I used a mailbox example in a previous post – I had said that even though the mailbox was a tool, we need to treat it with an appropriate amount of respect. The last few days, I’ve had reason to think further on this idea

When my philosophy professor was teaching me about Heidegger yesterday (through the convenience of my car’s CD player), he talked for a few minutes about the “World as Equipment”. As we go through our day, driving to work or the store, doing yardwork, staring at our computer screen, we rarely think about the world with which we interact. The steering wheel, the car, the road, the leaves, the yard, the computer keyboard and our desk rarely appear to us as objects, but as equipment. Think of equipment as the fencer’s sword, the carpenter’s hammer, or the artist’s brush – in concept and practice they are extensions of our own body and intention. They are temporary modifications to our features and abilities. We rarely think about our car when we drive – it’s just the new body that gets us there faster, we don’t think about the road except as our goal in progress, and we don’t even think about the cars around us except as vague participants in the formal dance of which we are the spotlit.

Really the only time we think about our surroundings as objects, rather than as equipment, is when something goes wrong. We think about the car when our CD player skips or the engine has failed to satisfactorily conserve gasoline; we think about the road when it presents traffic, disrepair, or some confusion in directions; we think about the cars around us when they aren’t doing what we want or expect. Sometimes we even think about the dude in that Mitsubishi Montero, rather than the Montero itself, as an actor.

So, the appropriate amount of respect for our surroundings begins with the objectification of our environment – that is to say: the mailbox is an object, not just equipment. It is discrete, with its own purpose, needs, story-arc, features and flaws. It can be equipment, too, but never as less than an object.

For a fencer to equip his foil without first objectifying it is dangerous. If he doesn’t have an understanding of it’s balance point, of its tension limits, of chips in the forte and a loose connector in the circuit clip, his blade might come unplugged, out of his hand, or even break and hurt someone. A very good and experienced fencer might objectify and respect his blade with only a few swings and lunges and quick inspection down its length, but he would not wisely pick up an unknown blade and take to the strip, nor would he fail to inspect and heft a familiar blade to look for any changes in its character.

The nature of our busy, far-travelling, pleni-connected, wealthy lifestyles make the mindfulness required for proper surrounding respect impossible. I cannot truly respect every object I come across and still hope to make it out the door in the morning in time for work, or even before I should return home. My toaster needed a little more consideration, before it broke last week. My computer keyboard has 9 buttons on it which are clearly visible but I had completely forgotten they were there.

I cannot acheive the perfect moral stance in my environtment, any more than I can perfect my personal relationships. But I don’t know that this should keep me from trying.