Fake etymologies

In Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Rorty repeatedly busts Heidegger for inventing fake etymologies. The accusation extends beyond the incorrectness of the claims — the very impulse to excavate more primordial and immediate meanings is impugned.

This is fascinating to me because I wholeheartedly share Heidegger’s love of etymologies, and Heidegger is a nasty enough son-of-a-bitch that if I agree with him on anything, I feel a strong need to lab-test, analyze and inspect that agreement very closely.

Of course, as I’ve said many times over the years, it only takes a trace of poison to turn something wholesome lethal, so I am unwilling to reject everything an evil genius says, just because it was said by an evil genius. In fact, that wholesale impulse is one of the more toxic substances I see in the poisoned minds around me. But that doesn’t mean I’m ingesting anything Heidegger says casually.

(If you can’t tell, I understand evil to be a function of one’s philosophy. I see evil as a kind of philosophical disease, not as an essential characteristic of any soul. Evil is curable. The treatment is metanoia. Metanoia, like many treatments, tastes nasty on the tongue. But so do many toxins, so how do we discern?)

For the record, I see the toxicity of Heidegger primarily in his hubristic concept of the They, which obligated him to despise everyone but his own hand-selected authorities. I ate this poison years ago, and it caused me some very serious and pleasurable problems, before I managed to expel it.

I’m also worried about another idea, espoused in both Heidegger and fellow Nazi and mystic, Eugen Herrigel, author of Zen in the Art of Archery, one that is even more important to me than etymologophelia, the ideal of tacit use and ontic fusion (my term) with equipment and environment. Heidegger called it ready-to-hand, and argued that this tacit ready-to-hand being, where a tool, such as a hammer, and a whole working environment, such as a workshop, becomes an organic extension of one’s own activity and one’s own being (as opposed to discrete objects which stand apart from us present-at-hand, which is an exceptional state caused by malfunction or a conscious effort to observe. This idea of ontic fusion is both profoundly important to me as a designer and a prime suspect in my ongoing investigation of totalitarian ideologies. My suspicion is that this desire to fuse with our worlds easily metastasizes into a desire to take ourselves — the bundle of intuitions that constitute our soul — into the soul of the world itself.

Is there a way to wordlessly fuse with our own world, while maintaining a pluralistic attitude toward reality, and especially toward those ornery bits of the world we call our neighbors? That’s one of the core problems in my next book.