Third Approximation - Part One
Western civilization (no longer confined to the west) has been getting increasingly weak in the knees with the post- modern realization that the myth of man as God given will not stand up to serious scrutiny, and that rationality and the scientific method are likewise a delusional pathway to eternal progress. Martin Heidegger, possibly the world´s greatest 20 th century philosopher, became alarmed lest this disillusionment and de-mythification cascade down through all received knowledge and leave man an empty shell with nothing to believe in, a state he called nihilism.
According to Heidegger the problem arose when the early Greek quest to understand what it meant to be a human being was sidetracked and covered up, primarily by Plato and Aristotle, and replaced by a pre philosophic understanding of human being and worse, a narrow focusing on human creativity as the production of things. Heidegger lived through what he assumed to be the logical result of this focus on the technological production of things, World Wars One and Two, with their mechanized destruction of Europe, increasingly dehumanizing combat, and the creation of ever more frightening and powerful weapons.
Heidegger came to focus his attention on two of his philosophic predecessors, Aristotle (under the rubric know your enemy), and Fredrick Nietzsche (1844-19000), self-proclaimed first of the moderns. Nietzsche was certainly the first to openly proclaim the death of god (not with joy, but with fear and trembling), and to call for a revaluation of all values consonant with the new situation. Nietzsche was especially critical of any notion of an objective truth and any philosophical pretensions to observe the world from a privileged position.
Heidegger´s magnum opus is Being and Time, published rather hurriedly in 1927 to fulfill requirements for a teaching position. Heidegger admitted that the book was only about 2/3 done, as he was still not prepared to relate man´s being to that most enigmatic of concepts, time. In this 3 rd approximation I will continue my undergraduate (sophomoric?) attempt to understand the great man, following him down his, perhaps inevitable, sidetrack into the world of enowning. Heidegger saw his work as preparatory, perhaps following St. John´s lead, in making the way straight for the One who would have the strength to wrestle with that most formidable of angels, time. Recall that angels are merely God´s messengers, placed in the great chain of being below man, not participating in the godhead to the same extent available to man. Or so the story goes.
Plato and Aristotle, finding themselves unequal to Heraclitus´ and Parmenides´ struggle to understand man´s self-creation, chose to leave their mark on the world by examining the simpler creation of things. Aristotle, unable to come to grips with motion, came to grips with the moved thing. Heidegger, unable to leave his mark on the world by coming to grips with time, chose to leave his mark on the world by coming to grips with- coming to grips. In my terminology, coming to grips and wrestling with angels, I am attempting to connote metaphorically the struggle for truth, itself cast into outer darkness by Nietzsche himself: truth is a mobile army of metaphors, an illusion that we have forgotten was an illusion.
Self-referentiality and the ironic stance would seem to be de-riguere in this post- modern struggle with illusions, but the struggle for truth should not be confused with the struggle for the definition of truth, the former in the hands of theoreticians (Heidegger´s bête noire) who, like Plato, like to insist on an idea´s eternal and unchanging character, undoubtedly in an effort to ensure an eternal and unchanging world, with them in a privileged position. The latter, the definition of truth, like any definition in this post-Saussure linguistic world, means only and exactly what the individual user intends it to mean. So down the rabbit hole with Alice, but recall that Lewis Carroll was first a mathematician, putting him in the dubious company of Descartes, Newton, Euclid and the other mythologizers of a world self-enclosed, internally consistent, and unchanging, the mathematical language being in the control of the few in a way that human language is not.
Just so, it is my intention to explain Heidegger as a St. John who would make the way straight, not for the One, but for the Many. He did this not through some abstruse, theoretical argument, but through a pellucid, practical procedure, covered up by an abstruse theoretical argument. Why did he do this? Leo Strauss, another great 20th century philosopher, wrote a book entitled "Persecution and the Art of Writing" in which he posed the argument that any philosopher, to the degree that he said anything truly new, was bound to upset the status quo to a degree that could prove quite literally fatal. Heidegger wrote his second masterpiece, translated as "Contributions to Philosophy-From Enowning" when the rule of law was in abeyance under the Fuhrer principal, with know spies attending Heidegger’s lectures, and the concentration camps rapidly filling up with dissidents.
Strauss and Heidegger shared the same political milieu. That Strauss, a Jew, chose to escape to America, while Heidegger chose to remain in Germany, should not, in my view, weigh heavily in the evaluation of their philosophies. Strauss had little choice, and could have a deracinated Heidegger in America have completed his life’s work? Strauss might have stayed and struggled rather than flee, as did other Jews, and Heidegger might have martyred himself as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a fellow German intellectual. That millions of ordinary Germans, and thousands of German intellectuals chose compliance with, and even enthusiasm for the new regime cuts no ice with the hell hounds on the trail of Heidegger’s reputed anti-Semitic, pro- Nazi behavior, as evinced as recently as the April 2014 New Yorker. They should walk a mile in his shoes. If I am right in my appraisal of Heidegger’s project, the New Yorker and the financial complex that is New York City have something to worry about, and their ad hominem attack, no doubt warning the liberal left that Heidegger is not welcome in their camp, does little but encourage me. Heidegger was of the never explain, never apologize school, but I will make the Greater Good argument in his stead. If I am right Heidegger will be placed not in the same camp as Kant and Plato, but in the same camp with Christ and Buddha. Heidegger’s project was not truth and knowledge, or even the good or the virtuous. Rather it was enlightenment and liberation. Some will say that the ends can’t justify the means, and consider the argument closed. I will say, with Nietzsche that some things are beyond good and evil.
As readers of the 2 nd approximation will recall, I ended that screed with the confession that my well had run dry. In truth what had run dry was my confidence in the hunch I was working on. Like any good scientist I began re-searching the empirical evidence looking for evidence to back up my hunch. Much of the secondary material on Heidegger’s enowning oeuvre, along with Contributions to Philosophy From-Enowning itself, seemed to be comprehensible to begin with, but became increasingly incomprehensible toward the middle, where I left off reading. After returning to the search, I had seemingly made some progress, when I re read chapter 5 of the Companion to Contributions to Philosophy-from Enowning, entitled "The Event of Enthinking the Event" by Richard Polt, which I decided gave enough backing to my hunch to at least write up a part 1 to the 3 rd approximation.
My hunch was that rather than man the tool maker or man the rational animal, a better moniker would be man the explainer, and that there was no problem too difficult that it was inexplicable given enough time, dedication, and effort, and that the human mind would impose a solution rather than be troubled by an insolvable problem. Like the Buddha sitting under the Bo tree, anyone with enough will power can wear the intellect down until provides an answer, reasonable if possible, otherwise if otherwise. If this was the Buddha’s enlightenment is anyone’s guess. Certainly no hierarchically organized establishment would admit that the theory it is based upon is contingent,that it could be otherwise.
And to back up this hunch I will quote extensively from "The Event of Enthinking the Event". Page 88- "Contributions cultivates a way of thinking that tries to escape the rigid distinction between activity and passivity as well as between the thinking subject and the object of thought. Such thinking goes by various names…(including) enthinking (Er-denken)….The expression er-denken is especially provocative. Endenken originarily means "to think something up", to "invent it"….If Heidegger is right we cannot (understand the character and source of enthinking) by mans of traditional, representational thought: we must engage ourselves in enthinking and thus allow enthinking and enowning to elucidate themselves. Page 89-This makes it particularly hard to describe enthinking in accessible terms and nearly impossible to define it. I propose that we can approach enthinking as the event of enthinking the event. This implies that enthinking is not just about enowning but is enowning….enthinking is a crucial instance of the emergence and flourishing of meaning that is, in rough terms, what the word "enowning" indicates. Page 97- "Contributions enthinks being as enowning, or the event of appropriation. In this event, we are granted access to the being of being as an issue; at the same time we step into the condition of Dasein. To recognize enowning is to accept our mission as the thrown throwers….to stand in our particular site and historical juncture and creatively wrestle with the meaning of what confronts us within our time-space….Instead of trying to form a correct assertion about what is, in accordance with logical rules that govern asserting, enthinking lets itself be drawn into the happening of being. In this sense, enthinking throws away every logical interpretation of thinking. Page 101-…the event of enthinking is the event it enthinks. In other words, enthinking both elicits and depends on the emergence of the meaning of being- and this coming-to-have-meaning is precisely the event of being."
Heidegger put "care" at the center of his program, not "caring for" but "caring about". If you care enough about a problem, you will eventually enthink an answer to that problem, that is "think it up", "invent" it. And when you do "enthink" an answer it will trigger a circuit somewhere in that great beyond that is our nervous system, and the a-ha light will go on and you will have enowned the truth, made it your own.
Did you read my Dark Side papers? Do you recall my a-ha moments? Was your a-ha that "this guy is definitely strange?" No matter. All roads lead to the truth, but everyone has taken a different road, so everyone ends up with a different truth. Why did Detroit keep building gas guzzling behemoths long after Mr. Market told them to stop? Paraphrasing Nietzsche, "The Dark Side one is my truth, where is yours?" Why did Washington continue backing home loans against all economic theory for a whole generation? (Rule number 1-Loan money to people with the ability and desire to pay you back.) The Dark Side 2 is my truth, where is yours?
Let’s continue with the Dark Side as examples of enthinking and enowning. First, recall Heidegger’s interest in the conversion experience, and his statement that D.T. Suzuki, writing about Zen Buddhism, was saying exactly what he had been trying to say all these years. Scholars, including Suzuki, divide Buddhism into two great sections, Hinayana and Mahayana, with a disagreement regarding the onset of enlightenment being the primary differentiation, Hinayana favoring the doctrine of gradual Enlightenment, and Mahayana favoring the sudden onset of Enlightenment. Fritz the Cat says both are right, and gives the Dark Side 1 as an example of sudden Enlightenment (enowning, enthinking, the conversion experience), and Dark Side 2 as an example of gradual Enlightenment.
Heidegger says that care is fundamental for Dasein. In an earlier Understanding paper I stated that Dasein was not a psychological condition, a state of mind. I was wrong. When you care about something long enough and hard enough, you create a mental structure or mental map, trying to give meaning to something that doesn´t seem right, and when you get you’re a-ha moment of vision the pieces fall into place and you enter the condition of Dasein, of Being-there at the center of the problem you care about, where meaning becomes evident. A feeling of certainty and confidence envelops you. I know, I´ve been there, and I suspect that Dasein, the Christian Holy Spirit, and Eastern Enlightenment are the same thing, prepared for by care, prayer, and meditation respectively, and resulting in the same experience.
I´ve hardly exhausted the sudden onset of enowning, but let’s look at the gradual onset of the Dark Side 2. There was no a-ha moment of vision with its accompanying confidence and certainty. Yet I feel that all the pieces are there: care about the consumer society, the ridiculously easy credit leading to the housing boom, the stock market crash when someone finally said "the king is naked", and the ensuing depression. The only explanation I could come up with was the drive to empire, perhaps also known as the will to power. Given these premises, the ongoing crisis only makes sense if it is a huge gamble with empire as the stakes, but gambling is as old as man, and as your purse gets bigger, the stakes must get bigger or the thrill is gone. In my head these form a whole that makes sense, but putting them down on paper one word after another, linearly, they didn´t produce the experience of certainty that Dark Side 1 did.
I suspect that this thing I called a hunch is the same thing that the German idealist philosophers spent ponderous chapters of densely reasoned dialectic elucidating the province, character, possibilities, and limitations, of man’s faculty of intuition. Lipstick on a pig. In the interest of bringing philosophy down to earth, I will stick with hunch.
Many of you will be of the opinion that my a/ha moment is not nearly exalted enough to qualify as enlightenment, the descent of the Holy Spirit, or even Dasein. I could have put lipstick on it. I know big words. I could have left a false trail of transcendence, ineffability, or some made up words. It probably wouldn’t have fooled people nearly as long as Kant and Hegel did, but then English isn’t as malleable as German, I’m not a professional philosopher, and I’ve got better things to do anyhow.
This is not a small thing. It is the biggest thing. Is all we have to do, after clawing ourselves to the top of whatever food chain, is sit there and get fat, or gloat over our power? Is that the pinnacle? It will be, if we accept the professional theoretician’s definition of the meaning of events, as we have back into the pre/historic past. Everyone can be a magician, dance to their own tune, be their own piper.
Enlightenment, enowning, the descent of the holy spirit, enthinking, the a/ha moment of vision, all carry their own conviction along with them, but it is not easy work. Not nearly as easy as sitting in our mind forged manacles watching the shadows on the flat screen walls of our caves. I found my way in by caring about politics, thinking about politics, reading about politics with a skepticism akin, I suspect, to the skepticism that allowed the European Enlightenment to start a new thread with self/interest as a new first principle in place of a worn out, used up god, liberating themselves, and us, for a new leap forward. Now that thread is bare. Heidegger says please, let’s liberate ourselves from the theoretical masters of self-interest and begin a new thread with everyone searching out his own meaning. Care about the environment? You can enter there, but please, take the hierarchical environmental establishment with a grain of salt. Make your own leap. Hear that brook? You can enter there. Smell that flower? There, I’ve held nothing back from you.
"To recognize enowning is to accept our mission as the thrown throwers." We are thrown from our inter- uterine paradise into a world not of our making. Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to throw your interpretation of what it is to be a human being against the wall, to see if it sticks. Run it up the flagpole, to see if anyone salutes. But don´t put any lipstick on it, those days are over.