We have never been asemic 3: harder

I have less time today, but want to leave a couple of notes anyway.

“Asemic writing” refers to a genre of writing. English is overly flat here; On grammatology offers the syn-chromic term écriture which serves us much better. Asemic writing blazes past the boundaries of what Grammatology terms “logocentrism”. It does so not for moral reasons — not because they’ve found Grammatology to be persuasive, let alone epochal — but with ethical purpose. There’s something true about the idea of logocentrism, particularly if qualified (as Derrida himself repeatedly does) as an essentially moral concept, almost everywhere devoid of ethical implications. Asemic writing is itself the ethical project, and needs no prior moralization to stand. This is meant very literally: whether volumes of asemic writing find economic and physical standing on my bookshelves is quite independent from whether Grammatology has any standing. Indeed, the word asemic may be the singular chromic stand it takes: no, it’s not in opposition to anything “semic”, it’s… that which you see in the works of Tim Gaze and Rosaire Appel.

Muddled as it is (with a quality that seems to begar the attention of a world-class literary editor to really shine), On Grammatology still manages to sound prescient, if only because it appears to develop its polemic of the écriture while still unaware of both asemic writing and computer code. Each of these escapes the circle of “logocentrism” by purely chrematistical means; if any new chromaticity comes out of computer languages, this happens at a higher level of abstraction. That this higher level of abstraction is identifiable with a “higher axiology” in some consistent higher/lower or larger/smaller gradation of axiologies is one of the chromaticity shifts I hope to eventually induce through these writings.

Then: theory may as well be a “praxis of intelligibility”, but asemic writing and computer code are both leaps into the unintelligible. You’re not supposed to understand computer code at first glance; an experienced software developer will be able to identify major structural features (and this with the help of automatic multicolor annotation and 2D indentation conventions), but if it was at all possible to “reason about a program in your head”, as demanded by the Dijkstra doctrine, you wouldn’t need the chrema of computers (even if you did use them as conveniency devices). I claim — and this is admittedly a vatic proclamation rather than a theorem — that theory similarly needs to work at the frontier of intelligibility but remain outside of the reach of casual-glance understanding. There are no shortcuts; every time I’ve tried to use clickbaity polemical matter as models, I’ve made strategic mistakes in the longer-run scheme of things.

This short text may as well be our n-th “gente introduction to asemic horizon”: hi, this is theory, and ideally it should make you perplex enough that your nose bleeds. I’m acutely aware of our failures in this respect. But as GPT-2 once said, after munging my écritures, we have no choice but to become stronger stronger stronger and do all the other things.

I hope I’ve managed at least to induce a mild headache here.

We have never been asemic 2: chroma

The question that’s prior to all philosophy is the distinction between ethics and morality. The corresponding technical issue for theory is the distinction between chromaticity and chrematistics.

The word “chromaticity” is meant to evoke, on the one level, the “chromatic aberration” view of anomaly previously put forward. Photographic lenses and sensors exhibit chromatic aberrations when they produce color shifts and component breakdowns that are absent in the naïve view of scenes. But it’s also a small step toward a discussion of freedom: notwithstanding the (moral) techniques and theories of painting, an artist is still faced with mixing his colors, teasing out a palette from the tubes of oil paint available to him. It’s also, of course, gloriously alliterative with “chrematistics”.

Maybe more importantly, this new term lets us break the false symmetry of “left and right half-axiologies”, in retrospect a fundamental betrayal of the ethical concerns that animate asemic horizon.

Chrematistics, as so often discussed before, is an ancient Greek work referring to the art of acquiring great wealth. In the generic theory setting of asemic horizon, its meaning has been unfolded, spread out: chrematistics points to the theory of achievement, particularly insofar achieving certain things (great wealth, yes, but also seducing women, intellectual insight, action in the face of extreme uncertainty) relates to the edifice of singular-only Theory.

We should unpack th is a little. The implicit formal correspondence in this text’s first paragraph is not really [ethics : chromaticity :: morality : chrematistics], but its adjoint [ethics : morality :: chromaticity chrematistics]. I claim, out of wide-eyed speculative theory-making, that an adjunction actually exists; that the first correspondence can be obtained from the first. Good bad news: the necessary “adjunction theorem” cannot be proven systematically, but only shown to resonate in the whirlwind of concerns that animates actual life, the actual domain of chrematistics. After all, if we’re unable of unwilling to pin “ethics” down like a butterfly, how would we account for chromaticity (in some intuitive analogy, the lens that produces anomalies) in its genericmost sense?

Being it that the quadruple object of ethics-morality-chromaticity-chrematistics is so distant from our cognitive and moral reach, we need — most of the time — to be content with projections — like the shadows 3D objects project on 2D surfaces. One such projection — but not even the sole projection that touches these terms — relates freedom to causality. The proper moral (eliminativist) view has long been converging towards a mechanistic view of the universe that, despite its proper philosophical merits and its chrema worth, raises vexing ethical questions regarding novelty, creativity, intentionality, unpredictability. And this isn’t just a chroma issue: the notion that the planet is spherical has little chrema value to the proverbial 16th century seafaring enterprise — given that it still has no notion of longitude.

Longitude (generically, the missing and unknown wealth of worthy knowledge) goes a long way to show just how enmeshed chroma/chrema issues can be. The chrema view of this affair (from a higher axiology; it’s all too easy to 21th-century quarterback if this can’t be kept in mind) is that knowledge of the mechanistic gearwork of the universe dissolves this problem; that ontology is autonomous from epistemology, that the limits of our cognitive reach are not the limits of a morally correct understanding of the universe. But then this is a morality empty of chrematistic value. Only the chroma (exchanging space with time, resetting the clock every noon so the drift in chronology tells you something about the drift in longitude space) unlocks chrema in this scenario.

This suggests that there’s a road to General Axiology, it needs to proceed from the glitch to anomaly to chromaticity. Something is lost from the vague eschatological narrative of a descent into genericity that will flip, at the critical moment, into full generality, but something is also saved: the increasing irrelevance of increasing genericity — the core anomaly of the road to General Axiology — now explodes in possible colors as we look seriously into theory itself. True impasses are always resolved by true glitches.

We have never been asemic

The basic question in philosophy is the distinction between ethics and morality.

As kids, we all pick up from the environment what is done and what is not; this encompasses not only issues of morality and ethics, but also etiquette, grammar and aesthetic notions. Sometimes, a distilled “moral code” is explicitly pressed upon us, but only as a failsafe: no one — not even people who believe in trolley problems as an instrument of inquiry — really believes the morality within the cognitive reach of a child is really sufficient to take stock of the world, as subtle, contradictory and indefinitely rich in details as it presents itself.

But now we are adults; this means we have, in principle, a wealth of philosophical traditions, well within our adult cognitive reach, that shed light on the basic distinction between ethics and morality. We get lost along the way (and I don’t mean “because we don’t study philosophy”; practical life makes us develop naïve or ad-hoc philosophies of this and that). We get either drunk on epistemology — the theory of knowledge, or rather the theory of theories-of-knowledge that can become knowledge-of-knowledge — or ontology — the theory of reality.

The Good News of General Axiology is that these problems, in their innumerable specific real variations, ultimately flow from the distinction between ethics and morality. The Better News of General Axiology is that theory of a more genericized kind touches all sorts of specific real problems — what to do about incels, how to think about politics, how to make sense of this and that incoming disaster.

The Bad News is that we have, at best, a series of literary resonances evoking an overall effect that General Axiology is more than mere ansatz. From the beginning we’ve made up various kinds of technical concepts aiming at the basic distinction (e.g. left and half axiologies, tempo and kairos, etc.). But we’ve also blurred things quite a bit. This blurring reflects the fact that much of the ongoing anomaly is due to chromatic aberrations that produce bleeding-over effects. This was the core of Jairwave: Bolsonaro is a purely moral political affair, but it produces ethical ghost-trails.

Maybe the basic distinction can never be mastered, only obliquely approached. Every interesting real situation will present itself in blurred, paradoxical form, and the task at hand will be to tease out a chromaticity that maximizes the evidence of anomalies. If asemic horizon believes itself to be interesting, it will also need to be shaken and probed for its own latent anomalies, most pressingly the fact that it presents itself in the form that it does — a blog, largely concerned about itself, persisting only on pain of making up words.

Let this, at least, be a razor test: never trust any system of thought that identifies ethics with morality. Novelty, causality, knowledge, freedom, death and symbolic calculus are all mutually and simultaneously determined in such a way that conflating ethics with morality is either lazy thinking or purposeful, sustained error.

Above all: never trust a man who will call himself an “ethicist”.