Simon Critchly is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. He is the author of many books,including On Heidegger's Being and Time and Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. The Book of Dead Philosophers was written on a hill overlooking Los Angeles, where he was a scholar at the Getty Research Institute. He lives in Brooklyn.
Question: If we have constructed death into a taboo, why are we so remorseless about killing
Critchley: I’m entirely torn on this. I mean, on the one hand, I’m inclined to think that we’re killer apes, really we were, we’re killer apes but not, we’re not just killer apes, we’re killer apes with metaphysical longing. We have some sort of a longing for a meaning to our lives but we’re, and there’s a conflict between those 2 things. You know, we want there to be a meaning, for there to be a purpose, something whole and holy, holds everything together at the same time where these rapacious animals, you know, and some thinkers like Freud, for example, and Schopenhauer have concluded there’s just a conflict at the heart of what it means to be human, right. We’re killer apes with metaphysical longing and the 2 things just pull in opposite ways or where there’s a conflict between the life of our desires which are pretty destructive and a desire for, say, love and all the rest. The other side of me wants to believe that human beings are right, that human beings if they’re allowed to express their nature, if you like, will, that will be expressed in the form of mutual aid and cooperation. I’m very attracted to the anarchist tradition in political thinking which is rooted in the idea that human nature is essentially good and what makes human beings wicked is an outcome of history and society. And then depending which day it is, you know, I’m torn between those 2 views, to be perfectly honest.