Differently abled

Another thing I am noticing about the ideas I gravitate to: they are never pure theory. I think I am repelled by pure theory.

The ideas I love are the theoretical components of praxis. They are thoughts informed by thoughtful practice — which are meant to guide further thoughtful practice.

Praxis is the virtuous cycle of thoughtful practice informing practical thought guiding thoughtful practice. This cycle produces thoughts that are part of participation in life instead of theory systems that compete with life and sometime eclipse or displace life.

The theoretical components of praxis are abstractions that emerge from concrete doing.

This links up with another important insight into how I work. I do very poorly with ungrounded abstractions. They are not merely empty or dry — they are not real enough for me to grasp and use. I have to experience the reality from which abstractions are abstracted.

We learn the theoretical components of praxis by participating in that praxis. The theoretical components put words to the truth that emerges in participation.

But the praxis of design research puts us in contact with the realities into which we intend to design. We begin the process in a state of alienation. We know things about the reality, but the knowledge is unrooted abstraction. Or we think we know about it, but we are wrong. Or the things we know are incomplete and exclude relevant insights required to design something consequential and helpful. Or there is lack of alignment in what different people know. Or or or. We “go to the rough ground” and learn from people who inhabit these places we think can be improved, and we see what emerges as important. We put words to these emergent realities and craft more useful truths — truths that help organizations maintain contact with reality.

My design praxis is actually a metapraxis of designing specialized praxes optimized for particular situations.

It is really annoying that I can’t just adopt other people’s groundless abstractions. It is a real intellectual limitation — stupidity, if you prefer — and I find it intensely painful when I crash into it.

But it is not without positive tradeoffs. This limitation bolsters my ideological immune system. I’m not as easily taken by ungrounded abstraction-systems.

I’m both too smart and too dumb to buy into popular ideologies.

When we use the euphemism “differently abled” this is what we mean. I am intellectually differently abled.

I just have to accept this and do something with it. Or rather, continue doing what I do, with less shame.

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