Alexander M. Wegner
Existence, Identity, and Being
THE WORLD WITHIN WHICH WE ARE, has come to be understood as a cosmos of human interaction, despite the allegedly obvious fact that man is merely one of many beings this planet happens to accommodate. This ideology–a term I have and will continue to employ in the Marxian sense, that is, as false consciousness–appears fundamental in origin. Concretely, the cosmos of human interaction inevitably is a construct. Mankind has come to be organized, and the form its organization has assumed is that of societies.
Societies are, of course, mere components of a larger organizational structure–the nation-state. Both societies and the nation-states within which these are embedded, presuppose a particular, if not peculiar, kind of identity. Supposedly, the identity both presuppose reflects prevalent conceptions of being, to which I have previously alluded. In the interest of clarity, being must be distinguished from existence; the former entails presence in matter; the latter entails presence of matter: existence precedes being.
Human organization, which has come to take the predominant forms of societies and nation-states, can therefore be understood as a ramification of identities that are tailored to being rather than existence. Though identity has, arguably, always-already been there–at least so long as mankind has inhabited this planet–its characteristics correspond to conceptions of being, that is, conceptions of the particulars and peculiarities of presence in matter. What, then, are prevalent identities, and what may these imply?
Man, contrary to the variety of beings who coinhabit this planet, can conceive of himself. Thus, he is inclined to understand himself as virtually exempt from the processes of his natural environment, by which I mean those of his physical surroundings, to whose existence he has not been instrumental. While identity precedes forms of human organization, it also succeeds them, as forms of organization sculpture the character of identity; identities rooted in being–as presence in matter–turn ever more distinct from existence–as presence of matter–so that the world within which being and identity interplay, appears to be continuously reduced in scope.
Prevalent identities–rooted in being rather than existence, and thus tailored to the here and now, in contrast to the then and there–have reduced the inconceivable vastness of the cosmos to the seemingly conceivable and systematic character of the world–as the cosmos of human interaction–within which we engage. Indeed, while most individuals will categorize themselves as human, few will utilize this label to describe themselves; instead, most individuals will resort to Mr./Ms./Mrs./Dr./Prof./ and likewise indicators of status and might, categories that are as artificial, shallow and insignificant, as their race-based, gender-based and occupation-based equivalents, however presently popular.
The intellectual labor man has conducted, and the material advances he has attained, may not have rendered him more powerful–and thus, more autonomous–but may have multiplied and solidified the organizational structures he has constructed, along with the expectations–of and for himself–that threaten to erode the liberty which intellect and prosperity were intended to yield. Hemce, Rousseau may not have been mistaken, when remarking what follows about man, in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences:
While the government and the laws see to the safety and the well-being of man assembled, the Sciences, Letters and Arts, less despotic and perhaps more powerful, spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains with which they are laden, throttle in them the sentiment of that original freedom for which they seemed born, make them love their slavery, and fashion them into what is called civilized Peoples.
Tragically, the melancholy and nostalgia, inherent in this remark, is unlikely to bear fruit, as the pride and comfort of man have impaired his ability to raise his sight above day-to-day of the here and now. Similarly, the structures man has created, are far too complex and well established, and its practices too habituated to render introspection, reconception, and reconfiguration likely. The human project will retain its fragility; its stabilization will not be derived from the quest for resolution, but from mere adaptation.
Herein, I have suggested that the condition of man is extraordinary; this appears so, as man can conceive of himself, in contrast to the beings who coinhabit this planet. Consequentially, and through the intellectual labor undertaken and attained material advances, man mistakenly perceives himself as composer and conductor. The allegation that man no longer distinguishes between existence–as presence of matter–and being–as presence in matter–further suggests that man is both physically and spiritually subsumed by the here and now–in its mundane day-to-day–which continuously subjects the cosmos to reductio ad absurdum. Man is, thus, prone to perceive the world within which he engages as a mere cosmos of human interaction, rather than an ecosystem.
These observations, which are largely subjective, and necessitate conversation, seem to be of contemporary vitality, as man–for the perhaps first time in his history–can observe and navigate the unfolding virtually in aggregate. In order to seize the opportunities this ability allows for, and mitigate the challenges it poses–neither of which adhere to the limits of artificial constructs, such as the nation-state–man will have to extend his presently microcosmic sight, if aspiring to conduct the unfolding.
Such conceptual enhancement must not, however, facilitate or enable the creation of further forms of human organization; instead, it ought to foster adaptation to the natural environment that has always already been there. Yet I strive not to advocate sustainability, which curiously reflects the man-centered ideology, whose ramifications it laments; instead, I hope that man will recognize how little his Will to Power is capable of yielding in the long-run, so that humility prompts him to adapt to the here and now, sensitive of the then and there–however out of sight, uncertain and really unknowable.
Humility promises to mitigate fragility, while its absence necessitates stability at the expense of the very liberty that fundamentally distinguishes this century, and the individuals it engulfs, from the centuries and subjects by which it was preceded. Whether conciousness of existence can enhance the prospects of the here and now as well as the then and there shall be addressed in the forthcoming post, in which I declare freedom to be illusory, and liberty to resemble a pond of context-sanctioned-options.
By way of conclusion, and in light of the disintegration of Iraq and persistent discussion about Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, I would like to suggest that rather than turning to technicalities–however convenient the temporary relief these grant may be–we would be well advised to undertake intellectual labor. Of course, this presupposes that, as I have previously indicated, we come to choose between pursuing the stabilization of worldly affairs, and the enhancement of being amid a world in flux.