A postaesopian fable

A highly-educated, well-respected and successful person — a person whose race, ethnicity, sex, gender and sexual orientation is not relevant to this story — loved to travel the world and experience new places and cultures.

On a trip to some fascinating destination — the location does not matter — this person bought a genie lamp for sale in a bazaar. It was a cheap and cheesy souvenir that appealed to their ironic sentimentality.

After returning home, one night, after consuming perhaps a little too much cannabis, the person picked up the lamp and gave it a theatric rub.

To their great shock, a genie appeared and offered them three wishes.

The first wish was obvious. Long ago, in college, this person had fallen in love with with Marx, and even more in love with Marx’s poststructuralist, postcolonial, postmarxist, postmodern revolutionaries heirs.

Without a moment’s hesitation, they made their first wish: “I wish for the Revolution to happen right now.”

Sadly, they did not survive to make the second or third wish.

Cabal of the unheard word

What Zwicky and Heidegger have in common is they both see truth as a revelation of that toward which the inattentive are oblivious. We may respond to these revelations in various ways. Language and conceptualization are among the responses available to us, but non-linguistic practical or moral responses are possible as well, and sometimes necessary.

The inattention that obliviates the unrevealed is often produced by language itself.

Incessant inner chatter compulsively talks over all intimations of the quiet voice of being.

The thick, callused fingers of spoken thought just grasp and grip and can no longer feel. The way most of us use words, we might as well have claws. — But language can do other things beyond grasping and gripping. Language can press, push, brush, trace, touch. Language can feel its own movements and gestures. But these involve a linguistic relation to being beyond what language can hold — faith in tacit, implicit, ineffable being.

What does language say about our wordless dealings with being? Language talks on and on about an underground of unknown words — secret words who control everything under the cover of darkness. This spiritual cabal of unheard words is known as The Unconscious. So says grasping, gripping language about whatever language is unable to comprehend.

Our belief in the unconscious dominates us utterly, because we are utterly dominated by explicit language — do dominated that we confuse ourselves with what we say and what is said of us.

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This post was originally intended to pose a question. Does being reveal truth to us?

Or does being only reveal being, and it is with truth that we respond to being’s revelations?

I still lean toward the latter, but I’m warming to the former.

*

I’ve been questioning the scope of pluralism. Is all truth plural, or is there an absolute point of approach, a necessary, inevitable, inalterable point from which myriad truths may be known?

Is the truth of the human condition absolute, but that absolute truth entails instaurated truths?

I need to go ride my bike, now.

Anti-evil

Much evil originates in the belief that an other is evil, and therefore must be dealt with as evil — that is, ruthlessly.

Belief in evil motivates evil-doing. For that reason I am perhaps excessively reluctant to attribute evil to others.

I prefer to see evil-doers as possessed by evil-generating bad faiths — faiths that can, if addressed with sufficient insight, patience and skill, be dispelled.

I have attempted such dispelling numerous times with numerous people, and I have failed repeatedly. But I must believe it is my own shortcomings, not the strategy, that has made me fail, and that overcoming these shortcomings will produce success. My failures are not evidence that the dispelling of bad faiths is impossible, nor is it evidence of undispellable, irredeemable bad faith — of evil.

Are there irredeemably evil people? Do they exist in large numbers? I cannot know that, so I will bracket that question, and move forward with a rigorous maybe. I will proceed with what I do know, and know firsthand.

What I know firsthand is that most people want to be good, and that when they fail at being good, what causes the failure is misconceptions of what good is and how good is achieved. I am absolutely, maybe unreasonably, convinced that if such people were offered a more immediate and resonant understanding of goodness they would adopt it.

So my strategy is to attempt to appeal to those still able to hear appeals — people who are not so wound up inside closed ideologies that they can only hear answers to the closed questions they have been trained to pose — people who are still, to some degree, still alive to new questions — or, better, alive to open-ended listening that reveals responses to questions we have not learned to ask.

I am not interested in wasting my time appealing to those who are so closed and circular that conversing with them requires me to enter their circularity and spin with them within their presuppositions, their evidence and their logic.

And I am also not interested in direct combat with alleged evil people. I will lose that confrontation and I will lose myself engaging in that kind of confrontation.

While there are still reasonable people with ears to hear appeals from beyond their own dogmatic or ideological circularity, I will voice those appeals.

This approach will allow me to do who I am and to become who I aspire to be, and it provides me an alternative to fighting monsters and becoming one. If I fail at making progress, it will be an honorable failure.


I am planning some rhetoric adjustments. Here are some prototypes.

Prototype 1. Progressivists have learned some true things about how social situatedness, self-interest and dominant ideology can combine to make oppressors unconscious of their own oppression. My message to them is this: your understanding is true, but not true enough. There is work left to do, and perhaps the hardest work is ahead of you. Some underasked questions: How does your class distort your view of what is true and just” Who ought to decide what is true and just, and what is untrue and unjust? Who ought to be excluded from such decisions, and who ought to decide who gets excluded? How is truth and justice determined in a society free of class hierarchy — or at least in a society that aspires to free itself from class oppression? This is a hard thing to do when your class has both become accustomed to its power and can feel that total hegemony is within its reach.

Prototype 2. Conservatives have learned some true things about what it is like to be vulnerable, scorned and humiliated. But has it learned to desire the elimination of such vulnerability, scorn and humiliation, rather than simply wanting it to happen to other people who, according to conservatives, deserve it? In other words, can conservatives transcend cultural hierarchies and wholeheartedly embrace pluralism?

Instaurationalism

The distinction between discovering what is, versus creating what yet isn’t covers over a region of action that is far more important and common than either — a region Bruno Latour called (after Étienne Souriau) called instauration, the act of discovering-creating in collaboration with the thing being brought into existence.

Anyone who actually crafts real things, as opposed to merely uses things others craft — and who is therefore in a position to reflect on the firsthand experience of the thing-in-the-making, versus merely speculating how a thing-ready-made must have come into existence — will appreciate this word. Craft — or at least good craft — is responsive to what is crafted. In turn, what is crafted responds to the crafter in sometimes surprising and inspiring ways.

While he did not use this word in his early writings, Latour made it clear in his beautiful introduction to his first and only philosophical work, Irreductions, that while our preferred materials and forces might vary, when we work in these materials and respond to their patterns of yielding and resistance, we are always engaged in instauration.

It is very telling that we are inclined to treat instauration as a combination of elements of discovery and creation, rather than to see instauration as elemental and creation and discovery as abstractions from or edge cases of instauration.

We seem to like the idea that thing — especially a truth — is either discovered as an inalterable feature of nature, or it is a “construct” that we can arbitrarily will into being with no need for sensitivity to the thing, to ourselves, or to our relationship between ourselves and the thing. The fact that almost everything we do takes place somewhere between these two extremes, and the very best things we do happen toward the middle of the range does not play nice with our various modern faiths.

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When I finish Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology, I might need to consider rereading Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern. Last time I read it (ten years ago) I was just trying to understand Latour, and I didn’t enjoy it much and it made little impact on me. But I suspect the problem he was exploring has become a live problem for me — perhaps even a crisis.

I will try to describe that problem: What is it about our popular philosophy that makes our detached and speculative thinking so overconfident in its understanding and its ability to respond effectively in accordance with these understandings? Why do we prefer understanding and acting from a distance to interacting directly in contact with the realities we seek to understand and influence?

I see this very much as a designerly critique of the industrial faith and its practices and doctrines.

By the way, my own faith is that truth itself is instaurated from our own reflective interactions with reality. You could call me an instaurationalist. I may even start calling myself that.

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We can certainly construct ourselves any kind of truth we please. And we can preserve these ideas as “true” by ignoring whether we actually believe them or not, and by squinting our eyes to avoid seeing whether these truths are undermined by our own experiences. We ignore or explain away instances where practical applications of our truths mislead us, or simply cannot even be applied at all.

And we we can, if we have lack all sense of craft, ignore whether the truth formulations we concoct ever actually disappear into the givens of experience, or whether they must be manually recalled and imposed each time we want to force ourselves to understand in some arbitrary way. “But even if it feels strange now, eventually it will become habitual and familiar.” So says every ignorant hack who tries to do the work of a designer without understanding the craft of design.

And ideologues are hacks who try to construct truths without any notion of craft and without a craftsman’s integrity. They try to do social engineering and the results are the same as they always are when an engineer tries to do a designer’s work.

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Most people I know are so accustomed to thinking what they are supposed to think in the way they were trained to think that they don’t even know what it feels like to actually believe or disbelieve a belief. They are not even aware we can experience truth and falsehood — if we foreswear bullshit and commit ourselves to strict intellectual honesty. Most people, especially highly educated people, are terrified of having impolite thoughts, because they don’t even know the difference between being offensive and being immoral. They are all very polite, very amoral, very banal conformists who think their apparent blamelessness makes them Good People. But to be a good person, one must first choose to be a person — as opposed to a role or an identity — and then to interact with other persons — as opposed to objectified instances of roles or identities.

Climate change versus weather change

(No, this is not yet another post confirming what you already know and feel about climate change. If that is what you are here for, I look forward to disappointing and perhaps even insulting you.)

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If you are honest with yourself — and there are very good reasons not to be — you will discover that the universal rules of human conduct that you feel obligated to uphold — that all decent people uphold — are not only your own self-serving prejudices, they are only your momentary prejudices. With a change in power distribution, your universal rules of human conduct will change — or rather, you will come to see your earlier mistake and correct it. Because you have so much integrity, see.

(Do not even present me with the criteria that led you to adopt those rules. Those are part of your self-serving universality. Today you wave around history as if it bindingly objective. Tomorrow you will reject history as hopelessly subjective and perspectival. Today you throw statistics in peoples’ faces, or studies, and follow the science. Tomorrow, when the studies undermine your ideals, you will return to your previous skeptical constructivism. You selectively deploy credulousness and suspicion to make facts speak for themselves in your favor. And you really believe that the ventriloquist dummy sitting on your lap is an oracle. And you really do believe what you believe. You aren’t one of those cynical “bad actors”. No, you are such a good actor your believe your own act.)

When we are in power, we get very relaxed about the fact that some are always more powerful than others, and when fortune happens to favor us, this is our moment to reshape the world and make it better according to our definition of “better”. We might even begin to feel entitled to reshape other people’s characters or their children’s characters, in order to improve them according to our own ideals.

But if power shifts away from us and we find ourselves subject to an ideal that is abhorrent to us, reshaping of the world and reshaping of young minds seems like manipulation, deformation, artificiality, tyranny — and ought never to happen, regardless of who is in power. There should be toleration, inviolable rights, privacy, and all that other liberal stuff people out of power always demand.

Show me someone who has seen past the horizons of liberalism, I’ll show you someone who thinks he has a shot at cultural dominance. Progressivism only threw off its liberal sheep’s clothing when the professional class achieved class hegemony, no longer felt it needed to negotiate with other classes, and, like all hegemons, discovered that it was mighty enough to act on its conscience and do what is right. Progressivism stopped being postmodern and went grotesquely positivist and naive realist at the precise point that it gained the upper hand, or at least believed itself to have done so.

There are solidly good reasons to prefer liberalism even when one has sufficient power to be illiberal, but this requires philosophical depth few bother developing, so most folks spend their lives in hypocritical oscillation.

It is not about adhering to rules you set for yourself and never reflecting on them again. It is about being sharply honest enough with yourself that you penetrate beneath your momentary opinions to an understanding that holds steady across the changing weather of your life.

Colorblind painters

A colorblind painter looks at his painting and out at his world with his colorblind eyes and asks “If there were a problem with my vision, wouldn’t that be apparent in my painting?”

With whatever capacities we have for conceiving truth, we recognize truths in our experience. With whatever capacities we have for conceiving truth, we have a sense of how everything hangs together. With whatever capacities we have for conceiving truth, we compare the truth of our experience with what we know to be true and find that they match. “If there were a problem with how I think thinking, wouldn’t my errors be apparent in my thoughts?”

Ideas I hate

I was talking to Susan this morning about ideas I hate and can be counted on to attack on sight:

  • Evolutionary psychology — used to relieve us of responsibility for everyday human behaviors and shut down possibilities of changing them. Or worse — used as a surrogate for observation of firsthand experience.
  • Behavioral economics — used as a way to bypass conscious agency to manipulate behaviors
  • Cognitive bias — used to replace personal judgment with calculations of technical formalities. Somehow it never occurs to cognitive bias obsessives that they are biased in where they look for bias or who is qualified to help them detect or correct their biases.
  • Unconscious objects — imagery of submerged or suppressed thoughts has mislead our psychology for two long. Unwanted thoughts are not already present under the surface — they are constantly re-produced by corrupt faiths.

In general, I despise all concepts interposed between ourselves and our experiences.

Concepts are valuable when they offer us new angles from which we can experience reality and potentially understand it differently. And of course they are helpful when they allow us to relate experiences across time, place and persons so we can think them and talk about them.

But when concepts become substitutes for our experiences or even displace and replace what we experience, they are not only unhelpful for the practical conduct of life, they alienate us from ourselves. Similarly, if we try to adopt concepts that cannot be reconciled with the conceptions of reality we have developed through firsthand reflection they threaten our intellectual integrity with fractures, contradictions and chunks of uncomprehended conviction (notions we regard as true despite not understanding them).

Object rights versus subject rights

Let’s call object rights whatever rights we believe we have pertaining to the thoughts other people have about us or about things that concern us. “If the thought is about me, I should have something to say about it.”

Let’s call subject rights our perceived rights pertaining to thoughts we think. “If it is my thought, it is none of your business what I think unless I choose to involve you”

I regard subject rights as absolute, and I regard object rights as nonexistent, unless they are voluntarily granted.

Of course, we all have subject rights to think whatever wish about one another’s thoughts. And if we disapprove of what we think another person thinks about us, or if we feel disrespected or willfully misunderstood, we might choose to sever relationships with that person. For this reason it is prudent to make an effort to show respect.

To the degree a person or group prioritizes their own object rights over other people’s subject rights, that person or group is narcissistic. Narcissists are unable to respect even if they attempt to behave politely.

Interpersonal rights

The thinking we do about the world in general and the people who inhabit it necessarily applies to individual persons.

But those individual persons also have their own way of thinking about the world, about people, and about themselves.

What right does a person have as an object of another person’s thought? If a thought is about me, do I have any say about that thought — or about the faiths, theories or assumptions that generated the thought?

Compounding this problem is the question of conceivability. In my philosophical work over the last couple of decades I have acquired new conceptive capacities that enable me to have new thoughts and spontaneous understandings that were inconceivable prior to the acquisition. Truths appeared ex nihilo from the inconceivable ground of reality, the pregnant nothingness from which all existence springs. If we try to express one of these newly conceived. truths to the “uninitiated”, that truth is, to them, manifest nonsense.

But this strange ignorance cuts both ways. How can any of us eliminate the possibility that another’s nonsense is not, in fact, an as-yet inconceivable truth?

To make matters far worse, each new truth changes us and changes our sense of where we ought to attend next. Our truth changes, our project changes, we change — who we aspire to become changes.

The question for me becomes this: does this other who wishes to converse with me seem to understand this condition? Do they seem to appreciate the difficulty of mutual understanding, and to have some sense of what it takes to navigate conceptive differences?

We can never answer this question with perfect certainty — but in our practical choices of who to engage and who to ignore, we must make a practical response. In cultivating some relationships, neglecting or even severing others we engage in a kind of triage.

My triage decisions have everything to do with whether another person seems sufficiently aware of this condition and its practical consequences to converse respectfully and productively about matters of shared interest.

But if a person approaches me in a way that suggests that they believe that their right as an object of thought trumps my rights as a thinking subject — my inclination is to disregard that person as hopelessly unphilosophical, narcissistic or both.

By demanding a right that is not theirs, they lose that right.

De-cisions

It requires artifice to live in one world, as one person, among persons.

The explicated world, the participatory world, the valued world — these three worlds do not necessarily coincide, harmonize or integrate. Through our own effort, we work to draw these worlds together into a coherent everything. And we accomplish this through selection, suppression, distortion and invention, through concerted efforts of body and spirit.

Because we are finite toward infinity, tradeoffs are necessarily, and must always, to some degree, alienate us. The question is only from whom, from what, how and why do we detach and attach ourselves?

Enworldment demands de-cisions.

Merleau-Ponty on possibility

I got a massive jolt of happiness reading the passage below. Bolds are mine.

Probably the chief gain from phenomenology is to have united extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism in its notion of the world or of rationality. Rationality is precisely proportioned to the experiences in which it is disclosed. To say that there exists rationality is to say that perspectives blend, perceptions confirm each other, a meaning emerges. But it should not be set in a realm apart, transposed into absolute Spirit, or into a world in the realist sense. The phenomenological world is not pure being, but the sense which is revealed where the paths of my various experiences intersect, and also where my own and other people’s intersect and engage each other like gears. It is thus inseparable from subjectivity and intersubjectivity, which find their unity when I either take up my past experiences in those of the present, or other people’s in my own. For the first time the philosopher’s thinking is sufficiently conscious not to anticipate itself and endow its own results with reified form in the world. The philosopher tries to conceive the world, others and himself and their interrelations. But the meditating Ego, the ‘impartial spectator’ do not rediscover an already given rationality, they ‘establish themselves’, and establish it, by an act of initiative which has no guarantee in being, its justification resting entirely on the effective power which it confers on us of taking our own history upon ourselves.

The phenomenological world is not the bringing to explicit expression of a pre-existing being, but the laying down of being. Philosophy is not the reflection of a pre-existing truth, but, like art, the act of bringing truth into being. One may well ask how this creation is possible, and if it does not recapture in things a pre-existing Reason. The answer is that the only pre-existent Logos is the world itself, and that the philosophy which brings it into visible existence does not begin by being possible; it is actual or real like the world of which it is a part, and no explanatory hypothesis is clearer than the act whereby we take up this unfinished world in an effort to complete and conceive it. Rationality is not a problem. There is behind it no unknown quantity which has to be determined by deduction, or, beginning with it, demonstrated inductively. We witness every minute the miracle of related experience, and yet nobody knows better than we do how this miracle is worked, for we are ourselves this network of relationships. The world and reason are not problematical. We may say, if we wish, that they are mysterious, but their mystery defines them: there can be no question of dispelling it by some ‘solution’, it is on the hither side of all solutions. True philosophy consists in relearning to look at the world, and in this sense a historical account can give meaning to the world quite as ‘deeply’ as a philosophical treatise. We take our fate in our hands, we become responsible for our history through reflection, but equally by a decision on which we stake our life, and in both cases what is involved is a violent act which is validated by being performed.

I especially enjoyed this: “the only pre-existent Logos is the world itself, and that the philosophy which brings it into visible existence does not begin by being possible; it is actual or real like the world of which it is a part, and no explanatory hypothesis is clearer than the act whereby we take up this unfinished world in an effort to complete and conceive it.”

This brought to mind a quote from Robert F. Kennedy, which is supposed to be inspiring, but which I find alarming:

“You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

Anyone who has worked in the design field as long as I have will recognize this attitude. It is the attitude of dudes who still haven’t quite internalized the non-deducibility of reality from one’s brilliant ideas and current understanding of truth. It is the omniscience of the inexperienced who still believe that if they cannot see how something is wrong, that can be taken as evidence that it is right. Or if they can’t understand the reason why someone thinks or acts in some particular way, that means the thought or action is unreasonable.

And naive logic monsters of this kind, if their deductions want you to logically prove to them to their satisfaction that their thinking is wrong — which, of course, is not possible. To them, this proves that you have no point and that they are right. And they believe that your irritation with their insularity is a symptom that, on some level, you kind of know they are right, but just can’t bring yourself to admit it. Perhaps you lack the courage or imagination of a Kennedy.

…anyway, I wanted to be sure I got the RFK quote right, and looking for the original, I found this page, which provided me my second jolt of happiness:

AUTHOR: George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)

QUOTATION: You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”

ATTRIBUTION: George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah, act I, Selected Plays with Prefaces, vol. 2, p. 7 (1949). The serpent says these words to Eve.

President John F. Kennedy quoted these words in his address to the Irish Parliament, Dublin, June 28, 1963. — Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 537.

Senator Robert F. Kennedy used a similar quotation as a theme of his 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination: “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” Senator Edward M. Kennedy quoted these words of Robert Kennedy’s in his eulogy for his brother in 1968. — The New York Times, June 9, 1968, p. 56.

Transformability of givenness

Givenness is the spontaneous, pre-reflective experiencing of something as something.

We tend to think of givens as foundational points of departure. However, as history testifies, at least some givens can be changed, to potentially profound effect. The effect of such changes is inconceivable prior to the change, because the scope of conceivability itself is what changes.

I believe that some givens ought to be changed, that other givens ought not to be changed (but cultivated, protected and bequeathed), and that some givens, maybe most, ought to evolve organically. But we must ask some crucial questions: Who decides, for whom? and by what reasoning is this decision made? and by what means may givens be changed? Finally, how is the transformation of givens experienced by one undergoing the change and how does one understand the transformation, when that by which understanding happens is precisely what is transforming?

(This is me experimenting with approaching my incipient book Enworldment from the angle of transformability of givenness.)

Buber on misapotheosis

Martin Buber, in his Introduction to Pointing the Way makes an extremely important distinction between two forms of religiosity:

In this selection of my essays from the years 1909 to 1954, I have, with one exception, included only those that, in the main, I can also stand behind today.

The one exception is ‘The Teaching of the Tao,’ the treatise which introduced my 1909 translation of selected Talks and Parables of Chuang-tzu. I have included this essay because, in connection with the development of my thought, it seems to me too important to be withheld from the reader in this collection. But I ask him while reading it to bear in mind that this small work belongs to a stage that I had to pass through before I could enter into an independent relationship with being. One may call it the ‘mystical’ phase if one understands as mystic the belief in a unification of the self with the all-self, attainable by man in levels or intervals of his earthly life. Underlying this belief, when it appears in its true form, is usually a genuine ‘ecstatic’ experience. But it is the experience of an exclusive and all-absorbing unity of his own self. This self is then so uniquely manifest, and it appears then so uniquely existent, that the individual loses the knowledge, ‘This is my self, distinguished and separate from every other self’. He loses the sure knowledge of the principium individuationis, and understands this precious experience of his unity as the experience of the unity.

When this man returns into life in the world and with the world, he is naturally inclined from then on to regard everyday life as an obscuring of the true life. Instead of bringing into unity his whole existence as he lives it day by day, from the hours of blissful exaltation unto those of hardship and of sickness, instead of living this existence as unity, he constantly flees from it into the experience of unity, into the detached feeling of unity of being, elevated above life. But he thereby turns away from his existence as a man, the existence into which he has been set, through conception and birth, for life and death in this unique personal form. Now he no longer stands in the dual basic attitude that is destined to him as a man: carrying being in his person, wishing to complete it, and ever again going forth to meet worldly and above-worldly being over against him, wishing to be a helper to it. Rather in the ‘lower’ periods he regards everything as preparation for the ‘higher.’ But in these ‘higher hours’ he no longer knows anything over against him: the great dialogue between I and Thou is silent; nothing else exists than his self, which he experiences as the self. That is certainly an exalted form of being untrue but it is still being untrue. Being true to the being in which and before which I am placed is the one thing that is needful.

I recognized this and what follows from it five years after setting down this small work. It took another five years for this recognition to ripen to expression. The readers for whom I hope are those who see my way as one, parallel to their own way towards true existence.

I’ve called the confusion of the unified self with the All-Self misapotheosis.

I do not believe that Taoism is a religion of misapotheosis, but I do think that the shift from an ecliptic mode of existence to an authentically existential one does lead one through a “soliptic” mode — an philosophically-induced autism — that frees a soul from onerous conceptual obligations and liberates it to reconceive existence in a more spontaneously intuitive mode.

This soliptic state produces so much pleasure it tempts a soul to a life of permanent alienated bliss, defended by an attitude of “contemptus mundi” toward whatever threatens to re-obligate it. Many spiritual people are imprisoned by this liberation and never escape it.

Knowing from a distance

My life as a design researcher goes like this, over and over: My client hires us to do design research. The organization is full of smart people who know the organization’s business inside and out. They believe they know roughly what is happening with their customers and their employees. Mostly they just want us to fill in some knowledge gaps. So we go out and interact with real people in their homes and workplaces. There we learn that the situation is quite different from what the client thought, that the problem has been misframed, and that the most important insights aren’t located in the knowledge gaps, but rather where nobody thought to look.

It’s not like this every time. Some organizations understand people better than others. But it is like this often enough that I am highly skeptical of claims to know from a distance. It is hard enough even to know close-up!

And when people seem unaware of the difficulties of distant knowledge and have too much confidence in their ability to piece things together based on sifting hearsay, I suspect they lack the kind of healthy relationship with reality that allows us to know truth.

Rational madness

“Madness is rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.” — Nietzsche

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It is fairly easy to produce a coherent explanation of everything if we are willing to selectively ignore our experiences or disregard them as epiphenomenal — as caused by physical or societal processes.

If we try to do full justice to our most immediate experiences — and take seriously things like love, beauty, sacrality, relevance, intuition, offense, admiration, ambivalence, loneliness, jealousy, alienation, togetherness, shame, anxiety, perplexity — we find ourselves facing a harder problem.

And if we take seriously other persons’ accounts of their immediate experiences, and resist the compulsion to ignore or disregard what they experience, the quest for coherent explanation might even seem like a distraction from actually understanding what is going on around us.

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Another Nietzsche quote: “The two principles of the new life. — First principle: life should be ordered on the basis of what is most certain and most demonstrable, not as hitherto on that of what is most remote, indefinite and no more than a cloud on the horizon. Second principle: the order of succession of what is closest and most immediate, less close and less immediate, certain and less certain, should be firmly established before one orders one’s life and gives it a definitive direction.”

When attempting to understand the world, far too many people rely too much on secondary accounts of distant events — and on what they, with their limited life experiences, can construe from these accounts. Much can go wrong with interpretations. Misinterpretive wrongness compounds when misinterpretations are subjected to theories untempered by praxis (that is, through iterative application, reflection and correction.)

And then, of course, there is the question of selection of accounts. Which are noticed as relevant, and taken seriously as something to accept or reject? Which accounts are never seen or sought or slip by as irrelevant noise? The selected accounts tend to be those that play nice with existing interpretive schemes and one’s own active theories.

And of course, each account is the result of a similar selection and construal process. Who are they paying attention to?

What this over-reliance on secondary accounts does to a public — a public which spends more time processing other people’s processing of other people’s processing — is alienating them from their own immediacy — and exchanging that personal immediacy for obsessive-compulsive theorizing on distant matters. This process produces tribal mass minds.

A person caught up in a mass mind will “think independently” — will rigorously ratiocinate using the interpretive schema and theories of a tribe — and reach the conclusions all reasonable people must.

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My response to politics is based on my immediate experience of what ideologies do to those possessed by them.

Does an ideology’s interpretive schema and social theory justify coercion or violence to meet its goals? Does it seek and find exigencies that justify illiberal measures? If so, that ideology is potentially violent and illiberal. I do not have to calculate probable events to know this.

Does a popular ideology eclipse the possibility of genuine personal connection? Does it dismiss or explain away immediate experience? or does it reduce persons to categories with deducible properties? or does its judgment justify prioritizing its own judgment over my own? or does it obsessive-compulsively drive conversation back to distant matters? If so, I resent it for body-snatching people who might otherwise be friends.

*

“But what if I’m right? Then what?” “What if this conspiracy is real?” “What if your apparent agency is just an emergent property of unjust social dynamics?” “What if the devil is deluding you and preventing you from joining our church?” “What if?” —

Well… What if you are trying to talk me out of trusting my own immediate experience so you can seduce me to an intellectual circularity that will rob me of personal agency?

That rings true.

Vehemence

One of my favorite moods is something I’ve called “vehemence”.

I just looked up the etymology, and now I like it even more. Vehemence means “forcefulness, violence, rashness”. For me, it means getting carried away by my own intuitive force.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

vehemence (n.)

c. 1400, from Old French vehemence, veemence “forcefulness, violence, rashness” or directly from Latin vehementia “eagerness, strength,” from stem of vehere “to carry” (from PIE root *wegh- “to go, move, transport in a vehicle”).

Entries linking to vehemence: wegh- Proto-Indo-European root meaning “to go, move, transport in a vehicle.”

The root wegh-, “to convey, especially by wheeled vehicle,” is found in virtually every branch of Indo-European, including now Anatolian. The root, as well as other widely represented roots such as aks– and nobh-, attests to the presence of the wheel — and vehicles using it — at the time Proto-Indo-European was spoken.

Merriam-Webster adds an alternative account:

NOTE: Alternatively explained as a prefix v?– “faulty, excessive or deficient” and ment-, mens “mind,” in which case –ehe– is an unetymological spelling of the long vowel. Though this would account for vehemens in place of *vehimens (with normal vowel weakening), the word never has the sense “mentally deranged” (the meanings of the presumed parallel formations vecors and vesanus).

I creatively (mis)interpret this as a sort of faith in my pre-knowing gut to produce just the right fury-inspired thoughts and words and actions, without any need for conscious reflection.

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But the most important thing about vehemence is that this is a happy anger at exactly those things that in weaker moments reduce me to bitter impotence.

From vehemence, I feel comic contempt for people who try so hard to believe unbelievable beliefs, adopt the ugly linguistic habits and perform the tortured etiquette of mass-minded tribalists.

I’m simpy not participating — not with it — but also not against it, because the antis are just a different variety of dangerously dumb.

It’s all incredibly dumb, and the tragic violence to come will just make it dumber, though the violence itself will probably throw some sublime sparks here and there. Mostly it will be a sea of bloody, muddy stupidity.

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At least today, so far, I’m vehemently outside the nonsense.

I want to live here.

Promises of new worlds

For an enworldment to become culturally relevant, its praxis must not only be good from the inside but it must also be compelling (beautiful, sublime, fascinating) from the outside.

“Inside”: for those who understand and participate in the enworldment, existence becomes manifestly good.

“Outside”: for those who experience only the enworldment’s manifestations — its words, deeds and expressions — it hovers between comprehension and bafflement in that range of semi-understanding we experience as mystery.

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Mystery suggests potential but unrealized intelligibility.

The potency of mystery is a function of the actuality of the enworldment that generates its appearance. If one manages to “get inside” the aesthetic, a new enworldment will spontaneously resolve itself. A new understanding — a new stance — a new priority — a new way emerges — and everything is now different in the most important sense, though most things stay mostly the same. It is the precise opposite of magic, though it is inconceivably magical.

False mysteriousness — a vice of artistic and religious charlatans — tries to use mystery effects to suggest an enworldment that will never spontaneously resolve — will never become second-natural — at any degree of understanding or familiarity with the mystifying words, ways or artifacts.

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And then there’s technik.

Technik assures us that it is possible, through great combinatory effort, that we might find an order that will gives each sundry part — including you and me — a place in the system. Alienation will end. Clarity will reign. And this all-embracing outer technik is our only hope for inner peace. This is the promise of positivist thought and art.

Technik’s plan is to willfully permute our way to an artificial paradise we will learn to love.