sábado, 6 de octubre de 2007

On Dasein's 'Mineness'.

The question about the 'mineness' of Dasein has been somewhat controversial. Clearly, Heidegger cannot mean that Dasein is something that just happens inside a mind, or IN a person.Doing so would push him against the fence. In any case, the answer turns around the question whether Dasein is a private or a public term. Are institutions, societies and cultures Dasein? Or is Dasein merely ashortcut for individual human existence?

Dreyfus has (correctly) pointed that Heidegger often treats Dasein as referring to individual human existence. But I think this ambiguity is part of the problem, since it is less clear that he is always thinking of an individual. In any case, the crucial question is about what it would imply if Heidegger were to say Dasein is a subject, an individual, a particular entity. This would seem to make of it something merely present-at-hand (occurent, extant), which is of course exactly what Heidegger thinks the tradition has misinterpreted. But we surely cannot dispose of subjectvity just like that and use Dasein without any rigor to mean anything one wants; culture in some places, individuals in others, and at some points not even that. One wouldn't gain anything from such gross conceptual simplification.

But I think the answer Heidegger wants to give is that Dasein is human existence in general- and that in this framework it is never the case that Dasein is first and foremost a subject without a world. Dasein is the entity which in any case anyone could call his own. Only entities such as Dasein can ask, assert and therefore relate to being (a dog cannot ask 'what is x?' or assert 'x is y').This is different from saying that all ontologies must begin from the mind and then proceed to constitute the world, since all we are saying is that ONTICALLY Dasein is the entity which everyone can call one's own. There might be occasions, however, when explaining equipment for instance, that an analytic of Dasein shows Dasein is not 'itself':

Perhaps when Dasein addresses itself in the way which it is closest to itself, it always says 'I am this entity', and in the long run says this loudest when it is 'not' this entity. Dasein is in each case mine, and this is its constitutio; but what if this should be the very reason why, proximally and for the most part, Dasein is not itself? [Ibid]

Since the being of humans is characterized by this relation to being(existence), one can call oneself Dasein ontically as the being for whom being is an issue. This doesn't entail that when trying to explain the world we must begin by positing private mental contents opposed to external, objective stuff. It also doesn't entail that reality is 'made up' of ideas, or that what is first given is the 'I' of pure consciousness. In Heidegger's conception ofthe world, dualism is not tenable, simply because Dasein's existance doesn't begin by dividing subject and object, but by everyday involement, and dealings with Zuhanden entities (available, or ready-at-hand), which are not like this at all.

Heidegger is not saying that we are not entities or subjects but some vaguely unified spirit, but that characterizing Dasein in terms of subjectivity is to assume the world only gets experienced for and from a subject, that it pressuposes human existence entails an objectifying need for constant self-reference, whether tacit or explicit, in which the pure 'I' of consciousness accompanies all intentional acts. But 'In clarifying Being-and-the-world we have shown that a bare subject without a world never 'is' proximally, nor is it ever given. And so in the end an isolated "I" without Others is just as far from being proximally given." [B&T, Pg 152, 116]

According to Heidegger, the idea of a subject as that which weilds private contents, opposed to the world, blurs ontology up, since we have to now explain how this world comes into relation to being for a consciousness.This is either impossible (Kant) or simply unecessary (Husserl). But Heidegger thinks this problem arises from assuming that we live inside a world of ideas or phenomenal representations; the world is already disclosed for Dasein. Dasein is nothing but a relation to beings on the basis of the 'openness' of a world. There is nothing 'behind appearances' simply because what appears can only do so on the basis of the prior disclosure and assumption of the world. To deny the world is solipsism; to self-contain it isidealism. Dasein is nothing but being-in-the-world, since it has always grown into it without bulding it from theory.

Dasein is an entity, the entity for whom being is an issue. But this doesn't mean Dasein is different from the world, since strictly speaking Dasein IS being-in-the-world, and as such a world can only be for an entity like Dasein. (This is not to say the world is an invention of a mind, or that every would disappear or be destroyed if there is no subject, but that all relatedness to being can only occur for a being such as Dasein, with the possibility of calling into question 'that it is'). Dasein is not primordially an 'I' since the world precedes any such characterization. In its everydayness it doesn't deal with objects, but with equipment. It doesn't determine itself as a subject- a subsistent 'I' which and the other as an object, to ontologically attempt this reduction is what Husserl attempted and failed to do. In this sense, Dasein is 'mine' only insofar as I can claim my existence as belonging to myself as an entity, but this is no ontological determination.

That Dasein is not exclusively nor primordially a subject or 'I' does not exclude that Heidegger wants to explain how something like subjectivity, in an ontological manner, is made possible. This he does in Being and Time and the lecture courses mentioned above (1925-27).This is a difficult issue, and it has taken a lot of twists and turns inthe literature. Dreyfus has discussed this with particular detail in his book, as have a number of other commentators (Crowell, Boedeker Dostal Jr). There doesn't seem to be a concensus on the subject. I think the short answer is simply: Dasein is the way in which entities which care for being relate to being. This is broad enough to include both for self-interpretation without assuming self-interpretation to be at the basis of ontological inquiry. The 'I' is not disposed of, but neither assumed as the ontological clue.

The assertion that it is I who in each case Dasein is, is ontically obvious; but this must not mislead us into supposing that the route for an ontological Interpretation of what is 'given' in this way has thus been unmistakenly prescribes. Indeed it remains questionable whether even the mere ontical content of the above assetion does proper justice to the stock of phenomena to everyday Dasein. It could be that the "who" of everyday Dasein just is not the "I myself" [B&T, Pg. 150, 115]

As long as we don't take the fact that Dasein is an entity to imply that it is a mind with private contents first and foremost, I think all is in good order.On the general note, I think this topic can ammount for some very good questions. A good question that follows is whether animals have a world ornot (Heidegger says NO), and whether his interpretation is fair. The text where this is discussed is The Fundamental Concept of Metaphysics(1929/30). The notion of worldhood is discussed all throughout his work,including the abovementioned lecture course and Being and Time.

On Heidegger: Is being-in-the-world more fundamental than intentionality?

This question was raised by a friend of mine on discussion, and I thought i'd briefly answer it in the form of a post. A common misperception upon reading Being and Time is that somehow being-in-the-world is more originary than intentionality. Heidegger in fact grants this ontological privilige to being-in-the-world during his extensive discussion of zuhanden and vorhanden modes of comportment, but the crucial point is missed if we merely take 'fundamental' to mean more originary, specially if we carry a traditional notion of intentionality (which Heidegger rejects in his lecture courses 1925-1927, specially in the Basic Problems of Phenomenology).

I'm not sure whether 'more fundamental' would be the merrier expression. Husserl had an altogether different idea in mind when he spoke of intentionality: he thought he could map the entire constitution of thelifeworld in terms of the consciousness of the subject. According to him,through the phenomenological reductions, one could gain access to 'thingsthemselves', the phenomenal correlates of the mind as they are given. What was left for him to discuss, then, was a series of formal and regionalontologies in which he could map out the different kinds of objects thatcould appear before the mind, as well as their correspondent 'modes of presentation'.

Heidegger rejects the thesis that we can explain the constitution of thelifeworld by starting with the subject, only to then proceed to explainthe world. He thinks that the real question is not what objects arepresented to the mind, but how do objects and ontologies first becomepossible. According to him, it is phenomenological suicide to transfer thebulk of intentional life to a conscious subject since what is primarilygiven are not objects as correlates of some act (Vorhandenheit), butengaged agency in everyday practices (Zuhandenheit).According to him, both 'modes' of being are different ways of dealing withentities, and thus constitute different kinds of intentional comportments(Verhalten).

In this view, one is not first and foremost a mindconstructing a world out of intuited objects, but rather one is firstimbedded in a world of holistically familiar meanings in which one doesnot posit entities as objects in theory, but puts them to use. The entireidea is that our ontologies, the way in which entities get determined asobjects, will depend entirely on the kind of uses and practices into whichwe are imbedded. This ammounts to saying that there ISN'T a possibleontology that just gives a description of possible objects of experience.To say this is to give up on the Platonic ideal that there must be a sortof theory underlying all possible forms of discourse, and which can serveas foundational for all sciences.

Heidegger thus reshapes the traditional concept of phenomenology and says that what we must start with is not aworldless ego or mind, but everyday practices into which we are embedded.In a way this answers your last question, since Heidegger is implying itis impossible to have pressupositionless phenomenology; one can point outat the different kinds of relations Dasein has to entities and how theseoccur as ways of existing, but one cannot have a theory of all theories.One cannot explain engaged agency by appeal to some subject-objectrelation since one cannot spell out a set of rules which are unconsciouslyregulating behavior, and which phenomenology can make explicit. To expectthis is to think one must pressupose tacit theoretical guideliness inorder to build up a meaningful world or practice.

Heidegger thinks it's the other way around: we are first and foremost in aworld in which we share common practices and ways of speaking, and theoryis only derivative. He wants to avoid trying to ground all kinds of beingin a causally self-sufficient source, as Dreyfus points out. There are noregional ontologies to give since there is no single way in which objectsmay be given or understood. Thus, Heidegger does not 'drop' intentionalityas much as denies it must be understood in terms of consciousness. To quote Heidegger:"The everyday way in which things have been interpreted is one into whichDasein has grown in the first instance, with never a possibility ofextrication. In it, out of it, and against it, all genuine understanding,interpreting and communicating, all re-discovering and appropiating anew,are performed. In no case is a Dasein untouched and unseduced by this wayin which things have been interpreted." (213) (169)

What is being asked about is then about this pretheoretical,non-subjectivist understanding of being, of relating to beings and theways in which these modes of being are given. This will, as it turns out,imply we cannot simply interpret objects as the correlates of some privatemind:"One of our first tasks will be to prove that if we posit an 'I' orsubject as that which is primarily given, we shall miss completely thephenomenal contentof Dasein." (72) (46) This should do for now.

Even Smaller Gripe on Dreyfus.

In his analysis of Heidegger's account of spatiality, Dreyfus takes Heidegger as blurring the distinction between distance (physical, present-at-hand) and dis-tance (also translated as deseverance, with reference to Dasein's bringing into a circumspective region some ready-to-hand entity). This distinction is determinant for Heidegger's argument that the physical space of nature (extension) is derivative to Dasein's own circumspective spatiality in which entities are dealt with as equipment ready-to-hand. The passages which suggests the confusion for Dreyfus runs as follows:

""Dis-tancing" amounts to making the farness vanish- that is, making the remoteness of something disappear, bringing it near." [139, 105]

"[Dasein] cannot wander about within the current range of its dis-stances; it can never do more than change them" [143, 108]

For Dreyfus, this ammounts to a confusion between ontic distance which can change and ontological dis-stance which doesn't. If nearness and farness are criteria only proper to physical or ontic distance, which is derivative from Dasein's own regional dis-tance which is not measured in terms of nearness, then it follows dis-tancing cannot first operate by the closing of spatial magnitudes proper to physical distance. This way, Dreyfus interprets Heidegger as making a subjectivist turn: it seems that if dis-tancing operates by bringing near, we take Dasein's spatiality in terms of the individual's private commerce with entities. But since Heidegger's story rests on the basis that the public world precedes the individual, then this turn seems inconsistent with his theory. Because of this, Dreyfus claims that Heidegger should have said that one merely enters into a region in which certain entities are available publicly, in which they would be available for anyone if they stood there. This would be tantamount to saying dis-stancing is not prone to changes in magnitude, like ontic distance in relation to the individual, but publicly accessible in terms of appropriateness or innapropriateness.

But I take it that Heidegger's point is not that we can change dis-stancing in terms of changing the spatial magnitudes which lie before us in a particular region, but exactly the opposite. That is, since Dasein cannot merely move around a region with respect to the magnitudes of spatial distances to entities, all it can do is shift circumspective activity from dealing with one entity to another inside the nexus of equipment at hand. The blacksmith stops using the hammer and picks up the nails by naturally reacting to the demands of the situation, and not by calculating distance as measurements. Likewise, if at the moment of hammering, the kettle starts boiling, Dasein may shift from his present dis-stancing to another region in which different equipment is dealt with. All of these acts involve reacting to situations in an appropriate manner and not measuring distance in an ontic sense, as Dreyfus supposes. This is crucial since only if we accept that a region must include the two-sided relation of a comporting subject to an object, we can make the transition to claim Dasein's 'bringing near' is guilty of prioritizing individual spatiality. This objection was already made by Arisaka (1995) on the following terms:

"Dasein as dis-tance has its own "individual" space, radiating from it as it beings things "close". In this discussion he [Dryefus] treats the spatiality of individual Dasein as 'private' or 'subjective' space... However, the individuality of de-severance does not imply "private space" at all, that individuality is rather derived from the structure of the perspectival givenness of regions."

If this peculiar indvidiual space belonging to regions and circumspective comportment cannot be private, it must in a way already be public. This is our clue, since we can now justify Dasein's unique spatiality as being both (1) individual- in the sense that it is ontically correspondent to the comportments of an specific Dasein, and (2) public- in the sense that the circumspective comportments of Dasein in regions are never carried forth by a self-sufficient subject without already belonging to a world of public practices. If the regions wherein Dasein dwells and opens are of necessity constituted by a shared context of public practices, then we do not risk subjectivism in attributing existential spatiality to the Dasein in his regional dealings with entities.

One must always remember that the familiar world of practices in which Dasein regularly dwells is not that of an objective region in which entities are 'piled-up' and dealt with as objects. Circumspection doesn't deal with individual entities, but only within the nexus of an equipmental-whole. Arisaka thus rightfully acknowledges that the inconsistency Dreyfus reads into Heidegger can only obtain under the objectivist interpretation of regions.

The crucial thing to notice is thus that Heidegger is not claiming that dis-tances change in terms of factual ontic distance between two entities (the subject and object). The 'bringing-near' Heidegger alludes to is not to be understood as the reduction of a given magnitude which could be measured in some way. Dis-tancing makes an entity available for use in circumspection, i.e. it is brought near to Dasein insofar as it becomes ready-at-hand. The remoteness closed by dis-tancing would therefore not be that of making an already given entity come closer to oneself, but to first and foremost make this entity available for circumspection by opening a region in concern, or by appropiately using this entity at the right time. In this sense, it is impossible to measure the dis-stances of availability of being in circumspection since one can do nothing but change the region of available entities and with it the availability of particular entities to Dasein.

Because you can’t simply go beyond a measured occurent distance in circumspection, one cannot go-beyond, overcome or withdraw from dis-stance, but only change the sphere of available entities which are far and near with respect to circumspection in some way.
In this sense, the two ways in which entities may be spatially understood with respect to dis-tance is in terms of (a) the nearness - that is to say the availability of an entity ready-at-hand, or (b) the presence of an entity in dealing with the present-at-hand. Heidegger confirms this by saying "Nearness and presence, not magnitude of separation, is what is essential." [140].

This amounts to saying that availability and presence precede any ontical determination of space in terms of physical distance. It doesn't amount to saying, as Dreyfus misreads him, that all dis-tancing must operate on the basis of presence, in the sense of the ontical presence-at-hand that would obtain from, say, an individual Dasein and his object of concern within a region. Heidegger's point is that the specific model or vocabulary used to express ontical distance is possible only from the being present-at-hand of some entity, which in turn supervenes on the availability or nearness of the entity into an equipmental-whole in circumspection.
So, when Dreyfus objects that to prioritize nearness and farness is to prioritize the spatiality of the individual Dasein, he mistakenly takes Heidegger as saying that nearness and farness are distanced in the sense of 'making-present'. Under such a reading, the objection naturally follows that the entities would be seen to stand against the Dasein, as particular objects. This would be in direct conflict with Heidegger's proposed priority of readiness-to-hand, in which for Dasein there are no objects which stand against it separated by some ontical distance.

But as we noted above, the prioritizing of nearness and presence is tantamount to the priority of the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand over the concrete categories of a particular system, such as physics or nature. As such, the priority is given to deny that any ontic measuring of distance could ever account for dis-tancing, and that the former supervenes ontologically on the latter. Nonetheless, the objection could be raised that if this 'tendency' towards presence or nearness is what somehow makes entities available for Dasein, one would need to pressupose these entities qua particulars are somehow there but unavailable before dis-tancing. And this would, again, seem to threaten the idea that what comes first are not objects, but the equipmental-whole of circumspection.

I take it that problem doesn't appear in Heidegger's position that the 'bringing near' or 'presencing' in which Dasein becomes involved with the ready-at-hand or the present-at-hand is not the mere cutting of a distance. If we just understand di-stancing within the framework of the opening of a region in circumspection then we do not risk the charges of subjectivism. We merely state that dis-tancing must proceed by first opening a region for circumpsection in which Dasein deals with equipment in terms of appropiateness for proximate purposes and which, if interrupted, would give an entity present-at-hand. That an ontical distance could thereby be determined in relation to this entity is perfectly admissible, since all we need to show is that the ontological priority lies not in the spatial measurement of nature, but on presence-at-hand more generally, and readiness-to-hand as even more primary:

"Circumspective concern decides as to the nearness and farness of what is primarily available environmentally. Whatever this concern deals with beforehand is what is nearest... That which is presumably "nearest" is by no means that which is at the smallest distance from us. It lies rather in that which is distanced to an average extent when we reach for it, grasp it, or look at it... When something is nearby, this means it is within the range of what is primarily available for circumspection." [141-142, 106-107]

Small Gripes on Dreyfus.

Dreyfus’ first characterization of Heidegger’s undertaking in Being and Time is surprisingly deceptive; he tells us that Heidegger aims at “…deepening our understanding of what it means for something to be.” (pg. 2). But, of course, in Heidegger’s view our understanding of being is not deepened by a philosophical excursion, but clarified and recovered. We do not increase or improve understanding by undergoing a phenomenological therapy, but rather take heed to what we already experience and understand through our actions and language. We must thus realize from the start that Heidegger’s use of understanding is unconventional; we do not learn to understand, but rather learn to express how we understand. In this sense, what philosophy can provide to us is, at best, a rediscovery of our understanding of the world in an originary way. For this reason, the reader that approaches Being and Time expecting to learn a new theory should keep in mind that Heidegger is first and foremost concerned not with providing a new theory about human existence as much as trying to clarify human existence as it is always, already and necessarily understood in distinct ways.

Dreyfus missteps again in this matter when saying that ‘… one cannot understand something unless one has an accurate account of what one is trying to understand.” It is not hard to see what is meant here; and it seems trivial to impute against it, especially since it is written for introductory purposes: in order to restore the question of being, we must not simply put idle concepts to use; to avoid endangering a misconstrual the problematic from muddled concepts and theories. We must rather examine how our language and tradition have developed this question to re-place it anew, free from whichever confusions have emerged. As Heidegger was steadfast to point time and time again in his lectures, we must be careful not to comprehend from the start those presuppositions which guide the author at the beginning of his work, and which guide the work’s unfolding as such.[1] We do not wish to understand being, but its meaning. We already understand and presuppose being, it is not foreign to us and it is not something which we must strive to acquire. At the same time, the question has today been forgotten, and with it the ontological problematic which inaugurated the history of Western thought.

[1] Needless to say, Being and Time is, on its own, insufficient to grasp the background from which it develops. This insufficiency, which is somewhat remedied by studying the brilliant lecture courses from 1925-1930, if not carefully dealt with, is misguiding and affecting.

A True Voice in the Degenerate Neighbourhood.

Kara and Eli… my fabled uncles!
Moved to a white town known for its local pastry
The alley-cats were tattled by the aging neighbours
So they even cuddled on the porch of Auntie Jay
And by tie-knotted Mike, who never stops going bald

They drove perfectly functional cars
Made-fit for family life
Grew beer-bellies the size of tires,
And laughed vociferously all day

Eli’s good manners were ruined by the days,
By fifty, the cap-cut pastry oven abused depressing casseroles
With its levelled odour clumping next to cinnamon cakes
Making Wednesday’s intolerable sameness,
Uniform to all senses.

Kara’s widened waist pleaded thunder,
Amassed inches by the ticking of the clocks
In harmony to the reverberating fat in her buttocks
Like a perched glob clotting insolence
Her cool ways elevated a smile with year-long hypocrisy
While her manufactured smell plucked Eli’s nerve
Beyond the suspicion of her toiling neighbours.
Gardening laboratory flowers.

Funnily, moss-green mattresses read ‘welcome!’ before all doors
Arching the gist of the noise-starved block
To hoodwink the unsuspecting of a prowling stillness
Not worth the charade to all divinities.

A star-sick visionary named it “Bloomingdale”
Paying tacit tribute to the monstrosity of boredom
Lurching never their eyes, they folded back the skyline,
The marching well and the inconspicuous trees

They devoured it all,
Leaving of life no single germ

Erasing all asymmetry,
Erasing all,


Pluck The Monster's Eyes.

Pluck the monster’s eyes, says I,
Those raunchy eyes that narrowed down
With a stiff-knot round the heart
Your brother to his pesky, stocking flaws;

As you filled up the cookie-moulds
With plight and scorn, they always knew…
Sad-ways piled up sad-words
If just to excuse your torn-up joy,
If just to insist that all must hurt.

Better swallow what’s bygone and bend.
So that set anew, you’d never swoon,
From the stifling air neighbouring around
The air, the chasm, the tender world.

Maybe then,
Stumbling upon all pointy ends,
One may not curse, after all,
And happily clap at the happy sound.
So that someday, all words effaced
You’d give in to a warm embrace, and sing
Their lovely song; play it out and dance,
As loud as you can, all life long.

Sloppy arguments about serious topics: a reply to Mamis and Mocatta

In their recent article in the Yale Daily News titled “University, not Peru, is best place for cultural treasures” Noah Mamis and Frederick Mocatta present a dangerously rushed conclusion on what is a complicated and far from obvious issue. I say ‘dangerously’ here in all seriousness, since taking stances on the basis of sloppy arguments can all too easily lead to an unacceptable simplification of certain complicated, objective situations. This danger can be paradigmatically illustrated in Mamis and Mocatta’s answer to the question “On what basis should we decide who should be entitled to possess the cultural treasures of the world?” This question should, of course, lead us into further questions about how to decide on matters of ownership, of a cultural treasure’s value, of the relationship between cultural works and the state in which they were made, and so forth. But, luckily for us, Mamis and Mocatta have already done all of the hard work. They have condensed the results of these controversies in little over a page of writing, and published their one-liner conclusion in the public’s service: Yale should be entitled to Peru’s cultural treasures. No, that was not a misprint. And it’s actually worse than that; if one extrapolates the explicit arguments the authors offer (which I will do below) we shockingly arrive at the conclusion that most of the world would be better off sending their cultural relics to Yale or other similar institutions.
In relinquishing most of its South American Collection, the authors claim, Yale acted in a cowardly fashion, showing they couldn’t stand up to their ethical responsibility to the realm of global culture and scholarship. An institution such as Yale, “…burdened with the duty to ensure that such objects are available in the best condition to the widest possible audience, for all time.” must thus obey a sacred ethical duty: to appropriate and never relinquish cultural treasures to their countries of origin for other, comparatively unimportant reasons. This confusing claim is backed up by the authors through four equally confusing premises:

(1) Institutions/organizations which are better fit to maintain cultural treasures in good physical condition should be entitled to the possession of those treasures.
(2) In the case of cultural treasures which are of wide interest to the world, institutions/organizations should be primarily concerned with exposing them to the widest possible audience of interest, and to scholars in particular.
(3) Yale is an institution that has proved capable of maintaining numerous cultural treasures in good condition throughout their history, while also making them available to wide audiences and scholars.
(4) Peru’s institutions have proven themselves unsuccessful in the maintenance of their own cultural treasures and in making them available to wide audiences and scholars.

If one were somehow persuaded into accepting the bulk of these claims it would be easy to see why Mamis and Mocatta feel this dreaded burden and cowardice have befallen in Yale’s history. In relinquishing their Andean collection Yale failed in their duties “…to academia at large and to the general public, domestic and foreign, not to mention those by whom it was bequeathed to us.” But if one were to think things over for just a little longer, things might start seeming less obvious all of a sudden. We might wonder about why exactly premises (1)-(4) are so easy to assume for Mamis and Mocatta, and what evidence they offer to justify their claims. Unsurprisingly, rereading their one-page article didn’t help for much either; only one of the premises above is intuitive (at best), while the other three remain plainly unjustified.

But let us start with what’s intuitive. It seems easy enough to accept Yale’s financial and technical resources are likely to make it effective in keeping cultural treasures in excellent condition. Premise (3) then, at the very least, seems to have an intuitive appeal, and so can be accepted for now without much danger. Things start to go raunchy, however, when we consider premises (1), (2) and (4).
To proceed systematically, I will first deal with (1) and (2), since in these the fate and relevancy of (3) and (4) ultimately supervene, whether they are true or not. Premise (1) tells us that the entitlement to possession of cultural treasures ought to be decided on the basis of the capacity of keeping them in the best physical condition possible. Here the trouble begins. For although one can easily agree in that the physical condition of the treasures is indeed quite important, it is much harder to accept that it is the only or most important criterion to be considered. But the claim is not only extremely controversial prima facie, but its plausibility rests upon having satisfactory answers to many other, smaller questions.

For example, we must first ask on what grounds we can attempt to determine a cultural treasure’s worth. Also, does a cultural treasure have greater importance for its country of origin than for other countries? And which criteria should we follow to compare the eligibility of a state or institution in claiming rights to the entitlement of these treasures? These questions unsurprisingly were already necessary at the start of this controversy, and we haven’t advanced an inch further. That the authors don’t ever attempt to pronounce themselves on these ‘minor’ circumventing issues only works to make impossible any leniency from the reader.
The obvious counter-argument to premise (1) naturally follows: it seems plausible to suggest that cultural treasures should be entitled, above all, to their country of origin. This can be easily substantiated by appeal to the obvious fact that cultural treasures are largely constitutive and valuable to their country’s culture, identity and history. If a culture’s treasures are thus not mere curiosities for the tourist or scholar, but essential to their indigenous people, the preservation of the work could be taken as comparatively secondary. How can anyone say, then, that Yale’s fittingness to keep cultural treasures in good condition entitles it to Peru’s cultural treasures more than to Peruvians themselves? Mamis and Mocatta’s answer:

“Andeans of old who made them have about as much in common culturally with those of us in America as they have with the Peru of our day. There is no political continuity between post-Bolivar Peru and the lands of the Incan Empire.”
Since what the authors call ‘post-Bolivar Peruvians’ presumably no longer culturally resemble those whom produced the Andean treasures, Peru can no longer claim a privileged cultural connection to these works. At the very least, whatever connection remains couldn’t entitle them to a privileged right for their possession, and certainly not over the principle of preservation of the treasures safeguarded by premise (1). Therefore, any rights to entitlement to the treasures on the basis of cultural heritage don’t apply for modern Peru.

This is a scandalous argument, and it exemplifies the danger I spoke about earlier. It is reprehensible to voice uneducated opinions about other people’s beliefs, let alone the beliefs of entire cultural traditions or countries. But to claim that Peruvians today have no cultural, social or political continuity with their pre-republican tradition without presenting any sort of evidence is simply absurd. That the Peruvian republic bears little to no resemblance to old Andean and Incan political organizations, and that we live under radically different socio-political conditions is perfectly true, but trivial. To insinuate that this triviality somehow suffices to conclude that Peruvians today bear almost no resemblance to their cultural ancestors and that they are an almost ‘entirely different culture’ is an unacceptable line of reasoning.
But this is not mere preoccupation about making sense. Making such gross generalizations out of the blue is a plainly irresponsible act when dealing with issues of cultural sensibility, which rest on an evaluation of an entire country and its traditions. Seeing that the great majority of Peru’s population remains composed mostly by those enrooted in Andean heritage, and that today’s traditions are in many ways the results of deep historical transformations undergone by its people, one has to basically guess in which sense the cultural asymmetry between modern Peru and pre-republican Peru is to be corroborated. To say these cultural periods are different is trivially true; to say they are ‘almost completely unrelated’ is nonsense. When we additionally remember that the centralized history of Peruvian politics has been the history of the exclusion of Andean populations from their proper integration into the legal sector of society, then things all of a sudden stop appearing easily quantifiable.
Peru’s population has, no doubt, been transformed in many ways throughout its history. But to claim that the Peruvian national treasures now stand to their people as they do to anyone else in the planet with interest in them is to assume far too much with far too little. For these reasons, premise (1) is unacceptable. Not only do the authors fail to substantiate their claim that Peru is not entitled to their cultural treasures, but they fail to offer a single reason for accepting the privilege of institutions which can keep the work in the best condition possible over other criteria.

This leads us into considering premise (2), the sacred mandate for those institutions privileged enough to have the means to preserve cultural treasures. Exposing them to tourists and academics in prime condition is, in the jargon of Mamis and Mocatta, a burden and a responsibility. But again this is quite mysteriously so. No one would deny that the world’s cultural treasures are of paramount interest to numerous academics, tourists and people outside the countries of origin of the works themselves. Neither would anyone sanely deny that these works should be kept in the best condition possible. But to assume that any person interested in a cultural treasure has an equal right to access to the treasure as any other is an attempt of perverse democratization. We cannot assume right away that the interests that academics, tourists and the rest of the planet have rest on similar concerns, or that they are of equal significance and thus should be weighed homogonously.

That the cultural treasures should primarily be available to the majority of people interested assumes both that institutions such as Yale can harbour more interested folks in the treasures than their countries of origin, and that being capable of drawing more people interested people is both necessary and sufficient to lay claim for ownership. To illustrate how these claims lead to extremely unappealing consequences let us imagine the following scenario:

Imagine if all of a sudden Chinese people started developing extraordinary interest in the Statue of Liberty. Imagine furthermore that their numbers skyrocketed to the point where there were more interested people, scholars and fanatics of the Statue of Liberty in China than in the U.S itself. These Chinese also happen to possess the technology and means to keep the Statue in a far better condition that it stands in New York currently. Imagine that these Chinese claim that the old American culture of the times where the statue was made was entirely different to present day cosmopolitan, post-modern America. Finally, imagine that because of these reasons someone in China suggested that the U.S should relinquish their treasures to the Chinese, for the sake of scholarship, preservation and greater interest. Since you’re presumably entirely different from the Americans of the old days, your appeals to historical nostalgia and cultural entitlement are shrugged off, as well as your unrest.
In any case, Mamis and Mocatta’s dreadful case for (1) helps very little to justify the claim that Peruvian treasures do not have a privileged place in their culture, and to their people. The authors consequently feel distressed as other governments such as “Greece, Egypt, Italy and others… have frequently made similar demands” and “…will only be emboldened by Yale’s concession”. Perhaps they should feel distress at their own relinquishing of facts and rigor in arguing about these delicate topics.

We are thus finally lead to (4); which claims that Peru is not only unfit culturally, but institutionally to keep their treasures in the shape that premise (1) should guarantee is above all important. Once again, there is a remarkable lack of facts and evidence for their justification. But more strangely even is how we are somehow expected to be reassured by the following information about Peru’s government:

“ A tradition of endemic corruption, political instability, occasional restraints on academic freedoms and the results of a nearly 30-year anarcho-Communist insurgency that has left 70,000 Peruvians dead make it eminently clear that Peru is a flawed home for these treasures. The most recent terrorist attack in Peru, this June, left six people dead and dozens injured in the market of an obscure town near the shores of Lake Titicaca."

How a past history of terrorism is solid evidence for Peru’s incapacity to take care of their national treasures today is beyond me. The history of left-winged subversive groups which the authors allude to, and which was mainly prominent during the late 80’s and early 90’s, has been effectively dissipated since then and is now far from a generalized problem. Needless to say, how these issues are directly connected to the ownership of cultural treasures is discussed nowhere. To appeal to the atrocities of past terrorist acts as a suitable indicator in this topic in such a relaxed, light-minded way is a disgraceful display of ignorance, and to suggest that it somehow proves Peru’s inability and ineligibility to bear rights to their national treasures is insulting. And yet this is exactly what the authors do, as they claim that “…This is a home-grown, determined and concerted terrorist effort that shows a failure on the part of the Peruvian government to create a stable and inclusive political environment”.

It remains nonetheless very obscure how these historical antecedents are of any use here, especially since they claim to be proving something entirely different. That economic indicators show steady economic growth has been taking place in Peru for several years now should discourage anyone to think that past tragedies by past governments must translate into perpetual tragedy and punishable inefficiency. To further suggest that the years of sustained terrorism and economical problems suffice to disown a country from its cultural treasures is an argumentative excess. Not content with that, premise (4) tells us that Peru also has not made their treasures available to scholars and wide audiences, a claim which comes and goes entirely unsubstantiated. As for the ‘disaster befallen’ on Machu Picchu, they claim Peru fails to:

“… adequately preserve, maintain and display the country’s own collection of some of the finest cultural relics in the world, let alone to ensure that the collection remains accessible to scholars. Foremost as an example of this is surely the disaster that has befallen the great Machu Picchu…it faces severe threats from unregulated urban development in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes. Furthermore, the government has taken few steps to protect the site from the dangers of the burgeoning tourist industry, from the risks posed by earthquakes, or from the contractors and businesses that swarm the ancient ruins. “
An entire new set of fallacies, unjustified premises and falsities are in order. To point just one out, even if a country’s political or economical conditions allow for a greater deterioration of their cultural treasures this would still not prove they should be elsewhere. Questions about the relevance of these treasures to their people, as those mentioned above, are complicated and cannot be disavowed without further, serious reflection. This is also a particularly unfriendly example, since one couldn’t reasonable suggest that Machu Picchu would be better off by moving it someplace else. To suggest that the irregular development of the rural town of Aguas Calientes proves the Peruvian government is inefficient in this regard supervenes on an additional premise: that a country’s first priority should be to develop those areas nearby national cultural treasures, for the sake of their preservation.

But this is an entirely insulting suggestion for a government which struggles in numerous ways to integrate an entire population, and which has been historically fragmented by the social and economic exclusion of the majority outside the capital. To blame the government for not making the development of Aguas Calientes a priority is to tacitly suggest that if you can’t make your cultural treasures the priority of your governmental agenda then you better relinquish them. Cultural treasures are dealt with as instruments or tools for the idle curiosity of some tourist or academic, and are disavowed from their place in a culture’s history and worldview. Following that logic, we would soon conclude that most cultural treasures in third world countries should be preferably given away and locked within the confines of American campuses. Maybe if we built a big-enough museum at Yale we could figure a way to take Machu Picchu there too, for the sake of the scholars and the tourists!

But perhaps there is another pesky, trivial truth in the authors’ words. Perhaps the Peruvian government should take better care of their treasures. And maybe they should make sure they are protected from natural and human disasters. I suspect nobody would disagree with that much. Yet passing judgment on the government’s agenda with such ease is no solution whatsoever to the problem and clearly no reason to suppose the country must be deprived of their rights to its past. The unregulated urban development of many provinces and the numerous problems affecting Peru, as well as many third-world economies, shouldn’t lead us into thinking we can or should deprive them from their national treasures, at least not on the basis of what Mamis and Mocatta are saying.

To conclude: that Yale could keep these works in better shape ends up as entirely secondary and unimportant claim if the other premises in the argument fail. But since the authors do not (and, I suspect, cannot) justify their claims with anything that might leave us satisfied, there is no option but to discard the entire argument as gibberish. That it is dangerous to lightly take stances on matters which concern the lives of millions is clear. That Mamis and Mocatta do just that in presenting their terribly argued, laughably unjustified opinions should dissuade anyone from taking them seriously. So they conclude:

“At the very least, the Peruvian government should now pay Yale a century of rent and maintenance costs. “

Perhaps the sarcasm just fled over my head.

On Sun-Lotion and Unwritten Rules.

Earlier today I found out about the peculiar sun lotion ‘no-ad’; named in allusion to the producer’s policy of not using advertisements as a means to sell their product, i.e. not trying to gain costumers by calling attention to aspects which are irrelevant to the product’s concrete quality and functionality. Hence, they would not show any comforting pictures of beaches on the bottle’s front, not fancy it with explosive colored fonts and so forth. The lotion apparently became rather popular, in spite of its producer’s unwillingness to publicize.It isn’t hard to gain insight into the basic paradox: by claiming that they didn’t advertise themselves they in fact did. How so? Doesn’t the claim merely call attention to the fact that nothing in the product attempts to draw an audience on the basis of trivialities? Sure it does. One might be charged with disbeliever’s paranoia in claiming that just by saying they are not advertising their product, the manufacturers already are. For what attractiveness could a bottle of sun-lotion gain by claiming they don’t advertise their own product, such that it could constitute another instance of advertising, like the ones they are trying to denounce? The answer: the fact that the claim makes it the right choice.

The paranoia starts to suddenly appear more earthly if we merely acknowledge that the extent to which the manipulative forces of advertisement can go is not restricted to affect only our senses, but also our moral decisions and actions. Again, how so? How can we accuse the sun lotion of tacitly containing a normative content of which it is guilty of advertising? The first thing to notice is that the name ‘no-ad’ does not merely stand for ‘We do not advertise’, but again tacitly and more crucially for ‘We do not advertise, because one shouldn’t’. That they do not advertise their product can only be of importance if we first accept that advertising contains an uncanny element to it, which if suppressed constitutes an improvement on the product or amends the intent of its producers. In succeeding with such suppression, the producer is thereby excused from the guilt of advertisement. By the same token, the consumer must then make a deliberate choice between choosing the product which doesn’t advertise, or one among the many who do. In calling one’s attention to the virtue of not advertising, ‘no-ad’ becomes not only one possible option amongst many, but indeed the mandatory one. Without knowing, the audience is not only led to prefer this lotion over the others in virtue of its inherent qualities and functional virtues, as it claimed to do, but rather on the basis of saying they are not advertising it, and that choosing a different product which does is to be persuaded on the basis of advertisement and to blindly surrender to a subversive authority.

The simple, apparently inoffensive normative claim ‘We do not advertise this lotion’ now appears more demanding than all the beaches, girls and fonts of the alternatives combined. For now it is not a matter of how attractive the product might be according to the costumer’s free possibility of preference, but of the inevitable guilt one surrenders to in choosing any of the alternatives. ‘We do not advertise this lotion, because one ought not to- and so if you buy a brand that advertises you are letting yourself be tricked in supporting it’. Not only can buy this lotion, but you ought to. You must buy no-ad in order to make a decision free from the guilt of gullibility. But what provides this alleged freedom stems from the unspoken injunctions in the statement itself, and its censoring of the competition. This surrender to the authority of the statement could be taken as a paradigmatic example of what Adorno has called the ‘jargon of authenticity’, in reference to Heidegger's alleged overcoming of metaphysics. The claim, in promising freedom from the available choices, becomes the only possible choice. One doesn’t plead allegiance to anything but the claim, and that which provides the claim, i.e. the product. But above all, adds quite elegantly to Zizek’s examples of how the Lacanian Big-Other operates on the background of the unwritten rules prescribed in silence. This way, the apparent tolerance and freedom avowed by the producers ultimately harbors a stronger, tacitly conveyed order which remains operating with the same subversive agenda as the alternatives they are supposed to be denouncing.

Accordingly, whether advertisement is really something condonable becomes quite secondary and is given no further thought. The shortcut in the name already provides the necessary spark to draw the masses, reminding them that next to it lays the dishonest competition, which ploys to gain their attention through their underhanded ways. At the same time, we are reminded that ‘no-ad’ does not ask for your allegiance, au contraire, it has revealed the enemy: the competition! In choosing no-ad for its represented moral integrity we do not follow the masses, but act of our own accord, with freedom! Simultaneously, whether the product is indeed better or not becomes a completely unmanageable task for the costumer; one is merely reminded that the competition is guilty of advertising, irrespective of the qualities in their product. Even more strongly, one is foolishly led to believe that we have in sight the better product of the bunch, the only one that’s respectable and trustworthy. The line separating two distinct and unrelated issues disappears: the moral implications leading the fact they presumably do not advertise the way others do, and the implications that not-advertising may have in validating the purchasing of no-ad over other the alternatives. In other words, the line separating the relation between the moral issue of advertising and the criteria one should follow in choosing a product becomes confused, and deliberately so.

Quite predictably, one suddenly stops thinking about the concrete quality of the product the moment one faces an apparent moral dilemma. No-ad becomes first and foremost an obligation and only secondly one possible choice for sun-lotion. The martyrs who, for the sake of honesty and transparency, plead allegiance to the brand and to it's moral dictum, become their very own victims. Quality has been displaced, and decisions are made on moral grounds. After all, why not name the lotion with an irrelevant, non-suggestive name, if quality is all that matters? Less catchy perhaps? But they aren't supposed to be advertising. Less important then? But is it really more important to avoid publicizing than to offer a better product than the alternatives, or is it sufficient to avoid advertising? If not, and granting them that they do not publicize, why should we base our decision on the basis of their non-advertising policy?

One may anticipate them defending that the idea is that by not spending money on advertisement they show how all of their resources get employed in the quality of the product itself and not in producing some deceptive gimmick for the masses. Yet it is plainly obvious that this is far from guaranteeing a better product. The costumer cannot make a decision on the basis of quality just knowing that. But the issue of advertisement, being taken to the name of the bottle, becomes emblematic for what the lotion is identifiable as qua product. That is, the name baptizes the object for the potential buyer: 'This is no-ad, the sun lotion that if bought, represents the obligatory moral choice to be taken, because it doesn't advertise and therefore uses all of its resources in improving the product itself.' Yet by circumscribing the object (and therefore the costumer) to that singular issue of advertisement one is taken without further reflection to the concrete predicament: ‘do I buy this lotion or another one- on the basis of what I know of this object?’ And what does the costumer know? It knows about no-ad that it doesn't advertise. It knows furthermore that in advertising there is the guilt of using resources for deceit and not quality.

Indeed, the costumer concludes that since all resources go to the lotion and not advertising, any manufacturer which advertises must have a more deficient product.Since no-ad stands innocent from these charges, it is automatically made to stand in a privileged position for the costumer. The corrupted inference solidifies: since the manufacturers devote all of their resources to the product's quality they must therefore make the better product! But this is of course absurd, as it may be the company cannot afford to beat the competition on the basis of quality, ads or not. One loyal supporter can only then reply that at this point the question about quality becomes secondary to the fact that it is not-advertising and as such there is a moral issue involved at the heart of things. These supporters become the advertisers of no advertising, the church of no religions, deconstruction or whatever. The campaign in favor of no advertisement becomes the product’s strongest asset, and works beautifully in creating a legion of followers. For it is easier to appeal to the moral intuition of the masses than to their willingness to acquire knowledge. Indeed, most simply won’t; no-ad gets acknowledged as having purged the demons of beaches and suns in all their metaphysical and non-objective pretensions, in the spirit of being transparent to the costumer.

We can freely choose no-ad and at the same time claim that if you don’t, then you’re not free, that you’re guilty for being gullible, for supporting the subversive ways of the competition, of the advertisers, of those guilty of using resources for advertising and not research. We choose no-ad freely and knowing that all of its resources went into the quality of the product and not in attracting out attention through irrelevant diversions. We support the sun-lotion to end all sun-lotions! And we can enjoy our lotion no-ad with the modest elation of having done the right thing!But in the end, who cares if the lotion was better or not?

I conclude: the enjoyment one gains from supporting ‘no-ad’ is anything but free- it can only result from the tacit injunction gained from and through the purchasing of the product. Is there really any other way? Here I return to Zizek:“How do we account for this paradox: that the absence of law universalizes prohibition. There is only one possible explanation: enjoyment itself, which we experience as a transgression, is in its innermost status something imposed, ordered- when we enjoy we never do it spontaneously, we always follow a certain injunction”.