Martin Heidegger, following a phenomenological hermeneutic path, reached many of the same conclusions. He spoke of a world caught under the spell, a “delusion”, of unfettered control of the earth and its inhabitants as resources to be calculated, ordered and used. The collective hallucinosis to which Eigen refers, Heidegger dubbed the Enframing, a mode of revealing the world where nothing appears in its essential character. It veils its truth as a presencing of Being by appearing as though it is a product of human making. We become convinced that the only mode of disclosing the world is through quantitative calculation.
As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectivelessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve.
Heidegger asserts that once humankind is set upon this course of disclosure, the world becomes an “unworld” in which humanity engages in a “circularity of consumption for the sake of consumption.” In 1969 Heidegger used the image of Nature as a gigantic gas station with humanity at the pump—a disposable earth. Now, in 2013, we can see the haunting accuracy of this image.
Medard Boss, who was analyzed by Freud and studied under Heidegger, said, “today, people [are] horribly depressed by the meaninglessness and tedium of their lives. Suffering as they do, these people often try to drown out their desperation through addiction to work, pleasure, or drugs.” J.H. van den Berg suggests that the name neurosis is no longer an appropriate label to describe the disturbed human relations of our technological age. Placing neurosis in the realms of the individual and the anatomical ignores the underlying sociological character is illness. “No one is neurotic unless made neurotic by society. In a neurosis is an individual’s reaction to the conflicting and complicating demands made by society.”
Today, we have a plurality of selves. We possess a self for every group we belong to. Though we all suffer from this, the neurotic is unable to maintain a unified identity in various contexts. Van den Berg believes that it is more appropriate to speak of sociosis than neurosis. Our relationships are the pre-conditions of sociosis. This multitude of functional contexts cannot be quantitatively ordered so we lead a divided existence in a complex society. Those who can cope with these factors suffer the least.
So, quite briefly, these are some of the pathways explored in Elements of Self-Destruction, from the theoretical to the horrifyingly real manifestations in contemporary culture and as reported concretely from people’s own experience. Through these explorations, I hope to name some of the challenges of destructiveness and hope also to uncover a contextual pathway, open a path of the heart and mind, in negotiating this most difficult terrain.
Author of Elements of Self-Destruction (London: Karnac Books, 2013).
Boss, M. (1994). Existential foundations of medicine and psychology. (S. Conway & A. Cleaves, Trans.). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. (Original work published 1971.)
Eigen, M. (2006). Age of psychopathy.
Heidegger, M. (1969). Discourse on thinking. (J. Anderson & E. Freund, Trans.). New York: Harper & Row.
Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology and other essays (W. Lovitt, Trans.). New York: Harper & Row. (Original work published 1954.)
Van den Berg, J. H. (1983). The changing nature of man: Introduction to a historical psychology. New York: Norton.