Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Heidegger and the Thief

One of the reasons that Heidegger denigrated Liberal Democracy was that its freedom was too readily turned to license. Everyone was free to make up his own rules, or to operate without any rules at all. There was no constancy, no interest in tradition. Everything was up for grabs and such a system could not possibly survive.

I took a break from reading Heidegger at about noon on Monday (11-16-09) to take the dogs for a run down at the river. It was a little warm, but I thought wed do okay, and we did. The dogs had their tongues hanging out by the time we headed back toward the Jeep, and they were moving from the shade of one tree to the shade of another.

And then I saw the purse. Ive raged before about the people who dump things down there. The river is a beautiful place and it outrages me to run across garbage and junk that irresponsible people dump down there. But this was a purse all by itself. I picked it up and looked inside and from what I found it seemed obvious that some thief had dumped it down there. I looked up toward the road. It wasnt so very far. The thief could have parked up on Soboba Road and then scrambled part way down and tossed the purse.

Drat, I thought to myself. I didnt want to take on another persons problems, but maybe there wasnt anything valuable in it. Maybe I could just leave it where I found it. But in looking through it I found some bank stubs, a Cosco card, some membership cards and a laminated card showing that the owner of the purse to be an attorney licensed to practice law in California. Drat, I thought again. She will probably want that card back.

So when I got home I emailed her (using the email address I found in her purse) and she told me her car had been broken into on 11-13-09. She stopped by after she got off work and picked up her purse. She said one of her credit cards had been used at the Soboba Casino; and that for her purse to have been dropped alongside Soboba Road seemed consistent with what she knew. She said she intended to give the purse to the police and invite them to fingerprint everything. She said the police (assuming they go along with her suggestion) would want to fingerprint the two of us so they can eliminate our prints from any others they find and hopefully narrow the remaining prints down to the thief.

My paranoid imagination went to work with that but I readily agreed. Based upon my sense of responsibility, I had no choice. To choose otherwise would be going againstdasein, againstbeing, or in Freudian terms it would mean going against my superego. And yet I am living in a Liberal Democracy 82 years after Heidegger wrote Being and Time. Was I feeling especially responsible because I had been reading Heidegger about responsibility? Thats possible, but I dont think so. I would have preferred being able to conclude that what I had found would be worthless to the owner. If I could have convinced myself of that then I would have left the purse where I found it with a clean conscience, but I could not, and (based upon what I found) would not have been able to even if I had not been reading Heidegger.

My conscience was based upon atradition Heidegger said Liberal Democracies were forgetting.

Not everyone has such a tradition, to be sure. Our particular Liberal Democracy is guilty of most of the criticisms Heidegger has leveled against it, but we are not all guilty, and I would venture to guess that during World War II as many Americans relied upon our Liberal-Democratic tradition as Germans relied upon their ethnic one.

But I can imagine the thief, if the police find him, claiming his innocence by relying on his nihilistic lack of belief in any such tradition. And hell do it with a straight face and an utter lack of guilt, but thats what Heidegger thought we would all be doing, and we arent.

Furthermore, while we who live in Liberal Democracies see our own evil (how can we avoid seeing it), we have overwhelming evidence that the utopias Heidegger and Marx envisioned were far more evil than anything a Liberal Democracy has produced.

[And I would feel a lot better about the police taking my fingerprints if only I hadnt been reading Kafka recently. L]

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