The Violent One


I do not mean to denigrate farmers and fishermen with what I have written the past few nights. I do find the drunk, desperate Canadian fisherman who were filmed slaughtering seals to be cowards and numb skulls. But I am not aligning myself with the environmentalist organizations I have recently described. I admire their resistance to custom and aggressive reaction. I am indifferent to their cause. We cannot fault humanity for being a destructive presence in the world. It is what we are. Our inclination to force and power is what makes us unique among the animals. Violence against all things is our defining trait. It is why the other animals fear us and run away. It is why our domesticated animals warily follow us without protest. Heidegger calls this trait deinon, an ancient Greek adjective meaning fierce and stunning. As I remember, the Attic poets commonly used it as an epithet for the goddess Athena. It describes the human propensity to know the world and to shape it, an impulse which, Heidegger observes, is at its root violent and domineering:

“The violent one, the creative man, who sets forth into the un-said, who breaks into the un-thought, compels the unhappened to happen and makes the unseen appear—this violent one stands at all times in venture.” An Introduction to Metaphysics (161)

Yes man is assertive and forceful, but so is nature, and in the perpetual conflict between the two, nature prevails just as often. I cannot censure those who impose themselves into the world’s supposedly delicate ecology and alter the land around them, because this is the way of the hominid species. We are perpetuators of the artificial. We synthesize objects and concepts from material hewn from the wild, uncooked world. Everyday every one of us destroys great swaths of existence and manufactures new being from the ruins. We extract it from the earth or wherever and mutilate it into a shape that suits out inane purposes. Sometimes we call the output goods and commodity. Sometimes pollution. Sometimes art.

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