Emilio Uranga on Insufficiency, Unwillingness, and Distrust

By all accounts, Emilio Uranga’s brilliance was second to none. A genius, primus inter pares in the eyes of Jose Gaos, Uranga’s understanding of, and confidence in, German phenomenology and French existentialism prepared him to undertake the most difficult of tasks, namely, articulating an authentic Mexican philosophy, one rooted in the contingency of concrete reality. It is Uranga’s Analisis del ser del mexicano that would come to give the final word on the existential philosophy of “lo mexicano,” that historical and cultural manner of being belonging to Mexicans that no simple psychological description can capture. Its central insight is the view that Mexicans, by virtue of a recognition of that accidentality that defines their being, have accessed that which is true of all humankind, namely, the radical contingency of existence, and that, therefore, humanity should aspire to this particularly Mexican attunement, and not the other way around.6 Uranga writes: “all interpretation of man as a substantial creature seems to us inhuman” (1952, 23). In other words, it is the self-interpretation of some as exemplars of human rationality and perfection that is truly dehumanizing (or unhumanizing), since no human can achieve this level of perfection or completeness. Nonetheless, it is a lie that has been told countless times for the sake of countless evils. Thus, the interpretation of the Mexican as insubstantial, or insufficient (accidental), is a human, and humanizing, interpretation. Mexicans, Uranga declares, are “the point of reference for the human” (23).

Privileging Mexican Dasein in this way sounds both arrogant and provincial (shorthand for relativistic and unphilosophical), but, I insist, it is also courageous and liberatory. It is to speak to the colonial order, to a Eurocentric authority over philosophy; simply, it is to speak up and demand to be reckoned with!

Uranga’s Analisis promises to go beyond merely surface accounts of what it means to be Mexican; it aims to troll the ontological depths of that mode of existence. I will forgo here a detailed account of Uranga’s brilliant, yet flawed, Analisis del ser del mexicano, as it is my present aim to attend to that fearless self-examination that begets his ontological picture and not to that (problematic) ontology itself.7 Of interest are Uranga’s insights into those aspects of Mexican existence that maintain or propagate marginalization and self-sabotage, particularly, the rationalization of unwillingness and a concomitant will to irresponsibility.

A general summary of Uranga’s Analisis should suffice. He begins with a commonly held assumption about Mexico, namely, that Mexican history has shown that Mexican existence is an otherness to the existence of Europeans, who upon arrival five hundred years earlier proclaimed their substantiality before the strangely alien humanoids they encountered. In the colony, these alien others were replaced by mestizos—the children of the alien others (the indigenous peoples) and the other-as- substance (the European)—who take on a less than substantial existence. From then on, Mexican existence, or mestizo existence, Uranga says, is characterized by a “minus of being” (1952, 17), a condition exemplified in their relation to the Spanish, whereby “the Mexican chooses himself as ‘accidental,’ [or] precisely as the negation of the Spanish which is presented as ‘substantial’” (72).

The insight that human existence is defined by accidentality, or by negation, is common to existentialism. For Sartre, for example, consciousness is nothingness before being. The nothingness that Mexicans assume, however, is not a complete nothingness, but a “minus of being” that reveals itself only in the presence of a self-affirmed totality. That Mexicans choose (se elige) to recognize their “minus,” their negation, or their accidentality means that in the area of autognosis, Mexicans have an upper hand; that is, in spite of the pretentions of Eurocentric logic, the Mexican orientation toward existence (involving the self-awareness of accidentality) is the one closest to the way things truly stand with human existence, and thus, it is humanity that must adopt a Mexican existential direction, and not (as Eurocentric logic would have it) the other way around.

Nevertheless, Mexicans and, we could say, modern agents as well as entire communities on the peripheries of global power do not appropriate their human status and, having rather appropriated a narrative of inferiority imposed on them from elsewhere, propagate their marginal- ity in non-acts of irresponsibility. Uranga argues that the source of the will to irresponsibility characterizing the everyday being of the modern Mexican—or of the generalized modern Mexican—is located in the same accidentality that defines him ontologically; or rather, in the way in which accidentality is internalized and the way in which this internalization influences behavior. Accidentality is internalized as deficiency and the deficiency as weakness, which then motivates a fleeing from a world that gives itself as total and sufficient, justifying hesitations and the unwillingness to labor for one’s self or others. Desgana, or unwillingness, is thus the external manifestation of accidentality and insufficiency.8 It is the aversion, the suspension, or the rejection of the call to fulfill the demands of values and ideals that give themselves, or are given to one, in one’s world.

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