April 06, 2015

This House Is Not A Home

The early 20th century German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in his monumental work Being and Time, made the claim that “language is the house of Being.” What all he meant by this oblique statement I do not wish to delve into here, but the main point he was trying to make was the power of language for Human Beings. Language shapes our conception of the world by giving shape to our consciousness. And it is for this reason that I have created my Dictionopolis section to explore important words that we commonly use today when talking about the nature of reality, despite them having lost all meaning; or that we use as answers to the mystery of existence, when all they actually do is point to questions.

Today, the word I have chosen is Creativity.

Being “creative” is assumed in America today to be an unequivocal good: it is the fountainhead of art, what helps businesses differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and is even used to describe the means through which scientists come up with new hypotheses to test. But as I indicated in my recent essay What’s So Good About Nature?, this is incredibly problematic.

The designation “Creator” was once used to describe only one being: God. And to create meant only one thing: creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. There was the “nothing,” the void, then there was “something,” matter, motion, Being. Only God was the Creator because only God had the power to create something out of nothing. Yet, in the wake of God’s dethronement, in an era where God is dead, we have now all become “creators.”

But is that really an accurate description of what we do?

All profound changes in language signal a profound change in the way we interpret the world. A world of "creators" is one that assumes that there is nothing to know, in short a world of Nihilists. What this means is, we are forced to create meaning to mask the fundamental chaos of the universe. This is a radical reimagination of the world from the former idea that the world is “good”—that there is a Good that is discoverable through Human Reason, which guides the world giving meaning and form to life.

Today, though, we desperately try to have it both ways: We want to enjoy the power that comes with being a creator, but also have the peace and unity of Human purpose that, traditionally, has been supplied by the presence of a transcendental force or being. This entity, however, does not necessarily have to be the anthropomorphic Christian God, perhaps more like the Eastern conception of Tao or the Platonic Ideas. But what is necessary is that it be something greater than simply our individual, subjective, solipsistic conception that the only thing that is “real” is that which we create all by ourselves. 

As pointed out in my aforementioned essay, today we no longer even know what we are talking about: we want to claim “Nature” as a standard for consumer products, construction, farming, etc, but then don’t want our-self to be determined by any external standard, spurning the advice of "Nature" if we find it to be too limiting. We condemn Human hubris—that we think we know how to do things better than Nature—but don’t want to believe that we are determined by anything except for our own Creativity or Will.

This incoherence mainly stems from the facile critiques of bourgeois consumerism by "Bohemians" in the 50s and 60s that pitted Art and Business against one another, in order to show the "higher" nature of Art. But in terms of our (Humans) relation to Nature, Art and Business are the exact same thing: In both acts the product is created through the appropriation of natural materials, filtered through the lens of our imaginations, then manipulated and repurposed for the beneficence of humankind. While there are certainly all types of distinctions that can and should be made in terms of motivation and ultimate value, it is incredibly problematic and emblematic of the degeneracy of our cultural conversation that we now longer recognize the similarities of the acts, as well. (For further exploration, read my The Earth Without Art is Just Eh).

And this is the crux of the matter: Is the greatest Human act knowing or creating? Is it better to reconcile one’s self to “reality” or overcome it? Modern Science is seemingly an amalgam of these two stances: it seeks to know, in order to overcome. And modern Americans are caught somewhere in the middle of these two alternatives, flailing about wildly and incoherently between them because we no longer have the language to properly explore the contours of this problem. We are now uncontrollably tossed about by a sea of whim and unexamined emotion and desire, doing whatever feels right in the moment with no greater conception of "purpose."

We pretend, today, to live in a new age of Enlightenment, yet have become ignorant of the nature of reality because of the impoverishment of our language used to describe it. What we now call “creating” is, actually, merely “rearrangement.” It is impossible for us to create anything new because “there [can be] nothing new under the sun.” Science tells us that matter “can neither be created nor destroyed.” If Humans really aren't above Nature, then the same must necessarily be true for "values" (another in this collection of problematic words that I will explore very soon), as well. 

But the worst part of all this is that this new language was “created” to critique and undermine the very goals (peace, equality, reason and science) in whose service we now attempt to employ them because it was thought that these goals were impossibly stupid and degenerative to humanity. But that explanation will have to wait for another time.

If language truly is the house of Being, then, like so many of the homes here in my beloved Baltimore, our cultural conversation is now a dilapidated mansion: the skeleton of a structure whose grand stature alludes to its once great import, but whose caved in roof and crumbling facade shows the undeniable folly of our present course.      

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