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Every You

David Cowles

Mar 28, 2024

“There is no me or you until there is a we…we co-actualize.”

The Beatles said it best (they usually do): I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together…” (I am the Walrus) If not the Fab 4, then Jesus: ““…I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.“ (John 14;20)“ Both drew on a rich Hellenic-Semitic heritage. 

Parmenides (5th century BCE) is widely acknowledged as the father of Western Philosophy. But fathers have fathers and Parmenides own ‘father’, intellectually speaking, was Anaximander (6th century BCE)…the grandfather…the godfather…the OG. 

According to Heidegger, there is only one fragment of Anaximander’s writing extant and incontestably authentic…but it’s a blockbuster! That said, it is nearly inexpressible in modern English (but we’ll try, of course…that’s what we do). Anaximander himself struggled to state his idea clearly, even in the much more expressive language (Ancient Greek) that he had at his disposal.

The nub of his idea was this: there is no ‘me’ or ‘you’ until there is a ‘we’. On our own, you and I are merely ‘virtual’ or ‘potential’ entities. We ‘co-actualize’. Come again?

On our own we are each struggling to ‘become’ but in the process, we are crowding one another out of the spotlight of Being. Successful ‘coming to be’ is necessarily mutual. Properly speaking, the verb ‘to become’ should have no ‘singular’ form: we become, you (pl) become, they become. 

I am seeking to emerge as figure against the ground that is the World (you). But I cannot emerge organically out of an inert background. I cannot come to be until you are; of course, you cannot come to be until I am. Can someone say, “We’re all in this together?"

My ‘coming to be’ can only occur in the context of your ‘coming to be’ and vice versa. I can only be what I can be by letting you become what you can become, which you can only be by letting me become what I can become. Diagram that sentence!

Anaximander solved the Problem of Other Minds 2500 years before Sartre, Searle, and Putnam laid siege to this apparently impenetrable fortress. We self-actualize only when we co-actualize. There is not a ‘problem of other minds’; there is a problem of ‘this mind’…my mind. Enter Descartes:

“Cogito ergo sum” isn’t the half of it. It doesn’t go far enough; it didn’t get the job done. He should have positioned his famous dictum in a matrix, including such corollaries as:

  • Sum ergo es. (I am therefore you are)

  • Sum ergo summus. (I am therefore we are)

  • Es ergo summus. (You are therefore we are)

It’s a whole package! Would that we still had a Middle Voice verb form to help us express it! 

Co-actualize? Ok, with whom? Or what? It is not for me to say what sort of partner is required for mutual actualization: it’s a bit like the concept of a Higher Power in AA. Your Higher Power can be God, or Gaia, or the copper beech growing in your yard. It could even be Fido…or Fluffy.

Put simply, your higher power is your higher power if it functions as a higher power…for you. It would be presumptuous to think that everyone should have the same higher power. (Monotheist bias?) One of the ingenious things about AA is the way it allows its members to curate their own recoveries. Within certain very broad guidelines, one size fits one. Likewise ontology:

I can co-actualize with anyone (or anything) that can co-actualize with me.

Earlier I mentioned Sartre, Searle, and Putnam, but the 20th-century thinker who came closest to Anaximander’s great insight was Martin Buber; he wrote “at the foundation is the relationship."

You and I are like reindeer who have accidentally locked horns. We each pull as hard as we can to disengage but, of course, we fail. Archeologists have discovered skeletons of reindeer with their horns still interlocked. What a way to go!

Had those reindeer read Anaximander…or Buber, they would be alive today, frolicking across the tundra, their antlers bejeweled with daisy chains. Had each given its interlockator ‘reck’ (consideration), they would have resisted the urge to pull away from each other, and they might have escaped death’s vice-like grip, at least temporarily. But reindeer normally don’t read philosophy.

Humans do…or at least we can! OG Anaximander and his shorty (is this the first time that Martin Buber has been referred to as a ‘shorty’?) showed us the way of co-actualization; so why aren’t we following it? “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” (Handel) Why do we lock horns?


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