It is our ideas and, most importantly, our intellectual faculties that truly make us a menace because Mother Nature didn’t really equip humanity with much hardware as far as defenses are concerned. We don’t have the fangs of a lion, nor do we have the talons of an eagle. We definitely do not have the amazing speed of a cheetah.
However, Mother Nature did give us a competitive and natural advantage, which is our outsized brains. In fact, among living creatures, only the blue whale has a large brain, but it doesn’t quite work like the human brain.
On a pound for pound basis, compared to other terrestrial mammals, we are at the top of the evolutionary chain. And we only need this evolutionary advantage for us to essentially master the world. We really did.
And this mastery wasn’t due to physical conquest, but due to the power of our ideas. The moment we were able to speak, we were able to look at the world in conceptual and symbolic terms, which can then be passed on from organism to organism.
With the discovery or invention of writing, we are then able to transcend time itself because as limited as the human condition is, the moment somebody writes down his or her thoughts, those ideas will outlive that person. We’re talking about thousands of years, if not infinity.
In other words, humanity has, through writing and through sheer brain power, completely exploded and escaped the natural limitations that Mother Nature has imposed on us. And it is within this context that we have to understand Derrida’s legacy for all time.
Because, as limited as the man may seem on a historical and moral and political level, Derrida’s ideas continue to haunt us to this very day. In fact, even the word choice of “haunt” implies some sort of normative or value judgment.
You really cannot stay on the fence with Derrida. You either love him or hate him. Right or wrong, he has shaken the foundations that held up Western civilization for so long.
His supporters say that this needed to happen because, for ages, Western civilization and philosophy seemed so solid, but it really is just an illusion, and a lot of it was based on rape, pillage, and exploitation.
Now, that is just one perspective. There are others who look at Derrida as somebody who has essentially taken a good thing and destroyed it or made it at least doubt itself.
To this camp of people, Western civilization, far from being a curse, was an unqualified blessing to everybody else because it is through Western philosophy and religion that notions of equality spread throughout the world.
It was only in the West where slavery was abolished, for example. It’s only in the West where women were viewed as equals to men. It’s only in the West where infanticide, especially female infanticide was not only looked down upon, but flat out outlawed.
According to this school of thought, Derrida and philosophers like him, who put a torch to Western certainties and values, are villains.
Regardless of where you stand, this website offers a platform where people can engage in informed discussions and civil discourse involving both the context, subtext and actual text and legacy of Derrida, both as a man and as a historical force.