LET ME RETURN TO HEIDEGGER FOR A MOMENT HERE AS I MOVE ONTO MY NEXT POINT.
As Jenny and Linn Berggren from Swedish pop group Ace of Base once said, “I saw Dasein, and it opened up my eyes,” asserting that, “Life is demanding, without understanding”.
As we broach this next topic, let me conclude some tapering threads from my previous section by saying this: human beings are fundamentally different from food, and thus the metaphor does not complete itself. Human beings are not consumables because we cannot easily be digested or broken down into our constituent parts. We cannot quantify what it is that we give to our lives to sustain them. We are not materials to be used and be rid of, but neither do we earn our existence without the production of some kind of value of our own that cannot be reduced into constituent parts or easily digested.
In other words, we have certain – how might you say this? – “inalienable rights” that do entitle us to some liberty, but with some disclaimers attached.
Much in the same way a police officer will read your Miranda rights to you, and recite the stock incantation, “You have the right to remain silent,” you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, but do be prepared for some abuse at the expense of your own liberty.
In this peculiar age, people have taken to describing life as suffering, or burdensome, or anything that would imply that the mere state of existence is a tribulation of its own. I will not argue this position here, although I will reconcile this schema towards suffering as significant in regards to how it means, in our modern age, to be.
“Being” is a funny word because despite its insistence on being a common noun, it is actually a very cleverly disguised verb: that is, a human be-ing.
Consider what Hamlet means when he asks, “To be, or not to be?”
When it comes down to brass tacks, being that we are still here and will likely not leave of our own volition hereafter – don’t we already know that our answer consistently has been, and will be, to?
Technically, yes – but with some disclaimers attached.
We live in an increasingly digital, technological marvel of a world today. The convenience afforded to us might be so great, in fact, that you* could say it’s embedded in our understanding of how the world at large functions.
*This is the first instance where I mean to say “I” when referring to you.
Existence and presence are two halves of the whole coin that I will refer to as “being”. Heidegger had some ideas on being which, if you (you) don’t know or aren’t aware of yet because you haven’t been doing your ASSIGNED READING LIKE I’VE BEEN ASKING YOU TO, Dasein is Heidegger’s terminology for “being-there” (da = there, sein = being) as separate from Sein, which refers to only “being”.
I’ll also take this opportunity to say that if, for whatever reason, you are not familiar with Heidegger or his texts at all, just read the Wikipedia article for “Heideggerian terminology” as it covers most of the main ideas that I’ll be referencing to and pulling from here. Let me also take this opportunity to say that if you are unfamiliar with Heidegger, know that I borrow his terminology here because it serves a practical use in reinforcing the points I am trying to get across. Obviously, the man has some baggage attached to him: the same way Volkswagen companies don’t appeal to their rich history and humble beginnings, I will not discuss or make a case for Heidegger outside of his ideas.
I will define being as one’s material existence. You are welcome to disagree or contend this point with me, and I will say that you are also welcome to define being as material and/or immaterial or the inseparable union of both but I will put up resistance to this and going forward explain why to the best of my ability.
To me, however, it is not enough for someone to simply “be” how they are/ought to. The difference between being and being-there, in my own interpretation, is the presence of those who are be-ing. In other words, it is not enough for someone to simply “be” (material existence) but to “be there” (immaterial existence). Dasein and its conception of “being-there”, in my opinion, is what it means to be present.
It might seem pedantic, and you (I) might even argue that a distinction need not be made between one another since the idea of being precedes being-there (or even that being supersedes being-there, as the former is concerned with total existence as opposed to particular existence (particular existence here, I mean as “living in the moment”, while total existence is more of a mode of existence that means acting in service to, or to support, a continuation of existence (but again, I don’t know. I’ve done some surface level reading on existentialism and topics surrounding it, and there’s probably words for this stuff out there already, but it works for the concepts I’m going for))).
The reason I feel as though I need to make the distinction is specifically that someone needs to “be” in order to “be there”. So, the concept of simply “being”, might seem silly at first. Like, yeah, okay, well you (I) and I (you) are “being” right now, I’m “being” an active reader and doing a stupid voice in my head, and you’re “being” a very flippant and not-at-all-fluent writer, to which I (I) would say, yes, we are “being” those respective things you had just mentioned, but that is not at all what “being” is about.
This distinction has been important to me for a while: nowadays, you cannot simply “be” as you are. You cannot be to be, you have to be to belong. You have to belong to something, whether it is an organization (social or political or corporate), or an ideology, or some other set of ideas, or more commonly, your own life. Even belonging to your own life, it seems, restricts you to the belonging of a much broader matrix of domination than even you yourself might be aware of. Perhaps we could call this phenomenon… a dominatrix (A/N: Jared, please google this word later and consider revising. Thank you.)
Sartre said once that “[people are] condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, [they are] responsible for everything [they do]. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning”. As we’ve moved into the new millennium (that being the millennium where I’ve learned to walk, talk, speak, form coherent sentences, and eventually create meaningful relationships out of the strange little words that everyone else gives much more credence and significance than even I intend to most of the time), we have also moved beyond the narrow-minded confines and gospel of traditional, orthodox religion and instead embraced the radical individualist, postmodern science-and-stoic-nihilism doctrine of existence, so much so that its influence has trickled down into the bedrock of what most people today consider “philosophy”.
I would venture to say that we have all unanimously chosen to prefer, or favor, a society whose values are strictly material. This is also to say that we have placed our faith in social and political institutions such as sociology, psychology, applied sciences (such as physics, medicine, etc.) and the dreaded government superpowers-that-be.
Now, look, I know that none of this is even remotely close to an original idea – I have no presumptions that any of this is; I’d like to wear my heart on my sleeves when I can, and my influences when I can’t – that all being said, is it not telling that we must put our faith into something, if not God then surely our nation, and if not our nation, then surely our families and the places that we call home, and if none of the above, then surely ourselves?
Your next line, I would assume, is “Yeah, well, what if I don’t have faith in anything? How you beg the question and all of what it entails would fall apart.”
To which I would reply, “If you have the faith to remain here, then you must believe in something”. I don’t believe you would have an adequate response to this otherwise.
You cannot convince me that you are a completely faithless person, otherwise you would not be reading this, or you would be dying, or dead, or you would be, or you would be trying to.
The heuristics of our everyday existence is largely absent now. Everything exists with a material purpose, and that includes ourselves, our lives, and our existence as a whole (A/N: Citation needed, obviously – but what I meant to say is that everything is either made, or happens, for a reason. As the Sartre quote above goes, we make our own reasons). To exist without purpose is to not be anything, at all. I would also hazard to say that it is statistically impossible to be on a long-enough timeline as a vagrant, purposeless husk of a human and not eventually pachinko your way into some decent purpose by happenstance alone. This thought, however, as comforting as it may be, does not allay the mental anguish associated with a purposeless existence.
We all have to belong to something, to be in service of something greater than ourselves, even if that ‘something’ is our own lives.
All of this is predicated, however, on being.
So, I’ll return to “be-ing” and ask: what does it mean “to be”?
My interpretation of being is to be and to meet all the necessary requirements there are which enable us to exist as we are. In layman’s terms, I suppose, being is to exist with all of our needs met.
Again, this might seem very eye-rolling and pedantic and hairsplitting, yes, I’ll acknowledge that, but I’d like you to consider what exactly it means to have your needs satisfied.
If all our needs are, for lack of a better definition, elements necessary to our survival, then would we not always have our needs met? If we consider needs as the determining factors to our continued existence, then yes.
If we consider our needs the bare essential minimum for any life to exist, I would say that if you are reading this and comprehend even a fraction of it, you are likely well above that cutoff line. When we have our needs met, we can be.
People have always grappled with the problem of being: we are all being, yes, and I will not argue that we are never not being, but that we have put less and less emphasis on being in this new millennium (and indeed the century leading up to the new millennium) and more emphasis on the presence of our being, that is, the immaterial existence outside of our being in the material world.
I needn’t tell you that there is a world of difference between being, and being able to; being, and being aware of; being, and being there for; being, and being present. I don’t say this to be tautological (although I will say that I do use that word so that I can impress you by knowing what tautology even means), but to say that there is much more emphasis on the value of a person’s being than their being itself.
Put another way: nowadays, there is much more value attached to how someone lives, than in regards to their own life.
This distinction can be seen in people who consistently devalue the lives of criminals, people who suffer from substance addiction, homeless people, conventionally unattractive people, people of color, religious advocates, service industry workers, and even sex workers. Of course, these are only to name a few – there are certainly other demographics I could pull from, but it has always struck me as morally repulsive when people treat others in callous or uncaring ways with little to no provocation at all.
There are obvious exceptions. I doubt that I would treat a sex offender or a serial killer with the same respect I would treat a burglar, for example.
People consistently fail to consider the material circumstances of any one person’s life. We are, again, “condemned to be free,” and within that freedom, many people are often subject to circumstances outside of their control which require them to break the rules of what is considered conventional, normal, or even moral, to define their own existence*.
*This is the disclaimer we have attached to all our lives, actually (disclaimer as in our very existence disclaims us from the dogma that our society imposes onto us, so says radical individualism). Every rule and every law we abide by all have an unattached disclaimer, too, and that is that you are always ‘allowed’ to break those rules and laws, so long as you understand the consequences associated with doing so. This unspoken truth is the underpinning for any system on which rules or laws exist. I’ll also take this opportunity to say that any contradictions you’ve noticed or uncertainties you’ve had about the world and how it works can be directly attributed to the knowledge of this truth – in the same way we ask ourselves, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” we could also say, “If somebody breaks a law but nobody is around to witness it, did it really happen?” – we are responsible for our own behavior and actions, and likewise how our own behavior and actions might infringe upon other people’s liberty.
I’m afraid that I do believe in some instances, spaces, and contexts, that violence is permissible, and even preferable. I will not make any further claims on this statement, and I will not distinguish physical violence from verbal violence, either – I will say, however, that I respect a victim’s right to retaliation.
It goes without saying that any person’s individual material existence can be threatened, and not only through physical or verbal violence, but systemic violence; institutionalized racism; normalized sexism; the existence of homophobia and transphobia as concepts is a particularly egregious case, if only that the terms pathologize what is essentially bigotry (but we still lack any other terminology that, to my knowledge, adequately describes these impolitic individuals in lieu of being bigots).
Threats of violence do not wholly deter being, but that people might respond with violence to protect themselves does make logical sense; likewise, we are always being with the knowledge that our material existence can and will be threatened if the status quo that is our being is not maintained properly.
Think of it like a videogame: we have our hunger and thirst stats, which should preferably be kept at a good level most of the time, and then we have our health stats which includes physical, mental, and emotional health.
Now, these stats can be neglected, and even be kept at exceedingly, dangerously low levels, and our player character can still be and exist in the world. This is not to say that this being is preferable, or even desirable, but likely that our player character is struggling — being to be.
Being-to-be is not preferable or desirable, but it is being.
Many people nowadays are being-to-be, but also to be there. These are not mutually exclusive categories.
Being-there is to be present, to have presence.
Many people will find themselves struggling to be, and to be there, at the same time.
I will also concede that, to my knowledge, Dasein is more accurately defined as existence and more to do with being-there-in-the-now (which is why I combined being-there with the idea of having “presence,” as in to be present) but, in Heidegger’s own view, that this mode of existence was somehow “inauthentic” insofar that people were not acting in service of their own meaning, destiny, etc.
So, look, I’m not trying to rewrite the entire canon of philosophical musings done by Germans some centuries ago – nor am I trying to be pedagogic about some translation elements – not at all.
I reject Heidegger’s notion that being-there is somehow an inauthentic expression. To me, being-there is the most radical authentic expression a person can have. Being able to have presence in the now is what differentiates us from one another, defines us, and communicates to ourselves what is most important to us.
“Being” (Sein) is only one half of the equation, and even then… “Being” is only one-half of one-half (so, a quarter) of the equation that is authenticity, which ends with what I refer to as having a presence-beyond-now.
What I mean to say is that there is a hierarchy to this mode of thought that hasn’t been explored yet, or if it has, I have not seen it described in the way I believe it to be (if someone knows of a concept similar to this, feel free to redirect me):
1. BEING is the most basic mode of existence, and that entails being, or existing physically in a space. Being is a very broad mode of existence. Being can be stripped of any philosophical thought experiments as some inalienable right afforded to all of existence, including ourselves – it is that radical freedom which condemns us to be free.
2. BEING-TO-BE is a layer removed, or above, simply being. Being-to-be is a mode of existence in which action is to be taken by the being in question. The being occupies a physical space wherein their rights to exist-as-they-are come under scrutiny, and their security and stability in being-as-they-are now comes into question. I draw upon the idea of Positive and Negative liberty in this instance, having to incorporate oneself into larger organizations or with support networks in order to maintain existence at the expense of some authenticity of the self.
3. PRESENCE is that existence which enables a being the ability of being-there, or being “present,” that is willing and able to respond to the threat of invalidation and being able to assert one’s own right to exist without impediment. To me, presence is the authenticity that is often clouded over when oneself is immersed in that existence which is “Being-to-be,” which necessitates some actions that would otherwise be considered immoral or disagreeable in other contexts. Presence is then the privilege of being present, without immediate fear or apprehension of having existence be threatened (or, it is the assertion of validity in regards to, or in spite of, circumstances that would otherwise permit or dissuade one’s presence).
4. PRESENCE-BEYOND-NOW is that existence which Heidegger refers to as the authentic self, and those lofty ideas of individual meaning, destiny, and all else that entails. As “Being-to-be” is the persistence of being, the “presence-beyond-now” is the persistence of one’s presence. This is when presence remains unthreatened, and the person can move beyond the conflicts that come with simply living to live. This is the goal. This is the tip-top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where “self-actualization” can occur.
Presence-beyond-now is not something we have discussed yet, and with good reason. I don’t feel it’s actually entirely necessary to the point I’m trying to make, either. At any rate, I’m not trying to contribute anything of significance to your intellectual palette via a Facebook post (A/N: This was originally a Facebook post, but it was too long).
I daydream about having presence and presence-beyond-now more than I would like to admit. It is difficult for me to imagine what a presence-beyond-now looks like. It’s that question, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” – who really knows? Not me.
You can’t ask a goldfish to describe its existence to you. If we were goldfish, immersed in the water of a glass bowl our entire lives, how can we experience the world as anything different?
It is at each of these stages of existence, in Being, Being-to-be, Presence, and the Presence-beyond-now, that the individual views their own existence in very different terms.
In Being, life is viewed as the self. They are inseparable. It is at this level that many different attitudes and behaviors towards the prospect of living exist. When a person falls to penury or sickness without any doing of their own, you can reasonably expect the individual to be upset about it and even begin to weigh the costs and benefits of further existence at all (A/N: I wrote this before COVID-19 was considered a pandemic, but I will be leaving the statement as is).
In Being-to-be, life is viewed as a vehicle or a vessel that requires constant upkeep so that progress can be made accordingly. Here, there is motivation to keep one’s life in good shape so that we can have presence. Most people seesaw between Being, Being-to-be, and having Presence. In Being-to-be, you can imagine one’s entire existence as analogous to an automobile. While most automobiles look serviceable regularly, it is the owner, ultimately, who is responsible for the internal engine and the vehicle’s interior. It is not uncommon for people who are trapped, or spend a majority of their existence being-to-be, to have extremely messy cars. Automobiles are meant for one thing: getting the driver from one place to another. Any passengers along for the ride are cargo. It is also not uncommon for automobiles to break down, requiring outside assistance to make it to the next destination safely, or to have maintenance performed on the vehicle. That feeling of seeing an automobile broken down on the side of the highway and roaring past without a second glance or consideration are all too familiar for people simply being-to-be.
In Presence, or being-there, life is a house that requires much more upkeep than an automobile, but is usually indicative of a much more stable environment overall. Having someplace to regularly return to allows for much more freedom, actually. It is in having presence, and allowing people to come into our lives, that we are able to have some decision over who we do and don’t want to share ourselves with. Here, we are able to assert our boundaries consciously and effectively. Much more, we are able to straighten ourselves out and make our lives much more attractive by cleaning and keeping up appearances for other people. In appearing collected for other people, we must actually collect ourselves first. Funnily enough, other people encourage us to keep our presence. Obviously, this analogy does not account for all hypothetical variables – but because Being-to-be is more of a vehicle, it is practical because it supports the notion that Being-to-be is a processual movement between spaces, and Presence is that space which we clearly understand as ours. On the road, for example, we share the highway with many different people who are headed to different places. While everyone understands and obeys driving laws most of the time, there is always the possibility of being in an accident. Of course, accidents can be anybody’s fault – they’re called “accidents” for a reason – but the analogy remains the same, when you’re Being-to-be, you’re always at risk of an unexpected setback, sometimes because of another person, other times because of unforeseen circumstances.
In Presence-beyond-now, life is a home. Life is a place to be lived in for now, and for whoever comes into your life even after your presence is no longer there – either because of distance, or because you’ve gone and shuffled off this mortal coil. Home is a place where new possibilities manifest, a place to rest and to return to when your presence is threatened. When I say “home,” I do not mean to conflate your idea of it with a house, either. I mean home in a much broader sense. I mean “home” as in a space you’ve cultivated specifically for yourself. When I say “home,” I mean to say your friends, your family, your friends that you consider family, the places that are most special to you, the history you’ve written, the goals you’ve achieved, and the goals you have in mind for the future – all of these are that space which I would call “home”. Yes, if we wanted to take the analogy further, we could say that a house is not a home; therefore, our Presence is not our Presence-beyond-now precisely because we will live in many different houses throughout our lives, but we will only associate one (or very few of them) with “home”. While a house is much safer than an automobile on the road, there are still many things that determine how “safe” a house is to live in overall. The stability of a home, however, is the sum of all that supports it.
To return to Being, for a moment, before I close discussion of this: if we use the analogy of Being-to-be as an automobile, we could also say that Being can be viewed as any method of transportation outside of the automobile: either public transportation, or using a bicycle, or simply walking. In the instance of public transportation, you remain within an automotive vehicle – however, these vehicles have predetermined routes that you must adhere to; likewise, you must share the space inside the vehicle with other people (in the same way you share the road with other people, although in this context, in an environment where personal space can be ignored very easily – anyone who has used public transportation during an especially busy season can attest to this). The threat of physical harm is always implicit in spaces where personal space is not given consideration. In the case of Being-to-be, violent car crashes can be fatal, although these are less common than accidents which usually only involve property damage. In the instance of using a bicycle, the threat of being hit by a moving vehicle will always be understood by cyclists. The instance of physical harm that may come as simply being a civilian should be apparent.
This is all to say that I don’t know if there is any guaranteed way to live a good and fulfilling life, and I don’t think that many people do, either.
JD-Jurado © all rights reserved 2020
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