Ideas have consequence. Seeking to uncover the essence of modern technology, “thrownness” is a philosophical concept employed by Martin Heidegger. Because humans are thrown into the world as it exists, they must act and respond accordingly, “always already involved in an understanding of Being” (Krell 45). To maximize action decisions, it is advantageous to know as much about exterior contingencies as possible. This quest for knowledge is sustained by philosophic and scientific research, a habit of contemplating all unexplained observations. In the early conventional description, philosophy and science interpenetrated, both referring to a body of knowledge rationally explained and reliably applied. Under this paradigm, science hopes to establish objectively valid knowledge, while philosophy seeks to clarify the grounds for its validity. Knowledge that is applied becomes technology. However, since approximately the 18th century, science has evolved into a systematic endeavor that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable hypotheses and predictions about existence. As Heidegger puts it, “modern science’s way of representing pursues and entraps nature as a calculable coherence of forces” which sees humans as rulers of the world (Krell 326). Nevertheless, Heidegger asks, “of what essence is modern technology that it happens to think of putting exact science to use?” (Krell 320). Because decisions as to what problems are worthy for investigation must first be made, value is always engaged. It is in this way that the essence in revealing a truth about anything “is always itself directed from the beginning toward furthering something else” (Krell 321). Whenever a cause is established for any phenomena, the next unanswered question is: What is the cause of that cause? An occasioning is the emergence of something from out of itself, stemming from not only knowledge, but also from the activities of interest and desire. As Heidegger points out, “interest means to be among and in the midst of things,” accepting as valid only what is interesting (Krell 371). In all cases, the observer appears as a necessary part of the result, the most essential instrument in research. The number of speculative hypotheses that can explicate any phenomenon is infinite. Nevertheless, preconceived ideas can condition the mind to approach problems inflexibly, thereby eliminating fertile possibility. For undoubtedly we are capable of thinking and doing only what we are inclined to think and do (Krell 369). This is because to learn thinking “means to make everything we do answer to whatever addresses us as essential” (Krell 379). Heidegger considered that “the essence of a thing is considered to be what the thing is” (Krell 312). A larger, more primal pattern may call for unconcealment, recognizing that “unlocking, transforming, distributing, and switching about are ways of revealing” (Krell 322). Heidegger therefore draws a distinction between the essence of technology and technology per se. By itself technology is understood as “instrumental,” a means to an end, the practical application of knowledge in a certain area. The knowledge of fabricating and using tools is technology. Arguably, tool use is the most important adaptation ancient humans used to ascend the food chain. By inventing tools through knowledge application, humans were able to accomplish tasks more efficiently, or achieve results otherwise impossible. Technology is in this way directed toward achieving “the maximum yield at the minimum expense” (Krell 321).
The essence that Heidegger aims to uncover is not technological, and is not accessible through a technological mode of thought. In short, his view is that the essence of modern technology is “enframing,” which is “nothing technological . . . it is the way in which the real reveals itself as standing reserve” (Krell 329). This means everywhere humans are predisposed to order everything to “stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering” (Krell 322). Because of this enframing, we are oblivious to “what intrinsically desires to be thought about in an essential sense” (Krell 372). This operative attitude considers the world and everything in it to exist only for human use, including man himself.
Nietzsche expresses this human orientation towards domination in his doctrine of the “will to power.” This “essence of life” is a spontaneous, aggressive, expansive, re-interpreting, re-directing and formative force (Nietzsche 56). For Nietzsche, the “will to power” is comprised of primitive animal instincts, such as hostility, vindictiveness, and the pleasure of altering and destroying. In short, the strong and superior individuals exercise their power to dominate the weak, and pragmatically employ resources as desired (Nietzsche xxiii). As the main driving force in humans, the “will to power” achieves mastery over anything less powerful (Nietzsche 51). Unlike Heidegger, Nietzsche favors power domination of the strong as an operating premise, and considers the essential human problem to be social structures that mitigate and marginalize the “will to power.” In an ongoing struggle against one's surroundings, the power exercised over others results in a life affirming impulse (Nietzsche 100). In addition, when a society becomes aware of its supreme power, it can “allow itself the noblest luxury available to it, – that of letting its malefactors go unpunished. ‘What do I care about my parasites,’ it could say, ‘let them live and flourish: I am strong enough for all that!’” (Nietzsche 51).
Heidegger's phenomenological method had an influence on Hannah Arendt, as she takes up the issue of an insecure society attempting to eradicate its “parasites” in Nazi Germany. Here the “will to power” and enframing domination engendered a despicable “moral disintegration” (Arendt 24). In authority run amuck, organized murder as a governmental institution supported “extermination of whole peoples as part of demographic policies” (Arendt 242). It is possible to understand how the criminal perpetrators of mass murder could use philosophical ideas like the “will to power’ as justification. As Arendt explains, “no one appears to himself as he appears to others” (7) and human existence is conditioned by human culture. In this dim light, because an individual is subject to “thrownness,” humans are neither fundamentally unique nor necessarily cohesive. This influential philosophical basis can sustain something preposterous like Nazism. Germans had no qualms about vanquishing others, because individual Germans exist only inside their culture, without recognizing common traits with the rest of humanity. Furthermore, “where all are guilty, no one is” (Arendt 21).
Both Nietzsche and Heidegger argue that everything is always open to diverse interpretations, as is the interpretation process itself. In Heidegger’s analysis, one characteristic of “authentic” being-in-the-world is the ability to actualize the past relative to essential potential. Frantz Fanon built on this by rejecting history in the hope of a radically open future: “I do not want to exalt the past at the expense of my present and of my future” (Fanon 176). Fanon contends that “will to power” that subjugates a people creates an inferiority complex and alienation resulting in their desire to identify with and imitate their masters. Thus, the psychical or emotional impact of race discrimination might be as substantial as its physical reality. He emphasizes liberation from the inferiority complex and the revival of individual value found through existence. He wages an existential struggle for recognition, aware that freedom means, “when there are no more slaves, there are no masters” (194). As we inherit whatever culture into which we accidentally happened to be born, perhaps helpful alteration can only occur within each individual. As a person of color, Fanon says he wants only one thing, that “man never be instrumentalized” (206, italics mine). This implies that enframing, the technological essence that functions as “standing reserve,” must no longer blind humankind. In the future, he envisions optimism for improvement: “to persuade my brother, whether black or white, to tear off with all his strength the shameful livery put together by centuries of incomprehension” (Fanon 5). Then the enslavement of man-by-man will cease forever, diminishing the “will to power.”
Heidegger argues that every revealing is also a concealing, that history both provides meaning as it removes other meanings. As a revealing that shackles enframing, the modern thinker only responds to what “addressed itself” to him (Krell 370). Therefore to be capable of thinking, we must learn to think, to accept the “the gift of what must properly be thought about” (Krell 381). Here Heidegger is asking what is it that commands us to think. In other words, “what are the prerequisites we need so that we may be able to think with essential rightness? (Krell 383). This is imperative because “thinking becomes the object of an investigation” (Krell 385). In this regard, nature considered as an object of research causes that very object to vanish into the objectlessness of “standing-reserve.” The problem concisely is the human desire for mastery, supported by “the essence of technology . . . [which] is the danger” (Krell 333). We have yet to determine the cause of technology’s cause, because “modern physics is the herald of Enframing, a herald whose origin is still unknown” (Krell 327). Revealing the existence of an unknown cause (that is concealed and always concealing itself) is that which frees the mystery (Krell 330). Herein lies a glimmer of hope, that “the coming to presence of technology harbors in itself what we least suspect, the possible arising of the saving power” (Krell 337). As modern humans, “we can learn only if we always unlearn at the same time” (Krell 374). Heidegger believes that art is an antidote to standing reserve enframing. He comes to this conclusion “because the . . . essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally different from it. Such a realm is art” (Krell 340). For when we speak of the sciences, “we shall be speaking not against but for them, for clarity concerning their essential being” (Krell 378). By moving away from the quest for certainty, perhaps science and technology can be approached artfully within each individual, thereby building collective critical mass. Through this relationship adjustment, creative disclosure in art can help lead us beyond the nihilism of Heidegger’s ‘technological’ late-modernity into ‘the clearing,’ revealing equality and freedom.
Arendt, Hannah, and Jerome Kohn. Responsibility and Judgment. New York: Schocken Books, 2003. Print.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks., 1967. Print.
Heidegger, Martin, and David F. Krell. Basic Writings: From Being and Time (1927) to the Task of Thinking (1964). San Francisco, Calif.: Harper San Francisco, 1993.
Nietzsche, Friedrich W, Keith Ansell-Pearson, and Carol Diethe. On the Genealogy of Morality. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print.