37+ layers

I.

Once in a while, we have to start again from the top. If the Situation is indeed a polyrhytmic pattern of clicking, it makes sense that we skitter every so often from its groove and have to go five and four and three and two and hum to get back on track. And so we have, a handful of times already. But each reset has always led to one or two of the following: an explainer of the technical terminology and/or a reclaiming of the relevance of theory (meaning the theory of the theory of … the theory of generic structure).

Most recently, Tom from Telegram has placed a meaningful challenge on all of this. To be more precise: Tom has challenged my “theory discourse”, as manifested outside these writings — roughly, the pragmatics on top of which theory validates itself even as it proffers to be distanced and even disconnected from real worlds of meaning and value. Even further in precision: Tom challenges me to be nontrivial. And as much as we have gone back and forth on the concept of triviality (as much as I believe to have successfully “destabilized it”, identified with known difficult problems and shown to be as-of-yet-inoperable), the challenge itself stands on its own legs.

Back when asemic horizon was getting started, I used to make a lot of the fact that I wrote multiple drafts that never converged into something publishable. This was in part to apologize for the quality of the text — “I know this is terrible but it’s truly the best I’ve got right now”; but the quality of the text was not only due to being rusty in a foreign language, but also to the general awkwardness of trying to comment on suspicious political matters in such a way that “more light than heat” came out. This changed with the sharp theoretical turn inaugurated with “…Kropotkin“. Thereafter drafts reached the dignity of the “Publish” button through their verve and provocativeness or died by being “technical” and “boring”. The general problem of triviality therefore collides (which is to say, coincides at a point of shock) with the narrower problem of technical theory.

Namely: that technical theory is, at best, trivial (albeit plagued with leaps of reasoning in the general case). In the opposite limit, theory is made of pure verve.

II.

{0,1} are distinct atoms. Maybe distinct atoms exist, maybe they don’t. But this openness to possibility is in bijection with the distinct atoms: that is, we can map “0” with “distinction atoms exist” and “1” with “they don’t”. Why does the very radical doubt of distinctness in claimable equivalence with distinctness? Because the claimable equivalence can, itself, be mapped to one of the distinct atoms in such a way that “0” can be mapped with “this doubt is sound” and “1” to “this doubt is nonsense”. In this way doubt can be indefinitely radicalized at a relatively low cost: crunch the numbers and behold: 37 entire layers of the Veil of Maya fit in a SD card the size of your smallest fingernail. The cost-benefit analysis therefore pans out: we can assume distinctness in full confidence that an indefinitely large number of levels of radical doubt about distinctness can be transformed into distinctness.

Note that distinctness is also (and according to some, fundamentally) a way of talking about nondistinctness. Maybe A, B, C,… are apparent distinctions in the world, and for each pair the propositions “AB are distinct”/”are not distinct” span a distinction. The ultimate lesson of the Heart Sutra in this light is: as we work through the Dharma of nondistinctness we find the Dharma itself to be nondistinct, at which point radical transience emerges as the nondistinctness of nondistinctness — at the moment where you’re preparing yourself to evaluate the distinctness-value of that object of final desire, it reveals itself not to be an object, but a process, a differential equation, always gone, gone beyond the great beyond.

Contrariwise, if everything is held to be distinct and inordinately specific, then there is no pair of distinctive propositions “everything is distinct”/”nondistinct”. Indefinite distinctness either collapses or forces us to reconsider the value of the concept “distinctness”. But as noted, we can reconsider that until the boars rule over Barcelona.

III.

Pulling distinctness from an uninspectable box of speculative toys is a trivial maneuver. But outmaneuvering distinctness is cost-prohibitive — at current exponents, not even Moore’s law can save us from having to consider some things to be distinct and some others not. To paraphrase someone who said this about capitalism, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of distinctness. But I say this not to praise distinctness, but to ventilate (to give wind, and therefore the material ability for it to sound itself) the possibility of seriously considering the end of the world.

This is the dharma of systems theory: the system could fail to continuously reproduce its ongoing outcome — why doesn’t it? Why isn’t the planet crushed by its own gravity, society not radically disturbed by the vagaries of social systems (not to the point of indefinite and aimless revolution, anyhow), pension funds not crashing given a horizon of negative real interest rates? There must be a mechanism; and radically, a mechanism that cannot be meaningfully distinguished (set in a bijection with the atoms {0,1}) from the outcome itself. Therefore systems are utterly nondistinct, and any attempt at reintroducing distinction incurs the vagaries of mereology, roughly meaning the fundamental uncertainty that prevents us from peering into the system from the outside, analyzing its circuits, computing Fiedler numbers and disconnecting wires here and there to specify subsystems while simultaneously spanning para-systems of counterfactuals that account for the fact that we have messed with the circuits in first place.

It would nevertheless appear — from the way experts and authorities speak — that our ability to analyze end-of-the-world scenarios is founded in precisely that: split the thing-of-the-world into subcircuits and give each to a specialist, an expert. Here, too, a kind of distinctness is posited, but its tree of radical skepticisms grows fast unwieldy. Sure, “experts can hack it” and “the sum of experts can’t span the sum-system” are distinct propositions in bijection etc. but skepticism about this unfolds to “non-experts can/can’t make judgements on what experts can do”. To doubt that this distinction requires doubting the expert/non-expert distinction. And what next? To doubt the idea that distinctions like expert/non-expert can be made? At this point we’re at the edge of nondistinctiveness again. Bodhi svaha!

IV.

If an expert announces a rising pandemic in an empty forest, what’s its R0 number?

Consider the candidate-distinction: viroepidemiologists are either doing a great job (implicit context: the COVID-19 scare/death flu) or it’s not. I am able to meaningfully doubt it’s a distinction at all — the boundaries of what is and isn’t “a great job” are left undefined, and even if a council of all-powerful kings had arrived at global target-metrics, evaluating the claim requires having done the whole systems-splitting mambo, which we can reasonably doubt. It’s a trap! We’ve even posited kings as axiology-avatars (there are none out there) and are still left with serious, fundamental doubts.

Does this mean that the whole of the system must be in the axiology (the evaluating machine)? No, but one’s theory of how the system works and how it can be valuably be fiddled with to achieve valuable goals, undoubtedly yes. We had defined axiology from the outset to be both a domain of valuable goals (left-axiology) and a set of actions that are, themselves, valuable. But this was claimed assuming (in deferred form — remember that a loan is the theory of being able to pay it back) some kind of mereological waterworks which, in the general setting of systems theory, appears to be non-operational at best — possibly ill-defined entirely.

Much of what appears to be a trivial proliferation of concepts and loosely-defined technical jargon has to do with attempting to circle around this problem and mount a prolonged siege. Our radical discussion of temporality, for example, tries to skin the cat of system-dissection in what appears to be fundamental phenomenological modalities: anything, we claim, that can be said to happen, happens according to its own tempo, clicks of its own, in such a way that the pattern of clicking exhibits the iterative pattern of the Situation. On the contrary, the dharma of systems theory ultimately tells us — nothing “happens”, everything happens, the system itself whispers m’ilummino d’immenso.

It’s possibly easier to see this in action with diegesis, or salvation, etc. Belaboring the point that a rich environment (the ambient conditions and so on) of nondistinctness must be present for distinctions to be meaningfully (nontrivially) posited would be, well, trivial. This is already monotonous enough. In General Axiology, nondistinctness (a concept, or rather, the denial of one) will redeem us.

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