Thursday, February 9, 2017

The world needs a new story

The world needs a new story to make sense of itself. It will include the fact of evolution, the immensity of time that preceded us; the fact that we live on a planet in an incomprehensibly vast universe; the urgent need for us to be environmentally responsible and a stress on the dire consequences of wasteful consumerism and an economic model built on it; a sense of the importance of acceptance of differences among people and peoples; the social, environmental, political and emotional benefits of gender equality; the need to keep network power nodes in check; and all of this needs to impart a sense of coziness. It sounds odd to say "coziness" but that's the nub of it. We all know or sense, more or less, the other stuff. In the past, it has been established power (accompanied with a supposed divine sanction such as the mandate of heaven or the divine right of kings!) that bounded the universe in tidy ways for us, but that no longer exists or at least, where it does, it exists in a decadent form from which little good could emerge (and vehemently defended by people in thrall to a reaction formation). So there's the challenge. To find a story so we feel at home 'on a planet', as opposed to 'in a world'.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ideological Lag

Now is the time to let tribal emotions dissipate whether you belong to a tribe that calls itself progressive or a lone cowboy tribe. 

The thing to realize is that our economy sets the rules of how we cooperate (and has throughout history), because how we cooperate is how we work together to make and do stuff - any stuff - all stuff - ever. Those arrangements (personal or institutional) are eventually established in terms of our evolving levels of productive technology and patterns of trade.These things are thoroughly interconnected.

But there's usually a very uncomfortable lag between the implementation of an economically significant technology, our new working relationships that emerge out of the change, and the collective story that makes sense of it.

Meanwhile we don't need to succumb to the lamentation that "all we like sheep have gone astray" (perfectly apt irony today since sheep represent herd mentality while going astray is an individualistic motion - the individualistic herd). 

Being forward looking is very important. It's time to resist nostalgia for an imaginary "homeland" as we cannot afford to be tribal in a transnational economy and the last century in Europe should have taught us that. This is what we should remember today.

We just need to allow ourselves to risk thinking informed by wisdom and good purpose. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Power and human instincts

 I'm reading "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Harari. He says

"how did humans organise themselves in mass-cooperation networks [a.k.a. Socioeconomic systems] when they lacked the biological instincts necessary to sustain such networks? The short answer is that humans created imagined orders and devised scripts. These two inventions filled the gaps left by our biological inheritance."

Turns out these scripts tend to invoke a divine decree as a warrant for legitimacy, as we know. But it's very doubtful that these hierarchical orders were planned and hammered out by Hammurabi and co. with many times the cunning of a modern PR consultancy or even fully consciously, as Harari insinuates.  Who is going to accept and carry out his social role no matter how lowly just because some clever storytellers concocted and disseminated the very story to organize hundreds of thousands into stable economic networks? Narratives probably emerged and evolved along with mass cooperation networks. The numinousness bestowed via divine blessing on the experience of the revelation of "justice" (which differs based on the socioeconomic organization in play) is a strong hint that there is indeed an instinctive aspect to human narratives supporting the social order. We don't get it yet because we're too focussed on discrete entities as ontically  "fundamental" (perhaps part and parcel of the individualist script in play today that has supported the socioeconomic order known as capitalism.)

Narratives can be concocted and are influential but the notion that the powerful can manage to manipulate the organization of whole civilizations by consciously concocting tales of divinely legitimated justice is utterly simplistic. Nevertheless this and similar explanations are advanced indirectly in works like Ian Morris's Why the West Rules for Now. One thing the historical supposition of a transcendental source of justice has left even non religious investigators today is the sense that we are above nature and that our various versions of narratives of justice are not instinctually rooted. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Minus 11

Transcending Nature
The two active ideological or intellectual paradigms today continue to be driven by the desire to transcend nature.  One is a technological/instrumentalist paradigm and the other a rationalist/intellectual paradigm.  The technological concerns itself with means, mechanisms and medicine and a more comfortable life of things and products, while the intellectual ostensibly concerns itself with the "eternal" and that which provides a standard for the determination of worthwhile ends.  These two strands are at war, with the technological thrust in the more comfortable position since its cornerstones—empiricism, pragmatism and the like—are convenient ideological supports of the capitalist global economy.  The anti-feudal (i.e., anti essentialist or anti-elitist) attacks on "Platoland," a red herring, only serve to support Walmart and the practical "philosophy" of today’s “populist” homme d'affaires.

Both of these strands are based on a theological model that construes humans as theological beings, “individual, rational, moral agents”, while nature is reduced to a set of urges or influences from which to purge oneself as far as is possible (whether or not it is still believed that nature, even the whole cosmos, was created exclusively for us.)  

What I think is really needed is a disposition of willingness to be at peace with nature—that we operate within, not above, the ecosphere.  We are part of nature, subject to its mysterious influences, with instincts and interrelations no one has bothered to investigate in the mainstream because science and social theory are still working within the set of assumptions of the theological model.

On Tribe and Discourse

Earlier blog entries in this space (Culture is Geologic [gone - eaten by former blog host], Tribalization and the Global Economy and Relativism [below], Populism and Power [also eaten]) expressed the view that industrialism, by disrupting awareness of a direct relation to nature, dislodged the web of discourse that integrated tribe and ecosystem and replaced the integrating mythos with a place holder that Lacan refered to as the Name-of-the-Father.  This place holder can now be filled, the sentiments of "tribe" artificially but all the more zealously aroused, by any number of banners.  One's sense of personal identity is wrapped up in some kind of tribal membership.
I say all the more zealously because in a globalized economy, tribal connections, especially among urban or modern people, are likely to be reaction formations to some degree.  Believers of myths today believe them literally and historically, rather than heuristically or metaphorically; fans idolize teams and do battle over loyalties; patriots die for nations that never supported them; gangs fight over territories; people are relieved to be identified as belonging to a market segment.  Reaction formation is characterized by overly intense beliefs; overly intense to sustain the lie to oneself.  
A little reflection and anyone can see that intense tribal loyalties are artificial yet deadly in a global economy.  The organic integrity of pre-literate tribes has long decayed, as we can see directly in the aboriginal peoples of the world whose ways have been sideswiped by globalization.  Today, the tribe as a social-psychological form is decadent.  A true way of renewal needs to be found. 

Tribalization and the Global Economy
Historically, tribe is a set of economic relationships between people that direct their relation to local nature; i.e., a socio-economic system.  An attendant mythology embedded in linguistic structures models the world for members of the tribe. The mythology institutionalizes kinship relations, the rites and rules of reproduction and life events in patriarchal terms.  Tribe is circumscribed by a set of proprieties and shameful transgressions (especially reproductive) that literally define its membership and its members’ sense of identity.

What happens to tribe in the global economy? 

In a global economy, the tribe resides in an alienated nostalgia.  There is an empty place-holder for what should be a meaningful socially-integrating force (that makes us feel at home in the world and explains our connection to nature in mythological terms), but the place-holder embodies the same amount of energy and urgency as any locally based socio-economic system.  In an unrooted global economic system, any banner can galvanize a group in the time it takes to score a goal , shout “death to infidels” or prefer one popular music genre over another.  Why?

Psychologist Jacques Lacan had the brilliance to realize three things:  One, that the sense of personal identity one has is necessary for basic sanity; Two, that this sense of identity does not self-subsist in individuals but is a product of one’s linguistic place in the patriarchal-tribal system of meanings; and Three, it is necessary for there to be an integrating but intrinsically undefinable locus of navigation to this system of meanings, which he facetiously but accurately called “the name of the father.”  So the answer to the question as to why tribe can galvanize with such astounding force is that a linguistic community is deeply necessary for sanity.  There are obvious exceptions, but unfortunately until Lacan is wrong, and Carol Gilligan is right … 

2016-06-08 Note: Name of the father "as the delegate and spokesperson of a body of social Law and convention", not the phallus as per Freud. There are probably better sources out there. I was reading Malcolm Bowie 11 years ago in 2005 if anyone's interested. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Brain activity pre-awareness proves NOTHING....


Dear Dr. Oakley,

You state in your article, 

"There is a strong link between the conscious experience of intending to move a limb and experiencing the movement. But being aware that you intend to move your limb is not the same as saying that your awareness made your limb move – especially when the intention to move precedes awareness of that intention. However, our unconscious thought systems generate the belief that it was the self’s awareness of the intention that brought about the movement." 

It’s intention that hones awareness as anyone who has gone grocery shopping, practiced playing the piano, prepared to be in an acting role, played a sport, can attest. And the joy of mastering a skill is that one can less awkwardly achieve one's objective without having to laboriously concentrate on every little twitch of a knuckle. After much practice, chess experts are somewhat paradoxically able to pre-screen out irrelevant possible moves from consciousness, mostly to their advantage, sometimes not, as I’m sure you know. 

Some intentions are deliberate, others not, of course, but not all that is deliberate is always conscious, as the purpose of deliberate practice is to make effortless the more tedious details of practice. So I don’t think you can really base your theories (which might be correct for other reasons) on the shaky edifice that it’s a mistake to think awareness makes our limbs move. I drive home or type this without much awareness of the details of how my hands move the wheel or my fingers on the keyboard. These movements are not in response to a deliberate desire on my part to keep in the lanes every inch of the way, or press t with my left index finger, but to get home safely or to write this note.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Instrumentalism and Essentialism

Rationalism and essentialism are targeted in much of postmodern social theory today because they are believed to have been the epistemological and ontological doctrines most responsible for legitimating oppressive hierarchies and stifling  diversity.  Social theorists argue that these positions create a tiered reality where historical contingencies are recast as natural necessities founded in a transcendent world of eternal ideas.  
Gilles Deleuze's position is especially interesting inasmuch as it seems in every respect an effort to fully invert the ontic priorities attributed to rationalism and essentialism.  Deleuze's position is clearly articulated by Manuel DeLanda who assesses rationalism and essentialism as totalitarian in their tendency to exhaust possibility, close horizons, and emphasize unity and uniformity.  DeLanda sustains Deleuze's emphasis on flux, spontaneity and heterogeneity.  This effort to advance a position congenial to pluralism, however, should not be taken to mean that Deleuze and DeLanda are relativists or social constructivists.
It is certainly important to reconsider, as DeLanda does, the kind of Ptolemaic attitude that has characterized social theory for a number of years.  To reduce reality to what can be socially constructed is anthropocentric and disregards the eons during which life and matter existed prior to our emerging in the universe. Deleuze rejects both social constructivism and “a realism based on a correspondence theory of truth,” because, according to DeLanda, it is “a realism deeply committed to essentialism and rationalism.”1  At the heart of this rejection is his criticism of the view that matter is an inert receptacle for the impression of forms, either as social constructs or eternal essences.  In much of contemporary social theory, it is believed that elitism, the denigration of physical labour and the political imposition of externally imposed ideals of existence are  insidiously supported by this “rationalist” view of matter.
I join those hoping to advance pluralism and counter reductivism and its pernicious social and ecological effects.  Yet I question whether rationalism and essentialism are appropriate targets in this battle and will argue that this focus merely diverts attention from the forces that now telescope horizons. This is definitely not to say that I am a proponent of rationalism or essentialism as they are usually characterized. A pantheon of forms or atemporal idea-entities such as “zebrahood ” are notions that hardly warrant attention.  Rather, I will argue that possibilities of conceptual and material expression are reduced and compromised by instrumentalism, and that, while instrumentalism is a framing, it is not an idealism but its inversion.

Uniformity and empiricism
DeLanda states that “the complexity and variability of behaviour of materials has always been the concern of empirically oriented craftsmen or engineers, not of philosophers or scientists.”2   He adds that philosophy tended to “despise the senses” while science atomized its subject and at best could only talk about matter as “mass.”  In other words, rationalism and essentialism are accused of ignoring the complexity that Deleuze highlights so successfully with an unconventional empirical orientation.
DeLanda discusses Deleuze's concept of the “machinic phylum,” which is described as “matter-energy in flux” to which all expressions of materiality are subject.  The machinic phylum is characterized as dynamic and in continuous variation. “Unlike essentialism, where matter is viewed as an inert receptacle for forms that come from the outside (transcendental essences), here matter is seen as possessing its own immanent, intensive resources for the generation of form from within.”3  As an illustration, DeLanda describes the blacksmith, who “treats metals as active materials, pregnant with morphogenetic capabilities, and his role is that of teasing a form out of them, of guiding, through a series of processes (heating, annealing, quenching, hammering), the emergence of a form, a form in which the materials themselves have a say. His task is less that of realizing previously defined possibilities than actualizing virtualities along divergent lines.”
It is this context in which DeLanda discusses industrial production and notes that “industrial metals have undergone in the last two hundred years an intense process of uniformation and homogenization in both their chemical composition and their physical structure. The rationale behind this process was partly based on questions of reliability and quality control, but it had also a social component: both human workers and the materials they used needed to be disciplined and their behaviour made predictable. Only then the full efficiencies and economies of scale of mass production techniques could be realized.” 

The anti-teleological teleology of efficiency
It is interesting that DeLanda cites the quest for efficiency as the factor that homogenizes matter and behaviour.  An overriding concern with method has led to the “disciplining” of human workers and their materials. This has obscured or even removed the motivation for those involved in the process to determine and assess the intended purposes of production.  The exclusive focus on methods grinds other horizons under foot as “ the ends of our activities … become sedimented beneath an all-encompassing concern with the means.”4 
The overriding concern with method is reflected in “technological thinking” that conceals an “anti-teleological” teleology; one which posits the  “norms of a purely instrumental rationality, such as punctuality, efficiency, productivity and the like” as ends in themselves.  Therefore, it should be apparent there is nothing intrinsic to craftwork that prevents an instrumentalist attitude toward it.  In fact, it is when the material possibilities of technical production determine the form of what is produced that the homogeneity so despised by critics of rationalism and essentialism is engendered.

Empiricism is a methodology, not an ontology
It is plain that Deleuze's empirical orientation is not exemplified by orthodox empirical methodology and his orientation to the world of sense, in this context, may perhaps be better labeled an aesthetic orientation.  Yet by examining empiricism in its in its more orthodox aspects, it becomes clear that an empiricist methodology is what drives the machine of efficiency.
One area where there had until recently been a great emphasis on an empirical orientation is the so called “soft sciences.”  This “cult of empiricism” has had laughable results in the area of empirical psychology which, according to psychologist Jack F. Martin, “has typically placed its methodological cart in front of its ontological horse.”  He explains that “psychologists' conceptualizations of complex phenomena ... often are impoverished to the point where they are equated ... with sets of responses to rating scales on which individuals indicate the extent to which they attribute their actions to a small number of predetermined factors.”  Here, it is not only the case that methodology determined and reduced its object, but that it did so by impoverishing conceptualization; i.e., by limiting meaning to responses that could be managed technically.

Technical framing
As a methodology, it begs the question to say that empiricism serves to justify or discredit any kind of ontology.  However, empiricism frequently does worse than place its “methodological cart in front of its ontological horse.” While it reduces both material and conceptual complexity , it conceals its own operation in a cult of facts, information and “clear communication.”  Thus it exemplifies an extreme form of reductivism.  This “technical framing” is the source of the empty teleology of efficiency.  It produces a tautology that culminates in a nihilistic form of pragmatism:
The outcome is justified because / therefore the process that produced it was effective.
Pragmatism tends to reframe ends as “outcomes” of pre-established processes rather than the goals for which the processes were established.  It is as if one were to justify the existence of public institutions exclusively in terms of their capacity for fiscal responsibility, which is a means, not a goal.  A method of production is chosen for its efficiency, while choice of product (or a concern with environmental and social by-products) is precluded by the exigencies of production. For me, this aptly defines alienation.

The Technical Reduction of Matter
To paraphrase one theorist, the issue of whether technical framing itself can subsume ontological totality through its own strictly instrumental logic -- or whether its own project parasitically remains dependent upon what can never be understood within the parameters of technical framing -- defines the social and historical crisis of our lives today.5
What can never be understood primarily in terms of technical framing?  What always exceeds a methodological grasp? 
It is becoming increasingly difficult for human beings to face the reality Deleuze describes here:  “The non-organic life of things, a frightful life, which is oblivious to the wisdom and limits of the organism.  It is the vital as potent pre-organic germinality, common to the animate and the inanimate, to a matter which raises itself to the point of life, and to a life which spreads itself through all matter.” Deleuze's “matter” is clearly not the technically reduced version insisted upon by methodological empiricism.  But does that mean that we must accept the modernist cliché that the real is the material revealed by the senses, so “despised by philosophers”?
I would like to suggest, rather, that whatever in human life and experience has escaped technical control is thus despised because of its startling uncanniness.  Uncanniness is not restricted to effects of materiality.  In fact, one could say the uncanny is just that because it is not amenable to technical control and and manipulation, whether it is affective, aesthetic, numinous or noumenal.  Wherever possible, it is active manipulation and management that we look to, not archetypal images of zebrahood, in order to reconnect with the "reality principle" and dispel anxiety.  (This explains our fascination with technology and its near identification with science.)
Continuing to deny what exceeds the capacity of technical framing means that this excess will return in a destructive aspect: hence an anti-ecology of waste-driven production and the compulsive manufacture and distribution of weapons capable of unconscionable devastation.  In the failure to face the uncanniness of life itself as an ungraspable horizon or open place, life and nature are reduced to technically manipulable quantities in the world of kitsch and "products" - and the excess is left to explode in violence or anorexically consume itself.
The shadowy excess to technical framing both causes (by deterring awareness) and results from denial of the uncanny.  We can learn to face unstructured possibility as an open horizon, as DeLanda has pointed out, or objectify it in a cycle of oppression and destruction.  Courage is needed to break the cycle.  How can we turn to an open horizon that we expect will face us as primal material chaos?  We should ask about the conditions under which the ungraspable hovers darkly on the horizon as an evil sea-monster, like Tiamat before her body was split into heaven and earth by Marduk, the city god of Babylon, and when it emerges rather as an open horizon generative of possibility.
The complex, aesthetic and affective dimensions of experience are just those intrinsically valuable (“useless”) elements of life that open the horizon of becoming because they cannot be exhausted in any action or thing.  It is these creative, intrinsically sustaining, self-defining normative and aesthetic dimensions that have been divested of energy, reduced to tastes and values, commercialized and ultimately pounded out of consciousness, only to re-emerge, as oppressive instrumentalities.  Nihilistic pragmatism leeches meaning, reduces ends to outcomes, and deprives human beings of the capacity to freely choose and evaluate their own ends both in thought and action.  The legacy of instrumentalism is that we are left with no horizon, with no place to stand.  This very effectively subjects us to marketing strategies and creates a climate of political apathy.

Mathematics and the imposition of form
The old "essentialism" is characterized as positing a set of discrete forms and abiding, eternal "natures" and of course, such a view is belied by the reality of dynamical, intensive processes emphasized by DeLanda.  The inspiration for that essentialism was not technological reduction, however, but the question of the relation between the intelligible and the real.  DeLanda reminds us that in the Deleuzian framework, “The achievements of theoretical physics are seen not as linguistically interpreted general laws, but as correctly posed problems, that is, as the posing of the distribution of what is singular and ordinary (i.e., what is important and not).  DeLanda's reconstruction thus stresses that Deleuzian ontology discloses not a closed world capturable by sentences, but an open world to be explored.”6
So ingrained is the association of reason with a static and atemporal ontology, it is necessary to consider whether intelligibility really does require “a closed world capturable by sentences” and whether the stress on dynamism thereby releases the real from potentially homogenizing constraints.
In “Virtual Enviroments And The Emergence Of Synthetic Reason,”7 DeLanda provides an account of stability produced by the diversity of its material components in a variable, dynamical state.  He explains that “these ... forms of stability have received the name of "attractors", and the transitions which transform one type of attractor into another have been named "bifurcations".” Emphasizing that “The 'key' concept ... is emergent behavior” he asserts that “Natural life emerges out of the organized interactions of a great number of nonliving molecules, with no global controller responsible for the behavior of every part.”  For example, “Each of the particular adaptive traits which we observe in real zebras developed along different ancestral lineages, accumulated in the population under the action of different selection pressures, in a process that was completely dependent on specific (and contingent) historical details.”  I think that DeLanda's concluding that there is “no such thing as a preexistent collection of traits defining "zebrahood"” is a bit of a dénouement.  He goes on to say, however, that emergent properties do not arise in “an unstructured space of possibilities, but a space "pre-organized" by attractors and bifurcations.”8  
The salient point is that order is not programmed or imposed from without, but that it emerges from within.  Still it is possible to ask whether the complex patterns or ratio that can be discerned in (rather than imposed upon) the behaviour of chaotic systems are emergent properties, “pre-organizing” fields, or heuristic constructs.  
What is an attractor, or even a dimension?  Dimension appears both real and ideal, infinite and finite, sensible and intellectual.  It is neither a thing nor a property of things, nor a discrete idea-entity.  
It is quite consistent with DeLanda's position to conceive that the noumenon is actually and immanently here with us, not as a formal entity but as place or “chora”, a dynamic field of complex and richly structured possibility.  Since mathematics is not daunted by possibility, there is nothing in this account to distinguish  intensive materialism from what might be called a dynamic rationalism.  Nor is there  anything here that protects diversity from reductive instrumentalism.  In fact, industry even now is exploring new ways of obtaining “effective maintenance goals” (i.e., efficiencies) from chaotic systems.9, 10  Maybe this is why we should leave open the door to a discussion of ideals.

 5“The issue of whether capital itself can capitalize social totality and time itself through its own logic of value and production - both within Western societies and the global as a whole - or whether its own logic parasitically remains dependent upon what is, and can never be understood primarily in terms of capital value and management, defines the social and historical struggles of our lives today.”  
6 A caricature that suggests physicists mistake principles for generalizations.  “As regards the present state of the world, such as the existence of the earth on which we live and on which Galileo's experiments were performed, the existence of the sun and of all our surroundings, the laws of nature are entirely silent. ”
10  In emphasizing sensitivity to initial conditions, bifurcations, self-organization, autopoiesis, autocatalytic networks, etc., complexity discourse has opened up a space where possibilities proliferate, but now accompanied by models and control points to which 'means' of monitoring and choosing other possibilities might be attached."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Current schools of thought on the sources of objectivity

  1. Literalist Fundamentalism: Hybrid of empiricism and scripturalism. Serves capitalism and/or tribalism.
  2. New Ageism: Hybrid of tropes of modern science, superstition and common but uncanny experiences, which remain scientifically unexplored due to # 5.
  3. Post Modernism: Ever changing truth lies between the lines in the ceaseless revolution against narratives of power.
  4. Basic Science: Carries on halfway between rigour and rigor-mortis owing to emphasis on economic benefits, rigid schools of thought, and being a trope of legitimacy unto itself.
  5. Reductionist Science: Puts the methodological cart before the ontological horse, confuses the intellectual filing cabinet for reality, hung up on "building blocks", misses context, life, imagines operational definitions to be exhaustive.
  6. Promethean Science: A hubristic triumphalism of technology that, like dominionist religions, celebrates our conquest/dominion of nature.