Slave-Being as Tool-Being (Zuhanden)

Having come across a post recently that struck me as evincing a psychopathic view of Mastery and hence of the being of the slave, I wanted to work through the ideas in the post and how they do and don’t relate to the notion of tool-being as an intrinsic aspect of slave-being.

Tool-being is also known as being ‘ready-to-hand’, zuhanden in the German text where the idea originated.  This is opposed to vorhanden, which means ‘present-at-hand’, which is the way we relate to beings when we are not involved with them but simply looking at them, i.e. the theoretical stance.  Zuhanden can quickly turn to vorhanden, for instance, when a tool is recognized as being unsuitable for the job or damaged in some way.  A third mode of being, dasein, is the way in which we experience ourselves, as being-the-there in which other beings can appear as the beings they are (they may be extant without dasein but they wouldn’t appear without an aware perception to appear to).

As well, since dasein is never purely individual, we are initially and for the most part what the matrix of society and sub-societies we grow up in, there are two forms of shared being or being-with that are part of the matrix of ‘existentials’ that are necessary for a creature to be considered dasein.  These two are mitsein, or simple being-with, and mitdasein, or being-the-there-with.

Mitsein is not ‘community’ in the strong sense of a committed group, but neither is it simply a collection of isolated ‘subjects’ that happen to be located in the same vicinity.  Mitsein involves the mostly indifferent way in which we are involved with people we don’t know particularly well in an everyday way – the shop clerk, the person from the office down the hall, etc.  In interacting with them there are stock questions and stock answers that smooth simple transactional interactions and put a veneer of friendliness on our semi-social being-with.  However the inauthenticity involved in mitsein always means that underneath for-one-another a competitive against-one-another is always in play.  Part of the psychosis of society is that dasein is only seen as mitsein when looked at as a societal group: ‘personnel’ becomes ‘human resources’.

Aristotle described slave-being as a ‘talking tool’ at the beginning of western civilization.  While this relates to zuhanden as an aspect of consensual slave-being, slaves in Aristotle’s time were not initiated firstly into society in the same manner or to the same degree as citizens, which may very well have limited their being able to participate in mitsein, never mind the more authentically involved mode of mitdasein.  This is not true however of a 21st century consensual slave, who was precisely initiated into a similar society to their Master / Owner and has the same capacity for meaningful shared being.

Zuhanden is a possible mode of being, an appropriate one in many situations within a power dynamic.  When I give an order I expect it to be simply done in the same way I expect my leg to move when I want to get up.  However it is not the only mode in which a consensual slave exists, because they are firstly dasein and display all the existentials of dasein, including being-in-the-World, being-with, being-the-there, interpretation, understanding, discourse etc.  Both the difficulty and the reward of owning a dasein is in this richness which disappears if we view the slave as ‘merely’ a tool (or in the societal way as ‘merely’ a resource, which  affects all of us, not just consensual slaves).  A slave should be a tool when required, a good tool, but being ‘merely’ a tool is a reductive over-determination of the slave’s possibilities that devolves their real worth to the Master / Owner.

Intimate being-with involves mitdasein rather than mitsein, a being-the-there-with that denotes a shared reality.  It is through this shared reality that a slave, whose participation in that reality is guided and determined by their Master / Owner, is properly put in their place within the place that mitdasein opens up.  For mitdasein to be a potential, though, the dasein of the slave has to be recognized and accepted, that tool-being is only one aspect of the multi-faceted self that is dasein.  It is perhaps the facet that defines the slave as a slave, but not the facet that defines the slave as a person, and it is in owning a person that the full richness of Mastery and the full reward of the effort involved comes about.

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