Conclusion

‘Faith in inclusive ends’ emerging from and dwelling solely within ‘the human abode’ and its values and not in the ‘abode of Being’ and its disclosures brings to the fore once again the possibility that thinking of technology, its origin and its prospects solely in human terms amounts to—to reiterate Rojcewicz’s frame—a chauvinism; that making ‘man the measure of all things’ technological only expresses the move from “piety to idolatry,’[1] one where humanity forgets it proper place of subservience to Being and instead asserts it place as lord and master over all creation, as it were.   This charge of chauvinism has already been rejected as a charge against modern science, and in fact it was returned as a description of ancient science, the very model of ‘piety’ under the Heideggerian scheme.  To close this essay, this issue can once again be addressed, and once again the accusation turns back against Heidegger, for he, despite all his professed piety and submission to Being, is the true chauvinist of the most dangerous kind, one who sheds completely the modesty implied in pragmatic faith.

Heidegger would have us believe that modern technology is “the danger”[2] we face now.  He is quite clear that “the danger” here “does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal effects of the machines and devices of technology.”[3]  Rather the genuine threat affects humanity’s essence; that is, the true danger is that humanity may come to think of com-posing as the only manner of dislcosedness possible, in that “it dispossesses every other possibility of disclosive looking,” and in this way humanity will remain forever captivated by “the controlling and dominating of disposables.”[4]  In other words, under the sway of com-posing as a destiny, humanity may lose hope that any other destinies are possible; that Being may reveal itself more fully once again; that piety in questioning Being with this hope is not only warranted but necessary to prepare for the day when a new disclosure might occurs.  In any case, the greatest danger of modern technology is that its essence will eclipse all other potential essences and thus cause humanity to lose sight of its own essence as a reticent follower of Being, and seeing itself instead as the master of its own destiny.

If the danger from modern technology is not the threat of destruction caused by misdirected or runaway technology—things like climate change, pollution, nuclear war and pandemics—then presumably the benefits of modern technology—if indeed there are any for Heidegger—would not be the improved means of leading ‘a good life’ that modern technology has decidedly accomplished.  Presumably Heidegger would acknowledge, perhaps grudgingly, that modern technology has enabled more prosperity and overall well-being since the Industrial Revolution, when technology started a tide of prosperity that ‘raised all boats,’ as it were.  Presumably he would acknowledge that better access to food, medicines, transportation and communication has made people on the whole better off.  But even with this grudging acknowledgment, if the danger of technology lies in its essence and the impact of that essence on the essence of humanity, then any benefit of technology would presumably work on that plane as well.  The benefit of modern technology, if there is one, would need to be some benefit to humanity’s essence, i.e. to its relationship to Being.  For if the danger lies in eclipsing that relationship, then so the ‘saving power’ and benefits would bear on that relationship as well.  Although Heidegger never discusses what benefit modern technology might offer, such benefit—if one is even possible given that com-posing is its essence—would have to affect the essence of humanity, not its material well-being, however broadly that well-being is conceived.

Given the nature of com-posing as a withdrawal of Being, Heidegger is almost certainly committed to the idea that there is no benefit to be had from modern technology—no benefit that truly matters, that is; no benefit that affects humanity’s essence and its relationship to Being.  This means that for Heidegger, improvement on all measures of well-being in the last 200 years does not affect the essence of humanity; these improvements do not matter essentially; they only matter incidentally, with “incidental” referring to what can vary without changing the nature of what truly matters, what truly makes something what it is.  So improvements on life expectancy, infant mortality, safety, wealth, sustenance, health, and overall quality of life[5] are not “essential” for human flourishing.   These measures of “a good life” don’t truly matter, if “truly” relates to the disclosure of the truth Being.  In fact, these measures don’t matter to such an extent that for Heidegger, the ancients who fell short—far short—on all of them were in essence better off than mid-20th century moderns, despite that fact that ancients lived on average only 40 years compared to 75, or lost 2 in 5 children by age 7 instead of 5 in 1000, or suffered from frequent famines and pandemics instead no none, or simply lacked a secure environment with plentiful goods and services, as opposed to having one.  Despite being on all these indicators measurably worse off they were in essence better off because under poiesis they were closer to Being and its truth.  In a word, flourishing and well-being in terms of what most would call “a good life” is for Heidegger inessential.   What truly matters is living a life in the truth of Being, both when Being discloses that truth and when humanity cultivates the openness to that truth that might or might not be disclosed.

The exaggeration here between the “essential” well-being Heidegger proposes and the well-being that virtually everyone else is concerned with is intentional, and not just to highlight the difference as a reductio ad absurdum (though Heidegger’s position is ultimately absurd).  Rather the point is that the “exaggeration” itself is not at all an exaggeration of Heidegger’s position.  That is, Heidegger’s emphasis on humanity’s essence as the measure of the impact of technology, as exaggerated as it appears, must be distinguished from the common sense, universally acknowledged position that material well-being, while necessary for ‘the good life,’ is not alone sufficient for one; that something beyond material prosperity brought about by technology is required for true flourishing.   For Heidegger denies even this.  Heidegger denies that material well-being is necessary for the good life at all.  What is necessary is proximity to Being, and where that proximity is lacking, what then matter is pious questioning so that Being might either approach again or be approached, whatever the case may be.  In the end, Heidegger’s position is as extreme as it sounds (though Heideggerians would probably call it “austere” or “philosophical,” not extreme).  One can in effect be Job struck down and ruined by God, but so long as one is close to Being and brought into the openness of its truth, one is better off than anyone living prosperously through modern technology, even if prosperity is reckoned in terms of emotional, familial, and spiritual well-being as well as proven technological material gains.  Poiesis for Heidegger is that much more powerful—and that much more desirable—than com-posing.   As a measure of what truly matters, one can live all the elements of “a good life” ready to hand through the means of modern technology—indeed, once can live them all and embody them—but without the truth of Being, without a life of essence in its proximity, one is impoverished in the most dangerous way, for one’s very essence threatens to be eclipsed by the failure to recognize what one has is truly missing.  Without Being, humanity is lost in its essence, and that essence alone is what truly matters.

At this point in the essay, no further dialectical engagement should be required in order to see the metaphysical chauvinism implied this single-minded focus on Being and its simplistic denigration of modern technology.   For this denigration into inessentiality all the benefits modern technology has yielded presupposes as its foundation an elevation of human essence as the ultimate arbiter of what is good or bad in life, with “life” here referring largely to a good life made possible by technology, but also including that good life as it must be lived in a natural world, with consequences for that world.  For Heidegger, the danger of modern technology is the impact it might have on human essence.  The danger to human essence is that humanity loses sight of the dependence of that essence on the essence of Being.  In this pious regard for Being, however, human essence is still elevated as the condition necessary for Being to reveal itself, and it is no less human for being elevated this metaphysical status vis-à-vis Being.  While Heidegger would reject then a secular humanism as the measure of all things, he would nevertheless put in its place a metaphysical humanism, one where essence, not actual well-being or flourishing, matters.  With respect to the question of ‘man as the measure of all things’—with respect, that is, to chauvinism—what is the difference between a metaphysical elevation of human uniqueness and exclusivity that weaves humanity into the fabric of Being and a secular one that limits itself to earthly well-being and flourishing?  At the end of the day, it is still humanity that is concerned; it is still humanity that is the measure, just in the former it is humanity only with respect to essence and its relationship to Being’s interests, while in the latter it is humanity with respect to its own interests, regardless of the relationship to Being.   But in the end both are a humanism, albeit one with and one without metaphysical clarification.  Both prioritize the uniquely human situation as unique and exclusive over its situatedness in the natural world, it’s just that Heidegger does it through an abyss of essence separating humanity from nature while secular humanists do it through a veil of indifference toward it.

Now, far be it from this author, as a pragmatist, to denigrate the human factor in human well-being and flourishing.  That is, there is certainly a grain of truth to be had in the idea that when it comes to technology, the true danger is its impact on human beings, essence or otherwise.  But that grain of truth acknowledged, does not the true danger of technology appear to lie in humanity forgetting its place in the natural world; in humanity blindly operating in reliance on too many degrees of freedom within a natural setting for its unfettered release of modern technological means?  Consider climate change, perhaps the most devastating impact of modern technology to date.  Is it not brought about by a forgetting or neglect of the fact that the efforts to improve human lives through technology has consequences on the very ecosystem in which humans seek to thrive; that these consequences go far beyond just our parochial priorities and concerns, however valuable those concerns are (and rightly so)?  Or consider pollution.  True, its effects on human health are obvious, but equally obvious are its effects on the natural ecology that in return impacts human flourishing in less direct ways, both through environmental degradation and species extinction.  Is not the disruption of the symbiosis between the human and the natural environment the true cost of pollution?  Lastly, consider the possibility of new pandemics caused by resistant super-bugs evolving from unfettered use of antibiotics.  Does this possibility not implicate human flourishing in a process of natural selection from which it cannot escape, if it chooses to use the tools of that selection as a means toward its own ends?  In all three cases, the true danger of modern technology lies not simply in its impact on the exclusivity and uniqueness of humanity, whether that exclusivity and uniqueness is secularly or metaphysically conceived.  Rather it stems from losing sight of humanity’s situatedness in a natural order, an order of which we are both a product of and an agent in.  For all the impact technology has on human flourishing and well-being, its true danger lies in forgetting or simply not acknowledging that that flourishing and well-being depends too on the ‘flourishing’ and ‘well-being’ of the natural world in which it occurs.  The pragmatist’s objection to humanism in either its secular or Heideggerian form is its emphasis on exclusivity and uniqueness over against the natural world at the expense of the underlying and essential embeddedness and continuity within it.  That Heidegger elevates this uniqueness and exclusivity only doubles down on the error as far as the pragmatist is concerned.

Much more could be said on how for pragmatism the embeddedness in and continuity with the natural world is essential to human prosperity, and how technology is both the means to that prosperity and currently the greatest threat to it.  But that would take this conclusion further afield than it needs to go in order to close this essay.  Instead, all that needs to be noted is that faith in inclusive ends originating in the human abode and finding their consummation there includes understanding the human abode as a natural abode as well, as opposed to the secular emphasis on its exclusivity or a metaphysical emphasis on its uniqueness.  For as the truth to both positions without the exaggeration of either, the human abode is unique without being exclusive.  Human beings are unique in that we can shape both the natural and our social environments in order to meet ends-in-view, and these ends-in-view amount to something new in nature, something unique that offers a way out of the mere pressures of natural process.  But though through ends-in-view humanity can, as it were, domesticate itself and live according to distinctly moral ends, not just the ends of survival, it cannot do so exclusively of survival; survival must still be acknowledged and solved.  Furthermore, that humans do this through speech and language is not incidental, but it is not, as Heidegger would have it, metaphysically decisive either.  Rather technology, not language, is the means by which humanity domesticates itself and relieves itself of the direct pressures of the natural selection.  Technology is what makes possible the movement from a survival frontier to a distinctly moral frontier.  Technology, not language and science and reason alone, is what makes human flourishing possible.   What pragmatism adds to this understanding is that this flourishing is part-and-parcel with the ‘flourishing’ of the natural world—or minimally, it is bound within natural limits of interference of that order, to say nothing of its destruction.  Faith in inclusive ends then deploys ends embedded in the natural world, not ends exclusively separated from it by—as Heidegger would say—an abyss of essence.  With respect to abysses, that essence is neither here nor there for pragmatism.   What matters in the end is recognition of human uniqueness within inclusivity, not the exclusivity and its unfettered degrees of freedom with which technology has been directed thus far.

In these respects, then, Heidegger was right to note that human being is in its essence technological, but he was wrong in everything he described about both technology and its essential relationship to being human.  Instead of not being a human invention but instead an essence bestowed by Being, technology is—essence or otherwise—the most human of all inventions, and as such it is up to humanity to direct its destiny, not Being.  Humanity must reign in and intelligently direct, as it were, its own creation.  Whether we are up to the task of doing so is certainly an open question, but the first answer to that question must be faith that the problem can be solved, not piety that waits for the solution.  A part of that faith we must see ourselves free to propose solutions, not as bound to the solutions proposed to us (if any at all are even proposed).  So long as this freedom is recognized as situated within the natural world, these proposals imply no chauvinism as ‘lord and master’ over all, for as trials they represent modest efforts to re-balance a natural equation.  As for those efforts, at the end of the day where Heidegger would say “only a god can save us now,” the pragmatist replies, “no, only we can, ” and with that answer begins work on solving the only problem technology really poses, namely: how can we use technology to realize human values while respecting and acknowledging our place in the natural world—in other words, how can we develop our technological uniqueness without assigning to it exclusive prerogatives, essential or otherwise?  That is the true question concerning technology, Heidegger’s stupid obfuscations notwithstanding.

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[1]

[2] QCT 13, emphasis original

[3] QCT 13

[4] QCT 13

[5] For a compilation of empirical work on the improvement on all these measures, see Pinker Enlightenment Now, Part Two.