Friday, June 26, 2009

Death and Individuality

In the song 'Living Planet,' Emma's Revolution sing: "I don't know where we're going, but I know we're going far / We can change the universe by being who we are." Indeed, individuality breeds creativity, innovation, generosity, confidence and an appreciation of diversity. Yet, how do we achieve such subjectivity?

The great German philosopher Martin Heidegger argues that death 'individualizes Dasein down to itself.' In effect, coming to terms with death as a possibility that is present as a possibility shatters our reliance on cultural norms and practices, as we realize that no way of being will allow us to continue being who we are post-death. Hence our anxiety not towards physical/biological demise, but rather in response to 'the possibility of the impossibility of every way of comporting oneself towards anything.' We take responsibility for ourselves when we run ahead into death (Vorlaufen in den Tod), i.e. when we act in light of the inevitability of dying. For Heidegger, public opinion and pressure fade away in the face of death and are thereby rendered irrelevant. There is simply no correct way to be-in-the-world. Thus, we are set free to be ourselves - we are free to make choices of great significance - we are free to change the universe.

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib instructs: "Let the remembrance of death be the patched coat you wear" (6.16).

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