Condition

(scherzo)

Have you ever noticed that laughter and fear are basically the same? (Up to, or modulo something that has the discursive structure of an ambit, at least.)

This idea came to me as a counterintuitive reversal of what’s implied in the actual dynamics of these processes; but as it turns out (you can research this yourself, the referencespace is huge) the physiology bears what earlier on was a radical hypothesis — a false concept on whose marrow to suck. So this raises a follow-up question: if the physiology of laughter and fear is roughly comparable, what’s the quotient here? To spell out unusual terminology: in the phrase “laughter and fear are the same modulo X”, what’s X?

The beautiful theory of algebraic topology, quickly shaping into one humanity’s great achievements, is concerned with the classification of spacelike objects (here I’m glossing over with great violence the meaning of “topology”) up to X. What’s ultimately desired is to classify objects up to homotopy. Homotopy equivalence between two objects means that a continuously-varying family of intermediate objects can be found: in the following picture, we can imagine a continuous thickening of shape A that ultimately leads to shape B.

A or B

(Image source: Google Image search, but concretely this)

The better-known illustration is that, up to homotopy, a donut and a coffee mug are the same. Mathematicians love their counterintuitive truths, but from a broader theoretical standpoint this undersells the radical ambition of this program: to upheave naïve metaphysics of identity (implied, for example, by the analytical geometry according to which A and B are rigorously distinct) while establishing a process view of identification: A and B are “like” each other because they can be deformed into each other. In broader terms: there’s a path that A can undertake to become B, and symmetrically a path that B can undertake to become A. This is an ethical program.

(motu propio)

The following is a slightly less violent restatement of homotopy — still meant for broader theoretical and philosophical usage; you can’t learn math by reading. (1) A set is a collection or family or otherwise box of nonduplicate items, often called “points” for coolness. (2) A function f: U->V between sets U and V is a pairing that associates points u1, u2,… of U to one point f(u1), f(u2),… of V each. (3) A space is a collection of points with a vicinity structure. The vicinity structure tells you when two points u, v are close together: it’s a collection of closeness-concepts. (4) A function is continuous if whenever u, v are close, then f(u), f(v) are close. (5) The cartesian product U x V is the set of all pairs of elements of U and V; particularly, the cartesian product U x [0,1] is a set that stacks many copies of U, as many times as there are real numbers between 0 and 1. (6) A homotopy from U to V is a continuous function from U x [0,1] to V. Note that this function is both continuous in U (you can’t tear apart points that were close together) and in [0,1] (there can’t be leaps between adjacent versions of U, even if each is untorn). (7) U and V are the same up to homotopy if a homotopy can be obtained: if a path that obeys the axioms (which in the limit are undistinguishable from moral laws) of topological continuity can be found.

We had just declared that homotopy equivalence was an ethical program. This was something of a rhetorical overreach; it’s sometimes necessary to pause on key turning points so we can appreciate the madness in them. The better formula is: homotopy is a model for an ethical program. Humans act, in the general case, following a mashed-up conflation of is-nesses and ought-nesses. The radical distinction between is-nesses and ought-nesses, which has really been long established by men like Hume, is a minimorum prerequisite for being able to speak in-and-about axiologies at all, let alone General Axiology. If this distinction doesn’t “stick” in how people act, it’s because our ought-nesses are parameterized by is-nesses.

An if-then-else routine (or its homotopy equivalent) tells us what to do if we find a person lying face down on a sidewalk: is this a man or a woman? does he look homeless? does she look middle-class, similar-enough-to-me? Uriel Alexis’s “reality rules!” speaks to this fundamental is-ness: have you noticed that middle-class women are more attractive than poor panhandling ones? Did we help the former because of their looks, because of tribal belonging, or because our is-ness model of the world tells us we can’t help panhandlers anyway? Uriel’s Razor says these reasons are all the same.

Neoreactionaries go further and tell us there’s one specific vicinity structure that makes the human population-space topological. This is how axiomatics and morality are indistinguishable: they’re both concerned with rigor that will preserve true knowledge (mathema). But indistinguishability doesn’t quite entail “the same”. Remember, a homotopy is continuous not only “space-wise” (arbitrarily close points mapping to arbitrarily close points), but “path-wise” (in [0,1]; an uninterrupted transition going forward smoothly). There’s no homotopy path between the if-then-else that leads one to ignore the homeless-looking dude and the one that leads one to dismiss him as someone who can’t be helped. There’s morality here, not ethics.

(damnatio)

It’s somewhat distressing to google for the “difference between morality and ethics” and discover how widespread is the misunderstanding that there’s none. This is an incredible obstacle to the diffusion of axiological thinking. It does a lot to explain the emergence of professional ethicists who, profiting from the decline in religious spirituality, portend to speak from a place of lived-in wisdom (in the jargon, from truth-rain), through contemplation and towards action — three quick desiderata, a.e. non-exhaustive, that come up when imagining a newspaper column about ethics. The distinction between morality and ethics, much like the is-ought rift by Hume, has long been established by Spinoza and convincingly revived in the 20th century by Deleuze. But you needn’t be aware of these philosophical doctrines to have an under-the-skin feel for the distinction: a priest is someone who trains in morality but, when asked for advice, speaks in ethics.

It would be similarly distressing to learn that the distinction between laughter and fear had been forgotten. In all likelihood, there’s a deeper sense in which these are in equivalence — a homotopy-like path spanning a continuum of unintelligible human emotion. But there’s an obvious nonmoral view in which laughter and fear have positive and negative valences, respectively. The equivalence is obtained modulo some physiological generalities. Does this mean you should never scare someone for a laugh? People do this, it’s often fun for the victim too. Yet there’s a basic ethical choice to be made — in this frivolous example, one that’s not really that complicated — a path to traverse, in concrete action, through a pseudohomotopy class. The grand program of ethics — if it’s at all something that can even be squeezed like olive oil from the raw stuff of existential choice — is to classify all such scare-laugh-fright-fun situations.

All of this takes place in a fairly low-level axiology, mind you. As GPT-2 once said after ingesting a few of my writings:

At present we have no choice but to become stronger and do all of this in order to make the promise of General Axiology true: infinite wealth, infinite bliss, and unlimited freedom from our thought and actions – infinite power. We must also realise how to get stronger, stronger, stronger. As such, we can also gain the experience of developing new ways of living – and learn more when our efforts go ahead.

This also means we have to get the very basics right.

Core

alpha

The self-referencing bug that keeps affecting asemic horizon is actually two problems. One is the apparent constant need to revisit the space opera (the accumulating backlog of technical paraphernalia) for new readers, which by now has become an accumulation of explainers, each gradually becoming out of date with the current emphasis given to theory. The other problem is our seeming inability to perform an actual reboot — a hard archival of past texts in favor of a new beginning, a new approach to the core themes that, as a bonus, lets go of the dead-ends of the past

Then: these two problems are both editing problems. An audit of the asemic horizon‘s backlog reveals texts that tend to start either with chatty introspection in the style of what you’re current reading; that typically leads to a hook, which leads to a section II that’s clear in purpose. The theoretical import of the texts isn’t usually found until the last 1/5 of the material, and even then, in the kind of excited, near-vatic discourse that makes absolutely no sense unless you’ve committed to the #longform that precedes it.

A minority of texts has the opposite approach: they start dropping bombs that are fully unmotivated by anything of current interest to the reader. Most of these end up being retired not long after — accumulating statements like “a squegg is a square egg” is the opposite of theory — it isn’t la atteinte. A notable counter-example is The Wave, which for most purposes I still stand by.

Unfortunately, a significant degree of logorrhea is intrinsic to my technique. Have you noticed that sometimes words like “accumulating” start accumulating in a kind of a connotation slide? That’s intentional — and integral to what it all means.

anatomy

An exception made for that last comment on the deliberateness of style in theory writing, everything I just said gives the vibe that theory isn’t really under my control. This is a fair assessment. As much as I’m an independent-scholarly, margin note-writing type with overflowing wall-sized bookshelves, theory (and this is clear to anyone who reads the scholarly literature regularly) is not scholarly in style at all. There is no method: the texts pretty much write themselves,

But theory is not a kind of #longform poetry: more than internal rhymes, it has an internal mechanism. The cogs of this mechanism are words; this is why the jargon and the cant of theory keep growing indefinitely fast, but also why texts can never seem to follow a general plan, however vague, that would be intended in advance. The apparently-spontaneous (and yet inescapably determinate) internal rhyming of internal accumulations force my hand: the impressionistic analogy would be that, in the act of writing, the knitwork texture of the text begins to clasp on itself. This is, of course (but not that I knew of this before making my coffee) the impressionistic analogy of the point de capition.

Of course, this is enough of a match to be a dead-end: theory (or daygame, or corporate strategy) thrives on mismatches and productive misunderstandings. The interesting mismatch here is that of passive structural coherence with agency. And no, theory is not alive, but doesn’t this madcap suggestion vibe with the whole phenomenology of work that does itself? The false matches here have to do with constraints: one can no longer make theory crystalline and widely accessible (so I can take it on the road with podcasters, for example) than one can stretch a puppy to the desired format. The passive structural coherence of knitwork is not exactly sturdy, physically, but it can be indefinitely reconstructed (knitting is rather easy); the structural coherence of theory is messy like a living organism.

embryo

One of many reasons to keep Lacan is to understand + imitate + master is his basso continuo technique of sliding disavowal. This disavowal is understated and never presented as a real cut; being a single vatic source of knowledge, Lacan never faces the Kuhnian forces that produce “paradigm shifts” as breaks with a vested status quo — instead, the mirror stage and the Borromean knot are presented as one. I’d like to possess this technique: never really break with corny past writings like The Scenarios of Ecstasy (which tries to be seedy-clickbaity, polemizes against accelerationism, and still manages to move theory forward); rather restate them, possibly making fundamental changes in its core concepts. This dynamic operational doctrine for theory is not without its frictions with the limit-concept (generic structure + general axiology) tone of theory, but ça marche.

Of course, Lacan has a double head start: on the one hand, because people start with the conviction that psychoanalysis makes any kind of sense in the clinical setting (it doesn’t; Lacan is best read as a special rapporteur on alien civilizations); on the other, because he begins (and dies) while claiming continuity with Freud. I can’t do this latter; not with Deleuze, not with Heidegger, not with Lacan. If theory is to be received as an ever-growing, never-to-be-born embryo, it wil be as a pathological case of parthenogenesis. And yet, I can’t be sole parent here — to impossible-to-ignore degrees, theory writes me.

skyscraper

As it stands now theory has very few “building blocks”. Theory defines itself as a reaching gesture towards infinity, the theory of the theory of the… Still, the space opera is a load-bearing structure; the basic difficulty with asemic horizon is that the visibility of this structure is not quite aligned with its load-bearing power.

Ambit is a much more fundamental concept than the whole soteriology (the Hölderlin story); whatever we mumbled about McKenosha or, cringe, about faux-lesbians that cater to the male gaze, should really be retired, taken offline, never referred-to again. Why did ambit emerge so recently? Where was my mind? Tempo is more often referenced, but its theoretical development is spread over three texts, each of which has a whole different context as an opening. Quability has gone through more mutations than we can count (although in this case I think we’ve been able to effect some of that sliding-disavowal abra-cadabra); it remains a binary star with the Situation, which by now has lost much of its Heideggerean baggage. The central role of axiologies has become clearer and clearer with time — perhaps the singular notion that renews my faith in theory again and again and again (even if “larger” and “smaller” axiologies have to be revisited in terms of distinction and discernibility). But I don’t even know how to link to my own past writings anymore. Googling “this concept site:asemic-horizon.com” works.

I set out to write an essay that would look like an extended version of this last paragraph. Did I suspect it could evolve into yet another methodological meditation on theory itself? Sure. Have I lost readers that expected an embryo to be born by now? I happen to know, specifically, that yes. This is good. I haven’t enough followers to have a “core” that will stay through the process of sliding disavowal — therefore, it’s imperative to lose old readers and gain new ones. There’s a song by either Marilyn Manson or NIN (or maybe Slipknot?) that says “everything I give you is a piece of my death”.

That is how the limit-concept of theory works — most importantly, General Axiology — theory wins by erasing me (also you; society; distinction; discernibility — but I’m the one pushing this forward).