Re: "Letter on Humanism"--Reading 3 (private vs public)

Tony writes:

>rather than thinking that individuality
>(the private life) is a matter of moving from the "public realm," we
>should think of the return to the private life as a dis-covery of
>something already present.

I would propose that the notion of privacy is something *our* public world
provides to us. To be able to think: "Cogito ergo sum" is a result of a high
level of education, *not* a result of autochthonous looking within (whatever
the last three words might denote except in the context ofhaving a high level
of education) . It seems to me that the problems of fascism, "dulce et
decorum est pro patria mori", etc. are resolved not by pretending to be able
to escape the public realm, but calling the public realm to a self-accounting
(Husserl again...) -- by the public realm doing what it so often and glibly
encourages the private realm to do: to be humble. A society simply(!) needs
to say (and mean!): "Honorable sir (madam)! We have raised you not to agree
with or obey us, which would merely further our present course of action
whatever it is, and, therefore, potentially in unwittingly self-defeating
ways. We have raised you to be an individual, i.e., a locus of rational
judgment concerning all things: to seek the evidence in all things and to
judge based on the evidence, not on our opinion. We hope we have earned your
respect, and your desire to join us, but that is for you freely to decide.
If you do not wish to be one of us, we will not force you to leave, because
we know there may be nowhere else viable for you to go. You did not ask to
be born, but we cannot tolerate more than a certain level of internal
sabotage. Even if you do not agree with us, we will try to impinge on you as
little as possible, and, so long as you do not go over the threshhold of what
we can absorb in the way of dissidence, we will tolerate you. But we hope to
prove worthy of your support, and we hope you will work with us to help us
live up to our aspiration...." (etc.)

>For the child learns language (at home, in private--and is
>therefore, in some sense "prior" to language) as the condition for its
>socialization into the public realm.

The home is the *representative* of the public realm to the infant, both in a
political sense: the society provides support to the mother in her mothering
as its agent of reproduction; and also in an ontological sense: for the
infant, the infant's mother is the whole world, just as her first word is all
of language. As far as infants' pre-linguistic life is concerned, we have
very little notion what that might be, because childrearing only rarely is
not pervasively impinging (see, e.g., Frederick Leboyer "Birth Without
Violence", Alice Miller "For Your Own Good", Sandor Ferenczi's Collected
Papers Vol III, Lloyd Demauss "History of Childhood", etc.), so that, long
before the infant learns to speak, he or she has learned to be a child of
his or her culture, rather than the culture learning the child's judgment of

>In 1947 and
>today, we need to be concerned with how human beings treat each other.

I think this truth undercuts all mere philosophizing -- that, in the end
(whereunto, like Everyman, we all are headed...), no cultural accomplishment
can *substitute* for "the word of comfort and help and immediate love"
(--Broch), although, hopefully, our construction of culture can contribute to
that humane task, both in providing solace to those who suffer and joy to
those who can tend to them because they do not (yet) suffer. I once knew a
person who told me: "My God's commandment to people is: 'Be kind to one
another.'" (The preceding paragraph, of course, is philosophizing thinking
about that which it thinks undercuts it, and, therefore, attempting to be
critically responsible.)

>Sometimes I wonder
>whether Heidegger had a childhood at all.

I agree. We know, from Medard Boss's recollections, that Heidegger was "a
bad dreamer" -- that he only remembers having had one (recurring) dream of
appearing before an academic examining committee (I forget the conditions
under which this dream stopped coming to him, but I think it had something to
do with his publishing Being and Time or some such milestone accomplishment).
Perhaps other aspects of Heidegger's "private life" were equally

>if the private life emerges only
>in opposition to the public realm, then all children are children of the

Isn't this true? Who today reproduces their individual or species life in a
truly asocial way (surely we see through the hypocrisy of living at Walden
pond, a mile from one's mother, or any of its contemporary variants).
Again, it seems to me that the responsibility for the cultivation of
individuality rests with *society's* becoming sufficiently mature and
enlightened to sublimate its greedy selfishness in cultivation of

>To paraphrase Levinas, the purpose of language is
>not, first and foremost, to name, to bring things from Being, as
>Heidegger thought, it is to greet.

Agreed. (The last couple pages of Hermann Broch's novel "The Sleepwalkers"
addresses this issue.)

>Just some thoughts--

Brad McCormick

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