HUMANS ARE SLAVES TO CULTURE
“…everyone believes they live distinctive lives, make unique choices, follow their own paths… these beliefs provide a cover story for the real truth that socially constituted impersonal existence dominates everyday life.”
Martin Heidegger, German philosopher (1889-1976), was the philosopher whose concept roughly translated as “being there” became the inspiration for Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Being There in the movie version of which Peter Sellers may have found his greatest role as Chauncey (the) Gard[e]ner. Heidegger pretty much thinks most humans are robots, but for different reasons than I think we are robots. In the following three paragraphs (pp. 193-194), William Schroeder summarizes Heidegger’s thoughts on this one aspect of the human condition:
“Heidegger’s second existential is the impersonal mode of selfhood. Being with other people typically produces a standard way of doing things: a characteristic handling of a tool, a typical formulation of an issue, a normal pattern of organizing the day, a standard response to specific situations. In each of these cases, people typically seek what everyone seeks, they choose what everyone chooses, they think what everyone thinks, and they feel as everyone feels. This is the impersonal mode of existence each person lives: each person lives as everyone else lives. Since acting, thinking, feeling, and choosing are defining features of human life, to replicate others' responses is to have no distinctive selfhood of one's own, to be merely an exemplification of typical collective responses. Usually people do not realize they live impersonally. The second half of Heidegger's Being and Time shows how to achieve a different, more personal and individuated way of life that he calls "authentic" selfhood. His basic point is that this personal selfhood is an achievement—that it always transforms the more basic, impersonal mode of living and is always threatened by it. The average, everyday way of living is impersonal and thus not merely oriented toward others but also highly normalized: one speaks in the voice of others; one responds to current events as everyone responds; one values just what others value. Because people often live impersonally, Heidegger argues that achieving genuine selfhood is more difficult than philosophers like Husserl—who make the self their starting point—assume.
“Beyond this, the quality of one's self-knowledge and of one's understanding of human existence and ultimately of being itself depends on one's mode of selfhood. Those who live personally or authentically can thus gain sharper comprehension of things themselves; those who live impersonally possess a weaker grasp of truth, largely because they rely on traditional frameworks and formulations and because they fail to approach their experience with open, attentive eyes.
“Taken together, Heidegger’s and Scheler's insights show that other people are more deeply embedded in human existence than philosophers typically acknowledge. Indeed, the lives most people lead are simply expressions of some normalized way of living. Other people thus quite literally constitute one's experiences and responses. But everyone believes they live distinctive lives, make unique choices, follow their own paths. Heidegger suggests these beliefs provide a cover story for the real truth that socially constituted impersonal existence dominates everyday life. Heidegger makes no effort to show how this mode of selfness develops and changes, but he reveals a new way in which other people penetrate, structure, and sometimes govern one's existence.”
From Continental Philosophy: a critical approach by William Schroeder (2005)