Standing reserve

Standing reserve February 16, 2011

The heart of Heidegger’s critique of the technological society is his notion of “standing reserve,” the idea that matter is just there, without an inherent order or qualities, plastic to whatever shapes the whims of human will want to impose on it.

He says, “Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering . . . The word ‘standing-reserve’ assumes the rank of an inclusive rubric. It designates nothing less than the way in which everything presences that is wrought upon by the revealing the challenges. Whatever stands by in the sense of standing-reserve no longer stands over against us as object.”

The key argument here is at the end: Treating the material world as “standing reserve” is a refusal of the other, a refusal to recognize the other as other, the material world as different and as having its own properties that were not conferred by human will. Stick the phrase “human resources” in here, and you have an idea of why Heidegger was horrified at the notion of “standing reserve.”

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