Sunday, March 26, 2017

I’m not right [3/21/17: de Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life; Heidegger with some being]

            I love Miguel de Unamuno, because he cleanly and elegantly expresses some ideas pretty core to my own worldview.  “Whoever . . . thinks he bases his conduct . . . on a dogma or theoretical principle which he deems incontrovertible, runs the risk of becoming a fanatic; moreover, the moment this dogma shows . . . any weakness, he finds the morality based on it giving way” (Solomon, 158).  What I can say but that I agree?  In my estimation, any ideology expressed in its extreme tends toward nonsense at best and atrocity at worst.  Utter certitude, indubitable justification—these are false gods, false lights, their illusory aegis used to justify behavior running against the basics of human decency.  Yes, we have, at long last, drilled down through my intellectual waffling to some of my visceral beliefs.  I mistrust zealotry, for I know that even the most seemingly immovable certainties cannot be proven, but can be overturned; I think it better to operate contingently, with humility and sentiment, rather than claiming to have ultimate justification for one’s thoughts, values, or actions.  I care about people—not because it’s inherently right to do so, for how could I prove or demonstrate that?--but just because I do.  I like humans, due to biology, or acculturation, or some combination of those two factors.  Really, it doesn’t really matter why.  It’s what I’m going to do, and there’s not much I can do about it, “justified” or no.
            I do believe that systems of morality tend to be ex post facto attempts to justify our actions; mine certainly is.  My morality is almost entirely constructed around identifying the things I already care about as good, and most of what I already do as okay.  I see little evidence of much else in others; and in true converts to new moralities, I see most commonly aggressive judgment and patronization.  I mistrust anything that leads someone to hold their own cares, values, actions, ideas, or self above another; I see this as the path to dehumanizing others, to refusal of empathy, to judgment, and to cruelty.  Who am I do say what someone else does is wrong in some universal sense?  I will fight action and happenings that threaten the things I care about, but I won’t claim to be any better or worse than anyone else for doing so, won’t claim to be somehow inherently right.  That’s imperialism, paternalism, Kipling with the White Man’s Burden.  “I’m better than you, my way of living is more correct than yours, so you should be like me.”  I find it revolting, arrogant beyond measure, pretending to some god’s-eye understanding of an inscrutable and indifferent universe.  And again, I’m not inherently right to feel that; but it’s how I feel, and it’s what I’m going to act on.
            This might sound a bit hypocritical.  I know I’m prone to grand, generalizing statements about the nature of the universe, even if the statement is “Nobody can really know anything about the universe.”  Perhaps I fear and mistrust arrogance because I am arrogant, after my own fashion.  This is a quiet mood, a soft one, at odds, perhaps, with the persona I live in hopes of provoking discussion.  A moderate mood, rather than one to indulge the high flights of my more ridiculous ideas.  I am a creature “of opposites . . . of contradiction and quarrel . . . a man who says one thing with his heart and the opposite with his head” (Solomon, 157).  You see why I cling to Unamuno, how I use him to validate myself?  I’m not the epitome of what I value, not of any of the contradictory, incommensurable things I care about.  I do not agree with myself, as, I think, is best.  Should I ever convince myself to fully believe, without doubt or reservation, in a program (even that of radical relativism), I fear I should be obliged to atrocity or apathy.

            I’ve mumbled long enough already, so I’ll keep my thoughts on Heidegger brief; but, in short, I’m not convinced that his insights require his ontology, nor that they can even be generated within it.  I’ll not pretend to fully understand him—for instance, I’m not sure whether he’s making a claim to absolute truth, a rather important question, in my scheme—but it seems to me that a construction of groupthink and abdication of agency to the overarching “they” requires assumption of rather more than just the self-reflective individual.  Nor do I see why agency should be more authentic than conformity, nor why angst and anxiety should reveal it.  It seems tautological, I suppose, to propose that one is all of one’s possibilities and then conclude that denying them is inauthentic; nor do I find it sensible to reject ideation of multiple worlds and then claim that authenticity is existing in more than the present one.  Perhaps I’m just blinded by the writing style, but for now, I’m just unsure of the utility of Heidegger’s ontology.  Does it allow us to understand ourselves and one another better?  It hasn’t revealed anything so far that can’t be reached more easily from elsewhere.

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