Topoλόγος disputatio

I.

Psychoanalysis sets itself apart as clinical method because it doesn’t understand the role of the clinical intervention to be the same as do scientific intervention practices. This doesn’t mean only scientific psychiatry; geologists looking into the fault lines of rocks and pseudoscientists such as homeopaths share the same concept structures of wellness and infirmity. Indeed psychoanalysis is disconnected enough from the unity of science (more so even than witch doctoring) that it’s not [proto/pseudo/anti/para/meta]scientific at all.

On the clinical side, the core teaching of psychoanalysis, on the other hand, is that you cannot be made whole again. Psychoanalytic treatment therefore mostly presses toward amor fati and resignation. Unsurprisingly the impact of psychoanalysis in the clinical setting has been minuscule in comparison to its impact as a non-philosophical mode of theorizing about the human situation. Even then, the quotation from the Dhammapada applies: “these teachings are like a raft to be abandoned once you have crossed the flood”.

General axiology has a parallel structure as a potential method for intervening in the world. It looks at hierarchies of value systems, but it can only promise a movement upwards. While the results of axiological analysis may yield opportunities for intuitive conflict resolution, analysis itself works by conflict discovery and even conflict generation. It therefore lends itself nicely to settings such as corporate strategic planning because it presses hard against the environment of chaotic incentives that arises in any kind of large organization.

Can political programs be derived from the theoretical framework of general axiology? It’s not impossible; but its implications for any kind of action program are comparable in a certain sense to psychoanalysis’s implications for clinical treatment: the political patient cannot be cured, he can at best be cut down to size.

In the straightforward application of general axiology ideas to a political debate, combatant parties are led through a process of abstracting away their grievances and interests until a general formulation where the disagreement has disappeared emerges. I haven’t tried this beyond internet forums, so I can’t be sure it actually works in complex real settings. Yet there is a sense in which the emergence of modern states and political parties dissolves long-running family feuds: the state and the political process that reproduces it are almost like axiological vacuum pumps such that economic, religious and cultural matters are continually raised to a more abstract political setting.

This should make clear that “more abstract” and “better” are far from interchangeable (it’s easy to do economic planning wrong); what is needed is a theory of abstraction that displaces “the ladder” for a structure such that there can always be multiple paths toward more abstraction and most end up in deadlock. This is where axiological thinking  both clears and blocks the path. It should block the path as a structure of theory-suspicion; it should discourage most possibilities of bogus, unanalyzed agreement so that the kind of uncomfortable temporary agreement that pave the way for abstraction can survive.

Maybe for the better, this program probably doesn’t work for politics. The very existence of a clear and visible political process is the symptom of a mal-adaptation (from the point of view of axiological analysis) that will defend itself to the death.

II. 

The first beatitude of axiological thinking is to not mistake a person’s actions and evaluations for their underlying axiological setup. Economists with their simple convex-analysis theory of consumer preferences are more clear about this than almost everyone else: a world of concreteness interposes itself between the inscrutable field of wants and the effect of human dissatisfaction on the world. But economists focus on people and people only; the import of the Heidegger story, culminating on interfacticity, is to foreground the interactions between facticities (subjectivities y compris) at large. Once grokked, this idea obviates the first beatitude; but it’s a difficult idea that at this moment really serves to found the first beatitude.

The practical consequence of this is that you can never take disagreement at face value, particularly in real-time setting. Everyone knows debates are useless at getting “truths” across belligerent parts; the proper theoretical model for this is that the real-time debate model is simply impotent in setting up the ambient conditions of truth for display — in other words, a debate can’t be had in truth. But this doesn’t make it useless: debates are typically forums to parade difference, whether earnest or forced.

A better model for applied axiological thinking is a marital row. The optimal outcome for a disagreement between married persons is not to find a winner; most of the time, it isn’t even to arrive at the best objective thesis.  Rather, the best results are obtained by repeatedly reframing the disagreement until it dissolves under the weight of the reasons why you’re married in first place — a strong axiology if there’s ever one in bourgeois society.

Whether this model applies in other contexts depends similarly on the existing axiological infrastructure. A corporation is bound by revenue, salaries, promotions and at best pride in product. What about a small town? Thinking through this will readily show that politics repels axiological analysis because it gains its power from destroying existing axiological infrastructures.

III. 

Can we propose an alternative to politics? Possibly — but for it to be wortwhile, it would have to be simultaneously a general abstract proposal with multiple other concrete instances — maybe ranging from the cure of psychosomatic illnesses to the acquisition of a better singing voice. And I can’t promise those things — maybe never.

Still, I have been working at this procedure; after some iterations it seems to have acquired the barbarous Greek-Latin hybrid name of “topologos disputatio“.

Topologos” stands rather crudely for “reasoning about place”; that the term has a very definite interpretation in the contemporary mathematical discipline of topology is lucky, in that everyone who’s seen the basics of the discipline will understand me immediately. I translate “Disputatio” to “debate”. The whole expression therefore crudely translates to “discuss the structure of territory”. People hip to mathematics can imagine trying out different topologies to a given mathematical object; people hip to Deleuze may instead groove on lines of flight and bodies without organs. (There are technical differences to these interpretations, but in a sufficiently abstract setting they eventually dissolve.

Topologos disputatio is an alternative to debate, agreement and disagreement altogether. What it tries to accomplish is a focus on problems that are complex enough that they can only at best be tentatively explored in their gross structural features. A territory, as about half of you know already, is only a territory because we expect to leave and return. A topology, as the other half knows, can be quite a coarse theory, even more so as the underlying spaces become stranger.

The benefits from this strange “post-truth” practice should be clear — have I undersold the delights of general axiology?

At any rate, this is an experimental procedure I’ve been trying here and there. To carry on with the experiment, I just created a Telegram channel. Maybe it takes off, maybe it doesn’t.

 

Bric-a-brac

This is a blog, right? A web log.

I have a few drafts lying  around that both have something to them but can neither grow into a full essay or coalesce into a text that either/or advances the cause of theory/fulfills the promise of touching base with concrete examples for a while.

I.

What is meant when I or you or Badiou or Jair say the word “time”?

On the level of action “time” is an intensification. Actual manifestations (lengths, energies, chemical gradients) are made intensive by introducing time as an intensifier. This is why we’ve been claiming that on the level of action there are possibly many possible clicking tempos and flaming kairoi. But on what grounds?

A putative foundation for our tripartite scheme of time on top of a proper ontological scenario would require taking the position of “actualism”. Time in our scheme is above-ground, local and descriptive; it cannot be constitutive of reality. This doesn’t jive with philosophical ontologies that give priority to a scenario of intensities-in-actualization. There are other choices; the stringent requirement of philosophy is that we eventually pick a side, ie make a decision.

Here Laruelle, the high priest of nonphilosophy, gives us the magic formula: de-scission (from the same apparent root of “scissors”, and roughly translating to “splitting” or maybe “shearing”). The philosophical decision is then a procedure of suture:  things or processes that are found prima facie as tearing away are sewn together in such a way that hopefully their inherent tendencies will reunite them.

Now, who’s a poor theoretician to heal the world? It’s a daredevil’s pursuit, philosophy: surgery en plein combat. As the thing-of-the-world goes. Philosophy has to be a theoretical affair to get something done. Because philosophical surgery is done is such perilous ground, philosophical theories are often held in great admiration — the theorist’s theorist’s theories.

This has the effect of giving every theory that’s not explicitly adjectivated (music theory, social theory, economic theory — and even then) the airs of philosophy. But what powers (generic) theory is not exactly the same that powers (generic) philosophy; the great philosophies are founded on a suspicion of theory and even a promise of going somewhere theory is not needed.

Philosophy, is after all, a discipline of love; this is clearly evidenced in the Enchiridion, the Critique of Practical Reason or A Thousand Plateaus, and (I’m told) also in the Science of Logic and Process and Reality and so on and so on. Theory on the contrary is founded on suspicion itself; it comes from a place of medium-grade paranoia where anything in the world could be bogus, most prominently the theorist himself; it is realized (brought from reality) at the place where the pull of the task is greater than the méfiance it inspires. The willful outrageousness and studied nonchalance of some theorists should be a tell.

Theory qua theory (satisfying the quability conditions of theory) needs therefore to keep philosophy at arms length. This distance is needed because philosophy is our culture’s fundamental model of theoretical work; therefore we need to see it at work, watch the gears turn without being swallowed by them. But in light of theory (now in the sense we’ve been developing in this series) this entire dialectics of [philosophy-love implemented in theory] versus [theory-suspicion buoyed by philosophy] is revealed to be a scenario. This compels the subsequent question: what’s the tools of the diegesis? What stands ec-statically besides the camera?

II

The concept of religion is often etymologically reduced to religare, reconnect. The prime concern of religion is to produce the central orientations for the community. In this sense Scientology and David Koresh and multiple others pass muster. But the better religions transcend the rule of commonality to the rules of individuation; which is to say, they develop the discipline for individual spirituality to flourish.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was trained as a Protestant pastor. Still, his essays give out a particular personal system that wants from the get go to propel a thousand individual spiritualities.

The basic concepts of Emersonian religion are nature, genius and the within. Emerson proclaims (unknowingly) a doctrine similar to the Hindu Atman is Brahman, but in his own American terms. The within is a manifestation of Atman, but is also the place of a decision (again, a suture): most men choose not to open their hearts to the immanent numinous and live false little lives. Not as neatly, nature may well be correlated in correspondence to Brahman — the cosmic principle of growth that  in the American century becomes undiscovered land for a race of naturalists.

But Nature manifests primarily in the within, which makes the “self” not a furious Roarkian center of meaning but a vessel for the great order of things. The core structure of the within is whim, but the whim of men follows — in some indirect and highly proprietary way that is only revealed through meaningful action — the whimsical movement of nature. Ultimately self-reliance is really reliance on the secret of this possible order which is only unlocked by the intermediate step that is trusting oneself as a profound program. God exists, and he wants us not to manifest submission, but genius, which is thusly defined in the very first lines:

I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, —that is genius.

To recap: Emerson makes continual reference to a large axiology, Nature, but also posits a smaller one, Genius. Genius sprouts from the within, from man’s indefinite potential for originality and authenticity. Nature speaks through man (Atman is Brahman), but there is some excess (a surplus-geniality that shines as Genius); later in the essay, Emerson plainly names the source of this excess as Whim. Whim is the particular axiology that defines (left half) and produces (right half) the subjectivity to which freedom and authenticity are indexed. Brahman is cosmologically Nature but metaphysically a principle of growth that in Emersonian religion is represented by Genius. But Atman is Brahman + Whim; Atman contains the dependent origination of Man’s animality, but not that breakthrough that Julian Jaynes tried to attribute to a breakdown in brain bilaterality.

Movements toward genericity tend to peel away at Whim to figure out grand systemic loops such as those that circularly link Atman and Brahman, Genius and Nature. This is fine and done to dizzying complexity by theoretical physicists; but the level of action is “uncomposable” with genericizing gestures. This is a self-admitted handicap: we explained it by noting that general axiology is an apraxic theory. But reality bitches on and insists even at the point where theory pulls the theoretician into thinking and writing.

III

The prime mover of theory is “the pull of theory”. Some of you have been bitten by this insect, some of you haven’t. A cogent account of a complex phenomenon that matches it in complexity and outrageousness: it tasks you; it’s up to you. Theory consumes me several hours a month, shirked here and there, stolen from hours of peak mental productivity. For what? At my level I can hope to influence a handful of people who can communicate to real issues. I’m otherwise too much. Too much text, too many technical concepts that simplify discussion while in the same motion pull the discussion to yet another domain of abstraction.

This doesn’t make theory or myself distinguished in any way — it’s the general condition of marginal intellectual pursuit. There’s only so much that’s up to me, really. When you’re surfing you don’t confuse yourself with the wave.

Now, on the other hand — there are a few building blocks that are fundamentally different from what is generally sold as theory simpliciter — this almost always implicitly means critical theory. What I’m doing may be closer to building a community for an ashram than to critical theory. Indeed our first steps followed the rough template of “critical-theory considerations apply to some degree” (although their ideological instrumentalization makes it difficult to calibrate their deserved dues) but these scruples were let fade away in favor of a kind of Nike-just-do-it: engage with the problem that tasks me and develop the theory that pulls me.

It is what it is; and it is huge. If there’s a grand gesture on which everything else hangs as tentative technology, it’s this wholesale suspension of the world. Theory for itself, recursive, theory without end. But what of Whim, in this story? In a sense that may be more rigorous than we’re able to establish at the moment, Whim (or the “Emerson story”) may just the missing link between Atman, the heuristic, narrative manifestation o theory and Brahman, its technical core in displaced formal logic and complex differential equations (more on this soon; there are drafts, but they’re not clear). Emersonian religion reauthorizes that old dictum, sapere aude, incipit!

I can promise I am. On three fronts at least: accounting for the first dozens of weeks of Jair in  government, presenting the new technical resource of extensors and intensors (which enable us to access a “Delanda story” in more rigorous fashion) and carrying forward with the program of the “Tarski story”, the representation or limits of representation of quability theory as formal satisfiability.

This is what we have, really.