Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nur noch wir können uns retten. (t)

Hearing the sad news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan earlier today, I looked back at my reaction to the London bombings of July 7, 2005.

It isn't yet clear who is directly responsible for today's slaughter, but initial indications are that those behind today's attack are of the sort who share goals in common with the London bombers and with other bombers whose actions have scarred the world during the past decade.

Reading my London bombing post 903 days after I wrote it, it's clear that at the time I greatly underestimated the potential for intra-Iraqi and jihadist violence during the intervening 2 ½ years. Looking back, I realize that my intuition that the violence would quickly flame-out stood in contrast to the basic thesis of the post, that – in the long run – it's all but impossible for groups of people to force a De-Enlightenment upon the world, even if the short run shows little progress toward reducing global ignorance and provincialism. 2 ½ years later, on a dark day when apparent extremism wounded the hope of a country, I still feel that the horse is out of the barn for extremist views, though extremism and responding to extremism might be the most dominant geopolitical forces during my lifetime.

Despite my opinion that the extremist's struggle is ultimately for naught, events like today still depress me greatly. Somehow, the depression of today reminds me of the dark words Martin Heidegger said in his famous interview with Der Spiegel in 1966 (published posthumously in 1976), titled "Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten" or "Only a God can still save us":

HEIDEGGER: Those questions bring us back to the beginning of our conversation. If I may answer quickly and perhaps somewhat vehemently, but from long reflection: Philosophy will not be able to bring about a direct change of the present state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all merely human meditations and endeavors. Only a god can still save us. I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god.
I agree with Heidegger in the view that there's no one philosophy, mode of being, or way of life that will unite humanity under a single banner, smoothing out the cultural differences. Yet – and I haven't studied enough Heidegger to know if he'd disagree with me on this point – it's precisely this diversity and intellectual disunion that promises to save us.

The global proliferation of pluralistic cultures, whether through the gradual introduction of democratic institutions or through the rapid technological baptism of individual citizens into a connected world, forces an increasing percentage of world citizens to an important daily realization. The realization is as follows: There are other ways of coping with the world that differ from mine.

Certainly, most greet this realization with fear, and some greet this realization with violence.

Yet, from this first exposure, can there be anything but eventual tolerance?

From that eventual tolerance, can there be anything but eventual intolerance for the ancient intolerance?


Will said...

I knew you'd have an astute response to the terrible news. Waking up yesterday to the report on NPR was a hit in the gut. I hadn't taken the time to really understand Bhutto's politics or the meaning of her campaign in Pakistan, all I knew was that she was damn brave to return to the fire and keep standing up in the face of repeated attacks. What a world.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Just a small point, I came across your blog searching for the Heidegger quote you mention.

It is important to understand what H. meant by god, with a small G. Like all of his contemporaries, Ernst Juenger, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Hoffmann, and others, they recongized that the problem was not religion per se, but the enlightenment itself that had caused the trouble. It was the fulfilment of Nietzsches saying, "God is dead." and in his and their interpretation we killed him, or you could say our enlightend philosphy killed him.

Heidegger's saying that only with the return of the sacred, or the divine, can we avert the catastrophe of modernism. None of these men ever knew how this would come about, but they knew the divine would return and until then one should lead one's life in that knowledge, fulfilling the axiom, that you will never change the world until you change what is in your heart.

All the best,