All posts by anomalogue

Paul Rand, classic sabra

Several years ago, I bought Paul Rand’s book just to have his most famous quote represented in my sacred library in its proper fetish-form (hardback, of course): “Everything is design. Design is everything.”

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I just watched a video of Steve Jobs reflecting on working with Paul Rand.

Jobs’s description of Rand’s designerly sabra personality is especially inspiring to me right now. I resolve to harden and spike my exterior to establish respect first. Later, if people prove themselves respectable, I will dole out friendship in small portions until I find the edges of their abilities, generosity and presumptuousness.

Not all colleagues are peers. Not all buddies are friends. I keep these distinctions very clear in my own head, and now I’m going to help others stay clear on them as well.

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When children are misparented to believe that their own ignorant convictions are just as valid as the hard-won wisdom of older people — (or more valid, because the convictions they indoctrinated to uncritically accept are fresh and new!) — someone’s got to reparent them. Our culture cannot sustain another generation of permachildren.

Gen X was raised in conditions of Peter-Pandemonium — and it falls on us to recover and reinvent adulthood so young people can see why maturity is desirable.

Design activism

All design praxis is guided by a glorious hybrid of existentialist and pragmatist ideas, interbred and naturally selected for maximum effectiveness. This is true for monocentric design disciplines (UX, CX, and all the other X-disciplines, where designers focus on the experience of a single person encountering a designed thing) — and it even more  true for polycentric design disciplines (where networks of people interact with one another and with things, each having an intentionally formed experience of that network and its constituent elements, some of whom are fellow persons). Today, service design is the most prominent example of polycentric design.* (See note below.)

Any design project potentially conveys this praxis (and a taste of its enworldment) to those who actively participate in the project, and for that reason all design projects are, to some degree, interesting to me.

But the design projects that are most fascinating are ones where the designed systems themselves (not only the designing of the system) serve the propagation of design praxis and designerly enworldment.

The latter is a kind of activism I find inspiring.

For this reason, I am prioritizing educational service design, in collaboration with my wife Susan.

My goal: I want people to approach all problems as polycentric design problems.

I want to do this by 1) clarifying, developing and articulating the tacit philosophy of polycentric design praxis, 2) by involving as many people as possible in doing and learning polycentric design, 3) encouraging design practitioners to use design praxis as their primary life praxis (most importantly in their political thinking!), and 4) by redesigning education to teach polycentric design praxis, and thereby conserve and perpetually reform liberal democracy.

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“Everything is design. Design is everything.” — Paul Rand


  * Note: I believe the world is badly in need of other forms of polycentric design where interactions are less hierarchical, more equal, and where roles in a system are not clearly defined in consumer and provider terms, and less amenable to being characterized in terms of service. (Service designers might object and offer redescriptions of social systems using service logic, but to me — and, I hypothesize, most people outside the service design profession — this will feel like a reductionistic stretch. Polycentric design is designing for pluralism.

Ambinity point of eversal

“Hypertorus” has been my screen saver for most of the last twenty years. I first adopted it on a Windows 2000 laptop, and I’ve put significant effort into keeping it working on my Macs.

It has never ceased to disturb my comprehension in my favorite way.

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In an eversing operation, there is an impossible zero point where the inner and outer, the outer and inner, are neither inner nor outer, or perhaps they are both at once. This is the state of ambinity.

In ambinity, something is simultaneously this, that, neither and both.

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Between first-person and third-person is an ambinity point where second-person is activated.

I have a vague hunch that Existentialism and Pragmatism can be understood in everse relationship. I’ve had this same hunch about the relationship between Actor-Network Theory and Postphenomenology.

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Another vague hunch: the ambinity point between first-person philosophies and third-person philosophies is the heart of design.

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This is all spuriously intuitive, and that is how originality is done.

Existentialist marginalia

Written in the margin of David Cooper’s Existentialism: A Reconstruction:

Uniting an agential plurality [intuitive swarm]…

  • self

…Within a transcendent, partially comprehended matrix

  • dialogical
  • social
  • worldly
  • cosmic
  • divine

…As a participant, participating in a transcendent whole [of some scope].

We know transcendence solely through our participation in transcendent matrices.

Some additional random comments:

  • Perplexity is participatory. The resolution of a perplexity is finding one’s mode of participation, then reflecting on that participation to produce knowledge helpful for guiding participation in the future. Reflection prior to participatory resolution renders the perplexity insoluble. All original philosophy is reflection on successful participation in what began as perplexity. Anyone who wishes to be a thinker, but who balks before perplexity and refuses to enter and participate are — whether they acknowledge it or nor — constrained to combinatory novelties.
  • Polycentric design (including service design) is design of participatory systems, and a participatory existentialism is the optimal philosophical approach to polycentric design praxis. Or to say it less opaquely: service designers are best served thinking and acting as existentialists. Sadly, I have met almost no young designers capable of Existential modes of thought. They are all, with few exceptions, naive-scientistic technocrats, who use ethical rationalizations to justify totalistic societal control. It is, in fact, very similar to the alienated mindset of the public that so alarmed the early Existentialists in the years preceding WWII, and set Existentialism in motion.
  • From a Gen X perspective, generations can be characterized by their relationship to Existentialism.
  • People are essentially how they think. Few people take responsibility for how they think, and therefore are accidents of society. These people, if they think at all, invariably insist that this is true for all people. This, however, is a transparent attempt to alleviate their shame by universalizing it. The shame and the pain of their failure to develop selfhood is their own responsibility. Refusal to bear responsibility for this failure intensifies the shame and pain, along with the inclination to blame others for it. The obvious anomie, distress, despair, disorientation and consequent self-harming behaviors of children is often interpreted by parents as caused by a doomed world full of oppression and hate, when in fact it is the very philosophy held by the parents, taught to the children through their own words and actions, that is the root cause of the pain.
  • Our culture is philosophically diseased. Behind our political conflicts, our mental health pandemics (many of which are “cured” through normalizing reclassification), and our incapacity to collaborate to solve problems together is philosophical dysfunction. But part of that dysfunction is the view that philosophy is speculative and irrelevant to practical life, which precludes the only cure. Existentialism (and Pragmatism) can help cure this disease.

I, Thou, We

We is an immanent-transcendent hybrid.

In any We there is immanent I and transcendent Thou. Each participates in the We and collaboratively brings it to life.

Both individualism and collectivism misses part of the picture and in practice alienates self from other, or the self from self.

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Most marriages are either two legally-joined selves who remain alienated from each other, or one self-alienated self wholly dedicated to another self. And most people believe these are the only two options. Love can’t happen where there is only fairness or altruism.

Consequently, many are wedded, but few are married.

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It is a theological mistake to treat God as as a Thou. God is All, and therefore Thou — but not only Thou.

Half-we perplexity

I have an irrational belief that drives my philosophical work.

The belief seems to be a way of coping with a kind of pain peculiar to me.

It is a pain associated with inability to communicate. If the pain is not different in kind, it is at least distinguished by its intensity and duration. Inability to communicate as always disturbed me way too much — to a degree and depth hard to convey or account for.

Some examples: prohibitions against discussing subjects I urgently need to address and resolve; imposition of methods or rules that deprive a subject of its proper forum (for example, debate displacing dialogue, or group dynamics overwhelming conversational flow, or etiquette prioritizing harmony, fairness or comfort over fruitfulness); conversational habits (interruptions, distractions, digressions, postponements) that prevent resolution of differences; outright refusal to listen, understand and entertain other perspectives, for ideological or practical reasons.

Until relatively recently , I saw it as another case of the universal human pain of not being heard, only amplified by the need to say too many unusual things. Too esoteric. Too much volume.

I no longer see it this way.

I seem to need to resolve philosophical issues — shared perplexities — with others, through dialogue. If that withness is obstructed, or if that dia- is severed, or if the other just refuses to engage — if the interpersonal resolution of the philosophical issue becomes impossible — I experience the thwarting of this resolution as some kind of existential crisis.

I now see it as a response to impediments to dialogical resolution of shared perplexities.

But not many people understand perplexities as I do. They interpret the anxiety of perplexity as mere stress, or fear, or offense — a response to something that one can and ought to avoid. And the feeling is viewed individualistically, a response of an organism to its social or physical environment. This conception of self and the self’s relationship to others and the world leaves no conceptual room for appeals — so a perplexity that I understand to be ours becomes mine alone, and the anxiety I understand to attend all perplexities becomes pain I inflict — and a reason to abandon me to my own psychological dysfunction.

I might describe what I’m left with to contend with alone a half-we perplexity.

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My irrational belief is this: resolving the perplexity myself, and expressing that resolution perfectly will somehow heal the broken We. It never has and it never will.

But it does make me philosophically productive.

It is the philosopher’s stone that turns leaden pain into golden epiphanies.

Or is it the Midas touch that turns living humans beings into cold insights?

Distributed divinity

My theology is one of distributed divinity.

Every person is a swarm of divine sparks of intuition seeking pluralistic unity in a self — I. Every self seeks pluralistic unity with other selves — We. And each We seeks ever greater scales of pluralistic unity — We expanding toward and beyond the bounds of universality.

This my understanding of the meaning of the “raising the sparks” at the heart of Kabbalah.

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Distributed divinity is politically enacted through distributed judgment in all its various forms (liberal-democratic, economic, cultural, etc.)

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Any group who aspires to centralize judgment around its own ideological convictions of what is true and just suffers from collective hubris.

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I believe with the Greeks that tragedy is the fate of hubris.

I understand comedy and tragedy to be a matter of perspective.

Tragedy is hubris experienced from a first-person perspective (I or we).

Comedy is hubris witnessed from a third-person perspective (he, she or they).

Whether something feels playful and comic or serious and tragic has everything to do with whether it pertains to you as a first-person being or whether you detach yourself and view it from a third-person vantage.

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Staying aloof, refusing to engage in the first-person, and viewing what others take seriously as comic — these are all ways to savor power and invulnerability.

This is why we mock enemies with a smile.

A smirk of this kind says “I don’t have to take you seriously”.

A punch in the face says “Yes you do.”

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Revolutions are what happen when words stop working.

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Especially right now, decent people must do their part to make words work.

To make words work, we must really listen to reason, which means seeking the validity of other views, not dismissing, condemning or mocking them.

We must seek persuasion, and settle for nothing less. We must approach others as equals, and try earnestly to persuade them, while remaining open to being persuaded ourselves. This is entirely different from convincing ourselves that we are right by making arguments that demonstrate to our own satisfaction the superiority of our own view. It is also different from polemically bludgeoning another person until they surrender just to make the bludgeoning end.

And when seeking to persuade, never forget that nobody is fooled by feigned listening. Forced politeness is never mistaken for real respect. If you can’t find it in yourself to respect the other, don’t talk to them, because it will make things immeasurably worse. The use of pretend listening and faked respect as rhetorical tools — liberal “dialoguing” of the Al Gore variety has insulted and alienated at least two generations of conservatives, and it must stop or progress will continue to reverse.

Reason only works when it is underwritten with authentic respect and equality.

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If you can’t see how you can possibly be wrong — if you can’t understand how someone could believe what they do — if you cannot imagine changing you mind on on some moral matter — none of these are evidence of anything other than a personal incapacity — an incapacity that can be overcome through dialogue.

We never see how wrong we are — or how much more right we can be — until the very instant an epiphany hits and we suddenly and spontaneously conceive an insight that, just a moment before, was inconceivable.

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Faith in dialogue has superseded my commitment to all other particular beliefs.

My Judaism is existential.

You are responsible

We are responsible for our own irresponsibility, even if we refuse accept that responsibility.

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If we do not choose our philosophy, a philosophy will choose us, and make us its host.

Perhaps that philosophy will tell us that we are socially determined, and that we are not responsible for how we are. But, for whatever reason, many such philosophies, hold others responsible. But these impersonal forces require us to act in certain ways… out of what? Justice…?

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It is interesting how the very people who profess nihilism are the most horrified to be accused of immorality. They have no metaphysical support for morality, yet they take the “epiphenomenon” of guilt and shame far more seriously than those who give morality metaphysical significance.

It is hard not to suspect them of theoretical whistling in the dark — that they profess nihilism precisely because their belief in morality and their feelings of shame are too deeply felt and too undeniable — and acknowledging them as real and valid is too much to bear.

So the emotions are accepted as real but epiphenomenal, and the cause of the emotions is bracketed and shot into the noumenal vacuum.

Beliefs versus arguments

Commonsense obliviousness, which can include philosophical commonsensical obliviousness, forgets how pervasive and ubiquitous metaphysical beliefs are.

Whenever we are not thinking phenomenologically — carefully bracketing the sources of our experiences (a very strenuous and unnatural effort!) — and instead take our experiences at face value as experiences of reality, we live metaphysically.

Humans are naturally (and second-naturally) metaphysical.

One of our most primordial, ordinary and important metaphysical beliefs the faith in the reality of past and future. To interpret our memories as records of a reality that has passed, or to understand our imagined anticipations as attempts to foresee a reality to come — both of these take the given present as a part of a larger transcendent reality.

The same goes for the reality of what we experience as phenomena — Kant’s noumena, and the reality of the space within which they extend, which stretches on into the distance beyond our vision, and according to modern commonsense, endlessly into space — these are also metaphysical beliefs. We naturally (and in the case of “infinite” space, second-naturally) go beyond the present givens and take these experiences as parts of a larger transcendent reality.

But our most important metaphysical beliefs concern the reality of other people — not as space-extensive noumena, but as fellow selves. If we take fellow selfhoods as a transcendent reality we begin to see our own selfhood as part of a larger transcendent reality of multiple selves.

And less obviously, our own selfhood is also a matter of metaphysical belief. The nature of this selfhood, and the possibilities of change in one’s selfhood (or even how we conceive selfhood) go far beyond the given present — far further, in fact, than the other metaphysical beliefs.

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Of course, philosophers love playing the epoché game, bracketing this dimension or that, or all of them together in radical skepticism, or even total Humean solipsism.

But playing around with concepts and seeing what one can construct and argue is not at all the same as changing beliefs. We can affirm or deny assertions all day, and we can claim that we believe or doubt these assertions, but, fact is, whether anyone can prove it or not, these claims are truthful or untruthful reports on our real beliefs.

This line of thought always brings me to C. S. Peirce’s call to intellectual conscience: “We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt… Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.”

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In the last couple of decades, and especially in the last year I’ve given a lot of thought to the distinction between those thoughts we think with, and the thoughts we merely think about.

The distinction I am making here might parallel that between beliefs and assertions.

How do we know the difference? One test is whether the truths asserted are consistent with truths performed. If one asserts a moral principle, does one act in accordance with the principle, and its full pragmatic consequences — or least hears and responds to appeals? Or does one find reasons to disregard the principle when it makes claims on oneself instead of others. Hypocrisy is a sign that one uses assertions that one does not really believe.

But belief goes beyond simple avoidance of hypocrisy.

I’ve been reading about Habermas, and he talks a lot about the performative truths inherent in discourse. The very act of engaging in discourse implies beliefs, and to deny them is a performative contradiction.

Habermas is a holdout for absolute morality, as something distinct from relative ethics. And his arguments seem to point to precisely my own beliefs on morality, as evidenced by what actually offends me and inspires my contempt — not only of others who offend against me, but also myself when I offend against others. My formulation would almost certainly bother Habermas, but here it is: Thou shalt be fully metaphysical. For me, I feel this belief most intensely with respect to other people, which is a Jewish attitude.

I cannot doubt in my heart that there is something contemptible about treating others as less real than oneself.

I believe that denying the full metaphysical reality of other selves is a betrayal of what we cannot doubt in our hearts is evil — and that any theories that support that effort is also evil. Conversely, any theory that intensifies our awareness that other beings are both real and other is, at least in that respect, good.

Another insight from Habermas has captured my attention is this: morality is not to be determined monologically, but rather dialogically.

And this might reveal another angle for unlocking the full value of the Electrum Rule: “Do to others only what you would have them do to you.” Wouldn’t we always have others involve us in decisions that impact our lives? The Electrum Rule is essentially dialogical, and it is this dialogical reciprocity that drives its non-linear development through degrees of prime.

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If philosophy aims at changing our beliefs, and we authorize our intellectual consciences to serve as referee, this certainly does raise the stakes of philosophy — but it does it make philosophy less playful? — Only if by playful we really mean frivolous.

Serious players of any game despise frivolity.

Response to a design ethics interview

A friend of mine is interviewing designers on ethics in design. A couple of my team members participated. This sparked a guilt-wracked conversation that I thought he might find interesting. Here is what I told him:

For what it’s worth, as a consequence of your interviews with us, my team had a painful conversation about our personal culpability in class supremacy. We design consultants are hired, not only to increase revenue through better products and services, but also to “increase efficiencies”, or to “scale operations”, both of which are code for eliminate working-/service-class jobs. Good proclass employees as we are, we do our jobs with Eichmannian effectiveness.

We all make good livings helping our own class dominate through entrepreneurial and corporate initiatives that siphon more money into our own class while sinking those who get “disrupted” into ever-deepening poverty and despair.

If a real worker’s revolution were ever to happen, I think many of us might fail to recognize it, since we are so accustomed to situating ourselves on the side of justice and of historical heroism. The workers, themselves, I fear, might beg to differ.

We proclassers use environmental and identitarian social justice issues to distract from a large and very angry elephant in the room: The proclass — (the professional class operating under the dominant ideology we call “progressivism”) — is the single most oppressive group in this country — and in the world. This class has been bought by capitalism and serves its interests with near-perfect obedience, even while ritualistically and ineffectually badmouthing it.

Proclass privilege is a privilege none of us will ever voluntarily check because it is the root, but rarely named, source of our collective and individual power. If we check that privilege, we lose the privilege of calling all the shots on what is true, just, and good in our society. We will have to put our values on equal footing with those who see things differently — and that we will never do!

Truthfulness

Habermas’s obsessive triading chimes with my own triad OCD. From Finlayson’s Very Short Introduction:

On Habermas’s account, modernization is a process comprising several related developments… First, there was a massive growth in knowledge, particularly in the natural sciences, from the 17th century onwards. Medieval science, an unreliable method of attributing supposedly explanatory properties to substances on the basis of piecemeal observations, was largely based on the authority of Aristotle. Gradually, this gave way to a more systematic approach that married precise techniques of measurement with mathematical theory formation, and a new method of formulating and testing predictive hypotheses. So successful did the new sciences turn out to be that their rise to prominence led (over several centuries and in combination with other factors) to the decline of the authority of the Aristotelian tradition, to the waning of the authority of the Church, and to their eventual replacement by the epistemic authority of natural science and reason. In its turn, Habermas contends (following Max Weber), this massive increase in technically useful knowledge led to the separating out of three distinct spheres of value.

It comes as no surprise that there turn out to be three distinct value spheres. For the differentiation of the value spheres takes place in the wake of the transfer of epistemic and practical authority from religious traditions to validity, and according to Habermas there are three distinct kinds of validity.

In turn, these three dimensions of validity correlate one to one with the three spheres of discourse: theoretical, moral, and aesthetic. … The view is that as religious world views collapse in the wake of rationalization, the problems this hands down are taken up and resolved within one of the three domains of knowledge: the natural sciences, morality/law, and the arts. Learning processes continue and knowledge deepens, but henceforth always within a single domain.

The consequences are twofold. Modernity brings about a vast increase in the amount and depth of specialized knowledge, but this knowledge becomes, in the same process, detached from its moorings in everyday life, and floats free from ‘the stream of tradition which naturally progresses in the hermeneutic of everyday life’… The gap between what we know, and how we live, widens.

So…

  • The validity claim to truth, which addresses the theoretical value sphere falls within the knowledge domain of science.
  • The validity claim to rightness, which addresses the moral-legal value sphere falls within the knowledge domain of morality and law.
  • The validity claim to truthfulness, which addresses the aesthetic-expressive value sphere falls within the knowledge domain of art.

Truthfulness belongs to the domain of art? That seems to strain art beyond its proper limits, but worse (if I’m getting this right) it neglects an element of experience Nietzsche emphasized and called intellectual conscience.

What do I understand truthfulness to be? It is taking seriously the question of what one really experiences as true — including what one really believes — and refusing to confuse belief with what one can successfully argue.

A person can state a scientifically-established fact, or make a sound legal argument, and see no flaws in the fact or the argument, yet, somehow, for mysterious reasons, remain unpersuaded.

Many technically-minded objective people are proud to disregard their subjective sense of persuadedness, and then valorize this act of self-suppression as submission to reason.

But to Nietzsche — and to me — this is spiritual self-mutilation, and what it amounts to is not submission to reason, but rather to explicit language. It is alienation from the wordless. Submission to explicit language cuts one off, not only from art or natural beauty, but from all direct intuition of reality, including, I’m afraid, the reality of other people.

For this reason an underdeveloped intellectual conscience weakens the moral conscience. One can be talked into all kinds of abhorrent bullshit if one thinks only with words.

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What initially made me fall in love with my wife was that she made direct appeals to my intellectual conscience. I don’t think anyone had ever engaged me that way before she did, and it shocked me. She made me see that sometimes I was not expressing a genuine belief but rather logically explaining away what I believed at the core of my being.

Since then, I’ve realized that only people with functioning intellectual consciences can be taken seriously as philosophers. If you habitually ignore your intellectual conscience or have such a weak intellectual conscience that it doesn’t register, nothing will really be at stake in your conceptual talk — philosophy will just be a diversion, a momentary vacation from the everyday.

I want the everyday to change, to become more vital, vivid, valuable and charged with significance. For that to happen we must genuinely adopt new beliefs.

Sharing the burden of truth

We converse with people we must persuade in one way — we place the burden of proof on ourselves.

We converse with people who must persuade us in another — we the place the burden of proof on them.

A great many people are unphilosophical, and instinctively assess relative power by where the burden of proof is placed. When approached by a person who seeks to persuade, they automatically perceive that person as socially inferior — equal at best — to one who requires persuasion, and thus assumes the role of arbiter.

What is the solution for a philosopher who seeks reasoned consensus in all matters — who wishes to both give and to hear good reasons — but who does not want to be perceived as socially inferior to those who do not share a commitment to reasoned consensus?

Require persuasion to be reciprocal — and when dealing with unphilosophical people, make the other persuade first, before seeking to persuade. In a perfect world, this would not be necessary, but this world is nowhere near perfect.

Performing pluralism

Pluralism is a primarily a performative truth, and only secondarily a propositional truth.

A pluralist acknowledges that we are all free to propose and perform the truth we believe.

But how does a pluralist avoid the performative contradiction of requiring others to perform pluralism if they don’t really accept?

It’s simple: The pluralist steadfastly performs and professes pluralism despite the protests of antipluralists who wish to privilege their absolutist convictions or assumptions. But, just as importantly, the pluralist does not attempt to stop antipluralists from protesting, or professing or performing their antipluralism, as long as they are not interfering with pluralists’ exercise of pluralism.

Of course, antipluralists will always try to impede exercise of pluralism, but this can only happen if pluralists fail to persuade a critical mass of people to voluntarily adopt pluralism.

A pluralist, therefore, is wise to perform pluralism for the benefit of the persuadable — in direct defiance of antipluralists who are never ready to hear a pluralist view, and who believe that they are the arbiters of what is to be said and what ought to be suppressed.

But a pluralist is also free to choose whether to engage pluralism-professing performative antipluralists or not — and I believe it is unwise to bother, unless potential pluralists are present to witness it.

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Anyone who feels entitled to suppress information that they believe to be untrue or mismotivated is performing antipluralism.

Habermas and the public sphere

I’m reading about Habermas, from (Oxford’s Very Short Introduction series) in preparation for reading some of his core works. This stood out to me:

Habermas claims to have embarked upon a new way of doing social philosophy, one that begins from an analysis of language use and that locates the rational basis of the coordination of action in speech. He associates this new approach with a more general shift in philosophy called the ‘linguistic turn’. This phrase originally designated different attempts by various 20th-century philosophers to resolve apparently intractable epistemological and metaphysical disputes by investigating the conceptual truths inherent in our use of language. The basic strategy was to treat questions of what there is, of what can be known, and of how we can know it, as questions of what we mean, or what refers and how. Habermas applies a similar strategy to the questions of the nature of the social and the possibility of social order.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of reading my blog or conversing with me would be forgiven for assuming that I would oppose any social philosophy “that begins from an analysis of language use and that locates the rational basis of the coordination of action in speech”.

On the contrary, I insist upon it.

Why?

It comes down to Rorty’s concept of public and private projects:

The new distinction is between projects of social cooperation and projects of individual self- development. Intersubjective agreement is required for the former projects, but not for the latter. Natural science is a paradigmatic project of social cooperation: the project of improving man’s estate by taking account of every possible observation and experimental result in order to facilitate the making of predictions that will come true. Law is another such paradigm. Romantic art, by contrast, is a paradigmatic project of individual self-development. Religion, if it can be disconnected from both science and morals — from the attempt to predict the consequences of our actions and the attempt to rank human needs — may be another such paradigm.

Habermas is speaking of public forms of reasoning — the justification of actions and of decisions to which other people will be subjected.

It is my passionate belief that such public justification must be linguistic.

When we subject another group to social control, the reasons for that breach of autonomy must be given, and given so that a healthy majority find these reasons acceptable. If such breaches are not justified to the general satisfaction of the populace the social order will be threatened.

This means that the reasons must not only be given, but also, on the whole, accepted by those to whom they are given. You can’t just make up theories that satisfy yourself and the likeminded, and, on the basis of that self-justification, just impose your will — unless you already have way the fuck too much power.

It is this conviction — the conviction that such power concentrations threaten liberal democracy — that I still call myself left. I’m leftist not because I care about fairness per se, but because I want sufficient equality among classes that they have no choice but to negotiate with one another.

When one group gains enough material power that they believe they no longer must gain majority support, but rather begin to appeal to non-democratic standards — the usual intuitive bullshit offered by the powerful (rights, history, compassion for select categories of people, God’s will, personal feelings, intuitions and other furniture of personal conviction — the group in power will rarely recognize they are oppressing another. They simply feel they are no longer willing to compromise on values that are more important than winning public support for their intentions, and they refuse to bother with it because they don’t have to.

At this point, they stop talking democratically of persuading, building coalitions, winning support or alignment and so on — and begin talking autocratically of using power responsibly, doing what is right, respecting truth, winning the gratitude of the future, and concocting even-steven secular theodicies, where it is all cosmically ok to oppress because you win some and lose some, so why fret when you win and others lose? (Very, very leftist, there.)

If these people of conscience felt a little more vulnerable they might ask themselves some basic Golden Rule questions along the lines of “what if this logic were applied back to me?” — but the powerful generally can’t imagine not having power, and this failure of imagination makes them impossible to reason with. This is why it is that more often than not, the powerful must be forcibly removed from power before they can see why their social inferiors are so murderously furious.

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It is my position that 1) the widening of the wealth gap, plus 2) changes in the role of technology in our social lives, plus 3) the domination of technology by the ruling class has created a gross power imbalance that now constitutes a threat to our liberal-democratic order.

The threat is manifested as a new moral absolutism, which ideologically excludes the voices of anyone outside its ideological horizons. This absolutism is nearly universally held by the ruling class (the hyper-rich and the professional class that reports to the hyper-rich).

This ruling class is so overwhelmingly powerful that it feels entitled — no, duty-bound — to impose its will on an unwilling population. It explains away the objections of the unwilling using its own psychological and social theories, which are also unacceptable to the hapless folks subjected to these theories. They aren’t indignant at being oppressed and treated with contempt. No, they are “fragile”. See?

And nobody can tell these overclassers that none of this is even slightly leftist, because they, and they alone, decide what is leftist. And what is racist, too. And everything of any social importance. They, as a ruling class, dictate truth, justice and reality itself.

This set of self-serving moral convictions plus the theoretical metabeliefs that protect these convictions from external and internal critique is Progressivism. Progressivism is the dominant ideology of the ruling class, its values are replicated and reinforced through the classic moves of cultural hegemony — and those people dominated by this movement, who benefit from it, are entirely unable and unwilling to entertain the possibility that they are oppressors of the worst sort, because they are desperately self-righteous.

NOBODY in my social group can claim I didn’t tell them so. I am telling every adherent to this class supremacist ideology that they are complicit in an illiberal, antidemocratic, and anti-leftist movement. So far, I’ve only gotten a bunch of complaints about feeling judged, or not quite getting it, or this not being polite. You know — the usual blather one gets when one “speaks truth to power”. But these overclassers see it as their prerogative to decide who has power and who doesn’t. It is just uppity for some random nobody to suggest that they are the power. The overclass has made it very clear how they expect these matters to be seen, so get in your place.

But I am digressing. I assume I’ve lost most of my readers by this point. And good riddance: discussing principles with unprincipled hypocrites is beneath my dignity. I’ve stopped doing it. As Eric Voegelin famously said: “I have been called every conceivable name by partisans of this or that ideology. … Understandably, I have never answered such criticisms; critics of this type can become objects of inquiry, but they cannot be partners in a discussion.”

*

I want to turn to the private sphere now — that realm of personal self-development projects. This is the sphere where language must not dominate, where the tacit activity of intuition should reign freely.

Part of why liberalism matters to me so much is that I believe this is where much of the best of human life happens, and that if it is forced to self-justify and give reasons for itself, it will have none.

So, in a liberal democracy, language governs the democratic half, and intuition governs (or at least can govern) the liberal half.

Part of the duty of democracy is to make verbal arguments to protect that part of human life that cannot make verbal argument (or which cannot yet make verbal arguments) — that place where originality emerges. It is my ardent wish to enlarge the private sphere to the greatest possible extent for all people for the enrichment of humanity. Whatever leftism I’ve adopted is there entirely for the sake of liberalism.

And to do this, we must convince the majority of citizens that they benefit and ought to support the maximizing of the private realm through championing real liberalism.

But –[resume diatribe]– when one powerful group loses sight of the requirement to persuade the majority of the value of liberalism and begins to force its opinions of what liberties, beliefs, judgment, intuitions are legitimate on a population that feels its own rights are being violated, they’ll rebel against such “liberalism” in the name of personal freedom.

It is a truly strange situation when autocrats with absolutist notions of whose liberties do and do not matter — a question bound up with the deeper question of who gets to judge these matters — call themselves “liberal” and violate the basic principles of liberalism by deciding these questions of civil liberties unilaterally — and then find themselves opposed by people who hate “liberals” and fight back — weirdly, as liberals.

Strange days.

Militant pluralism

When I was agnostic, religious believers and atheistic nonbelievers would sometimes accuse me of being noncommittal.

Eventually, I found my stance: devout agnosticism.

My devout agnosticism was not on the same plane as factual conviction. It was a commitment to epistemological integrity — and that commitment was every bit as passionate as any atheistic or theistic belief. People find it difficult to imagine that anyone could feel deeply about something as abstract as epistemology, but this incomprehension does not make it any less so. (This passionate commitment, by the way, led me beyond the shallow for-and-against of the debate to an understanding that would have remained inconceivable to me if I had prematurely taken a side.

This experience, in combination with many others, have strengthened my commitment to thinking beyond simple for-against binary antitheticals.

Now I find myself in the same position regarding abortion.

Since the overturning of Roe v Wade in June, several women have engaged me in conversation on this subject, only to inform me, after realizing that my own views differ slightly from theirs, that my opinion on the abortion issue is irrelevant and unwanted. They all say the same thing (in the same words): “they are not ready” to hear any opposing view, because they are still too angry.

But they are especially not ready to hear my particular view, which is, to them, the kind of abstract theoretical opining a person not directly affected by the decision would have. They find it difficult to imagine that I could feel deeply about a position so abstract and “academic” as mine, but (as with my agnosticism) but I do feel very strongly on this matter, and their incomprehension does not make it any less so.

My position is that we must engage our political opponents as adversaries who seek different ends than us within our liberal democratic order, and not enemies who pose an existential threat. To maintain this, it is crucially important to try to see the validity of their positions, however vehemently we disagree with them. Those of us who believe in a woman’s right to make their choice whether or not to abort should work to understand abortion opponents’ various framings of the issue — some of which are, indeed, fundamentalist and others of which are, indeed, cynically partisan — but others of which are motivated by humane concerns, and others of which are focused on protecting our liberal democratic institutions. But you can never understand this if you attribute to them contemptible or insidious motives, declare them existential enemies and refuse to hear what they say. And it is even worse if you coercively silence them or terrorize them into keeping their beliefs to themselves. Our adversaries are not our enemies, and if they sometimes get their way at the expense of us getting ours, this does not constitute an existential threat. But seeing every deep disagreement as a threat, paradoxically is. Turning every disagreement into a literal life-threatening emergency is. It is to our own advantage to understand the full validity of our adversaries’ positions, because this helps us see that they are not monsters, not enemies.

This is the position I have stated, and which my angry female friends have told me they are “not ready” to hear and which apparently “causes hurt” when I state them.

One woman told me it would even be better if I just took the opposing view, because at least it would signal concrete involvement. It is the theoretical stance of the dis-involved that infuriates.

They are perfectly free to postpone the conversation until they cool down and feel ready to discuss it.

What they are not free to do is try to prevent me from stating my opinion, if they are stating theirs, and especially not if the claim is that my opinions cause them emotional distress. Their attempts — increasingly successful — to socially control whose opinions can be voiced and whose must be suppressed is causing me emotional distress. So now what?

*

What I want people to understand is this: There are four sides to this conflict: their side, my side, what they think my side is, and what I think their side is.

For these righteously angry women, however, it appears (to me) there are only two sides: their side and what they think my side is.

It is those two missing sides — precisely the part that is not inside their own heads — that they are “not ready” for — and this is the crux of the matter.

They are never ready to hear those missing sides.

Sacrosanct fury over bodily autonomy and their status as citizens is only the latest excuse for a deeply habitual contempt for whatever transcends their own limited perspective. This time it is too infuriating. Other times they feel endangered. Or they imagine slippery slopes to extremism and violence. Or they see the preservation of an oppressive status quo. Or they attribute hate.

There are always pressing reasons why their own view — the two sides in their own heads — is the only one taken as real.

And it is this refusal to acknowledge the limits of their own perspectives, their refusal to respect other perspectives, and their readiness to use social terror to force others to pretend to agree with their perspective that is my passionate concern.

In other words, it is their antipluralism that offends me.

I hold pluralism sacred. And when pluralism is suppressed, especially in organizations I love, I feel offense and visceral fury.

And the very claim that my offense and fury is less important, or less legitimate, or less deeply felt than the fury of a woman denied the right to abort a fetus — this exemplifies my point.

This, my angry female friend, is not for you to decide.

Does pointing this fact out “cause hurt”?

Your emotional bullying also “causes hurt”. And although you seem incapable of understanding it, this hurt matters every bit as much as yours does.

But you don’t have to understand it. I will demonstrate it to you by meeting your offense, your fury, your force, your eagerness to confront and create conflict — with my own. And in my prolonged, pressurized self-constraint, I have grown immensely furious, and ready to fight back. I have decided that this is a hill I will proudly die on.

But I will not do as you wish and meet you on your level, and oppose you with a simplistic For that mirrors your simplistic Against.

I do not need your understanding and stamp of approval of my position to fight you. I am coming back at you from beyond your understanding.

I’m done holding my tongue for the sake of keeping the peace. This silence preserves your delusions of unanimity, and encourages your aggression. As you so often say: Silence is violence.

*

My new stance is militant pluralism.

I will tactfully advocate pluralism. If pluralism is forcibly suppressed, I will use whatever counter-force I have at my disposal to re-impose pluralism.

And also know: if you use coercive force to suppress pluralism, you are not a mere adversary, but an enemy: an existential threat to what I care most deeply about.

*

Progressivists, I am finished indulging your collective political narcissism.

You don’t get to decide whose indignation is righteous and whose is “fragility”.

You don’t get to decide whose bigotry is antiracist activism and whose is white supremacy.

You don’t get to decide what identities are real and which are not, which are powerful, which are not — and you do not get to assign those identities and deduce who someone is from them.

You don’t get to decide who is and is not privileged.

You don’t get to decide why people really think what they think, act as they act, or vote as they vote.

And you don’t get to decide what this abortion debate is about, and who has a right to an opinion and who doesn’t.

This is a liberal democracy and we come to these decisions together.

Anyone who does not know this is an enemy of liberal democracy, even if they’ve deluded themselves into believing they are its saviors.

*

Does all this still strike you as abstract, academic, detached, cold? Do you still doubt the sincerity, intensity, validity or courage of my conviction?

Then try me.

Progressive meditations

Here is a question every privilege-checking progressive “ally” of less privileged people should ask themselves:

Do you really believe you get more power and privilege from your racial, sexual or gender identities — or any intersectional combination of them — than you get from your class identity?

Class identity, of course, includes educational pedigree, social connections and behavioral class signifiers (manners, vocabulary, cultural know-how, and so on).

Another way to approach this question is to ask yourself: Would you be as willing and eager to check your class privilege as you have been to renounce your race privilege?

Ask yourself: do you really think these class signifiers your own class accepts as matter-of-fact qualifications — for knowing truer truths, judging more justly and basically calling the shots on all important matters — are somehow objectively valid — and not just the standard features of every dominant ideology?

Do you really, fully understand that a great many European colonists really wanted to bring Christian salvation to the savages of the Americas? Do you understand that conservatives truly do want to save the lives of fetuses? …In precisely the same way, progressives really do want to protect vulnerable populations?

The notion held by progressives that somehow their own sincere motives differ from those of others — that their sincere altruism differs from the delusional altruism of these others — is the furthest thing from a differentiator. This is the essential commonality of every ideologue.

If you think having the immense unilateral power required to offer these protections to vulnerable groups is just a means to an end — that is only how it looks from the inside. From outside it looks like the protection is justificatory means to the end of possessing overwhelming power.

I don’t want to hear your answers. This is between you and your own conscience. I’m sure you can make arguments proving whatever you want. I just want you to ask yourself these questions, listen to your own answers and really notice if you believe yourself. 

Decency demands it.

You won’t hear me

I keep trying, with increasing desperation, to say the same thing.

But it is exactly the ones I most need to hear it who never will hear it.

And what I want to say is: “You won’t hear me.

Sometimes people need to not hear you.

Their world depends on it.

*

Does it seem improbable to you that a person would murder to avoid feeling like a murderer?

*

Once I realize a person needs to not understand my core truth — needs to not understand me — friendship ends, even if it takes time for that truth to fully dawn.

People who are incapable of understanding can be dear friends… if I believe that they would understand if they could. They might not be able to share doctrine, but they can share faith, and faith matters most.

*

The powerful get to dictate truth, including, most of all, who is — and who is not — powerful.