Hubris Vulnerability

“How the world is—this is outside the world.” - Giorgio Agamben


How do important twentieth-century philosophers, perhaps without intention, explicate modern technology modeled as an analogue of psychoanalysis? Can the artist-philosopher work toward an ethico-aesthetics, by illuminating an essential meaning ominously obscured by technological promise?

Human beings formulate arguments to convince themselves of what they wish were true. Self-importance and contemptuous human superiority over nature are underlying presuppositions that drive technological development in potentially dangerous directions. The concept of manifest and latent content in Freudian dream analysis may be successfully appropriated to better understand larger collective psychological experiences, including humanity’s relationship to expertise as a kind of delusion of grandeur. Applicable interpretations of manifest and latent informational layers assist in revealing malicious technological significance, a disposition that subsequently may be communicated by an enlightened artist/philosopher to benefit future civilizations. In this way, aesthetics may disclose hubris danger, placing humanity on a more propitious trajectory.

In an effort to clarify these issues, the philosophy of technology relates to the making of things. In this broad sense, it differentiates between prearranged natural elements, as given in the world, versus all that is created by humans. This includes not only tools (arrowhead), devices (wheel) and instruments (clock), but also techniques (fire), knowledge, language, and the arts. The oldest stone tools ever found (dated at 3.3 million years old) were discovered in a lake in eastern Africa. These tools were made to advance authority over a hostile environment, granting more efficient access to resources, thus improving human survival potential. Technology therefore long predates modern science, which is a formalized method of inquiry, first articulated in 1620 by Francis Bacon (1). For Heidegger, science is a tool of technology, necessarily embedded in the instrumental because “modern physics, as experimental, is dependent upon technical apparatus and upon progress in the building of apparatus” (295). However, what does his notion of ‘technology as a way of revealing’ have to do with Freud?

Exploring the psychic connection, in Freudian psychoanalysis both manifest content and latent content reside in a dream. The manifest content is the actual dream itself, as literal subject matter remembered upon awakening. The latent dream content is the underlying hidden psychological meaning of these manifest symbols. Freud identified human tribulations that create individual difficulties and claimed that their concealed meaning can be uncovered through therapeutic analysis (174). Moreover, this divulged understanding will lead to problem resolution. Such ideas relative to the functioning of dreams can be extrapolated to the larger social collective. Psychoanalyzing civilization relative to technology, the physical objects and artifacts constitute manifest content, while the arrogance of total power exerted over nature is the latent content. Under this view, the earth is an unlimited source of energy and matter existing exclusively for human usage. Although anything can be misused, technical innovations are first actualized and implemented to the extent they are expected to contribute to progress. However, successful fabrication leads to an orientation that knowledge and manipulation of natural processes allocate complete and total ascendancy over nature. Thus, buried within the deployment of technology is an associated human psychological assumption of manifest destiny: that man rules the universe. This hubris embodies the vulnerability of an ideological civilizing ‘will’ toward technology as a means of world sovereignty. In light of this adoption toward a ‘will’ to technology, let us now consider Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernst Jünger, Martin Heidegger, and Michel Foucault as prophets of technology deployed in arrogance, a haughtiness adversely affecting every aspect of contemporary society.

Technological Essence

Technology is indisputably a major force behind prodigious social change. Nevertheless, reacting to their internal and external environment, to what end do living entities exist and struggle? Nietzsche looks beneath the manifest surface of civilization to ascertain what transformational causes alter meaning over time. All of existence, Nietzsche asserts, is a struggle between divergent ‘wills’ seeking the gratification of power. Examining the origins and content of our different moral concepts, he was one of the first thinkers to associate the egotism of humanity with an impending peril to the world, envisioning in the gathering darkness of a technologically exploitive society the emergent signs of cultural nihilism. He was explicit in detailing this threat, as he proclaimed, “hubris today characterizes our whole attitude towards nature, our rape of nature with the help of machines and the completely unscrupulous inventiveness of technicians and engineers” (123). He hopes to shatter any illusion as to the cohesion of absolute truth or the validity of our present moral compass. His latent ‘will to power’ is most evident when humans incessantly compete with one another, often just to achieve primacy over the vanquished.

Jünger builds on this drive to superiority, proposing that the measure of man lies in his capacity to withstand pain and sacrifice. His latent technology lies not only in man’s control over nature, but also is directed to the purpose of man controlling men. As an affirmation of the anonymous condition of the soldier in perpetual technological warfare and the worker in production supplying industrial means, he suggests the desirability of becoming one with modern terrorizing machines of death and destruction. His manifest technology locates not just in pure instrumentality, but also in human-guided torpedoes and manned airborne missiles, whose mechanical abilities literally merge with the organic human. Thus, we have a hybrid mechanism of both man over man in direct combat, but also machine over man in a cold and detached way. Jünger writes that “technology’s inherent claim to power” causes this physical manifestation of the automated and detached human soul to grow ever stronger (34). By becoming more mechanical than human, we are unwittingly galvanized in imitation of merciless malignant machines. In this way, humans become inevitable components of the future they themselves fabricate.

Dasein is expressed as a human being in the world, a place-time experienced in an encompassing vicissitude. Heidegger’s philosophical approach is to inquire into a deeper revelation of ‘Being,’ as an intensive understanding of how things in general come into presence and then are withdrawn from existence. He argues that technology dictates fundamental essentials about our way of ‘being-in-the-world,’ in direct touch with real existence at every moment of waking or dreaming life. As part of his investigation, Heidegger establishes a distinction between technology as a manifestation of instrumentality in its material signs, versus a latent attitude presuming human domination as the modality of technological exploitation. For Heidegger, enframing “is the way in which the actual reveals itself as standing-reserve” (329). Moreover, standing-reserve is the attitude that all things in existence exist only for human management. The stakes go up, as “the essence of modern technology shows itself in what we call Enframing” (Heidegger 328). Modern technology is differentiated by its scale and effectiveness in exercising supremacy, coupled with the significant magnification of its effects resulting from a rapidly expanding human population. Heidegger envisions an increasingly technological society, in presence of which we have become objectless objects, where “even the object disappears into the objectlessness of standing-reserve” (324). Consequently, to define an object based on properties it possesses relative to human power demand, apart from all environing circumstances, is to leave all objects entirely compromised. If Dasein were differently constituted, with divergent interests and needs unrelated to dominance, then the objects in his world would be different objects.

Foucault's reflections on power uniquely parallel the Freudian dream-work topography. Latent power sets the conditions that make knowledge valid. Whoever sets the terms of inquiry has already ascended. By this account, manifest technology comprises the artifacts and techniques with which we exercise power over nature. However, more significantly, technology is also a latent set of structural forms by which we inevitably exercise power over ourselves in corroborated normalization. Our institutions of collaborative activity have become sanctioned areas of controlled observation, with acceptable conventions or standards of proper behavior enforced. Describing a panoptic society, Foucault explains “the seeing machine was once a sort of dark room into which individuals spied; it has become a transparent building in which the exercise of power may be supervised by society as a whole” (207). Even functioning as self-regulation from within the contours of the mind, we always confront the pressure of normalization. Conforming is the operative arrangement enabling society efficiently to work, which is exacerbated by advancing technology, “seeing machines” deployed as a mechanization of latent control under Nietzsche’s ‘will to power.’ One horrifying possibility is that as far as technological essence is concerned, no one is in charge. One of the fundamental questions is how we respond to modification technology, or recognize its relative transparency. In the preface to Anti-Oedipus, Foucault suggests “withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems” ( xiii). This begins to point the way for latency revelation by the artist philosopher, intervening in the dominance presuppositions enframing our relationship to technology. Heidegger further identifies art as a possible pathway to salvation. Nevertheless, “whether art may be granted this highest possibility of its essence in the midst of the extreme danger, no one can tell” (Heidegger 340). Let us now consider the potential of developing an aesthetic relationship to human supremacy delusions.

Artist Philosopher

Life itself is a work of art, as all things are in a dynamic incessant flux comprising a delicate ecological balance. Each creative experience places demands on the artist, to think and reflect upon a relative position in the great scheme of things. The magnitude of existence is reinforced while intimately experiencing the immense power of the unknowable. With the passage of time, thought transpires on the edge of being, a property of becoming. Depending on the specific (individual/cultural/epistemological) position, different conclusions formulate. An infinitely complex reality can be modeled many ways, each potentially useful but none definitive. In this way, creative activity can function as a conduit for intuition, an opportunity to experience the concrete flow of duration. Heidegger asks us, “could it be that the fine arts are called to poetic revealing?” (340). If art sustains life, then an ideal artist could shape and mold human beings.

Frederick Nietzsche was primarily an artist philosopher, poetically expounding in an aphoristic embellishing prose. Through his art, we find reason for being in the order/disorder of existence. For Nietzsche, the realm of aesthetic ontology holds a supremacy over ethics and epistemology. He makes this clear when he says, “only those individuals can emerge from this horrifying struggle for existence who are then immediately preoccupied with the fine illusions of artistic culture, so that they do not arrive at that practical pessimism that nature abhors as truly unnatural” (164). In his view, life’s meaning is created in the order and structure Man ascribes to the universe. We are adrift in time and space, adhering to the surface of an astronomical object orbiting a star, purposively without purpose barreling through an unfathomable universe to an indeterminate destination. Confusing the journey, undoubtedly there always linger many hidden assumptions that govern response to external stimulus, despite attempts at awareness. Deleuze and Guattari elaborate, “the notion of territoriality merely appears ambiguous” (145). And Foucault teaches us that power plays on obliviousness, erupting within event interstices. It is by virtue of artistic creativity that Man may overcome his hubris vulnerability, and give meaning and direction to justify his existence. However, art will only fully reach its potential if it does “not shut its eyes to the constellation of truth after which we are questioning” (Heidegger 340).

A life well lived is defined by a continued reexamination of meaning. Giorgio Agamben tells us that “the root of all pure joy and sadness is that the world is as it is” (90). Out at night photographing the rotational movement of the earth relative to everything else, the magnitude of experiencing our position relative to infinity is profound, placing much of human culture into perspective. As an emerging artist philosopher, situated on a rock spinning in space, the sky is the limit. With the urge to create, “being, which is the existent, is forever safe from the risk of itself existing as a thing or of being nothing” (Agamben 100). Freely available approximately every twelve hours, the solitude and tranquility of the night can inspire sublime awe, reinforcing our fragility as earth dwellers floating in an infinite cosmos. Each acknowledged event duration reinforces existence, a continuous progression multiplicity as “the existent, abandoned in the midst of being, is perfectly exposed” (Agamben 99). Being there, fully in the present with all senses engaged, the artist philosopher becomes the creative product. We solve our problems by changing our ways.

Survival from a collision with the future can best be assessed by examining earlier incorrect predictions. Being unable to anticipate change particulars under conditions of continuous alteration, prognostication is always flawed due to interpolation being based only on current known patterns. The universal magnitude of existence renders discrete activity inconsequential, thereby forcing the acceptance that human supremacy is fiction. Alternatively, the creative process is integral to expression and imbues the tangible with significance, providing purpose. The beauty of the infinite resides deep within us, revealed by an external stimulus of energy interacting with matter. Agamben poetically suggests that “at the point you perceive the irreparability of the world, at that point it is transcendent” (106). Instances of existence are given in experience. The experience of standing in the earth's shadow sets the soul vibrating with a love of nature, coupled with acquiescence of individual negligibility. Becoming is to be aesthetically comfortable in perpetual incompleteness, recognizing superiority over nothing, “exposing . . . in every form one’s own amorphousness and in every act one’s own inactuality” (Agamben 44). Things exist in a multifarious but precarious balance of provided congenital processes.

“Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing admiration and awe—the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” - Immanuel Kant

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. The Coming Community. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum: Book 1. Chicago: Published by Henry Regnery Co. for the Great Books Foundation, 1949. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles & Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus, Penguin Classics, [1972] 2009.

Freud, Sigmund, and Joyce Crick. The Interpretation of Dreams. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Question Concerning Technology,” in Basic Writings. Ed., David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

Junger, Ernst. On Pain, New York, Telos, [1934] 2008, 96 pages

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On The Genealogy of Morality. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish, Vintage, [1975] 1977.