Theory is a hard sell because it offers very thin odds for wholesale validation. This is the strategy consultant’s dilemma: at least in principle, he has to reconcile taking the client’s side (listening to his pain) with offering something that amounts to substantive change he doesn’t want. A strategy product where companies’s borked “key principal indicators” are replaced for “axiological scenario systems” can be devised with scarcely more technique than we already have, but how do you sell the idea of value system surgery to pragmatic purseholders with scarce time for philosophical books? It’s not that the theoretician is coming in to take away his power — it’s your axiologies, not mine — but that as the scenario grows more abstract, the opportunity for fine ad hoc tuning that is supposedly the role of the High Priests of corporate HQ starts to vanish. They either stay within the story or become obscurely extradiegetic.
Likewise, even as the ongoing political situation in Brazil appears to align itself with our ongoing belief that the core scenario at hand is the constitutional crisis and the hi-Z status of the Revolutionary Guard, it’s very hard to move beyond “concrete policy issues can’t be discussed at this level of abstraction” — the phrase will show up on my phone’s autocorrect any time soon. What is the appropriate level of abstraction then?
A dizzyingly high one.
People who have continued to study mathematics past the point where it seemed practical have had this experience, especially when guided by professors and mentors: making chalk marks on a blackboard, the master alternates between setting up rigorous formulae that can only be understood after serious practice, and gesturing over the blank spaces, chaining tiny geometrical allusions meant to convey that this makes sense, you can imagine uniformly continuous spaces of functions as… you know this in your hearts to be true. It’s at this point of dizziness that the mind opens up for understanding and you start running the risk of being struck by truth-rain.
Theory in the sense we have been developing has, evidently, reached nowhere this level of confusion. It’s been taking place, after all, over the course of a few months and in response to an emergency; and it’s increasingly taking the form of a kind of ethereal clockwork that at times of kairos will crash and deform against the roughness of human affairs.
Cueing in our Zizek voice sample: in a perverse way the symptom of general axiology is a widespread sense of confusion. It’s true, we’ve said it numerous times, in general axiology the sexism you detest in pedagogical scenarios will have been redefined to something you like. Because general axiology contains every and each smaller axiology, it will (as it crashes with the Earth) have had an effect of convergence. It will deagonize human experiences. But that has to be preceded by a tempo-click of utmost disorientation, the ultimate tension before the ultimate release that is implied by the basic premises of theory.
At any juncture the important question is therefore — am I sufficiently confused?
In the typical setting, economics is a two-piston engine comprised of two axiologies we will call M and U. Axiology M is as theory of the value of costly things. Along with all the material goods this includes human effort, sinew and misery; in effect, all affairs on which the bare partial order induced by the prevailing system of exchange (even in communism things had prices and wages) is defined. Axiology U comprises the generalized “field”(not a technical term) of human subjectivity (but remember always that subjectivity is a partial (curried) application of interfacticity-towards-X) in its relation with all material and most immaterial things.
Axiology U is strictly larger than axiology M: the stuff of economic life is valuing the means of obtaining type-M values; when e.g. factories obtain M-dominant ways of achieving U-outcomes, “productivity” is said to have increased. The typical setting of economics is a two-piston engine because it sees this interplay as the composition of two counterfactual movements. In the first, U-outcomes are considered frozen and universal, and the M-improvement (the reduction in costs for a fixed industrial output) taken in isolation. In the second, M-outcomes are universalized and U-improvements (the increase in output for fixed costs) are foregrounded. Economists see this decomposition of actual motion in “ceteris paribus” (their technical term) motions as an act of theory. They need it because U is mostly invisible to humans (which industrial outcomes are more valuable?). Normative discourse is not eliminated by this procedure, but many popular issues are revealed to be bogus and others crucial (while indiscernible to humans) can be seen in black and white stark pencil formulae.
What’s interesting here is that each “pause button” (ceteris paribus) is a full counterfactual with all the logical issues involved in modal reasoning, but in concert they add to something fully observable in axiologies M and downwards. Each of these motions is a click (a step in tempo) but they cancel each other a little. In effect an adjustment process goes on — economists are often, but not always, silent on the temporality of this process — across a self-crossing of the time of kyklos (and here the connection with economic and political cycles is complete). Not physical time, mr. Susskind, big fan of your lectures here, not chronos, tempo, the time of praxis.
Life pro tip: if you find yourself at a club trying to pick up an attractive woman (men are much easier to pluck) — remember this stuff. Tempo folded over itself.
I’m well aware that “truth-rain”, “chrematistics” and “switcharoo” are some goofy words, but what to make of “acceleration”? What, in mr. Susskind-time or in praxis or…? How do we even give teleology an index of dimensionality, let alone d=1? A pendulum in 3D space has a phase space of dimension 2 because that’s what the differential equations bring out. A pendulum, a pebble hanging from a string.
There’s more: teleology since Aristotle (maybe even before) has always conflated goals with limit points. Thereafter we should think that every teleology is subsumed by a “teleaxiology” that induces an orientation on the general “field” (tantalizing, but not technical term) of reality. If there was such a monster it would be trivially identified with general axiology. But this, in my evaluation, is both too poor (too generic) to be valuable and too big (too general) to take at face value. Such teleological claims are pure meaningful gestures at a level of abstraction that cannot but chop off the legs of guests that are too tall.
We must instead consider the scenario of teleology as an open (topological sensu strictu) space in all directions. This open, horizontal, unmarked field on which eventual-becomings (something like “particular teleologies”, if the word would admit plural form; eventual-limit sequences of events) run free like wild horses. Either a teleaxiology exists and it reveals itself eventually as general axiology, or it does not. But at the moment (this moment) of such a bracketing operation, the central question is: can we postpone implementation? Can we not decide what happens here?
This question must be asked because that’s work of theurgy to be done: genericization past the point of comfort. It depends on a basic virtue that was once called Socratic but may come to be renamed after Jair: the renunciation of wisdom and the surrender to the soteriology of a Truth that is not held by Man but covers him like the rain. It depends also on a great deal of book-keeping (much of linear algebra holds in spaces of infinite dimension but you have to re-check what the proofs were assuming) to perform the switcharoo at the point of ultimate confusion. We may be significantly botching this book-keeping in the current iteration, but as we move outwards each previous quavering misstep will reveal itself either as a fully void formula or point to its quability conditions from where the real book-keeping has to take place.
And if it does not, maybe there are other horses that are adventurous too.