Suddenly and miraculously, three people find themselves sitting together in a room, conversing. Moments before, nine people sat alone in three rooms, talking.
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.
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.)
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.
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?
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.
By coming to ever-deepening, ever-expanding agreement with others about the world we share, we come to know one another, the world and ourselves. The self, the other and the world deepens and expands with the sharing.
I saw my profession in a clearer light this morning.
My trajectory has been toward anthropology and organizational behavior from philosophy, without leaving philosophy; toward the concrete from abstraction, without leaving abstraction.
“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.
Pure objectivity culminates in the mastery of a subject.
Subjectivity seems arbitrary to objective knowledge; two thousand years ago so did nature.
Objective knowledge is a product of subjectivity.
Objectivity is not the opposite of subjectivity, nor is it the ground of subjectivity. Objectivity is a disciplined subset of subjectivity, and that subset is deceptively, shockingly variable.
If we all agreed on everything, we would have no concept of subjectivity, nor its antithesis, objectivity. The concept of objectivity was born of disagreement.
We do not pursue mutual understanding when we believe we can evade or overpower the other.
We’ve spent the last 300 years learning to reach agreement on matters of fact and forgetting how to reach agreement on matters of value.
We’ve built up a great body of knowledge from the phenomenal ground of earth, but at the height of objective consensus, when it seems our objective knowledge might finally explain us to ourselves, we find we speak different moral languages and cannot understand one another because we do not want to understand one another. The differences are so violent that the methodological substructure of science is swaying and buckling, facts are being shaken loose and crashing back to the earth. The whole edifice of agreement threatens to collapse all the way to the liquid ground.
Maybe the sky would have been a more solid foundation?
Just because the physical ground is a stable foundation for our physical feet, does it follow that physical reality is also the most stable ground for our knowledge?
We humans are so literal about everything.
If everyone had refused to hear Galileo out, had not tried to see for themselves what he’d observed and how he interpreted his observations they’d never have seen the truth of his theories.
Galileo was believed, not because of the self-evident truth of his assertions, but because people cooperated with him, tried to see from his perspective and willingly reached synesis with him.
Without agreement on method, agreement on fact would have been impossible.
Why did some agree to participate in his method, where others did not?
Why do some people agree to participate in certain religious lines of thought or practice to see what kind of truth they offer, where others do not?
Why do some people prefer dialogue, where others prefer debate?
It seems that what we see as valuable and relevant has a lot to do with what we choose to do. And what we do has a lot to do with what we learn to regard as true. And what we regard as true can change what we see as valuable and relevant, and subsequently what we choose to do…
Why -> How -> What -> Why…
Objective knowledge is unjust to subjects.
“Love as artifice. — Whoever wants really to get to know something new (be it a person, an event, or a book) does well to take up this new thing with all possible love, to avert his eye quickly from, even to forget, everything about it that he finds inimical, objectionable, or false. So, for example, we give the author of a book the greatest possible head start, and, as if at a race, virtually yearn with a pounding heart for him to reach his goal. By doing this, we penetrate into the heart of the new thing, into its motive center: and this is what it means to get to know it. Once we have got that far, reason then sets its limits; that overestimation, that occasional unhinging of the critical pendulum, was just a device to entice the soul of a matter out into the open.” – Nietzsche
Subjectivity nests inside objectivity as poorly as a garden nests inside a piece of fruit.
It is easier to think objectively, but who said truth is convenient?
The world is overrun with visionaries and sane people.
What is lacking is:
- vision which respects sanity, and
- 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.
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.
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.
Synesis is twofold: 1) seeing something coherently as together, and 2) seeing together with others in shared vison.
Collectivists neglect the former, and individualists neglect the later.
(Bill) Clinton Democrats and Rockwell Libertarians tend toward individualism.
Rove Republicans and Objectivist Libertarians tend toward collectivism.
Obama Democrats appear to be transcending individualism and collectivism and are moving toward an ideal of community that overcomes the apparent opposition between individual and collective. It is not clear if Obama’s methods will successfully actualize the ideal, but the establishment of the vision is itself a significant accomplishment.
Business also seems to want to approach genuine community. The slowly dawning recognition that brand does not have to be a deception or manipulation but at its best is a true self-presentation of a company community to the larger commercial community is a major step forward.
It is true that business has been inhumanly coercive to employees, manipulative to customers, and predominantly greedy in its dealings.
That does not mean business cannot be humanized and redeemed. Through brand, business is learning to take a constructive place in culture.
Imagine a world where all businesses are as genuine as Apple.
American socialism opposed business and lost. Where did all the would-be socialists go? Many are business leaders.
“They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son.” – 1 Samuel 1
Synesis is the Greek word for understanding. It means, literally, “together”.
The together is twofold. It has an individual and social dimension:
- Each individual sees what is understood coherently – as together – within his own experience. He understands for himself.
- The individual understands together with others. His vision – that is, his way of seeing – can be shown to others and shared.
Sometimes a friend will come to a another in a state of distress. She talks and talks and doesn’t seem interested in solutions. She doesn’t want to solve the problem. She wants to find a way to see what happened and she wants her friend to be with her in her turmoil and in its resolution. The best thing the friend can do is to be fully there, to try to catch glimpses of clarity and to offer them again and again.
When a whole culture falls into turmoil it behaves exactly the same way. Its whole sense of truth falls apart. It cannot come to inner agreement, it cannot see coherently. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed on the world. Some thinkers will want to impose a dogma or an ideology as a solution to the problem, but this sort of inexpert response will not win the culture’s heart for long. The answer is not action. It is vision. Action follows synesis, naturally, easily. Synesis is the hard part.
Immature synesis is excessively individualistic or collectivistic. The former seeks a unique individual vision to hoard as a private possession or as a trophy commemorating his accomplishment. The latter wants the agreement but neglects what is agreed upon. The shared “truth” is perfectly insubstantial: all that exists is an empty solidarity.
Decaying synesis is also excessively individualistic or collectivistic.
Synesis is not constructed. It is grasped as a whole. It is having the sense of a truth.
Synesis can be pursued systematically, but it will not be gained as a system. Through grappling with the system, through combining, breaking, trying again synesis might occur. It is important to remember that the ability to give an account of something is not evidence of synesis. An inability to account is not evidence of the absence of synesis.
Accounts, explanations, systems are ordered aggregates of particulars.
Synesis is the whole within which particulars take their ordered place. (A concept is a synetic blueprint, the dna of a self-ordering system.)
Synesis is generative. The pleasure of philosophy is that sudden irruption of synesis which makes dozens of insoluble problems suddenly soluble. Fully-formed, living ideas spontaneously explode out of the mind. This happens only with the hermeneutically receptive mind:
Love as artifice. — Whoever wants really to get to know something new (be it a person, an event, or a book) does well to take up this new thing with all possible love, to avert his eye quickly from, even to forget, everything about it that he finds inimical, objectionable, or false. So, for example, we give the author of a book the greatest possible head start, and, as if at a race, virtually yearn with a pounding heart for him to reach his goal. By doing this, we penetrate into the heart of the new thing, into its motive center: and this is what it means to get to know it. Once we have got that far, reason then sets its limits; that overestimation, that occasional unhinging of the critical pendulum, was just a device to entice the soul of a matter out into the open. – Nietzsche, Human All Too Human 621
What is evidence of synesis? Sharing it.
How does one come to share synesis? Dialogue: mutually receptive conversation.
(Dialogue and synesis refute and destroy solipsism. It is no longer possible to see solipsism as true. For the sake of otherness one is ready to suffer whatever the other inflicts.)
Synesis can explain, but synesis is not the explanation. The explanation can help bring about synesis, by the explanation is not synesis.
Synesis is an expectation of understanding, a faith.
Ideally, an individual’s experience is coherent.
The coherence experienced in synesis occurs within an overarching cohesion. Acquiring this individual coherence – or mere sense of coherence, which can be illusory – is the practice of philosophizing, in its good and bad forms.
Philosophy is solitary at the beginning, but it is the seed of community.
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.
Have you ever been in a deep, inspired conversion with a friend and noticed that you were waiting with your friend to hear what you would say next? Did the world change for you? Did it wear off?
Have you ever been absorbed in a book and had difficulty adjusting back to the normal world?
Have you ever remembered a happy time and found it impossible to believe you were happy?
Have you ever spoken to a friend and realized they were no longer your friend? By this I do not mean that the person no longer considers you a friend – I mean the one who was your friend no longer exists behind this familiar face speaking in this unfamiliar voice.
We have ways of accounting for these experiences. We account for them to one another, and we accept these accounts.
These ways of accounting for experience are not the only ways, however. In past centuries things were understood differently and consequently experienced differently. Even at this moment, experience may be understood and experienced radically differently by the people around you. They share your environment. When they speak they use the same words. They work with you, maybe collaborate closely with you. Nonetheless, they may dwell in a very different world than the one you know.
Perhaps our way of accounting for experience conceals and protects us from the depth of the difference.
OPTIONAL ETYMOLOGICAL PLAY
(Feel free to skip this part.)
Subject – ORIGIN Latin subjectus ‘brought under,’ past participle of subicere, from sub– ‘under’ + jacere ‘throw.’ Senses relating to philosophy, logic, and grammar are derived ultimately from Aristotle’s use of to hupokeimenon meaning material from which things are made and subject of attributes and predicates. Hupokeimenon means ‘that which lies underneath’.
Object – ORIGIN medieval Latin objectum ‘thing presented to the mind,’ neuter past participle (used as a noun) of Latin obicere, from ob– ‘toward, against, in the way of’ + jacere ‘to throw’.
An interesting fact: In most traditions Heaven is considered masculine, and Earth is considered feminine.
Matter – ORIGIN Middle English : via Old French from Latin materia ‘timber, substance,’ also ‘subject of discourse,’ from mater ‘mother.’
Substance – ORIGIN Latin substantia ‘being, essence,’ from substant– ‘standing firm,’ from the verb substare, sub– ‘under’ + stare ‘to stand.’
Check this out:
Contrast – ORIGIN Late 17th cent. as a term in fine art, in the sense of juxtapose so as to bring out differences in form and color): from French contraste (noun), contraster (verb), via Italian from medieval Latin contrastare, from Latin contra– ‘against’ + stare ‘stand.’)
Try this on:
Subject (throw under) : Object (throw against)
Substance (stand under) : Contrast (stand against) ?
Creepy, related words:
Succubus – A female demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping men. ORIGIN late Middle English : from medieval Latin succubus ‘prostitute,’ from succubare, from sub– ‘under’ + cubare ‘to lie.’
Incubus – A male demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women. ORIGIN Middle English : late Latin form of Latin incubo ‘nightmare,’ from incubare ‘lie on’ (see incubate).
End of ETYMOLOGICAL PLAY
A person would be blind to his own subjectivity if it weren’t for contrasting subjectivities.
There are two sources of contrasting subjectivity which when taken together, one reveal what subjectivity essentially is: 1) other people; 2) changes to one’s own subjectivity.
What constitutes contrasting subjectivity?
1) With other people, subjective contrast manifests when I and another subjectivity, share an experience and respond differently to it. In response, I act and speak in one way, the other acts and speaks another way. It is clear that we are encountering something analogous, but also different in important ways. What is comparable we take for objective, what contrasts we take for subjective.
2) Something similar goes on in how we account for changes to our own subjectivity. We encounter some object or situation that we have identified as identical, but at different times, and we have a different response. We act differently and we find ourselves saying different things about it. Again, what is comparable we take for objective, what contrasts we take for subjective.
My question is whether these two experiences don’t inter-illuminate. Would the subjective experience of others mean something different if we had no experience of individual subjective change, for instance if we had no mood shifts or we somehow failed to notice them? And if we were unaware of other subjective responses (for reasons of psychological impairment, or lack of interest or mistrust) would our own subjective changes have the same meaning? As I ask this, I find myself answering affirmatively: the inter-illumination, the parallax, the dialogue between intersubjectivity and change in subjectivity point to the essence of subjectivity.
But now look what we are doing here, right now. I am talking to you about my own experiences of comparing and contrasting my subjectivity intersubjectively and temporally – you who have had similar experiences, or maybe your experiences have differed in some way. Look at us comparing and contrasting our experiences of comparing and contrasting comparisons and contrasts…
The form is self-similar: dialogue within dialogue within dialogue. Dialogue, “with-logos”.
We know other subjectivities through dialogue, because dialogue directly changes one’s own subjectivity, and that change is manifested by the 10,000 things of the world. Dialogue is direct intersubjective encounter, mediated by the world. Synesis – the Greek word for understanding (literally “togetherness”) – is seeing the togetherness of the world together. Synesis is in the parallax between your eyes, the sterophonicity between your ears, in the objectifying that arises in the between-ness of your senses, between the voices conversing in your head about objects and experiences, spoken in your native language and in images and raw analogies. This complex, changing dynamically stable togetherness, which each of us abbreviates as self, and calls “I” or “me”, speaks to other selves and interacts with them as if they were simple, and often as if they were objects. Sometimes the self mistakes itself for an object, something that is primarily a thing or an image. It is hard to know one’s self.
According to the book of Genesis, on the sixth day, after creating our world, speaking it into existence:
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The book of John describes it differently, but compatibly:
In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Many people think of the universe as physical. A person is a physical being somehow invested with subjectivity. Subjectivity is inexplicable, and explained through our most mysterious physical forces.
Many others think of the universe as spiritual. A person is a spiritual being somehow in the midst of a world we take for physical. Of these, some think of the individual as the ultimate subjective unit. Others think of their nation or religion or church or race or party as the ultimate subjective unit. These perspectives are solipsistic, the former is a solipsistic individual, the latter is a solipsistic collective.
Others think of the universe as spiritual, but that subjective being is elastic and variable and conducted by communication.
Synetic branding (ORIGIN Greek synesis, understanding, literally “togetherness”) – The art of persuasive alignment of perspective, intended to reveal the unique superiority of an organization’s offerings.
Synetic branding brings an organization’s internal and external stakeholders to a common understanding – a way of seeing and feeling – which binds employees and customers at a level far deeper than the concrete qualities or features of an offering. This does not mean the concrete qualities or features of an offering are irrelevant, however. It means the qualities and features of the product, chosen in light of the synetic brand, manifest the synetic brand’s ideals and simultaneously 1) affirms the bond of agreement between stakeholders* and 2) creates offerings that seem deeply, exactly right. (* Now what is at stake runs deeper than simply a thing, but rather, one’s worldview: what makes the world feel like something stable, coherent and intelligible. A synetic brand contributes to reconsituting the coherence of our badly fractured postmodern world, where even the hope for cohesion – a “Grand Narrative” or a “neutral standard”, or anything at all that could serve as common ground – is scorned, made taboo, laughed at or treated with a deep cynicism that borders on peremptory dismissal. The reason for this is a long history of manipulation, using the need for this coherence as bait. In regard to subjective sincerity, every organization is guilty until proven innocent. Human beings have very sensitive bullshit-detection apparatus. Genuine sincerity is a competitive advantage. Learning how to find the authentic goodness inherent in the culture of an organization, cultivating it, and making it active and visible and communicable is the soul of synetic branding. )
Synetic branding, done well, makes competing offerings seem muddled, imitative or beside the point. (It is like framing, but it is free of manipulation. It is an open, shared framing – the framing one cannot imagine being bettered.)
A synetically-branded organization is animated by the vision of the synetic brand. The organization’s culture is both an expression and a reinforcement of the synesis.
A synetic brand is an outgrowth of a company’s culture, and has its origins there. A synetic brand is not a constructed. It is not built like a machine. It is grown from existing life. It is the cultivation of the collective personality of an organization.
The questions are: Who can this organization be? How does it see what it does and makes. How does it see differently from its competitors? How does its difference in vision affect what it does and make? Where does it lack confidence in its vision and why? How can it gain the confidence to differentiate?
syn– or sym– (prefix) – united; acting or considered together. ORIGIN from Greek sun “with, together.”
The ambiguity of the “with” of syn-/sym- is interesting. In some cases “with” is actively social, for instance in symposium, sympathy and synagogue. It involves people together with other people. Other times a passive, constructive “with” applies. Some examples are synthesis, symmetry and synapse.
My current favorite word, synesis has the most interestingly ambiguous use of syn-. Synesis is the Greek word for understanding. It means essentially with-ness, or togetherness. I like thinking that synesis means simultaneously that 1) the parts are grasped together as a synthesis, 2) in such a way that this togetherness can be shown to others and seen with them.
(I also enjoy thinking about the synoptic (“together-seen”) gospels the same way. On one hand, each gospel tells the whole story as a single summary picture, but on the other hand, the three synoptic gospels viewed together tell a much richer story than any one of them could alone.)
Hubris is what I’ve called solipsism or “artificial autism” – the shutting out of other all other subjectivity except one’s own. It is possible, and in fact is even radically compatible with hubris to psychologize about other subjects, (even with the subjects, themselves in pseudo-intimate conversation) but the psychological practice insulates the hubristic soul from subjective involvement. Empathic objective modeling of motivational systems passes for sympathy (feeling-with); objective theorizing genuine synesis (sunesis, subjective co-understanding).
The hubristic eye is the gaze beneath which every entity is an object, and all knowledge is by definition objective.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
Akrasia is what I’ve called inconstancy or “failure to hold a shape”, and it is commonly translated as moral incontinence. A vivid example of akrasia is the portrait of Adolf Eichmann in Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Many other examples are illuminated in the documentary The Sorrow and the Pity.
Some earmarks of akrasia: 1) A sense of corelessness that wishes to fill itself through surrender to another individual or to some collectivity; 2) an unnerving habit of serial conflicting narratives which carry (or are the manifestation of) equally conflicting value systems (today’s villain is tomorrow’s hero, and vice versa); 3) a deep dependence on other people to believe, reflect and reinforce the narrative of the moment, and in particular the self-characterization of the narrator, and this acceptance and reinforcement of the narrative is the ground of friendship; 4) a strong attraction to certainty, simplicity, non-ambiguity and concreteness; 5) a deep fear of responsibility, which it cannot distinguish from blame.
The akrasic being is a tangled mass of spirits that cannot unify itself as a soul, and feels this disunity as a missing core, which he seeks in a quest for his true self. He seeks himself and he finds himself as a reflected image in the gaze of the hubristic eye. Like the hubristic eye, he knows only objects; he can only conceive himself as an image, a persona. What he wants to find and be is the best object.
Where the hubristic soul knows only himself as the sole subject, the akrasic being (a soul is precisely what he is not – he is protosoul) lacks all essential knowledge of being a subject. He blindly gropes for subjectivity in his world and feels it in the hypertrophied subjectivity of hubristic other. Now he feels himself to have a soul, but he is only had by a soul, and that soul is not his own.
The redhead dressed in red and green
Sees herself by being seen
What the hubristic personality loves most is the passivity of akrasia. What akrasia loves most is the simplified strength of hubris. Hubris and akrasia seek one another and combine to create what we recognize as evil.
Hubris unifies the world within its self, which appears to it as Principle (or as Atman/Center/Union/Enlightenment/Nirvana/Born-Againness/Authenticity, etc., etc., etc.,); but hubris cannot bear to participate in unification beyond self. It might acknowledge a “beyond”, or even claim to be oriented by it, but nothing above the self is permitted to impinge on its prideful autonomy. Hubris might change, but it will never be changed, nor will its world be changed. Hubris will not participate, because participation means being part within a surpassing, containing whole. Hubris is the totality. Hubris is the surpassing, containing whole.
Akrasia lives in an arbitrary flux of instincts, which appears to it as Freedom. It submits to dominance as long as the dominance can assert itself, but the minute the dominance lets up akrasia tells a new liberation story and finds a new dominating power to liberate it from its former tyranny. Each story is the true one. Each tyrant is the saviour.
A friend of mine wrote to me to protest some provocative points from yesterday’s post. The email arrived just as I finished removing precisely those sentences he found objectionable. This is a slightly edited version of my reply:
What’s funny is that I’d just pulled down those parts of my post just as your email arrived because I didn’t want you to read them and to construe them as disrespectful.
What I did here is an unfortunate tendency of mine (which I need to do a better job of tempering if I want to be taken seriously) is to overstate my positions to (over)compensate against unexamined cultural prejudices.
I do believe there is a deep prejudice in our culture to prize whatever originates out of individual genius, and to denigrate what is acquired through conscious learning or unconscious absorption. People are proud of being born with a particular vision of life that has remained with them continuously over the course of their life. More significantly they seem to know that if they voice their pride the culture will affirm it.
Conversely, if a person speaks of constant, deep change, of being influenced again and again, of attempting to reconcile himself with traditions that he admits had a lot to do with his intellectual character (what Gadamer called the appropriation of one’s tradition), that’s not admired. Further, if someone is able to show that an idea you’ve presented is derivative or identical to the thought of another that is not viewed as support for the truth of your insight, but rather almost as a rebuke. At the very least originality points are docked and no other kind of point is awarded.
This kind of value criteria makes listening and learning from those we regard our equals a threat to our individuality, or the purity of our own philosophical accomplishment, or a humiliation. The humiliation of learning deeply from someone with a transcendent view (as opposed to being outfitted with new facts that fit squarely in our existing view) is what is being referred to in the colloquial saying “getting schooled.”
What is shitty about this view and why I am constantly attacking it is that this attitude precludes friendship as I know it and desire it. Dialogue is conversation between friends that leads to common understanding – Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons”, Aristotle’s synesis – and if that common understanding is a philosophical one that common understanding will transcend the earlier vision, and change the participants in the dialogue so deeply that the world itself is transfigured.
My personal pain in a nutshell: Most of the self-consciously spiritual or philosophical people I’ve known appear to me to be too proud to be deeply transformed by a friend, which means they are too proud to be friends at all.
I’ve taken the opposite view and demonstrate and articulate my ideal of non-originality at every opportunity. I am proud to allow an Other to change me and my world. In fact, I rank friendships by how different my world has become as a consequence of the relationship. I am proud of my ability to incorporate other people’s insights, both in my own philosophy but also in my work, to involve and include them. I want all people I love to see themselves in who I’ve become, the thoughts I think, the things I make. I am covered in signature’s signatures. I want to be derivative, unoriginal, common property. I’ve told people at work that I and all my thoughts are public domain: to take whatever they want from me and to not feel obligated to credit me, because anything I have has been stolen.
I have it in for individual originality, individual genius, all that. It is destructive. It has had inflicted real damage to my life. It is what I hate.
Here’s a crucial point: I have yet to see a single soul who subscribes to this common view of things demonstrate the slightest awareness that their whole ideal of individual genius is open to question. They’ve apparently never considered an alternative to it. They seem to be thoroughly blind to any alternative. Or they’ll do that old trick of acknowledging it, in order to keep the concept away from them. It might be real, but it is not involvingly real – not existentially real – and for something whose reality is intrinsically one of involvement mere acknowledgment is tantamount to nullification.
And I hope you also understand that I used to buy into that ideal of individual originality. I don’t do badly under it at all. I generate a lot of what appears to be original concepts. However, the less I buy into the ideal and allow myself to be influenced the more original I appear. I’ve also seen friends grow sterile out of fear of sharing parentage of an insight. (“It has to be ‘mine’ or I don’t want it.” at least in regard to their peers.) They end up just flitting about ostentatiously, trying to appear original while producing nothing original, doing whatever it takes to convince those around them to affirm their autonomy and independence, never noticing that their practice belies their ideal.
I am completely open to the possibility that I am wrong about these matters of philosophical progress (toward the social). If I am wrong, it follows from my own view on these matters that I have to consider – actually more than consider – I have to expect that it’s a wrongness coming from an angle I can’t even anticipate, and would be incredibly unlikely to pursue without some kind of circumstantial pressure. In other words if I am wrong about you it is because I will have to practically transcend my current vision to even see the inadequacy of my vision and know how your vision resolves that inadequacy.
Of course, my kind of pressure does tend to be intersubjective. Intersubjective pain tends to be what turns my attention to questions I once preferred to set aside as “not clean” and to exclude from concern as self-evidently separate and irrelevant. However, if you are sensitive to other kinds of being/realities that go deeper than the intersubjective ones I have been pursuing, that makes them intersubjectively relevant to me anyway since you are my friend.
What we need to do next is discuss how we can discuss this. I am not open to starting with any theory of temperament that encourages “myth of the framework” thinking. If we try to base the discussion on personal inward experiences without any external reference we won’t get anywhere. I’m not denying the reality of temperament or deeply personal experience – only their usefulness in resolving our differences in a synthesis that does justice to both our views but transcends them. (This is very similar to the better objections to creationism. The point is not that creationism is false, it is simply that creationism is not scientifically discussable.)
Think about these statements:
“Bear with me.”
“Please hear me out.”
“It will all make sense in the end.”
Why are these requests necessary? When are they made?
To what feeling in the listener is the speaker responding?
What kind of appeal is being made? Do we owe it to another to give him a full hearing?
When is the appeal denied? Is it a matter of credibility?
What is the experience of denial?
To read the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament is to experience the most pluralistic religious vision ever recorded, from the most accutely and radically pluralistic people who ever lived. In what other scripture is the same story is recounted three different times from the point of view of three different people? It would have been easier and more obvious to collapse them into one univocal account, but instead the three experiences, three meaningful visions were presented together in a three-in-one synopsis – syn– (together) –opsis (seeing). [* See note 1 below]
I like to think of pluralism as a kind of parallax vision, that allows us to see hyper-dimensionally. With one eye you see a flat picture. With two eyes working in concert we see depth. Our so-called “inner eye” draws out the dimension of meaning. With a pluralistic synopsis we see meaning together – we share meaning and have community. We gain understanding, which the Greeks called synesis.
By the time Jesus began teaching his distinctively Jewish universal vision of life, the Jewish tradition had survived and overcome numerous cultural crises. They had dominated and been subjugated, had won their home and lost it. They knew belonging and alienation, and they knew both sides of power.
Most importantly they knew that knowledge of experience means to know an experience from the inside. Experiencing is inseparable from that which is experienced, and this means, to use a common visual analogy, that experience is inseparable from its vision, as how the world looks from that experience. (One of my favorite Jewish thinkers, Edmund Husserl called this “intentionality”: seeing and seen are inseparable, as are hearing and sound, feeling and sensation, etc. [* See note 2 below].)
The Jews knew better than anyone that power is something that can be seen, but even more, it is a way of seeing – of life and the world as a whole. Power has its own kind of vision. When an emperor sees himself, or his court, or a rival power, or he looks upon a conquered enemy or slave, that emperor sees something radically different than the slave regarding the same situation. Power is something different, powerlessness is different. A palace, a body, a tree, a poem… everything is the same in a sense, but things are deeply different. The same goes for a stranger, expat, wanderer, outcast or outcaste.
Out of necessity, the Jews had to develop a way of preserving themselves as a tradition within these conditions. That meant living on a line between provoking attacks from the outside and simply dissolving from cultural self-indifference or self-disgust. They had to internalize their strength. They had to find dignity in their vulnerability to escape the indignity of weakness.
There was no way such a response to such a universal problem was going to stay contained within a small ethnic tradition forever. Whether it was Jesus or Paul, somehow the radical insights of Judaism went universal.
A series of words derived from the Latin word credere, “believe, trust”:
A series of words derived from the Old English word agan, “believe, trust.” :
- Ought (originally past tense of “owe”)
A series of words derived from Latin auditor, from audire, “to hear”:
An example of divergent accounts from two of the Synoptic Gospels (which some scholars believe were adapted from yet another lost Gospel, “Q”, possibly a compendium of sayings similar to the (in)famous Gospel of Thomas).
These two passages are taken from Jesus’s famous Lord’s Prayer, his instructions on how to pray.
Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Luke 11:4: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”
In Matthew 6:12, the Greek word used was opheilema. [* See note 3 below.]
In Luke 11:4, the Greek word was hamartia, which means literally “missing the mark”.
Out of time. Darn. I’ll finish this post if there’s any interest. [* See note 4 below.]
* NOTE 1: To call the New Testament inconsistent as some atheists do is to miss the point. To argue over which meaning is the right meaning as the fundamentalists do is to betray the point. To behave as though a plurality of possible meaning implies that all meanings are equivalent and that it is meaningless to discuss them… to go skeptical on that basis, and to ask cynically, rhetorically “what is truth?”… to wash one’s hands of the responsibility to engage dialogically in pursuit of understanding… that’s complicity in the conflict.
* NOTE 2: Intentionality in Husserl’s sense is a core religious insight, expressed in a variety of forms, from the Jewish Star of David, to the Chinese yin-within-yang and yang-within-yin, to the Greek Janusian herms (with Hermes’s head fused to the head of a goddess, often Aphrodite), to the Hermetic hermaphroditic Androgyne, male on the right, female on the left, sun on the right, moon on the left. Listen for the inside-outside symbolic structure and you’ll find it everywhere. This capacity to hear and understand the form-language of symbol is what I believe is meant by “having ears that hear.”
* NOTE 3: Opheilema seemed like it might have a connection with the name “Ophelia” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if there was an etymological connection. According to Wikipedia, “the name ‘Ophelia’ itself was either uncommon or nonexistent; the only known prior text to use the name (as “Ofalia”) is Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia.” It seems fairly obvious the name is a combination of opheilema and philia, love – “love debt” – love unrequited.)
* NOTE 4: Etymology of “interest”: ORIGIN late Middle English (originally as interess): from Anglo-Norman French interesse, from Latin interesse ‘differ, be important,’ from inter– ‘between’ + esse ‘be.’ The -t was added partly by association with Old French interest ‘damage, loss,’ apparently from Latin interest ‘it is important.’ Also influenced by medieval Latin interesse ‘compensation for a debtor’s defaulting.’