Imperative Self-Defense. By Alberto Moreiras

Living in Texas I am routinely exposed to the national passion here—self-defense and home defense, not just as a response to possible merely personal crime but also (perhaps more importantly even) now in connection with terrorism: newspaper and magazine articles, and the like.  There is something self-defense theorists call, taking it from the military, “situational awareness,” which has to do with paying attention to your “bubble,” they call it, essentially a perimeter of about fifty feet from where you are.  They recommend always to be on “yellow alert,” that is, always attentive to your environment and scouting any possible threat.

Now, I wonder whether and to what extent situational awareness can be thought of in Heideggerian “existential analytic” terms: is it authentic or inauthentic behavior?  Most of my Facebook friends would immediately say:  “Inauthentic!!”  I guess it could go both ways, like anything can, but, given the fact that self-defense is such an atavistic aspect of one’s personal relation to his or her own death, what I find of particular interest is the possible (plausible?) connection of self-defense, manifested in a passion for situational awareness, that is, for a guarding attentiveness, to authentic behavior. I only need to establish its possibility. But it may be contested.  I would welcome the discussion.

In Country Path Conversations Heidegger establishes a distinction between warten and erwarten. He privileges the first, as something like a waiting uncontaminated by its object, a destinal or historical awaiting.  But I think the decision for “waiting,” where waiting has no specific object, applies to precisely meditative reflection, in other words, it has to do with a particular capacity of the human—an opening to the clearing where things and world can be let be.  It cannot and would not rule out other capacities, particularly in the context of the existential analytic.  The sticking point is, letting-be also applies to one’s own life.  Or, as the self-defense theorists will tell you, to our loved ones against an external threat.   So there is no “das Man” necessarily here (although there could be, say, if one is mimicking the gestures of self-defense, trying to imitate buddies, trying to be cool or tough, and so forth), at the limit (which is where I want to think it), there is precisely “jemeinigkeit” to zero degree, we could say—self-defense could also be about protecting our inmost possibility for being.  So situational awareness, which of course in itself pretty much incorporates finitude and a deep involvement with temporality and death, could in fact be an essential, enabling part of existential “authenticity” in its more radical sense, which is the confrontation with one’s own death.   Again, it could also be mere bs.  But it is not that necessarily. The question here is whether self-defense is a mere matter of a subjective appropriation of one’s own life or whether it itself opens up to, indeed, whether it conditions, a meditative change in existence in view and full experience of the world and its worlding.   Self-defense is immediately and for the most part our only path towards letting things be, after all. Without self-defense we are all broken.    Mortality means ongoing and radical self-defense.

The question arises, is the “waiting,” as defined above, the condition of possibility of authentic care, of authentic existence, or is it the other way around?  Is it the defense of—that is, the insistence in–authentic existence that opens up, for the first time every time, the possibility of a “waiting for no object,” that is, of a different (non-subjective, non-calculative, non-representational) attunement to existence? If self-defense is irreducible, then it seems to me infrapolitics is irreducible.

Heidegger said many times that the existential analytic was the basis for everything that came later.  Perhaps in a modified form, but I am not sure the modification hits this particular spot.  There is an imperative dimension in it: you must strive for authenticity, and authenticity is always radically self-defense. Which of course happens at a level other than the level of the subject—at the level of “a life” individuated or singularized temporally in the Dasein we each are.

Heidegger discussed many times what he called “fundamental attunement”—this starts in Being and Time (actually, before) and goes on through the middle period and all the writings surrounding Contributions up to and through the Hölderlin lectures.  In Contributions it is said that the fundamental attunement of our historical period, no longer the modern one, is terror (Erschrecken, I think).   And it is the case that we can only think historically starting from the fundamental attunement of our epoch  (this is in itself very controversial, but I think this is Heidegger’s position).   If so, then terror—which is primarily terror in front of the abandonment of being—is irreducible, but also the very site of “das Rettende.”  In other words, terror is also the trace and the hint of the divinities, the sending of being, and a condition of Ereignis, worlding, thinging, and so forth.  (On this see Andrew J. Mitchell, “Heidegger and Terrorism.”)

If terror is the essential existentiell for our time, then self-defense is (could be, authentically) an enabling characteristic of our capacity to listen to being, or for an openness to the clearing. As death—finitude—is a radical condition of life, ongoing, not just at its terminus, which is what makes Heidegger something entirely other than a biopolitical thinker, self-defense is also a defense of one’s own ongoing death, a defense of temporalizing, of the temporalizing of a life, any life, starting with what is closer by, more intimate.

Of course we do not have to equate self-defense to what the Texan theorists reduce it to—policing the perimeter. There are other possibilities. But—does this work at all?  Or am I overly influenced by newspapers and magazine articles?




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