DJ Khaled’s remix of Martin Heidegger
They don’t want you to read this article
In what follows, I use major keys to open doors to the history of western thought.
Khaled’s “They” & Heidegger’s “Das Man”
When DJ Khaled talks about “They” in his Snapchats, he’s sampling a deep cut from 20th century German Philosopher (& eventual Nazi) Martin Heidegger.
Quick-hit mix of the idea throughout history:
To thine own self be true
— Polonius/Hamlet Remix
Relate to others in such a way as to avoid falling into the They-self
— M. Heidegger Remix
Stay away from They
— DJ Khaled Remix
I. Khaled’s “They”
DJ Khaled tells us to stay away from “They”. Generally speaking, “They” refers to the negativity of others — e.g., groups, society, haters, etc. For Khaled, these imperatives are pernicious and oppressive — telling us, for instance, that we can’t succeed or that we aren’t worthy of good things like Apple Ciroc. He refers to these sorts of negative social mandates in terms of what They say. Roughly speaking, the idea is that for the individual to succeed (i.e., thrive) hey must ignore or actively fight against what They say. Whether real or internally manifested, what They say is generally harmful to our well-being. So we must overcome or transcend the effects of They, or, as Khaled puts it: Stay away from They
We can see the direct impact of They on Khaled’s everyday life through his Snapchats. This is part of what makes his content so powerful: he offers us real time advice in context to his own experience when he comes into contact with They. While repetitions of the form: “They don’t want you to X, so I made sure I X-ed” in his snapchats have become the stuff of parody, they are nevertheless a striking demonstration of They’s everpresence.
He has a knack for being able to call out when these forces affect us and, more importantly, where and how he overcomes them; hence the celebratory and positive vibe of most of his Snaps. Calling out They’s presence and impact helps demonstrate the effect They has on our everyday activities and how they can distort our sense of self worth.
These haters to our well-being, either real or imagined, affect us; they restrict our perspective and pervert our sense of self worth.
II. Heidegger’s “Das Man”
For those who study “phenomenology” — i.e., the study of experience — Khaled’s They echoes the work of 20th century German Philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger’s concept is not only directly in line with Khaled’s, their names are roughly identical :
“Das Man” roughly translates to “The They”.
Heidegger reminds us that “the world is always one that I share with Others”(Being & Time 26: 154–5). My existence in the world is, in part, made up by a kind of ‘recognition’ that there are others. Said ‘phenomenologically’: Being with is an essential condition for my being in the world (what Heidegger calls Dasien). Our being in the world is (essentially) being in a shared world. While there may not literally be others with me that don’t want me to succeed (or celebrate success), my endeavors to enjoy and my enjoyment itself are nevertheless affected by They; this is simply what it means to be in the world. Like Khaled, Heidegger maintains that there is a kind of everpresent affect that Das Man (i.e., They) have on us, and its influence is largely restrictive. There is also a kind of natural tendency for us to absorb or internalize the values and imperatives of They into our individual perspectives. When this happens, we lose ourselves:
The “they” itself prescribes that way of interpreting the world and Being-in-the-world…it is not ‘I’, in the sense of my own Self, that ‘am’, but rather that Others, whose way is that of the “they”… (Being & Time 29: p.167)
Heidegger importantly points out that this sense of being-in-the-world-with-others can vanish from our awareness. When Khaled brings these up they serve as an important reminder of the pressure of They that we might have implicitly internalized.
They divides the self
While They is not a purely evil force, it tends to impede or restrict our individuality. This is harmful to the self and, as Heidegger argues, splits the self in two. We are distended or split into ‘two selves’:
The Authentic Self: My own self, the self which is mine, who I ‘really’ am, etc.
The Inauthentic Self: “the fallen’ self, “the self lost to the ‘they’…”(Wheeler 2016)
When Khaled admonishes us to “Stay away from They”, he cautions against falling into the inauthentic self in real time, warning us not to ‘bamboozle’ ourselves into mistaking our inauthentic selves for our authentic selves — i.e., “Don’t play yourself”
*Let’s not forget that They isn’t always bad. We receive love and support from others. Also, we are not completely autonomous and independent individuals; we are social animals that necessarily depend on others (except for maybe Kanye). Khaled, I’m sure, does not deny this. His concept of They is just more restrictive, focusing mainly on They’s negative elements. Heidegger’s “They”, on the other hand, is a wider notion. For him, the very idea of They is part of what makes up our individuality and sense of being/belonging in the world. Despite his more robust notion of They, Heidegger nevertheless played himself by becoming a Nazi, but that’s another story.
Dealing with They without playing yourself
They is a real (societal) force that we implicitly internalize and it has very real ‘consequences’ with the way we engage with the world. While They’s presence in our lives ubiquitous it can nevertheless be dealt with. So how does one alter or ‘overcome’ the distorting and negative effects of They? For starters we acknowledge that is it naive to think we can ‘fully’ overcome They, though it might be the impractical ideal. Secondly, recognizing and calling out They’s influence can be a form of empowerment (Thanks Khaled). Once one realizes that it’s They that don’t want you to X, one might see X as something important to realize or obtain — probably because X is in line with one’s authentic self. This is where we see Kahled’s positive program: “So I made sure I X-ed” — i.e., If X is something They don’t want you to do, chances are it is something that you (authentically) want to do. So avoid falling into the inauthentic self and make sure that you X.
“So authenticity is not about being isolated from others, but rather about finding a different way of relating to others such that one is not lost to the they-self.”(SEP)
In other words, losing yourself to They is a form of playing yourself.
They didn’t want me to tell them about Das Man, so I made sure I told them about Das Man.
- To find out more about Heidegger’s Das Man check out this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (esp section 2.2.6), or, if you’re really charged up, you can check out his major work (with the wild title): Being & Time. (*WARNING: German existential phenomenology is not for the faint of heart)
- For more on DJ Khaled, just peep his snapchat (djkhaled305)