Soul-shaping

A souls is a multistable dynamic intuitive system.

Insofar as it is a system that remains stable across changing conditions, a soul has a character, a personality of its own, enduring selfhood. To the degree a soul changes and adapts to conditions, a soul is responsive to the world.

At the extreme of selfhood is closed self, an intuitive system that no longer adapts or responds to the world, but instead uses the same intuitions the same way all the time. Only information it can comprehend is seriously entertained, and only conclusions that reinforce its workings are accepted. The soul maintains itself in a closed, circular state of autism.

At the extreme of responsiveness is the fragmentary self, an intuitive system that is so adaptive to its environment that it cannot find its own enduring selfhood within the changing configurations that its intuitions take as circumstances buffet it around. Its only hope for integrity come from the social environment. If the social environment gives it an identity and expects it to perform that identity, the soul responds obediently and then finds itself able to feel itself to be a self. But if the environment does not provide these reinforcements, the self is literally existentially threatened, and goes into a crisis. The soul has no internal means to maintain its own stable sense of self, and exists in a fragmentary state of borderline personality.

Under certain circumstances the closed selves and fragmentary selves can form an alliance. The closed selves adopt an ideology and ethical ruleset that, when performed, assigns stable identities to those who would otherwise live in fragmentary nothingness. The alliance requires strict adherence to roles and rules, and deviations from it, especially those which contradict the ideological conceptions and produce conditions that threaten its collective closed system, are treated as a collective existential threat. These alliances have low intolerance of stresses from beyond its ideological horizon, especially modes of conception incommensurable with the logic that holds its brittle system together.

When a person insists that selfhood is a superstructural artifact of social forces, that a person is reducible to the play of various identities, that social standpoints imprison us within limited understanding, beyond which there is blind belief in the testimony of others or disbelief and violence, this indicates participation in the closed alliance.

The overpowering need for selfhood in one particular conception, existentially threatened by rival theories or expressions of selfhood is the driving force behind all illiberalism.

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Liberal democracy requires selves of a different shape, neither closed circles, nor open fragments, but a synthesis of the two, which I symbolize as a spiral — multistable dynamic intuitive system that is stable but is, to a degree, open to realities that challenge its integrity. It does this by cultivating a dynamic stability that can shapeshift in response to different challenges of its understanding — that is, it can entertain multiple understandings, but which is ordered by a deeper integrity that sees multiplicity of understanding as intrinsic to the human condition.

This deeper integrity goes by the name pluralism.

Pluralism’s unique mode of understanding, which conceives inconceivability in a manner conducive to actually conceiving inconceivable truths, and in this, to continually reaffirm its own pluralistic integrity.

Not all citizens of a liberal democracy must be pluralists, but enough must participate in political and cultural life to prevent a closed alliance to form, and for illiberalism to drive pluralism underground.

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Hermeneutics is important in pluralism and in religion, because any deep act of understanding requires a soul to respond to a stable set of conceptions with a stability of its own, to re-form itself in an act of understanding. It must experiment with polysemic words and allow them to combine and crystalize in multiple ways, and then to respond selfully to these crystallization with its own intuitive order, and experience how it is to understand this text, this phenomenon, this design this way, and accordingly experience the world from this state.

Producing meaningful artifacts — whether objects, interactions, services, arguments, rituals, symbols — that order an understanding soul in a way that improves the experience of life is experience design at its profoundest level.

The pragmatic consequences of the Pragmatic Maxim

The amazing thing about Pragmatism is how simple it is in its core. 

The entire Pragmatism philosophy in all its pluralistic blooming, buzzing varieties, as well as pragmatist approaches to myriad other disciplines — is just the working out of the practical consequences of this conception of meaning, encapsulated in the Pragmatic Maxim

In order to ascertain the meaning of an intellectual conception one should consider what practical consequences might conceivably result by necessity from the truth of that conception; and the sum of these consequences will constitute the entire meaning of the conception.

These are holy words. 

Strange agents

Differences in how we interpret, think about and interact with the world are not matters of different vocabularies. On the contrary, divergent vocabularies are a matter of pre-verbal difference in interpretations and mental, emotional and practical responses.

Confusing things considerably, however, is the strange fact that adoption and use of new vocabularies can effect changes in our pre-verbal mental faculties. This how I explain our collective linguistic wrong turn, which, while not entirely fruitless has become barren. I’m turning my wheel sharply the other direction, and adopting a hard-nosed intuitivism, as painful as it is to make my language-mind admit it is not autonomous and self-contained, and that its facile answers are appealing more for being linguistically facile than for being real answers that truly account for life outside language.

I’ve been calling these strange agents intuitions.

Jealousy

I see jealousy as a painful but valuable form of perception. It is the detection of estrangement, real or possible, and the disruption it inflicts on the self.

There are at least three ways to avoid feeling jealousy, each a strategy against estranging disruption.

The first, most obvious one is that your relationships are on solid ground and are not currently at risk of estrangement.

A less obvious one is that your relationships are so impersonal that estrangement is the norm, and therefore not a threat. Incurable loneliness, emptiness, depression and irritability is the consequence. But these consequences of impersonality can become normal, too, and produces a worldview that experiences life itself as essentially impersonal and meaningless, just a play of social forces creating and animating social agents, who strive for power and mistake superstructural mental artifacts for souls.

The last one is that you and those with whom you relate are integrated within a social structure that keeps everyone in stable, fixed and familiar relationships with one another. Held in place and in shape within a complex network of interpersonal bonds and social associations, nobody is in danger of total estrangement. This stability, however, comes at the cost of personal freedom.

To encapsulate each cause in a word, defense against jealousy can come from intimacy, politics or culture.

 

Theology opposed to mundane life and art

By Fishbane’s conception, what I do is not philosophy, but theology:

As with our lives in the natural world, theology is grounded in everyday reality — which includes both our normal experiences in time and space, and those caesural moments when something elemental breaks into consciousness. Moreover, as with the aesthetic imagination, theology is a symbolic form which takes our experiences in the natural world and reshapes them, so that their special qualities and depths may be brought to mind. We have noted that poetry in particular is a deliberate attempt to refocus our attention on daily happenings and their extraordinary dimensions or character. Theology tries to do this as well, but in an altogether unique and intensified manner.

I would put it this way. If in our ordinary experience caesural moments seem to happen against our will or expectation, and artwork tries, both willfully and expectantly, to create experiences of an elemental character, intentionally disrupting our normal habitude and common perceptions, theology tries to transform this perception of elementariness into a sustained way of life and thought. This does not mean living at some abnormal edge of experience, out of touch with our regular sense of things. It rather means taking a particular stand where the elemental and the everyday intersect. In ordinary life, the everyday is generally habitual, and when the elemental breaks through it overwhelms one totally; thus their crossing point is not so much an element of consciousness as the place of a radical opening of awareness. By contrast, the artwork tries to create a fabrication of the crossing point so that one may experience the sights and sounds of existence in a more primary way, and thus allow the elemental to cleanse our rudimentary perceptions for the sake of life. The artist therefore tries to jolt one into perceptions of the elemental so that it will challenge casual consciousness. Artwork is a response to ordinariness, and to the sealing of the abysses through routine mindlessness.

The ideal of theology is different. It tries to stand in the natural world where we live our everyday lives, and to experience all its happenings as points of crossing, where the elemental depths come to some phenomenal perception. Theology thus seeks to orient the self to a twofold dimension: to the numinous qualities of unsayable origin inhering in every moment of existence. So understood, all our worldly experiences are prismatic revelations of a deeper elementariness, the worldly shapes of primal forces received as sensations on our bodies and stimulations in our minds. It is thus through a wholly natural attitude toward the world that a deeper phenomenality is disclosed. A task of theology is therefore to attune the self to the unfolding occurrence of things in all their particularities and conjunctions, and help one remain steadfast at each new crossing point where raw elementariness, radically given, becomes human experience.

Theology is thus situated at the border of the known and unknown, of the manifest and the concealed. It is at this nexus that the self seeks God. For just here there is both a sense of happening and the excess of all happening, extending to the utmost depths of Being and beyond. Theology gathers the import of this awareness and attunes the heart to it, directing one’s attention beyond the perceived appearance of things to the intuited and imagined vastness of all existence, ever generated from the ultimate Source of all things (and actuality). This most primal Depth (beyond the Beyond of all conception), so infinitely disposing, is what we haltingly bring to mind by the word God. We thus gesture the thought-image of a supernal Font of Being; and with it also this more paradoxical, corollary notion: that if all existence is not God as such, it is also not other than God, Life of all life.

It was with such matters in mind that I spoke earlier of theology as a spiritual practice, whose principal task is to guide human thought and sensibility toward God. As the exercise of theological thinking unfolds, it directs the human spirit toward an increasingly focused awareness of God as the heart and breath of all existence, and tries to sustain that focus throughout the course of life. Put differently, theology seeks to cultivate an abiding consciousness of God’s informing presence in all the realities of existence, the infinite modalities of divine effectivity. Hence the world is both what we “take” it to be, in all the moments of ordinary experience, and what we must “untake” it to be, when we relate all things back to their ontological and primordial ground in God.

I have been trying for decades now to convince religious and mystical friends and acquaintances that my primary form of religious practice is thinking. This is inconceivable to many spiritual temperaments whose relationship to thought is different from mine. They conceive thought as something that stands apart from reality, and thinks about things, over and against. For such people, thinking as participation within reality is itself a remote idea that is hard to think about, and with such things we are often tempted to dismiss them as nonexistent. For someone whose existence is oriented to this mode of thinking, this kind of dismissal can feel personal, and when I was younger I did take spiritual anti-intellectualism, however benevolently intended, very personally, as the deepest inhospitality: “there is no room in my world for you, except as a deluded and arrogant fool.”

I’ve long since stopped trying to argue with inhospitality. The thoughts I love are ones who must be invited in and entertained as possible. They are not equipped with argumentative battering rams. They cannot debate their way into consideration. But when someone does invite these ideas into their souls, even as a guest whose stay is temporary, I feel grateful.

Fishbane also gives me a feeling of home. By giving voice to how I exist, proclaiming that this is a way to be — a good way — I feel enworlded with my own kind. I have a place here. I do not have to wander, homeless, seeking hospitality.

With a place of our own, a home, hospitality is something that we can give as well as receive.

Fishbane on metanoia

Michael Fishbane describes metanoia beautifully and precisely:

…But then it may happen that the thoughtless ordinariness of daily life is jolted and gives way to a more elemental specificity. Suddenly something occurs that claims us with an overwhelming intensity, and floods our sensibilities without any accompanying thoughts of its human meaning. Rather, the sense of rupture is all, and it seems as if primordial energies have burst from the depths and ripped the veil normally stretched over things, concealing them in blandness. Such moments may occur within the bounds of nature, as with the uprush of some overwhelming vista or sound; they may happen in the human world, as with the unsettling impact of sudden death or love; or they may happen through the creations of culture, as with the capacity of certain compositions to propel us to the edge of sensibility. We then shudder before what is given to us from the fullness of phenomenal existence, manifesting mysteries of the surge of things at the core of world-being. Just here is an absolute “somethingness,” pulsing in elemental specificity—for we suddenly sense the raw plenitude of existence; but here too, simultaneously, it seems, is a revelation of primordial “nothingness,” yawning like an “inconceivable chasm of invulnerable silence in which cataclysms of galaxies rave mute as amber”—for we also sense that the event is in excess of human meaning. In time we come back to our normal selves, and when we do we more knowingly confirm this happening and ourselves as well, answering the ever-present question “Where are you?” with the confession “Here I am—just here.” On such occasions, consequent to the restabilization of consciousness, a renewed subjectivity is aroused in us (the “here I am”), together with an awakened sense of the great immensity in which we are suffused, now experienced at a particular time and place (the “just here”).

These experiences may fundamentally change our lives; for though the primal depths may close over, and we return to more regular experiences of the world, the “sense of depth” may remain in mind. And if so, one is infused by an awareness of a twofold dimension to reality—the pervasive superflux of existence that underlies our lives, and its more delimited nature on the existential surface of things. Along with this dual sensibility may come an awareness of our role in circumscribing the boundless and naming what exceeds all terms. This hyperconsciousness need not put us at odds with things, for we are also natural beings, and adapting ourselves to the world of nature is part of our acculturated naturalness. But by becoming aware of this matter, we realize that the world is not just there as “a world,” fixed and final (like some substantial datum waiting to be disclosed), but is rather a happening, ever coming into actuality through human inventiveness; and that the self, for its part, is not just “a self,” fixed in nature and proclivity, but a self-consciousness, ever attuned to itself and its worldly involvements. In this way the eruptive, caesural event is kept in mind by a new attentiveness to the contingency of experience, and an attunement to the deeper nature of worldly existence. As this double dimension of existence is infixed in consciousness (as a bimodal mentalité ), our subjectivity and life-world are transformed.

It is the particular poignancy of the caesural moment that changes us and may induce a new mindfulness. For though the initial experiences silenced human expression, the sense of being overwhelmed by the event may give way to a sense of being claimed by it in a fundamental way. It is just that more conceptual (or self-conscious) sensibility which marks the moment with axial significance and calls the person to change their life. This is therefore not only a cognitive insight, through the perception of primordial forces underlying experience; it also carries a value component, through an awakening to the contingency of existence and the command to respond. When the precipitating moment is an elemental event of nature, such as an earthquake or flood, or the cycles of birth and death, and even when the occasion is a historical fact, such as some monstrous evil of deed or neglect, the charged moment palpably calls to our elemental nature and conscience, directing us to: Remember, Do Something, or Have Sympathy; and to the extent that one can fix these revelations in one’s mind through rituals of action and recollection, their moral charge remains, and the claim is continuous and does not fade. How we collect such events in our personal lives, and how we keep them alive, determines the nature of our character; and how a culture does this through education and the selection of events for public recollection affects the moral shape of society.

Sketchy endeavor

I want to lay out a basic vocabulary for my project of approaching philosophy as a design discipline.

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This is a very sketchy endeavor.

I’m presenting even the philosophy that justifies and encourages approaching philosophy this way as itself something I designed.

This philosophy makes no claims to truth, only to being one good way to understand experience — one that I recommend.

I recommend it on pragmatist grounds, as something good to believe.

It is no accident that it is good to believe because it teaches dissatisfaction with anything that isn’t good to believe, and it practices what it preaches. It iteratively investigates, questions, instaurates possibilities, tries them on, evaluates and compares — and continues iterating until whatever it comes up with is experienced as good.

Good is evaluated in a designerly way. What is evaluated is not (only) the object we experience. More important is the subject of the experience — what the subject experiences as a result of interacting with the object of the design. Liz Sanders provided the essential definition of good design — a good interaction is experienced as useful, usable and desirable. It is experienced as useful if it helps a user accomplish something the user is trying to do. It is experienced as usable if it allows the user to accomplish what they are trying to do with minimal effort, confusion and distraction. It is experienced as desirable if it contributes value of its own (joy, meaning or sense of relationship) to the experience.

Notice the essential relativity of these characteristics. No object in itself can be said to be useful, usable or desirable. Neither can an experience be useful, usable or desirable. No, only when some subject interacts with some object, can that object be experienced as useful, usable or desirable.

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With philosophy, things get super-weird, and this weirdness has been perplexing me for a long time. Extracting myself from the perplexity has been slow and arduous.

The weirdness hits at three points — the subject of the philosophy, the object meant to be experienced as good, and the medium of philosophy itself that somehow effects this good experience.

You could, of course, conceive the subject of philosophy the person thinking about the words that articulate the philosophy, or the ideas, arguments or claims taken as the content of it, or maybe the method or approach taken in the doing of the philosophy. Any of these conceptions would be much easier, and if simply providing a crisp, clear answer to the question, or if simply enjoying the process of conceiving an answer, these conceptions might be advisable.

My purpose, however is different. My entire conception and experience of existence has been changed by reading, thinking and struggling with philosophy. This conception and experience did not only change while I was focusing on philosophy. The change endured and transfigured absolutely everything, all at once, and in ways I have found incredibly difficult to communicate.

Somehow, because of words I’ve read, my conceptions have changed in a way that has changed my subjectivity — and in a way that preceded bypassed and often defied language. These changes have usually been for the better, and when they haven’t, I’ve struggled with these worse subjective states, wrestled free, or critiqued them to smithereens, until they lost their hold on me and yielded to better subjective states. Across these changes, I’ve tried to retain knowledge of what happened, and what it implies about subjectivity, conceptions, truth and the nature of reality beyond our truth.

I want to account for this extremely strange possibility of subjective change and try to understand how much the changes be undergone in an intentional manner, so that people can make similar changes to themselves and improve their experience of reality.

I am only interested in philosophy primarily for its capacity to produce clearer, more cohesive and expansive conceptions of existence that allow us to understand, experience and respond to our situations effectively without the need to explicitly intercept and interpret them (in other words, think about them spontaneously and second-naturally) and finally to find existence valuable and inspiring.

Somehow, through some miraculous iterative bootstrapping, this iterative construing, evaluating, criticizing, scrapping, restarting process developed into the glorious circular but expanding logic of designing glorious circular, expanding, spiraling logics.

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Subjectivity is the totality of intuitions interacting within a psyche (or putting it in religious language, spirits interacting within a soul).

Subjectivities are multistable. They can stably self-organize in myriad ways as subjects, capable of effective response to various situations. Some of these subjects are acquired in study of academic subjects taught in school. The personal subject is the personality who modalizes these various acquired subjects and others, and remains a self throughout these modes. When we know another person, that person is learned more as a subject than as some object with known properties.

The goal of philosophy is producing a stable, dynamic, integration of intuitions.

Out of time. More later.

Intuitive multistability

Just as there are multistabilities of conception when understanding texts (hermeneutics) and multistabilities of perception while experiencing phenomena (postphenomenology), there are multistabilities in the self-organization of intuitions.

In my art pamphlet Geometric Meditations, I called the mysterious swarm of self-organizing intuitions behind the I “potential” — possible states of soul in various kinds and degrees of order.

Every experience — which is a mix of conceptions, perceptions and responses to what we conceive and perceive — engages some set of our intuitions and induces them to organize and cooperate. Some of these organized cooperations involve most or many of our intuitions and cause them to function as a unity. This makes us feel whole. Some exclude intuitions or even force their suppression. This makes us feel conflicted, divided or empty.

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Some of us have a flexible, modal, dynamic stability of soul. Different intuitions emerge and participate in various domains of activity. Most intuitions have a meaningful role to play, and none are entirely excluded. No intuitions are considered intolerably dangerous, and when possibilities and questions are sensed by one intuition, other intuitions participate from various angles, as the notion rises to conscious consideration and is turned in the mind.

Others of us have less flexible stabilities. One set of intuitions tris to stay in total control all the time. This intuitive gang collaborates to keep the other intuitions under their control. This is especially true of the darkest, most dangerous intuitions, which must be suppressed at all costs, along with their unwanted, harmful thoughts. If anything in the environment stimulates these marginalized intuitions they rise up and threaten the dominant order. This is experienced as an existential threat, and triggers a forcible inner crackdown by the offended dominant intuitions. They fear an uprising of the intuitive underclass and the change of mind it will bring, which signals the end of its reign. The soul must continue to believe their true beliefs and condemning all the lies it disbelieves, or that soul as it knows itself will cease to exist. It will lose its identity as a believer in some ideology or religion, a member of some special group or nation. It lives in a constant inner (and sometimes outer) police state to maintain its very existence as itself. And because it suppresses much of itself, it feels itself perpetually empty, dissatisfied, unfulfilled, persecuted, oppressed.

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All this brings me back, once again, to where my transfiguration started, reading Christopher Alexander’s Timeless Way of Building.

His idea of wholeness is bound up with how we dwell in spaces and how our “inner forces” are harmonized or conflicted by what our environment offers us.

A man is alive when he is wholehearted, true to himself, true to his own inner forces, and able to act freely according to the nature of the situations he is in.

To be happy, and to be alive, in this sense, are almost the same. Of course, a man who is alive, is not always happy in the sense of feeling pleasant; experiences of joy are balanced by experiences of sorrow. But the experiences are all deeply felt; and above all, the man is whole and conscious of being real.

To be alive in this sense, is not a matter of suppressing some forces or tendencies, at the expense of others; it is a state of being in which all forces which arise in a man can find expression; he lives in balance among the forces which arise in him; he is unique as the pattern of forces which arise is unique; he is at peace, since there are no disturbances created by underground forces which have no outlet; he is at one with himself and his surroundings.

This state cannot be reached merely by inner work.

There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need do only inner work, in order to be alive like this; that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself he need only change himself. This teaching has some value, since it is so easy for a man to imagine that his problems are caused by “others.” But it is a one-sided and mistaken view which also maintains the arrogance of the belief that the individual is self-sufficient and not dependent in any essential way on his surroundings.

The fact is, a person is so far formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.

Some kinds of physical and social circumstances help a person come to life. Others make it very difficult.

Nietzsche had a similar conception, a more vitalistic one centering on nourishment and starvation:

However far a man may go in self-knowledge, nothing however can be more incomplete than his image of the totality of drives which constitute his being. He can scarcely name even the cruder ones: their number and strength, their ebb and flood, their play and counterplay among one another, and above all the laws of their nutriment remain wholly unknown to him. This nutriment is therefore a work of chance: our daily experiences throw some prey in the way of now this, now that drive, and the drive seizes it eagerly; but the coming and going of these events as a whole stands in no rational relationship to the nutritional requirements of the totality of the drives: so that the outcome will always be twofold — the starvation and stunting of some and the overfeeding of others. Every moment of our lives sees some of the polyp-arms of our being grow and others of them wither, all according to the nutriment which the moment does or does not bear with it. Our experiences are, as already said, all in this sense means of nourishment, but the nourishment is scattered indiscriminately without distinguishing between the hungry and those already possessing a superfluity. And as a consequence of this chance nourishment of the parts, the whole, fully grown polyp will be something just as accidental as its growth has been. To express it more clearly: suppose a drive finds itself at the point at which it desires gratification — or exercise of its strength, or discharge of its strength, or the saturation of an emptiness — these are all metaphors –: it then regards every event of the day with a view to seeing how it can employ it for the attainment of its goal; whether a man is moving, or resting or angry or reading or speaking or fighting or rejoicing, the drive will in its thirst as it were taste every condition into which the man may enter, and as a rule will discover nothing for itself there and will have to wait and go on thirsting: in a little while it will grow faint, and after a couple of days or months of non-gratification it will wither away like a plant without rain. Perhaps this cruelty perpetrated by chance would be more vividly evident if all the drives were as much in earnest as is hunger, which is not content with dream food; but most of the drives, especially the so-called moral ones, do precisely this — if my supposition is allowed that the meaning and value of our dreams is precisely to compensate to some extent for the chance absence of ‘nourishment’ during the day. Why was the dream of yesterday full of tenderness and tears, that of the day before yesterday humorous and exuberant, an earlier dream adventurous and involved in a continuous gloomy searching? Why do I in this dream enjoy indescribable beauties of music, why do I in another soar and fly with the joy of an eagle up to distant mountain peaks? These inventions, which give scope and discharge to our drives to tenderness or humorousness or adventurousness or to our desire for music and mountains — and everyone will have his own more striking examples to hand — are interpretations of nervous stimuli we receive while we are asleep, very free, very arbitrary interpretations of the motions of the blood and intestines, of the pressure of the arm and the bedclothes, of the sounds made by church bells, weathercocks, night-revellers and other things of the kind. That this text, which is in general much the same on one night as on another, is commented on in such varying ways, that the inventive reasoning faculty imagines today a cause for the nervous stimuli so very different from the cause it imagined yesterday, though the stimuli are the same: the explanation of this is that today’s prompter of the reasoning faculty was different from yesterday’s — a different drive wanted to gratify itself, to be active, to exercise itself, to refresh itself, to discharge itself — today this drive was at high flood, yesterday it was a different drive that was in that condition. — Waking life does not have this freedom of interpretation possessed by the life of dreams, it is less inventive and unbridled — but do I have to add that when we are awake our drives likewise do nothing but interpret nervous stimuli and, according to their requirements, posit their ’causes’? that there is no essential difference between waking and dreaming? that when we compare very different stages of culture we even find that freedom of waking interpretation in the one is in no way inferior to the freedom exercised in the other while dreaming? that our moral judgments and evaluations too are only images and fantasies based on a physiological process unknown to us, a kind of acquired language for designating certain nervous stimuli? that all our so-called consciousness is a more or less fantastic commentary on an unknown, perhaps unknowable, but felt text? — Take some trifling experience. Suppose we were in the market place one day and we noticed someone laughing at us as we went by: this event will signify this or that to us according to whether this or that drive happens at that moment to be at its height in us — and it will be a quite different event according to the kind of person we are. One person will absorb it like a drop of rain, another will shake it from him like an insect, another will try to pick a quarrel, another will examine his clothing to see if there is anything about it that might give rise to laughter, another will be led to reflect on the nature of laughter as such, another will be glad to have involuntarily augmented the amount of cheerfulness and sunshine in the world — and in each case a drive has gratified itself, whether it be the drive to annoyance or to combativeness or to reflection or to benevolence. This drive seized the event as its prey: why precisely this one? Because, thirsty and hungry, it was lying in wait. — One day recently at eleven o’clock in the morning a man suddenly collapsed right in front of me as if struck by lightning, and all the women in the vicinity screamed aloud; I myself raised him to his feet and attended to him until he had recovered his speech — during this time not a muscle of my face moved and I felt nothing, neither fear nor sympathy, but I did what needed doing and went coolly on my way. Suppose someone had told me the day before that tomorrow at eleven o’clock in the morning a man would fall down beside me in this fashion — I would have suffered every kind of anticipatory torment, would have spent a sleepless night, and at the decisive moment instead of helping the man would perhaps have done what he did. For in the meantime all possible drives would have had time to imagine the experience and to comment on it. — What then are our experiences? Much more that which we put into them than that which they already contain! Or must we go so far as to say: in themselves they contain nothing? To experience is to invent? —

My own conception of these same prelinguistic forces or drives includes Alexander’s energetic and Nietzsche’s vitalistic characteristics but also emphasizes their organizational structure and how their concerted cooperation shapes, reinforces, weakens, threatens, destroys or restructures their organization and coordination.

I’ve entertained many words to denote these prelinguistic forces and drives, but I’m feeling broad inner-acceptance and thick resonance around the word intuition.

Detune to retune

Intelligence denotes understanding of finite entities in systematic combination.

Wisdom denotes understanding of infinity and infinity’s inner surface which we experience as radical surprise and its implication, the permanent potential for radical surprise.

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Intelligence comprehends finitude. Wisdom suprehends infinitude. Philosophy is intelligence in love with wisdom. Theology is wisdom in love with intelligence. This is how I’m seeing things today, reading Michael Fishbane’s Sacred Attunement and attuning my intuitions to what he is saying. I’ve been reading him this week, partly in an effort to re-tune my soul, which has been sounding sour notes lately.

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A detuned soul is not necessarily regrettable.

Between any harmonious tuning and another is a stretch of disharmony.

Early in the re-tuning process, certain notes go off-key, and things are out of tune.

Soon, the key is lost entirely, and no key is discernible in the noise. There are only clashing resonances.

But then, after some more adjustment, a hint of key emerges from the dissonance.

Gradually, the notes converge into a harmonious state, into a new tuning, a new key.

A musical ensemble tunes its instruments together before rehearsing. A perfectly but differently tuned individual instrument will sound out of tune with the others.

Each instrument carries its tuning out of the rehearsal space after the performance.

Tuning is a concerted effort.

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If we immerse in art or reading or conversation, something of the experience clings. In some mysterious way, the experience continues to resonate in us.

A few times in my life, when I’ve read a certain kind of philosophy very deeply, a near-total shift has occurred that went beyond mood or coloring, and changed the resonance of existence itself, and it endured. Fishbane is making me wonder if these works were actually not philosophical, after all, but theological.

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My generation embraced deliberate cacophony in our popular music. We wanted instruments detuned, harmonics clashing and beating against each other, only occasionally lining up in sonic moires, and for any melodies to be submerged in thick noise, concealed, coverted. Anything sweet needed to be coated in thick layers of salt or bitterness. Strange tastes over simple ones.

It was almost as if we wanted to train our ears for hearing hints of emergent alternative harmonies. We wanted to acquire penetrating tastes: to taste through, into, across — vectorially.

Salmiac. Scotch. Puehr. Acquired tastes.

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Two quotes from Nietzsche, my first and deepest transfigurative read:

Blessed are those who possess taste, even though it be bad taste! — And not only blessed: one can be wise, too, only by virtue of this quality; which is why the Greeks, who were very subtle in such things, designated the wise man with a word that signifies the man of taste, and called wisdom, artistic and practical as well as theoretical and intellectual, simply ‘taste’ (sophia).

and

One must learn to love. — This happens to us in music: first one must learn to hear a figure and melody at all, to detect and distinguish it, to isolate and delimit it as a life in itself; then one needs effort and good will to stand it despite its strangeness; patience with its appearance and expression, and kindheartedness about its oddity. Finally comes a moment when we are used to it; when we expect it; when we sense that we’d miss it if it were missing; and now it continues relentlessly to compel and enchant us until we have become its humble and enraptured lovers, who no longer want anything better from the world than it and it again. But this happens to us not only in music: it is in just this way that we have learned to love everything we now love. We are always rewarded in the end for our good will, our patience, our fair-mindedness and gentleness with what is strange, as it gradually casts off its veil and presents itself as a new and indescribable beauty. That is its thanks for our hospitality. Even he who loves himself will have learned it this way — there is no other way. Love, too, must be learned.”

Sacred Attunement

I’m still hopping around in my reading. I’m now intentionally trying to resolve this painful perplexity around the pre-verbal subject that’s been dogging me for the last several years. When we read or listen or learn and then suddenly, spontaneously see everything differently, detect different patterns and connections, think differently, speak and behave differently, what is going on there? How should we understand what happened? Can we intentionally change this way? How much and how?

Today and yesterday I read Michael Fishbane’s Sacred Attunement, and a few dozens of pages in, it seems to offer some promising possibilities. Plus it reinforces why I came to Judaism in the first place.

The path to theology undertaken here is grounded in the forms of experience found in the natural world. In the course of time, these forms and their linguistic expressions weave a web of habitude; the raw and the real are stifled by routine. There is much to do, one thinks, and it is good to work in a settled sphere with established patterns. But the fissures happen in any case, and in unexpected ways; and then the human being is awakened, if only for the time being, to vaster dimensions of experience and the con­ tingencies of existence. These breakthroughs of consciousness may even transform one’s life; but they are not inherently theological. Their power is to remind the self that the “merely other” of everydayness is grounded in an Other of more exceeding depths and heights. But forgetting is the norm. And thus it is one of the chief virtues of artistic creativity to reformulate the sounds and sights of existence, and thereby create new openings in one’s or­ dinary perceptions. Hereby, the daily routine of life is more intentionally ruptured, and the shapes of perception are experienced as subtended by infinite possibilities—such that our everyday consciousness is experienced as shot through with traces of transcendence. Aesthetic experience gives us these moments of reborn mindfulness on occasion; whereas artists may live more continu­ously in these spaces of awareness, often disconnected from ordinary perceptions.

Theology does something more: it receives these perceptions of transcendence and tries to sustain (and even revive) them in the normal course of life. It does so not solely in terms of the experiences per se, but especially in terms of the duties these perceptions impose. The special sense of le transcendance immanente (in Jean Wahl’s phrase) thus sets the standards of spiritual truth and value, as distinct from l’immanence transcendente of ordinary perception. The result is a bimodal consciousness, whose reality and imperatives are variously formulated by different theological traditions. The lines of these perceptions of transcendence, shin­ing through the forms of worldly immanence, which so variously impress themselves on the human spirit, run outward infinitely. They gather nowhere and everywhere. Theology calls this unsay­able ground God. It is a word that focuses the mind and heart. But it is only a cipher for something more radically Other. This is the transcendence of transcendence. For if the first saves the phenomena, grounding them in something “More” (than mere human perceptions), the second saves God (both the word and the reality) from being delimited by human language and con­sciousness. These matters are central to this work.

…the study of scripture is a venerable spiritual discipline in Judaism that has produced (during more than two millennia) a multifaceted system of Bible interpretation. The results are now not simply received as so many solutions to the plain sense of the text, or to its legal, allegorical, or even mystical character. Rather, these types of interpretation are understood to foster diverse modes of attention to textual details, which in turn cultivate correlative forms of attention to the world and to divine reality. In this way, a network of correlations is proposed between forms of reading texts, by attunement to their nuances and meanings, and forms of reading external reality, by attunement to its manifold details and their significance; and between (both) these various forms and modalities of divine perception, by cultivating types of theological consciousness and attunement. Textual study thus becomes a discipline of ethical and spiritual self-­cultivation; and scripture is transformed thereby from an authoritative corpus of received laws, beliefs, and memories into an authorizing matrix for ongoing meditative reflection and reflective action.”

Faith as intuition system

Let’s define faith as an configuration of intuitive faculties (which I will simply call intuitions) within a psyche.

Different intuitions (again, the faculties, not their content) coordinate themselves societally, which produce a certain form of subjectivity, with its own ways of conceiving, perceiving, interpreting, inferring, responding, etc.

Subjectivity can be changed if these intuition systems are reordered.

Religious conversion occurs if an intuition system is radically reordered to a degree that the world itself seems transfigured.


There are at least three notable implications in this way of conceiving faith:

  1. Faith is not belief. Faith is that which does the believing, and it does far more than that. Faith enworlds.
  2. The unconscious is not submerged conscious content. It is the very working of faith to produce, and often re-produce, content. We don’t have suppressed thoughts. We have malfunctioning faiths that keep producing unwanted content.
  3. Because faiths are changeable, we are not stuck with them if they produce ugly, depressing beliefs, ineffective or destructive responses, or utter bewilderment toward our most pressing issues. If our life experience leaves us perplexed, faltering, indifferent or otherwise miserable, and all our attempts to redesign the world around fail for material or political reasons, we can also ask if maybe the problem isn’t with malfunctioning faiths. We can, if we wish, plough these bad faiths under, and try to instaurate better ones that provide us better options to enword ourselves better.

I’ve been arguing for some time that philosophy ought to be redescribed and reconceived as a design discipline, rather than as a search for truth, especially when truth is imagined to preexist out there, ready for excavation.

But, as with all words of a certain kind, philosophy is burdened with connotations that interfere with discussing it in new ways. Philosophy is about thought, ideas, arguments. Same with religion. Religion is about forcing ourselves to accept unprovable if not ludicrous superstitious speculations as true and momentously important. And forget design. Design is about making better things in the broadest sense, and when experiential language is introduced to suggest that the ultimate goal of design is not the objects it shapes, but the subjectivity resulting from interacting with it.

In each case, notice, the source of content is confused with its content.

Philosophy philosophizes philosophies. Design designs designs. Perception perceives perceptions. Intuition intuits intuitions. See the pattern? (I’m curious, though: why doesn’t faith have its verb form? Faith believes faiths?)

The problem here is not with the words.

The problem is at the faith-level.

An objectivist faith everts subjectivist faiths, turning container into contained, concavity into convexity, convexity into concavity, doer into done, intuition into intuition, design into designs, philosophy into philosophies.

Soul and the speaking self

Within the complex society that is your soul, who is responsible for what you do?

Ask your soul, and your speaking mind will speak up. It will talk your ear off about its actions and accomplishments. It will tell you about what its intentions were, how it pursued its intentions, why those intentions were the best intentions.

The speaking mind speaks very convincingly and authoritatively, and sounds for all the world as if it alone decided all these things and carried them out. It speaks so convincingly it believes itself entirely, and because it believes itself entirely, it speaks convincingly.

The speaking mind believes it represents the entire soul when it speaks on its behalf.

Sometimes it forgets it is not the whole soul, itself. It gets out of touch with the rest of the soul. It forgets that there is more to the world than words. It becomes isolated and insular.

The speaking mind can fall into a word world, an existence where only things that can be talked about are real, and anything that can’t be talked about is less than real.

*

Obviously, if you pay close attention to your experience, there is more to a soul than the speaking mind. Besides the speaking mind’s speech, often obscured behind it, there exist myriad spirits, known by their movements and traces, which operate worldlessly and often escape the notice of the speaking mind, and if noticed, often leave the speaking mind speechless. The speaking mind might fumble for words, invent analogies or move it to poetry.

All too often, the speaking mind dismisses these signs, or relegates it to some dull and isolating category: just a reaction, just my imagination, just a feeling, just a passing mood, just a sense — it was nothing.

*

Much of a soul, maybe most of it, is pure instinct, the movements in the soul and movements in the body that function silently and almost autonomously, in response to events around them, completely outside the jurisdiction of speech.

We may be tempted to exclude these tacit and unreflective instinctive movements from full citizenship in the soul. They are not soul, but just bodily reflexes. That is a mistake. They are simply the underclass of the soul. If they went of strike, the soul would lose most of its connection with the body and personhood would grind to a halt.

Then there are habits. These are acquired instincts, those aspects of ourself who run autonomously, as our second nature. Often here, too, we treat habits as unintelligent and simply mechanical. When habit leads a process, speaking mind says “my mind was on autopilot”.

Nietzsche said “Every habit makes our hand more witty and our wit less handy.” This demonstrates the alienation of habit from speech, and demonstration is how habit communicates its existence. The wit of the hand is evidenced in the subtle and unmechanical distinctions and decisions that guide its interactions with the world.

Closely related to instinct and habit is the vast and amorphous class of spirits we call intuition. The line between intuition and instinct and habit is faint and blurry.

Intuitions do most of our experiencing, recognizing, evaluating, connecting and responding.

I — my own speaking mind, that is — likes to divide them into three types: what-intuitions that recognize and relate entities, how-intuitions that act and interact, and why-intuitions that feel value in its many qualities.

The intuitions themselves have responded mostly approvingly to this classification, because they seem to use it in their cooperative activities. In other words, they — I — have adopted this framework and apply it themselves without any verbal bossing from my speaking mind. It is how I intuitively, second-naturally, perceive the world.

*

As a designer, I seek intuitive connections. I want anything I make to link up directly with the tacit citizens of people’s souls, bypassing, as much as possible, the speaking mind. There are many good reasons for this:

  • We function most gracefully when we act wordlessly. When we are forced to verbalize it creates an unwieldy chain of command. The speaking mind introduces a bureaucratic stilted formality to doing that makes it look like the action is being remote-controlled, because that, in fact, is what is happening.
  • The speaking mind often has things it needs to do, and the requirement to issue verbal instructions to eyes and hands interrupts its own fluent speech.
  • When we support direct interactions between our intuitions and things we make, we are able to merge with things so they become an extension of ourselves. The guitar becomes part of our mysterious musical intention and our body and the music. The pen melds our creative, discerning, responding selves through our hands, onto the paper, into the image on the paper. And, I would like to suggest, our wordless understanding infuses itself into words, strung out into sentences, paragraphs, whole bodies of spoken and written thought.

*

Is it possible there is no speaking mind at all, but only a posse of intuitions who have connected to certain words, ideas, concepts that allow them to conceive thoughts? These intuitions have exclusive language privileges?

What would happen if some Prometheus brought language to the wordless intuitions?

Principles of leftist politics

This is an outline of some key principles of leftist politics (or at least postmodern leftist politics) as I understand them. It is an attempt to inventory where I agree with progressivists.


I believe I agree with progressivists on the following principles on subjective biases:

  • We see the world from a subjective standpoint that reveals and conceals selective aspects of the world around us and presents an image of the world that is always biased to some degree.
  • Most people are unaware of their subjective standpoint, and have succumbed to a state of naive realism. That is, they confuse what they selectively experience, intuit, think and feel with reality itself. They do not appreciate the degree to which their objectivity is subjective.
  • Even those who do become aware of their subjective standpoint, and learn how subjectivity functions in general, remain unaware of the innumerable particular ways their subjectivity biases their perceptions, beliefs, logic and behavior.
  • Subjective awareness maintains vigilant awareness of its own unawareness.
  • The most reliable way to expand or sensitize one’s own awareness is to listen to others and to learn where one’s own experience and understandings differ from others.

In other words, I believe, with progressivists, that we are unavoidably subject to unconscious processes that limit and shape what we can experience and know.


I also agree with progressivists that our subjective standpoint is socially conditioned, to some degree. Progressivists believe it is mostly, if not totally, conditioned. I think varies person to person.

  • A subjective standpoint is largely socially-conditioned. Where we are positioned in the social order, the roles we are expected to perform in various social setting, the treatment we are accustomed to receive, the norms by which we are judged, the groups who accept us and those that exclude us, etc. shape who we are, not only to others but to who we are to ourselves.
  • For the most part, we are unconscious of our social conditioning and the role it plays in our subjective standpoint.
  • To the degree our social position works out to our advantage, it is likely to go unnoticed. We are more likely to notice an injustice when it harms us in some way. If it harms someone else, we will be complacent about it. If we benefit from the injustice, we will want to justify it as somehow for the greater good or necessary or built into nature and therefore inalterable.
  • The justifications of the powerful are rarely outright conscious lies. They are often believed sincerely and passionately. They flourish is conditions of incuriosity and taboos. Infractions are met with dismissal, scoffing, ridicule, denial, fragility, condemnation, rage, terror or violence, escalating roughly in that order.
  • The very group identity of the powerful might be unacknowledged, or even unknown to them. It might be evaded through misdirection or deflection. When confronted, they might deny the very existence of its own identity. A powerful identity will resist being named, and will treat the naming as an infraction and deal with it along the usual escalation: dismissal, scoffing, ridicule, denial, fragility, condemnation, rage, terror or violence.
  • Those who are on the wrong side of power are keener observers of how power works and how power shapes subjectivity, because the pain and fear of their situation makes its problematic nature conspicuous, and coping with powerful people’s subjectivity necessitates understanding them and predicting their actions.
  • The vulnerable naturally develop empathy and insight.
  • Powerful people, on the other hand, can manage weaker people without needing to understanding their subjectivity. The powerful don’t have to care what other people think, and therefore often don’t. They can overpower and coerce compliance, socially, economically, legally and with physical force.
  • Some of the choicest luxuries of power: being in a position to impose social roles on others, being free to think whatever you want about them, forcing them to perform those roles, with the eventual goal of making them internalize their subordinate roles.

In other words, I share with progressivists the belief that truth is socially constructed, that the powerful are disproportionally responsible for this constructed truth, and that this truth serves to perpetuate and increase their own power. Let’s adopt the Marxian term for this kind of socially-constructed truth: dominant ideology.


I also agree with progressivists on some of their views on political action.

  • Political consciousness is a matter of rejecting the dominant ideology, rooting out all internalized subordination, and reconstructing or adopting a new ideology to oppose it.
  • Political action requires joining forces with others in a similar social position, aligning on oppositional ideology, building practical alliances and forming group solidarity.
  • Often these allies are others who were forced into the same or analogous defined social roles, and who share similar experiences of having them imposed and being made to perform them.
  • In this process of political activation, old imposed social roles are seized, re-valuated, re-possessed and re-internalized as politically activated social identities. Identity formation key to solidarity.

Leftist politics revolve around these processes of awareness, consciousness, alliance, solidarity and resistance against powerful groups who wish to preserve and strengthen the existing social order, especially its current power relations and the dominant ideology that helps preserve it.


If you believe you are a leftist, and especially if you consider yourself a progressive, please give me feedback on where you agree or disagree.

Design mindset exercises

I’m thinking about some possible exercises for cultivating a more designerly soul.

  • When asking questions throughout the day, notice whether the question was open- or close-ended.
  • Try to ask as many open-ended questions as possible.
  • Try to get someone to teach you a novel way of understanding something.
  • Test a belief about someone else by asking them to explain to you why they think or feel something, and notice where you were wrong about them.
  • See if you can entertain and feel the persuasive force of something you haven’t fully entertained before.
  • Notice when you agree or disagree with something you hear or read or see, and observe closely and fully what it feels like.
  • Notice when you are feeling anxious or perplexed and observe closely and fully what it feels like.
  • Try to catch yourself before you argue for or against some idea and see if instead you can offer your thinking as an alternative approach to the question at hand…
    …and then see if you can entertain each alternative way of thinking and compare them…
    …and compare them in terms of advantages and trade-offs (in understanding, effectiveness and spiritual tone) instead of in terms of true and false.
  • See if you can learn something new about someone just by observing them or their environment or something they are using.
  • See if you can notice where something was designed so well you might not have noticed it if you weren’t looking for it.
  • Look for an opportunity to reconcile with someone, and observe closely and fully what it feels like.
  • Look for when you feel envy, and respond by complimenting the other, and sharing your envy with them…
    …and observe closely and fully what it feels like to give a deep, heartfelt and reluctant compliment.
  • Give credit; acknowledge contributions and influence as much as you can.
  • If you love people, try telling them so.

Living designally

Premise: If everyone conducted themselves as designers, not only at work, but all the time, most of our biggest interpersonal and social problems could be resolved.

For instance, my advice to designers I know who have been caught in conflicts, especially in political debates that have devolved into fights, is “stop thinking about politics politically, and instead think about politics designally.” —

Concretely, this might mean

  • Try interviewing the other person until you can think in their own logic.
  • Propose alternative accounts to compare, focusing on relative advantages and tradeoffs, not what which explanation is right or wrong.
  • Assure the other person that no solution will be good enough for you until it is also good enough for them.
  • Affirm to the other person that they matter far more to you than any idea or belief.

*

What if we began to think of design less as a skillset, or even as an approach to making, solving or resolving, and instead thought of it more as a spiritual discipline? A way to live, to exist, to be — a way that can be cultivated?

*

Much of traditional religion involves spiritual exercise, intended to cultivate a state of soul conducive to relationship to our transcendent ground. We learn to control ourselves, to accept ourselves, to accept our responsibility, to concentrate our minds, to notice what is within and without and the connections between, to open the hand of thought, to forgive and reconcile, to let down our guard, to feel gratitude for what is far too easy to take as given fact (as opposed to graciously accepting as given gift), to ask for the return of ourselves to ourselves, to feel an urgent hope for the wellbeing of others, to accept whatever happens with grace and strength, to love more readily, expansively, thoroughly — and far more than this.

Religion at its very best is supposed to be an intensive cultivation of self-toward-Allness, and one that does not attempt to exclude that most bothersome but important part of Allness, the people around us. If we cannot be religious with others, we may have spiritual experiences, but they are experiences, not that relationship with all-inclusive Allness that religion pursues so imperfectly but intently.

A great many people have been wounded by flawed religion, and by the antireligion fundamentalism that worships what it imagines to be an ultimate being of some kind, and hates every appearance of real Allness that contradicts it.

This is a weird kind of self-worship, imagination-worship, ideo-idolatry I call misapotheosis. It is a failure to distinguish the self’s imagination from what transcends imagination, and consequently to learn the difficult lesson that while all of us are of All, and in All, none of us are All. Our ideas about others are the furthest thing from other: our ideas about others are part of ourselves. Our ideas about God, about Reality, about History — these are only ourselves.

The religiously wounded cannot engage in religion as it has been presented to them, nor do they find it easy to engage in other religions without unconsciously engaging it as a good version of what hurt them so much in their earlier life. And when they do this, they accidentally inflict the same harm on others with their new true convictions. A great many of today’s most impassioned red-pilled or woke activists are little more than transcriptions of Christian fundamentalism doing the same old battle against Satan, only now it is the Satan of international conspiracy, or the Satan of Those Who Hate Our Freedoms, or the or the Satan of Those Who Oppress Our Identity, or the Satan of climate change, or the Satan of Whiteness, or the Satan of patriarchy, or the Satan of Libtards, or the Satan of Communism, or the Satan of Capitalism, or whatever evil they can agree on with others to hate.

Any Satan will do if you can’t find a credible All/God to love. If you can’t share a love, you’ll almost certainly share a hate. We humans cannot bear to be alone, and we will find whatever we can to feel together. Love is harder, so it is less common.

*

Somehow, though, design gives us a way out of this pattern. It gives us a manageably tiny mustard-seed of a problem to resolve together, along with the beautiful gift of no easy way to escape the necessity of really resolving it.

To succeed we must win the participation of those around us. To do that we must be deeply attuned to the who situation we are confronting, much of which transcends not only our knowledge, but even our logic. This includes not only the materials and the facts of the case at hand, but also the myriad ways others perceive the same situation, interpret it, construe what follows from it, imagines what out to be done.

In design, we must exist as ourselves toward who we are not and what we are not, with a full understanding of that strange relationship each of us has and an I toward All. The strangest part of this relationship is how inconceivable ideas can be learned from others, bringing into sudden existence, out of nothing, new possibilities in a flood of world-transfiguring inspiration.

*

Sure, we can describe it all in flat matter-of-fact language. We can make it no big deal. Yeah, yeah, we need to get aligned around a vision and a plan for getting there. Yep, maybe if we reframe the problem, we can find a solution people will get on board with. Let’s use empathy so we can find out what other people need and want.

Fact is, though, doing these things successfully requires a deep mindset shift. Everyone must make this shift for it to work. One belligerent debater or cynic in the room can break the dynamic. But if everyone makes the shift together something happens, and the productive output of the shift might not be nearly as important as the occurance of the shift itself.

As Rorty said, “Anything can be made to look good or bad, important or unimportant, useful or useless, by being redescribed.”

I want to redescribe this shift into this designerly mindset as essentially religious. (Or not!)

And I want to see if I can stay in this mindset all the time and make it essentially who I am.

Brace yourself for “trad”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a tantrum, “Chastening to come” anticipating an illiberal right-wing backlash to the open illiberalism of progressivists. Ezra Klein’s latest podcast features a conversation with Sohrab Ahmari, a representative of exactly the kind of perspective I fear — a Catholic convert who sees the latest aggressive imposition of progressivist cultural values as justification for imposition of his own traditional values, instead. If some official cultural value will always be imposed by someone, the argument against illiberality of aggressively advancing his own is perfectly irrelevant. Like progressivists, he sees liberal tolerance as disingenuous nonsense, and views progressivism itself as the terminus of liberalism’s slippery slope of tolerance of libertine selfishness.

When the pendulum swings back right, the left will find itself far less able to make liberal appeals for tolerance, not only because it explicitly scorned these principles when others tried to appeal to them, but also because they demonstrated they were not in fact after equality but for total progressivist domination in every sphere of life.