Threefold synesis

Synesis means together-being, and it means it in at least three senses:

  1. It means the together-being of the object of experience. This object may be a perceived thing or a conceived idea.
  1. It means the together-being of the first-person singular subject of experience. The I integrates each new experience with existing understanding.
  2. It means the together-being of the first-person plural subject of experience. The We who shares understanding also shares common objects of experience.

Being scales through synesis.


Psychic factions within a psyche unify as a person by experiencing shared objects of attention and allowing shared sense to emerge. This is the original meaning of common sense: sense of reality resulting from all our senses and sense-making.

But also, multiple persons unify as a relationship by experiencing shared objects of attention and allowing a shared perception and conception of reality — truth — to emerge. This is common sense in the vulgar sense: what everyone can be assumed to know.

But here, for me, is something relatively new: being of whatever scale integrates with what transcends and environs it by attuning to real holistic systems. We being real within reality by becoming good citizens of this holarchic reality to which we belong.

I’m learning this reading Fritz Perls, and learning it better with the lingering mental afterimage of Koestler, who inspired me to dig into gestaltism.

Our gestalt understandings are not just arbitrary mental constructions. Our perceptions seek systemic wholes, as do our conceptions. A perception of a gestalt recognizes a holistic functional system. And we do this seeking and recognizing as holistic systems, who contain holistic subsystems embedded within holistic supersystems. We are participants in a radically holarchic reality.

To the degree that we fail to attune ourselves to the wholes in which we are a part we become alienated. Synesis dis-alienates.


Synesis happens within, with, and without us.


Our gestalt sense of the without, apart from all speculative content, is our metaphysic. This transcendent gestalt encourages some gestalts and impedes others. I’m no longer sure whether the notion of enception is a separate issue.

Jewish home remedy

For any Jewish progressives suffering from chronic upset stomach since the worldwide eruption of anti-Israel sentiment following the October 7th pogrom, I prescribe the following remedy:

  1. Find a copy of any book by Ibram X Kendi, Ta Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo or equivalent, and grind it into a fine power.
  2. Mix the powdered book with water.
  3. Drink it down.
  4. Having renounced ideoidolatry, recommit to Judaism.

 

Figure-ground

I’m reading Fritz Perls. What he has to say about gestalts is mostly familiar but with some extremely interesting differences from how I’ve been thinking about them. The most interesting difference is in his use of figure-ground. For Perls, the field against which gestalt figures form is a function of the organism and environment together.

…the wholes of experience are definite unified structures. Contact, the work that results in assimilation and growth, is the forming of a figure of interest against a ground or context of the organism/ environment field. The figure (gestalt) in awareness is a clear, vivid perception, image, or insight; in motor behavior, it is the graceful energetic movement that has rhythm, follows through, etc. In either case, the need and energy of the organism and the likely possibilities of the environment are incorporated and unified in the figure.

The process of figure/background formation is a dynamic one in which the urgencies and resources of the field progressively lend their powers to the interest, brightness and force of the dominant figure. It is pointless, therefore, to attempt to deal with any psychological behavior out of its socio-cultural, biological, and physical context.

Any designer will find that last sentence resonant. It is also pointless to attempt to deal with any social behavior — and this is what designers are hired to do! — out of its socio-cultural, biological, and physical context.


I’m enjoying the idea of metaphysics as the ground against which the figure of life events happens. It changes the resonance of Voegelin’s famous expression “divine ground”. Figures that emerge from a ground of pregnant, infinite, inexhaustibly surprising nothingness might never emerge from a ground of matter, space and time.

Relationships

Some people in your life invest in relationship. You put something in, they put something in, and you become someone together with them. Both care about that relationship — your joint being, who they are with you — and they put effort into keeping it thriving over time, through calm and storm.

Some people are difficult to know. They are either reserved and protected, or imprisoned. Or are they or nonexistent?

Some people are just open for business. You give to them and they receive it as a transaction. They reciprocate. Transaction complete. Books balanced.

Some people are easy to connect with. You quickly develop rapport and camaraderie. But the relationship is ephemeral and swirls in and out of existence, depending on circumstance. They’re constantly swirling, dosey-doeing, forming, dissolving and haunting their grounds for the next impersonally intimate formation.

Some people just want another person around to distract them from themselves. You’ll do.

Other people view relationship-types as a formal status, which entitles them to certain rights and benefits. They assess the reality by an ideal to determine who is playing the role well and plays it poorly. A good friend would gladly do what you refuse to do.

Some people have only what Martin Buber called social relations. These are role-to-role, ethnomethodic performances, a playing of the game of a scene by the rules. Some people invent ethnomethodic games for people to play with them. Some people are so inventive this way that each relationship has its own game. It seems interpersonal, but make no mistake: it is intrapersonal.

It is entirely possible for the same person to participate in all the varieties of relationship described above. Even one relationship can shift from one kind to another. Some relationships are all of them at once.

Letting relationships leave and return — tending them when you can — saying goodbye with minimal bitterness, then saying goodbye to that bitterness when it leaves — seeing things clearly for what they are, not expecting anything to be what it is not, neither worse nor better — cultivating hoping without concrete expectation … sometimes I feel like a moment of sweeping awareness in someone else’s meditation.


The feeling of betrayal is physical if you allow yourself to recognize and observe it.


Grace cannot be earned or demanded, but it can certainly be driven away.


Totalitarianism is a social condition where betrayal is the norm, and loyalty is exceptional.

Progressivist imputations

Progressivists replace all stated intentions with their own imputed ones.

Progressivists are unconcerned when their enemies claim very different motives than those Progressivists claim they have.

Now we’re seeing the same tendency, but reversed. When their allies clearly state the worst intentions, they ignore them.

There is nothing left to say. Progressivism is mass solipsism.


What made me want to be Jewish was the realization that Martin Buber had located the very core of the Jewish faith in the I-Thou relationship. Judaism is anti-solipsism.

Whatever is solipsistic from the heart must eventually become antisemitic.

However much you try to replace the real God of whom each of us is merely a part with an ideoidol fashioned from your own paltry imagination, you will not eliminate what you want to close out. The reality of Jews only make it worse.

Voegelin on ideologues

Below is very extensive passage from Voegelin’s Autobiographical Reflections. I have lots to say, relating Voegelin’s time to our own, so expect frequent interruptions of Voegelin’s passage with my own commentary.

…As the anecdotes just related show, my personal attitude in politics, and especially with regard to National Socialism, is frequently misunderstood, because entirely too many people who express themselves in public cannot understand that resistance to National Socialism can have other reasons than partisan motives. My reasons for hating National Socialism from the time I first got acquainted with it in the 1920s can be reduced to very elementary reactions.

There was in the first place the influence of Max Weber. One of the virtues that he demanded of a scholar was “intellektuelle Rechtschaffenheit,” which can be translated as intellectual honesty. I cannot see any reason why anybody should work in the social sciences, and generally in the sciences of man, unless he honestly wants to explore the structure of reality. Ideologies, whether positivist, or Marxist, or National Socialist, indulge in constructions that are intellectually not tenable.

First comment: Design research is an applied social science, especially when the design discipline in question is service design, which works the material of society (of organizations). Service designers truly do reassemble the social, and this becomes even clearer when we understand, with Latour, that the social is not a mental ether that haunts the physicality of our built world, but is the whole enchilada — physical, mental, virtual, and even natural. It’s all social. And for service designers, all this moldable social stuff is on the table.

I would hope design researchers would be drawn to the field out of desire for deeper and more substantial understanding of social reality. Certainly this field offers incredible opportunities for grounding our understanding of the human condition in close, concrete observation. Instead I find mostly ideologues looking to inform their efforts to transform the world into something conforming to an abstract pre-fab ideal.

That raises the question of why people who otherwise are not quite stupid, and who have the secondary virtues of being quite honest in their daily affairs, indulge in intellectual dishonesty as soon as they touch science. That ideology is a phenomenon of intellectual dishonesty is beyond a doubt, because the various ideologies after all have been submitted to criticism, and anybody who is willing to read the literature knows that they are not tenable, and why. If one adheres to them nevertheless, the prima facie assumption must be that he is intellectually dishonest. The overt phenomenon of intellectual dishonesty then raises the question of why a man will indulge in it. That is a general problem that in my later years required complicated research to ascertain the nature, causes, and persistence of states of alienation. More immediately, on the overt level that imposed itself, it caused my opposition to any ideologies — Marxist, Fascist, National Socialist, what you will — because they were incompatible with science in the rational sense of critical analysis. I again refer back to Max Weber as the great thinker who brought that problem to my attention; and I still maintain today that nobody who is an ideologist can be a competent social scientist.

…Or designer! I see the deterioration of design quality — especially of UX — as a direct result of ideological stuntedness. That is the pervasive epic insult added to the petty injuries of usability problems that swarm us like mosquitos. Ideologues are incapable of empathy, only ideological sympathies. They have political emotions toward conceptualize peoples, not understandings of persons.

As a consequence, partisan problems are of secondary importance; they come under the head of ideologists fighting each other. That, however, is not an entirely new phenomenon. I had to note the same problem in my studies on the intellectual battles in the Reformation of the sixteenth century. There I summarized the problem in the formula that there are intellectual situations where everybody is so wrong that it is enough to maintain the opposite in order to be at least partially right. The exploration of these structures helps to understand the meaning of “public opinion,” but these structures certainly have nothing to do with science.

Because of this attitude I have been called every conceivable name by partisans of this or that ideology. I have in my files documents labeling me a Communist, a Fascist, a National Socialist, an old liberal, a new liberal, a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Platonist, a neo-Augustinian, a Thomist, and of course a Hegelian — not to forget that I was supposedly strongly influenced by Huey Long. This list I consider of some importance, because the various characterizations of course always name the pet bête noire of the respective critic and give, therefore, a very good picture of the intellectual destruction and corruption that characterize the contemporary academic world. Understandably, I have never answered such criticisms; critics of this type can become objects of inquiry, but they cannot be partners in a discussion.

This has been a core idea in my own personal myth. That if we are to be intellectually independent, and exercise our own moral snd intellectual consciences, we must be prepared to be misunderstood and anathematized by ideologues.

My left-leaning friends see me as MAGA-adjacent, and entertaining the validity of dangerous ideas that ought to be treated as contagious diseases. My right-leaning friends see me as the victim of progressivist (or Jewish!) brainwashing. None of them have put anywhere near the effort into understanding what is going on, yet they are all confident they have a better grip on this political time than I do. But they sort of just intuitively, aesthetically, mystically, and commonsensically … know the true truth. They can’t say it, but this only proves how profoundly true it is, see?

A further reason for my hatred of National Socialism and other ideologies is quite a primitive one. I have an aversion to killing people for the fun of it. What the fun is, I did not quite understand at the time, but in the intervening years the ample exploration of revolutionary consciousness has cast some light on this matter.

This is key.

Hamas left ample audio-video evidence that their October 7th pogrom was fun for them. They killed civilians on purpose, as sadistically as possible, and took pleasure in that sadism.

That so many progressivists are undisturbed by this is disturbing to me.

And then progressivists and MAGA folks see no difference between these sadistic murders and the IDF’s accidental civilians casualties. The well-documented efforts to prevent these casualties are cynically dismissed as Jew propaganda, as are the well-documented efforts by Hamas to undermine all prevention measures.

They just can’t really know, they claim.How can anyone really know? They seem almost desperate to not be able to know. Knowing has consequences.

Both extremes of the political horseshoe bend toward not distinguishing between sadistic killing for fun, and killing to prevent sadistic killing for fun. They want to blur it all into an impenetrable moral relativist mystery.

I find that despicable, and I am having more and more trouble ignoring or forgiving it.

The fun consists in gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one’s power, optimally by killing somebody — a pseudo- identity that serves as a substitute for the human self that has been lost.

This. Alienated humanity, caught up in linguistic concepts that are the only thing that hold people together. Collective, narcissistic solipsism.

Some of these problems I touched upon in my study on the “Eclipse of Reality,” published in 1970. A good example of the type of self that has to kill other people in order to regain in an Ersatzform what it has lost is the famous Louis Antoine Leon Saint-Juste, who says that Brutus either has to kill other people or kill himself. The matter has been explored by Albert Camus, and the murderous equanimity of the intellectuals who have lost their self and try to regain it by becoming pimps for this or that murderous totalitarian power is excellently exemplified by Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Humanisme et Terreur (1947). I have no sympathy whatsoever with such characters and have never hesitated to characterize them as murderous swine.

“Pimps for this or that murderous totalitarian power.”

Last century, those pimps pimped for the USSR.

This century, so far, they pimp for Hamas.

Are they unconcerned that these powers are totalitarian? Or is that part of the appeal?

The third motif that I can ascertain in my hatred against ideologies is that of a man who likes to keep his language clean. If anything is characteristic of ideologies and ideological thinkers, it is the destruction of language, sometimes on the level of intellectual jargon of a high level of complication, sometimes on a vulgarian level.

Note the infestation of academic jargon in business and entertainment media.

These words substitute for thoughts. Snap the words together into sentences to make truths that will be accepted by other subscribers to the jargon.

From my personal experience with various ideologists of a Hegelian or Marxist type, I have the impression that a good number of men of considerable intellectual energy who otherwise would be Marxists prefer to be Hegelians because Hegel is so much more complicated. This is a difference not of any profound conviction but of what I would compare to the taste of a man who prefers chess to pinochle. Hegel is more complicated, and one can easily spend a lifetime exploring the possibilities of interpreting reality from this or that corner of the Hegelian system, without of course ever touching on the premises that are wrong — and perhaps without ever finding out that there are premises that are wrong. In conversations with Hegelians, I have quite regularly found that as soon as one touches on Hegelian premises the Hegelian refuses to enter into the argument and assures you that you cannot understand Hegel unless you accept his premises. That, of course, is perfectly true — but if the premises are wrong, everything that follows from them is wrong, too, and a good ideologist therefore has to prevent their discussion. In the case of Hegel, that is comparatively easy, because Hegel was a first-rate thinker and knew the history of philosophy. Hence, if one wants to attack Hegel’s premises one has to know their background in Plotinus and the neo-Platonic mysticism of the seventeenth century. Since very few people who pontificate about Hegel have any knowledge of philosophy comparable to his, the premises can easily be kept in the dark, and sometimes need not even be kept in the dark because they are, anyway, in the darkness of the ignorance of those who talk about him.

In the Marxian case, the falseness of the premises is more obvious. When Marx writes about Hegel he distorts him so badly that his honest editors cannot help being aware of the fact and expressing themselves cautiously on their findings. The editors of the Frühschriften of Karl Marx (Kröner, 1955), especially Siegfried Landshut, say regarding Marx’s study of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law: “Marx, if one may express oneself in this manner, by misun- derstanding Hegel as it were deliberately, conceives all concepts of Hegel which are meant as predicates of the idea as statements about facts” (pp. xxv–xxvi). In my uncivilized manner as a man who does not like to murder people for the purpose of supplying intellectuals with fun, I flatly state that Marx was consciously an intellectual swindler for the purpose of maintaining an ideology that would permit him to support violent action against human beings with a show of moral indignation. I stated the problem explicitly in my inaugural lecture in Munich in 1958, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism,2 and explored on that occasion the men- tal disturbance that lies behind such action. Marx, however, con- ducted his arguments on a very high intellectual level, and the surprise (with repercussions in the daily press) caused by my flat statement that he was engaged in an intellectual swindle can easily be explained in the same way as the darkness that surrounds the premises of Hegel. The Marxian swindle concerns the flat refusal to enter into the etiological argument of Aristotle — that is, on the problem that man does not exist out of himself but out of the divine ground of all reality. Again, as distinguished from our contemporaries who pontificate on Marx, Marx himself had a very good philosophical education. He knew that the problem of etiology in human existence was the central problem of a philosophy of man; and if he wanted to destroy man’s humanity by making him a “socialist man,” he had to refuse to enter into the etiological problem. On this point he was, one must admit, considerably more honest than Hegel, who never quoted the arguments into which he refused to enter. But the effect is the same as in the case of Hegel, because contemporary critics, of course, know about Aristotle and the etiological argument just as much as they know about Hegel’s neo-Platonic background — which is to say, exactly nothing. The general deculturation of the academic and intellectual world in Western civilization furnishes the background for the social dominance of opinions that would have been laughed out of court in the late Middle Ages or the Renaissance.

When we advance beyond Marx to the ideological epigones of the late nineteenth and of the twentieth century, we are already far below the intellectual level that formed the background even of Marx. And here comes in my particular hatred of ideologists because they vulgarize the intellectual debate and give to public discussion the distinctly ochlocratic coloring that today has reached the point of considering as fascist or authoritarian even a reference to the facts of political and intellectual history that must be known if one wants to discuss the problems that come up in political debate.

The radical condemnation of historical and philosophical knowledge must be recognized as an important factor in the social environment, because it is dominated by persons who cannot even be called intellectual crooks because their level of consciousness is much too low to be aware of their objective crookedness, but who must rather be characterized as functional illiterates with a strong desire for personal aggrandizement.

These observations then bring us down to the level of National Socialism. It is extremely difficult to engage in a critical discussion of National Socialist ideas, as I found out when I gave my semester course on “Hitler and the Germans” in 1964 in Munich, because in National Socialist and related documents we are still further below the level on which rational argument is possible than in the case of Hegel and Marx. In order to deal with rhetoric of this type, one must first develop a philosophy of language, going into the problems of symbolization on the basis of the philosophers’ experience of humanity and of the perversion of such symbols on the vulgarian level by people who are utterly unable to read a philosopher’s work. A person on this level — which I characterize as the vulgarian and, so far as it becomes socially relevant, as the ochlocratic level — again, is not admissible to the position of a partner in discussion but can only be an object of scientific research.

I had to look up “ochlocratic”. It means mob rule.

I wonder what digital mob rule might look like.

These vulgarian and ochlocratic problems must not be taken lightly; one cannot simply not take notice of them. They are serious problems of life and death because the vulgarians create and dominate the intellectual climate in which the rise to power of figures like Hitler is possible.

We are ripe for an ochlocratic leader. At this s progressivist will automatically bump out “Trump!”

If Trump is elected, I fully expect brutal and bloody authoritarianism.

But if Biden is elected, I fully expect him to die early in his term. His replacement is likely to be an elite and bloodless totalitarian.

It isn’t about the specific politicians. It is about the vulgarians of our time who have created and now dominate the intellectual climate. It is our business leaders, our news-entertainment media, the social norms we all impose on one another and enforce.

We are so much inside this condition now, and have so little access to any other intellectual climate, we cannot even assess how much things have deteriorated.

Plus, most of us find the reality we are immerse too terrifying to look at and acknowledge.

And shrugging, ignoring, withdrawing, insulating and being content singing la-la-la to ourselves resembles spiritual wisdom. Change your posture from the fetal ball to half-lotus, and instead of la-la-la, sing ohm-ohm-ohm.

I would say, therefore, that in the German case the destroyers of the German language on the literary and journalistic level, characterized and analyzed over more than thirty years by Karl Kraus in the volumes of Die Fackel, were the true criminals who were guilty of the National Socialist atrocities, which were possible only when the social environment had been so destroyed by the vulgarians that a person who was truly representative of this vulgarian spirit could rise to power.

And our academic class — people responsible for molding our youth, who have never known a life outside academia, who are mostly products of 60s youth culture who never outgrew youthful omniscience — are criminals of this time. And so are the university bureaucrats who turned the academy into a modern industry, cranking ideological product into the workplace.

These motivations were perfectly clear to me at the time, but clarity about their direction did not mean clarity about the implications in detail. The intellectual apparatus for dealing with the highly complex phenomena of intellectual deformation, perversion, crookedness, and vulgarization did not yet exist, and studies to create this apparatus were required. Into this context belong the studies that I published under the title Die politischen Religionen in 1938. When I spoke of the politischen Religionen, I conformed to the usage of a literature that interpreted ideological movements as a variety of religions. Representative for this literature was Louis Rougier’s successful volume on Les Mystiques politiques. The interpretation is not all wrong, but I would no longer use the term religions because it is too vague and already deforms the real problem of experiences by mixing them with the further problem of dogma or doctrine.

These are not political religions, because they are neither political nor are they religious.

They are fundamentalisms. They are ideologies. They are solipsisms.

Voegelin on Cassirer

Voegelin reviewing Cassirer’s The Myth of the State:

Even when [Cassirer] describes the emergence of a new myth…. he seems to be insensitive to the inner movement of mythical creations: that the new myth emerges because the old myth has disinteg-rated. In the present book there is no awareness that the myth is an indispensable forming element of social order though, curiously enough, in his earlier work on the philosophy of the myth Cassirer, under the influence of Schelling, had seen this problem quite clearly. The overcoming of the “darkness of myth” by reason is in itself a problematical victory because the new myth which inevitably will take the place of the old one may be highly unpleasant. The Myth of the State is written as if it had never occurred to the author that tampering with a myth, unless one has a better one to put in its place, is a dangerous pastime.

Confession to an aspiring headshrink

A friend of mine is training to be a Jungian psychologist. She’s practiced her therapeutic chops on me twice now, and she’s very talented. She’s sort of become my confessor. For the last week I’ve been reading Fritz Perls, and I was inspired by this to make a confession:

I think what makes design so painful now is what I used to love most about it. Design, at its best, renegotiates the social.

When the social was renegotiable, that was a real joy.

But for our younger generations, the social is now sacred turf, and nonnegotiable.

Society with the young is rigidly dogmatic, stilted, and phony, shot through with pious incuriosity, ethical fixations and taboos. Its that damn ideology in which every last one of them is indoctrinated. It is all they know. Anything outside it paralyzes their minds and seems to them just morally-suspicious nonsense.

All this makes it impossible to do the kind of design work that gives my life meaning. Morally-suspicious nonsense is where the inspiration is buried!

In times like these, it seems, no meaning is possible outside one-on-one dialogue.

And it seems dialogue may only be possible in a clinical setting.

Maybe I should just crawl off and be a psychologist.

People like me

I am trying to decide how to weather this dangerous time.

Do I try to understand it, critique it, describe what is happening? And if so — to what end? Do I try to use my understanding to change it? Or to navigate its hazards? To navigate it and change what little I can when the opportunity presents itself?

Or do I surrender to that part of me who wants to armor myself in cynicism?

My cynicism goes like this: Human beings are more social than rational or moral. Vanishingly few people interrogate themselves on what they actually experience as true or good. They, instead, assimilate themselves to the ideas of the people they identify as “people like me”. And if “people like me” invent a dogmatic schema of identities that in fact have nothing at all to do with who I actually experience as “people like me”, I’ll embrace the dogma and identify myself as whatever I’m supposed to.

To really know a person’s real, lived enacted identity — not the dogmatic identity, that, I will say again is a mere artifact of real, lived enacted identity — just ask that person what they know is good and true. And then ask them who is wrong about what is good and true, or who is against goodness and truth. That, and nothing else, is their true identity: good, true people like me, defined against  bad, false people not like me.

Identity is something we subjectively do, not what we objectively claim. The medium of identity is the message. The content of identity is the intention object of this subjective identity-generating activity.

Identity is, for most people, entirely socially determined. And they’ll tell you this. They know theirs is determined, and from this, and from received dogma, they will insist that this is a universal fact. According to them, your identity is socially determined as well. Because they have still neglected to scrutinize what “people like me” believe, and therefore have never put their conviction to the test, a shift in identity remains entirely outside the limits  of their personal experience. And until they do this, the logic of their lived, enacted identity will drive them along the same rails to the same conclusion, and will appear to them, to be their own independent “critical thought”. Our identities — our very selves — are socially determined.

I, however, have made scrutiny, self-interrogation, and consequent subjective self-modification the center of my life, and I have found that when I ask myself whether I really believe some conviction “people like me” are supposed to believe, and allow myself the space and freedom for a truly candid response, the answer is rarely an unqualified “yes”.  And if I look yet closer at the matter — and I always do — and ask yet more questions the “yes” begins to deteriorate. It rarely deteriorates all the way into “no”. In fact, it turns out, what deteriorates is less convictions than tacit questions to which convictions are answers.

And the more this happens the further removed I find myself from my former identities. The remove, in fact, has opened into full alienation. Those who were once good, true people like me are now manifestly bad, false people, not at all like me. Those I used to mistake for “people like me” — I would be ashamed to be one of them, now. On every important point they the very opposite of who they collectively believe themselves to be.

And now the only “people like me” I can find anywhere are other people who have decided to be intellectually honest with themselves, and who signal that decision enough to be identified as who they are. Most of them are now dead, but they wrote books. I am grateful they chose to be who they are, and to preserve who they are in writing. I try to incarnate them and extend their lives in mine.

Regarding life in this time, I am not sure what I will do. I’ve tried numerous times to reach people I thought had intellectual conscience, or at least promise of developing it, but ultimately they had more loyalty to their identity than their unique personhood. They fear questioning the foundation of their social belonging. And they mistrust my intentions, for very good reason. I am an existential threat to who they believe they are. So, I am no longer optimistic critique can work. I also think others are better at critique than I am.

Maybe I need to stop thinking in terms of intellectual contributions. With the number of talented academics cranking citable content, making an intellectual contribution is like pouring a bucket of water into a lake. We don’t need more concepts. We don’t need more content. We are drowning in concepts, claims, images, songs…

What we need are personal testaments of people who identify only with others who share their dedication to working out what they, themselves, experience as true and good — even when this means excommunication from the conformist “people like me”.

Esoteric ranting at work

Since 2020, and expecially since October 7th, 2023, I have been feeling a level of betrayal and grief I’ve never experienced before. Something vast and horrible is happening, but those perpetrating it — as always — see themselves as saving the world.

I just had what I think is a pretty eloquent outburst on Slack, at least by Slack standards. It started as a conversation about brand and design materials, but immediately veered into dark depths. Obviously it is ridiculous to talk this way at work, but I do believe I have — and not for the first time — become careericidal and unconcerned with what happens to me.


Here’s the lightly edited and redacted transcript. I’m S, A is Arjun, P is Parc:

S: Brand is a phantom intentional object of an organization.

S: Everything we experience directly and indirectly causes an idea of some “thing” to congeal in people’s minds, with which we have some kind of relationship, now and potentially

S: The reason brand is so seductive and magical seeming is 1) they are ideas of something that transcends the person perceiving and conceiving it… but 2) the specific way we must think in order to make clear sense of brands is outside most people’s philosophical range

P: So the material of brand design is what? Ascribed meaning?

S: I love this question!

S: This is where it is so terribly important to be clear on (to use the popular formula) “when we talk about materials, what are we talking about”?

S: I’d say that intentional object — and ascribed meanings — is NOT the material of branding. It is an outcome of it.

S: The material is that which we directly shape in order to get to that meaning or intentional object

S: Intentional object is a phenomenological concept. Not sure if y’all are familiar with it, or not.

S: So, everything a person experiences has an object of that experience. When we see, there is what is seen: an object of sight. When we hear we hear a sound. Same with thought. We think thoughts, and the thoughts — the content — is the intentional object of the thinking.

S: To put it simply: there is no perception, conception, or experience that isn’t a perception, conception or experiece of something. That something is the intentional object.

S: People who finally “get” phenomenology sometimes report a deep disorientation, like a religious conversion. Husserl talks about this in his last book.

S: To actually inhabit life phenomenologically changes literally everything all at once.

S: People resist it.

A: I think there is overlap with Advaita.

S: It is the same

A: Oh then I am familiar. Swami Sarvapriyananda talked about when he was in ATL. I will share a good talk for others to hear an example from him.

S: That’s why I take religion so seriously.

S: Religious people understand the world phenomenologically.

S: So, to finish my TED talk here — our metaphysics is our ultimate intentional object — the object of all our experiences combined which gives us the world as we know it.

S: Common sense is our everyday life as the intentional object of our living.

S: Brands are the intentional object of an organization in the minds (and bodies) of those who encounter them.

S: And like all intentional objects, they don’t match what we experience when we inspect them close up. Nothing ever does.

S: Branding is an organization’s attempt to manage that intentional object.

S: Dig, daddy-o?

A: I think similar to what we were chatting about the other day. You can influence how a moment is experienced via the materials – but that still leaves open for debate things like touchpoints – there is both an absolute form and an experienced form. Are those materials?

S: If you examine your ideas of things, they will not bear much scrutiny at all. The more distant the phenomenon, the more we ourselves fill in gaps and try to make them into other, more familiar things

S: Reality and phenomenon are nowhere near alike. Knowing this as mere fact does zero to help us overcome it.

S: To think you are no longer naive realist because you’re aware of naive realism makes you an even worse naive realist. To think you have overcome bias because you are aware of some of your biases and corrected for them leaves your deepest biases unchecked.

S: To be able to empathize with others only where your own group says empathy is needed, and to feel free to diagnose and condemn wherever your own group claims that’s a good thing to do — that is not empathy at all, but exercise of an ideology.

S: I believe the only thing that will help the world come out of its tribal prejudices and hate is not imposing ideological prescriptions (which are themselves tribal) but to go radically phenomenological

A: I think similar to what we were chatting about the other day. You can influence how a moment is experienced via the materials – but that still leaves open for debate things like touchpoints – there is both an absolute form and an experienced form. Are those materials?

S: I know what you mean. But there is no absolute form. There are forms we all can align around more easily.

S: If we want to bring Advaita into it, we could frame this in terms of prakriti and purusha. In fact, I do. Prakriti and purusha are not really different in absolute terms. They are aspects of a single reality, unified beyond our usual conception of things. It is a relative dualism, not an absolute one. Am I getting this right? I’ve only read a few books on Advaita, by one author who was actually a Sufi.

S: And he was claiming a transcendent unity of all esoteric traditions, so that his sufism was an expression of the same inexpressible truth as advaita, taoism, kabbalah, christian mysticism, etc. He may have mangled or force-fit it

S: These universal “givens” of experience — those experiences we can assume to hold in common with all other people — those are what I tend to want to call materials.

S: Those things that we ourselves make of what we are given, our interpretations, our understandings, etc… those i want to separate from materials. Those are the experiential outcomes that we try, through materials, to inspire, induce, convey, etc.

S: Frankly, I only care about design because it is such a wonderful way to engage this kind of truth. When design does not put me in touch with it, I become bored, miserable and totally unmotivated.

S: So thanks for allowing me a few seconds of pleasure. They’re further and further apart all the time in this weird political climate of pervasive political and religious fundamentalism.

S: People confuse religion with fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is what happens to religion when it falls under the control of people who cannot or will not understand phenomenologically. The blind lead the blind. Fundamentalism is not religion taken to extremes — it is extremism caused by an appropriation of religious symbols by people who confuse their own tribal beliefs for the Transcendent.

I bet your mother would know EXACTLY what I’m saying here and would agree with it.

S: Wisdom is awareness of what is unknown and unknowable and living in relation to it. But it takes time, horrible mistakes and pain to develop this awareness. It takes years and years, and up to that point, you are the smartest, most self-aware, most moral kind of person who ever existed. Afterwards, you’re none of these things, but at least you’re wiser. “Sadder and wiser.” They go together.

S: Please be sure to include that last bit in what you send to your mother.

Multistability

All my interests concern psychic multistabilities — gestalts of perceptual, conceptual (hermeneutic), relational and behavioral kinds. My whole life is a story of successive stabilities, punctuated with perplexity, anxiety and chaos. Somewhere along the way it became a story of finding durable stability through understanding multistability.


Design is about forming multistable arrangements between persons and nonpersons — “hybrid systems’, as Latour called them. In a stable hybrid system, nonpersons become extensions of personal being and persons are able to participate in an order that transcends their awareness and understanding. This involves interplay between conceptual and perceptual gestalts — and with advances in service design, social gestalts, concerning personal and organizational behavioral.

Philosophy — or at least the kinds of philosophy I enjoy — concern the dissolution and reformation of stable cognitive systems. An understanding is skillfully taken apart (refuted), enough that that it no longer possesses the intuitive stability of a given truth. Thus, loosened (analyzed) the elements of a possible truth are freed for new arrangements.

These freed elements can be logically connected and built up into cognitive or social constructions and asserted as truth. These constructed truths are experiences as true by all who can construe them, that is, retrace the construction and show the soundness of the connections. We may now explicate truth — untangle or unfold it — or explain truth — lay it flat, two-dimensionally, or better, in a one-dimensional straight line of thought, so it can be followed. All this is construal of constructions. It’s analytic stuff, and, at least for me, a preliminary for something vastly more important, which is experimenting with of constructions to find and exploring conceptual multistabilities. A concept is a cognitive gestalt, and the capacity to perceive, conceive or participate in a gestalt affords us givens — given entities, given truths, given situations. The more concepts we have at our disposal, the more given-rich our experience of reality. To understand multistability from a first-person perspective, means to modalize stabilities. A mood is a modal stability — or lack of stability, in the angst of perplexity. Between continents of solid, stabile ground lie vast expanses of watery welter and waste…

Anyway — some folks maintain a very limited repertoire of conceptual capacities, and rely heavily on construal. My strategy is the opposite. I try to stabilize a dense conceptual system that affords intuitive givenness of those realities that concern me most in life. I am grateful that scientists and engineers of various kinds inhabit a world tuned to physics, or chemistry, or whatever enables them to perform feats of technological magic. But I cannot live a life in full contact with their givens. I live in a world of truth-mediated relationships, where groups of people try to conceptually and practically align on problems and solve them together. Daily, I witness firsthand how clashing conceptualizations induce anxiety, and how premature attempts to annihilate anxiety. discomfort, tension and conflict only suppress and pressurize perplexity and make it more explosive, while also obstructing progress and necessitating domination — ironically often by folks who believe they are protecting us from domination.

In other words, my philosophy of multistability is derived from my direct personal experiences with design multistability, and this philosophy helps me navigate stabilities and de-stabilities without losing my head — or at least not irrecoverably losing my head. I maintain a philosophical self above my practical self, and this transcending self acts as guardian angel over my hazardous pursuits.

Finally…

Religion — religion is the practice of maintaining one’s finite self within an infinitely multistable reality, in full skin-on-skin relation to its infinitude. The very infinitude of not only its quantitative extent in time and space (or whatever other dimensions physicists discover-invent-instaurate for us) is the least of it, because infinity is essentially qualitative. Infinity presents us with a limitless number of limitlessly countable things. Each time we re-stabilize, we notice new givens and we stop seeing relevance in old givens. We are inclined to focus on and count very different givens. Those who have destabilized once often feel elevated and awakened to truth. The scales of the old stability fall from their eyes. Now they know the true Truth. If they have power, they’ll set to work propagating and enforcing it, and no amount of argument can pop them out of their crusade — not even that they are latter-day crusaders. No, they are different, special and unique according to their own criteria, and in this, they are exactly the same as every crusader who ever lived, all of whom were benevolent, insightful and brave champions of whatever floats their boats. It is a tragicomedy of epic proportions that our most hopelessly naive and biased naive realists run around preaching against cognitive bias and naive realism, believing that this objective knowing about is a cure for an incurable subjective condition. I call this metanaivety. It is as old as religion itself. It is the fundamentalist dementia that commits the category mistake of treating subjectivity knowing as objective knowledge. God is not an existent nor nonexistent object, and until an intelligent fundamentalist overcomes the fundamentalist fetter, decency demands atheism.

To be religious is to know the stabilities are unending and that our relationships with one another within this infinitely multistable reality call for destabilization and restabilization, death and rebirth.

Religion is the practice of taking active responsibility for our choice of psychic stability, so we live in awareness of one another within God.

Never forget what?

Is new understanding the ex nihilo emergence of new capacity to know from nothing? Or is new understanding shaking ourselves out of one orderly knowing into another? …out of one revealing-concealing, into another revealing-concealing?

To us, it seems, a new understanding is all revelation, and no concealment. We only gain knowledge, because we do not immediately lose what is newly concealed. We remember that which has become inaccessible. The object is gone, but its image lingers on the retina.

In this way concealment is concealed. Concealment is concealed within dead fact.

But the next generation — a generation who never experienced the dead fact as alive — will stare at the fact with incomprehension.

Perhaps they will recite it to demonstrate their knowledge. Perhaps they will debunk it as nonsense. Perhaps they will worship it as beyond sense.

Never forget. Never forget what? Never forget memorized words you can’t feel.

Block

I’m really struggling. I have a sprawling multi-volume book in my mind and I can’t get it out. It’s that genre and voice problem again. It took me almost two decades years to get nine pages into an acceptable form. But I have 991 pages still jammed up in there.

Susan suggested that maybe I write what I have to say as chapbooks, maybe they’ll coagulate into an actual book. Or maybe they’ll expand into respectable-length essays that could be published as a collection.

I do find it inspiring, though, to think of what I’m doing as making pretty books — physical artifacts made out of ideas, words, letters, layouts, paper, ink and thread. I love the object-quality of books.

Three chapbooks I could get out are:

  • Exnihilist Manifesto
  • Shells and Pearls
  • Enworldment

First- third- second-person translation

It is trivially easy to see when others are failing to understand or acting from self-interest, or being cruel or oppressive.

It is not only difficult to admit when we do the same thing, it is hard to even recognize it, because the transformation from third-person to first-person makes it virtually unrecognizable. But the practical ability to translate between first-person, third-person and second-person and to apply its harshest insights to oneself — that is wisdom.

Haloed words

Some words belong to understandings beyond that of the above-average person. Such words are enveloped in a halo.


Watch closely how a person responds to a halo, and you will witness something of that soul’s relationship with transcendence.

Some call the halo a nonsense indicator — a symptom of bullshit. Whatever bears a halo is worse than nothing.

Some see a halo and smell brimstone.

Some try to explain halos away. A haloed thing cannot be seen clearly until the halo is clarified into perfect invisibility and stops existing.

Some try to abduct the word, dominate it, own it. The halo makes a thing precious, and worth possessing.

Some try to squeeze in under the halo in order to become haloed themselves. They associate themselves with the mysterious and try to be identified with mystery.

Some worship a haloed apparition, and use worship to keep their distance from whatever shows itself in the appearing.

Some try to learn something inconceivable and incomprehensible.


Haloed words are not misunderstood because the words are inadequate. Any word adequate to the meaning will also be misunderstood.

Haloed words are not misunderstood because they are essentially inconceivable, and pious refusal to attempt to understand them does not honor them in the least. Much mysticism is aestheticized laziness.


I’m doing a lot of rewriting.

Critical thinking on critical theory

Critical thought, being thought, necessarily has an object of thought. There is no such thing as thinking that is not thinking about something. This is the phenomenological principle of intentionality, and it is inescapable.

With critical thought, however, the focus of the thinking is not on the various objects of thought. The focus of critical thought is on the thinking subject, the very subject doing the thinking. Critical thought tries to understand the relationship between how a thinking subject does its thinking and the kind of objectivity such thinking generates, with the understanding that the critical thoughts themselves are also subject to critical thought.

Critical thought is a practical attitude. No amount of knowledge about critical theory can substitute for the practice of critical thinking. But only critical thinking prevents this substitution from happening automatically. Because critical thinking is the art of freedom from automatic thought.