Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kundera, Heidegger, values -- an elaboration

No, Kundera doesn’t specify which values he is referring to, but bear in mind that he was mightily influenced by Heidegger.  His “loss of values” could well be considered a rough equivalent to Heidegger’s “loss of being.”   The “loss of being” was a subject Kundera dwelt upon in some of his novels, e.g., “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”             

Note that Heidegger doesn’t specify what is being lost when he refers to “loss of dasein.”   Only when one attempts to put a name to this loss, to specify what is lost  by example, does it become easy to abandon the idea of the loss and focus on the details of what is lost.  Perhaps that is part of why Heidegger avoided specifics.   And yet the people who applied Heidegger couldn’t avoid specifics.  Inevitably, and ironically, they come across as inferior philosophers. 

What I focused upon I  would call the loss of values in the West -- primarily in the U.S.   But picking up the mantle of the Leftist, I could rephrase what has been going on and describe it as “progress.”  I could say nothing is being lost when we abandon whatever it was the founding fathers had in mind in their constitution and bill of rights.  We should not desire to stay frozen in that 200-years-ago time.  We should rejoice that we have “progressed” beyond it.  The Leftists and I might even agree on what has “changed.”  Then the Leftist could call these changes “progress” and I could call them “loss of being,” or “loss of value.”

Someplace else I assumed that Kundera didn’t emphasize authenticity, but I later thought about what I had written and thought I must be wrong.  How could that be possible?  He was heavily into Heidegger and if he could write novels that assumed a loss of being, then how could he not be aware of the need to seek authenticity?  Or maybe he thought the seeking of authenticity was not possible in this modern world.  Heidegger after all must have been disillusioned to some extent about that possibility after the war.  Heidegger doesn’t specify what this seeking after authenticity involves.  But surely it includes the reification of values.  Is this assertion disqualified unless I can enumerate those values?  I don’t think so.  Heidegger advocated a return to tradition, a harking back to an earlier time when things (values?) were more pristine and more widely embraced.  If he could do that for Germany (even though the Germans ignored him and embraced something else), why can’t I hark back to an earlier time in the U.S. and suggest that it would be good to seek that earlier tradition (at least its values)? 

Now, in regard to the elimination of slavery and the advancement of women, probably most of us would argue that these changes were embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  We declared that all men were created equal and then we denied some of them equality.  This value was right, but the laws guaranteeing that value (as well as our thinking on this matter) was flawed.  While we can applaud ourselves for eventually learning to live up to this value: “all men are created equal,” we have as I argue launched off into a variety of experiments that embody a decline of being (values).  We might agree, for example, that certain behavior is evil, undesirable, anti-social, etc. And yet we experiment in education by refusing to teach our children to avoid evil, antisocial acts, undesirable behavior, etc.  Throughout the West we are producing teenagers who are predatory sociopaths. 

Now lest we get off onto an “all, ”many,” some” debate I merely wish to draw attention to the teaching experiments that go on and on.  The “little red school house” embodied a good deal of “authenticity” in my view, and the social experiments embody a “loss of being.” 

And we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the fellows claiming military honor without deserving it, for did we not graduate these fellows with academic honors of some sort from our modern (not little red) grammar, intermediate, and high schools?  Perhaps we didn’t teach them to be screwed up.  But surely we didn’t teach them not to be.


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