Chroma realism

asemic horizon says “theory” simpliciter, unqualified, intransitive, a secas to emphasize it is not, nor does it aim to be, a theory of a specific something. In order to diffract into arbitrary chromaticities, it needs to be blank. If incentivized to place theory in an art-world kind of market for attention, I might just incorporate this: blank theory, in consonance with Blank Banshee and Élie Ayache’s Blank Swan.

But that’s not the world I’m living in, is it? I’m instead continually pressed by my persona (and the cognition cluster it circles around) towards the technical. In this aspect my rhetorical flourish has written many checks that theory-as-we-have-her-now can’t fund. We did make some effort towards two entirely different stories, the one based in SATPLAN (since satisfiability-modulo promised to be a fine model for quability, that most elusive of birds) and the one realized as PDEs-in-graphs but ultimately founded in the algebraic-combinatorial construction of space. There’s still nothing to properly link either of these to the core content of theory, let alone to its high points (tempo, physique du rôle, diegesis…). If pressed to produce any cogent account of theory in the universe of intellectual pursuits that animates the people who are able to grok theory in place, I’d have to confess and defend it as informal theory. The wording is unfortunately mainly because the informal meaning of “informal” has to do with letting your guard down; but even taken seriously, it points to a gap, a hole: if it doesn’t want to be an informal theory of something, it has to clarify the role of its in-formalism.

The disciplines of rigorous informal analysis take the name of engineering. Software engineering, because focused on dancing around the glitch, is a particularly illustrative example: while methods of formal verification exist, most software is informal because it grows out of pressing desiderata. Rigor in engineering flows down, and if something (say: PID controllers) runs out of rigor in its mathematical derivation, well, then it runs out of rigor. If it seems odd to consider engineering as a peer to theory, it’s because the desidrata of theory seem to grow from within theory. At any rate, we need tempo, quability, ambit…

The emergence of chroma(ticity)/chrema(tistics) as generalized pairs of axiological articulation had to do with a kind of sobriety crisis around the apparent (within my budgets of time and energy, at least) un-formalizeability of theory. Chroma only came to to the foreground when we had to take stock of whatever we had as formal tools (some remain good, like the opposition/corruption diagram and the finite-circular style of argument around the concept of distinction). That silly business around half-axiologies looked good in its austere wittgeinsteinian style: but meant nothing. To repeat: chroma was revealed to us because we dared to rest in informality — which is still a weak spot, mind you; but one that may be with us for a long time.

What chroma enlightens (colors, irradiates, filters through) is that we’re stuck in informal theory because the greater goal is concept theory. And since there’s an important leap of abstraction between conceptual theory (which is always a high-abstraction theory of some X) and concept theory itself, this is likely to be the second-best signifier for theory in the lack of a shared semantic environment that allows for the proper “fixpoint” diction of theory = f(theory).

Now, what’s incredible about chroma is that it provides an ambit for the glitch. This, at least to me, is remarkable: these three ideas were not conceived for each other, Almost all of the matter of theory fits, clicks together, self-organized and self-systemizes (enough that we can leave behind old bits that don’t fit, let them starve and rot). In this way — meaning, if we conceive theory as the theory of the matter of theory — the chroma/chrema distinction collapses. The ultimate chrema of theory is to make it click. The penultimate ethical, strategic, technical, sexual, etc. move is to steer clear of this collapse.

This is how one avoids getting lost in the woods, and rather strategized to gain little pieces of new ground here and there: chroma realism. (This is also what Jair was epsilon-close to for quite a while. Jair was never leader material or a Great Man of any kind, but he almost became a conduit for truth-rain, a peculiarly sweet form of chromaticity).

[NB: please be mindful of the I/we voices; they’re distinct.]

Forget theory.

I.

Everyone knows that attention has become the scarce object of note. It’s less often-remarked that up until a few minutes ago we lived in a world where capital was logically identified with the object of scarcity (that is, money), even if theoretically distinct (maybe following Kalecki’s dictum that workers spend what they earn, while capitalists earn what they spend). Something is off-kilter now — this isn’t a flight of theory, this is what most discourse has been about since the early augurs of Eternal September.

A further (even if rather minor) symptom of the attention-seeking character of our epoch is that to forget something now means to strip it of value. There is nothing natural about this; just a few hours ago, things were most valuable when forgotten: it used be the case that vor was broken and things were at their existential peak when they became unnoticeable. (Whenever something still has this character, we relegate it to the below-ground of infrastructure together with electricity and running water, both things that are only noticed when they stop working). In yet another time and place, the wisdom of ultimate value was meant to be forgotten, “like a raft one holds on to cross the river”.

Admittedly, English is not well-suited for the finest nuances of this discussion. Lacking imperative forms, the chasm between “oublie la théorie / olvida la teoria” and “oubliez la théorie! / ¡olvida la teoría!” goes unnoticed. It’s almost like English came with implicit exclamation marks around certain constructions. Even in the presence of explicit punctuation: doesn’t this text, under the weight of its title, seem to be working up to a polemical statement to the tune of “forget theory! it has no value!”? The chasm-paving has the effect of pulling everything to the gravity well of clickbait.

II.

This “tweet” is about ethics:

This is about morality:

To generalize: @SloaneSays is concerned (here, anyway) with issues of chromaticity. A feud is one thing through the chroma of escalation; another, entirely, through the chroma of elevation. Willet is concerned with the chrematistics of it all — and if there’s no great wealth to be found in forgiveness, at least how not to go broke with it. Yet how common is the Tupac-Biggie thing where there should instead have been an album colab/joint tour? Willet wants us to do bean-counting on our acts of forgiveness. He sees it as a means to a higher end. This is a very pragmatic attitude, but it doesn’t come with much practical depth — short, of course, of Jinping-colored social credit scoring.

“asemic horizon” wants to continue to explore theory towards an… asemic… horizon. There’s chroma and chrema coordinates to this. But general chrematistics doesn’t happen except as supported by generic chrematistics. Does this mean anything? Not yet, and it never will if we try at all times to keep track of local chrema scores. A shift in chroma always presupposes a shift in thinking, and the first internal revolution to be fought is to forget morality.

III.

Oublier la théorie is, of course, a prerequisite for going after theory in some grander sense. Theory kids have typically always been cerebral; but if one is going to continually self-induce “nosebleeds” (shifts in thinking that lead to shifts in chroma), one needs to get loose from the groove of holding the world in one’s brain-hands. Readers who have sifted through “asemic horizon” with generous priors must have sensed that its patent-pending vatic style is not superfluous — the louder sell would be to start citing facts and literature in Scott Alexander fashion, but that wouldn’t make your nose bleed.

Yes, in the asemic horizon we forget theory.