Human Dasein is always structured as Being-in-the-world, or as a being who has concerns, has a stake in their disposition and involvements. One of the primary ways we engage with and understand this experience is through anxiety. Anxiety is a method to help us see our Being-in-the-world, in a way different from our usual, unreflective way.
Beyond having a stake in our lives, we have our being in and through “world,” that is, various meaningful contexts and projects (pushed and facilitated by Das Man, the larger culture we are in). Our moods or attunement help kick us into these contexts and projects. Authenticity requires slippage, a “becoming unstuck” from that world.
What Heidegger wants to show us is difficult for us to see, because our comfort zone is not seeing. According to Heidegger, what makes us feel good is our everyday way of being, a comfortable, unquestioning state. We dislike anything that will disrupt that state (violence, challenging art, etc.). So we have to be forced to look at our potentiality-for-Being. The mood of anxiety makes the everyday life structure of Dasein (being-in the-world or “care,” concernful absorption) light up, and forces us to stare directly at our potentiality-for-Being. We must be forced, because ordinarily, we wouldn’t want to look our potentiality-for-Being, much less for a lengthy amount of time.
Dasein is tightly linked to the “world” of its concern, its projects, its meaningful contexts, “what it’s up to”. This concernful absorption tends to get lost in the conformism of our relation to the “they”. Dasein has fallen away from itself as an authentic potentiality for Being its Self, negotiating through the world, making choices. “Fallenness” into the “world” means an absorption in Being-with-one-another. “Inauthenticity” is a distinct way of being-in-the-world — fascinated, caught up in the un-thought-about, unnoticed, unquestioned webs and networks of culture and society.
Not-Being-its-self functions as a possibility of an entity which is absorbed in a world. This kind of not-Being is closest to Dasein and is where Dasein maintains itself.
Dasein, tranqulized, and “understanding” everything, drifts along towards an alienation in which its own potentiality-for-Being is hidden from it. Dasein plunges into the groundlessness and nullity of inauthentic everydayness. This plunge remains hidden, so much so that it gets interpreted as “ascending” and “living concretely”.
According to Heidegger, we spend most of our time falling and fleeing — being absorbed in the They and not acknowledging our own potentiality. In anxiety, this normal way of existing is disrupted. Anxiety, occurs when you are immersed in an activity, and all of a sudden, the activity loses its sense, purpose, direction. In such moments, the “world,” the meaningful context in which you live and move, “collapses into itself”. In such moments, you get slightly unstuck from your “world” and you see it as a world. Anxiety cannot be responded to with a return to a meaningful framework, because it is, itself, questioning meaningful frameworks.
You have to be de-worlded to see the world. (Seeing the world is a requirement if we want to a) find out the meaning of what it is to be, and b) change the structure of the world.)
At this point, the sudden realization breaks upon us: “Oh. Wait. I have choices. I am negotiating. I am making decisions.” Even though our world is not solely of our own making, our life is made up of decisions within a range of possibilities.
Anxiety throws us right in front of that fact, a fact that we typically wish to ignore. This is what Heidegger means when he says that anxiety “individualizes Dasein”—it throws you in front of the fact that your potentiality-for-Being is yours and yours alone.
1. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pW800DPu8dGONvg5PQlSkLiWghoG_VbW/view?usp=sharing – Lecture (50 minutes)