Been

            It must have been a primordial sensibility that gave up the first clue to consciousness. Now forever beyond the obscure, so much so that the prehistoric cannot include it in its wider ambit, that first moment wherein our ancestors recognized themselves for what they just as suddenly were, that moment alone stood to be repeated for a finite infinity of other moments. Not similar in depth, to be sure, but alike in astonishment. The death of another who was to that moment like oneself. That first internecine violence, wherein the surviving proto-hominid stared starkly down at the unmoving eyes of his would-be rival, all the way to Nuremberg and Hiroshima and beyond, repeats the penumbra of that moment. It is the naked sword of vision, with the blade bloodied by lived being, as if the numinosum of nakedness unveiled another layer of flesh. What lies beneath what is already naked? Why is there an unconscious when consciousness would seem more than enough? Why is there structure when there is already grammar? Why is there an unsaid lurking behind all that is spoken? Why the genotype, why the quanta? It is not so much the interior of truth that gives it its sometimes sullen and sudden depths, but rather its interiority.

            Recently Being is not what it was. Its history had not been questioned. If beings were historical, which had never been seriously disputed, why not Being ‘itself’? At one hand lay the newly quantum reality, a sub-structure so deep that the very term depth began to lose its meaning. It was uncertain, not quite measurable, seemingly random. It was not a structure so much as a void, full, not of things, but rather of itself. This must have been mindful of the person who is nothing but arrogance. And was it not arrogant to imagine that, for the first time, what underlay cosmos was its very opposite? The back side of a god was the truer face of Truth. Yet at the other hand lay infinity. Ordered, obeying the same laws no matter the billions of light years, showing itself only in a minority – today we understand that a full two thirds of the universe is made up of the furtive ‘dark energy’, for instance – and stretching back to the most recent beginning of all things, of all realities. If only we could see it! To glimpse creation is, at one level, to prove the existence of God itself.

            Though it may be ironic that beings seek to prove Being, to excuse themselves, perhaps, to give them a reason that they are mere beings and nothing more, or yet to give themselves a goal to which to aspire – all of these and maybe more together circulate as modernity’s lifeblood – we as quanta do live in a highly structured, fastidiously ordered social world that mimics the wider cosmos. This worldly microcosmos is not of course the World which worlds itself, as in Heidegger, but what it is defies the sense that at the deepest level yet known, randomness and chaos could generate anything meaningful at all. Yet it was up to ourselves not so much to discover this ‘relationship’, but in fact to give it meaning whatever might be the truth of things. This is so because “Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.” (Heidegger 1962:32 [1927], italics the text’s). Hence ‘Being ontological’, as he puts it, comes before ontology, which is, at the core, a study of itself as Being. Myself as a being must be counted amongst this study, which is at the essence of self-understanding. But the ‘as’ is here not a mere simile or even an analogy. It is as-ness because beings are historical, as is the study thereof and therein. Now, that said, does this imply that Being too is historical in its ultimate character? Modern thought answers a resounding ‘yes’ to this question.

            And this is where the trouble begins. Or rather, it is the end of the beginning of the troubling ‘issue’ that human being, Dasein, has for and in itself. It is both as this issue and it is also simply this issue; it is this issue and it remains so. In the lead-up text to Being and Time, Heidegger asserts that “It is the history of the incapacity to pose the question of being in a radically new way and to work out its first fundaments anew…” (1992:6 [1925]) that is ‘grounded’ in the very being of Dasein. Because I have an issue with my being, I cannot radically formulate it to myself. Instead, I take an interest in the time of beings, whether that time is the one in which I live my actual life, or perhaps it is a historical period deemed somehow ‘relevant’ to me personally or to the apparent Zeitgeist in which I am ensconced, etc. Thus the conception of time cannot only be an historical one and thence it is directly related to the conception of Being that cannot be parsed from beings, or can no longer be so parsed. And why is this, Heidegger asks us. Clearly, at this point and long after in Heidegger’s work, phenomenology is the only manner in which or by which to investigate such issues. It is radical where one needs radicality. It is of the essence where one needs the essential. It is focused on the ‘beforehand-ness’ of beings that does not necessarily result in the pat response ‘Being’ as such. Indeed, one might better use the term ‘beforehandedness’ to designate such territory as may be located in the depths of primordial existence.

            The first station along this way, whether we approach from our own condition or imagine that we are first descrying it from the far side to our own, the side of myth and magic, occurs with the earliest idealism to which we are historically privy. That is to say, the earliest that does not appear as mere myth itself: “Ever since Plato turned his back on the Athenian democracy and set out his scheme for an ideal city, political philosophers had been writing about politics in a way that systematically ignored the most salient political features of human beings – that they are plural, that each of them is capable of new perspectives and new actions, and that they will not fit a tidy, predictable model unless these political capacities are crushed.” (Canovan, in Arendt 1998:xii [1958]). This is the direct result of the ‘issue’ of Being amidst beings. Being is itself a perspective that, while apparently unchanging, allows for and indeed may be said to provide a rationale for, the mutability of beings as both culture and individual. One could extend the idea of organismic evolution into culture, the ‘superorganic’, as Kroeber called it in 1917, but it is not simply a matter of cultural ‘adaptation’ running by itself. How does humanity adapt? Through a conscious effort on the part of each of us. This consciousness is ‘effective’ in this sense long before it became historical per se. Still later, “Man became aware of consciousness itself; the fact of thought became itself an object of thought.” (Jaspers 1960:598 [1948]). Yet we may suggest that the ‘issue’ of Being as beings, that being a being prefaces all such thought ‘about’ being in the way that one is ontological before there is ontology and also is historical before there is history – in the sense that one is aware of the passage of the temporal and not necessarily that one has measured time in intervals or even seasons – means for us that we also have become our own objects. Certainly we ‘use’ others and are used by them in the way we might pick up an instrument. This may lead to a kind of aesthetics or make itself aware of the ethical, or it may simply be an instrumentality. However it may turn out for individuals in different periods of their singular lives, the consciousness that I am part of something greater than myself – and this awareness must have been primordial and presumably extends beyond and before the genus Homo – may have given rise to the incomparably more recent distinction between being and Beings. For in social contract societies we do not find the language for the one, only the all. Yet what we do discover is an acknowledgement of the smaller and the larger and it is to this that we must cleave our historical analysis of Being in the light of beings.

            If this is a perennial puzzle, it is partly due to a simple narcissism that refuses to undertake itself in that self-same light: “All in all, man has become a riddle for himself. The elements of this riddle are scattered in history, and in the present only those sovereign moments in a diffuse state, contribute to a possible solution. The contribution comes from within ourselves, but its objective existence is firmly established.” (Bataille 1991:232 [1976]). As in Durkheim, this induction could be reframed as an inductivity, something ‘electric’ and thus something of the body as well as of energy. Material and spirit, the answer to the riddle of ourselves is at once a little cliché and Whitmanesque, but as well reaches outward, perhaps in an equally stereotypical manner, into the atomic age. How could a series of related species known only for its flint-knapping skills for over two million years or more have ‘harnessed’, as the word is so used, the power of the atom? The obvious links – tool-making, action at a distance in terms of injuring or killing another whilst keeping oneself safe from harm (and how does nuclear war do that, one wonders), the projection of consciousness into what is non-conscious, the affirmation of cosmic evolution in that the same basic material is used to construct both our bombs and our brains – work round the riddle of the selfhood of humanity. ‘Harness’ is a term from the previous epoch, when not only weapons of such magnitude could not be imagined – or was Revelations that very imagination writ into the mythic bracket of divinity? – but the realm of the smallest, the quanta, was something that once again, only angels could achieve. How many muons fit on the head of a pin?

            However scholastic the genesis of the riddle, any response must take us out of the realm of the scholar and into that of thought and thought unthought. Perhaps the beginnings of our historical response occurred even before Plato: “According to Aristotle, Homer does not depict himself, as do many less talented authors, but ‘…introduces a man, a woman, or any other character, and no one is deprived of character, for everyone has one.’ (cited in Kristeva 1996:120 [1993]). Just below, it is ‘style that is the intermediary’ in the creation of character or a character, and we are told, famously, that the ‘poet makes himself into another god’ (ibid:122). Yes, because he is creating a new set of myths to supplant the old – Homeric literature makes the transition between the purely mythic murk of primordiality and introduces human action in the world, or informal history (we await the arrival of Herodotus and Thucydides to formalize this dynamic) – but more than this, the poet speaks for the rest of us who remain would-be gods. She is more than Sophia, who imparts wisdom to those in ignorance. Here, we are all possessed of the wisdom of the riddle. We are all as is the Sphinx.

            Yet ancient history is something we moderns have invented for ourselves. By definition, classical authors were writing about recent history, as we might write about modernity. For them, what is ancient for us was nothing more than contemporary. Indeed, Homer represented both the beginning and the end of another kind of time. Afterwards, the recent, before, the ancient. It was left to us to understand that history is more seamless than all of that, and this due to a new conception of experience: “One of the conceptual achievements of the philosophy of the Enlightenment was enhancing history into a general concept which became the condition of possible experience and possible expectation.” (Koselleck 1985:200 [1969]). We become historical beings as part of the riddle of pre-ontology, rather than beings before whom history is set, as in the fates of the Greeks. Now fate rests in the heart of myth, so ancient literature, especially drama but also narrative that is based upon presumed events such as the Trojan War, at once brings myth into the world as well as making myth more worldly. Though our recent conception of agency is, in that very world, likely as limited as was the Greek’s theoretical sense of existential action, we are much more concerned that we in fact possess this agency and imagine that we can alter our destinies inscribed in the arc of thrownness. This additional achievement of modern thought rests in the human heart and as such, cannot stand with any ultimate certainty vis-à-vis history as we can know it, let alone myth as we have forsaken it. Even so, “…the theory in question conveys the humanist conviction that man’s action on his environment and on himself can and must become completely one with his knowledge of the environment and man…” (Canguilhem 1989:104 [1966]). Such a unity is only possible because of ‘existential a prioris’, as Heidegger has investigated them. If for the enlightenment experience is itself as form of knowledge – it may be unsystematic, illogical, even irrational, but nevertheless it is known as is any memory or feeling – then the next sensibility that is brought to bear upon human experience is its obverse; that we cannot experience what we cannot know, even if this knowledge is post hoc. Just so, an hermeneutic experience is said to be one about which one had no prior knowledge, hence its ‘confrontation with the tradition’ in the objective sense of discourse and the history of thought, and its radicality to the subject who nonetheless experiences it. Perhaps ‘it’ may be loosened somewhat here to remind us that we, at first at least, do not know what ‘it’ actually is that we are experiencing. This comes later, even if this later is but momentary. Yet an hermeneutic experience, if it can exist as stated, is still not the same thing as an irruptive one. This later breaks into mundane experience and is radically alien to interpretation, forcing us to engage in none other than the non-rational analogical processes that animate myth and perhaps even fate.

            It is so that such irruptions may in time be assimilated, just as modern science claims that its territory can ever expand to take into account objects or experiences that for now perhaps remain beyond its current explanatory frameworks. But this is only the case because of the wider ambit of the existential a prioris, something that phenomenology has provided for us. These “…are the universals or forms that stand to the experience of each human being in the same manner that the Kantian categories of the Understanding stand to the objects that we know.” (Needleman 1963:27, italics the text’s). If the mind is not quite such an object – insofar as it is a reification on the one hand, and insofar as we have but partial knowledge of it itself, since indeed it is our own mind that must know itself – then existence takes from the object world its deliberate and self-conscious objection to it. It is through Dasein’s objection to the world into which it has been thrown unannounced and involuntarily that it itself knows itself as its own Being. It is not the Being of beings that partakes of the older metaphysics, but it cleaves to itself the Being of the Understanding. It is this Verstehen that at once is nothing other than Selbstverstandnis and being-in-the-world. It is formed in the world of forms but it is not a form. It is formal without necessarily becoming a formula. And more than this, it is always forming and never set. As much as social institutions attempt to instill, sometimes brutally, a set form, human beings overcome it. If they do not, and of course there are examples of this as well, they can no longer truly be referred to as being human: “…the word human never denotes, as simpleminded people imagine, a stabilized position, but rather an apparently precarious equilibrium that distinguishes the human quality. The word man is always connected with an impossible combination of movements that destroy one another.” (Bataille, op. cit:342, italics the text’s). The marriage of light and dark occurs only through the human presence.

            Yet we have persisted in mimicking the natural order in our human relations. Perhaps this is what all children of the cosmos must do, at least at first. It would be one of the many vital questions that would have to asked of any extraterrestrial species, for instance; did their self-understanding pass through this same childhood? Such questions are, for the time being, moot, but it is important that they remain so. Not for any objective purposes, of course, but solely so that we have enough time to ask them, most seriously, of ourselves. Indeed, this may be a prerequisite to contact, as many science fiction tales have implied.

            However that side of things may be or may yet be, it is more important to recognize the plural ‘nature’ of humanity to juxtapose it with the two forms within which this living plaster is supposed to set. We are not made of clay for nothing, to speak metaphorically, and a jar is meant to hold something or other. It is a vessel, not only of the spirit, but of knowledge and experience and finally, of existence. It can be shattered as can the clay jar, but even in its shards it is recognizable as something which was what we are. No archaeology, either of the ground we tread upon or of the phenomenological ground of beings, would be possible without this immediate resonance, as well as of course our sudden sense of loss at beholding what had been lost before us. This much is crucial, “…for the question as to who ‘we human beings‘ actually are has never received less of an answer than it has in our age, and today we stand again at the threshold of new queries with respect to this we.” (Binswanger 1963:226, italics the text’s). The ‘we-ness’ of humanity has also never been challenged more seriously. It was one thing to deny it and yet not have the power to destroy it, as almost the entirety of the historical epoch bears chief witness. This often witless adumbration of the sameness ‘in spite of’  – why act upon it when one can merely state it and appear noble? – carries us headlong into our own time wherein we now deny it at our peril, collective and complete.

            Such a ‘we’ as we are can be partly understood by noting that Dasein is ‘alongside’ other things instead of in fact being them: “Being-in-the-world has always expressed itself, and as being alongside entitiesencountered within-the-world, it constantly expresses itself in addressing to the very object of its concern and discussing it.” (Heidegger 1962:458 [1927]), italics the text’s). Even if this is ‘grounded’ in the sense of time, in temporality, as Heidegger puts it, the first thing one actually addresses is the being-otherness of the entity in question. We do not in fact immediately nor instantly know, even if we are ‘constantly’ expressing ourselves, if this otherness is an other to self, an object, a force of nature or culture or both, etc. So a ‘concernful reckoning up’ of these possibilities into relative plausibilities (op. cit.) – in no manner within-this-world do we attempt to assign numeric ‘odds’ to such encounters during this process – takes place. What can be said of this process is that it at once ‘expresses itself’, as Heidegger notes more than once in these passages, but that it also ‘reckons’, pronounces a kind of always penultimate judgment on these encounters, rather than upon them. The ‘upon’ is more final, perhaps even fatal, in such a context, and it closes Dasein off from the world within-which it must encounter itself and express itself. Such otherness as there may be – and it is constant in itself and it also expresses itself – begins amorphously. For instance, Arendt speaks of Marx’s ‘labor creating man and labor’, in other words, itself (op. cit:86), or that products, commodities or no, become independent of and alien to human life (ibid:89). So here we have two omnipresent examples of the encounter with otherness in modern society; the forces by which labor transforms humans and the force by which that same labor transforms the world. The results are, at best, mixed. How do we express the ‘itself ‘of Dasein under such conditions? How does the world now world itself under the grind of capital? What kind of character does the individual Dasein take on in order to avoid the distraction of objectified expression, which may still be self-expression if selfhood is itself a commodity, which it often appears to be or to have become? But it is self-expression without self-understanding: “Hypertrophied and giant consumers of their time and other people’s time, these characters are endowed with a symbolic value after they reach a temporality superior to that of the phenomena – and indistinguishable from the dynamic of Being.” (Kristeva, op. cit:323). Only after they have reached this ‘superior’ temporality – contrast this with the drive to attain merely a superior tempo in all things – then there is a sudden upshift of the dialectical variety. Something is conserved or bracketed without being bracketed out. But is it not this very leap that makes for a disconnect? We go from what is not even Dasein all the way to Being, as if we were subject to an objective enlightenment of a more Eastern sensibility. What is overleapt is ‘man’ itself.

            We know from Nietzsche’s famous caution that Man cannot be so overleapt, and one must rather become a bridge to the superior form. What life looks like from this side of the existential chasm is defined by not only distractions that are calculated to decoy, but also by the simple detail of living on. The casual expression that references the devil, who is to be found in such details, speaks to our sense that we can know an other’s scheme. Calculated distractions are just that, and betray themselves when we return to what passes for mundanity, as when we attend an evening entertainment event and then go back to work the next day. But the details of the quotidian seem to be part of the very fabric of what it means to live day to day. We are attentive to them because we think them necessary or at least, unavoidable. Even so, and however their numbers, we are enthralled to them, and sometimes by them as well: “In the view that defines us as modern, there are an infinite number of details. Photographs are details. Therefore, photographs seem like life. To be modern is to live, entranced, by the savage autonomy of detail.” (Sontag, op. cit:126). ‘Stills’, as they are sometimes still called, capture a reality that in fact was real for so momentary an instant that it tends toward the irreal, as if it called into being a Being, placed essence into existence, made the phenomenal noumenal. Such an image contradicts itself. It isn’t real, but it exposes a level of reality that cannot be noted in the flux of either tempo or temporality. Is it the ‘superior temporality’ we seek or is it only its ‘character’? No, it is neither, we contemporary skeptics state. It is only an image of what occurred and more than that, what partially occurred,. What actually occurred can only be captured in a film – ‘rolling stock’ – and never a still. This skeptical sensibility is also of our own time, very much guiding the tempo of our temporality or very much trying to do so. Nietzsche’s friend, the historian Jacob Burkhardt, “…places it at the origin of modernity, in that ‘ontological’ scepticism inherent in the incessant change of all human institutions.” (Moretti 1987:140). Why should change ‘itself’ not be responded to by an essential skepticism? Are we reacting then to this or that change or to the wider sense that change is what we are? At the same time, why should we react this way if it were not for a sense that we are both singular – how dare I change or be forced to change when I am one thing? – or at the very least, if not singular, are yet sovereign – I can command change, but only the changes I myself want and seek. Skepticism, that hallmark of modernity – though it emerges in Classical Greece and then flourishes in the Hellenistic period when the Alexandrian empire brought home to that small group of city-states the wider relativism and relevance of the known world – must ultimately be turned against the selfhood of the self. In fact I am not one thing, we drily note, in fact I cannot control much of what occurs. Much of what occurs, occurs to me, and not because of me.

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            If we make a preliminary response to the question ‘who am I?’ by simply saying ‘I am change’, then is it the case that this being-in-the-world is, by definition, change ‘embodied’ or am I the very body of change in an otherwise unchanging world? By this, of course, we do not mean the world of nature or the worlds nature has created by and for itself, but rather the world in which we find ourselves thrown. There would be no change in that world without us mutable beings making and remaking it, one might argue: “…if existence is definitive for Dasein’s Being and if its essence is constituted in part by potentiality-for-Being, then, as long as Dasein exists, it must in each case, as such a potentiality, not yet be something.” (Heidegger 1962:276 [1927], italics the text’s). This appears so simple that we want to simply nod our heads at it in fulsome agreement. But the implication of not yet being anything at any one moment only strikes us more deeply when we maintain the notion that we are this or that, even that we are change ‘itself’ or at least, embody it. Later on, Heidegger notes that anticipation must therefore take in the ‘whole of Dasein in advance’, the possibility of existing in this entire potentiality, even though we cannot exhaust possibility in the existential sense (op. cit:309). But why cannot we be something and still ‘not yet be’ something else? Why does the not-yetness of our Dasein, its forward-looking, anxiety and concernfulness as Sorgeheit exclude the being of something or other for the time being? Its seems, on the face of it, an overstatement to decline the being of A because we are not, or not yet, or never, the being of B. This appears reasonable, but we are also not yet grasping the fuller meaning of potentiality. Even in being A we are aware that A could be different, could be more than it in fact is for us. B is not of immediate interest unless we ourselves have given up any aspiration to be the more of what we already imagine we are. And it is this, more than the world, that disallows one to complete one’s being in the wider existential sense whilst existing, as Heidegger is often wont to point out, as well as in the more local sense of not ‘reaching one’s potential’ to use a casual phrase. We say more than we know in this case. It is an admonition often directed at children but also at those who have ‘given up’ before they had, in our eyes at least, fully tried to become this other, better, version of simply A.

            We have, in a word, taken over the divinely inspired goal-oriented and above all, finished state of being to which worldly and mortal life can aspire. We know we are unfinished beings, but instead of being finished by another force and in another space, we are simply completed by death. In modernity, completion is judged the only possible result of potentiality. One never finishes anything, let alone oneself: “A previously divine teleology thus encounters the ambiguity of human design, as can be shown in the ambivalence of the concept of progress, which must continually prove itself to be both finite and infinite if it is to escape the relapse into the naturalistic and spatial sense it earlier embodied.” (Koselleck 1985:104 [1969]). As in the more formal difference between a discrete and finite distribution such as the binomial curve under which one can make predictions based on series probability, and the infinite and continuous curve of actual data in the natural world, a completely human sense of history understands the finite as itself, yes, but also conceives the infinite as a God. It is this latter which needs to be brought into the human ambit. There is a role reversal, if you will, for the more recent historic period agrarian gods cleaved themselves to a human interest. They initiated history whilst we actuated it, and continue to do so. Now, humans must have an interest in Godhead, to fill both a power vacuum but also a symbolic space, as if the ‘horror vacui’ of the Greeks had shown up our finiteness for what it actually was.

            If a relapse was to be avoided one had to throw oneself into the mix, as it were. Dasein’s thrownness, its projection, always had a certain sense of regret about it. Yet philosophy became even more necessary to our sense of selfhood, as well as science. The first now represented the thought that emanated from the only form of consciousness now indeed understood as understandable. The second the fruits of that conscious, and often self-conscious, labor. Certainly, “…it was at least as decisive that man began to consider himself part and parcel of the two superhuman, all-encompassing processes of nature and history, both of which seemed to doomed to an infinite progress without ever reaching any inherent telos or approaching any preordained idea.” (Arendt, op. cit:307). Yet we have found, rather to our collective chagrin, that inserting ourselves into these processes – in the Victorian period, as their summa cum laude, in our own time, as their reticent and often incompetent stewards – that this not only vouchsafed nothing with regard to either a final destiny or an ultimate end but in fact guaranteed that Telos would forever be banished from both the historical and the cosmic mindset. Rather, we have witnessed a sense that time has been, as Koselleck puts it, ‘temporalized’. This Verzeitlichung, leads into a kind of flux, which exceeds the boundaries of the previous era’s sense of what constituted a ‘period’, as in that suggested by art history or archaeology, for instance, “…at the end of which there is the peculiar form of acceleration which characterizes modernity.” (Koselleck, op. cit:5). Even the use of the term ‘era’ should provide a caution. Indeed, we can periodize the pre-temporalized history in a manner which no longer cleaves to our own. Just as that era’s Gods possessed, and were possessed by, a human interest – this defines them in the same way that their predecessors were defined by their lack of interest or even their outright enmity towards humanity – the sign transcendent of time gave that era its very form. Without such a position, without a supra-Godelian viewpoint, history and time become the same thing.

            Yet reason remains. Used or no, the defining character of our own humanity must somehow assume, or at the very least, presume to assume, the position vacated by the sign of the transcendent. So “Only now have we established ourselves as ‘universal’ beings, as creatures who are terrestrial not by nature or essence but only by the condition of being alive, and who therefore by virtue of reasoning can overcome this condition not in mere speculation but in actual fact.” (Arendt, op. cit:263). Here we do not take Arendt as suggesting we overcome our lot as living beings per se – though of course much more recently this has been in fact the drive to construct artificial vehicles to house our intelligence, including our reason; what then would be the reason that is divorced from life, one might ask? – but rather those conditions peculiar to our own time. It is, subtly and almost silently, a revolutionary statement. Relative reference points, specific purposes, finite goal-oriented actions, and most indubitably characterizing our own era, the equally centerless value systems which conflict with one another all over the globe, all of this is the life-condition with which Dasein is faced. Though back-dropped by an older evolutionary process, the resonance of which might be seen in both dreams – falling or being chased motifs, for instance – or the semi-conscious awareness that gives us tingles when in the presence of either the profoundly sublime or the profoundly dangerous – the elevation experienced with great works of art or the unreasoning shudder in the face of what could still be called evil – our present-day life-condition is apparently more or less controlled only by ourselves. It is now old hat to recite the losses incurred from geocentrism to heliocentrism though in 1958 it was very much of the moment, given Arendt’s own early reference to Sputnik etc. This ‘drama’ of modernity is more than mere spectacle on the objective side, more than mere theater on that subjective. It is nothing less than the elevation of originally organismic evolution, in spite of it being also sometimes nothing more than the degradation of the same: “…we must envisage the transition from animal to man as a drama, which we can take as having lasted and as having had ups and downs, but whose unity we must grant.” (Bataille, op. cit:73). Yes, we can never know what actually occurred, there, on the ground, some seven or so millions of years ago. It has been said before now that palaeoarchaeology and cosmology are two arcs of the same circles, closing in upon one another and closing round the compass at which the center stands humanity. But no matter how detailed the fossil record and no matter how fine our optics, so far creation, that cosmic and anthropic both, has eluded us.

            How could it not have? The very concept hails from the previous metaphysics. To imagine we can arrest what is essentially a ‘divine’ moment through technological means alone marks us as just as essentially arrogant, if not worse. But there is another level of technocratic means and ends which affects us much more personally. The individual, politically and morally part of a group, yet ethically and existentially solo, at once human and a human being, the latter enveloped in the task of Dasein-as-it-is, is marked by our sense that creation and construction can be made into the same thing: “A paradox within a paradox is generated: the problem of uniqueness replaces the unique person, and the former is itself typified. The formula: ‘Treat each person as a unique individual’ contains its own refutation.” (Natanson 1974:258). This ‘obversion’, so to speak, forces each of us in daily life to self-typify. The common-place question ‘what do you do?’, which is meant to be read as concerning what one does for a living, tends to take the place of ‘who are you?’, which is our original question. Certainly the former is more easily answered. To be fair, it has taken on various guises, like ‘what’s your line’, or ‘where do you work’ etc, which are more honest and direct. Even so, its obverse is assumed to have something to do with our authenticity in that one’s identity, so wrapped up within one’s ‘day job’ to the point of predefining social role, is or can be holistically understood through it alone. And this is merely the most prevalent form of typification in mundane life. Yet we are aware, sometimes painfully, that not only are there numerous social roles occupied by a single individual – perhaps the rationale that our particular personal ‘recipe’ of them is what actually makes us an authentic individual – and that social roles overlap they also often conflict with one another. This is so basic, both to social discourse and the discourse of sociality alike, that in order for it to function as it does it must simply be overlooked. Akin to the disconnect between a culture’s ideals and its realities, the microcosmic version thereof that lies within ourselves cannot be too closely scrutinized. Koselleck notes this issue is reflected in the problem of there being a crisis that is unsaid but that critiquing this issue does not resolve the crisis. Quite the opposite: “…the critical process of enlightenment conjured up the crisis in the same measure in which the political significance of that crisis remained hidden from it.” (1988:9 [1959]). Just so, the casual expression ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ encapsulates the challenge facing any person or culture which attempts to excavate its basic assumptions regarding the interface between reality and ideal, self and world. Sovereignty is an ideal for a national entity and plays forcefully into one’s conception, as a citizen, of national identity, so-called. But in an interconnected world there are severe limits placed even upon governments and their ability to act for and by themselves. Writ small, these same limits occur in the daily life of individuals. Indeed, there is almost nothing that one can accomplish entirely by oneself. ‘Projects of action’ are an attempt by the individual to maintain her individuality in the face of the world, not of forms, but of others. They begin from a rarified height of phantasm, as Schutz has stated, and yet have an openness about them simply because they are future-directed. Since Schutz’s ‘because’ motives are a closed book – the action is in the past and thus can seem to be free of the same limits that are about to enthrall ‘in order to’ motives – even so, they still provide the model for courses of action to be taken (cf. Natanson, op. cit:42). It is a bit of a sleight of hand, and we feel slighted, even slightly awry, when we are forced to recognize both limit and ‘work around’, as the managerial phrase has it. There is a rustic dialectic to all personal ruminations of this sort; I am made aware of the locale of my ability, its relative paucity of power and its truncated reach. In this, the most important aspect of ‘enlightenment’ has to do with language itself and how it no longer cleaves to the model of behavioral schema: “Language is just as much infrastructure as superstructure. The schema of the infrastructure and the superstructure must be rejected resolutely, for here we encounter a strict circular phenomenon in which the two terms, in turn, implicate each other and transcend each other.” (Ricoeur 1965:202 [1955]). This circle is hermeneutic in character. The action of the other must be recognized – this is done mostly tacitly and based upon social conventions learned, for most of us, early on – but their motives must be interpreted. ‘Confessions’, whether on the stand, in the box, or in the bedroom, can be faked.

            This location, recently touted as only ‘social’ in its nature, is in fact also personal and historical, as well as perhaps structural. More than each of these in turn and all of these combined, it has a phenomenological location, or better, position, that doesn’t merely reflect a worldview but refracts it, Weltanschauung lensed through Wesenschau. It tempers the temporality of its time, and just as the Zeitgeist hovers above the agent, pushing us to separate ‘infra’ and ‘super’ if we heed its power alone, so we as actors have the ability to confront the day, as well as the tradition, through the use of language which can also conceal intent: “Action is subject-bound, it builds up in a temporal development, and its full significance is always on the far side of the actor’s intention. The act is a unitary phenomenon which is object-oriented and whose meaning is graspable.” (Natanson, op. cit:38). Meaning is not ‘attached’ to an act in the same way as history is not ‘added’ to being. This circle, unity, or is-ness of human action-in-the-world may remind one of an instinct of sorts, in the way that animal being is in its world. But there is a crucial difference: aside from the fact that it already and always has meaning and is thus meaningful in a manner that the behavior of animals does not – this is why it is behavior and not act to which we refer in this other realm – human beings live by virtue of their acts and how they are interpreted by others. In a word, our world is both intersubjectively meaningful and is something that stands over against us. Animals are part of the natural being of a world which worlds itself away from all meaning. Unlike the autographed hand of the divine in medieval understandings of nature, our contemporary view is that humans remake the world, for better or worse, solely in their own image.

            This new world, brave or no, is only fully realized in the eighteenth century. It becomes part of ‘public life’, as it were, just as meaning in general now seeks its autochthonous advent: “The movement which blithely called itself ‘the Enlightenment’ continued its triumphal march at the same pace at which its private interior expanded into the public domain, while the public, without surrendering its private nature, became the forum of society that permeated the entire State.” (Koselleck 1988:53 [1959]). This advance was mirrored in intellectual life. Ideally, the source of the state, its own people, were to remain within a freedom that disclosed itself through the division between private and public. This distinction appears to have gained yet further merit today, when privacy issues are both fashionable but also in some cases serious, as in the medical sphere. Publicly, we are but a citizen within the modern nation state, a resident of one of its geopolitical subsections, and so on. We are immigrants, emigrants, migrants, or even transients. The phrase ‘no fixed address’ has become the ultimate indictment against our would-be citizenship but also against our oft elusive freedom. It is true that some homeless persons choose to remain so in front of other possibilities, but these people are rare. The idea of home itself still carries an undeniable weight, and is the objectively identifiable converse to Dasein’s existential identity.

            Just as personhood became enveloped in the notion of citizenship during this period – it has been pointed out that for the final dozen years or so of Nietzsche’s life he was stateless, which is somehow fitting, or that Marx was ejected from no less than three states before rusticating in London; could there are also be infra-persons and super-persons? – ideas ‘themselves’ must also have an origin point, a home. Speaking of the enlightenment intellect, Heidegger suggests that “…what alone mattered, what was decisive for them, was concrete work, and that meant the propensity toward ‘facts’. Accordingly, the first task to be carried out in history was to disclose and to secure the sources.” (1992:14 [1925], italics the text’s). If the person has a birthplace and thence perhaps also a birthright, just so, ideas too have sources, origin points, places of birth and growth, ontogenesis and phylogenesis alike. Sources ‘positioned’ ideas in history and towards history. Philology, historical analysis and historiography were all of the moment. In this very same period, beginning with Chladenius’s ‘optical’ logic c. 1740, the historian could now assert a position of his own, take up an argument from a specific point of view or historical location. This was the modern beginning to our understanding of social location and epistemic privilege, among other recently fashionable sensibilities (cf. Koselleck 1985:140 [1969]).

            A century or more later, however, it had to be admitted that the source-based optical gaze, the reportage of historical witnesses, the tracing of genealogies in the traditional sense, was not going to be enough to fully understand existence not only as it had become by this time but also in its essence. Therefore, Dilthey took up the task by focusing upon the ‘object’ of history as a structure of ‘life’ (cf. Heidegger, op. cit:17). Dilthey’s version of psychology, also a new and burgeoning discourse, made singular the sense that history was akin to reality and that consciousness ‘itself’ was constructed through their mutual imbrication. The ‘sources’ of this sensibility are obvious enough; Marx and Engels stunning statement of 1846 that ‘consciousness is itself a social product’, an historical condition, Darwin’s 1859 exposition of nature as cleaving to a non-conscious non-teleological set of forces, and so on. Diltheyan psychology did not examine its case through the lens of either deviance or pathology, but rather took it to be not only the normative but necessary condition of human existence. The discursive step toward Dasein must assuredly follow. In between, as it were, it fell to Husserl to construct the analytic that moved the former into the latter. This was “…a special method for prising apart the merely taken-for-granted from the intuitively graspable, and for describing delicately and in detail the region of intuitive transparency that this distinction opens up.” (Wood 1989:39). What is this ‘intuitive region’? Heidegger states with emphasis how phenomenology simply is ‘scientific ontology’, and that there is ‘no ontology alongside a phenomenology’ (1992:72). Wood continues by reminding us that for Husserl, no ‘general cognitive framework of science’ could ever be the subject of an empirical study. One does not scientifically study the autochthonous region by which thought is possible. Science is secondary to phenomenology; all science (op. cit:40). Just as is our ‘natural attitude’ hallmarked by its lack of concern – in that concernful being does not manifest itself automatically within such a sphere and indeed cannot normally do so – phenomenology in its pre-objectivity is no less than a ‘title’ for being. (Heidegger, op. cit:74). Any previous take on what ‘comes before’ does not make a viable enough distinction between immanence and transcendence (ibid).

            But what, exactly, is this distinction that must be made? By the time we are able to read the fuller statement contained in Being and Time, two years later, we find that thinkers such as Schutz and much later, Natanson, have, perhaps ironically, practiced the ‘disappearance of praxis’: “So if one posits ‘practical’ concern as the primary and predominant kind of Being which factical Dasein possesses, the ontological possibility of ‘theory’ will be due to the absence of praxis – that is, to a privation.” (1962:409 [1927], italics the text’s). Of course, this does not imply that ‘tarrying’, ‘looking around’, ‘inspecting’ and so on constitute the beginning of a theoretical attitude. Not in the least. They are part of the detailed carrying on of a practice, almost like a diagnostic. They are neither pre-theoretical nor post-theoretical as they never attain the circle in which reflective thought is ensconced. Yes, one could certainly admit to the presence of interpretation during this carrying on which is also something that Heidegger relates as ‘being at a standstill’ in its relation to praxis. But lingering is not thinking. Simply put, it is a kind of manipulation, not in the ethical sense per se or immediately – though one may now wonder if tarrying in general is tantamount also to malingering and not merely lingering; is it not the case that when we do not know how to practice this or that we must either admit it through repetitive failure or try to cover over through deceit our incompetency? – but rather as within the context of the ready-to-hand (cf. ibid:410ff). Language is itself not exempt from this manipulation. Insofar as we communicate our intents through and by language, even if these be deceitful in that we communicate something other than our ‘authentic’ desires, the primordiality of concernful being ‘comes and goes’ as it were. It does not find a home within language as such. Wood notes that there are three ‘levels of concern’ regarding the metaphysical ‘adequacy’ of language in general: “…that of metaphysis, that of the permeation of ordinary language with metaphysical concepts, and the problem of the original lie of language as such.” (op. cit:296). Nietzsche’s famous early essay is a testament to this line of questioning. This is not only a question of style, as many commentators have noted Nietzsche is equally famous for. Certainly, style allows the artistry of creative thought to be communicated, without regard for authorial intent, on the one hand, and one’s own peccadilloes on the other. But serious art contains serious messages, and we cannot be distracted by style to the extent that a text becomes ‘only’ art, even if Nietzsche’s early work could be considered such by the usual standards. Even the variety of translations of the title of the 1871-2 essay that seems to disallow not only concernful being as an authenticity in the world but also language as ever an authentic expression or manifestation of Being transfiguring world should put us on guard. Each reader is looking to render this intriguing work – surely, along with the Communist Manifesto, the most important short piece of the nineteenth century – in her own way: sometimes it is ‘truth and lie’, others ‘truth and falsity’, in a sometimes ‘extramoral’, or ‘non-moral’, or even ‘ultra-moral’ sense and so on. Yet is it really such a scandal that words have different meanings pending context, that they can tell the truth or no depending intent, that they can dissemble and dissimulate and duplicitously duplicate? Hardly. It is not that Nietzsche simply overstates his case, but his youthful mind appears quite taken by what would become in Saussure, for instance, a model of precisely how communication does take place and how we are able to identify both truth and lie in the vast majority of contexts and cases. In a word, we know our own language as it is and we are not daunted by this knowledge, but are rather given an essential aspect of our human freedom.

            One must project a form of empathy to elevate one’s mundanity into the space of concernful beingness. Yes, language may well hinder such a venture, but so might reflection, if we are to take the radical idea of the neighbor seriously. No act, observed or perhaps more profoundly, witnessed, takes place beyond language just as it does not transcend the temporal. It is something that is done, after all. How it is acted makes all the difference and in this it is no different than how language is used. Praxis may vanish in order for the theoretical attitude to be attained, but thought as Being-there does not. Yet it is a specific aspect of thought which is of foremost concern: “The imagination has a metaphysical function which cannot be reduced to simple projection of vital, unconscious, or repressed desires. The imagination has a prospective and explorative function in regard to the inherent possibilities of man. It is, par excellence, the instituting and constituting of what is humanly possible.” (Ricoeur, op. cit:126-7). Herein, ‘myth’ does itself also refer to a phenomenology, that of consciousness and of humanity. It is, ironically perhaps, the pre-logocentric function of myth that animates the prose of not only storytelling in general but also life-narrative. Imagination is the harbinger of human mythos. And just as this mythic imagination ‘persists’ – a term of which Simmel, just after the following, is very critical – the human vehicle for myth, the soul, continues within human consciousness as a makeshift but also as an aspiration. This must be so, “…otherwise it would be inconceivable that tomorrow this soul calls exactly the opposite particular into the same psychic life.” (Simmel 2011:96 [1918]). Just as both the saint and the murderer sleep – perhaps their dreams do regularly differ? – I as a singular Dasein perform well or badly, harbor bitterness or happiness, regret or contentment, look to a future unlimited or dwell in reminiscence. What remains is not merely the remanant of all of the other unsaid or undone words and deeds that make up each life, but rather a thought-through existence which, from our phenomenological standpoint, is the same thing as essence.

            This ‘psychic unity’, however suppressed or conflicted, is challenged not along lines stemming from social role but rather along its stifling stenochoria, its narrow boundedness that has the effect of making it either less than it is or less than it could be. The most dangerous myth may indeed be the last one, the one of final, fatal ends, the one of the apocalypse. No noble god would frame a human end and call it its own, and one would hope that no higher being would welcome a human engineered mass suicide. There is merit to the stratigraphy of myth, even if we should not apply it to ourselves. ‘Higher’ really does confer responsibility upon the being deemed to be such. Whether or not we humans can aspire to such reaches is perhaps another matter. But in one sense, we have already attained this space, and that through the sense that the ‘psychic life’, the life of the human psyche, lives within us but is also greater than us. And we are aware of this larger sensibility even in the quotidian: “We do not see flesh and infer a human being inside it; we confront a psyche in seeing a man. The Other lives and is recognized at the focus of his glance, in the space he warms, and in the void his language fills. In this bodily presence the sociality of man achieves its primordial expression.” (Natanson, op. cit:109). Indeed, it is as well a primordial expression of our own humanity in recognizing the Other in this way. Not Otherness, of course, for it is the uncanny obverse to the neighbor figure, which is likely why some older authors have interpreted it as possibly evil if not in origin, at least in intent. But the Other, or others, or one another, this intersubjectivity is only possible because she recognizes me in the same manner. The ‘looking glass self’ has this other level to it: it is a mirrored selfhood, back-dropped by the tain of personhood and framed by culture. In this image, the unframed personhood cannot be said to be a person at all.

            This said, such a mutual recognizance embraces not the other per se, but the human relation writ into a microcosm of solidarity. Often passing, especially in large-scale anonymous societies shot through with the aptly labeled ‘loosely coupled networks’ and such things, and oft taken for granted in a way more extreme than is implied by the ‘natural attitude’, the ‘world-taken-for-granted’, is nevertheless a constant and consistent reminder of our own humanity. We only remain human with regard to the others, and these whether living or dead, and thus they may be said to be fully present in their immanence in the same way as a phenomenological a priori is claimed to be. More so, they too are objects in the phenomenological sense. If our subjectivity, however radical, however ‘glancing’, and however singular, makes an object out of what is at first a comprehending ‘ray’ purely subjective, then it suggests that otherness, though an abstraction, is a fundamental object of resistance at the macrocosmic level. Even so, this does not directly address the question: “The problematic of knowledge may be expressed thus: how can something be an object for a subject? In an idealistic context, the question is: what is that in the subject which renders possible the appearing of an object for him?” (Ricoeur, op. cit:156). It is sometimes glossed over that we too are objects, and that, first and foremost for others. This then is another, related, question: Why is consciousness so predominant that it brackets the objectitude of Dasein instantaneously? How is it that our object status in the wider world of forms of being – alongside the world of modes of being; action, intent, care, looking-ahead, and so on – can only be recognized through the back doors, as it were, of objection and objectivity? The former resides in our resistance to not only social norms but also to the presence of others. The latter rests in the aspiration that we can apprehend the truth of things through our being-there. If “…knowledge as such cannot even be grasped if we do not from the outset see the specific context of being in which knowing as such as possible.” (Heidegger 1992:165 [1925]), then this ‘inversion of its being’ that Heidegger immediately discusses cannot access more than an epistemological know-how regarding Being or Other or World. Next, the term ‘contextures’ appears, implying that Dasein’s worldly location is to be also thought of as textured in specific ways native to this or that context. This is ‘in-being’, kindred with the interiority of phenomenology, though such a term expresses the objective status of what for us must remain intimately subjective, though not essential. Since Dasein is a priori not an entity, the ontological ‘decipherment’ to which it is subject is clearly not the same kind of ontology as is to be found in metaphysics as we have known it (cf. ibid.). Here, an ancient rubric is given a new ‘contexture’, the ‘diminishing of the difference between logos and experience’ (cf. Koselleck 1985:172 [1969]). Both the inner life of reason and the worldly life of social forms and formations were guided by the same singular law. This idea resonates in both modern science and in science fiction alike, wherein consciousness and cosmos are somehow to be related, either through an anthropic principle or through evolution itself. But phenomenology excavates this structure more radically. It could only do so, perhaps ironically, by virtue of the just as radical break modern science undertook to make with the previous metaphysics: “It is this cultural event of the birth of experimental science which brought about the destruction of the philosophico-theological synthesis of the true, or at least made its dissolution visible, for [ ] this synthesis never existed but as an intention or a pretension.” (Ricoeur, op. cit:167). By the mid-17th century, the distinction between veracity and veridicity was also given a new sensibility. The first became something that had an eminent plausibility about it, an eye-witness kind of accounting, or self-accounting, but still very unlike say, a traveller’s tale or, with fitting irony, a ‘likely story’. The second was subject to a much more stringent definition, one that partook from that point on only in the context of the experiment. Indeed, to this day, experimental control attempts to remove context, let alone contexture, from the to-be-recorded. The idea of witness also drops away, rather precipitously, when we move from veracity to veridicity. Not only does it retain something of its visionary or religious baggage, the witness is yet called forth in the sphere of justice and the courts as if this person was also a kind of judge, or at least, his presence is to aid the construction of a final judgement. It is almost as if the witness is a premonition of the just, though after the fact. The witness is, in this sense, the ethico-subjective converse to the neighbor.

            For the scientific researcher, however, recording is objectively different from bearing witness. One, it is most often the case today that non-human ‘observers’ are doing the recording. The scientific sensate is as technical as are the questions it asks of the world. When asking the same order of questions of itself, science must at first pause. Diagnostics performed by or on machinery or technology, or the laboratory rubrics and processes, distillations of theoretical models aside, have limited scope and agenda. Are the machines functioning correctly? In the end, how would we know if they were or were not, if the question confronted by the research is indeed a new one? We project our sensibility into the machine and hope for the best. We hope, in a word, for enough veracity to preclude doubts about veridicity: “Only ‘in the light’ of a Nature which has been projected in this fashion can anything like a ‘fact’ be found and set up for an experiment regulated and delimited in terms of this projection.” (Heidegger 1962:4141 [1927]). There are no ‘bare facts’, he concludes, and even within the purely mathematical ‘disclosure’ of nature, the key idea is the a priori itself, discovered by the ‘prior projection of their state of being’ (ibid). This is crucial, for such a sensibility immanentially tells us that science even as practiced is part of phenomenology, rather than other way round or that they are somehow entirely divorced from one another. Can Being ‘itself’ be subject to the same kind of projection?

            This seems a long way from both mechanism and behaviorism, the two fundamental concepts animating the science of non-sentient nature and that of animal nature respectively. The singularity of the contemporary idea of will, however conscious or no, has granted us enormous subjective freedoms, including the ability to think more and more critically about our own condition, if we so choose. Even so, “The brilliance of the modern view is that human behavior is thus subject to mechanistic explanation because rational analysis can be made of the organization of means to achieve goals, and the goals themselves are set by vectors of inertial forces.” (Neville, in Cook 1993:150). We should at once remind ourselves that rationality is not rationalization nor is it to provide rationales for something, nor to merely construct ratios. Canguilhem notes that the measure of quantity does not annul quality but rather merely denies it (cf. 1991:110 [1966]) as well as that ‘scientific knowledge invalidates qualities’. Here too is a new term: validity. Resting uneasily between veracity and veridicity, and connoting a probabilistic version of them both at once, validity is often said to have at least seven statistical forms, including aspects which denote ‘face value’ and interpretive validity. But it is conceptual validity that is the aim, and to attain this, quality itself must be sacrificed. One cannot have a concept that carries any predictive or predicative power based on a single case alone. Just so, the singularity of the person in modernity guarantees her nothing in regard to any of the knowledge of modernity. How I ‘fit into’ the world as we now know it or have come to known it through science and its applications such as medicine and engineering is perhaps more of a mystery than ever before. Previous worlds worlded differently enough, and though with a great vanity hooked into that of the concept of the mascot and then general human interest godhead, human beings understood their relationship to those worlds more comprehensively than do we today. This is so because we at first do not understand the questioner herself: “World in its most proper sense is just that which is already on hand for any questioning. The questions persists only on the basis of a constant misunderstanding of the mode of being of the one who raises this question.” (Heidegger 1992:215 [1925]). Our being is both ‘constitutive’ of the world but at once is thrown into a world which has nothing to do with its constituting force. The world is ‘already discovered’ in constituting being and is thus thought of as an ‘entity’. The resistance one encounters in the world of forms and all the more so, that of norms, should be enough to convince us of the veracity of this world. It is less amorphous than we imagine, just as we ourselves are more so. Of late, of course, the world in its most natural form, its predetermined and already discoverable form, has felt the resistance of human presence, to its detriment. Even so, we are destroying our own world, and not the world in its most base sense. It may be possible in the future to do both, to leave this beautifully marbled blue ball in lifeless pieces kindred to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where another planet likely once existed before being torn apart by conflicting gravitational forces during some primordial epoch. But surely this is not only not a noble mission for Dasein it is also one that asserts quantity over quality. Heidegger notes informally how important Simmel’s 1918 work was to his own formulations of the next decade, including this sense of unity held within the thrownness of Dasein ‘into’ the world. Simmel’s own view “…sees the form of its unity immediately in the fact that it expresses itself in changing contents or, more correctly, that it consists in their being lived and done.” (op. cit:153). Each act holds the entirety of life responsible for it and likewise, and these contents are experienced as a continuity. Each act ‘works back upon the ground’ which cannot be given any further definition, such as that of either essence or transcendence. Simmel speaks with emphasis about the obligatory quality of each act, that our life becomes defined by our continuous action but also, and more tellingly, that each act, in its singularity, tells of the whole (ibid). This is first and foremost an ethics, but it is also an existentialism that verges upon phenomenology in the Heideggerean sense. This is different than its psychological offspring or cousins in terms of its understanding of rationality and typification. It is not ‘affective’, to use Minkowski’s description. The psychic unity of Dasein is, as we have seen, not part of something other than itself within the arc of its project. Modern knowledge, which is almost entirely epistemological in character, does not apprehend the psyche and can only reduce it to measurable components. But in doing so, the deeper question has to do with our motives, to render ourselves in this pixelated manner. Perhaps we are weary of psychology as it once was, and thus also wary of its return. But archaeological analytics of the self are still used to ironically reduce the existential continuity of life-acts to some prior trauma, performance, theater, or relationship. Bleuler’s original understanding of autism – it was he who also coined the term – is a prime example of this problem that has recently received a second childhood, as it were. Autism is synonymous with ‘interiorization’, the schizophrenic is merely a ‘wakeful dreamer’, and so on. But “This psychology, though born of a reaction against rationalism, has by no means rid itself of it. In replacing the rational with the affective, it subordinates (as rationalism did), the psychic life to one of its functions and thus remains faithful to the principle of cutting-out and breaking-up, which is so dear to discursive thought.” (Minkowski 1970:280 [1933]). Minkowski asks us whether or not the interior life could play such an essential role for the schizophrenic, especially given that most, if not all, of his delusions are drawn from popular culture, that is, the social world at large and not from some inner and private sanctum of the distorted imagination. ‘Empty talk’, is how Minkowski refers to what in earlier periods might have simply been put down to the Victorian ‘ravings’ of the ‘lunatic’ mind. There is a surfeit of theater in both daily life and the life that shuns it. Insanity per se, is at base a turning away from the norms; one is a ‘moron’, according to the Greeks, and indeed, if the fates still exist for some of us, to turn away from these as well makes one the fabled if astonishingly reckless ‘hyper-moron’.

            This ‘folding-back’ upon oneself that is the core of the first definition of autism, is nonetheless not the rule for schizophrenics in general. This selfhood has been distended, broken apart, and not by discourse but rather by the self! These public actions take place in the external world of fellow-humans and it is as if the Dasein has distorted itself not to fit some mysterious ‘inner’ life but to make the world into a dime novel in which they alone are the principle. It is, in a sense, a contemporary rendering of an anonymous world into the language of personal myth. Personal, yes, but not private, because, like any genius – the one who goes beyond her time, perhaps equally recklessly as does the schizophrenic who uses that same time to make a self-styled heroine of herself – the person ‘with autism’ craves disciples and attention. And yet, this is a challenge that all of us today must face: how to place oneself in the world as it is, as we noted above: “Modern man, however, must build his own personal world, after making himself lord and master of his own life and death; and the external world, ruled by material, economic, and technical powers, can no longer offer him a foothold.” (Binswanger 1962:235). We realize that it is not so much general myth that the schizophrenic or related person seeks to reinvent but rather mere theater, a theater which is intensely social without being responsible in any way to the world of sociality. It is, in a word, asocial theater, a presentation of self shorn of obligation and mutual aid, a story all too likely in the midst of the self-adoration of capital and the self-aggrandizement of individualism. The ‘lunatic’ today is thus merely an overheated version of ourselves.

            If the world as lensed only through such humanity is but a titanic ship of fools, there is yet a resistance associated with the objectivity or, to use Arendt’s term, the ’durability’ of the world: “From this viewpoint, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human life…” and through these human beings can achieve a kind of sameness. This is not directly contrary to the Heraclitan chestnut about the ever-changing stream, and it was not so even in his own time. But what it does signal to us is that our subjectivity has nevertheless constructed something over against itself, and this quite apart from the “…sublime indifference of an untouched nature…” (op. cit:137). Even the problem of mortality can be solved, if not entirely resolved, along these lines. The world worlds on, but the social world also continues. History does not end, nor does it begin again. This is the sacrifice the modern person must render if his world is to continue at all. Once again, only in myth does time stop and the adunatic advent of an uncannily new adventure appear. We face the resonance of this apical ancestor of our conception of measured time but we must not mistake it for that precise primordiality. Our incomplete understanding of both ourselves and of history – and this quite objectively in both cases, between archaeology and the history of consciousness as lived – forces us to make a decision based upon what we can know at the time, which is a very different thing from saying that time stops for us in order that we make such a decision, whatever it may be: “…man, in order to be able to interact efficiently with other human beings, must, at intervals, make a total orientation out of a given stage of partial knowledge.” (Erikson, 1960:78 [1956], italics the text’s). Given that almost all of our decisions at the personal level have to do with this kind of intersubjective action, our understanding of ourselves – recall this is not yet the same thing as a phenomenological Selbstverstandnis – is both partial, in that it is incomplete, but also partial in that it is biased. I am partial to myself. If the spontaneity of the neighbor – another reckless figure who acts away from himself without a ‘because motive’ – can overcome this self-interest momentarily, it does so by way of an irruptive insertion of the mythic into sociality, the epic into history. Such an event is rare enough and does not constitute an adunatic force in any cosmogonical sense. Time does not stop and restart itself anew due to the acts of one heroic individual who seeks nothing other than to save the other. But in that moment, time has no meaning for either party, nor does partiality or incompleteness. The act is everything and it consumes us precisely because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the interior life of the individual, distorted, navel-gazing, irresponsible, and unresponsive as that life is.

            Thought has sought this freedom in both directions, as it were. On the one hand, the thinker posits himself as the considered and considerate neighbor of all. But on the other, he also turns away from the world and not only in order to interpret it. The world becomes for him a mere receptacle of his thought, which is the gift of both myth and epic combined. It is true that to free ourselves from praxis we must nurture “…the intellectual freedom that does not obey the dictates of specialized knowledge. At the same time, by abstaining from all definite content, whether as a formal logic and theory of science or as the legend of being beyond all beings, philosophy declared its bankruptcy regarding concrete social goals.” (Adorno 1991:6 [1964]). The authentic neighbor exists through and by her act alone, and not by any consideration that may come afterward. This act is to-be-shared as its mode of being, but it is not shared in the usual sense of intersubjectivity. It is a gift but without presentation or ritual. Its gift reaches back into a communal hearth of shared consciousness that is the stuff of the mythic life. Is there something within our long-evolving mind that could be said to remember such a reality, or is it merely and ethics of aspiration and hope, one that ‘saves’ us for another day?

            Either way, consciousness must at once shake off technique for its own sake and yet confront both the tradition and immerse itself in the world-as-it-is. The act of consciousness, thought ‘itself’, can only become an ‘event’ in this way. Generally, once again perhaps since Plato, thought has often failed to accomplish either of these joint tasks: “I’m not saying that thought, constituted as such, is unacquainted with that which it calls ‘inhuman’, or foul or shady, but it cannot really integrate it; it knows it from above, through condescension, from the outside: all that is strictly a subordinate object for it, which it considers arbitrarily, without recognizing its own involvement, in the way medicine regards the diseases.” (Bataille 1991:22 [1976], italics the text’s). The ‘spirit’ of consciousness is often lost to its letter. But thought is not law, and indeed, it is the very thing that keeps the legal order from becoming the natural one. That alone is worth the price of having to think as a selfhood and think the being-of self into being. In the end, we are only demeaning ourselves if we heed only the letter of thought, its technical virtuosity and its endless feats of linguistics and logic. Necessary as is the day’s repast, nevertheless, the letter of thought is something that, akin to the tradition that it gradually accumulates for itself, must be overcome. In our own time, this tradition is not religious in character or stature, but rather positively scientific and even technological. Science is perhaps the most objective tool humanity has yet constructed, but it too has a spirit that reminds us that it is the direct descendent of religious thought, despite its overthrow of religion as an explanatory framework: “The function of the concept of science has become inverted. The often invoked methodological neatness, universal confirmation of the consensus of the competent scholars, the verifiability of all assertions, even the logical rigor of the lines of reasoning, is not spirit: the criterion of watertight validity always also works against spirit.” (Adorno, op. cit:38). To remind ourselves that technique, let only its objectifying marque, technology, is only a means to an end becomes more difficult in a world so engrossed with the manipulative power of the machine, its res extensa, its aluminum angel. Upon these wings we can ride, bodily, into the void, but kindred to the denial of rationality to be found in affectivity, the denial of spirituality which is also a rational aspect of human consciousness – self-understanding consciousness cannot but run up against the problem of that self-same consciousness; how is it possible that a thinking being exists in an unthinking universe? – can only in time deny our very existence.

           This is the first section of my new book ‘The Penumbra of Personhood: anti-humanism reconsidered’ due out later this year.

Between Two Worlds

Bartlett Island north of Tofino, BC. My first memories are from Wickanninnish Beach, Stubbs Island and Vargas, all to the south of this place. I miss them deeply and spiritually and return when I can.

Between Two Worlds

Travis Thomas: a case of microcosmic ‘culture flux’.

“Is it not better to use what thou hast, like a free man, than to long, like a slave, for what is not in thy power?” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. IX, 40).

“One of the great marvels of a number of human beings is their ability to shift from one form of freedom to another, when such a shift is desirable or necessary.” (Sorokin 1937 II:164).

            ‘Between two worlds’ is a phrase used by an Ahousaht elder to describe the condition of Travis Thomas, who was taken to Bartlett and Little Bartlett Islands in the Summer of 2018 and remains there to this day. The phrase connotes no mere material condition, though it speaks to the being who lives between nature and culture, or between the past and the present, and certainly Thomas is also living between these obverse worlds. But the deeper meaning of such a description is an existential one: it is applied to the being who finds him or herself between the realm of the physical and that of the spiritual. In cultures wherein the latter still has some suasion one can, in fact, find oneself ‘between’ in this deeper manner, as does the culture in flux more widely. But the enduring question is, does any culture today truly have access to a spiritual realm even if it believes that it does?

            A system of meaning, notes Sorokin, is one in which there are logical compatibilities within the culture and that these meanings are mutually interdependent (cf. 1937 IV:21). He juxtaposes the term ‘system’ with that of ‘congery’, in which the meanings thrown together preclude logical compatibility and appear to be but an admixture, a mélange, or yet worse, a malaise. In post-contact cultures, a common response to the shock of cross-cultural meaning-conflict has been ‘syncretisms’, which refer to a dialectical process generating a novel result; a contemporary and viable system is born out of elements of both old and new, obviating the previous and necessary flux between them. At a personal level, the hope that indigenous Wellness Centers, very much material places and not at all abstractions, will result in actual people maintaining a life-balance of both traditional and Euro-American elements. This may indeed be a practical outcome of their advent, including in Ahousaht itself. But symbolically, the plot thickens and we are unsure as to what outcomes might be expected. This is so because fundamentally, advanced social contract cosmology and contemporary technical-industrial capitalism conflict in every imaginable way.

            And the conflict does not begin with capital and its virtuoso of technique, its ruthless extraction of resources, its drive for profit and for the extension of markets. Long before such things were even in the imagination of Western Man the cosmology of pre-agrarian societies had vanished. It was first replaced throughout the fertile crescent and from Egypt all the way to China and beyond with systems of thought that placed the spiritual realm at a great distance from that worldly. Indeed, to mention the two of them in the same sentence might well be seen as heretical. The ‘worldly’ – a term still used by evangelicals as a negative epithet for so-called secular interests – realm was supposed to be merely a way-station or at most, a proving ground, along the soul’s journey to a higher form of being. Such ideas, much more historically recent than those that animated the traditional cultures of the BC Coast, have themselves been displaced. But it is the relatively brief length of time since they were dismantled by 17th century science and 18th century criticism, not to mention popular commentaries on events like the Lisbon earthquake etc., that calls into question the very anonymity of relationships in this our present day.

            It is this anonymity and the alienation that follows therefrom which is the source of most mental illness cross-culturally. The older ideas of spirit possession or more recently, naturalized gender bigotries – like hysteria, levelled in 1895 by Breuer and Freud, for instance, though in fairness Charcot took pains to note that hysteria could be found equally in both men and women – have fallen into the historical dustbin. The fashionable sensibility that many diseases of the mind can be traced to genetic sources is something I as a humanist have always found unconvincing given the dangers of reductionism inherent in all such neurobiological discourses. But how to call the shot when a person hailing from a culture whose own traditions in turn hail from a cosmic order not even one, but at least two metaphysics ago presents a rather different kind of problem. Here, alienation is something forced upon communities from without. It is a kind of existential ‘Jim Crow’ that gets internalized and thence acted upon. ‘Residential Schools’ – the very term is an evil euphemism akin to Concentration Camps, spanking, discipline, and the Einsatzgruppen (literally, merely ‘single or first movement groups’ or ‘deployment groups’) – were at the very heart of this enforcement for well over a century and a half. Now, a foul potpourri of variables enfeebles once vibrant and uncannily spiritual cultures for whom the division between this world and the other world was negligible if not nil.

            Indeed, the only way in which one could be ‘between two worlds’ within the tradition was to in fact be sick. It was the shaman’s job to track after the sick soul – the ‘soul-catcher’ is a wonderfully conceived (and aesthetic) object and its gloss would make a half-decent fantasy novel title to boot – and one hears of the ‘metaphor’ of a dark tunnel into which the intrepid healer would travel. On the West Coast, at the tunnel’s far and mysterious end, the puma awaited the departing soul. But she was canny to those whose time of transfiguration had not yet arrived. She might growl and send them back towards the realm of the people where the shaman could thence effect a cure. In a theatrical representation of this life and death dynamic, secret societies would initiate youth by sending them on vision quests and then work to return them from the spiritual realm into the villages of their birth. But birth and birthright are not the same thing, just as person and spirit are not. In this worldview, a personal birth is mere biography. It is one of an indefinite number of soul-cycles. It is the cycle itself that is each person’s birthright, gifted to those who have been born into late social contract cosmological systems. Today, the remnants of such systems worldwide face their imminent demise. The vast and dominant system of world-capital does not even believe that spirit exists, let alone anything more detailed ‘about’ its cosmic career.

            So ‘between two worlds’ today can mean, as suggested above, many related or unrelated things. In the case of Travis Thomas and no doubt many others, it means, from the outside, a person who is suffering delusions that so happen to not affect his physical skills and his memory of experience in wilderness conditions. But what does it mean to him?

            Ultimately, this is the question that is of the greatest interest for the rest of us, whatever cultural background we ourselves hail from. It is old hat that psychopathology places all those who experience the visionary into suspicion. Religious verve in general is a mark of at least a mild obsession and perhaps a projected narcissism if not worse. We can ask, forthrightly, why any God would harbor a human interest let alone an interest in a single person. A God is a God, after all. The mascot gods of the Levant, each ethnic or linguistic group possessing one of its own to the utter disregard of their neighbors’ beliefs – Yahweh was, interestingly, not unaware of His competition and made it clear not that these others were false so much as that His people shalt worship only Him; the very interdict implies that the other gods were just as real and could be believed in if one chose to break the local covenant – were as unlike to anything on the BC Coast as could be imagined. Across many languages and almost as many kinship systems, Raven was the most deeply felt Being. His wisdom was sought by all, and today we have a Canadian postage stamp bearing a work of art entitled ‘Children of Raven’, referring to these related peoples and cultures. Thus a child of Raven possesses a birthright to be a seeker of visions, if and when necessary or desirable, to use Sorokin’s terms. These visions are more than a window into another world, they are an expression of the human imagination and thus very much also one of human freedom. To simply lose them, forget them, or yet more strenuously, refuse or shun them, is to surrender not only to some more or less subtle neo-colonialism, it is to give up an integral part of human consciousness which animates to a great extent the history of the entire species.

            From the inside, then, from within the tradition and from within a mind that understands that self-same tradition, Travis Thomas is no longer in this world. He has become the ‘Bukwus’ or ‘wild man’, the interlocutor with the animal spirits and the settled people of the villages, the one who travels between the worlds but never actually rests in that liminal space itself. From the inside, he is not suffering from delusions, he is not addicted, he is not missed, he is not alienated. His suffering has transcended itself, as is the precise ethical purpose of the vision quest more generally. Our outsider questions cannot even be posed until he returns to the realm of culture only, the world of humans, and even then he may not be able to answer them. This is so because it is also part of the tradition that profound visionary experiences that involve existential transfiguration and perhaps as well the transformer beings should not be shared lest one loses their power and their insight.

            Wellness Centers aside, the deeper lesson of such cases for the rest of us has to do with the condition of our spirits; their merit, their strength, their wisdom and their character. Do we yet possess them or have we allowed ourselves to be dispossessed of them through the chicanery of politics, the acid fever of consumerism, the shallow shell of popular entertainment, all in an unmasked mockery of authentic religious belief? Thomas is pushing a point upon us, in a radical and even courageous manner, consciously or no: that we should reconsider our patent categories of mental and spiritual health and even what we patently pretend to know about existence proper, about life and death alike. If we wonder only at the wonderful, if we are empowered only by the powerful, if we seek beauty in the beautiful alone, then we are entirely missing that point.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of 38 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

On Being Ignored: Some Advice for Prince Harry

On Being Ignored: Some Advice for Prince Harry

            With the news that Harry and Co. were hanging out in my home town perhaps with an eye to resettle there – a no-brainer given the Canadian climate – and with the recent understanding that he blames the low-culture media for the death of his mother – reasonable if incomplete – I have some advice: I’m an expert on being ignored. Indeed, I may be one of the world’s greatest. All one has to do is become a critical social philosopher and practice your craft. In an instant, all your wishes for utter privacy will be attained.

            Considering that I am the most prolific scholar of my generation – true, Gen-X hasn’t accomplished much and never will; Tiger Woods is about it – and considering I have come up with numerous new discursive concepts including a new model of the afterlife, a theory of subjectivity that addresses prolonged adolescence in consumer society, a critical-ethical conception of political relations, an analysis of fascism in everyday life, a new theory of anxiety – uh, I could go on – not to mention having written an eleven volume fantasy-sci-fi adventure series that completely obliterates the previous canon and its moribund morality, one might think that I, or at least my work, would be of interest to somebody.

            One would be mistaken. Though it is quite true that a retired academic might be imagined as having little to offer the world at large – aside from, in my case, public policy analysis in health, higher education and corrections and justice, pedagogic ability from the widest liberal arts down to the ability to teach ‘TOK’ in IB programs, social and institutional research experience of over twenty-five years, eight years of mid-executive management experience and publications in HR journals [hey, this is beginning to sound like a resume; it’s actually a white flag] and the ability to practice a form of therapy called existential analysis etc. – I had hoped, most naively as it turned out, to be of some use in my autumnal years. From the start of 2018 to the summer of 2019 I applied to over four hundred jobs. I got four interviews. I applied to dozens of volunteer sites, started my own consulting business, led writing workshops and had all of three takers combined. All I can say is thank the Gods for PRIFFs (as well as my brilliantly resilient and resourceful spouse). Perhaps I didn’t go the distance, perhaps I didn’t move to the right place (one executive headhunter I spoke with early on simply said I needed to move to Boston of all places, but as I grew up a Habs fan – my father had been drafted by them back in 1945 but with the returning hordes from Europe only played on their farm club – I had to turn that one down) or perhaps I missed my boat when my editor – ex Scribner’s, ex McClelland and Stewart – asked me to move to New York City back when I was ‘only’ forty-eight. Whatever might have been the case, I now couldn’t get a gig helping out free of charge at the lowest of the low.

            I’m even mostly ignored by my friends, as well as those few I have actually helped, the media to whom I have sent oh-so-enlightening articles, small businesses to whom I have offered business, politicians – perhaps this is a good thing – and even Greta Thunberg herself who is, ironically, just as Mr. Putin characterized her: ‘kind, gentle and ill-informed’. She is kind and gentle. Far too much so for the mission at hand. And she is misinformed, though not in the way the Russian leader was perhaps indicating. Twenty minutes once a week makes her a darling of parents, schools and peers alike, not to mention the greater villains. Stating what actually needs to be done makes someone like myself into public enemy number one.

            Hence my advice to the Prince. That and move out to an internally divisive thirteen municipality patently cultural backwater locally referred to as the GVRD. But he may have that part down already. So if Prince Harry, or anyone else for that matter, for whom a dubious fame is getting to be all too much – and when does it not if you have any conscience at all; even Hitler, who might not have had a conscience but did have a debilitating social anxiety, succumbed to it in the end – wants to become a true pariah, simply follow in my recently furtive footsteps. I guarantee instant results.

            Social Philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, education, health, aesthetics and social theory, as well as metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor in the interdisciplinary human sciences in two countries for over two decades and in spite of all of that, has retained some nominal sense of humour.

Closer to our Hearts: In Memoriam: Neil Peart

Consummate musician, insightful lyricist, concernful being; Neil Peart (1952-2020).

Closer to our hearts: In memoriam; Neil Peart

                                              “No his mind is not for rent

                                               To any god or government.

                                               Always hopeful yet discontent,

                                               He knows no changes are permanent.

                                               But change IS.” (1981).

                Almost thirty years ago I travelled from Victoria to Kingston to give my first professional scholarly paper. I was nervous, not so much about the event itself but about the journey. I travelled alone, leaving my partner at home, meeting up with a childhood friend in Toronto, staying with him, and then being driven up the 401 the next day, some four hours plus, to Queen’s University campus. This once close friend of mine was a drummer, a jazz guy, for whom Tony Williams, Billy Cobham and Jack DeJohnette were the gods. Neil Peart had always received a tepid response from him. ‘He can’t swing’ was it in a nutshell, something even John Bonham was said to be able to do. For my friend, ‘swing’ was not meant to refer to the popular music of my parent’s era, but something to do with feeling, drive, vibe, and the throbbing character of the human heart. Needless to say, I couldn’t tell either way, being merely a guitarist. But by this time, long after high school graduation, music itself had faded into the background of my own life. I was an aspiring academic, about to present in front of an international audience for the first time. And the paper that had given me access to this elite world was a paper about Neil Peart.

                I called it, somewhat pompously, ‘An hermeneutics of the heart: Neil Peart as poet and philosopher’. It went over well enough but not without some raised eyebrows. It was an inauspicious start to a truncated career which morphed from teaching into writing. Now, in attempting to do both at once, I feel a closer kinship with all popular writers who have something to say. Neil Peart was one such writer, teaching about feeling, using the head to communicate the heart. Though doubtless a consummate musician, my connection with Peart came through his often insightful, sometimes profound, lyricism. It was ten years before my journey that I first came into contact with Rush, as did many of my generation. It was 1981 and I was fifteen years old. I had just seen my family implode, never to recover. I had just lost my first girlfriend, a woman for whom I still have feeling. Though the music was different, I was able to first connect because I had heard that the trio were staunch fans of the UK progressive rock innovators Yes. When, in 2018, Yes were inducted into the hall of fame, it was Lee and Lifeson who did the honours. At the time, I too was a dyed-in-the-wool Yes fan. But Jon Anderson’s lyrics were of the mystical variety; Yeats-like, abstruse, and high-flown. Peart’s verse was punchy, epigrammatic, political, critical. It didn’t take long for me to become a follower. I never collected every LP, but I had everything from the 1980s and somewhat beyond. Decades later I returned to Rush through the DVD concert fashion and indeed, my wife and I own every concert and major documentary yet produced.

                I am not much of a musician anymore. Though music is part of my being, my soul, I was trained in the classical world, and popular music was always at some slight distance from me. But as a writer, as a public critic, as a thinker, Neil Peart as a writer came to mean a great deal to me over the years. Engaging, witty, clever in the good way, sometimes sardonic, but with an unexpected detail that bordered on the ethnographic, Peart’s memoirs nonetheless would appeal more to a world traveller in the strictest sense, something I am very much not. His intimate effort concerning his own tragic losses was frustrating if poignant, groping if also gripping, and ultimately a failure. Not due to his efforts or his prose, but because all such efforts must, in the end, fail. We do not overcome such losses as these, we rather find substitutions, replacements. And what we find is loved perhaps all the more. For me, knowing only what everyone else knows about the man, the greatest tragedy is that he never saw either of his children grow up.

                On the same road as my drummer friend and I travelled in 1991, some six years later, his first daughter was killed in a vehicle accident at all of age nineteen. His surviving daughter is around fourteen or so. Not yet being a parent, I yet wince at this more than anything else. Peart himself must have lived a full life, not so much in years, but in his own experiences. To die in our time at his age is to die young. To die from such an illness is to die horribly, lingering, knowing that living on could not be altered in its tenor, understanding that what ‘change is’, is now this and only this. Death is the completion of our being. We cannot experience our own deaths, only those of others. This is, perhaps, the most profound purpose of the other in our own lives. She is the one who will experience our death for us, as we would do for her, come what may. We are all dimly aware of this dynamic, but the writer lives within its manifold throughout the time he lives at all. Seldom did a memorable Rush song appear that did not address itself to this core aspect of human self-understanding.

                And it was only through his verse that Peart publicly revealed himself to be the deeply concernful human being that he must have been. Awkward, even diffident in interview, distanciated, even dispassionate in his travel writing, Peart retained an enigmatic ambience. Simple shyness was the most likely explanation, and he was hardly the only music celebrity that evinced such a retiring stance. The humanity of any one of us comes forth most palpably through our works, and not from ourselves. Of whatever they may consist, our works are what connects us to the world at large, what survives us and what adds, however nominally, to the collective works of human consciousness. The casual phrase that nods its head to this relationship is ‘leaving the world a better place’. Neil Peart cared deeply about the world and those within it. Never having met the man, I can still know this without any uncertainty because of what he wrote about, how he wrote it, and how it was performed. Peart spoke of ‘passion and precision’, but I also hear, whenever I listen to Rush, dignity and clarity, integrity and most importantly, compassion. In short, concernfulness – Sorgeheit – a caring that emanates from our very being, the Dasein which we are.

                Knowing about his epic bicycling, and seeing various footage of it in documentary form, my wife and I imagined we encountered Neil Peart no less than thrice. Once, along the Katy Trail in central Missouri. The fellow blew by us going the opposite direction without even a nod. I said ‘hey, that guy looked like Neil Peart, huh?’ My wife laughed and said, ‘for sure’. Aside from his actual features, his upright, rather Victorian posture, his unassuming equipment and his torrid pace all reminded me of the man himself. Then along the Dallas Rd. waterfront in my hometown, the same figure, the same kind of bike, tearing along in a world of his own. Rush were playing Vancouver the next day. Finally, years later, in our neighborhood in Saskatoon. This time there was a moment of contact, wherein I smiled and simply waved at the person. He raised his brows at me and took off, increasing his already allegro non troppo up the metronome. Whether any of these was the man himself I will never know. Indeed, I had forgotten all about these moments until yesterday evening.

                That is, after I finished weeping at the sudden and fatal news. This too surprised me. I didn’t know the man, had never met him, and was never such a fan as to follow concert tours or their websites and certainly not any of the more personal news about any of them. The Sam Dunn documentary was tributary but also a little forced. ‘Time Stand Still’, appearing when I myself decided to call it quits as a professional, made a much deeper impact on me. In it, Geddy Lee described the fact of ending Rush as ‘feeling like a death’. Just so, that is precisely what it feels like. To do one thing your entire life, to have sacrificed more or less everything to it, and then to stop doing it and yet also commit to living on, this is one essential way we ‘die many times’, as Nietzsche suggests, with only the faintest hope of ‘becoming immortal’. From my own perspective, Peart’s passing strikes a somber chord given how little time he had to live after retiring from public life. On his behalf then, the rest of us are left to seize the day. From 1991:

                                  “Time is a gypsy caravan, steals away in the night,

                                    Leaving you stranded in dreamland.

                                    Distance is a long range filter.

                                    Memory a flickering light, left behind in the heartland.”

                I will remember Neil Peart as a contemporary, a ‘fellow-man’ as Schutz has it. Someone who experienced much of the same world as have I, who understood much of it and was able to communicate this understanding in a powerful manner. I will remember Peart as a writer and as a critic before even he as a musician and an entertainer. As a clever poet and a lay philosopher, as providing the words to a soundtrack of insights and editorials and inspirations. Rush itself as a sound is the quintessentially modernist band, all glass, concrete and steel. But it is within the lyrics that one finds a wider compendium of the human ages; the wonder at the cosmos, the cosmic comedy and tragedy alike that we inevitably center round our small planet and even smaller selves. And finally, as with all good writers, one finds oneself, somehow, right in there with the rest of it. It is in this way that humanity, being bereft of final knowledge of its soul, brings itself closer to its heart.

                                Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, education, aesthetics, and social theory as well as more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor in the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Difference Between a Fact and a Truth

Arguably one of the best human beings at present, Greta Thunberg wears a face any parent would recognize. Our best selves know that it won’t do to be impatient with the truth of things.

The Difference Between a Fact and a Truth

                Addressing a transfixed multitude at Nuremberg, Adolf Hitler declared that ‘What is expected of youth today is different from that which was expected in the past.’ Such a statement is so general as to be hopelessly vague, but Hitler was aiming for abstraction on the grandest scale. He failed to achieve it not because the science of his day didn’t support it but rather because his idea of ethics was hopelessly narrow. Eugenics was considered a serious department of scientific discourse worldwide during much of the first half of the twentieth century and beforehand. The National Socialist Democratic Action Party harnessed a respected body of work that in turn had the direct support of much of the applied science community, especially physicians. No other profession could boast as many party members, which is a sobering thought even today.

                Climate science is supported by about 97 percent of peer reviewed publications inside its broad field. For all intents and purposes, this discourse has the facts of the matter well in hand. There is virtually no serious debate surrounding climate change and its sources. And this state, something of our own time, indeed charges youth with a very different expectation from what previous generations of young people, including my own, were facing. But what is this expectation, and how does it differ in principle from what any self-styled ‘visionary’ might imagine the future to be?

                If there is a difference, it cannot be understood along either factual lines or from those who resist them. In the 1930s and before, ‘The Jews’ were demonized by their persecutors, and were held up as examples of the failure to heed the facts of science. Today, those who resist the climate change science tend to demonize themselves. They often hail from neo-conservative bastions, are reactionaries or resentfulists, or are simply those who have been paid to shill for vested interests in the energy and clothing sectors. It is these last who are the most cynical, and we might be forgiven if we at first imagined that it is these folks who are most like the Nazis. We would be incorrect, not that those aforementioned resistors are the best humanity has to offer. Indeed, the fact that most public voices critical of climate science and the environmental movement are people stumping for a moribund politics makes the climate-saving forces shine all the more brightly.

                To our peril, I think. Why so? On the one hand, public resistance to climate science is seen as a form of ignorance of enlightened empirical discourse, just as were those who resisted eugenics, including the ‘lower forms’ which were the results of such ignorance. Not only ‘The Jews’ of course, but the Romani people, homosexuals, and the mentally ill to name a few. The brush strokes broadened, the canvas widened, and, befitting of someone who would have preferred to leave politics and ‘devote himself wholly to art’, Hitler eventually included the Slavic peoples, non-whites worldwide – though the Japanese were always exempted from this at least publicly; it was handy to have an ally which, at the time, had never lost a war – indigenous peoples or ‘primitives’ and many others. Once again, at the time, the science of these propositions went unquestioned even in serious circles and the ethics was left to be dragged along behind it.

                Therefore it is only along ethical lines that we may begin to distinguish the climate-saving movement of today from the ‘culture-saving’ movement of the pre-war period. Hitler attempted to assuage his would-be follower’s native skepticism by assuring them that he would rather do anything else, but that this had to be done and he was the only one who could do it. This too should sound uncomfortably familiar, as Canada’s own Green Party leader declaimed much the same sentiment in a recent interview, stating that she did not want to enter politics but that she felt she had to ‘save the world’. This appears as a noble sentiment, as it did for those who would later worship Hitler and only later still regret so doing. Though she remains my favorite young person simply because of her guts, Greta Thunberg urges us to ‘unite behind the science’, which also bears a too close resemblance to such calls that hauntingly echo down the unkempt corridors of recent history. In truth, we cannot unite behind any science. Not because it is not in possession of the facts, but rather because the facts and the truth are not the same thing. The facts of eugenics stated that miscegenation would destroy the human race. The truth is rather different, as any cosmopolitan person understands. The facts of climate science tell us that we ourselves are destroying the world and thence the human species as well. The truth is that we are asking the vast majority of people on Earth to remain beholden to a lifestyle hierarchy that favors those who are already at the top. It is claimed that wealthy populations stand to lose the most in the new order, which is why we resist the facts. But the Earth worlds on with or without us, and if other creatures could talk, perhaps 97% of them would tell us what we already know; that the Earth would be better off without humans upon it. Any humans. Vermin would be our only supporters, and it is sage to note that these very animals were used as metaphors for the ‘sub-humans’ in eugenics-inspired pre-war propaganda.

                The saving grace of the environmental movement rests along its inclusive ethics. All inclusive, as we have but one planet upon which to reside. Where National Socialism was narrow, ‘climate socialism’ is broad. This is its truer nobility, for it is the first movement in human history that is more fully cosmopolitan and seeks ultimately to redress the global imbalance of access to resources and the disparities of power that come from the current allocations therein. This is the only argument in its favour, and at once we understand why the voices for this movement do not argue along these lines. As did the Nazis, the environmentalists desire us to believe in facts rather than consider truths. That said, we wealthy citizens are after all culpable along the lines of the truth of things, and this in itself may be uncomfortable enough to dissuade us from peering to closely in the mirror. Even so, the climate ‘issue’ remains a decoy; a way in which to avoid the truth by trumpeting the facts. It is a treatment of the symptoms and not the disease, to use a medical analogy also well-used during the 1930s. The facts alone tell us that there needs to be less humans living on Earth, which also unhappily resonates with the former facts of eugenics. Once again, the ethics of say, the anti-natalist movement, do not appear to favour one ethnic group above any other one. Yet we can call into question any motive that cites only the facts and skirts interrogatives that ask after the cultural and political backdrop of such statements. China’s former one child policy was an exercise in factuality alone. India’s recent legalization of gay relationships reflects nothing of the truth of local culture and everything of what Michel Foucault referred to as ‘bio-power’. Russia’s disdain of gays the same. Whether cast as progressive or regressive, policies, movements, positions, and persons occupying such are at risk for covering over the always ambiguous truth with the stolidly stoic concrete of fact.

                It is our collective duty to work within the truth of things insofar as our consciousness can apprehend it. No region of truth alone is enough. Personal truths are often shrouded in subjectivity, those historical penned from the perspective of the times, past or present, and those scientific are too narrowly defined to offer a vision of truth that can claim to understand the human condition in whole cloth. What is left is thought itself, and it is this condition which has remained unchanged for close to three millennia in the West, perhaps even longer elsewhere. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to think our way through the challenges of our times and not rely on the facts alone, whatever authoritative suasion they may possess. It is we who are in fact possessed by the idea that someone else can do the thinking for us. The briefest glance at recent history is enough to remind us that this way portends death alone.

                Social Philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, education, health, art and social theory, as well as metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades in Canada and the United States.