"The world now appears as an object open to the attacks of calculative thought...Nature becomes a gigantic gasoline station, an energy source for modern technology and industry". - Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking
The following is a companion piece to the article we published today called Sacred Economics- A Short Film Debut, which is centered on the work of Charles Eisenstein. As you will see in the video there, as well as in Chris' reflections at the end, the notion of separation is central to the thought and message of Eisenstein's work. He argues that since agricultural times humanity has been on a path of separation, that is, a way of being-in-the-world where we increasingly experience ourselves as separate from each other and separate from the world around us. In a recent article he writes:
"Our “ascent” to supposed mastery of nature has run its course, generating a multitude of crises that are birthing a transition into a new age: an Age of Reunion. No longer seeing ourselves as separate, our relationship to nature is becoming one of co-creative partnership".
This notion of separation was central to the work of the philosopher Martin Heidegger too, and I was really reminded of Heidegger while listening to Eisenstein. In fact, I wanted to stay after our workshop and ask him if his thinking on this matter had been affected by Heidegger, but alas the line was too long and I had to drive some folks home. I'd still be curious to find out. Nevertheless, let's delve a bit deeper into Heidegger's thinking on this topic. In his essay The Question Concerning Technology, Heidegger tries to capture the essence of modern technology and the modern mind with the concept of enframing. Here's Heidegger:
"The essence of modern technology lies in Enframing...It is the way in which the real reveals itself as standing-reserve...Enframing is the gathering together that belongs to that setting-upon which sets upon man and puts him in position to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve...As a destining, it banishes man into that kind of revealing which is an ordering. Where this ordering holds sway, it drives out every other possibility of revealing".
Heidegger is a notoriously difficult read, so what's he saying here in this typically strange language of his? Basically that the essence of modern technology and the modern mind is to view the world, the Earth and its resources, as just a bunch of stuff out there that's at our disposal to use however we wish. Over time this type of relation to the world becomes so dominant and normalized that other ways the world could reveal itself to us - as holy, as beautiful, as Other(s) to be treasured, as profoundly interdependent- get driven out by this pervasive mindset. Here's the philosopher Charles Guignon on Heidegger notion of enframing:
"The understanding of entities as whatever is at our disposal reinforces the self-certainty of the "greatness of the subject" in modern subjectivism. We experience reality as a "world-picture" set before us [enframing], and ourselves as subjects who can challenge and control whatever there is...When entities are treated as interchangeable bits cut off from any proper place or "region" to which they belong, they are "un-beings", devoid of the kind of connectedness to contexts of meaning that could let them become manifest in their being" (1).
Heidegger believes that this way of being-in-the-world has led to "the oblivion of Being" in the modern era. The oblivion of Being. What a provocative phrase, but what does it mean? It's difficult to say exactly, but I translate it this way. First, what is Being? I think of encountering Being in that moment where we recognize the sheer fact of existence, that there's something and not nothing. In that moment the world can suddenly appear enchanted, mysterious, luminous, strange, holy. The poet is particularly in tune with this immediacy of Being, as seen in the work of someone like William Carlos Williams. However, in this age, as we drill and frack and kill and overfish and mine and build and pollute, this realization of Being recedes farther and farther away from the consumptive spectacle of separation we are living in.
In closing, here's a gorgeous monologue on Heidegger and this topic by professor Robert Harrison, on his great radio-podcast Entitled Opinions (About Life and Literature) (Episode 104)(monologue- 0:00-5:29). May this finally be the time where we move through and beyond this period of separation, and begin the journey home.
(1) Giugnon, Charles. The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger. 'Introduction'. Cambridge University Press, 1993. p.20.