Purpose and significance in the human relationship to technology; Part II

In the same way that Heidegger regarded the re-clothing of a ‘tract of land’ in the garb of a ‘coal mining district’, an imposition of definitional purposiveness, so it is my contention that the human can be  incarcerated in the purpose it is procured for. This acquisition or conquest of the other, finds affinity with further imbalances in human society and this is unsurprising for they have been linked. In the masculinised objectifying of the other, the other is rendered emasculated. Acquisitive purposiveness has aligned itself to the masculinisation of purposeful endeavour in society, marginalising purpose of other kinds. ‘Men’ this alignment proposes, ‘get the job done and you know they are really men because they take what they can use to that end’.

Just as identity is not the accomplishment of a neutral transcendental mind, so the technological subjugation of the other does not operate  through some kind of exclusively intellectual intuition. The questioning being develops its hierarchies through the exigencies of bodily existence. By this means, and not merely in philosophy but throughout history, it is apparent that ‘all theories of subjectivity have presupposed that subjects are male’.[1]  Consequently agency too has been masculinised. One deconstructivist reading of the binary logic in public discourse sees masculine power absolved from its maternal debt through the exclusion of the feminine. It avows that such a notion of reality  is ‘produced in a sensate body’ whose sense of self and world is developed when its impulses, emotion and feelings are integrated, disciplined and directed towards a self-identity. This self-identity achieves an autonomy won through separation from the mother’s body.[2] Problematically however, that liberating separation, has been remodelled in a way that mirrors the throwaway utilisation of persons at large in society; the sloughing off and negating of the no-longer-required. The other, here the feminine other, has become a neutered male, purposively obsolete. The mother, the womb, no longer a mystery, is now a sometime useful object. The masculinised notion of the subject, the actor, the agent, paves the way for the ‘masculinised’ monopoly of purpose.

Throughout history, agency has become synonymous with masculinity.

Throughout history, agency has become synonymous with masculinity.

The history of Woman is illustrative of the wider masculinised conquest of the world. However tenderly it is done, society’s treatment of woman as a ‘helpmeet for man’,[3] offers a sacralisation of an object consequently rendered mute. Woman, the ‘speculum’[4] which nevertheless refuses to mirror back obediently to a masculinised purposiveness its heroic acquisitive procurement of the world, becomes use-less. Femininity becomes an ornament. It cannot be purposeful in its own right nor is it granted authoritative voice as a suppressed desire for significance.

This regrettably describes the only currency a masculinised purposiveness recognises. That which is procured is objectified and so a thing to be used; that which has no purpose is at best a whimsical curiosity at worst a neutered thing, for there is in this currency no legitimate and equal other. Women and conquered men become things to use or the useless to despise.

Why is this relevant for a phenomenology of identity? Because, as a man or woman, I am embedded in the ‘everydayness’ of the Lifeworld, until such time as the thwarting of my intentionality, or the failure of my harmonising attempts at equilibrium, prompt an audit of my identity-sense. As a consequence I imbibe culture’s value-laden positional clues and make my way in the world according to their coordinates. In such a bias as this masculinisation engenders, I may as a man be predisposed to covet purposiveness and measure my identity-sense by its acquisition, and of course suppress my existential desire for significance, or as a woman be inhibited in the acquisition of purposiveness, regarding it as a negation of my femininity and find that any expression of my desire for significance is construed accordingly as weakness.

The ornamental, the feminine has been taken as a distraction from purpose.

The ornamental, the feminine has been taken as a distraction from purpose.

In both literal and metaphorical application then, the ‘object’ in yielding to the imbalanced purposiveness of the dominant ‘subject’ submits to the subject’s erroneous desire to appropriate ‘her’. She is not he, and he cannot possess her if she remains a ‘she’, she must become a thing. This analysis holds true beyond heterosexual intersubjectivity too; any subject reduced to purpose only, which stands as other to the masculinised acquisitive subject cannot be possessed purposively and remain a significant subject. Their subjectivity must be forfeited and it is achieved through a denial or negation of their significance.

In this thesis I contend that one’s identity is an accretion of meaning attained through appropriation of the world. The questioning being is not available for appropriation however; it ceases to exist in the obliteration of significance, even when this is the consequence of purposive affirmation. The profound implications of this process, scandalously blatant in the subjugation of women as useful, is true by extension to the emasculating subjugation of the other, even when that other is male, or the acquisitive subject is female. The one is an overspill from the other. The economy of discourse has revealed time and again, in gender, in race, in age and in class how ‘the silent allegiance of the one guarantees’, ironically, ‘the auto-sufficiency, the auto-nomy of the other’, ‘as long as no questioning of this mutism as a symptom – of historical repression – is required. But what if the ‘object’ started to speak?’, or indeed, to question?.[5]

In truth, purpose and significance are not respectively synonymous with the masculine and the feminine.

In truth, purpose and significance are not respectively synonymous with the masculine and the feminine.

I see here a consequence and further implication. Firstly, when the questioning being  abandons questioning as a way of making its way in the world, it denies itself and is dehumanised. Purposiveness is not demonic, nor is it of necessity in antipathy to questioning. Indeed it is a primordial capacity of human identity as supremely epitomised by the sciences humans have developed. Nevertheless, as J. S. Mill, who controversially in my view, regarded utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions contended, ‘The beliefs which we have most warrant for have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded…’ Certainty of the truth, including existential truth is attainable by a fallible being, in no other manner.[6] Questioning is vital to the humanising of purposiveness.

Secondly, it might be inferred from the masculinisation of purposiveness that signifying therefore is a feminised trait or need. Perhaps this is assumed where meaning-making is construed as a softer, less factual, mode of thinking and being. My response is that this is the ‘flip-side’ of a regrettable polarisation of that twofold, and necessarily complementary primordial human essence, the desire for significance and capacity for purpose. Both purposiveness and signifying are intrinsically vital to all human flourishing and within the spectra they comprise, true and distinct masculinity and femininity are found but are not respectively synonymous. Glimpsed in Irigaray’s indictment against masculine appropriation of feminine subjectivity is therefore a deeper masculinisation of purposiveness.  I do not assume that femininity and masculinity, any more than purposiveness or signification are two exclusive human ways to be. However, Purposiveness and Signifying, Masculinity and Femininity must be rescued from false dichotomising which renders the first pair synonymous with the latter.

[1] Atkins, K. Commentary on Irigaray, in (Ed) Self and Subjectivity, Malden, Blackwell Publishing, 2009, 267

[2] Atkins, Commentary on Irigaray, ibid, 268

[3] This of course is an archaic translation but it has nevertheless fuelled much debate about women’s rights in marriage. Genesis 2:18 King James version. And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.’

[4] Irigaray, L. Any theory of the ‘subject’ has always been appropriated by the ‘masculine’, in (Ed.) Kim Atkins, Self and Subjectivity, Malden, Blackwell Publishers, 2009, 272

[5] Irigaray, L. ‘Any theory of the ‘subject’ has always been appropriated by the masculine’, in  Kim Atkins, 272. I am aware that my use of this text may be criticised are a masculine appropriation of its gender specific insights thus confirming its stark indictment. My view is that if Irigaray’s judgement is warranted it is an all-pervasive tendency; such rampant machismo is not discerning.

[6] Mill, J. S. On Liberty, Oxford University Press, 2008 26


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