Thoughts during the plague № 4. Plague and Dasein
Hello, you are watching the series “Thoughts during the Plague.” Today I would like to talk about philosophical issues related to the coronavirus epidemic.
We have already said that from Heidegger's point of view, Dasein is determined by the attitude towards death. In the era of a pandemic, an epidemic, death that comes to us and turns out to be in close proximity with us, enters our attention zone and becomes an active factor of our presence. From the point of view of existential philosophy, this increases the acuteness of our presence in the world. Our Dasein in this situation awakens to itself, coming to fixation.
Usually, when death is out of the question, Dasein spreads, scatters, disperses, forgets about its finiteness and, thus, about itself. Instead, the alienated Das Man mode is activated when Man denkt, Man trinkt. When instead of saying “I think,” “I drink,” they say - “drinking,” “thinking,” “eating,” “sleeping.”
In fact, Das Man is the one who does all this: eats, sleeps, thinks, is present, moves, walks, enjoys or is sad when we are absent. We think that this is us, but in fact this Das Man is someone, something that does not coincide with anything particular. It thinks, it sleeps, it eats, it falls... But it exists through us. This is when there is no death.
And when death becomes close to us, we are shaken from it, we do not agree - Man denkt, Man trinkt. We need it to be ourselves - because death is near, it is standing outside the door or is already climbing through the window. In this situation, we are no longer satisfied that Das Man is doing this instead of us - we are starting to do it ourselves. Maybe this is the last time we think, drink, eat, watch, walk, move, talk, breathe, etc.
Accordingly, from the point of view of existential philosophy from the point of view of Heidegger, such an existence in the face of death is more authentic, more genuine. At this moment, the presence in the world becomes ours, because before that it was not ours, but Das Man’s one. When death comes to us, we begin to truly perceive this breath as ours, this thinking as ours, this feeling as ours. We are returning to our Dasein.
But here there is a certain point of bifurcation. When we are faced with death in the era of a pandemic, the spread of coronavirus, we enter the authentic mode. At least, we are leaving Das Man, we are approaching ourselves. We cannot afford not to notice death, spread out in fragments. We make up our mind, we are concentrating, we are like frightened animals, striving to attack the victim and ready to jump, we become dense, our presence gains attentiveness, readiness, self-discipline, because death is near, this is not a joke.
But in this case, there are 2 strategies: even when death is near and you cannot ignore it, there may be two strategies.
When we come to death, we experience horror, fear, awe. We are starting to tremble. It is interesting that even the concept of trembling was interpreted in religious experience from two sides: there is trembling like an earthquake that starts from below, material trembling. And there is a trembling that comes from the gods of heaven, from Zeus, from Apollo, from the trembling of the holy laurel trees, the oak of the sanctuary of Zeus in Dodona, when the presence of the deity begins with a slight, almost imperceptible trembling of the foliage on the sacred tree. This is a trembling “from above“. Therefore, despite the fact that the presence of death, the presence of sacredness, the presence of that which is fundamentally higher than us and cancels us as ourselves, may come from below, or may come from above. It can be extremely heavy and underground, like an earthquake, and can be subtle, like the epiphany of Zeus or Apollo.
If we apply this to existential categories, Heidegger divides two forms of attitudes toward death: fear (Furcht) and horror (Angst). Between these two models of attitude towards death there is a fundamental choice (Entscheidung), a fundamental decision of a person (or Dasein) - how to exist further: authentically or unauthentically. When death comes, there is already something authentic - we are already forced to answer the main question, but we can answer it in two ways. Here the fundamental point of bifurcation occurs.
When philosophers begin to get involved in understanding the pandemic and the philosophy of the plague, we want to say that this is some fundamental chance for a human to change something. I get a lot of questions: what is this chance, how to realize it? I want to say what is the chance from Heidegger's point of view: that we perceive death through horror - through Angst, not Furcht.
What is the difference between horror and fear? There is a deep metaphysical opposition in this. When we face death, we can turn to face it, and it will be Angst, but we can turn our backs - Furcht. If we turn our backs to death, then because of the fear that it inspires, we will run.
Running away from death is already good, better than never thinking about it. Turning one’s back to her and collecting all the efforts to survive, to jump from death, to save oneself, the loved ones and others - this desire to avoid this finiteness, which carries death, is already good, but it is a metaphysical failure.
Here is a metaphysical lapse. The one who turns its back to death and the one who runs away from it, the one who tries to escape from it, survive, save, and even save others - this is not only a question of selfishness, it is an attitude to death. The one, who perceives death as the most fundamental threat, and strives to avoid it, does not make the most important choice that opens up in the plague. That is, for the one who, in general, actually perceives the plague as an object and at the same time makes himself an object that is only saving itself from the plague – it is actually a loss. So, the plague won, then death came to be stronger.
But there is also another approach, because when a person starts to run from death, it runs away from itself. It runs in fear of discovering its own border, its own cause, its own dark, indistinguishable, metaphysical abyss that frightens it.
And another attitude, another choice is to turn one’s face to death. To look into its eyes. Not to rush to run away from it.
To compare, to correlate oneself with it. To look at it, to try in this darkness, in this nightmare, in this horror, in this abyss, to distinguish something, some kind of inscription, some kind of sign that is written in black on black. See something even blacker in this abyss.
Recognize the rays of the night that speak inside death – it is a very difficult and complex operation. But this means a return to what Heidegger called Selbst of Dasein, that is, the "selfness" of Dasein. It is ourselves. And when we see in the death that the pandemic brings, the image of ourselves, our true, secret depth, then we enter the Angst mode, the horror mode.
And then death becomes not just an object that instills panic in us, but becomes a subject. We enter into a dialogue with her. And we exchange precisely the status of subjectivity with each other.
And here it doesn’t matter whether we die or not - in fact, anyone can die on this turn: the one who runs (who can be overtaken by death) and the one who stands and looks at it “eye-to-eye”. It’s not about how to better escape from it, it’s about how to correctly understand the message, the metaphysical message, the message of the plague, the message of death. It is a question of a philosophical movement, and not of a biological and physical salvation or recovery.
Now we can apply this dualism of attitude towards death, this fork in the philosophy of the plague to other levels of philosophy. For example: if we apply the same thing to Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”, to the part that deals with the appearance of a slave and a master, then we are dealing with exactly the same situation. Hegel describes the moment of the metaphysical emergence of slave and master exclusively in relation to death.
When a person is faced with death, it has two choices, says Hegel, either to enter the battle with death - this means taking a chance, or rushing from it racing one another - then this means running away from this risk. As a matter of fact, look: on a completely different level, in a different context, we are dealing with Angst and Furcht, we are dealing with a choice between “fear” and “horror”. And, according to Hegel, there is a separation between the slave and the lord. Who is the lord, according to Hegel? This is the one who looks death in the eyes, the one who accepts its challenge, and enters into an unequal battle with death. In the battle for immortality. And who is a slave, according to Hegel? This is one who is ready to lose freedom and lose dignity, but save his life. The master brings his life to the altar of this risk. He is not ready to run – he is taking risks. He enters into battle with death, and thereby he makes himself the object of this death. What is a slave? One who does not withstand this tension, and is ready to lose everything, including freedom, if only not to meet death face to face. Then Hegel speaks amazingly: yes, of course, the master does not acquire immortality, but he acquires a slave. The slave is in his possession precisely because the master faced death.
If we apply this metaphysical model to ethno-sociological history, we see that this is how the formation of the state took place. The military class, very often coming from outside, ready to die and kill, received for this readiness - an agricultural, peaceful, hardworking society, which fell under their rule. Actually, this is how the formation of the state takes place, and so is the formation of the upper class.
Those who are willing to take risks, those who carry metaphysical Angst, that is, horror, those who challenge death, become masters, and those who evade it become their slaves. Accordingly, in this way, the plague (or death, or risk, or, often, war, an extraordinary situation) is the moment, this is a way to determine who is the master and who is the slave. The one who is ready to risk himself, who turns face to face to death, is the master. The one who runs away is the slave, and nothing else.
A brave slave who sacrifices himself, having his own dignity, is no longer a slave, he is a master. And a cowardly master thinks that his bureaucratic merits, his belly, his stealage and meanness will protect him from imminent death is not a master any more. Today, coronavirus shows us that it knows no boundaries, that it destroys artificial social models, that it comes to ordinary and unordinary people with the same clarity. And everyone should give an answer to this.
If a person belonging to today's elite escapes from the coronavirus, it becomes a slave. And if a simple person looks coronavirus in the eye, it becomes master. Thus a new assertion of the elites takes place, and any emergency creates a new class of masters and a new class of slaves. This is the second reflection on the existential metaphysical mission of the plague.
And the third point, the Christian one. One could notice that now it is also becoming very important. Of course, as soon as the coronavirus came, it turned out that modern religious people for the most part are not so, because for them the instructions of epidemiologists or the prohibition of some social services suddenly become much more important than the demands of their own faith. Like this, in general, faith is verified, it says a lot.
Let’s see what it is for a religious person, a Christian, we can take our religion, the religion of many, all Russian people - Christianity, Orthodoxy. What does our faith, religion say to us about soul and death? It tells us that our soul is immortal. That being in the body, it dwells in a very small part - an infinitely small part of its existence, its being. And that the most important, the most essential - is beyond.
Depending on how we live this brief moment of earthly life, this will determine a large, very long, incomparably more important, significant, eventful life on the other side of the grave.
Accordingly, faced with death, we are faced with our own soul, we are faced with what we have to do in this life. We are faced with the commandments, we are faced with Christ, because if Christ did not die, if He did not overcome death, if He did not suffer for us, then He would become an incomprehensible figure, He would lose His meaning.
And now, on the verge of death, confronting its proximity, we can only truly comprehend the sacrifice of Christ, and the significance that it has for us today, for us living.
All His commandments, all His actions, all His words, all His gestures, all this is about us, for us, and about our immortal soul.
And if we choose the opinion of random, completely insane political or social institutions, and believe that our religion is more secondary, more conventional than any decrees, then we determine the price of both our faith and our church , and of our God.
Of course, we should never listen to anyone except our heart, except the priesthood, except our church regarding how a Christian should behave in these difficult trials.
Because in the face of death only our faith matters and nothing else. Only our actions, only our devotion to Christ, only our faith and only our love for Him, for God and for our fellow-Christians.
And here, precisely, is the possibility of trial, here it is our Day of Judgement, it is pointless to wait for the clarion. This angelic Clarion sounds now. It sounds during the plague, during coronavirus.
It says: “Who are you? Christians? This way. Not Christians, unbelievers - come hither“. And we are called in the face of death to affirm the dignity of our Christian soul, this is precisely our call, and again - one who looks death in the face, can see the deed of Christ coming to life, the content of the Symbol of Faith comes to life, the Gospel comes to life, it sounds already right for us, right in heart. Everything is clear, and the Old Slavic language becomes absolutely clear, each letter of the Gospel, Christ's words and Christ's deeds becomes intelligible, because it is written for the soul, and the soul is what wakes up when death draws near.
Angst is the only state, horror, in which you can listen to the Gospel, you need to listen to the Gospel. This is not the opposite of love, this horror. In fact, this is the fear of God, the root of all the good, as our religion says. That fear of God, from which begins the churching of our soul.
Death is what lies on the scales of our existence. This is how our soul is activated. Usually it sleeps, and like these negligent virgins not ready for the Groom's arrival.
Coronavirus, epidemic, plague - this is a rehearsal of Christ's marriage, this is Him who stands and knocks, as the Gospel says. He knocks at our door and we don’t hear this knock when we are having fun. And when we understand that the last breath is not far away - His knock, His presence becomes fundamental for us.
Therefore, there is nothing more Christian than a pandemic. Nothing more soulful, sound, awakening, enlightening us than the difficult trials in which we are.
So, we examined three levels of the metaphysics of the plague: existential, philosophical, Hegelian and Christian. It seems to me that we can talk a lot about this, everyone needs to think about it, but, in my opinion, we groped for the entry point into the metaphysics of the plague. I think it’s worth returning to this, it’s worth thinking about it, and we should stop on it. All the best!