20 July 2009

The Process of Authenticity Pt. 2/3

In the first part of this essay I spoke about opportunity to explore consciousness as a way past societies implicit philosophical and social determinism. It can be found here.

In the second part, I will review some of the writings of two of my favorite writers, Martin Heidegger's "Being and Time" and Paulo Freire's "Pedogogy of the Oppressed" on the nature and empowerment of "being", a term similar to that of "consciousness" and "ontology", all terms which will be used somewhat interchangeably.

Martin Heidegger, "Being and Time"

In "Being and Time" Martin Heidegger lays out the distinction between the study of the being of an entity, or ontology, and the study of the totality of entities, or ontic inquiry. He makes an example of the positive sciences, which are good at ontic inquiry, that is quantifying and categorizing the world. They are not, on the other hand, good at exploring the meaning of things. This might seem pseudo-metaphysical, but it actually preempts Thomas Kuhn’s breakthrough and widely acclaimed thinking on how paradigm shifts can fundamentally change the nature and boundaries of normal science, and catalyze scientific revolutions. For Heidegger, the "level which a science has reached is determined by how far it is capable of a crisis in its basic concepts". For science to reach this level of maturity, both the subjective bias and the conceptual capacity of the scientist must be acknowledged, explored, and discussed in the production of theory. The opportunity to experience a crises in our basic concepts is not just limited to science. It can happen in many aspects of our lives in two ways. We can ignore it until it hits us surprisingly and violently, or we can actively reflect and consult upon, even augment conceptual deconstruction and then evolution. Heidegger explores this human capacity in his description of the “being” of humans, which he calls Dasein. He defines Dasein as:

"an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very being, that being is an issue for it...Understanding of being is itself a definite characteristic of Dasein's being. Dasein is ontically distinctive in that it is ontilogical...Dasein understands itself in terms of existence-in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself. Dasein has either chosen these possibilities itself, or got itself into them, or grown up in them already."

So in other words, we are beings who are aware of our own consciousness; we can think reality in terms of existential possibility, which can be pursued to a greater or lesser degree. Our fundamental limitation however is that our vision can be constrained by the limitations of our perceived 'world':

“In understanding its own Being, it has a tendency to do so in terms of that entity towards which it comports itself proximally and in a way which is essentially constant-in terms of the 'world'. In Dasein itself, and therefore in its own understanding of Being, the way the world is understood is, as we shall show, reflected back ontologically upon the way in which Dasein itself gets interpreted."

It can also be constrained by the limitations of our percieved history and upbringing.

"It is its past, whether explicitly or not. And this is so not only in that its past is, as it were, pushing itself along 'behind' it, and that Dasein possesses what is past as a property which is still present-at-hand and which sometimes has after-effects upon it."

But are we really limited by our immediate surroundings and upbringing? We can be. The ontological task is difficult because we are constantly pursuing this in terms of the world in which we find ourselves, and in terms of our historical inheritance. We are searching for authenticity, one that is impossible without the said constraints, but one in which we must rise above.

"In each case Dasein is its own possibility, and it 'has' this possibility, but not just as a property, as something present-at-hand would. And because Dasein is in each case essentially its own possibility, it can, in its very Being. 'choose' itself and win itself; it can also lose itself and never win itself; or only 'seem' to do so. But only in so far as it is essentially something which can be authentic-that is, something of its own-can it have lost itself and not yet won itself."

The very possibility of self discovery and authenticity is what can also deprive us of it. This implies that other beings, whether they are plants, animals, even rocks, can neither win, nor lose themselves. They exist but they do not reflect upon their existence. This limits their capacity of self discovery, but also protects them from the depths of self degradation and forgetfulness.

Paulo Freire, "Pedogogy of the Oppressed"

Paulo Freire was also interested in the ontological quest, and he spent most of his life seeking ways to restructure education and development in the promotion of it on a wide social scale. The biggest problem with development schemes in his mind was the oppression of an individuals being.

"To deny the importance of subjectivity in the process of transforming the world and history is naive and simplistic. It is to admit the impossible: a world without people. This objectivistic position is a ingenuous as that of subjectivism, which postulates people without a world. World and human beings do not exist apart from each other, they exist in constant interaction."

He was anxiously concerned with "oppression" which often meant real colonial and post-colonial subjugation, but also referred to a state of mind, not unlike Heidegger’s description of self-forgetfulness. This state of forgetfulness was not only prevalent among the oppressed, but also the oppressors, who lose their humanity even as they steal it from others. The next stage of cultural evolution requires a process of "humanization", in which all people have the opportunity to find their true and authentic selves.

"At all stages of their liberation, the oppressed must see themselves as women and men engaged in the ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Reflection and action become imperative when one does not erroneously attempt to dichotomize the content of humanity from its historical forms."

The problem, in his mind, was the very structure and expectations of society, beginning with the ideology and methodology of education, which in his mind was oppressive.

"The teacher student relationship often involves a narration that treats "reality as if it was motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to 'fill' the students with the contents of his narration-contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity." The "banking" concept of education treats the teacher as a depositor of knowledge, and the student as the receptacle which will go about receiving, filing, and storing the deposits...it is the people themselves who are filed away." "The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed upon them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them."

So in the words of Heidegger, students are treated as ontic entities, capable of storing information but unable to develop a critical consciousness about them or the conceptual frameworks in which they are derived. To change this condition, he developed what he called the "pedagogical approach", which in his words involves:

"co-intentional education. Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement."

Like Heidegger, Freire likened this to the process of authenticity. We live in a world which has brought about the possibilities of human consciousness, and is in turn defined by that consciousness. To become authentic is to live humanely and manifest the ability to name the world, and change it.

"Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world....The world which brings consciousness into existence becomes the world of that consciousness." "To exist, humanely, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming."

On a collective level, a process of dialogue is required.

"Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world in order to name the world...Dialogue is an existential necessity. Dialogue requires a profound love for the world and its people, and a great humility...not arrogance. The love must not take the form of domination, manifesting as sadism in the oppressor and masochism in the oppressed, but a commitment to others. Arrogance cause somebody to project ignorance onto somebody else and not perceive their own. Above all, dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human. Finally, true dialogue cannot exist unless the dialoguers engage in critical thinking-thinking which discerns an indivisible solidarity between the world and the people and admits of no dichotomy between them-thinking which perceives reality as process, as transformation, rather than as a static entity-thinking which does not separate itself from action, but constantly immerses itself in temporality without fear of the risks involved."

In an attempt to describe the historical process that he is engaged in, he outlined a theory of emergence that is almost teleological in nature. An unfolding of the Logos itself:

"The goal will no longer be to eliminate the risks of temporality by clutching to guaranteed space, but rather to temporalize space...The universe is revealed to me not as space, imposing a massive presence to which I can but adapt, but as a scope, a domain which takes shape as I act upon it. Human beings are because they are in a situation. And they will be more the more they not only critically reflect upon their existence but critically act upon it...Humankind emerge from their submersion and acquire the ability to intervene in reality as it is unveiled. Intervention in reality-historical awareness itself-thus represents a step forward from emergence..."

In my search, I have found this teleological process to be the most advanced both conceptually and operationally within the Baha'i Faith. Part 3 will focus on the Baha'i process of authenticity, and the spiritualization of being.

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