Enchained in roots

During my winter sport vacation I read two essays from Levinas: "Reflections on the philosophy of Hitlerism" and "On escape". My aim was to collect arguments from Levinas against Heidegger's enrootment philosophy. The core of the philosophy of Hitlerism is the idea that humans are not free but completely enchained. They are enchained in their physical bodies, in their race and in their history. These factors determine their fate as individuals and as a people and also their human value. The idea that humans are determined by their race and background legitimizes the idea that some races / peoples are superior to others, which means that the inferior ones can be excluded and that "universal" human rights can be denied to these groups.

Although this is the core of Levinas' criticism towards Hitlerism, it cannot directly be read as criticism to Heidegger's enrootment philosophy, since Heidegger's philosophy isn't based on race but on authochthony. However, I think that his concept of autochthony is rather vague. How many generations should a people have lived on one terratory before they can considered to be autochthoneous, where should the line be drawn? And why should the farmers of the Black Forest live in that particular forest, why can't they feel close to the nature and live in their traditional way in a similar forest in another country? But in fact it doesn't make much difference whether the exclusion is based on race or something else, the exclusion, violence and dehumanization that they lead to are the same.

Against this exclusive philosophy, Levinas puts forward his "humanism of the other". There are two ways of how you can treat another human being: either you dehumanize him the way this is done by Heidegger and Hitler, or you can decide to welcome the other and to always treat him as a real person, an equal human being.

Below is another part of an Orkut discussion, where I described this difference between dehumanization in the one hand and the welcoming of the other on the other hand, in relation to racism and stereotypes. An Orkuter complained that because he has an Asian appearance and a name which could be Islamic, people automatically assume he's a Muslim and start to express their negative stereotyped images about Muslims to him. I think that these posts make it concrete, what Levinas means.

The Orkuter said:

"My gripe comes from the fact that I contributed to a forum on race and the first thing people noticed was my name and pic, which in their eyes represented a 'muslim'. This is a fact. You see, a distinction is therefore already made without a word being uttered by me. The gerneral stereotype therefore is reinforced (rightly or wrongly) as
- Muslim = conservative and ignorant to other views (Closed shop)
- White = Liberal or conservative, open mined or whatever the choice seems endless
You may not believe this to be the case but this distinction does exist and it is prevalent even here among more enlightened individuals. It may be that its just their nuerolinguistic programming and therefore their nature. I don't expect people to be tip toeing around me just for the sake of political correctness but I equally don't want people to be stereotyped.
Its extremely patronising and makes me have to justify my motivations for any comment. I don't see these questions and issues being raised or put to white Christians as are put to muslims. Sometimes I notice things, though this is not exclusive to this forum, questions can be so pregnant with assumptions that they are arguably better left unanswered. Not because they do not relate to important issues but because they are so loaded with prejudice and crippled by ignorance, that the manner in which they are put renders them incapable of addressing important issues."

I replied:

"I totally agree. This community has got racism in its name, but many problems are no clear racism, but a related phenomenon which is less visible but which can be as harmful. The real problem is very much related to the stereotypes. Racism, the discrimination and exclusion of races, is only an extreme form of the same kind of problem. The core of the problem is in my
opinion the dehumanization of individuals by inventing a stereotype image based on assumed characteristics of the group / category they belong to according to others. Other people make a judgement about whom I essentially am without listening to what I say myself. They look at me and invent a picture of what I am like, that I am a "typical Dutch naive lunatic liberal", for instance. After they have invented that image, they don't look at / listen to the real person anymore, as if they killed the person. The real person has been reduced to / replaced by an object: the image of that person in somebody elses mind. But other people cannot reduce me to an object, I always remain human and I should always be treated like that. I have a right to speak for myself. It doesn't matter where I was born, what the colour of my skin is, in which culture I grew up or what my religion is like. The only thing that matters is what I do and what I say. You can find it bad what I do or say and you can explain to me why you think so. You cannot turn me down just because of my (assumed) race, nationality, culture or religion.
Differences in group characteristics cannot make one group superior to another with regard to the value of the humans as humans. No race or culture can ever be inferior at the level of being human, every human being is completely human.

That's the most important thing: to always treat a human being as a human. You can assume / guess things but then you always have to check if it's true in this particular case or not. Try to have an open mind as much as possible, really listen to what someone says, instead of listening to your own thoughts about 'that kind of people'."

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