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

The world is still shaking off the masculinisation of purpose.

The world is still shaking off the masculinisation of purpose.

How pervasive is this polarisation of human identity and its fundamental essence? The masculinisation of purposiveness has accompanied a normalising of purposiveness. Thus men have been able to dominate science, for it is by such procurement ‘man’s domain’ and, as such, science has been dominated by domination rather than collaboration. As Heidegger puts it, though he looks beyond science per se, ‘the revealing that rules’ throughout modern technology is characterised by a domination which is challenging forth; one might almost employ of the analogy of a Lazarus commanded to arise from the grave. This domination commands nature to release its energy, once unlocked, this energy –  nature’s bounty – becomes a procured commodity, owned, stockpiled and sold to the highest bidder.[1]

Sooner or later everything in a functionalist world is procured as part of the standing reserve.

Sooner or later everything in a functionalist world is procured as part of the standing reserve.

The purposiveness of technology commands that all remain immediately to hand, inventoried as a resource in the ‘standing-reserve’, no longer seen for what it is itself but for what purpose it may serve at a moment’s notice. No longer an autonomous object, what is procured as standing-reserve waits as an itemised extension to myself, ready to do my bidding; the airliner on the runway is my escape to the sun; the woman at the counter my means to acquire groceries; as I have described already, the disused railway line becomes my route to fitness. Though ultimately humans such as I perpetuate this revelation of things as ‘on hand to do my bidding’, I am not in ultimate control because I too am subpoenaed, summoned to my place in the standing-reserve. Thus to win my identity, dependent as it is upon a desire for significance, I must wrest it free from another’s appropriation of my capacity for purpose.

If I am to be emancipated from mere purposiveness I must acknowledge the ‘enframing’[2] that summons me to validate the standing-reserve. Alternatively, all that is actual, the background, the foreground and the Other, myself even, become something to be procured or appropriated purposively or discarded as useless, something without significance. It is through signifying that the Lifeworld comes alive, becomes a part of my life; it is through granting significance to the other as subject that I am finally not alone. Finally it is through the accretion of meaning as purpose and significance that I acquire, develop and sustain identity.

The human tendency to overemphasise purposiveness results in a loss of equilibrium. The problem facing humankind and accordingly human identity, perhaps as a result of a reactionary abhorrence in post enlightenment society towards the mythology of ancient and medieval worldviews, is the corruption of our sense of the unconcealed. What, implied the Logical Positivists, can there be, aside from those matters of fact procured by purposive thinking? Though purposive science can successfully describe the fabric of the background of our lives, ‘there is in the midst of all that is correct’ the danger that ‘the true will withdraw’.[3] The severing of significance from purposiveness brings an impoverished appropriation of the background world into the foreground of human existence and, if it brooks no questioning, humanity withdraws too.

Is man truly the measure of all things?

Is man truly the measure of all things?

Rather than a recognition that others, that nature, that creativity and beauty have intrinsic significance of their own, all must audition for anthropic usefulness. Heidegger laments the very positing of consciousness’ constituting power that phenomenology after Husserl is charged with. The enlightenment mantra, ‘man is the measure of all things’, has come to mean that everything the questioning being encounters exists only insofar as it is an extension of ‘man’; ultimately ‘man everywhere and always encounters only himself’.[4]  Problematically however, just as woman cannot mirror man back to man as he wishes to be seen, neither nature, nor the divine can reflect humankind; ironically in fact, this narcissism entails that ‘nowhere does man today any longer encounter himself’.[5]

Heidegger’s warning is that enframing prevents the appearing of what presences itself . Unquestioned purposiveness blinds us so that we no longer see significance. We can no longer get back to things themselves. Put esoterically, ‘Enframing blocks the shining-forth and holding sway of truth.’[6]

Travelling from Pune to Mumbai I passed a bewilderingly large billboard beside the highway. It dwarfed a primitive village, overshadowing its impoverished inhabitants with a vast advertisement for cutting-edge mobile phone technology. The purpose of a hoarding, indeed of mobile phones too, is ostensibly communication. In an age of instant global communication mobiles allow one to speak across the globe and beyond. But advertising has done little for communication, for communication requires that we grant the other significance in the form of a voice we will attend to. The Indian villagers clearly had the capacity to be consumers, but they were not significant as people. Standing in reserve as a future market for marketing, future networkers for networks, their present significance as persons was ignored. Human identity must be reclaimed from a purposiveness that obliterates significance for both are equiprimordial; if the questioning being is to be ‘fetched home’ into its essence, it must be allowed to question its way back to a pursuit of significance in partnership with its capacity for purpose.

Heidegger’s assurances that within enframing, somehow is to be found a mystical ‘letting be’ for man to endure, though opaque, contains the embryonic idea that within humankind itself is the solution. Whilst humankind is not the measure of all things, certainly the questioning being measures all things. It is here in questioning that significance is allowed to arise. Though ‘the frenziedness of ordering that blocks every view’,[7]  ensures that unfettered procurement obscures significance, nevertheless questioning makes a way towards harmony through the path of disquiet. In the thwarted appropriations of our lives disclosed in the uncomfortable experiences of enforced waiting and indeterminate exploration the questioning being is brought back to its essence.

As with the stock market, unfettered procurement obscures significance.

As with the stock market, unfettered procurement obscures significance.

The identity of the questioning being is fostered consequently in a harmonisation of the desire for significance and the capacity for purpose. One’s identity-sense is accordingly, a faculty for questioning, one of life’s vital signs, and this audit must be an ongoing priority for human singularity and solidarity alike.

‘All revealing’ says Heidegger, is endangered by the essential unfolding of technology and threatened with being ultimately ‘consumed in ordering’; [8] one’s identity-sense, with its questioning sensitivity ignited by disquiet, can resist the standing-reserve however, though it cannot banish it. Meaning making, whether a signifying in art or poetry, altruism or faith, or indirectly sought in politics, religion, philosophy or community, comes from a questioning that is not merely purposive; redemptive meaning-making is catalysed by the desire for significance which grants to each singular human the possibility of significant singularity in harmony with its capacity for purpose. It is for this reason, as Merleau-Ponty points out, ‘…man, as opposed to the pebble which is what it is, is defined as a place of unrest’.[9]

[1] Heidegger, QT, ibid, 224

[2] Heidegger, ibid, 227

[3] Heidegger, ibid, 231

[4] Heidegger, QT, in BW, ibid, 232

[5] Heidegger, ibid

[6] Heidegger, ibid

[7] Heidegger, QT, ibid, 236

[8] Heidegger, ibid, 236

[9] Merleau-Ponty, M. Sense and Non-sense, Northwestern University studies in phenomenology & existential philosophy, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1964, 66


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