Tuesday, July 24, 2007

B&T 6: The They

Part 5

I’ve already said that Da-sein is not a question of “human.” This leaves us with what is still basically a negative statement. Just who is this Da-sein? Chapter 4 of Division I answers this very question. The chapter is entitled The They.

Now, Da-sein is a being with I myself always am. Da-sein is always mine. This indicates an ontological constitution, but also an ontic one. “I am this Da-sein, not another one.” Here’s the problem: if Da-sein is not objectively present, then what could that ontological statement mean? Maybe in an average, everyday way, the who of Da-sein is not myself. Maybe the “I” isn’t an obvious given. It is one thing to make an ontic statement about the I... but ontologically speaking, the average everyday way of being of Da-sein is exactly the opposite? Maybe it is a way of being in which the I has lost itself. Perhaps are others are are not those that I am most clearly distinguished from - perhaps others are those that I mostly don’t distinguish myself from.

Da-sein has two equiprimordial structures that are relevant here. Being-With (BW) and mitda-sein.

Being-in-the-world (BitW) always has others. There are always other people assumed in work; the shoes referenced earlier are made for an other. The lecture I’ve written refers to the listeners. The parking lot refers to car owners. An isolated “I” - the good ‘ol cogito - is never given. Da-sein is always being-with, even on a desert island. Being-with, because it is an existential and not a Kantian catagory, has nothing to do with how many humans are standing next to you.

Now, handiness and objective presence are modes of being for beings unlike Da-sein, so others aren’t handy or present anymore than my own Da-sein is. The BW of others is mitda-sein.

A few times through this presentation it has been mentioned that Da-sein understands itself in terms of what it is not. Da-sein doesn’t first discover itself - an act of self-reflection, I think therefore I know I am - than the world. Da-sein actually first discovers itself by looking away from itself into taking care of the world. We take care of inner worldly beings around us.

BW is different. We don’t have care towards other Da-sein, but concern. There are many modes of concern - being against, not mattering to one another, being-for - these are all ways of concern.

There are two extreme possibilities of concern. One can leap in for another and take their care away; take care for them, Do their work. Make them dependant on you. This is a subtle form of domination. The other extreme is leaping ahead; this is giving care back to the other. Freeing them for their possibilities. Concern can be guided by considerateness and tolerance, or inconsiderateness and a tolerance that more resembles indifference.

Heidegger says that in a group of people all working on similar tasks, the BW is often founded on a mode of mistrust. Think competitive academics. I know I certainly don’t trust any of you. However, there is a different mode - that of an authentic alliance. Truly taking up a task in common first, as Heidegger says, “makes possible the kind of objectivity which frees the other for himself in his freedom.”

But this idea that the others are those that I mostly don’t distinguish myself from... this is still unclear. What might this mean? There is a certain distantiality here - I am so close to the others as to lose myself in them. Da-sein stands in subservience to the others; that is, all of Da-seins everyday possibilities are connected to others. Not any particular others, but rather the generalized mass - the They. A little bit like the They of “they say.” Heidegger describes the They as an “inconspicuous and unascertainable dictatorship” We do things the way “they” do. This is one of those points in B&T that I think most people can relate to, easily enough. We all tend to act according to the way One acts in a given situation. From gender roles to proper classroom conduct. I.e., I’m not sitting here shirtless. Or for a less disturbing example, when one goes to a funeral, one does not wear a t-shirt that says “Life is so rad.”

In addition to this distantiality, the They is concerned with averageness. A certain mediocrity, even. Why was The Departed such a great movie? Because they said so. It also seeks to level down all possible ways of being. Keeping a lid on things. These three things - distantiality, averageness and leveling - constitute publicness.

One of the best things about the They is that events happen in such a way that no particular person did them. No one did it. The They disburdens Da-sein of responsibility; accommodates Da-sein slacking off. Possibilities are closed off; Da-sein is told what it is. It does not have to interpret itself. One does what one does.

When Da-sein is dispersed in the They, when all its possibilities are dominated by the They, Da-sein is said to be inauthentic. When Da-sein has grasped itself, it is authentic. Now hearing this next bit for the first time might seem a bit strange, but authenticity is not somehow a more valuable or higher stage of development for Da-sein than inauthenticity is. It’s not a state of Da-sein that manages to detach itself from the They. This isn’t Sartre’s bad faith. Authenticity is in fact an existentiell modification of the They as an essential existential structure. One of the texts we’ve already read this year pretty clearly had an influence on Heidegger, at least in terms of vocabulary - Augustine’s Confessions. Book 8, I think.

So, re-capping. Just like there isn’t a world and a Da-sein that are somehow just added together like a sum, but rather being a unitary phenomena, there isn’t an isolated Da-sein that is surrounded by other Da-sein - sometimes one, sometimes 5, sometimes none; rather, BW is a fundamental constitution of Da-sein. Da-sein exists in a With-World - mit-velt, in the German. Da-sein is always mine, but as most of its possibilities come to it from the They, it is dominated by and dispersed into the They; Da-sein loses itself and its ownmost possibilities. Taking its possibilities from the They, Da-sein is in the mode of inauthenticity and must recover itself. It’s worth pointing out here that the phrase “ownmost possibility” is one of those points that projects forward into the book.

1 comment:

dan said...

Hey Mike,

Sorry to crash your B&T series but I've been thinking through some of Heidegger's thoughts on technology in relation to Baudrillard's thoughts on functionality and Lacan's & Zizek's thoughts on desire in my last post. Given your greater familiarity with all things philosophical, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

Hope you don't mind me asking that here.