"We live in a “broken world.” A world in which “ontological exigence”—if it is acknowledged at all—is silenced by an unconscious relativism or by a monism that discounts the personal, “ignores the tragic and denies the transcendent”. The characterization of the world as broken does not necessarily imply that there was a time when the world was intact. It would be more correct to emphasize that the world we live in is essentially broken, broken in essence, in addition to having been further fractured by events in history. The observation is intended to point out that we find ourselves hic et nunc in a world that is broken. This situation is characterized by a refusal (or inability) to reflect, a refusal to imagine and a denial of the transcendent. Although many things contribute to the “brokenness” of the world, the hallmark of its modern manifestation is “the misplacement of the idea of function”.
“I should like to start,” Marcel says, “with a sort of global and intuitive characterization of the man in whom the sense of the ontological—the sense of being, is lacking, or, to speak more correctly, the man who has lost awareness of this sense”. This person, the one who has lost awareness of the sense of the ontological, the one who's capacity to wonder has atrophied to the extent of becoming a vestigial trait, is an example of the influence of the misapplication of the idea of function. Marcel uses the example of a subway token distributor.
This person has a job that is mindless, repetitive, and monotonous. The same function can be, and often is, completed by automated machines. All day this person takes bills from commuters and returns a token and some change, repeating the same process with the same denominations of currency, over and over. The other people with whom she interacts engage her in only the most superficial and distant manner. In most cases, they do not speak to her and they do not make eye contact. In fact, the only distinction the commuters make between such a person and the automatic, mechanical token dispenser down the hall is to note which “machine” has the shorter line.
The way in which these commuters interact with this subway employee is clearly superficial and less than desirable. However, Marcel's point is more subtle.
What can the inner reality of such a person be like? What began as tedious work slowly becomes infuriating in its monotony, but eventually passes into a necessity that is accepted with indifference, until even the sense of dissatisfaction with the pure functionalism of the task is lost. The unfortunate truth is that such a person may come to see herself, at first unconsciously, as merely an amalgamation of the functions she performs. There is the function of dispensing tokens at work, the function of spouse and parent at home, the function of voting as a citizen of a given country, etc. Her life operates on a series of “time-tables” that indicate when certain functions—such as the yearly maintenance trip to the doctor, or the yearly vacation to rest and recuperate—are to be exercised. In this person the sense of wonder and the exigence for the transcendent may slowly begin to wither and die. In the most extreme cases, a person who has come to identify herself with her functions ceases to even have any intuition that the world is broken.
A corollary of the functionalism of the modern broken world is its highly technical nature. Marcel characterizes a world such as ours—in which everything and everyone becomes viewed in terms of function, and in which all questions are approached with technique—as one that is dominated by its “technics.” This is evident in the dependence on technology, the immediate deferral to the technological as the answer to any problem, and the tendency to think of technical reasoning as the only mode of access to the truth. However, it is clear that there are some “problems” that cannot be addressed with technique, and this is disquieting for persons who have come to rely on technics. While technology undoubtedly has its proper place and use, the deification of technology leads to despair when we realize the ultimate inefficacy of technics regarding important existential questions. It is precisely this misapplication of the idea of function and the dependence on technics that leads to the despair that is so prevalent in the broken world.