Reading postphenomenology, I’ve become enamoured with the notion of postexistentialism. Why not? If existentialism developed out of phenomenology, why shouldn’t postexistentialism develop from postphenomenology? Each phenomenology is the personal property of a single genius: It isn’t too hard to see Ihde as the Posthusserl. Reading What Things Do, Verbeek seems to be taking things (so far, at least, up to page 56) in an existentialist direction, moving from descriptive reflection toward prescriptive praxis. I like the idea, too, of taking an engaged — a fully-technologically engaged — stance toward contemporary life. The withdrawing, renouncing, counter-, anti-, isolated-I stance of authenticity and adopted by existentialists would be replaced by a far more relational, extended/distributed/situated-I authenticity. I even like the possibilities of vulgarization — existentialism became a ridiculous pop-philosophy, a constellation of attitudes and poses, an alternative lifestyle. Perhaps philosophies have the most cultural impact when they suffer such deformations. Postphenomenology could be a new form of individualism: an extended-individualism or a popularized cyborgism.
I also enjoy prefixing our first post-modern philosophy with a post-, which feels like a sort of exit from our posteverything condition. To me, an exit from post- feels like an entrance to pre- — and pre- suggests a future, which is something we’ve almost stopped daring to desire. It also suggests progress toward acquiring of something positive, instead of more rejection, renunciation, which has long ago lost any loss for the sake of gain.
Once we grasp the insight that we really can design our selves by designing our tools, and that the example of design has provided us opportunities to move toward better futures without the depressingly impossible expectation that that we must first envision a vision before we can plan it, then execute it — things open up, and hope begins to seep in.
Social engineering has been, for most, discredited, but the last 50 years of evolving design practice has shown that engineering is only one mode of actualization. Design (and by “design” I mean human-centered design) proceeds differently, and is far more effective in satisfying human needs, because it treats human needs as a central, active question instead of a foregone conclusion. We are not stuck with an either-or of social engineering or laissez-faire. An iterative, experimental approach to shaping our public world that focuses its efforts on human existence and coexistence is still mostly untried.
I looked up the origin of the saying “First we shape our tools, then our tools shape us.” I should have known it was Winston Churchill. This maxim could be adopted as the postexistentialist analogue to existentialism’s “existence precedes essence.”
I would suggest our most immediate self-shaping tool, our most profound technology, is philosophy. As long as we put all our effort into the objects of our thought — into what we think — instead of into the subject of our thought — how we think and why — our active thought will drive us passively into old kinds of conclusions. One stale old conclusion we’ve reached far too many times is that when we’ve once again thought ourselves in a circle and “independently” reached the same conclusion as others before us have reached, we’ve recovered ancient wisdom and insight into what is essential, invariable and universally human.