Willingness to debate and submit one’s own beliefs to empirical and logical challenge is certainly admirable. But it is much more admirable when one recognizes that such debates occur within some particular way of understanding the world, and that other ways of making sense of the world may very well have advantages over one’s own. When this awareness is lacking, it produces a particular variety of rationality that is open-minded within closed limits.It is beyond these rationalist limits where dialogue becomes creative.
A ludicrous fable
Two people sat down in front of a Monopoly board and had an argument.
Person A wanted to play Monopoly by the standard rules in the rulebook.
Person B argued that the rules made the game boring and that the best players were often unable to win the game — because victory was too much a matter of luck. Person B wanted to take a less rule-bound, more commonsense approach to making the game fairer and more enjoyable. Instead of leaving outcomes to chance rolls of the dice and random card selections, the players themselves would determine what should happen each round, according to what seemed best to the players.
Person A argued that tossing out the rules would cause the game to devolve into an endless, fruitless debate about fairness and fun, and that this would not be fun at all.
Person B asked: “In what way does this argument follow the rules of Monopoly?”
Person A was flummoxed, and unable to respond.
Person B continued: “If you are so committed to the rules of Monopoly, why aren’t you following those rules right now, you hypocrite? You claim that my way is so bad. But then you go and do exactly the same thing!”
Person A realized that in order to win an honorable victory, he must stick to his principles. He rolled a double-6. But even this powerful roll was insufficient to persuade Person B.
Person A ended up losing both the argument and the game.
This is a fable, and therefore has a moral: Person A would have served his principles more faithfully had he simply refused to play Person B’s game.
(Principles are not rules.)
Protected: Reconceiving service design
Gurus are embarassing
In my ideal future people will be ashamed to be gurus.
Metamyth of Midas
In my metamyth of King Midas, Midas’s touch is only an allegorical metaphor — the power to transmute immersive, involving chaos into exteriorizing, objective truth.
In the metamythical retelling, when Midas touches his daughter’s hand, she dies, as she does in the myth — but here, not because she becomes an inert gold statue, but because her biological being loses all capacity for participation.
Instead each of her organs becomes capable only of objective comprehension.
Her heart is only able to comprehend blood, and ignores everything outside the circular logic of its circulatory system.
The brain becomes obsessed with neural signals and refuses to engage any other topic of thought, or any autonomic duties.
The stomach just dissolves whatever enters it for the sake of dissolution, and becomes preoccupied with generating increasingly powerful acids capable of breaking all matter — including itself — down into the smallest possible units.
No organ feels itself a part of a body. No organ is willing to play a part in anything it cannot first comprehend. Everything becomes mere object and objectivity: lifeless.
The Colonization of Monographs
After I finish Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism, I think I am going to tackle The Colonization of Monographs: Unwieldy Entitlements, Performative Punctuation and Presentation of the Intellectual Self in Scholarly Spaces.
Protected: Radical middle
Reflections on wisdom and participation
Comprehension enables us to wrap our minds around an object exterior to us and apart from us. Wisdom understands when a subject has wrapped itself around us, and responds by participating in that subject from within that subject’s interior. Wisdom knowingly takes part in what envelops, involves but transcends it — and does so without comprehending that in which it participates. Wisdom is responsive participation.
Some people view wisdom as a genre of objective information to comprehend. This is a category mistake. If wisdom speaks, its wisdom not in the wise things it says, but rather, in the wise way it responds within its particular subjective situation.
Wisdom moves a wise speech act; truth plays a supporting role.
Everything is ethnomethod. Not only human behavior, but human-shaped environments. And not only these, but the language we use for discussing the human world. But it extends even further. How we use language in general — this, too, is ethnomethod.
And most people go on applying these ethnomethods in the private spaces within their ethos, where strictly speaking, this is not necessary. We normally think and behave socially even in our homes, among our intimates, and even within the radical privacy of our own minds. We internalize the social.
Some people, however, choose to establish an asocial private realm where they think or behave in ways that are incompatible with public societies. These private thoughts and actions are not ethnomethods, but they are living kernels with the potential to become ethnomethods, were they to be adopted by a group (to make sense to/of each other).
Some people, at their own peril, try to carry these protoethnomethods into the social world, and these incompatible actions clash with the established ethnomethods and are, in effect, breaching experiments.
People can, intentionally or accidentally, transform themselves into continuous breaching experiments.
Philosophies are conceptive ethnomethods or protoethnomethods.
Doing philosophy is performing conceptive breaching experiments upon oneself, and then developing new conceptive protoethnomethods to replace or, better, to subsume one’s existing (proto)ethnomethods.
Of course, ethnomethodology was developed from pragmatism. So why bother reconceiving or redescribing pragmatism in terms of the ethnomethodology derived from it?
Ethnomethodology extended pragmatism beyond the space of explicit reasons into the space of tacit conception and response. This realm of tacit conception and response, it turns out (or at least, so it seems to me) to effect not only life outside of our reasoning but also reasoning itself.
What results from changing the (proto)ethnomethods we use for thinking and speaking in a way that also changes the ethnomethods of making sense of the world and making sense in the world is a change that goes beyond changes in the content of our thoughts but changes how we spontaneously conceive and respond to reality. It changes our very enworldment.
With full awareness that I am breaching our current ethnomethods governing use of religious conceptions and language, I will say that the goal of religion has been is to shift from one enworldment to another enworldment — one that converts find less alienated and alienating, and more fulfilling than the old one.
A convert is likely to speak in terms of truth and falsehood. I believe speaking in terms of more or less fitting and preferable enworldments might help us understand religion more pluralistically. More ambitiously, I hope that enworldment language and conceptions might help secular people see how religion is a respectable option for people who wish to live better lives.
The use of philosophical means to develop better, more preferable enworldments is my core interest. This is where my interest in design, philosophy and religion intersect.
The awareness of the indeterminate substance — Infinite, Keter, Tao — a reality beneath truth that can be partially but never perfectly or finally ordered, an indeterminacy that consents to some attempts at order while defying others — is the divine ground of pluralist religion. What is common and necessary in all these possible orderings? Here transpires the hazardous pursuit of the Absolute by the finite.
The premise of the Aristotelian Mean is that virtue is situated between vices of deficiency and vices of excess:
Deficiency (vice) – Mean (virtue) – Excess (vice)
This is obviously at odds with many of our popular ethical views which see minute traces of some character traits as slippery slopes directly into the most abhorrent vices, and virtues as qualities that grow more valuable as they grow more extreme.
For a long time, I’ve viewed borderline and autism as existing on a continuum. This smuggles some assumptions into the problem that may obstruct some productive possibilities.
I am wondering if there might be something to be gained through approaching these two conditions as independent. This is especially important in these times, where it seems that we are plagued with simultaneous autism-like and borderline-like on a mass scale. (To be fully open about it, I believe the dominant ideology of the professional class effects these conditions in the class as a collective. If you happen to be a progressivist and feel confused or angry — or as you put it when diagnosing others if you are feeling some class fragility or class rage — that might because I’m prodding at your condition as well as refusing to honor your class privilege of unilaterally determining who gets to critique whom.)
I am experimenting with two new candidate means that seem intuitively to be the two means in play: integrity on one hand, and empathy on the other.
I believe borderline is the DSMification of integrity deficit, and autism of empathy deficit.
The formulation of the problem then is:
(Integrity Deficiency) — Integrity – (Integrity Excess)
(Empathy Deficiency) — Empathy — (Empathy Excess)
I am looking for just the right words:
- Integrity deficiency (anomie? akrasia? decadence? borderline? …?)
- Integrity excess (dogmatism? closedness? fundamentalism? absolutism? …?)
- Empathy deficiency (solipsism? sociopathy? autism? …?)
- Empathy excess (selflessness? codependence? decenteredness? hyperempathy? …?)
Perhaps it is so hard to find a word for vicious empathy excess because our culture views excessive empathy as a virtue.
Few are equal to equality.
Pluralism is not vulgar relativism
Pluralism is similar to vulgar relativism in that both reject monism (in the sense of there being only one truth).
Pluralism differs from vulgar relativism in its belief that some truths can be accepted as true or rejected as false. Vulgar relativism claims all truths are equivalently true or false.
This means only vulgar relativism is faced with self-contradiction when it claims that monism is false.
Pluralism can, without the slightest contradiction, assert that monism is wrong.
Obviously, at some point I might change my mind. I might someday come to see monism as right and pluralism as wrong. But then again, a monist, if they can find it in themselves to question the apparent finality of their monism (a huge “if”) might, after finding on the other of a transcended finality, yet another finality, and another and another, come to see pluralism as right.
The only difference is that a pluralist, by virtue of their pluralism, is aware of this possibility and entertains it, where a monist’s monism precludes it. This certainly tends to weaken the pluralist’s resolve, but it doesn’t have to, and perhaps it should not be allowed to.
Perhaps the pluralist should counter the monist’s fanaticism with indignation at the aggressively presumptuous ignorance of the immature who still actually believe their itty-bitty reason can deduce reality.
The economy of wisdom
Wisdom is for the few.
Most people are busy and occupy themselves with production and consumption of goods other than wisdom.
But a few love wisdom and see it as the highest good.
Of these few, some are producers. They are the unique being born into the center of the cosmos, who hold wisdom in their hearts and bones that others only talk about with words. In the wisdom economy, these are the suppliers.
Others, far more numerous, are consumers. They seek wisdom. They seek fulfillment. They seek themselves. In the wisdom economy, they create the demand.
Wisdom may be a niche market, but to lovers of wisdom it is everything.
Conversation as performed truth
Our way of conversing is a performed truth — perhaps the most important truth. In conversation we perform how we understand reality, truth, ourselves, other selves and the relationships between them.
We must never confuse the Absolute per se with what is absolute for us. To do this is to reduce the Transcendent to an immanent representation of transcendence. We must never do this, but we cannot avoid doing it, incessantly, forever.
We must never confuse the Infinite per se with what is infinite for us. To do this is to reduce the Transcendent to an immanent reference to transcendence. We must never do this, but we cannot avoid doing it, incessantly, forever.
We are bound tightly by the ontology we have developed within the narrow horizon of our personal experience so far. We count the beings we have taken for given and imagine ourselves counting forever, and we call this infinite. Then we stare at the glaringly blank inner surface of our intelligence — a spherical horizon with everything inside it and nothingness outside it — and finding anything beyond this inner surface unintelligible, declare the contents of the sphere absolute.
Our knowledge makes us as gods — tiny, stupid, unimaginative, incurious, petty gods — terrified to discover that we are the furthest thing from absolute or infinite — terrified to relate ourselves properly to the Transcendent who absolutely and infinitely exceeds, envelops and involves us.
“Ah, sahib. It is metacognitive incompetence all the way down, and all the way out, in every direction.“
At the end
Popular versus classical didactics
If you do not subscribe to the dominant ideology of your time all its art forms will seem as false, stilted and contrived as popular art from the past — and for precisely the same reason.
Popular art always reinforces the current dominant ideology, by presenting an image of reality formatted according to its ideals, prejudices and delusions.
When we collectively move on from one decade to another we move on from one grotesquely willful misrepresentation of reality to another equally (if not worse) grotesquely willful misrepresentation, and from there we look back and jeer at how naively awful we were back then.
I solemnly swear, we are so unbelievably much worse right now that we’ve ever been before, it will make the ludicrous distortions of the 70s and 80s positively pale in comparison.
You don’t see it? You don’t understand? It’s not because there is nothing to understand. It is because you are failing to understand something glaringly real. Wait. You’ll see.
You’ve judged the past according to today’s standards, and you refuse to listen to those who have tried to explain how time works.
Your values are absolute and everyone should have acknowledged them all along.
To you I offer Anaximander’s Maxim: “Beings must pay penance and be judged for their injustices, in accordance with the ordinance of time.”
For those who have done enough truly independent thinking — which means overcoming the dominant ideology of their youth and of the current time, and which also entails asking questions we are not permitted to ask (which are most certainly not the utterly harmless “dangerous questions” our cultural elites pat you on the head for asking — popular culture starts stinking of the most ham-fisted didacticism.
If that stench prevents you from enjoying art, you’ll have to flee to unpopular art, which is formatted by lower-frequency ideals — ideals which endure not just months or years like today’s moral “fast fashion” but whole decades and sometimes centuries. Some of this unpopular art is genuine high art whose appeal to higher sensibilities might help it outlast its time. Though timelessness is never guaranteed, and often fails hilariously, the aspiration to timelessness can encourage less overtly propagandistic art. Some other unpopular art is low art — art so low it penetrates beneath the dirty, depleted and eroded surface of today, into the deeper soil of our species.
You are normal and ok
The more radical changes a person has undergone, the less that person will take seriously the claims others make of having reached a final conclusive truth.
Every radical change of understanding re-presents the world in light of a new truth. These truths seem conclusive and final. This characteristic of apparent finality, however, is not in any way evidence of actual finality. Apparent finality, if treated as only apparently final, can give way to new truths that appear equally final.
If an apparently final truth does, in fact, become actually final — that is, if a person or group of people refuses to allow more radical changes to happen — this is due to the fact that radical truths are not only theoretical, but also perceptual, practical and moral.
Radical truths are less matters of thought content than they are enworldments.
Enworldments penetrate beneath language, into that dark wordless ground in which language is rooted, from which words grow, and without which words lose meaning and wither into abstraction and nonsense. Enworldments provide the very givens of our experience.
Enworldments project fields of relevance that determine what in our daily life we notice and what we ignore, the degree and kind of relevance we perceive in what we do notice. Enworldments give us the givens of perception.
Enworldments also project fields of intelligibility that determine both the spontaneous connections we intuit in our present and past experiences, as well as the kinds of connections it occurs to us to make if we attempt to consciously think some matter through. Enworldments give us the givens of understanding.
Enworldments also project fields of possibility that determine our actions, both the spontaneous reactions we have before before thinking, intentional responses we think through, plan out and execute and habits we cultivate. Enworldments give us the givens of action.
Perhaps most importantly, enworldments project fields of value that determine what is moral or immoral, virtuous or vicious, attractive or repulsive, good or bad. Values may be what we spontaneously experience, and they may also be codified rules for calculating or assigning values. These values determine where we scrutinize, challenge or attack a value as an illusion, delusion, bias or distortion and where we embrace a value as given and defend it as self-evident truth. Enworldments give us givens of morality.
Values are the primary guardians of enworldments, protecting them from entertaining irrelevant data, from uncharitable or skeptical interrogation, from potentially undermining experimentation. These challenges are bad and should not be suffered or tolerated.
Morality is what preserves and stabilizes the other givens and allows an enworldment to endure. If one wishes to radically change, it is primarily the morality of that enworldment that must be overcome.
This is why Nietzsche was an immoralist. He sought new ideals, new enworldments, new human ideals — ones that we believe from the heart and not just from ethical algorithms and societal conformism.
Earlier, I mentioned that “values may be what we spontaneously experience, and they may also be codified rules for calculating or assigning values.” Codified rules can harmonize with and reinforce spontaneously felt values. Or they can clash and contradict. When this happens we are at a fork in the road. We can ignore taboos and prohibitions against questioning moral fundamentals, and investigate matters to see if we can resolve the contradiction.
Or we can reject codified morality in favor of felt values.
Most of us, however, cleave to codified morality. We train ourselves to mistrust, disregard and repress our spontaneous, felt valuations. We affirm only what we are supposed to affirm and condemn what we are supposed to condemn — even with respect to our own personal moral responses. Perhaps we see our own subjectivity as manipulated and corrupted and in need of rational corrections.
If we do this too much, eventually our value-sense weakens and numbs until we no longer feel it. Many of us become ethical automatons, alienated from our feeling selves, no longer able to exercise personal judgment. We become dependent on analysis provided by others, and we lack all inner resistance to arbitrary valuations. We see something ugly, or hateful, or vicious and we can without much difficulty assign it the opposite value.
It is only superficial truths that are concerned primarily with how we think and speak. They stay obediently within an enworldment, and work within its givens — especially its perceptual and moral givens. Superficial truths can be delightful to play with, they can be daring, transgressive and fanciful in the ways interesting games must be if they are to be absorbing, and they can turn up useful cognitive instruments, but they are inconsequential to our fundamental experiences.
I find that play tedious and at odds with my project, which is to overcome intellectual and moral dishonesty and the self-alienation it causes. Far too many people are obedient to moral ideals they must lie and labor over, with greater and greater difficulty. And now the lies are so fragile that the liars require cooperation from everyone to maintain them to keep unwanted feelings fully repressed.
For people in this state, honesty is an existential threat.
But they are too afraid to break taboos and ask themselves the kinds of questions that can restore harmony between our felt and codified values.
The only solution they can conceive is to control external reality and to prohibit all honest expression so dishonesty becomes internalized through habit, and our new contrived “truth” seems equal to the faint repressed memories of spontaneous given truths.
We Americans just cannot kick our puritan addictions, can we? We finally free ourselves of our need to assert the existence of a thoroughly unbelievable “god”, only to enslave ourselves to other equally unbelievable nonsense. We seem unable to make peace with truth.
But know this: You do not have to believe what you cannot believe.
You are allowed to ask questions, even taboo questions,
If that feels unsafe to you, you are right. It is unsafe. Most people like to feel comfortable, to feel like good people, to frolic in the playground of permissible rebellion. The majority of people choose to keep on lying and lying.
So, if you are a liar, that is ok. It is normal.
If you need to celebrate your lying as virtuous, that is also ok. It is normal.
If you need to call the most dramatically abnormal abnormalities normal, that is ok. It has become normal.
But some of us think being normal is beneath our dignity, and choose abnormality. We do not want to be ok. We ask prohibited questions and produce incomprehensible answers.
That incomprehensibility is fortuitous for all you liars. It doesn’t make any sense. It needs to not make sense. You are in a safe space, a place of its own, a collective enworldment set adrift from anything immediate.