Category Archives: Synesis

The Mercury Mikvah

Sometimes if I drink too much scotch I will announce the “I am never drinking ever again for a week.”

An ironic worldview permits statements like this. Why not admit that eternally-binding resolves, while being experienced in the moment as permanent, are, simultaneously, recognized in history/biography as temporary?

I will argue that this kind of ironizing is not only permissible but necessary and good, and supportive of a liberal, pluralistic society.

A pluralist experiences the self-evident truth and goodness of their own worldview, beliefs, tastes, priorities and moral convictions against a deeper ground of myriad others who also experience their own worldview, beliefs, tastes, priorities and moral convictions as self-evidently true and good.

Pluralism includes pluralism of scale. A historically conscious pluralist is aware that the plurality of worldviews exists not only individually, but collectively. It pertains not only to individuals, but to cultures, and to the deep interrelationships between individuals and cultures. Much of what was obviously and indubitably true and good in the past is now, to us, absurd, abhorrent and naive — and most of all to what seemed most certain and foundational. The same thing is certain to happen to our present shared convictions and foundational beliefs.

Pluralism includes pluralism of self in time. A self-aware, apperceptive pluralist will count among the myriad others their own past selves, and recall the fact, even if they cannot fully recall the experiences themselves (including the convictions and their attendant blindnesses, which, once unblinded cannot be re-blinded).

Pushing pluralism of self in time further, the most radical pluralist will count as crucially important their possible future selves. They will recall themselves prior to a past change, taking care to remember what that past self understood “everything” to include, along with the field of possibilities that followed from it. And they will recall the shock of epiphany, of change in worldview, of change in what seemed evident, relevant, possible and permanent. The experiential resources needed to anticipate future transformation are drawn indirectly (and negatively) from experiences of past transformations.

Pluralism is empathic. An empathic pluralist will strain to do full justice to their memories of the in-between of worldviews and stretch it out into its own story, in a progression of anxiety, to aversion, to panic, and finally to perplexity, where orientation, definition, method, logic and words fail. They will never forget why so few willingly immerse in this mercury mikvah — this expanse of the worldless-blinds, the liminal void, the rings of ego-solvent Hadean waters, the churning chrome of “seen” blindness — and why those facing it deserve understanding, if not compassion.

And finally, pluralism is reflexive, symmetric and demanding. A committed pluralist will know, with the intensest irony, that they, most of all, fear reentering liminal perplexity. Even with their experiences of before, during and blissful after, even with their firsthand evidence and insights — they will balk like everyone else when the time comes for them to follow their own advice. Those others — they are the ones who need to go in. But, the pluralist will also know, with all the irony they can intentionally summon, that they must keep going back in, and that their only claim to their own kind of truth and goodness is going back in, despite their already-knowing of everything worth knowing.


My moral alchemy has its own weird metallurgy which transmutes silver, gold, mercury and iron(y).

Facets of empathy

Working in design research, empathy is one of our primary tools. Reflective practitioners quickly learn where they and their teammates have strengths and weaknesses using empathy to produce understanding.

Continuing this week’s trend of identifying distinctions and creating categories, here’s a list of skills associated with what is commonly called “empathy” and what I prefer to call synesis, which is a form of interpersonal understanding that emphasizes worldviews as much as feelings and which sees understanding, not so much as a receptive act, but as an collaborative instauration (discovering-making) between persons (researcher and informant) within a situation.

  • Reception – detecting signals from an informant that something requires understanding that is not yet understood
  • Reaction – controlling one’s behaviors to permit or encourage signals to emerge
  • Perception – interpreting the signals and sensing what they signify from the perspective of the informant — feeling-with or seeing-with, using whatever immediate signals are available to the researcher
  • Constraint – suspending one’s own perspective in order to make space for the informant’s understanding
  • Response – interacting with the informant to spiral in on understanding whatever truth the informant is trying to convey
  • Immersion – developing a tacit sense of the informant’s worldview and “entertaining” it, or “trying it on” through detecting the validity in the informant’s truths
  • Application – using a tacit sense of the informant’s worldview to participate in understanding with the informant — to attempt understanding of the situation at hand and explaining it in the informant’s terms
  • Approval – iteratively testing applications of understanding with the informant, and continuing to test applications of the informant’s worldview until the explanations are accepted and confirmed by the informant
  • Conception – clarifying, articulating and internalizing the informant’s perspective in terms of other perspectives
  • Collaboration – dialogically working with researchers and informants to craft new concepts capable of earning approval from all persons involved


From this, you can see why the emphasis on emotions — pathos — in the word “empathy” strikes me as impoverished. Synesis (together-being) is a far better word, especially when you take it in the two-fold sense I prefer:

  1. It is putting together the experiences of a situation so they make sense (understanding a situation)
  2. It is using the pursuit of understanding a situation to develop understanding between persons.

So, yes, sensing and feeling the emotions of other’s or intuitively grokking their mindset are crucial skills required for understanding, but empathy must not be confused with understanding. It is only a necessary starting point. Further effort and deeper insights are required to develop empathy into genuine understanding.

The pluralism of design instrumentalism

Because design instrumentalism views knowledge as a result of conceptualizations of perceptions of particular experiences — that is, as a product of one of myriad possible praxes capable of producing different and even conflicting truths — with a particular set of design tradeoffs — that is, with varying degrees of descriptive, predictive, prescriptive, logical, practical, valuative and social adequacy — and, further, because some designs truly are better than others — that is, they make fewer tradeoffs overall, or solve particular relevant problems far better than expected — faced with an stubborn and morally-charged controversy a design instrumentalist is more likely to attempt to resolve the impasse with intellectual reframing than direct argument for one or another position within the current conflict.

And intellectual reframing is just another word for philosophizing — finding our way out of the current conceptualizations that make agreement impossible, into that uncanny shadowy region where words provide little help, and tacit thought must grope its way by smell, touch and tone through perplexity from one end to the other, out into the new light, where new ways of understanding are possible, and different ideas with different tradeoffs, perhaps acceptable or even inspiring to a wider range of people, can be produced.

(There are some folks out there who are averse to such reframing and from inability or unwillingness cannot bring themselves to cooperate with it. In design workshops, I can spot them from across the room. They alternate between sitting and crossing their arms and leaning aggressively forward, pushing the obvious truth, insisting that people show how the idea or objection they are asserting is false. They are suspicious of reframing, seeing it as a last resort to use only after existing theories have been shown to be nonviable. They often see themselves as hard-nosed rationalists, proud to set aside personal feelings so that objective truth can be served. That people like this can also, with equal inflexible fervor adhere to magical religious beliefs appears as contradictory to some conceptions of religion, but not to mine: rigid rationalism paired with metaphysical otherworldism go together in certain souls like two wings on a bird. Through various wily tricks of the design trade I keep people like this separated from from where collaboration is trying to emerge, because they make conception of truly new ideas impossible.)

Collaborative agon

It’s difficult, painful and uncanny to argue across fundamentally different worldviews. Not everyone can do it and even fewer will do it. It requires collaborative agon, and too much desire to avoid conflict or to make one’s own position prevail will destroy the conditions of success.

Recognizing a conflict that requires collaborative agon and conducting oneself accordingly is an essential dimension of reason, albeit an uncommon dimension, and entirely outside the limits of reasonable discourse for those who cannot imagine that all disagreements are not a matter of evidence and logic, nor is it a last resort to employ only after evidence and logic are exhausted.

Density of soul

“When a poet is not in love with reality his muse will consequently not be reality, and she will then bear him hollow-eyed and fragile-limbed children.” — Friedrich Nietzsche


It seems to me that few people agree with me on what a philosophy is. It is not that they disagree, but rather that they have done so little philosophy themselves that they lack any capacity to agree or disagree. They have not developed a capacity to understand what philosophy is as I understand it.

They have not even developed a capacity to look into why they ought to hear me out on how I think of it, not only for the sake of understanding something new, but for the sake of friendship.


Here is how I understand philosophy:

Philosophies are not reducible to assertions. Philosophies are not even reducible to language.

Language and assertions belong to the praxis of a philosophy. Yet a philosophy is not even reducible to its praxis.

Philosophies produce praxis, but they are “behind” praxis, moving and shaping perceptions and conceptions, values and emotions, recognitions and responses. Or let’s say they stand-under these things as capacities for conception, action and feeling: a repertoire of possibilities of understanding the world which activate long before we find words for them, because these capacities are who find our words for us. These capacities are what constitute our soul.


But don’t we primarily read or hear philosophy? — Yes, but we do not receive it the way people expect to receive ideas. The normal priority of comprehension is reversed. Normally, when we struggle to understand difficult material, we do so in order to grasp factual content. With philosophy, we struggle to grasp the factual content in order to gain new ways to understand.

Engaging philosophical writing is a mimetic linguistic activity intended to expand our repertoire of understandings, which enriches our awareness of and capacity for pluralism, which I call pluralistic sense.


Finite truths overlap in reality’s infinitude. The myriad finite truths are one part of reality. Our pluralistic sense permits us to relate to this overlap with sublime irony. Each of us is a soul among souls, overlapping with souls, swimming in souls, but each of us only gets one. Or at least only one at a time.


Doing philosophy is the effort to densify one’s soul.


For nearly ten years, I have been uncomfortable with the phenomenological term “horizon”. I think it is because this metaphor suggests that what we cannot see is invisible because it is distant.

The metaphor is not without merits. I like the implications that distant things are obscured by the curvature of the very land upon which we stand. I like that the pragmatic consequence of a horizon is a requirement to get peripatetic. Stand up and move and view things from some other perspective.

But as a young adult I spent too many hours seated in meditation, mining the sensations in my body and mind for insight into being to believe ignorance is primarily a distant thing.

And I have suffered too many ocular migraines, and far too often “seen” the blindspots in my eyes burst into bloom and cover my entire field of vision with nothingness, which is not black. Black is something that marks something missing. Blindness is nothing, including nothing being there but also nothing missing.

Too much we don’t know is close to us and in us. I think much of our ignorance takes the form of insufficient density, not only in our factual knowledge but in our capacities to know.


Our souls can lose density if we do not strain them. They can become inflexible, osteoporotic and brittle. We move only one way and see only one way. Trying to move and see other ways is uncomfortable and feels wrong. So we fend off enemies, and refuse to hear any validity in what they say. And as we become brittler, our enemies increase. We begin to discover unacceptable beliefs in our friends. We cling to fondness, but we can no longer converse without fear that words will break our bones.


One of my fundamental beliefs is that most misunderstandings are misunderstood as factual disagreements, when in fact the disagreements are artifacts of different modes of understanding. So some of my friends pore over sociological and psychological studies, because sociology gives us substantial scientific evidence for belief, unlike philosophy which only speculates and doesn’t provide enough factual meat. It takes philosophical thought to see what is dangerously ignorant about this kind of epistemology which says philosophy is “too abstract”. Other friends like to bravely entertain forbidden facts — facts which, if properly weighted and thoroughly considered, would wake us up to an imminent emergency requiring immediate action. The facts all point to ominous actors we cannot see directly, but a thorough connecting of dots leaves a lacuna the shape of  diabolical intention.

I think the imminent emergency is that everyone already knows everything, at least in outline, including the obvious fact that their enemies know nothing. No need to listen — there is no point. In fact, listening is folly. Force is the only suitable response. Both sides think they have the numbers to force their will if things go to plan, and if they don’t… well, truth is on their side and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.


We have failed to teach our children to be citizens in a liberal democracy. Now there is too little tolerance and no willingness to fight for a fellow citizen’s right to disagree with us.

And we have failed to teach our public intellectuals philosophy. There is desperately little pluralistic sense in the upper reaches of our culture. What is known as Political Correctness systematically cultivates brittleness in our elite class by prohibiting all discomfort of pluralism. We are manufacturing narrow ideologues who experience disagreement as life-threatening.

Symmetrical egalitarianism

Can egalitarianism be disrespectful?

In some social contexts strict egalitarianism is the very embodiment of respect. An example of such a context is a gathering of equal peers deliberating on a shared problem. Each is understood by the others to hold an opinion of equal validity to his own. Each peer is entitled the same level of attention, the same time to speak and to be heard out and to be believed and also to be questioned. Of course, each participant has a personal opinion regarding the rightness and wrongness of opinions stated, but any expectation that others will give one’s own opinion more weight than any another’s undermines the equal peer relationship. Let’s call this symmetrical egalitarianism

In other social contexts, however, strict egalitarianism can be disrespectful. An example of this kind of context is a group of people gathered to discuss a specialized topic, where some members of the group have invested significant time, energy and resources to continually improve the quality of their beliefs in this area, where other members have not made the same level investment. The former have worked to become authorities on the topic at hand and the latter have not. (Imagine an accomplished physicist in conversation with a group of less experienced scientists, or even scientists who are accomplished in fields outside the one being discussed). In such situations, giving equal weight to each person’s opinion would insult the authority’s hard-won expertise. For one reason or another his work has failed to accomplish its goal of improving his understanding — that is, elevating his initial opinion to informed belief, reflective practice,  cultivated knowledge and refined judgment.

Why would an expert’s expertise be denied or ignored? Perhaps his field is not one where genuine knowledge is possible, and can never be more than a matter of opinion, where one person’s opinion is as good as another’s no matter how much work is invested in cultivating knowledge. Or perhaps the alleged expert has taken a bad approach, and has wasted years of effort following the wrong path further from the truth. Or perhaps the would-be expert has some personal flaw or limitation that has prevented him from acquiring real knowledge or has led him to aquire delusional opinions that only appear to him to be knowledge. Or perhaps the laypeople are convinced that genuine knowledge in the field necessarily and automatically leads an expert to an egaliarian attitude toward his own opinion: the superiority of his view consists in its paradoxical refusal to regard itself as superior, and any hint of judgment is a symptom of inferior knowledge.

This latter view actually has some validity. The world is stuffed with authoritarian experts who flash their credentials and demand submission to their authority. This ought to be resisted. No expert should require non-experts to obey without being persuaded by reason. This is non-egaliarian tyranny of experts. 

But what true experts ask for is not unconditional obedience or uncritical belief. What they ask for from others is patience and effort The expert needs time not only to express their views, but also to impart enough expertise that others have the context needed to understand and fairly assess the expert’s ideas. Let’s call this asymmertical egalitarianism — an egalitarianism that acknowledges equality of reason and judgment, but also acknowledges the realities of expertise and permits it conditions needed to be heard and understood.  

It is these conditions that symmetrical egalitarianism denies. From the point of view of symmetrical egalitarianism, the time and attention an expert requires to convey the background of his factual opinions is experienced as an unfair domination of a conversation. Each person is doled out the same quantity of time as everyone else, and this self-regarded expert is trying to take more than his share. 

But from the point of view of expertise, this symmetry creates an unfair asymmetry of means to convey meaning. The laypeople are given what they need to fully communicate their views, but experts — the very ones best informed on the topic at hand — are forced to provide their views without context, which means their views will seem obscure, pedantic or nonsensical compared to the down-to-earth practicality and plain speech of the regular guy, or they try to provide context and get cut off before their point is made. Symmetrical egalitarianism guarantees the common sense status quo view always prevails, and those in the room with genuinely unique and deeply considered views will be subjected to a Bed of Procrustes truncation that allows them to talk but denies them the means to be understood.


Incidentally, this symmetrical and asymmetrical egalitarian concept can be applied to other fields. For instance, in education symmetries of fairness are sometimes established on the basis of allocated resources, the right to reach some standard level of acheivement or to maintain some pace of improvement. These symmetries are often enforced at the expense  of subtler forms of fairness, such as the ability to actualize one’s own potential. Obviously, this creates deep problems, including problems of measurement and objectivity, but the depth of such problems does not warrant ignoring these problems as essentially insoluble, or worse (and most commonly) denying the problem’s existence altogether. 

Latour getting melioristic

Hell yes:

To go from metaphysics to ontology is to raise again the question of what the real world is really like. As long as we remain in metaphysics, there is always the danger that deployment of the actors’ worlds will remain too easy because they could be taken as so many representations of what the world, in the singular, is like. In which case we would not have moved an inch and would be back at square one of social explanation — namely back to Kant’s idealism.

The danger cannot be exaggerated when we consider that the open-mindedness shown, for instance, by anthropologists about the ‘other’s’ cosmologies is often due to their certainty that those representations have no serious relation to the solid world of matters of fact. In the scholar’s tolerance for wild beliefs, a great deal of condescension might seep through. There may be thousands of ways of imagining how kinships bring children into existence, but there is only, it is argued, one developmental physiology to explain how babies really grow in the womb. There may be thousands of ways to design a bridge and to decorate its surface, but only one way for gravity to exert its forces. The first multiplicity is the domain of social scientists; the second unity is the purview of natural scientists. Cultural relativism is made possible only by the solid absolutism of the natural sciences. Such is the default position of the endless debates going on, for instance, between physical and human geography, physical and cultural anthropology, biological psychiatry and psychoanalysis, material and social archaeology, and so on. There is unity and objectivity on one side, multiplicity and symbolic reality on the other.

This is just the solution that ANT wishes to render untenable. With such a divide between one reality and many interpretations, the continuity and commensurability of what we call the associations would immediately disappear, since the multiple will run its troubled historical course while the unified reality will remain intact, untouched, and remote from any human history. But it’s not the case that shifting from social to natural objects means shifting from a bewildering multiplicity to a welcoming unity. We have to shift, yes, but from an impoverished repertoire of intermediaries to a highly complex and highly controversial set of mediators. Controversies over ontologies turn out to be just as interesting and controversial as metaphysics, except that the question of truth (of what the world is really like) cannot be ignored with a blase pose or simplified a priori by thumping on desks and kicking at stones. (I maintain the plural for ontologies to remind the reader that this unity is not the result of what the world is like at first encounter, but what the world might become provided it’s collected and assembled.) Even once reality has fully set in, the question of its unity is still pending. The common world has still to be collected and composed. As we shall see at the end of this book, this is where the social sciences may regain the political relevance that they seem to have lost by abandoning the ether of the social and the automated use of the critical repertoire that it allowed. There is no rear-world behind to be used as a judge of this one, but in this lowly world there lie in wait many more worlds that may aspire to become one — or not, depending on the assembly work we will be able to achieve.

Fortunately, we don’t have to solve those arduous questions all at once in order to do our work as sociologists. We don’t even have to deploy the complete set of agencies manifested by matters of concern. We simply have to make sure that their diversity is not prematurely closed by one hegemonic version of one kind of matter of fact claiming to be what is present in experience — and that goes, of course, for ‘power’ and ‘Society’ as well as for ‘matter’ and ‘Nature’. Once again, the key training for practicing ANT is negative at first.


Anthropology = empirical metaphysics

From Reassembling the Social:

What ANT does is that it keeps asking the following question: Since every sociologist loads things into social ties to give them enough weight to account for their durability and extension, why not do this explicitly instead of doing it on the sly? Its slogan, ‘Follow the actors’, becomes, ‘Follow the actors in their weaving through things they have added to social skills so as to render more durable the constantly shifting interactions.’

It’s at this point that the real contrast between sociology of associations and sociology of the social will be most clearly visible. So far, I might have exaggerated the differences between the two viewpoints. After all, many schools of social science might accept the two first uncertainties as their departure point (especially anthropology, which is another name for empirical metaphysics)…


Though Nietzsche rarely spoke of Hegel, and when he did he treated him more as a cultural force than a source of valid ideas, it is clear to me, based on my own experience of reading him, that Nietzsche thought dialectically, in the Hegelian sense.

It is undeniable that the Birth of Tragedy has an explicitly dialectical structure, and Nietzsche’s later disavowals of the work centered more on their treatment of Wagner than in the Apollinian-Dionysian-tragic dialectic at the center of the book. Actually, that structure is the key to understanding the apparent self-contradictions that pervade the rest of his work.

Continue reading Apollinian-Dionysian-tragic

Seven capacities

The capacity to describe a situation in all its factual, practical and meaningful dimensions, doing justice to the full experience of the situation is one thing.

The capacity to explain the situation by modeling it as a dynamic with particular causes and effects, inputs and outputs is a second thing.

The capacity to assert an ethic, an meaningful (or emotional) stance toward the situation, which permits evaluation of the situation and its constituent elements, and which orients oneself to the situation is a third thing.

The capacity to envisage an ethic that is not merely a response to a situation, but an independent ideal capable of serving as a positive goal for overcoming an undesirable situation is a fourth thing.

The capacity to discern an ethical vision from an idealized, emotionally-satisfying situational image is a fifth thing.

The capacity to apply an ethical ideal in concrete situations in a way that can, in concrete reality, actually change the facts, dynamics and meanings of the situation from an undesired state to a desired one is a sixth thing.

Finally, the capacity to keep the faith — to cultivate and adhere to a positive ethic — while navigating undesirable situations which compel negative ethical responses which conflict with and threaten to distort or obscure one’s positive ideal is a seventh thing.


Unfortunately, people do not distinguish these abilities, and the consequences are often disastrous.

Exercise of the first capacity, the ability to empathize, makes people feel understood, and gives them a sense of solidarity with those who share their experience. Exercise of the second capacity, the ability to produce an explanation, makes people feel clear. Exercise of the third capacity, the ability to give someone a feeling of moral orientation toward a problem, makes people feel resolve.

By this point, people stop paying attention to consequences, and begin to simply act for the pleasure of acting with a feeling of solidarity, clarity, and resolve they lacked before. And the action produces all the ideals and images — and eventually, fabricated facts and derivative explanations — to justify, perpetuate and intensify its action.

Every ideology proceeds along this path, winning generic credibility, lower capacities one to create an impression of higher capacities. It all works because all who believe, are invested with the qualities they believe in, and in the belief that these capacities are not only sufficient, but comprehensive.


This line of thought is similar to the one behind my criticism of the Peter Principle.

To put it simply: We tend to flatten qualitative difference into quantitative degree.

This tendency reduces greatness into double-plus goodness, genius into double-plus smartness, leadership into double-plus administrative competence, etc.

Real difference means we actually need each other’s strengths in order to develop our own and to apply them to greatest effect.

Influence over reverence

Quantity of reverence matters less than quality of influence.

To revere someone excessively — to make a person an object of worship instead of a teacher with a relevant, practical and surprising lesson — can even be a defense against influence.


It is easy to revere something of one’s own invention, but the kinds of disruptive revelations a teacher can impart to a willing student cannot be invented by any individual.


Idolatry displaces involved relationship with an infinite subject with a relationship to a finite object. An object relationship is distanced, defined and possessable.

(In Buberian terms, idolatry relates to Thou in I-It terms.)

Constitution of “who”

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

William James translated this maxim into American, asking of propositions: “What’s the ‘cash value’ of this belief?”


If the pragmatic maxim is applicable to human beings, the meaning of “who” is determined by all the practical consequences a person can have. Not all people have related to other people in all possible ways, so “who” has a profoundly different meaning, depending on who says the word.

For me, the decisive question is this: How many ways has one been taught?

To be informed of a fact us one kind of learning.

To be trained in a skill is another kind of learning.

But to experience a change in your worldview under the influence of another mind — to experience a deep transfiguration of reality itself — is a kind of learning which invests the word “who” with meaning, mystery and infinite potential.


A face is a gate.


It might be productive to re-ask these questions from a pragmatic angle:

  • What kind of being is specifically human being?
  • What is the basis of ethics? What is ‘ought’?
  • How ought a person relate to other people?
  • How ought a person being relate to things in the world, and how should it differ from relationships with people?
  • How ought a human being relate to realities which stand beyond the limits of his understanding?

Business philosophy

Philosophy asks: What purely intellectual factors constricting our options?

What assumptions possess our minds and make matters that could be otherwise and better seem absolute and eternal?

Where is our customary perspective hiding relevant clues from us that would be revealed as relevant if we looked at our situation from a different vantage point?

Where are we justifying our actions with explanations that do not actually do justice to those forces that really impel us?

How are we imposing habitual modes of thought on problems that call for different modes, which we would use if we “knew the moves”?

Where are our life practices depriving us of the inner resources or outer conditions necessary to concretely experience alternatives to how-things-are?

Where are our hasty answers concealing questions that need asking?

Where are our hasty formulations of questions concealing more fruitful question to ask?


At this point in history it is embarrassing (quaint, pompous, ludicrous, and many other unpleasant things) to call yourself a philosopher in a business setting. Nonetheless, I still aspire one day to have a business card with the title “philosopher” printed on it. I don’t think it’s unreasonable. Think about it: If philosophy helps ask and answer the questions I listed above, wouldn’t a business with at least one philosopher on staff have a pretty serious competitive advantage? The answer I’d anticipate is: “by having philosophical people on staff.” But what about that popular management principle that “if you don’t assign it to a person it doesn’t get done”? In my experience, that is exactly the case. Businesses tend to run around like chickens in chalk-line circles, for no reason other than failure to ask if the lines can be redrawn… or erased.. or even just stepped over. Why? They take the chalk-lines as the moral or practical limits of valid activity, and see the problem in terms of how the business is running.

To be seen and not heard

“You are to be seen and not heard.” This means: you are to be an object, not a subject.

Whatever needs knowing about an object can be known through observation. An object belongs to a world, but a world does not belong to it.

A subject, however, while belonging to the world also has a world that belongs to him. A subject looks back.

Consider the etymology of the word “respect”.


There is no way to understand a particular subjectivity as such objectively.

One only understands subjectivity by engaging subjectively. One attempts to share the other’s world as the other views it, which means one involves oneself. One learns from the other. In the process, one’s own view of the world changes, and that means one’s own subjectivity changes. The other’s view of the world changes, too.

In an interview two separated views converge and merge into an inter-view.


Behavior is an objective consequence of subjectivity. The odd thing about behavior: in the end it is phenomenal, and it can be taken as a mode of speech and heard along with the other’s voice, or it can be stripped away from the other and subsumed entirely by one’s own world and simply observed. Even speech can be viewed as behavior, or as mere sound. One can explain an other away or one can illuminate an other’s own self-explanation and understand.

Hermeneutics is hearing. The-hermeneutic-of-such-and-such is resistance to hearing: aggressive mishearing.


The most immediate and convincing evidence of otherness is dialectic.

Sanity and vision

The world is overrun with visionaries and sane people.

What is lacking is:

  1. vision which respects sanity, and
  2. sanity which recognizes vision.


Too often, sanity poses as vision, exotically paraphrasing the same old content in the language and gestures of vision. Why? Because the sane know what the truth is, but they find the truth bland and wish to spice it up a little.

Too often, vision is ignorantly parasitic. It lives off the conditions provided by sanity while denouncing the sanity that provides it. Why? Because the visionary knows the truth about truth, and cannot go back to the stunted “truth” of the sane.

But neither the truth nor the truth about truth is true enough to support community.


We need sanity, not because it is more objectively true than vision, but because it is stable, more communicable and therefore more readily sharable.

We need vision, because things are true as far as they go but they are never true enough for long.


Human beings need each other — commonalities and differences, alike.

We hate this. Otherness confronts us with the fact of finitude. Individuals longs to be infinite.


Re-spect: re– ‘back’ + specere ‘look at.’
“How does this world we share look through your eyes?”

Re-cognize: re– ‘again’ + cognoscere ‘learn.’
“Can you show me a new way to see this world we share?”

Re-duce: re– ‘back, again’ + ducere ‘bring, lead.’
“The world exists as I comprehend it.”

Com-prehend: com– ‘together’ + prehendere ‘grasp.’
“I am objective.”

Ob-ject: ob– ‘in the way of’ + jacere ‘to throw.’
“The world is reducible to material, to the being of the object.”

“Do you understand that under every object stands an experience, and upon this does an object exists as an object?”

Is experience essentially individual?


Synesis means we stand together and see the world as together.
The subject who sees — we — is active. We see together.
The object of sight — the world — is passive.  The world is seen as together.

Synesis recognizes that the solid togetherness of the world is only apparent.
We can see this solid togetherness differently if are open to being shown.

Synesis respects the truth that we human beings need solidity.
The solidity of the world is scaffolding for the solidarity of people.

Synesis is solidity through solidarity and solidarity through solidity.

Both the solidity and the solidarily of synesis long for infinity and pursue it.
This means sometimes solidarity and solidity must be renounced, for the sake of  synesis.
Synesis is essentially self-sacrificing and self-affirming.


On this liquid ground of experience we stand together in understanding or we sink under the surface as dissolving individuals.


Vision opens sanity. Sanity stabilizes vision.


Empathy and sympathy

A friend of mine confessed that while he has sympathy for others he lacks empathy.

What does this mean? Here is how I took it: He is able to sympathize with isolated and momentary feelings that another person has. Something in him resonates and participates in the experience of feeling with the other. But empathy involves constellations of feeling that endure over time. To empathize would be to really get that other person’s persistent experience of the world as a whole.

When we sympathize we feelingly relate spirit-to-spirit, part-to-part, atomistically.

When we empathize we feelingly relate soul-to-soul, whole-to-whole, holistically.

Admittedly, I might have him wrong, so I won’t assume yet that I have understood what he meant. This is only my first understanding, and while this understanding seems to me to be true and plausible and coherent, that only distinguishes it from confusion. Misunderstanding is tricky because it is nearly  indistinguishable from understanding. The most reliable indication of whether you understand or misunderstand the other is whether the other agrees with your understanding. The question is not whether your understanding of what was said was true, it is whether it is true as the other meant it. (The author is far from dead — but he is in no position to dictate to you what is or is not true. He is, however, qualified to tell you if you understood what we was trying to say as he meant it.)

It is too easy to superimpose one’s own way of seeing on the experience of the other. It is too easy to grasp isolated facts from a person’s world-view and mistake that for understanding the person’s philosophy or literary world. Understanding is not grasped. Understanding grasps.

(Hermeneutics is the discipline of recognizing and avoiding the deep habit of misunderstanding.)

The understanding of a person is a non-objective co-participation, which encompasses feeling (empathy), perception, thinking and modes of action. It manifests as a never-perfect but ever-perfecting sharing this mysterious world we share and don’t share.

Incidentally, this understanding is what I refer to as synesis, and it is the most important thing in the whole world.

Understanding and selling

If you buy what you are selling from yourself, thinking “If I won’t buy it from myself, how can I expect someone else to buy it from me?” — at best you are deluding yourself. You aren’t motivated to buy from yourself by any motive your customer will ever share. And at worse you are deceiving them. You are pretending that you are buying your own product because you believe in it, when in fact you are buying it solely to help you sell it.

A better approach is to ask yourself honestly: “If I haven’t sold myself on my own offering, how can I expect anyone else to be sold on it?” Then realize: “I haven’t figured out what is compellingly awesome about my offering.”


There’s many ways to understand any one thing. Some ways of understanding are more compelling than others.

The best practice for finding new ways to understand, and to assess the persuasive force of an understanding is dialogue.

Self interviews

Last night I woke with a sudden surprising insight, “Of course self-dialogue is as concealed and revealing as dialogue with others. How else could we be surprised by sudden insight?”

A sudden insight about sudden insight spoke to me out of myself. It could have been said to me by a friend in dialogue, with the same result. It spoke to a part of me who was primed by trouble, and ready to hear what it had to say.

It did not need electrical charges or chemical reactions, nor electromagnetic waves or psychic aether, nor ghosts or presences.

One ready to say, one ready to hear, two married in common understanding: words were sufficient.

Language is a miracle.