Facts and Feelings: A Heideggerian Critique of Ben Shapiro

“Facts don’t care about your feelings!” This is the motto of Ben Shapiro or, as I like to call him, Benny Bucko. Nowadays, rightist Youtube videos and their comment sections overflow with idiots regurgitating this logical “checkmate”. It has become a mantra of sorts for all those brave souls that have sacrificed their lives in the service of the most noble of tasks: pwning libtards on the internet. Those of us on the left have all had to come to terms with the heartbreaking truth that we’ve forever been DESTROYED with LOGIC and FACTS. If leftist ideas were a city, then they would surely be a flattened Tokyo — utterly ruined and devastated by the mighty, unstoppable kaiju known as Benzilla. Our once beautiful and gleaming leftist ideas of universal freedom, justice and equality are now nothing more than smoldering trash heaps. Knocked down from their shiny heaven by the wrath and rage of Reason incarnate. How can we rise from this sprawling wreckage? How are we to ever mount a counterargument against the Logic God before whom Socrates would tremble? How can we escape the menacing shadow of the King of the Munsters . . . oops, I meant, monsters. Please don’t squish me into the ground with your giant foot, Lord Ben!

Alright, alright, I just had to get that out of my system. In all seriousness, we do need to investigate the relation between facts and feelings. This whole thing about how “facts don’t care about your feelings” does present us with an opportunity to explore something philosophically important. It’s become such a trope, such an ideological tool, such an “a priori truth” for those on the right, that we should spend some time reflecting on it. But what is the meaning behind this “principle”? In what way do facts not care about feelings? If we subtract all of Shapiro’s sassiness from the assertion, we’re left with something like facts are what they are independent of how human beings feel about them. In other words, the existence of facts is completely independent from the existence of feelings. Facts in no way, shape or form rely upon emotions in order to be the facts they are. In and of themselves, facts are totally emotionless, that is, moods play no part whatsoever in the knowledge of states of affairs. One reason why Shapiro’s little maxim seems so intuitively correct to many people is because the philosophical tradition itself has long downplayed the importance of emotions in the acquisition of knowledge. Philosophy tends to assert the primacy of reason and truth over emotions. Moods have traditionally been reduced to mere subjective filters that only function to distort and corrupt the truth of things. Feelings get in the way of knowledge. Truths or facts are taken to be objective, wheres feelings are thought to be subjective. The distinction between facts and feelings secretly depends of the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity. It is precisely this distinction and its application to the relation between feelings and facts that I want to challenge. This analysis will utilize some of Heidegger’s insights in Being and Time. Philosophically speaking, this text is well-equipped for this endeavor (the fact that I’m using the work of an uber-conservative against Shapiro, instead of a leftist’s, is just the cherry on top).

Being and Time is one of the masterpieces of 20th century philosophy. In it, Heidegger accomplishes a number of things. The one that’s relevant to this discussion is his phenomenology of moods presented in sections 29 and 30. Before we dive into these phenomenological descriptions, we need to situate this stretch of the book within the context of what’s already been established in the earlier sections. I’ll try to be as clear and succinct as possible (this is a Herculean task so give me a fucking break). In Being and Time, Heidegger is attempting to answer the question concerning Being. What is the meaning of Being? He argues that one must come to have a proper understanding of the being (entity) who has an understanding of Being in order to answer the question about Being itself. What being has an understanding of Being? Human beings, of course, or what Heidegger calls Dasein, which, in German, means “there-being” or “being-there”. He goes on to give us an entirely new and original take on what it means to be a human being or Dasein. This fundamental ontology presents the human being in a way that is totally at odds with the modern philosophical tradition (Descartes, Kant, Husserl) and its concepts of self-consciousness, subject, representation, mind, etc. Modern philosophers, starting with Descartes, had conceived of human beings as isolated, self-subsistent, self-conscious minds that do not require any other minds or finite things in order to exist. But why was Heidegger’s phenomenological ontology of Dasein so groundbreaking? Let’s find out.

Beginning with Descartes, the foundation of all knowledge was said to be the subject or the knowing subject. This epistemological subject finds particular instantiations in Descartes’ cogito (mental substance or the I of “I think, therefore, I am”), Kant’s transcendental unity of apperception and Husserl’s transcendental ego. And what does this knowing subject know? You guessed it. It knows objects. This means that the subject-object schema functioned as the primary conceptual distinction (what Laruelle would call the “decision”) for many of the greatest philosophers of modernity. The subject-object schema views the relation between humans and things as primarily one of a isolated mind coming to the know the world of objects through various mental representations, e.g., sensory perceptions and meaning-giving conceptions (the perception of a object and the concept of it are not themselves the object itself). This means that the subject never has direct access to things, but, instead, only knows them through their mental representations. This image of the human being presents it as a detached observer indifferently taking account of objects by cataloging their physical properties. It holds that we (subjectivity) primarily relate to the external world (objectivity) by way of mental contents (representations) that simply classify objects in a neutral manner. It’s basically the idea of a pure knower coming to know a pure object via mental mediations. “This tree is 35 feet tall, has brown bark and green leaves, and is next to my house. I can never say what the tree is like in and of itself, as it really is completely outside the scope of my perceptions and concepts, but this is still the best I can do. My relation to the tree is fundamentally one of knowing it. I am a subject that knows an object. This is my ontological essence.

Heidegger calls bullshit on this representational theory of the mind. He totally rejects the primacy of the subject-object schema. For him, it devastatingly blinds us to our true ontological structure of Being-in-the-world. Here’s the thing, the distinction between subjects and objects creates all sorts of conceptual problems that philosophers have never been able to answer. How do the mental states, the representations, of the worldless subject come to share a correspondence with objects or mind-independent states of affairs? Wittgenstein, perhaps, offers us the greatest attempt to solve this problem in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. However, this endeavor was a failure, one that Wittgenstein himself came to recognize and which led him to write Philosophical Investigations. In Being and Time, Heidegger takes a different approach to the deadlock concerning the epistemological correspondence of subjects (mental representations) and objects (states of affairs). He doesn’t solve the problem — he dissolves it. Rather than relying on the abstract theories of epistemological subjectivity found in modern philosophy, Heidegger undertakes a phenomenology of human beings in their concrete everydayness. He discovers that we are not normally and usually knowing subjects. On the contrary! He grants that we do kick into this reflective, epistemological mode in certain rare circumstances, but it is far from our ontological default setting. Dasein is not a subject and what it is concerned with is not an object. Dasein is Being-in-the-world, but what is Being-in-the-world?

I dedicate this to you, Mr. Shapiro. You really got a friend in me!

First, what is a world? Heidegger makes a distinction between two kinds of worlds: (1) the totality of actual objects, (2) the totality of referential totalities. The first meaning of “world” is best thought of as the universe, i.e., the space-time continuum, this is the plane of substances, objects, things. Descartes defined “substance” in his Principles of Philosophy like this: “By substance we can understand nothing other than a thing which exists in such a way as to depend on no other thing for its existence.” A substance, for example, a rock, doesn’t require any other substance in order to exist. Substances are to be thought of in terms of presence, in that, they are either present in the universe, or present at the moment, or present before consciousness. Substances have their own mode of Being which Heidegger referred to as “presence-at-hand.” The second meaning of “world” is the more important one for Heidegger, but, to be able to understand it, we must first understand what a referential totality is. By “referential totality”, Heidegger means the web-like structure of equipment, that is to say, tools. Tools, unlike substances, are not self-subsistent, since they rely on other beings for their Being, i.e., to be the type of beings they are. In Being the beings that they are, tools refer to other beings. The Being of equipment is primarily referential and not substantial. It is important to note that Heidegger called the mode of Being of equipment “readiness-to-hand.” Let us consider Heidegger’s famous phenomenological description of equipment:

The main points in this passage that one should take notice of are the following: (1) “a” piece of equipment necessitates and presupposes other pieces of equipment (a referential totality of equipment) in order to be the piece of equipment that it is; (2) equipment is truly what it is only when it is being used transparently, that is, when we do not even noticed its physical properties; (3) equipment, unlike substances, only shows itself as itself when it is withdrawn, i.e., not present or present-at-hand. Equipment has a completely different ontological structure than substances have, whereas we conceive of the latter in terms of self-subsistence and presence, we must conceive of the former in terms of referentiality and withdrawnness. We are now in a position to understand Heidegger’s second meaning of world: a world is the totality of all significant, referential totalities. A referential totality is its own little world within the world as a whole. We often speak of the world of a teacher, or an athlete, or a musician, and what we mean by this is the significant context of references in which that person abides, but each of these little worlds is only a part of the world at large: the totality of all referential totalities.

Now, let us return to Dasein for at moment. Heidegger goes on to establish that equipment not only refers to other equipment, but also to the goals, projects and plans of Dasein. Why does a person pick up a hammer? In order to hammer nails. And why does a person hammer nails? In order to fasten boards together. But doesn’t each in-order-to share a common purpose with the other ones? Yes, of course, and in this case it would be the purpose of building a house. And why do houses get built? So people can have places to live. Tools necessitate human projects to be what they are, and humans can only be the determinate selves that they are through the use of equipment. This relates to the in in Being-in-the-world. This in is not the in of water being inside a glass or the in of a tree being inside the woods. This in is one of involvement. It has to do with being engaged. For example, the way a pianist is involved with a composition while engaged in a performance of it. This is the in of an in-order-to and of Being-in-the-world.

Here’s to Ben!

Let’s take at look at a much more concrete example, the example being myself. I’m sitting in the chair I’m currently sitting in in order to type on my laptop. I also have my lamp turned on in order to have the appropriate lighting for looking at a computer screen. The lampshade is angled in such a way in order to not have too much light in my eyes. My thermostat is set at 72° in order to keep me from getting either too cold or too warm. Iron Maiden’s Powerslave is playing in order to keep me motivated, energetic, inspired and enthusiastic. My copy of Being and Time is sitting close by on the table in order to allow me to type out quotes when needed. All of this points towards me writing this blog post on facts and feelings (Heidegger called this pointing towards the “towards which”). But it doesn’t end there. The purpose, or as Heidegger put it “for-the-sake-of-which”, I have in writing this blog post is the possibility of helping others see the main issue with Shapiro’s catchphrase as well as refining my ability to analyze various social phenomena from a Heideggerian perspective. These are possibilities of Dasein, but why would a Dasein desire them? For the ultimate sake of being the self he or she wants to be. I, personally, want to be a thinker, cultural critic and writer.

Heidegger said that Daseins “comport themselves toward their own Being” (Being and Time, p. 67), that is, we relate ourselves to our own existences. But this existential analysis has led us to a circle or, more accurately, to a “hermeneutic circularity”. Equipment can only be what it is in relation to Dasein, but Dasein can only be a self in relation to worldly equipment. And with this circle, Heidegger has deconstructed the concept of the Cartesian subject, i.e. the substantial, worldless self that primarily ascertains knowledge or facts. Descartes set up a binary opposition between the self and the world, whereby he privileged the former term and devalued the latter. But Heidegger has revealed that the devalued concept is actually ontologically essential to the privileged one. Dasein always exists as Being-in-the-world: no world = no self. We can reformulate Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” from a Heideggerian perspective: I am, therefore, the world is. To be a self is to have a world.

“Fuck Heidegger and fuck you!”

And, finally, what about the Being in Being-in-the-world? Dasein’s mode of Being is existence. Being-in-the-world means existence-in-the-world. Being-in-the-world and existence are synonyms. Dasein is ek-sistent, i.e., it is always already outside of itself in the world, which means that Dasein transcends itself. These are ways through which Heidegger avoids speaking about “consciousness” and he employs these terms to avoid the philosophical baggage that comes along when using that word. Anyway, existence essentially means projecting yourself onto possibilities against the background of your facticity/thrownness while falling into skillful coping. Simply put, you are always projecting yourself into the future on the basis of facts about yourself you cannot change while being presently engaged in certain tasks involving certain equipment. Heidegger says, “In each case Dasein is its possibility, and it ‘has’ this possibility, but not just as a property, as something present-at-hand would” (Being and Time, p. 68). “Existence” is also the totality of Dasein’s existentialia (ontological structures). These existentialia form the care structure of Dasein’s existence. The world itself and aspects of the world always already matter to Dasein because of its ontological structure. Again, Heidegger says, “The formally existential totality of Dasein’s ontological structural whole must therefore be grasped in the following structure: the Being of Dasein means ahead-of-itself-Being-already-in-(the-world) as Being-alongside (entities encountered within-the-world). This Being fills in the signification of the term “care” [Sorge], which is used in a purely ontologico-existential manner” (Being and Time, p. 237). “Ahead-of-itself” signifies Dasein’s understanding of and projection onto FUTURE possibilities. “Being-already-in” means the determining and limiting nature of Dasein’s thrownness and facticity (determined, fixed aspects), i.e., its PAST. Finally, “Being-alongside” refers to Dasein’s immersion in the PRESENT through its everyday activities involving the equipment it uses to take a stand on its Being. It turns out that one of Dasein’s ontological structures is mood. Sorry it took so long to get here, but we’re now ready to get to the heart of this critique of Ben Shapiro’s motto.

Dasein is always already attuned to the world. One of the structures (existentialia) of being-in-the-world is Befindlichkeit/Stimmung. What do these terms designate? First off, there’s a difficulty in translating Befindlichkeit into English. Take it away, Hubert Dreyfus:

Dreyfus is right in holding that Macquarrie and Robinson’s translation of Befindlichkeit as “state-of-mind” is very misleading. He’s also correct that there are no good English translations of the term. The most accurate would be something along the lines of how-you-find-yourself-ness. I’m going to leave the word untranslated. It’s just important to always be aware of what phenomenon Heidegger wants us to see. If you’re reading this, then stop and ask yourself this question: How am I doing? You’ll quickly find that you are in a certain mood at this particular moment through which aspects of the world are disclosed to you as mattering. Befindlichkeit is, therefore, fundamentally linked to mood, which Heidegger calls Stimmung. This term is best translated as “attunement”, but it encompasses what we call moods, emotions and feelings. To exist as Being-in-the-world or as care is to always already have Befindlichkeit and Stimmung (mood). These two terms name one of Dasein’s ontological structures. This means that “moodedness” is essential to Dasein’s existence, that is, having a mood is part of its essence. Now, how we find ourselves, what moods we currently have, can change and vacillate, but the underlying structure of finding-ourselves-as-always-already-being-in-a-mood does not go away. The content of our moodedness changes, but the form of moodedness is permanent. My mood can shift from sadness to happiness to boredom to irritation, but these shifts only go to show that I always have a mood. The Befindlichkeit/attunement structure is always there.

So what’s the point? The point is that all of Dasein’s disclosures of the world occur against the background of a mood. Our dealings with other entities (tools, other people and objects) always rely on attunement. Now, Dasein’s primary mode of interaction with other beings is one of skillful coping or circumspection. We interact with them in a kind of autopilot mode. I go through the door . . . I start the car . . . I drive to the coffee shop . . . I order a cappuccino . . . I sit at the table . . . I type on my computer. You get the idea. None of this requires any real mental effort on my part. I just do it. But I do it on the basis of a certain mood. I would not have gone to the coffee shop to write if I had just received some tragic news that plunged me into the mood of grief. But what about interacting with other beings as present-at-hand objects? Heidegger points out that Dasein does kick into this mode of observation at times, but usually only when something goes wrong. The physical properties of my car are invisible to me, totally withdrawn, when I’m just using it to get where I’m going. However, if the engine dies on me, then I do pivot into an entirely different mode of interaction. Now, I stand back from it and begin to take note of its present-at-hand features. What the fuck is wrong with it? This type of experience is similar to that of a researcher or observer. It’s from the perspective of presence-at-hand that we collect data and accumulate facts about given states of affairs. But this sort of “objective” observation still happens on the basis of Befindlichkeit and mood. This “objectivity” is parasitic on Being-in-the-world. Presence-at-hand is derived from readiness-to-hand and existence. The subject-object schema piggybacks on Dasein. If you shift into this mode of critical and reflective observation, then it’s because aspects of the world already mattered to you and because this pre-reflective mattering was interrupted due to a break down, by something going wrong.

The main takeaway from this is that moods are not reducible to private, psychological states. They are not subjective filters that “color” an individual’s experience on objective (moodless) reality. Moods are not like rose-colored glasses. Moods are just as much the world as they are us. To talk like Marshal McLuhan, a mood is like a medium. Moods are environmental. Moods are not in me — I am in moods.

This is not to say that there’s never anything like individual moods Dasein has when viewing things in the mode of presence-at-hand. But this sort of individualistic mood is just as dependent on Being-in-the-world as presence-at-hand is. Before you have something like a private feeling in your “mind”, a personal psychological state, you always already are in a mood in the world. And it’s of the utmost importance to see that worlds have moods.

Heidegger’s preferred example of mood is fear. Normally and usually, fear is not some irrational feeling. Instead, it serves to alert us to the reality of a certain situation. Fear discloses something in the world as threatening and detrimental while simultaneously disclosing myself as the sort of entity that needs to be afraid to it. Fear is not a subjective coloring that distorts an objective state of affairs. No! Fear is that through which the situation is made manifest to a human being. Fear discloses the truth of Dasein’s situation. The fact of a dangerous scenario is made known to me on the basis of a feeling. You can guess where this is going.

There is no such thing as an absolute Fact, that is, a fact without any connection whatsoever to feeling (mood). The most “objective” observer, the most strict scientist, can only establish new facts within a mooded environment. Scientists seek to make new discoveries on the basis of what matters to the world they find themselves in as well as on the basis of what matters to them as particular Daseins in this world. In other words, facts emerge out of moods of all sorts. Every real scientist will tell you just how important mood is to scientific activity. It’s not that the scientist arrives at a completely emotionless position before engaging in their research, experimentation, etc. Rather, they need to be in the right mood. The truth of what we call being objective is actually a specific type of mood. Neutrality is a mood through which things actually matter to us in a specific way. Neutrality is not neutral. As Heidegger says in another work, “We do not first grasp essence on the basis of the greatest possible investigation of facts, but instead, we can determine facts only once we have comprehended the essence of things. This is the fundamental condition for all sciences” (Being and Truth, p. 126). In other words, facts depend on Dasein’s pre-theoretical understanding of Being and its disclosure of the “essences” of beings to which Befindlichkeit and mood serve as conditions.

But even this mood of “objectivity” is not one a person can stay in. It is a rare mood and takes a lot of work to become acquainted with. Think about ballerinas that dance in point shoes. These dancers have learned how to go up on their toes, but they cannot stay up on them forever. They normally and usually walk like the rest of us do. Just because they have put in the time it takes to be able to dance on their toes does not mean that position has become the basic way they use their feet. Similarly, the “objective” observer is in a certain observational mood, e.g., inquisitiveness, the “spirit” of inquiry, curiosity, interest, wonderment, etc. But this mood doesn’t last forever. They cannot stay up on their toes all the time.

Ben: “Facts don’t care about Misty Copeland’s feet!”

For scientists, philosophers or Benny Bucko to assume that they can completely bracket out all emotionality is for them to be inauthentic or, to put it in Sartrean terms, they’re in bad faith with this assumption. To argue that facts are what they are without any relation to feelings is to ignore the fact that Dasein is always already attuned and that this attunement is a condition of the establishment of facts. Sorry, Ben, but your fundamental presupposition is bucko bullshit. There is an intrinsic connection between facts and feelings. Facts (knowledge) depend of feelings. Facts do care about your feelings.

The fact is the idea that facts and feelings are utterly independent is easily proven to be nonfactual. Why does Ben say that facts don’t care about your feelings? Because it creates a simulatory aura of objectivity that conceals what the statement is really saying. It’s true meaning is “I, Ben Shapiro, don’t care about your (libtard) feelings because they might actually serve to undermine the credibility of what I consider to be the facts.” Given what Heidegger has taught about the disclosive power of moods, it’s no surprise that someone who seeks to ideologically weaponize certain “facts” so strongly opposes moods or feelings. Simply put, your moods might very well disclose Ben’s “facts” in all their non-factuality. The your in “facts don’t care about your feelings” really just means that, according to Ben, the feelings of leftists don’t matter to him. He would, of course, publicly state that the your is intended to mean anyone and everyone, that it has a universal meaning, but we all know better than that. For him, the “facts” don’t care about the feelings of marginalized groups — especially, the members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The main point is that Shapiro weaponizes his slogan against trans people. He uses it to dismiss their gendered existence. Given that gender is something that is deeply rooted in Being-in-the-world or existence, attempting to reduce gender to present-at-hand features, bodily characteristics, genitalia, DNA or biological “facts” involves a fundamental category mistake. Gender deeply relates to all of Dasein’s existentialia. Attempting to reduce gender to present-at-hand features is like reducing the phenomenon of love to brain activity. This is Shapiro’s fundamental mistake. Now, given the devoted following he has, simply showing that his maxim is incorrect serves to undermine his credibility — especially on the topic of gender.

Facts don’t get to monopolize truth (aletheia, unconcealment). Various moods disclose different aspects of Being and of beings. Think of Heidegger’s example of how Van Gogh’s painting of the peasant shoes discloses the truth of the peasant’s world. Shapiro is the type that would reduce truth to facts due to his Anglo-American (naive empiricist) presuppositions. The mood of objectivity can disclose many things, but it is also very limited. It does not get to have the final say when it comes to truth. Different moods for different phenomena. Gender is a multifaceted phenomenon the truth which can be studied and unconcealed far better by gender theory, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, genealogy, deconstruction, art, etc., than it can be by biology and it’s scientific mode of objectivity. The deep connection between gender and Being-in-the-world (existence, Dasein) is not accurately disclosed in the way, for example, a botanist establishes facts about plants.

I just want to add that Ben’s maxim can be DESTROYED in a number of different ways. One could use Foucault to show how the very concept of the fact is relative to a certain episteme and that it is not a universal, transcultural, transhistorical criterion of knowledge. One could go to Derrida and explain that the way Shapiro uses the term “fact” is rooted in the metaphysics of presence (the fact as a pure, unmediated presence). Then there’s the whole Nietzschean thing about how there are no facts but only interpretations. Butler’s work can be used to argue against the biological “facts” of gender and sex. Lacan and Žižek would appeal to their example of the pathological husband and say to Ben, “Even if what you say is totally true, completely factual, you’re still acting batshit crazy”. The Lacanian-Žižekian approach would seek to discover why this emphatic rejection of emotion is such a contributing and sustaining aspect of Ben’s identity. Does invalidating the moods of marginalized people give him regular doses of jouissance? Anyway, I opted to go with Heidegger on this one because I like how he showed that moods are always already a condition of facts. Bring it on, Benzilla! LaKong, Buthra, King Židorah, Foudan, Derdorah and Heigan are in the motherfuckin’ house! One last thing. You know damn well that Ben Shapiro has beaten the shit out of his fair share of couch pillows.

Ben’s mad as fuck = protect the pillows!

Ben was here.

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