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  • npglazer

Heidegger's Das Man, William James, and the Three Kings of Dissent; Hedges, West, and Chomsky,

One of my favorite philosopher's Martin Heidegger had a concept that he named "Das Man," or the "The They," in his book Being and Time. Das Man is basically the notion that people get caught up in the crowd, the herd, conventional cliched thinking, and are essentially inauthentic. Rather than facing up to our own death and finitude we get lost in the crowd, and get lost in the modes of being which entail curiosity, ambiguity, and idle talk. Heidegger, following Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, had an illiberal critique of modern society. There were a few individuals though who could see through this modern's society Das Man inauthenticity, and could heed the "call of conscience," and face their own mortality and become authentic.

Modern day mass media breeds conformity. People who are conservative watch Fox News to reaffirm their own biases. But people who watch MSNBC and CNN, aren't much better, and are often getting told just what they want to hear. William James famously said once, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." People follow politics the way they follow sports, they are blindly on one team or the other in our two party system. The funny and sad irony, is that on many issues like the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, and NSA spying the two parties aren't actually all that different. Both parties are full or warmongers, take money from Wall Street to get elected, and both parties support the NSA's shredding of the 4th amendment to spy on us all. Even such reputable media outlets as the New York Times and Washington Post, while much better than cable news, will rarely let you know that the problem isn't one party or the other but that without systemic or institutional change nothing much is going to shift in our society.

So why do I bring up Heidegger's notion of Das Man, and link it to the three kings of dissent; Chris Hedges, Cornel West, and Noam Chomsky? Well mass media breeds conformity as I previously noted. We tend to think only of our own in-groups political talking points. I think the task of our societies critics, for men like Hedges, West, and Chomsky; and the task of the philosopher, ultimately is to think outside banal tropes. When a Democrat starts drone striking poor people in the Middle East, or spying on us through the NSA, its just as egregious as when a Republican does it. The same goes for when Republican's bomb and spy on us too, they shouldn't get a pass either. We need people like Hedges, West and Chomsky who can think outside the Das Man two party system and be a critic of the institutions and the structural components of our capitalist society.

So much of contemporary politics seems to be about culture war issues, and a power struggle. Philosophers are supposed to look beyond power struggles and get at a deeper truth. Our task as a philosopher is to see beyond the toxic discourse that currently exists, and challenge power. It's to be a Socratic gadfly, for lack of a better term. It's to be a thorn in the flesh of society, as the apostle Paul might put it. My smart friend Nic points out Chris Hedges, Cornel West, and Noam Chomsky, are all getting older, so we need some new philosophers and dissidents to take their place. I hope the new philosopher's come very soon, because our society sorely needs them. Thank you.

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