radically accepting finitude
Some of Heidegger’s ideas about death were illustrated today in the most gruesome way by the release of a video online showing the beheading of an American journalist by extremist fundamentalists in the Middle East. I wept, partly for him (as I weep for all of those who know that death is coming when they have not chosen it – let it come quietly in the middle of the night when we are asleep, or in the middle of the day as we are going about out business – or let it come at a time of our own choosing, but let us not have to wait for it, hoping it will come, as if we were dogs, who do not die but perish) and partly for the world in which we live, where human beings are capable of not seeing the humanity of another.
The man in black standing behind James Wright Foley, knife at the ready, is hooded, as if to deny his own humanity. This is the only up way he can do what he is about to do. Here is a man whose last words were that he would have liked to have lived to see his family one last time and here is a man in black who will act to deny him that possibility. It is as if this is not one human being and another. It is as if something has been introduced which has stripped one of those men of their humanity. This something is ideology, an ism. This is such a tragedy. And yet, there are other people too waiting for death all over the world. And the newspapers and websites and history books are filled with the actions of those who have denied their own humanity and denied others theirs. Ironically perhaps, some of these perpetrators even used what they claimed were the very ideas of Heidegger to inspire their actions.
And so there we are. If freedom consists in the affirmation of the necessity of one’s own mortality, as H. wrote, then surely humanity is consists in allowing, indeed enabling, others to affirm theirs.
Possibility, Heidegger wrote, “stands higher” than actuality. For James Wright Foley actuality extinguished possibility today and ultimately this is what death does, it extinguishes the possibilities for one finite being in time. But not this way. This is grotesque. It is unnecessary, it is barbaric and it is senseless.
I say let the image be seen. Let it serve as a memorial to James Wright Foley and as a reminder to beware of human beings who don’t understand what it means to be a human being. And to beware of ideology, and men who claim to serve it.