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thinHKers Series 貼地哲學

What We Can Learn from Heidegger about Identity and Authenticity

by Kate


As immigrants from Hong Kong, we must face difficult questions about our identity and how we should reason about our place in the world as we flee from our home and move to a more politically stable country such as Canada. Do we have a responsibility to continue to fight for Hong Kong’s freedom, even though we are thousands of miles away, in order to honour those who have sacrificed their freedoms for ours? How should we take into consideration our personal and collective history when making decisions in the present and when contemplating the future? In this issue of the ThinHKers series, we will examine the problems of identity and authenticity through an existentialist lens, particularly through 20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s philosophy.

Philosophers have long grappled with the question of what it is to be a human being. While many philosophers before Heidegger studied the question through an objective, analytical perspective, e.g. asking the question “what is a human being?”, Heidegger thinks that philosophers have largely been mistaken in forgetting to ask the question, “what is it like to be a human being?”. In order to answer that question, Heidegger first prompts us to think about what is unique about our situation as human beings – what is it about being a human being that is different from any other types of being? According to Heidegger, what is unique about our situation as human beings is that, first, we take our own being as an issue – we ask questions about our own existence; and second, we constantly engage in tasks and activities we care about. Heidegger uses the word ‘care’ very broadly here – we may say that we don’t care about our jobs, but we still care enough that we constantly engage with it. Central to Heidegger’s discussion of the ‘care’ structure of the human being are three fundamental terms: facticity (past), existentiality (future), and fallenness (present), which we will explore below.

Facticity is a part of what Heidegger calls ‘thrownness’. We are all ‘thrown’ into the world without prior consultation – arbitrarily born into a given family, within a given culture, within a given socioeconomic class, at a given moment in human history, etc. These ‘givens’ are facticities which limit our human possibilities. As a result, the tasks we decide to be engaged in and care about often have very little to do with us; they are in a sense decided for us by the particular facticity that we were born into, which we have no control over. For example, we didn’t choose to be born in a place called Hong Kong. But because of the facticity that we were born in Hong Kong during this particular period in history, the things that matter to us are very different from what would hypothetically matter to us if we were, say, born in Ancient Greece in 400 BC. In this sense, our facticity determines the things we care about far more than we are often aware of.

While facticity refers to our past, existentiality refers to our future – the possibilities which we have at our disposal. While our facticity limits our human possibilities, there still is the freedom to transform. In other words, although we are all thrown into a set of circumstances without consent, our freedom lies in choosing to embrace our possibilities within our thrownness. This duality exists at each and every moment of our existence and bears upon our potential for being authentic. For example, even though many of us were born into Chinese culture and learned to adopt Chinese values growing up, we have the freedom to reflect on those values we grew up with and choose to accept some and reject others.

However, as human beings, we have the inevitable tendency to fall into an everyday mode of existence, and be absorbed into the common world of experience that is most readily at-hand. Heidegger calls this ‘fallenness,’ which is characterized by the failure to note our facticity and existentiality. This everyday mode of being Heidegger names ‘the they’ (das Man). In this everyday mode of existence, we forget to note our facticity and existentiality; hence, ‘the they’ is everyone and no one in particular. This everyday mode of being is the common world of experience made up of trends, activities, and beliefs in which we automatically participate and take for granted.

The way in which society in general is structured often gives rise to trends and activities in which we automatically participate. For example, on social media, we often simply consume content without reflecting on it. We often see news about injustices happening in the world, post about it on social media, then move onto the next trending story, without deeper reflection on the previous one: What do I truly think about this issue, taking into account how my facticities have given rise to the biases I have? What can I do to help, besides simply posting about it on social media?… The self which each of us is, is often derived from the common understandings and possibilities which ‘the they’ define for us – the activities and tasks in which we engage, the common expressions we utilize, the beliefs we hold about current issues…

Thus, for the most part, we as human beings unknowingly surrender our unique individuality to commonly defined styles of living and thinking, and define ourselves by ‘the they’. It is not we ourselves, as individuals, who have constructed these, but rather ‘das Man’ (the they). Heidegger contrasts this inauthentic das Man with the authentic Dasein, or ‘owned self’. Heidegger describes our average everydayness as bringing us ‘tranquility,’ and suggests that in some way it provides the illusion that all is well and everything is in order, when in actuality, something is amiss.

In this everyday mode defined by ‘the they,’ we are not our authentic selves – we are inauthentic. However, the designation ‘inauthentic’ is not intended as a moral judgment by Heidegger, but rather as a description of an existential fact. Heidegger does not suggest that we eliminate our inauthentic fallenness – as all of the three attributes, i.e. facticity, fallenness, and existentiality are what make up our human existence. However, if we are constantly trapped in this everyday mode of being all the time and fail to reflect on our facticity and existentiality, there is a clear sense in which we are missing a large part of our human existence and are leading an inauthentic life.

Having learned about Heidegger’s ideas of facticity, existentiality, and fallenness, we may use these ideas to examine our situation as Hong Kongers overseas. What we as Hong Kongers all have in common in our facticities is that we all grew up in a place we call home, Hong Kong, in an era in which it is constantly and increasingly subjected to political repression. As a result of our facticities, we share a lot of what we believe, our culture, collective memories, values, goals, and convictions.

While some of us have had the privilege to move to a more politically stable country such as Canada amidst the political turmoil as Beijing begins the crackdown on Hong Kong, many have also sacrificed their freedoms for ours. As we move to another country and get exposed to many different cultures and values, now is a good time to ask ourselves: why do we hold the beliefs, values, and convictions we have? Was it all because of the influence surrounding us growing up, from family, friends, and the media, or do I genuinely hold them after a period of serious and long-winded reflection, taking into account our facticity and existentialism?

In a relatively peaceful country such as Canada, it is easy for us to fall into an everyday mode of being – going to work/school, hanging out with friends chatting about mundane things, enjoying life… While there is absolutely nothing wrong with these activities, we must ask ourselves – why is it that after relocating to a politically stable country that we have forgotten about all our struggles in Hong Kong and stopped fighting for it? Did we genuinely believe in our common cause, or did we fight for it simply because everyone else around us was also doing it? In order to live authentically, we must be aware of both our facticity and existentiality. While our past cannot be changed, we have the freedom and responsibility to transform and to decide our own future.


About the author

Kate

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thinHKers Series 貼地哲學

Amoral Universalism: The Olympic Paradox

by Kate


The official news agency of the Chinese Communist Party, Xinhua, referred to calls for the boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympics as a “selfish and ultimately harmful act,” asserting that the Olympics Games are “a tool … to encourage mutual understanding among people of all countries and regions, to popularize Olympism and to maintain world peace.”1 Similarly, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has insisted that the Olympic Games “are about diversity and unity” and the IOC must be “beyond all political disputes.”2,3 Indeed, many maintain that politics should be kept out of sports because it pollutes and corrupts the pure, ideal essence of sports. For many sports fans, sport has an almost holy power that transcends the seedier aspects of political life.

Keeping politics out of the Olympics?

While sports may be separated from politics depending on the context, it is not difficult to see that the Olympics is inherently political, owing to how it is structured. First, there is the obvious fact that athletes cannot choose to represent themselves and must represent their countries or regions (i.e. National Olympic Committees) when participating in the Olympics. Secondly, hosts of the Olympics always aim to make the Games representative of their countries rather than simply the cities in which the Games take place, often infusing their opening ceremonies with nationalistic overtones despite the convention of naming the Games after the host city.4 A clear example that shows how these two facts alone are sufficient to introduce politics into the Olympics is the ‘two Chinas’ issue. The 2008 Beijing Olympics proved to be significant as a political tool for both the PRC and Taiwan. The PRC demonstrated its goal of unification, notably in establishing the torch relay route, but was unable to achieve its ultimate goal in the face of opposition from the Taiwanese Government.

Furthermore, the Olympics not only involves athletes but also involves citizens, taxpayers, and politicians. Interestingly, when organizing committees lobby politicians to pour unlimited tax money into Olympic spending, or when politicians try to win taxpayers’ support for Olympic bids, this is not considered ‘bringing politics into the Olympics.’ However, when protesters try to draw public attention focused on the misplaced spending priorities in the host city/nation, or to draw worldwide media attention to human rights abuses and injustices in the host nation, often with considerable success,5 they are accused of contaminating something ‘pure’ and ‘honourable’ by bringing politics into the Olympics. Unsurprisingly, it is often the individuals and institutions that have the most to lose from protests and boycotts who decry the ‘politicization’ of the Olympics.
One might argue that while politics might be embedded into the structure and operation of the Games, one of the central tenets of the Olympics is to look past our differences and to promote diversity and unity through sports. Thus, it might be argued that it is inappropriate to intentionally introduce political disagreements between countries into something that is supposed to “promote mutual understanding among people of all countries and regions” and “maintain world peace.”

The Olympics as a peace-promoting movement?

To analyze the above argument, we need to examine the concept of Olympism, which is the ‘philosophy’6 underpinning the Olympic movement. The term ‘Olympism’ was coined by the French pedagogue Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the IOC. One of the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism,” as stated in the Olympic Charter, is “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”7 According to de Coubertin’s idea of Olympism, the Olympic Games would be a transcendental celebration of the human family, which, with the universal appeal of sports, would somehow promote peace and understanding among the governments and regimes that participate in it.

Do the Olympics really have the peace-promoting effect that de Coubertin envisioned? Social and cultural historian John Hoberman argues not. In his paper “The Myth of Sport as a Peace-Promoting Political Force,” Hoberman argues that the common rhetoric employed by the IOC that the Olympic Movement is a peace-promoting movement is implausible and even “scandalous,” for two reasons.8

First, Hoberman argues that based on historical evidence, the IOC’s claims about the peace-promoting effects of the Olympics are hyper exaggerated.9 For example, during the protests that preceded the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with regards to China’s human rights issues, then-IOC-president Jacques Rogge optimistically proclaimed that the Olympic Games were going to transform China, pronouncing two weeks before the opening that “for the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China.”10 Needless to say, Rogge’s optimistic vision was shattered as half a month later, it would be confirmed that the Internet would continue to be censored for journalists. Furthermore, if we were to assess the Games’ peace-promoting effect in terms of a causal relationship between the Olympic Games and the absence or reduction of armed conflict, the fact that the century which followed the first modern Olympics Games in 1896 turned out to be the darkest and bloodiest in human history would let down anyone hoping to find such a relationship.

Secondly, Hoberman argues that the Olympics fails to qualify as a peace movement because the IOC has not met the minimum ethical and humanitarian standards required for international organizations to have credible peace-promoting effects.11 One of the several examples that Hoberman gives to illustrate his point was the 1936 Berlin (“Nazi”) Olympic Games, which served as a major platform for the Hitler regime to pull off one of the greatest propaganda coups in history.12 This pleased the Nazis so much that Hitler’s Foreign Office even nominated de Coubertin for the 1936 Peace Prize. The 1936 Berlin Olympics would continue to be considered by many as one of the most disgraceful episodes in modern Olympic history. Continuing their policy of ‘political neutrality,’ the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games were awarded by the IOC in 1981, one year after the South Korean military government carried out the Gwangju massacre.
Hoberman refers to the IOC’s commitment to political neutrality as “amoral universalism,” a term he uses to describe the IOC’s long history of collaborating with authoritarian and repressive regimes in the name of an all-embracing inclusiveness.13 The IOC’s amoral universalism is entirely compatible with the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism,” which specifies that discrimination with regard to politics or national origin is incompatible with the Olympic Movement.14 The basis for this policy of unconditional inclusion is that according to Olympism, the practice of sport is a human right.15

The practice of sport as a human right

One needs to demarcate between practicing sports within the comfort of one’s own home (or country) and participating in an international sports competition with major political significance. While it is plausible that the practice of sport is a human right, the claim that this right extends to guarantee a country’s inclusion in an international sports competition is far more questionable. A country’s inclusion in the Olympics should not be guaranteed regardless of its human rights record, for the reason that issues concerning fundamental human rights, such as the rights to basic liberties, should always take precedence over the supposed right to participate in an international sports festival. This was the premise of the African boycott of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, and currently, the call for boycott of the upcoming 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Final reflections on Olympism

Hoberman offers a lucid summary of the problem with amoral universalism: “Amoral universalism substitutes sportsmanship for ethics. But sportsmanship is actually a mere etiquette for the strong, the select community of potential victors, and ‘Olympism’ is a ministry to the healthy … it represents not ethics, but the flight from conscience, its suffering, and its doubt.”16 Indeed, Olympism has become a symbol for supposed ‘peace’ and ‘unity’ precisely because it is amoral. Rather than being an ally of ethics, Olympism is better interpreted as one of its antagonists.

Notes
  1. Xinhua, “Commentary: Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing 2022 Is Selfish and Harmful.” Xinhua News Agency, 30 Nov. 2021.
  2. Thomas Bach, “New Year’s Message 2022 – Olympic News.” IOC, 31 Dec. 2021.
  3. Thomas Bach, “The Olympics Are about Unity and Diversity, Not Politics and Profit. Boycotts Don’t Work.” The Guardian, 23 Oct. 2020.
  4. For further discussion on the issue of nationalism in the Olympics, see Carrington (2020) on “Cosmopolitan Olympism”. Carrington argues that the contradiction at the heart of Olympism, which posits the universal bond between humans through the pursuit of individual greatness yet positting that this universal bond is established through national allegiance, has never been resolved (p. 93).
  5. Hongkongers at McGill, “Blood in the Stadium.” The McGill Tribune, 18 Jan. 2022.
  6. Quotation marks are used here because it is suggested that de Coubertin’s Olympism does not suffice to be a legitimate philosophy, but rather might be more accurately characterized as a process philosophy (DaCosta, 2012) or an ideology (Loland, 1995).
  7. IOC, Olympic Charter, 2021, p. 8.
  8. John Hoberman, “The myth of sport as a peace-promoting political force,” p. 18.
  9. Ibid., p. 20.
  10. Andrew Jacobs, “China to Limit Web Access during Olympic Games.” The New York Times, 31 July 2008.
  11. John Hoberman, “The myth of sport as a peace-promoting political force,” p. 18.
  12. Howard Berkes, “Nazi Olympics Tangled Politics and Sport.” NPR, 7 June 2008.
  13. John Hoberman, “The myth of sport as a peace-promoting political force,” pp. 21-22.
  14. IOC, Olympic Charter, 2021, p. 8.
  15. Ibid.
  16. John Hoberman, The Olympic Crisis: Sport, Politics, and the Moral Order, p. 32.

Full Bibliography

Bach, Thomas. “New Year’s Message 2022 – Olympic News.” International Olympic Committee, IOC, 31 Dec. 2021, https://olympics.com/ioc/news/new-year-s-message-2022.

Bach, Thomas. “The Olympics Are about Unity and Diversity, Not Politics and Profit. Boycotts Don’t Work.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 23 Oct. 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/oct/24/the-olympics-are-about-diversity-and-unity-not-politics-and-profit-boycotts-dont-work-thomas-bach.

Berkes, Howard. “Nazi Olympics Tangled Politics and Sport.” NPR, NPR, 7 June 2008, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91246674.

Carrington, Ben. “Cosmopolitan Olympism, humanism and the spectacle of ‘race’.” Post-Olympism?. Routledge, 2020. 81-97.

DaCosta, Lamartine. “A never-ending story: The philosophical controversy over Olympism.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 33.2 (2006): 157-173.

Hoberman, John. “The myth of sport as a peace-promoting political force.” The SAIS Review of International Affairs 31.1 (2011): 17-29.

Hoberman, John. The Olympic Crisis: Sport, Politics, and the Moral Order. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Aristide O. Caratzas, Publisher, 1986.

Hongkongers at McGill. “Blood in the Stadium.” The McGill Tribune, SPT, 18 Jan. 2022, https://www.mcgilltribune.com/opinion/blood-in-the-stadium-170122/.

International Olympic Committee, Olympic Charter, 2021.

Jacobs, Andrew. “China to Limit Web Access during Olympic Games.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 July 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/31/sports/olympics/31china.html.

Loland, Sigmund. “Coubertin’s Olympism from the Perspective of the History of Ideas.” Olympika 4 (1995): 49-78.Xinhua, “Commentary: Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing 2022 Is Selfish and Harmful.” Xinhua News Agency, 30 Nov. 2021, http://www.news.cn/english/2021-11/30/c_1310343408.htm.


About the author

Kate

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Welcome to OHKYA’s website!

Hello! Welcome to our newly launched website. Here you will be able to find OHKYA’s mission, previous campaigns we have worked on, Hong Kong’s history, showcase of different art mediums that arose from the Hong Kong movement and much more! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.