29 March 2020

Wer bin ich?

"Eine eigentümliche, fast unheimliche Glanzlosigkeit liegt um seine Gestalt und seine Regierung. Wie sein Gewand, so war dieser ganze Mensch: grau, farblos, abgetragen, unansehnlich, unrepräsentativ. Seine vielgerühmte „Schlichtheit" hatte ihre Wurzel teils in schlauer Berechnung, einem Werben um Lesebuchsympathien, teils in Kleinlichkeit und Geiz, teils in einem völligen Mangel an Temperament. Er war eine vollkommen amusische Natur, ohne Verständnis oder auch nur Sympathie fur die Künste, gegen die Dichter seines Hofes knauserig und sie nur so weit fördernd, als er in ihnen eine „gute Presse" witterte, wie er denn überhaupt alle Menschen nur unter dem Gesichtspunkt seines persönlichen Vorteils ansah, den er ebenso vorsichtig zu erspähen wie energisch festzuhalten wußte: der Prototyp des biegsamen und zähen, fischblütigen und gewalttätigen, versierten und skrupellosen selfmademan. Römisch war er aus reiner Politik, weder aus Frömmigkeit noch aus Überzeugung, auch nicht aus Bigotterie: denn in diesem engen Herzen hatte nicht einmal der Fanatismus Platz. Er war, wie alle Geschäftsleute, sehr peinlich um den äußerlich guten Ruf der Firma besorgt, was ihn natürlich nicht hinderte, überall, wo es sich vertuschen oder beschönigen ließ, zu den gröbsten Unredlichkeiten und Brutalitäten zu greifen und bei jeder passablen Gelegenheit zu schnorren und zu erpressen. Sehr treffend sagt Johannes Scherr von ihm, daß er heutzutage wahrscheinlich an der Börse gespielt hätte wie Louis Philipp. Er erinnert auch darin an einen modernen Finanzmann, daß er die typische Börsianersexualität besaß, jene grobe Form der Geilheit und Potenz, die bei großen Geldmännern sehr häufig angetroffen wird." (C.H. Beck, München 1969 S. 149)

25 March 2020

Obsessed with what's up

It all started off innocently enough. We wanted to know what the weather would be like tomorrow. Wouldn't anybody? At first there were rules of thumb drawn from experience, so-called Bauernregeln (in Geman) or 'folklore'. Today, 'we' (we all seem to be in this together — but who are 'we', and how is 'we-ness' possible at all?), I say, we seem to have left that far behind us; in place of rules of thumb, observed regularities, we now have a whole battery of supercomputers and satellites to monitor and precalculate weather movements and patterns. Much better, you say, because based on hard, evidence-based science. Without meteorological weather forecasting there would be, say, no air travel nor any other major apparent enhancements of modern living. And what would the farmers do today without reliable weather forecasts (that are unfortunately getting more concerning and alarming by the year)?

But it's not just a matter of predicting the weather or the techno-scientific mastery of the uncountable production processes in all the diverse spheres of modern production. These are the domains where techno-science is at home and for which it has been and continues to be developed as the agent of the mysteriously hidden, onto-theological, absolute will to power over all kinds of movement and change.

The obsession with foreknowing what's coming down the track sets in already at a more originary, everyday level, expressing itself simply in an unrelenting curiosity with what's happening locally and globally that can be observed ubiquitously 24/7 in all the media talk. You want to assess who's likely to win the next election. Your mate is keen on guessing who'll will the game next Saturday. All talk of politics is obsessed with what will happen next, guessing the next moves in the power plays of politics. Commentators of the chattering strata are fully employed in surmising what will happen next. Political scientists attempt to provide a bigger-picture analysis. To be taken at all seriously, it is incumbent upon social scientists of all stripes to point to empirical studies providing evidence for this or that trend or for the causal effectiveness of this or that measure or treatment for controlling this or that movement, whether it be a disease or any other movement that concerns 'us'. Since most of the goings-on in the world are beyond control, however, our main concern is to have an opinion about what's going on, thus 'mastering' it at least by opining, whether expertly or not.

The obsession with mastering happenings, and be it merely by holding one's ineffectual opinion about them, totally absorbs today's mind without it even being noticed. We don't notice it, but we do it. It seems self-evident that 'we' are out to get on top of movements and changes in the world, whatever they may be, even when 'we' chatter about them inanely without let-up in the media. Otherwise they would have nothing to talk about, no 'content', as they say. They would not hold our interest. We would be bored.

Beyond the realm of mere chatter, the empirical studies to which social scientists feel obliged to refer for bolstering the claims they make in coming to intellectual grips with certain movements, speak necessarily and self-evidently of certain phenomena that are supposed to provide the evidence. E.g. a statistically well-designed, empirical survey of the opinions and attitudes of a certain slab of the population is supposed to provide evidence of its disaffection with establishment politics or with democracy as such, thus suggesting a causal explanation for the rise of right-wing populist demagoguery. The pundits argue back and forth over whether this evidence is sufficient and persuasive, and one of them refers to a another empirical study with contrary results. Empirical evidence is self-evidently taken to be the touchstone for all claims.

Instead of interrogating the phenomena themselves, such as 'politics' or 'democracy', i.e, what they mean as modes of social existence, an average understanding of them or a one-line definition is taken as a sufficient basis for speaking about the movements of concern calling for some kind of explanation. 'We' are only interested in gaining mastery in somehow  understanding what is going on, i.e. the happenings affecting how we take care of our respective existences. 'We' are not interested in, nor have the least notion about how to, think through the phenomena themselves, especially not the simple ones that seem so banal and trivial that they can be taken as 'read' and skipped over, phenomena such as 'we are', 'you are, 's/he is', 'it is', 'they are'.  How could, say, the first person plural, 'we are', itself become a phenomenon covering up hitherto unknown depths and thus not only worthy of, but calling for interrogation? For today's mind-set, from the quotidian to the intellectual elite, the suggestion is preposterous that 'we' should or even could concern ourselves with such abstractions. Such thinking is not taught anywhere, even in philosophy departments with a smattering of scholarly phenomenologists. Theorizing what happened a nanosecond after the Big Bang seems far more relevant and concrete by comparison and generates more interest among laymen in popular science.

'We' are all embedded in a mind-set that is obsessed with what's up, and with preferably mastering movement and change techno-scientifically. You say that this mind-set is 'natural'. 'Of course' we are interested in foreknowing, in causally explaining, in controlling and preparing for movements of every conceivable kind as far a 'humanly possible', paying heed to the experts who can explain how this can be done. Modern science, you say, through its tremendous and ever progressing achievements enables 'us' to get on top of the challenges facing us in today's world. The world itself in its prima facie obviousness seems to be the totality of all the various factual states of affairs and empirical happenings that happen. End of story. The worldliness of the world reduces to a heap of facts. The empirical facts need only to be gathered as data and modelled by some testable scientific theory or other to attain control. The tremendous advances in computing technology enable 'us' to calculate and precalculate ever more complicated empirical movements, all the while assuming 'our' self-evident, unquestioned understanding of the phenomena being talked about (but never being thought through). The bewildering mesh of empirical movements in the world calls for endless amounts of Big Data to be accumulated and fed into artificial intelligence algorithms to predict them. This scientific effort is underpinned by our everyday concern with all the movements making up how we take care of our own existences.

Which brings me to the existential concept of 'distraction' (Zerstreuung) to be found in Heidegger's Being and Time (1927), but also much earlier in his WS1921/22 lectures. As an existential concept (Existenzial) it conceptualizes an aspect of our own mode of being as human beings (whos) in our everyday lives, as distinct from the categories that conceptualize the modes of being of things (whats). Such existential concepts can only be had from thinking through your own existence, i.e. you must come to them yourself through your own experience, and must not try to borrow them from elsewhere, merely mouthing them from some other source, whether it be a scholarly philosophical discourse or a scientific study.

Distraction pertains to your taking care of living in the existential movements of your own life. Existence itself is a kind of movement. You understand the world in terms of the interlinked web of relevancies (Bedeutsamkeiten) it has for your existential concern with taking-care-of... Through the pull of inclination, you are drawn into the movements of taking-care-of and thus are pulled, or even dragged, from one movement to another, one concern to another, in a never-ending succession of distractions through which you lose any distance from the world from within a distanced self-standing. Instead, you encounter your self in your distracted busyness only in the guise of masks that you adopt to pretend to yourself and others to be who you are. In such masked self-encounter, however, you are closed off from your self (Selbstabriegelung); you do not encounter your self, having lost any self-stand to involved distraction.

This distracted immersion in the endless current of existential movements goes hand in hand with your being intensely interested in knowing what's up in the world, its day-to-day movements, be it through curiosity or, more seriously, by understanding movements in the world scientifically. Due to this immersion, you are disinclined to take a step back from your existential involvement with the relevancies of everyday life and think through in any adequate manner what your existence itself as a kind of movement means, what selfhood itself means, what movement itself is as a mode of being. The step back remains an existential option nevertheless.

See also:

Taking care of living

20 March 2020

Taking care of living

As already developed,* whoness is a dynamic concept relating to how you or I lead our respective individual lives as selves. The movement of living is powered in the first place by our potentials and abilities exercised in the manifold sociating power interplays of living. Each of us is concerned with taking care of living in ways corresponding to how each of us has cast our selves and thus taken a stand (or not) in selfhood. There are, however, various ways in which you can be your self (or I can be my self) which fall into two broad classes:  expressly becoming your self in a who-stand either from a distance from the normal masks of selfhood shining back from the world or being drawn into and becoming immersed in and swept along by the current of taking care of what has to be taken care of in an average way of leading an everyday life. In being thus pulled into the stream of living with others, you lose the distance (Abstand, GA61:102ff) of a stand in your self and thus go along with the others in their average normality. You adapt. Your taking care of living takes its direction from an inclination (Neigung, Geneigtheit, GA61:100ff) that pulls you into the busy business of the world.
What you undertake has a significance, a relevance (Bedeutsamkeit) for your leading your life that is interlinked with other relevancies for taking care of your life which, in turn, leads you from one movement to another, one concern to another, one power interplay to another, distracting and scattering (Zerstreuung) your life-movements simply through the pull of the inclination taken by your life. Your stand in your self and thus your distance from the world of taking care of life in power interplays is lost to distracted going-along-with the stream of average everyday living according to average everyday understanding. You become immersed in the cares of living. One movement of taking-care-of leads breathlessly to another under the gravitational pull of inclination in an endless succession.
Nevertheless, within this distracted, scattered movement, you attempt to erect a self against the others at a vertical distance in the power interplays through being concerned about and taking care of your status as somewho superior compared to the others (Abständigkeit, GA61:103). In your loss of distance from the world of taking care of living, you are out for superior status, success, advantage, surpassing the other, drawing attention to your self, etc. Your selfhood thus becomes a superior stand compared to others that calls for consolidation and defence. In losing your distance and becoming entangled in the distractions of scattered movements of taking-care-of, you close yourself off from your potential self (Abriegelung, GA61:105ff), or rather, your selfhood becomes a mere mask (Maske, GA61:107f) that you wear in the daily interplays in the world through which you pretend to yourself and to the others to be who you are, preferably in a comparatively higher self-stand. Your going along with the average, normal movements of everyday life is easier (Das ‘Leichte’, GA61:108ff) than taking a stand in your very own self at a distance from averageness. In this way you miss (verfehlen, GA61:108) your self, i.e who you could be, i.e. how you could presence in the world, as a self-standing self.
Your sharing the world with others through leading your life is largely a matter of the interchanges, intercourse, i.e. the estimative power interplays with others, which may be as banal a buying a cake of soap in a supermarket. With this transaction you take care of keeping your hands clean, whereas the shop assistant takes care of his or her earning a livelihood as an employee. You estimate each other as customer and shop assistant, respectively, in transacting, politely and without friction, this simple everyday movement of interplay of doing something for each other. As a customer you have the power of reified value (money in one of its guises) in your pocket, whereas the shop assistant has the acknowledged power to serve customers. Soap is interchanged for money by mutual agreement.
The world of others (Mitwelt), however, presents itself also in other, more inconspicuous and imperceptible ways via the intricate web of interrelationships through which things and people, whats and whos, are interlinked by relevancies that each of us understands (Verstehen). Everything and everyone in the world has an understood relevancy (Bedeutsamkeit) in a web of interrelationships that constitutes how the world is understood at all, i.e. the worldliness of the world.  When, say, I enter my daily routine by sitting down at the useful thing that is my desk, this thing itself bears many references, mostly inconspicuous and unnoticed, to others. I estimate my desk as a useful, even pleasing and valuable thing that I purchased years ago in which I indirectly and unnoticeably estimated the labours of all those who contributed to its production and distribution, including the miner who mined the minerals that went into the table’s frame, the worker in the glass factory that produced the table-top, the company managers who organized the production, the salesperson who sold me the table, the transportation company and workers who delivered the table to me, etc.
In addition to this, the table itself has a history that refers to many others, such as the authors who wrote the books that I have read at this table, the friends with whom I have had a conversation, drinking tea or wine, at the table, the many officials with whom I have spoken on the telephone at various times, with those who have communicated with me by e-mail, with those from whom I have received internet news on my computer, and so on. All these various others present themselves inconspicuously as who they are from a certain perspective at my glass-topped desk, mostly without my ever noticing it, or only in small details of recollections.
Through my desk I also encounter myself quietly as who I am, my self. I am someone who reads certain authors and writes books, who has certain conversations with friends, telephones with certain others in taking care of my own movement of living, who gets information via the cyberworld. The reflection from my desk tells me inconspícuously who I am as a self, whether I am caught up in the power interplay of setting my self up as a superior who vis-à-vis the others, or carrying on with taking care of who I am as an independent, self-standing self with distance from distracted immersion in the world’s endless, busy goings-on. No matter whether distanced or distractedly immersed, my taking care of living as a movement can only happen within the shared three-dimensional temporal openness in which I understand what I have already taken care of, what I am currently taking care of, and what I plan to take care in the future.
I am familiar (Vertrautheit, GA63:99) with my world of interrelated whats and whos that is open (erschlossen) to me in understanding and in which I carry on my daily life in routines and habits, taking care of the various matters concerning my own life-movements according to the direction my life has taken. Nevertheless, this familiarity with my world in its movement can be disturbed by the intrusion of the alien and unfamiliar (Fremdes, Unvertrautheit, GA63:100) that are unforeseen and presence incalculably (Unberechenbarkeit, GA63:100). Such disturbance by the unfamiliar and unforeseen arises for the most part from the incalculability and unpredictability of how the myriad, ongoing, estimative power interplays in the world play out, i.e. the moving world as the sociated, intertwined movements of interplay, not only those that are close to home in personal power interplays with others, including everyday economic transactions, but also through the global interrelatedness of uncountable power interplays that impact on the lives of many and are understood in an uncountable number of, mostly conflicting and contradictory, opinions. Such power interplays can be political ones (e.g. the shifting political mood of the world) or, in today’s globalized capitalist world, power interplays mediated via the movement of reified value (e.g. disturbing global financial and economic crises) on which all depend economically for leading their lives, eárning a livelihood. The way the gainful game is played out and its unforeseen moves crosses individual plans, impacting individual lives in often unexpected ways. Power interplays, of whatever kind, are inherently, i.e. socio-ontologically, incalculable.

(* Excerpt from a work in progress.)

Further reading:

Heidegger, Martin Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles — Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung Frühe Freiburger Vorlesung WS 1921/22 Gesamtausgabe Band 61 (GA61) ed. Walter Bröcker und Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns, Klostermann, Frankfurt/M. 1984, 1994. Insbes. III. Teil, 1. Kapitel ‘Grundkategorien des Lebens’ GA61:84ff.

Heidegger, Martin Ontologie— (Hermeneutik der Faktizität) Frühe Freiburger Vorlesung SS 1923 Gesamtausgabe Band 63 (GA63) ed. Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns, Klostermann, Frankfurt/M. 11988. Insbes. GA63:98ff.

On power interplays and the gainful game, in particular, cf. my Social Ontology of Whoness 2019 and also Capital and Technology 3rd ed. 2015.