Ex infinitio

Genesis does not begin with nothingness. Creation is not ex nihilo.

Genesis begins with more than everything. Creation is ex infinitio.

As with scripture, so it has been in that already-in-progress life inside which you awoke, from the chaos of infancy.

Somethingness — toomuchness — is primal. In the beginning is chaos.

Nothingness is abstract. It is an advanced abstraction that, once it possesses us, is thrust beneath the primordial toomuchness — an artificial ground, upon which we cannot stand, but within which we stiffen ourselves in epistemic rigor mortis.

Inside this self-inflicted vacuum we stiffly tumble end-over-end, nowhere, vacuous.

An infinite welter and waste is articulated by spirit.

Objects emerge from the encounter of subject and chaos.

Light against dark against mottled grays? Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa against a muddled mixture of suffering and comfort.

Division of this and that — always against the undivided all. Definition of this, in contrast that — both always against the irrelevant field of everything else.

We define against infinitude, but infinitude is so omnipresent we confuse it with nothingness itself. Just as you, sitting wherever you are, focusing on whatever focal object occupies your attention, define the object of your attention against everything else.

Every subject emerges in the midst of undifferentiated chaos.

You did. I did. Our infant subjects learned to recognize our first given objects.

When we learned new subjects, new given objects emerged. Our mathematical subject learned that one apple and one block shared a characteristic: one. And one block and another block shared something with one apple and another apple. From chaos came quantities of whatever.

We learned the subject of manners. We learned to say “please” when desire emerged and to say “thank you” when desire was gratified. We learned the subject of morality. Some actions were rewarded, some punished.

Every subject articulates new given objects. Those objects are articulated from chaos.

Then there is the sheer bullshit of social construction. You take a class on Derrida in college and get it in your head that you can invent reality. If you practice your bullshit invention long enough it will become familiar. If you force other people to adopt your bullshit long enough, they too, will see it as familiar.

What this does, of course, is alienate us from what we experience.

Soon, we are so alienated, we can see images of slaughtered and raped human beings and just view it all as political abstraction. It’s all just concept play.

We are like the little German boys who followed the first World War like a sporting event, described by Sebastian Haffner:

For a schoolboy in Berlin, the war was something very unreal; it was like a game. There were no air raids and no bombs. There were the wounded, but you saw them only at a distance, with picturesque bandages. One had relatives at the front, of course, and now and then one heard of a death. But being a child, one quickly got used to their absence, and the fact that this absence sometimes became irrevocable did not seem to matter. As to the real hardships and privations, they were of small account. Naturally, the food was poor. Later there was too little food, and our shoes had clattering wooden soles, our suits were turned, there were school collections for bones and cherry pits, and surprisingly frequent illnesses. I must admit, all that made little impression. Not that I bore it all “like a little hero.” It was just that there was nothing very special to bear. I thought as little about food as a soccer enthusiast at a cup final. The army bulletins interested me far more than the menu.

The analogy with the soccer fan can be carried further. In those childhood days, I was a war fan just as one is a soccer fan. I would be making myself out to be worse than I was if I were to claim to have been caught up by the hate propaganda that, from 1915 to 1918, sought to whip up the flagging enthusiasm of the first few months of the war. I hated the French, the English, and the Russians as little as the Portsmouth supporters detest Wolverhampton fans. Of course, I prayed for their defeat and humiliation, but only because these were the necessary counterparts of my side’s victory and triumph.

What counted was the fascination of the game of war, in which, according to certain mysterious rules, the numbers of prisoners taken, miles advanced, fortifications seized, and ships sunk played almost the same role as goals in soccer and points in boxing. I never wearied of keeping internal scorecards. I was a zealous reader of the army bulletins, which I would proceed to recalculate in my own fashion, according to my own mysterious, irrational rules: thus, for instance, ten Russian prisoners were equivalent to one English or French prisoner, and fifty airplanes to one cruiser. If there had been statistics of those killed, I would certainly not have hesitated to “recalculate” the dead. I would not have stopped to think what the objects of my arithmetic looked like in reality. It was a dark, mysterious game and its never-ending, wicked lure eclipsed everything else, making daily life seem trite. It was addictive, like roulette and opium. My friends and I played it all through the war: four long years, unpunished and undisturbed. It is this game, and not the harmless battle games we organized in streets and playgrounds nearby, that has left its dangerous mark on all of us.

It may not seem worthwhile to describe the obviously inadequate reactions of a child to the Great War at such great length. That would certainly be true if mine were an isolated case, but it was not. This, more or less, was the way an entire generation of Germans experienced the war in childhood or adolescence; and one should note that this is precisely the generation that is today preparing its repetition.

The force and influence of these experiences are not diminished by the fact that they were lived through by children or young boys. On the contrary, in its reactions the mass psyche greatly resembles the child psyche. One cannot overstate the childishness of the ideas that feed and stir the masses.

Real ideas must as a rule be simplified to the level of a child’s understanding if they are to arouse the masses to historic actions. A childish illusion, fixed in the minds of all children born in a certain decade and hammered home for four years, can easily reappear as a deadly serious political ideology twenty years later.

From 1914 to 1918 a generation of German schoolboys daily experienced war as a great, thrilling, enthralling game between nations, which provided far more excitement and emotional satisfaction than anything peace could offer; and that has now become the underlying vision of Nazism. That is where it draws its allure from: its simplicity, its appeal to the imagination, and its zest for action; but also its intolerance and its cruelty toward internal opponents. Anyone who does not join in the game is regarded not as an adversary but as a spoilsport. Ultimately that is also the source of Nazism’s belligerent attitude toward neighboring states. Other countries are not regarded as neighbors, but must be opponents, whether they like it or not. Otherwise the match would have to be called off!

Many things later bolstered Nazism and modified its character, but its roots lie here: in the experience of war — not by German soldiers at the front, but by German schoolboys at home. Indeed, the front-line generation has produced relatively few genuine Nazis and is better known for its “critics and carpers.” That is easy to understand. Men who have experienced the reality of war tend to view it differently. Granted, there are exceptions: the eternal warriors, who found their vocation in war, with all its terrors, and continue to do so; and the eternal failures, who welcome its horrors and its destruction as a revenge on a life that has proved too much for them. Göring perhaps belongs to the former type; Hitler certainly to the latter. The truly Nazi generation was formed by those born in the decade from 1900 to 1910, who experienced war as a great game and were untouched by its realities.

This was written before the Holocaust. Here is an account from Hannah Arendt on the moral reasoning of one of these boys, grown up into a nice abstract adult:

The member of the Nazi hierarchy most gifted at solving problems of conscience was Himmler. He coined slogans, like the famous watchword of the S.S., taken from a Hitler speech before the S.S. in 1931, “My Honor is my Loyalty” — catch phrases which Eichmann called “winged words” and the judges “empty talk”… Eichmann remembered only one of them and kept repeating it: “These are battles which future generations will not have to fight again,” alluding to the “battles” against women, children, old people, and other “useless mouths.” Other such phrases, taken from speeches Himmler made to the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and the Higher S.S. and Police Leaders, were: “To have stuck it out and, apart from exceptions caused by human weakness, to have remained decent, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written.” Or: “The order to solve the Jewish question, this was the most frightening order an organization could ever receive.” Or: We realize that what we are expecting from you is “superhuman,” to be “superhumanly inhuman.” … What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique (“a great task that occurs once in two thousand years”), which must therefore be difficult to bear. … The troops of the Einsatzgruppen had been drafted from the Armed S.S., a military unit with hardly more crimes in its record than any ordinary unit of the German Army, and their commanders had been chosen by Heydrich from the S.S. elite with academic degrees. Hence the problem was how to overcome not so much their conscience as the animal pity by which all normal men are affected in the presence of physical suffering. The trick used by Himmler — who apparently was rather strongly afflicted with these instinctive reactions himself — was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around; as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!

Life is to be lived in reality, and reality is given to us intuitively in myriad ways. If we receive it, our reflections on it will keep us in relationship with reality.

We can obscure replace reality with words. We can focus on words and play with them. It will all be quite amusing and pleasant. But we will alienate and we will be alienated.

Pluralist blip

Pluralists maintain principled awareness that there are multiple perspectives from which every event and every issue may be understood.

It seems that now, with the recent brutal pogrom in Israel that at least some of our elite institutions have recovered some momentary slight degree of pluralism. They can see multiple sides of this particular issue — where, in recent years many events seemed to have only one possible morally legitimate interpretation.

Police brutality had only one side. Compelled “Antiracist” indoctrination had only one side. Sexual harassment had only one side. Overturning Roe v Wade had only one side.

All organizations were required to take a stand! Silence is violence!

But apparently this slaughter in Israel — this has two sides — and now, suddenly, organizations must maintain moral neutrality and avoid stirring up unnecessary controversy.

As a Pluralist, I am faintly heartened to see organizations behave as they should have all along. *

As a Jew, I find it appalling that Progressivists are suddenly able to see both sides of this particular issue — an issue where, on one side Jewish babies were literally murdered and Jewish women literally, physically raped.

Note: I do not believe this abrupt embrace of institutional neutrality is a principled pluralist stand. I believe it is a purely pragmatic response to the fact that on this one issue, Progressivist opinion is divided. When Progressivists all agree on an issue, and only Liberals, Centrists and Conservatives dissent (civilly, quietly, politely), Progressivists are more than happy to take a univocal stand on issues. It is only when Progressivists are divided (and will dissent vocally, disruptively, coercively) that organizations exercise diplomatic neutrality.

It’s just an existential crisis

An existential crisis occurs when a person faces a truth that can neither be ignored nor considered.

The truth cannot be ignored because it has been noticed. Now that it has been noticed, it is re-noticed wherever it applies, and it is impossible to un-notice when this new truth obtrudes. It has become part of one’s spontaneous understanding of reality.

It cannot be considered because its implications threaten the integrity of one’s entire way of understanding the world. If one allows this truth to be true, all other truths will break down into… who knows what? This who-knows-what is literally inconceivable, as inconceivable as death. It is a kind of death — the death of our sense of everything as we know it, and the death of who we think we are.

That we can survive these crises, and not only remain ourself, but become our self — that self who is suffocating beneath the crushing weight of what we believe we must be …this is as inconceivable to the existentially threatened soul as the rest of the who-knows-what.

Those in the existential crisis feel unknowability as  dread. Like humidity, the dread pervades, soaks into and saturates everything. Dread condenses upon whatever threatens to bring the unwanted truth forth. Most of all it condenses upon those people who refuse to cooperate with the old sense of truth.

Wherever people feel compelled to suppress other people’s speech or even to control other people’s thoughts, you can be certain that they are attempting to suppress their own existential crisis.

They find compassionate, pious words for this suppression and its justification, but behind the piety is terror and willingness to impose terror.

An oppressive overclass who sees oppression everywhere but where it really is will require not only silence but perfect compliance to preserve its collective delusion and feeling of safety.

“I just can’t see why anyone would object to what I’m trying to do.”

It is true: you cannot see. You cannot allow yourself to see.

You would not survive it.

Soon enough, people will see. This can’t continue forever.

It will happen. It might require a catastrophe, but it will happen.

Then we will have something else to deal with: mass conversion.

A vulgar hoard of first-time metanoiacs will explode into the world and flood it with idiotic, presumptuous, omniscient joy.

Religious hysteria is next.

It will be terrible, and violent, but at least it will be joyous for a change.

Transcendental subject versus psychological subject

From Dan Zahavi’s Husserl’s Phenomenology, paydirt:

The relation between the transcendental subject and the empirical subject is not a relation between two different subjects, but between two different self-apprehensions, a primary and a secondary. The transcendental subject is the subject in its primary constitutive function. The empirical subject is the same subject, but now apprehended and interpreted as an object in the world, that is, as a constituted and mundanized entity.

It is in this context that Husserl calls attention to the fact that subjectivity can be thematized in two radically different ways, namely in a natural or psychological reflection on the one hand, and in a pure or transcendental reflection on the other. When I perform a psychological reflection, I am interpreting the act reflected upon as a psychical process, that is, a process occurring in a psycho-physical entity that exists in the world. This type of self-consciousness — which Husserl occasionally calls a mundane self-consciousness — is just as worldly an experience as, say, the experience of physical objects, and if one asks whether it can provide us with an adequate understanding of subjectivity, the answer is no. Natural reflection presents us with a constituted, objectified, and naturalized subject, but it does not provide us with an access to the constituting, transcendental dimension of subjectivity.

It is here that the pure or transcendental reflection is introduced, since its specific task is to thematize a subjectivity stripped from all contingent and transcendent relations and interpretations.

Husserl makes it clear, however, that this type of reflection is not immediately available, so the question remains: What method or procedure can make it available?

The obvious answer: Through the epoché. For, as Husserl emphasizes again and again (with an obvious jab at introspectionism), unless the way has first been cleared by the epoché, we will be dealing with an objectified and mundanized experience regardless of how intensively or how carefully and attentively one reflects. In contrast to the positive sciences, which can proceed directly to their different fields of research, the region that phenomenology is supposed to investigate is not immediately accessible. Prior to any concrete investigation it is necessary to employ a certain methodological reflection to escape the natural attitude. Only through a methodical suspension of all transcendent preconceptions, only through a radical turn toward that which in a strict sense is given from a first-person perspective, can transcendental analysis commence.

No amount of introspection of the objectified psychological subject will give us insight into the transcendental subject. Efforts to make changes to the objectified psychological subject leave the world-constituting transcendental subject unchanged.

People will happily work on their psychological subject, as long as their transcendental subject is left undetected and sovereign. Any line of thought that makes the transcendental subject conspicuous or challenges its absolute authority will induce profound angst.

Metasophic incompetence

Everyone knows everything — at least everything relevant — especially those who have given things very little thought.

If you happen to be one of the few who puts serious time and effort into earnest, deep and self-critical reflection, please keep in mind that those who focus on practical matters do not see this effort as yielding much value. They see how you waste your time splitting hairs on irrelevant and esoteric topics. You call that wise? It only proves that you lack their talent for discerning what matters most. Is it really so strange that they believe they know better than you?

Every horizon is the edge of the world.

Three modes of principledness

Being principled means that you prioritize certain moral values over your own immediate personal interests.

There are at least three motivational modes of principledness.

Let’s call the first altruistic, the second virtuous and the third magnanimous.

The altruistically motivated person treats principles as something beyond self, apart from one’s own being. He sets aside his selfish needs, in order to dedicate himself to something higher than himself.

The virtuously motivated person treats principles as qualifications of excellence. He follows principles to cultivate his best self.

The magnanimously motivated person treats principle as a condition for membership in higher-order selves. By committing to principles and being faithful to them, one enters into relationships with others who honor the same principles, and participates in transcendent selves, for example, a marriage or a friendship or a community of faith.

Identity comes from higher-order selves, within which we participate, to whom we belong.

What identitarians call “identity” is just social category. It is no wonder that identity is an issue for them. They do not know what identity is or how a sense of identity is developed. Everything they do to solve the problem exacerbates it.

Uniqueness, universality and the social region

What is unique to each of us is intimately connected with what is universal to all of us.

The connection is intimate but it runs a long and intricate circuit through everyday, practical life.

Let us call this intimate, intricate circuit the social region.

In good times, the social region mediates between uniqueness and universality and provides us roles and identities that do justice both to our uniqueness and to universality. Because it mediates uniqueness and universality, we find social existence tolerable and sometimes worthwhile.

In bad times, the social region imposes upon us roles and identities which suppress our uniqueness and eclipse our relation to universality. Social existence alienates us from ourselves, and from universality beyond socially given commonalities.

Cut off from our uniqueness, individuals are reducible to identity. Cut off from universality, reality is socially constructed.

Cut off from everything apart from social existence, tormented by their alienation, social activists work tirelessly deconstruct and reconstruct society, in order to win the recognition, power and resources to which those of their identity are entitled. They win and win and win. But with each victory they feel less and less victorious. And the social region, as it tries to do more and more of what it cannot do, becomes more and more alienated and alienating.

Arthur C. Clarke famously said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The supreme example of such a technology is religion.

And ironically, another example is… magic.

We do not even know what either of these technologies exist to do.

But we go on knowing, anyway, with “the sublime confidence of the ignorant.”*

This addled age is a cargo cult of history.

Credit to Freddy DeBoer for the hilarious expression: “the sublime confidence of the ignorant.”

This article, by the way, is about the unfounded belief that a normal, intact personality lurks beneath the outward personalities of the severely autistic.

This exhibits the same disastrous mental move I have observed in vulgar understandings of the subconscious. Somehow, fully-formed but unspoken beliefs lurk beneath the surface of consciousness, forever trying to bob up, despite our frantic efforts to push them back under, away from our awareness.

Both are the result of an incapacity to think subjectivity-first.


Something incomprehensible is happening to us.

It is happening to all of us, all at once, and each of us, personally.

It is happening so rapidly, so pervasively and so totally that the change is, as yet, incomprehensible.

It is happening immanently, in every minute detail of our individual and collective lives, but it is obviously also happening transcendently: something portentous is going on elsewhere, beyond, and manifesting here, now, personally.

The whole itself is disturbed, and life is saturated with signs of the disturbance.

Some read the signs as the creaks and groans of decaying institutions, preceding total collapse. Some read them as clues of secret scheming of a malevolent totalitarian cabal, while others diagnose this reading as precisely the kind of paranoid theories concocted and propagated by totalitarian populists. Some read the signs as Gaia making final preparations to heal herself of the destructive parasite we have become. Some interpret these signs as an approaching futureshock of exponential proportion. A post-singularity artificial god will purge us from the planet. Some read the signs as the harvest of evil seeds planted centuries ago — a long overdue reckoning — a humanist ultio dei. Others see it all as prophesied trials and tribulations finally coming to pass.

Different faiths, different metaphysics, different elsewheres, different beyonds — different accounts, different explanations. But for all their differences, they all point to a common phenomenon: our shared sense that the fabric of reality is unraveling.

It manifests as uncanniness. We are all collectively and individually anxious about everything-all-at-once. Most of us fixate on one or several particular foci. But the themes and things upon which we focus our angst are just condensations of something in the air. That something defies focus. It demands something else.

The something-in-the-air that everything-all-at-once is not calling us to action.

It is calling us to a reorientation to subjectivity.

We can no longer be naively objective. Mere objectivity will no longer deliver us.

We must learn to comprehend our own subjectivity, and the supersubjectivities in which we participate.

Who are your supersubjects? Or rather, to which supersubjects do you belong?

And do your supersubjects answer to anyone higher than themselves?

Some do, some don’t.

Most don’t.

May your wanting be wiser

I was looking in Susan’s copy of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and saw that she wrote in the margin “May your wanting be wiser.” She says she learned it from Rabbi Jeff Roth.

I find it strange how everyone assumes they are, in the state they are already in, qualified to define what a better world should be. And it seems the less experienced an activist is and the more distorted their faith is, the more passionate they are about reshaping the world to match their ideals.

Unless you are wise and your wantings are wise, your vision of a better world will be unwise. If you think you must repair a broken world in order to repair your own brokenness, your vision is broken and your repairs will only make things worse.

Make yourself better, then you will be able to make the world better.

Remedial phenomenology

For the last couple of months I have been re-grounding myself in Husserl’s phenomenology. The work I am interested in doing is phenomenological, but it is not, itself, phenomenology. By returning to Husserl, I hope to arrive at the point of departure for my project. I am interested in approaching philosophy as a design discipline, both in the form of the philosophy (writing, visuals, practices designed to impart a particular faith) and in its substance (the life afforded by adoption of the faith). To make matters weirder, the faith itself is designerly. Obviously, it is a synthesis of philosophy, design and religion that profoundly scrambles the current meanings of philosophy, design and religion.

New working vocabulary

(This is another unpublished post from September 2023, written while I was studying Husserl. I think I just lost steam and forgot to finish it. It is still unfinished, but I think it is good enough and complete enough to publish as a work in progress. It has only been a few months but the vocabulary proposed here has been working.)

Short version:

Below is an attempt to differentiate and name some modes of intellection important to the field of design. My goal is to balance etymological groundedness, established use, and simplicity to design a system of labeled concepts useful for speaking precisely and clearly about intellection and intelligibility:

  • Intellection is a general term for any act of intelligence, regardless of mode.
  • Intelligibility is conduciveness to intellection.
  • Conception is a mode of intellection: a spontaneous taking-together of a gestalt given.
  • Construction is a mode of intellection: a putting-together of givens into a composite.
  • Synthesis is a mode of intellection: a simultaneous conception and construal, where a given is conceived and construed together spontaneously as an articulate whole.
  • Comprehension is a mode of intellection: a synthesis situated within and integrated with an all-embracing totality.
  • Deconstruction is anti-synthesis. It is a type of construal used to dissolve conceived wholes and render them mere constructs. If successful, deconstruction clears ground for alternate conceptions and syntheses.

Long version:

For the last fifteen years or so, when talking about modes of understanding, I have treated conception and synthesis as antithetical complements. Conception was the spontaneous taking of a given as a gestalt. Synthesis was a part-by-part putting together of a composite from multiple givens. Conception was holistic taking-together; synthesis was atomistic putting-together.

Lately, though, I have been considering reshuffling this language, and using “construction” in place of “synthesis”, and using “synthesis” more conventionally, to designate something conceived structurally, a simultaneous holistic and atomistic understanding.

Construction has an apt etymology, as well as mainstream currency and experience-nearness, which is to say, many people conceive its meaning.

We construct assertions, arguments, justifications, theories, taxonomies, systems. We call these constructed structures constructs.

Constructs, once constructed, are understood through construal. We trace the steps of the construction backwards and forward, and we examine the relationships between parts, in order to construe how the construct was constructed.

Understanding, however, is rooted in conception. The basic elements must be conceived, and the relationships linking the elements must also be conceived. Where conceptions are lacking, construals are unrooted, empty, “abstract”.

Sometimes a process of construal causes a construct to “click” as a gestalt conception. Suddenly, the whole and parts are conceived together as a structured whole.

This simultaneous understanding of whole and part together is synthesis. Conception and construal are “put together” as a single articulate understanding of a structure. Articulated means “jointed”. The whole is conceived as a gestalt of jointed parts, each also a gestalt.

Analysis is a process of breaking down something that is not (or not yet) understood synthetically into conceivable elements (spontaneously recognized parts) linked in conceivable ways (such as logic or causality). The process of analysis can sometimes force a rearticulation of reconceived parts within the whole. Sometimes these rearticulated parts can effect a reconception of the whole. (Analysis open to reconception of both part and whole within a synthesis is hermeneutics.)

The denser the conceptions within a structure, the more clearly it is understood. The denser the construals within a structure, the more thoroughly it is understood.

But often a construal doesn’t produce a synthesis. We understand that the construct can be construed if we go through the process of construing it, but the construal still must be performed each time the construct is to be understood. The structure is still experienced as a construct, understandable solely through construal. It is experience-distant — artificial — understood as a construct. The understanding might be thorough, but it is not clear.

Sometimes repetition of construals can gradually, through habit, develop conceptions. We learn to conceive familiar patterns, among parts and wholes, as gestalts. Through familiarization, we gradually synthesize new understandings, and new clarity. This, however, does not mean that familiarization will always produce synthesis. More often it does not, but instead produces burdensome artificiality and alienation from what is conceived as given.

(But the fantasy of familiarization is intoxicating to prometheans with dreams of reinventing humankind, and it seems that no number of catastrophic social experiments is sufficient to sober them up. The lessons learned from such bloody failures last as long as the generations who learned them the hard way.)

Comprehension is the impossible but worthy aspiration to synthesize all of reality as given to our experience. Everything we encounter is conceived as belonging to a whole and the relation between any two parts can be fluently construed within the whole. The effort to comprehend all inevitably shipwrecks on the limitations of one’s conceptions, as beautifully described by Thomas Kuhn.

Natural as opposed to what?

I’ve used the word “natural” to four very different ways, and each is defined against a different opposite. These are each

The first two are the boring obvious ones.

  • Natural versus manmade. Is it from the wilderness, or is it from our own hands?
  • Natural versus supernatural. Does it obey the laws of nature, or does it follow the laws of something or someone beyond nature? Note: I understand there are less vulgar notions of supernatural, but for the present purposes, let’s use the vulgar sense.

The second two (to me, anyway) are more interesting.

  • Natural versus unnatural. Does something subjectively feel as though it spontaneously participates in nature or does it seem alienated from it and at odds with it? This could be subdivided into any number of categories, depending on the perceived location of the unnaturalness. For example, it could be one’s own self (“this action feels unnatural”) or in a perceived or conceived object (“that light looks unnatural”).
  • Natural versus phenomenological. Am I regarding some phenomenon in solely terms of the object given to my perception or conception, or am I understanding the phenomenon also as a subjective act of perceiving or conceiving some given object? And I will always add: and if conceived differently, will reveal a different given object.

These latter two are at the heart of my philosophical design work.

Can phenomenological freedom be used skillfully to suspend one natural way of perceiving in order to reconceive reality (or nature, if you prefer) in another way — a way that is shockingly unfamiliar, yet just as natural as the old one. A new comprehensive praxic gestalt clicks into place, replacing the old “everything” gestalt.

This is a non-supernatural account of metanoia, and it suggests that philosophies rooted in phenomenological reflective practice can be a kind of genuine religious practice. If one is willing to pay the necessary exorbitant price, one can radically reconfigure one’s own subjectivity, objectivity and subject-object relations.

For a long time I was planning to call my perpetually unwritten book on this subject Second-Natural. I was also playing with another title The Ten Thousand Everythings.

Now I am leaning toward calling it Enworldment.

Phenomenological prayer

Reality is an articulate whole we inhabit.

Reality is myriad interacting things among us.

Reality is participation with our fellow inhabitants.

We participate in realities beyond our comprehension.

Interacting things unite and divide.

The whole can rearticulate in shocking ways.

Reality is not what we think it is.

Things can be otherwise.

We are not who we think we are.

Metanoia and the triad

A problem is coming into view for me.

For the last two decades, it has seemed true to me that we have three fundamental factors that shape our being:

The first factor is intuition, and intuition’s “object”, everyday, immediate givens — those real entities we encounter and interact with in the course of our practical lives. Do we have a clear conception of these givens, that allows us to relate this particular given to other givens? Or is our intuition purely tacit recognition that lies dormant in oblivion until it spontaneously recognizes and responds to some given, and then recedes back into oblivion? All encounters with entities around us, whether conceived or merely recognized, are given to experience. Intuition is the faculty of immediate givenness.

The second factor is will — our own motivated response or nonresponse to what we experience. Do we ignore or attend? If we attend, do we merely observe or do we respond? If we respond, do we respond subjectively by adjusting our understanding or attitude, or do we try to respond objectively by changing that which we experience? Or do we do both at once, and interact — alternating fluidly between acting upon and being acted upon? All response, whether ignorant or attentive, whether observational or active, whether inward, outward, or both is will.

The third factor is metaphysical attitude — our sense of reality and our own place in it and our relationship with it, to it, within it. In fact, it might be the essence of our metaphysic what preposition we prepose when relating self to beyond-self. This metaphysical attitude is an implicit faith, which might or might not be articulated as a metaphysical doctrine, and that articulation might be a faithful expression of the implicit faith or it might be in conflict with one’s implicit faith, which means it is held in bad faith.

This is my best understanding of the great triad. The source of intuitive givens is Earth, who is Prakriti, who is Shekhinah, who is the Virgin. The source of reality within whom we exist is Heaven, who is Purusha, who is Keter, who is YHWH. Between is Man, who is the Ideal Person, the polycentered heart of the world, and the schlub who is each of us.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim taught: “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: ‘I am a speck of dust,’ and on the other : ‘The world was created for me.’”

If we manage to change our metaphysical attitude, it changes also our intuition and our will. I am talking here about metanoia.

This is not the same thing as coming to authentic articulation of a faith that was misrepresented in bad faith.

Nor is it that more common, much worse reverse case, where we adopt a bad faith that allows us to make coherent articulates sense of things, and share it with others around us — but at the cost of fidelity to our implicit faith and our intuitions. We gain the world(view) but lose our soul (our intuitive and metaphysical connection with reality). This bad faith dooms us to clearly and compellingly positing things rooted neither in our experience nor in our sense of reality.

I am talking about shift in how we tacitly situate ourselves in reality, due to a shifted tacit understanding of reality, a shifted tacit understanding of self and a shifted tacit understanding of relationship between this new self and new reality.

My problem is: In the metanoia experience of rebirth as a new person in a new reality, is it better to think of it as new conceptions — new receptive faculties affording new realities to which, before we were oblivious due to lack of receptive faculties? Or rather, is it registering novel ordered stabilities emerging from the chaos and instability of unordered experience, which we did receive but could not order?

Is metanoia more like being blind but now seeing? Or is it more like becoming able to make out murky forms we see in the shadowy fog? I’ve been inclined to see it as the former.

Wisdom trouble

(This post is notes to myself. If you read it — and you are welcome to — you are reading as an eavesdropper. Something is troubling me badly. It is the best kind of trouble, which is why I have been chasing it around it with my philosopher’s stone. Just this year I’ve chased it through at least six gnarly books and through at least six dozen excruciating conversations.)

Wisdom is practical understanding of first-person being.

Wisdom is practical understanding. The understanding manifests in practice. To convey it, it must be demonstrated. It cannot be given by explicit propositional language.

An understanding that manifests in practice is an ability to act in some intentional way. It is not knowledge content. Practical understanding, though, might use knowledge as a means or support in its practice. We sometimes call such knowledge “wisdom”, but this badly confuses matters. A wise person’s knowledge (or a wise tradition’s knowledge) is an instrument, not the wisdom ability itself. Just as possessing a guitar does not make one a guitarist, possessing a wise person’s knowledge does not make one wise. One must have an ability to do the practice — play a guitar if a guitar is available or act wisely if an occasion for wisdom arises.

The practice in question is a participatory practice — participation in first-person being.

First-person being is not nearly as simple as our everyday working notions of I and we suggest. Practical understanding of this complexity — manifested as participation in first-person in its full complexity — is essential to wisdom.

Wise participation is first-person is participation in a subjective manifold comprising one’s own first-person singular being (I), other persons’ first person singular beings (fellow-I, a.k.a. thou), within transcendent first person being plural (We).

(We is a complex and elusive kind of being about whom we know little, but about which we unwisely believe we know perfectly well. We don’t even know how to know it, because when we try to know we approach it as objective immanence, when the everse approach is required. We is essentially participatory and transcendent, not objective and immanent. This is the most radical category mistake, and it forces any believer in its grip into the unwise either-or of a relatively decent atheism or an indecent fundamentalism.)

The understanding exists as a capacity for this kind of participation, which emerges if the occasion for such participation presents itself.

Let’s return to the role of knowledge in wisdom. We have established that wisdom is not knowledge. We have also established, however that some knowledge can be instrumental to wisdom.

It is also true that we can state true propositions about wisdom. As wisdom is not knowledge, a true proposition about wisdom is not itself wisdom. But knowledge about wisdom can be instrumentally useful to wisdom. And an act of using instrumentally useful knowledge about wisdom can be wise. In this case, wisdom is manifested in the speech act, not in the content.

Philosophy, at its best, is the attempt to demonstrate wisdom by stating true propositions about wisdom that are instrumentally useful to wisdom, and its wisdom is demonstrated in its attitude toward wisdom as something inexhaustibly transcendent. We don’t possess wisdom, we love wisdom, and we love it by desiring its beyondness, wisely pursing wisdom beyond our current ability.

This is the structure of love: Love is transcendently oriented, loving past what is objectively given, toward a subject who forever eludes our possessing, comprehending grasp, a semi-mysterious person we know essentially through our shared participation in We.

To covet what is objectively given, or to value only the experience of what is given, is mere lust.

What do we call a person who acquires, collects or distributes wisdom facts and wisdom tools, while neglecting the development of wise practice?

A lot of wisdom happens without the use of knowledge.

Many wise people cannot tell you many facts about their wisdom.

They just act wisely when the occasion calls for it.

Others gravitate to forms of wisdom that involve knowledge. It is easy to automatically conflate them with knowledge fact and knowledge tool hoarders, but it is unwise to do so.

The test is the same: can these knowledge users act wisely with their knowledge when the occasion calls for it?

Some people learn some wisdom, but unwisely conclude from this that they now possess wisdom. They were ignorant in thinking they knew — but now they know that they really know. Others who resist their new knowing resist ignorantly. They too only think they know.

It would be wise to ask if perhaps one still only thinks one really knows. Or better, that knowing must be something other than we have conceived it.

But instead one becomes foolishly, arrogantly and presumptuously wise like a new religious convert, or like a university student who has learned just enough to be dangerous, or like a new initiate in a compelling new conspiracy theory, or like a fanatic drunk on a comprehensive political ideology that finally makes sense of everything.

A fool possessed by a conceit of wisdom is called sophomoric (sophos– “wisdom” + -moros “foolish”).

A fool with a head full of wise content is somehow even more foolish than an empty-headed fool.

Course outline: “What is service design?”

I’ve been taking an online course on designing online courses. If that isn’t meta enough the online course I am learning to design is on design.

My course will be an introduction to service design, meant to introduce people who are contemplating or preparing to participate in a service design project how to think about and talk about service design, so they can feel comfortable with the idea of embarking on a service design project and participating in the process.

I’m putting the tentative outline of the course here, just in case anyone is interested:

Lesson 1: What is design?

  • What we mean by design
  • What we do not not mean by design (making functional things more appealing)
  • What we also do not mean by design (planning out an engineered thing)
  • Design produces dynamic systems of parts and participants
  • Successful design motivates participants to participate
  • Design is concerned with understanding and involving participants

Lesson 2: What is a service?

  • What we mean by service
  • What we do not mean by service (service as opposed to product)
  • Service design’s much broader conception of service
  • Some services don’t look like services
  • Service generates, exchanges and distributes value of myriad forms

Lesson 3: What is the value of design?

  • Quantitative value
  • Qualitative value
  • A business that fails to deliver qualitative value will not make money
  • Experience is about qualitative value
  • Design motivates participants to participate by offering good experience

Lesson 4: Good experiences in general

  • Good experience is useful, usable and desirable
  • Human-centered design (HCD) is a method for producing good experiences
  • Overview of HCD (universal methodology for producing good experiences)
  • Altitudes and granularity of experiences
  • Beyond touchpoints

Lesson 5: Good service experiences

  • Service experiences are a complex special case
  • Service experiences have six characteristics, all of which must be addressed in a good service experience.
  • 1. Services comprise multiple experiences occurring over a span of time
  • 2. Services comprise experiences occurring across multiple delivery channels
  • 3. Services comprise experiences interacting with other people
  • 4. Services comprise experiences of aligned and misaligned interests
  • 5. Services are experienced as partly exposed and partly concealed
  • 6. Services experience is the result of how the organization operates

Lesson 6: The six dimensions of service

  • Reflection on service experiences, good and bad
  • Introduction to six dimensions of service (6DS)
  • 1. Sequential
  • 2. Omnichannel
  • 3. Polycentric
  • 4. Aligned
  • 5. Semivisible
  • 6. Operationalized
  • Sorting good and bad experiences into the 6DS

Lesson 7: A typical service design project

  • Introduction: from current to future state
  • Understand internal perspectives
  • Understand current service delivery
  • Understand the current actor experiences
  • Identify and prioritize opportunities to improve current experiences
  • Envision alternative future experiences
  • Evaluate and revise alternative future experiences
  • Blueprint future service delivery
  • Plan phased development of future service

Lesson 8: Some core tools of service design

  • Introduction: current state, future state versions
  • Current state ecosystem map
  • Current state service blueprint
  • Current state experience map
  • Opportunity statements
  • Concept sheets
  • Future state experience (“story from the future”)
  • Future state moment architecture
  • Future state service blueprint
  • Future state evolution map

Lesson 9: What it is like to participate in a service design project

  • It is participatory
  • It is collaborative
  • It is multidisciplinary
  • It is radically democratic
  • It is anthropological
  • It demands empathy
  • It demands different modes of thinking
  • It will demand different ways of working
  • It changes everything

Lesson 10: How service design can help you

  • Apply six dimensions of service to your own service
  • Define a project

Stiff-necked fuckups of God

The appropriators of Hebrew scripture and faith read all the terrible things the Jews say about themselves or relate God saying of them, and rejoice in their own superiority.

These successor religion believers could never act like those vicious patriarchs in Genesis, or the wicked persecutors of prophets, or those hypocritical Pharisees.

The secular inheritors of the Judeo-Christian morality beg to differ. All those various religious fanatics of the past did all kinds of injustice and violence in the name of God. They were clearly out for themselves, and using God as a way to delude themselves and others.

But the modern secular moralists, having rejected all the sketchy doctrines of the past, could never act like those fanatics and mistake themselves for moral when acting in their own self-interest. They’ve found ways to objectively, methodically, scientifically neutralize their deepest biases and motivated reasoning. And therefore, they alone ought to teach and administer justice, and those who oppose them should be suppressed.

To me, those people capable of recognizing and acknowledging their wisdom failures are wiser than those who still have not discovered the unwisdom in their wisdom — (not to mention the injustice in their justice, the unfairness in their fairness, the violence in their compassion, the error in their truth, and so on) — still have some collective growing up to do.

I’m sticking with the stiff-necked fuckups of God.