How to do things with theory

I.

In Outwards we have the seminal (if  “more badly-written” than the average AH text) essay on what we’ll keep calling physics — to the dismay of I-fucking-love-science fans and maybe even some scientists. There’s something to the dynamics of theory-making (and not just AH, but philosophy, continental and analytic alike, linguistics, psychoanalysis, etc.) that leads it to eventually “abuse” or overlap the terminology of science. More often than not the principal reason for this is rhetorical, whether to borrow the self-importance of science and mathematics (like in Badiou) or to stress that certain points have to be understood as technical and isolated from hermeneutics (like in Lacan’s graph of desire and four discourses). It doesn’t help, of course, that these guys have very little training in the hard disciplines.

I like to think of what we’re doing as far more honest. The calculus on graphs can be rigorously constructed in a very general setting — many people are aware how differentiation in grid-like graphs converges to the ordinary calc-101 differentiation as it gets finer, but that’s not the point at all: graphs (rigorously, rigorously rigorously!) generalize the ordinary (continuum) setting where continuum physics is built. Let us get this out of the way at once: what we call physics is indeed physics, but not a physics of the natural world. What, then? It really depends: even on my note-taking app I’m continually fiddling with what is understood to be “mass”, with whether boundary values should be set to obtain conservative potential fields or what semantics are given to boundary values.

In this way, physics matches the distributed-but-heterogeneous nature of tempo. This match happens because both concepts are indexed to the world we operate in. The gaps between dt (continuous time, chronos, what have you) and the time we experience have long been the subject of dense contention from Bergson to neuroscience features in The Atlantic. A common wisdom prevalent in “learned” folks tends to interpret such gaps as issues of perception — paradoxes, yes, but ones where “the buck stops here”; where the valuable way is to humble ourselves to dt — in the limit, to the meillassouxsian Great Outdoors. The reactionary politics implicit in this attitude make sure it never gets far; but the objectification of time is one of the boundary value conditions that this learned wisdom needs to hammer down in order to mess with other aspects that have greater political leverage. Therefore “July 4, 1776” is a definite interval comprising 86 400 000 milliseconds,  but the date of American independence is up for grabs.

Here we must rigorously follow Moldbug’s ratchet strategy: sure, highlighting the continuity of slavery across the times of the American revolution, woo hoo, but aren’t they insufficiently revolutionary by failing to question time itself? And what is the physics of this “America”?

II.

One reason theory is not particularly truth-valued is that theory is the theory of generic structure (I’d love to see the first person who tattoos this), which pulls it in an apraxic, axiology-first direction. But another, so far only diffusely alluded to, is that epistemics is the scold of perception. Rationalism, which flocks to epistemics like high-powered executives flock to leather-clad whip-yielding escorts, tells us that perception is a fairweather lover but submission (mock submission, at that) is much more erotic, i.e. life-giving. There’s good arguments in both directions; if the analogy were to hold all the way through, we could say that the healthy middle is to love perception and have it play epistemics (eg. make small predictions) for kicks. My own note-taking physics gizmo is some light kink thing in this way: that’s a lot of maths for a catalog of jazz records and session players.

But there’s always been a slight ambivalence about the vaunted “apraxic character of theory”. General Axiology has always been both “ultimate wisdom” and “ultim,ate power”. If we haven’t rushed to make good on the latter promise, it’s because we had and still have very little in this respect. It was nevertheless always clear that it was in the cards and we just needed to press on. Clear to me and therefore hopefully to us; the never-before-explained reason of the I/we voice switching is that as we progress to general axiology the distinction melts down.

The mistake made by most kinksters is to worship prediction. Prediction is a partial object (the petit a); its seductive power both conceals and suggests a wholeness of being-alive-in-the-world like paraphilic objects seem to conceal a wholeness of sexuality. But it’s all too easy to fetishize the seduction itself, the impediment to fulfillment as a higher form of enjoyment. Division of labor encourages many of us to derive some kind of endorphin rush from predictions that lock us out of actual climax.

The name of this actual climax is operation. Praxis is, in contrast, an act-first-think-later kind of method; pragmatist philosophy tells us “no ideas but in things”. But engaging the world through theory works otherwise: one works up a frenzy of thought until it becomes operational.   Thought is engaged by theory because it wants to see what its seduction conceals — the thing itself, the whole thing — but can only go all the way through by understanding this wholeness part by part, realizing (yes, bringing back from reality) that skin is made of pores, distributed, asynchronous, complexly connected.

Breadcrumb trails

It’s difficult to parse asemic horizon without going over the whole thing; but the following previously-unpublished fragment cuts directly to the soaring strings.

My last text introduced (not accidentally) a non-concept, the scenario. The scenario is a framing device. It sets up some patch of the Situation for some human drama, which is surely contrary to theory’s constitutive apraxia. What it frames is diegesis (two drunk girls making out for/at an objectifying gaze). What the frame is made of, that’s interesting.

If this appears to you as a repetition of the idea of the seduction of theory, you get a prize. But in a perverse way the seduction of theory is in the diegesis, it’s a fourth-wall-breaker that reminds you of the frame. It reminds you that vatic discourse is ludic discourse. Even as someone is getting handsy with your brain it reminds you to push them away gently and reassess the ongoing scenario.

You were told that there would be something something Bolsonaro here. We knew this was a huge structural story to be told. What we didn’t realize at first is that Jair is nondiegetic. He’s not the college girls kissing, he’s a technique of musical mood overlay or camera movement or some such movie magic. Bolsonaro is a lens by which the constitutional crisis gets told.

No, no, not just that. Bolsonaro is the only lens by which the constitutional crisis gets told. You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free. (April 2019)

What happens now is that the story of the “Brazil opera” (by comparison to our previously-vaunted “space opera”) can no longer be told.

The rhubarb to the effect that history is written by the winners holds only within certain proportions: past a certain scale, the “losers” cease to even register and Whig history dissolves into perennial philosophy. Traces of such a dissolution can be found here and there — in puzzling historical controversies (bimetallism in the United States; or the Religious Question that dogged Peter II of Brazil) that are in effect unintelligible to our present time. Indeed it’s easier to deeply recognize what Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar went through than to feign superficial understanding of Comtean religion in turn-of-the-20th century Brazil.

Winners do often write losers into history as they see fit. But history is pregnant with countless revisionisms. They might now topple the government and arrest the man and his ravaged guts.  Present and future countercurrents may in turn try to retell this story, to put everything in such a context that the downfall seems to never have happened anyway, like a soccer goal by offside rules. But Bolsonaro’s politics can never be whole without the Truth (like left politics can never be whole without the People).

I don’t think Bolsonaro knows this. I don’t think he knows how much his actual political project (as opposed to whatever he might morph into now, courting parliamentary support in the so-called Centrão and getting dragged by swampy quid pro quo presidentialism) depended on it. Robbed of his truth-rain, Bolsonaro’s story is probably going to be up-serted into a generic macunaímic narrative of fruitless challenges “from the right” (or even some further signifier yet to be pro/duced).

The constitutional crisis vanishes. Journalists applaud the very Supreme Court-led inquisition that no more than  a year ago had censored them. A victor’s history  without losers emerges: nothing of any importance has happened! This is what Moro’s Brutus-like stab is supposed to say — should anything happen, good or bad, the show (the continuity of the diegesis) must be aborted; the very theater must be “deconstructed” starting immediately, even if so gradually that it doesn’t really show.

 

Jairwave (2018-2020)

Brazil’s relatively large (if well under-proportional) weight in international affairs notwithstanding, you may still not be informed that Jair Bolsonaro dun goofed.

His anomalous character — his glitch — had been chipping away in small pieces in the last baker’s dozen of weeks. But this is something different now. It isn’t in truth-rain. It doesn’t pose the Big Questions that had kickstarted this blog.

I have to say — I’m grateful to him for having provoked this whole thing in first place.

I took enough care that I wouldn’t be embarrassed when Jair’s intuitive tenure in power came to contradict Jairwave, das Rettende; when it came in alignment with Macunaíma. I mean, he’s not particularly intelligent, is he? It was never — ever — argued that this meathead would take us to General Axiology. Not even in deleted texts or drafts. Too divisive. Not how it works. Theory will be fine! Theory is (mostly) fine!

Only one thing is left to pick up from the ground, to rinse off and reset: truth-rain.

Truth-rain is relatively well received (much in excess of the rest of my conceptual framework) in theory-talk Telegram chatrooms. But now it runs the risk of drowning in metaphysics; of accumulating  dependencies on ontologies of presence/absence that do precede symbolic truth-valued discourse, but make our philosophical underpinnings both bloated and brittle.

This, of course, has to do with the fact that normality (I’m tempted to coin “nomality”, but resist) in politics has been restored. Whatever happens next in Brasília is unlikely to be interesting.

What will be the next anomaly we ride on?

Glitchy

I.

asemic horizon continuously hesitates to comment on salient, event-like anomalies because it cultivates a particular conceit called “theory”. The intellectual import of this conceit is that, in theoretical work, an all-consuming effort is placed on making sense of salient structure-like anomalies. The philosophical import of this all-consuming effort is that systems thinking implies there is a single structural anomaly — that salient structure-like anomalies must always/continually reproduce themselves in a system-like anomalous homeostasis.

At this point, the patient reader should react with skeptical reflexes: how can something that is so stable and wide-encompassing be characterized as an anomaly?

Baudrillard famously says that “the secret of theory is that truth does not exist” just as “the secret of gambling is that money does not exist”. Surely enough, there is money, but anomalously so — which is to say, without nomos, without law. Under “ambient conditions of gambling” money is fully disconnected — not only from the wide system of value that makes it money-like, but also from local continuity laws. In gambling, money is savage.

II.

A common objection (at least from the nonrandom input I occasionally get from readers) to asemic horizon’s signature approach to temporality is that physical simultaneity is a thing — it appears in the fundamental ontology of nature with meaning and consequence. This is very true, but not a substantial objection: we’re citizens of physics by force of metaphysical necessity, but also citizens of Uruk and economic systems and human systems of many sorts.

Classical physics (and note that the relevance of post-classical physical theories is contingent on them reproducing certain classical structures, at least at mesoscales) is the theory of phase spaces, and in the setting with the most metaphysical weight, spaces in which phase flows are reversible. This is terrible! Of course, since physicists are among the smartest apes the species has bred, they’ve managed to proliferate “arrows of time” in mathematics-drenched models of increasing abstraction and unintuitiveness. Which is to say: physics gambles with abstraction and occasionally makes bank, reaches empirical validity and even woos our metaphysical hearts with tales of worlds utterly unlike human experience. We should have great reverence for the sheer cleverness and power of these models — but not mistake them for theories of the world.

On the contrary, the pure irony of the topsy-turvyness worlds of post-classical (and especially quantum-based) physics trying to restore the nomos should be evident from the vantage point of our phenomenal, lived-in experience. Science cannot “drain the swamp” of anomaly. And heavens know that we are drowning in anomaly.

III.

If physics was the enemy of theory, it would be an extremely — almost to the point of indeterminate might — powerful foe. But theory does not aim nor dare to challenge it. Science lives in the realm of the Symbolic, after all — its goal is not to break through the order of the Real (much like the gambler’s goal is not to produce a sustainable cashflow), but rather to make sense of the natural world. Theory dwells on the Symbolic order as well, but in mad, anomalous fashion, alternating listlessness and euphoria. Theory is grand conceit: it proliferates entities and arguments founded on phantom hypotheticals in hopes of breaking free — on sucking the marrow of the Real, feverishly gambling episteme to win big. Contrary to Baudrillard, the secret of theory is that truth exists, but it does not exist in theory.

Theory is a bet on the glitch. It obsesses over structural anomaly because of the widespread perception that most of the world is anomalous. Most of real temporality is clicky tempo xor weather/uncertainty/kairos. Most of the agency in the world is contingent on axiologies over axiologies over axiologies over… Most meaning is in seduction and withdrawn enjoyment. Most communication happens through orchestration of extradiegetic technologies to make diegesis happens. Most of salvation and deliverance is third-order soteriology. And if killing is sex, it is so due to a paradox known as physique du rôle.

At some point, we should find ourselves gambling (metaphorically) with usefully complex market derivatives rather than crappy polymer-acryllic roulette in ersatz river-boat casinos. Then hedging operations. Then whatever comes on top of that. Eventually, general axiology.

IV.

So what of the coronavirus disease of 2019/20? It surely appears to be a glitch — while at the same time being clearly a cog in the machine, a region of the system, Dasein borelians and all that bebop. This is, again, because much of the system is glitchy. You’re sitting at a computer right now: notice how uneven its temporality, how unknowable in its automatic orchestration of archeological piles of cruft. Software engineering assumes glitchiness and occupies itself with mitigation. Interact mindfully with your computer, notice its near-organic unreliability, its incorrectness. The motto of our era is that “software is eating the world”: this means glitches are eating the world. 

Search your hearts. Or ask any software engineer.

The core anomaly of computers is that they’re actually useful. The core anomaly of the 2020 coronavirus disease is that its mostly harmless — while also being deadly almost at random. The mot du jour, “asymptomatic carrier”, expresses this incredible paradox: being sick — and contributing to the systemic illness — while not being sick at all. And this is a terrible glitch, one that careens us to a full-blown once-every-five-generations meltdown in the span of three weeks.

Theory is not particularly helpful in dealing with this particular anomaly. Tools (PCR testing) have been developed by science, but they’re being used incorrectly — testing the known-sick instead of random sampling the population to actually know what the hell is going on. At a higher level of axiology abstraction this might actually be thinkable — but the goal of theory is to shoot meteorically toward ultimate abstraction to deal with ultimate anomaly — in warfare, in chrematistics, in wisdom — hell, in seducing women, if that’s really what consumes you (it appears to be a common theme with my readers).

But we have to assume the anomaly.

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.

Guerra cultural

I. 

Praxis is at once the agitating mechanism and the key site of misosophy, the hatred of wisdom. Philosophy teaches, on the contrary, ambivalence and detachment. Contrary to philosophy, theory-in-the-world is of-praxis, specifically the praxis of deferral. Taking a loan is the theory of being able to pay it back at a later time. This deferral operator also binds (at least potentially) to the misosophical microaggression of making theoretical claims. Such is life: in practice, misosophic acts of theory are always everywhere, whether out of sophistry, droll self-absorption or plain hatred. Theory is very often captured by smaller-axiology praxial enterprises — ideologies, strategy consulting, hustling at large. 

Of course, when asemic horizon invokes this word — theory — it means what it means: theory is the theory of generic structure. The horizon implies a radical practice of deferral, one that continually threatens never to come back to the lower axiologies and instead just sail away indefinitely. That this horizon is asemic points (and this becomes natural and unsurprising with time) to a rejection of meaning even in the last instance. Unlike, say, Zizek’s marriage to communism-in-the-end, the theory of the theory of the theory … of generic structure merely points to structure, which is to say, to the abstract gesture of structural consistency. This is an abstract gesture because it corresponds to a systemic outcome of the indefinite complexity of theory. The gesture therefore runs the risk of saturating its misosophic potentials.

Still, the strangeness of this project should underscore the ethical import of the theory it pro/duces. Zizek is not personally completed by his own cleverness — his underlying struggle is to build new foundations for dialectical materialism so that communism might win. The ethical point of asemic horizon is rather more abstract: to overcome praxis by deferring it into a cascade of expanding axiologies until we get to… whatever general axiology holds. If old man Slavoj were to deign to engage us… it would be a short conversation, ending in a division by zero. Zizek is well above the standard leftist trope of highlighting our apparent contraleftist stance– but at any rate, there’s little for him to chew on — we have next to no stance on anything

Nota bene, we speculate about Zizek because we see him as thoughtful and open-minded. Anyone else would be excused for finding us boringasemic horizon is not about to be forcefully denounced by Vox, Paul Joseph Watson or the 8-Bit Guy. It is profoundly subversive, but not in a way that promptly bubbles up and makes it visible. Theory in our genre and mood holds its breath, dives into caves to find new clearings. If we eventually participate in a revolution, it will have been in the temporal mode of Happy the Clown — looking backwards as we throw the seeds of emancipatory unintelligibility. 

II. 

Guerra cultural appears to translate to “culture wars”, but that’s a category mistake. In the Culture Wars, “cultures” take on the syntactic role of a subject. Living unfolding cultures (take the U.S.: southern evangelical versus northeastern liberal) find themselves at axiological crossroads. The syntactic object of Culture Wars is the “issues” — abortion, forced bussing and so on (and so on) — at the center of these crossroads. GC works in reverse: loose semantic networks of pseudo-issues coalesce into contrived cultural camps which are then the object of controversy. Whomever or whatever wages <em>guerra cultural</em> sees these camps as politically-necessary “quilting points” (points de capiton) that arrest axiology drift. There’s an urgency to this: the drift devalues political actors — the dudes about which we decided to stop thinking circa “… Prince Kropotkin“. 

To some extent, the drift also devalues theory because it’s not theoretical< — it flows from the open-ended becoming of the world. Theory is, after all, a praxis of intelligibility, whether sincere or contrived, serious or droll, and there’s nothing intelligible about the inevitability of revolution — where, of course, “revolution” has pretty much been redefined to mean the unintelligible inevitability that looms over our attempts to arrest the drift.

Now, despite the fact that GC strives to uphold a variant of Jameson’s lemma (easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Macunaíma) it has none of the “closure power” that Jameson and others attribute to capitalism. GC is an autoimmune response; in a perverse way, it fails to develop into a sensu stricto culture war because it emerges as a systemic response to the collapse of a prior cultural closure. 

There used to be progressives and conservatives. Popular singers (“artistas”, in português-Patropi) all had vague claims to persecution or resistance during the military dictatorship that was gradually phased out in the early 1980s. Circa 1990, conservatives were easier to find in Congress than in any given barbecue gathering. The only people that attempted to capitalize on the still-settling dust of the Berlin Wall were dusty communists in opposition to international developments — fools of an entirely different breed from what was coming.  

Then the purges started. Everyone who couldn’t fall in with the new politics crowd was somehow found to be “corrupt”; they shot down Collor de Mello, the first president to be elected since whenever, and subsequently the men who prosecuted were shot down in another corruption scandal. In this process, we were both taught that corruption is both a floating signifier (the word doesn’t mean anything — if everyone is “corrupted”, what does “non-corrupted” even look like?) and the root cause of all evil. After a while (and there are, obviously, many more ins and outs to this; the spread of evangelical Christianity continues to generate corrupt politicians in the old style), a new world was born — one in which CEPAL-trained dependency theorist Fernando Henrique Cardoso could be counted as “right wing” by leftist and rightist imagination alike. 

Again, this is oversimplifying — you have to fit meu nome é Enéas in recent Brazilian history somehow — but it adds up to a decent representation of the extant balance of power circa 2000-2005. At that point there was no guerra cultural. For a while, there were even artistas (by which, we remind, is meant “best selling singers”) in top cabinet positions. The polar opposite of guerra cultural is nasal-reggae star Gilberto Gil in the Ministry for Culture.

III. 

A recent object lesson in GC that wandered onto my radar was the episode in which the as-of-2020 Minister for Culture (some non-artista idiot) was caught giving a speech that (quite literally) parallelled certain published speeches originally given by relevant Nazi official Goebbels. At face value, this looks like a particularly painful choice for political seppuku, but a little quick “12 Angry Men”-type reflection solves the puzzle: given all that we know of the general chaos in the Bolsonaro administration, the man was probably fed lines by a disgruntled underling. But what caught my attention wasn’t that someone in the more apparent-ideological sectors of the Bolsonaro government did something idiotic and self-destructive: it was the abhorrent development in which mass media zeroes in on the background music of the offending video instead. It’s Lohengrin, Wagner, Hitler’s “favorite composer”. 

Mounting pressure compounded by the evidence of German music, the culture minister gets fired directly by Jair Bolsonaro. It’s not like his public image can afford the impressions that he has Nazis running things. 

Is this satire? Are fish wet? Yes, and also that particularly Brazilian brand of yesno: Macunaíma.

At one point in this discourse-cycle, we’re even treated to B&W footage of Bayreuth. This man has Nazi overtones, specialists (Macunaíma) tell us — it’s in the minutiae of his supposé-non-macunaimique aesthetics. But no one seems to recall either that German culture as a whole was subject to extensive denazification by the occupying powers, and if the Lohengrin is something that was cleared, then the sincerity of the occupying powers is up for suspicion. Not that it matters to guerra cultural: someone serious might ask how is it that Nazi music is still in widespread circulation, but the marginal utility of attention to this issue quickly collapses — the seduction of Macunaíma (as that which delivers us from high culture and Nazis) can’t withstand extended thinking. 

Also: no one seems to remember Wagner’s quite overt anti-semitic theories, which precedes Hitlerism by nearly a century. After all, it’s not at all clear that Hitler personally had any particular feelings about Wagner — and by reductio to GC, there is nothing about the nazifascist tragedy that isn’t about the person and mustache of Adolf H. More to the point, the antisemitism of Wagner seems to run at slightly different theoretical lines from standard Nazi race ideology: at first, the German composer wants to target Meyerbeer, a personal and intellectual rival that enjoys success from richly staged populist melodrama. Wagner’s music is by constitution an entirely different enterprise; it boasts a highly advanced detonalism that’s often pointed as the opening salvo for the fully atonal music of the 20th century. An artistic genius, Wagner is however ill-equipped for the kind of theoretical attack he wants to deploy against triviality in music; his antisemitism is built out of existing, lazy tropes and for the remaining decades he seems to praise and support Jewish musicians and composers. The judgment of time almost unanimously falls to the idea that Wagner’s music has nothing of the misosophia of Wagnerian theories. This is further reiterated by denazification. 

Isn’t there anyone available that has the requisite cognitive skills to figure this stuff out? I might even volunteer — but I’m busy with theory.

IV.

We’re going to need this diagram again:

diagram

Culture wars are the continuation of cultural politics by other means. Guerra cultural is a reiteration of Macunaíma in new politics drag. Macunaíma’s yesno is the “denial of A-B that opposes B”; the political garb is the “denial of A that corrupts B”. It shouldn’t be difficult, from these observations, to solve for B. If we allow ourselves to indulge in synecdoche, we might even give Wagner a role as an avatar of B: civilization, intellectualized passion, truth-rain, all that good stuff. It’s harder to solve for A — it has an awful radioactive core in misosophia, but extends indefinitely into “General Praxis”. And in the absence of culture to moor cultural politics that enact cultural wars, there is nothing that can protect GC from the natural and sweet narcissistic idiocy in which we’re all (both within and without Macunaíma, in Rio and Warsaw) continuously almost drowning.

Which is why, of course, Bolsonaro retreats from it every single time

GC presents to the metapolitics of truth-rain a savage challenge whose extent perhaps only Jair fully understands. The soteriology in…and you shall know the Truth” has to do somehow with deliverance from the secondary antinomy. But it’s not like this can be obtained by Jair: Truth itself must “set you free”. It must therefore dissolve at once the reality of the primary antinomy and that of the tertium non datur. It must affirm a transcendental role for the primary antinomy, neither real nor nonreal, just there in sheer thereness. This is, of course, the very nature of truth-rain — radical thereness proven by radical thereness. But thereness-qua-thereness is nothing and does nothing. The existential core of truth-rain is sweet but tends to be crowded with philosopher sage types. How can truth-rain be affirmed through the base misosophia of real life?

That is perhaps the most general form of the problem we seek to defer. What we want is to have sufficient technology that high-grade theoretical development and social coordination start going hand-in-hand. What Jair wants to do now — while also struggling with GI tract trouble, undergoing surgery twice a year and raising a teenaged girl — we think it’s better achieved in General Axiology.

Epideictics III — New Histories

Recitativo

We have aimed (or, at the very least, repeatedly claimed) to sidestep philosophy. All along, our main directives — if one’s able to motion-blur the proliferation of so-called technical content — have been GENERALITY and GENERICITY; but in our theoretical mood that eschews argument for bald and torrential assertion, we’ve been using them in ways that break with the philosophical method. Namely, we made the grasp for genericity free, if somewhat dangerous: abstraction proliferates for the sake of abstraction, that is, for the sake of avoiding particulars. We’ve let the question of whether particular abstractions (and everything’s particular in its own level) are the “right ones” to its own dynamic development: the good chain of abstraction is expected to flip over (the famed “switcharoo”) at the point of ultimate voidness.

A decent interpretation of all this could say that we’ve made up the word “genericity” to describe a freestyle kind of “generality” that plays in the “theoretical mood” without making claims it cannot cash. But that’s not really it; without the sharp gener/ality/icity distinction the entire project collapses, because theory (despite all of its sex appeal and seduction) is all about operating in genericity; only a tiny percentage of its claims in generality.

I did what anyone would do in my position: retreat into my books and spill bullshit on Twitter to calm that urge to spill my seed (meaning: my ideas).

We ultimately come back to Deleuze 1968. It becomes clear that genericity is nothing but repetition, and generality is nothing but generality (but hark, Deleuze uses the word “generality” to mean “genericity”, and then words like “the virtual” and “intensive spatium” to mean “generality”). There’s a historical and ontological interplay between generality/difference and genericity/repetition; but this comes up in the wider project of founding generality/difference for itself and not as an outcome of repetition.

This is the clear source of my unease about philosophy in what pertains to theory and asemic horizon: having sewn Deleuze patches on my jackets and promised to name my firstborn “Gilles”, theory as presented here was always obscurely contra-Deleuzean. Deleuze 1968 stood as the eventual limit of philosophy; if we’re not traveling intergalactic space after Deleuze 1968, it’s our damn fault.

But we’ve never aspired to an anti-Deleuzeanism; theory had not had its proper beginning before Jair for the simple reason that explication of minutiae (and there are paragraphs in Deleuze 1968 that easily lead to entire careers) didn’t appeal to us, given that we had no career as a professional philosophers to be develop. Theory was obscurely meant to be orthogonal to philosophy (and therefore, Deleuze 1968) — to say nothing about reality itself but rather play with abstractions that let us (and this is always collective, you and me) cross levels of “meta”. This is also the method of mathematics, specially before its first break with physics: find the abstractions that let you reason in terms of abstractions.

What are the implications of this realization for theory? Much of what it says — truth-rain, interfacticity, axiologies, diegesis, chronicities, etc. — is sound in essence, but anything that wants to be powerful (e.g. to discover and enact general axiology) has to be in potentia; it has to arise from something else — from the becoming of something else — and has to account, as rigorous as the art really allows, for its own becomings. We’ve set up theory as a configuration of sites (and this is one of the dangers of Lacan as a model); we give people long maps, tell them to visit these sites. Yet the stray grasses and berries that spurt from th e empty ground tend to be regarded as nuisances, overflows of meaning in what hopes to develop as a perfect architecture of meaninglessness.

This, of course, is unsustainable. What’s more, in tends to suffocate concept-weeds that are swelling with reality, like saturation, in the name of Procrustean formulae like “sandwich dialectics”. What behooves us (yes, you and me) is nothing short of a bebop revolution in this respect.

A glossary

 

I wrote this for a friend.

This overview of asemic horizon’s technical terminology (known as “space opera” to earlier readers) follows an order that’s specific (such that it supports a series of contrasts and comparisons) but not special (in that no particular concept or term is anterior to others).

THEORY is the theory of generic structure. This is a recursive definition (the theory of the theory of the theory….) — and also defines GENERICITY as the remainder term in a truncated infinite series. Grosso modo, theory works by appealing to higher and higher orders of genericity: it therefore saves us the pain of working toward particulars. Before the Hölderlin story emerged, the motto of asemic horizon was “notes on structural affairs”. This remains a decent description of the functional role of theory throughout our project.

The SITUATION is the Whole Thing. Up to a certain point in time there were attempts to codify a “metaphysics of the situation”, something that still litters the earlier texts; by now, the word refers to a generic stand-in for metaphysics — a protocol — establishing certain desiderata for metaphysical theories. These desiderata are also not specified in technical terms, but revealed allusively across theory. Meta-level discussion of the Situation is often referred to as the “Heidegger story”; but this name implies fewer and weaker links to Heideggerian thinking proper than “Heidegger theory” would. Instead, this word pattern (the Tarski story, the Hölderlin story, etc) points to something that emerges as a presentation of theory rather than something that flows from theory itself.

The key “Heidegger story” feature of the Situation is INTERFACTICITY. Facticity is a sister word to contingency. My facticity is that about me which is fact (and mere fact); this glossary’s facticity is characterized by its linguistic infrastructure, the technology that supports it, the particular situations in which it emerged. One way of characterizing interfacticity is seeing it as the machinery of interactions between particular facticities, i.e. the infrastructure that supports the apparent merger of all facticities. But each facticity is also pure infrastructure: the interfacticity is the machinery of the world. A less clear (and possibly easier to grasp because of it) way to approach the subject is to start from intersubjectivity (maybe following Buber) and expand into the entire world through a kind of faux panpsychism — while at the same time removing agency and protagonism from everything in touches. There’s also the option of building from Heidegger 1927 directly, but that would seriously derail us into philosophical analyses no less important for theory, nor more critical than the water plumbing amenities that make writing theory possible at all.

If we continue to (somewhat embarassingly) stand by the name “Heidegger story” we might analogize interfacticity to the “Being” of “Being and Time”. Thus we sometimes decorate references to the Situation or situations with timely terms like “ongoing” or even “actual ongoing” (which is to say, taking place in a time structure that has already been actualized and produced). This doesn’t imply that the Situation is equipped with a global timeliness — despite the empirically-supported existence of something that flows at the rate of 1 second per second, simple phenomenological examination tells us that all that we now call infrastructure (electrical currents, currency speculators, geological folding, the wind in your hair) to take place in idiosyncratic TEMPO structures, not flowing but CLICKING. A vague, luminiferous awareness of interfacticity can then be developed by documenting (for the next few seconds in which you look away from this text) the polyrhytmic interplay of clicking tempos.

More generally, interfacticity (and, therefore, the Situation) is fundamentally de-presented. By this we mean: like infrastructure in the classical sense, interfacticity is fundamentally invisible (until something breaks down). In contrast, a SCENARIO is fundamentally presented; in the generic case it is PRODUCED (a technical term: to produce is to make appear) by presentations as disparate as ideologies, narratives, lecherous fantasies, theoretical claims. The infrastructure that supports a scenario is known as DIEGESIS (a term appropriated wholesale from film theory); we’re aware of it because it so often chokes or breaks down, at times even on purpose. Diegesis is necessarily supported by a dizzying array of self-effacing technologies. This machinery produces, as a free bonus, a dialectics of storytelling tool/story being told that might become important as we try to place agency-presentations in or out of the diegesis.

Diegesis also gives us a method and system for appropriating bits and pieces of Lacan (genericized into a theory of reflexive structures equipped with a mirror stage); we can explain more accurately and succintly that interfacticity is de-presented by hanging the Situation on the order of the Real and scenarios on the order of the Symbolic. The major task of social theory then becomes to produce (gentle reminder: to make appear) a genericized Imaginary in the EC-STATIC (that stands beside themselves) scenarios that engage the lecherous desires, intellectual curiosity, political motivation (cue Zizek voice sample: and so on, and so on) that push people, these particulars we try to avoid, into engaging with AXIOLOGIES — and that may push them, in the limit, to engage with GENERAL AXIOLOGY.

Simply put, general axiology is the largest possible axiology. An axiology (classical ones include aesthetics, ethics, economics, etc) is a theory of what is valuable and how to valuably obtain it. Axiological thinking enables us to abstract away human action entirely and operate at the level of governing dynamics. The axiology-centric theory of asemic horizon is therefore said to be APRAXIC. It’s not concerned with particular events taking place in the world, but with the structure (axiological, diegetic, interfacticitous) that enables arbitrary/generic action. Being a full axiology, arriving at general axiology also implies a theory of how to valuably obtain everything valued by general axiology — something we call the get-rich quick scheme.

General axiology is the main story of theory — the praxic program that balances the apraxic character of theory is that general axiology may cease to be mere story and metastasizes over the Situation. There is some significant methodological irony here: theory goes through effort and anxiety to remain decentered, but suddenly acquires a North Star, an asymptotic utopia. It’s furthermore ironic, given the standoff-ish attitude of asemic horizon toward metaphysics, that this centerpiece comes to be coated in a kind of quasi-religious pomp. Indeed at some point a major story was the eschatology — how a limit point of total genericity was to flip over (a “switcharoo”) to total generality; but this should be considered deprecated by now; the core texts have been retired but some references may survive.

Talking about eschatology was fun, but it didn’t jive with our expanded awareness of time. The coming of general axiology was to come in the future, but we were fully unable to gain systematic awareness about clicking in the future. The future does not hang in tempo — it flows at 1 second per second, we’re told, but it’s made of contingency, not event. An interesting collision helps us here: in many languages, from ancient Greek to modern Romance languages, the words for “weather” and “time” are the same. The Greek word is KAIROS; because naval battles were such a core exemplar of contingency for ancient Greeks, it came to signify a kind of time related to opportuneness for action — finally, metaphysicians were caught dichotomizing CHRONOS (the 1 second per second thing) and kairos.

One might observe, finally, that time-chronos is useful in human affairs because it approximates tempo in reasonably regular scenarios: rathen than record particular raindrops orchestrating a downpour, you can measure an aggregate quantity of rain in an aggregate time interval and react accordingly. Search your hearts, you know this to be true: the use of time-chronos in, say, applied science and engineering, has nothing to do with the eventual discovery of an “arrow of time” by abstract physicists. Worse yet, the use of flowing time in practical social affairs is a weird appeal to quantitative science where in reality social convention dictates an ambient tempo (seven days a week, only five of which are good for trading).

This discovery of ambient tempo brings us finally to the initial insight that bought me (the interplay of “I” and “we” over the course of the texts is important; this is me now, a writer) a way out from uselessly trying to discuss particulars — something that’s extremely inefficient given my limited time for this project — and into “structural affairs”: the AMBIENT CONDITIONS OF TRUTH. This is a concept that superficially may seem to appeal to consensus and social construction, but in actuality tries to refer to a standard of authenticity and risk. Usages of “ambient conditions” (such as ambient tempo) have since multiplied, and “ambient conditions of truth” has been given the nickname of TRUTH-RAIN. By analogy, this latter synonym explains its praxic consequences: truth is not an object of epistemology, but an actually ongoing condition to which one might expose oneself (soaking wet in the rain) or take shelter from. This came from Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, apparently taken from the Christian bible: … and you shall know Truth, and Truth shall save you.

This was the original Bolsonaro crisis: having entered the postmodern condition on November 15th 1889, Brazil wasn’t quite sure what to make of this — the Truth. Not surprisingly, then, Jair’s strongest supporters were Christian evangelicals — people trying to live in a community of Truth — while his hardest detractors were those committed to social-constructionist fads and allergic to the Truth. It should be clear, by the po-mo “Continental-flavored” style of these collected texts, that I’m much more similar to the latter. But they’re wrong: they’ve taken shelter from the ambient conditions of truth when the whole thing is right in front of their eyes: not Christian religion but the abject failure of pink-tide South American leftist governments in doing whatever they thought it was worth doing, and worse yet, the abject failure of their theories of Brazil. Even a year later, when the euphoria has died down and Jair is already imbricated in the usual presidentialist bullshit, it’s still out there, in the air, for anyone who cares to step outside and breathe it.

The historical development of theory flows from this problem. The “Heidegger story” (interfacticity, in more modern terms) developed from the problem of giving sense to these mass nouns (ambient, Brazil, left, right and-so-on-and-so-on); axiologies from the unwillingness to deal with this and that person or event directly, but wanting to speak from truth-rain. Tempo to give leeway to the indefinite complexity of the world, scenarios to think of generic storytelling (not just “narratives” — everything to which diegesis and its dialectics applies). There’s more — the Hölderlin story, which complicates  “salvation”, physique du rôle, sandwich dialectics… But I think this has covered the basics, or at least the basics I could linearize as a narrative.

We live in a society

I.

69970579_1232113676961523_1837711713051344896_n.png

Easily hidden in plain sight in this one-panel are signs of a moment of transcendence. The comic masterfully portrays the self-important internet “patrician” (or the deluded neckbeard who believes himself to be one). But it only achieves this mastery — this capacity for compression: how many nonwhite pixels does it even have? — by fiddling with the frame. A standard trick in the movies is to slide some nondiegetic music into view, showing it being produced from some visible in-story source. This is meant to have the effect of tickling your brain, very slightly disrupting the strict separation between story and storyteller to make the frame shimmer for a split second. The comic does this in the opposite direction: a non-diegetic effect of dialectical sublation is let escape, like an air bubble, from the confines of the .jpg.

To ruin the joke: the constitutive contradiction of the hero is that he’s superior in every relevant sense, but has no cute girlfriend (which really only epitomizes a more fundamental desire for belonging in plebeian society). In the comic, he gives a minimal exposition of this constitutive contradiction and proceeds to disavow it: oh god, why must I be better than everybody else? Note that he could have disavowed patrician status instead: why can’t I shake off the pretense and fit in? This would be character development, whereas the comic wants to capture a repetitive riff, an ostinato. But the ostinato wears thin: the hero is no longer content with self-congratulation; the party scene stages (enacts, deploys, showcases) the burden of patrician status. An axiological crisis takes hold of the situation: the hero now doubts whether being better is better.

At this point the hero’s basic constitutive conflict has been substituted for a higher-order problem for which the stage must be carefully set up. The constitutive conflict is the primary antinomy between identity and belonging. But (for lack of a better word) the patrician ideology opposes the reality of this primary antinomy; the goal (made overt by the hero’s failure) of the patrician is to “have the cake and eat it too”, to invert the primary antinomy and manage to belong because he’s a patrician. The hero is thwarted by a secondary antinomy: whereas his position is that the denial of patrician values leads to an impoverished (“degenerate”, in the mathematical sense of the word) party scene, the normie position is that the patrician’s attempted denial of the primary antinomy kills the party.

The comic stops a fraction of a second before realization of the second antinomy sinks in. It dares us to finish the thought. What are the outcomes? Either the first antinomy is upheld, leading to disfigurement of patrician identity, which comes to be defined by rejection and non-belonging, or it’s derogated, leading to a transfiguration of belonging (possibly symbolizing the transfiguration of tribal affinities into civil societies).

Re-reading my own text to keep track was giving me a headache, so I went and made a diagram.

diagram

God is a lobster, said once a wise man. He has two claws, one to select materials and a second to press them into strata. The second antinomy is a deconstruction of the first: the first antinomy is set against a metaphorical rock, placed in a real conflictive context and picked apart, both marrow and bone. The third antinomy is a consolidation of the second; it steps down one level of meta and presents again a simple, sensible dyad. A’, B’ are transformed from A, B and appeared in inverted position. B’, the transfiguration of natural affinity into abstract fraternité stands with A (the original patrician, to oversimplify) on the side of the reality of antinomies. But these are not the same; indeed, natural elitism appears at odds with civil society. Likewise, A’, the transfigured patrician, stands with B on the side of the refutation of antinomies. These are also not the same; patricianism modifies itself so it can get a cute girlfriend, but this is a unconvincing corruption of natural seduction — the very same motion that transforms Thag, alpha caveman, into Chad, the hobgoblin of little minds.

II.

The pseudoalgebraic form of the diagram (where B’ logically succeeds B even as it dialectically arises from A) reflects a sharp suspicion that this kind of “sandwich dialectics” — one that denies its own form en route to sublation — is somewhat generalizable. Indeed sandwich dialectics appears in my sources first in a handwritten notebook from many many moons ago; weeks ago already as an analysis of the “patrician”, and now again from rereading Élie Ayache’s “Blank Swan”

Standard economics (something close to “natural axiology” in the sense of “natural transformations” between functors in category theory) sharply distinguishes risk from uncertainty, the former standing for a probabilistic superposition of alternate states of the world, and the latter for the nonprobabilistic ignorance of what the hell can happen. There’s an avid market for risk, not for uncertainty. One of the building blocks of Ayache’s derivation is the denial of this distinction. His whole story relies on a radical critique of probability in favor of meillassouxsian-badovian “contingency”; in light of Meillassoux’s “Après la finitude” and its piercing argument for the necessity of contingency, the concept of “risk” from standard natural axiology falls out of quability.

Is any of this under truth-rain? I don’t know, I can’t quite understand Ayache’s book despite knowing Meillassoux well. But it exemplifies the sandwich dialectics much better than the “patrician” comic does! The primary antinomy of standard natural axiology (where A is uncertainty and B is risk) gives way to a secondary antinomy between Taleb (the denial of black swans corrupts risk analysis) and Ayache (the denial of the risk-uncertainty dyad opposes risk analysis) — and let us remember that both these men are derivative traders. What comes out on the side of the reality of the primary antinomy (where standard natural axiology hasn’t been *metaphysically* challenged) is a corrupted version of risk where talebists see “fat tails” instead of mixture distributions everywhere. What comes out on the side of tertium non datur (contingency, the metaphysical elephant Ayache wants to warn us about) is a higher or larger uncertainty-like concept. But hark! This tertiary antinomy (Taleb versus Ayache, fat tails verus volatility surfing, B’ versus A’) meaningfully relates to the first antinomy twice: the becoming-contingency in A’ reaffirms the reality of the market — this is the gist of Ayache’s philosophy — while the decadent platykurtosis of the black swan reaffirms that the market doesn’t make much sense at all.

We could play with sandwich dialectics by replacing A and B terms for quite some time. But the sandwich-dialectics of risk and uncertainty (which translates without much complication to the in-principle unrelated problems of chrematistics/right axiology and kairos/weather) tells us something that might clarify much of how the get-rich-quick and the explain-Jair stories relate to each other. And it’s actually easier to use sandwich dialectics from the inside out, starting from the terms of the secondary antinomy. In one pole, theory-at-large (B’, which nevertheless includes the get-rich-quick stuff) corrupts the blog’s original mission. In the other, the implicity primary antinomy (A-B, get-rich-quick versus understand-Jair) is false — a real tertium non datur (A’ — theory, general axiology, etc.) asserts itself over eveything else. B’, the first pole of the ensuing tertiary antinomy says that later references to Jair are corrupt and derivative; the A’ says that even the explain-Jair mode is a get-rich-quick story. This finally leads again to a relation of apparent opposition and a relation of apparent corruption.

If we were allowed to cargo-cult these instances — these formulas in the language of sandwich dialecics — we might either identify risk with chrematistics and uncertainty with kairos (the Taleb position) or the other way around (the Ayache position: the only chrematistics is in contingency; kairos is facing the possibility of death knowing that death is a possibility). At this point we could even identify these with A and B and go around again. But we should allow ourselves to reify (or at least pretend to) at some point: Taleb’s point is true but trivial; Ayache’s difficult to determine, but daring and somewhat backed by his success selling derivatives trading software. A typical example of Taleb’s conceptual style is his feud with Pinker over the cringecore 1000-pager “Enlightenment now!” There is so much to say about the facileness and concept-level naïveness of Pinker’s arguments — even more so if, as Taleb apparently has, you actually read his books — but instead we’re treated to a screaming match about error bars in statistics with small samples. Is this what the tertiary antinomy arising from A = uncertainty has to offer? Is the resulting “apparent opposition” real?

At least to the point where we take pity on the reader (an ourselves) and fail to develop this iteration of a primary antinomy, we have to side with whatever calls itself an “Ayache pole”. Of course, either this judgement by character (and maybe I should type “ad hominem” for SEO) works or it doesn’t. This is a primary antinomy. Then, denial of character judgements corrupts our trust in arguments that can’t be fully formalized and checked by computer; but denial of the difference between character and substantive judgements opposes the idea of substance, which is troublesome (it means that we can’t like Woody Allen movies, etc.). A tertiary antinomy arises: either there is an opposition between substantive and character judgements, or there’s none. The position of “real tertium non datur” relates the substance argument (evaluate the man for his movies, not his sexual appetites) to a corruption where substance and character judgements have been fused. The position in favor of the reality of the antinomy produces a disturbing rejection of flights of hermeneutics in favor fused total judgements. You get the point.

III.

 

Listen to the song, it’ s thoroughly good. The following approximates the meaning of the original words, but can’t convey the overall effect.

It’s my friend who has warned me that Science is angry now,
also that Science moves forward, sideward and everywhere else.

I haven’t seen this woman, nor did it interest me;
As an autodidact I live, working on my crops.

What could be that rage that she could not control?
They say she’s a real bitch, we should be careful.

She grabbed three men and shoved them into a tube;
she kicked them into the moon to get her some rocks;

what’s worse, she dropped them into the sea;
and then for forty days she kept them jailed;

What could these men have done to get her so mad?
Many say that without asking they broke into her house.
Many say that without asking they broke into her house.

This is a funny but beautiful Andean retelling (a slightly subversive one, but still) of the myth of Prometheus. It has to be a traditional folk song (even though it’s sung in Spanish and not Runasimi or Aymara) because it denies the essential condition of space exploration — a motto that I even have pasted on my laptop cover: per aspera ad astra. Here men are not bound to hard toil in hopes of incremental success — Science, a real bitch, kicks them out of our planet’s gravity field to teach them a lesson. It’s in this way that the folk singer subverts the myth of Prometheus: there, man is punished for having dared to transcend; here, man transcends because of some prior sin.

But a wider look at space exploration deflates per aspera ad astra as promethean ethos impulse. Man, uppercase, billions of them, daydreamed of space here and there but didn’t want whitey on the moon; this happens because hegemonic powers finds themselves locked into silent war (“cold”, they said) and despairing for technology; it happens because American president John Kennedy signs the order to rehabilitate Nazi rocket scientists. It happens because Nazi rocket scientists originally thrived. Prior sins underwrite the literally super-human achievements of the Sputnik and Apollo 11. A world order of liberal values fails to find capital for such acts of defiance.

This says something about chrematistics. It’s anecdotal (which means — it can’t be shown to be the only way to do this), but it would seem that both in Alfredo Dominguez’s and Werner von Braun’s versions, a kind of right-axiology of transcendence (enacting inspiring feats of the human spirit) happens to be underwritten by the *inversion* of certain left-axiologies that have, too, wide appeal. What is the larger axiology here? What’s the structure of axiologies of cruelty (note well — not acts of cruelty — leave that to the cruel) that enable general axiology (“infinite power, infinite bliss”) and liberation?

There’s some sandwich dialectics to this too. But this post is already running way too long.

Outbound link

No theory this time; instead some impressive artwork by American Painter Mary Coleman.

atrophy-2Atrophy (2019), acrylic on canvas

I’m very cavalier about randomly appropriating images for the internet since they’re not at all integral to the purposes of the blog (indeed they’re mostly Twitter clickbait) and since I always expect very low flows of traffic. Because Coleman is a good artist that’s not well-known, this hard-and-fast breaking of rules may not apply, and she might ask me to remove these images from here. Ask away, painter.

 

scalp.jpeg

Radiation (2011), acrylic on wood

At any rate, there’s much more of this stuff where it comes from.

It would be interesting to write a short essay comparing Coleman’s stuff to my favorite figurative painter Jaeyeol Han. But I have a fun Saturday ahead of me, so I can’t invest the time right now.

Versions 2: Non nobis solum

(or: how to check your privilege in the mirror stage)

I.

(This post starts as a polemic against its direct antecedent, Versions I: Yngwiepocalypse, which is shorter than our usual content and light on technical prerequisites. You should skim it at least).

The core technical component of the “Yngwie thesis” was the dereference operator. Had the “Yngwie” thesis been presented as facticitous (that is, if it had been claimed that de-signification is quable to the ambient conditions that govern the interfacticity), we we’d be short of a technical account of de-referencing. Even then, we merely alluded to de-referencing as a kind of intermediary causal layer for “de-signification”. The story therefore went: an erosion process on the reference/dereference double-ledger accounting led to critical flaws in the dereferencing operation which led to de-signification which led to the Crisis, dukkha, postmodernity, etc.

But contra yngwieism, there is little to nothing that connects de-signification to a breakdown scenario (the Crisis). “Signification”, to begin with, is at best a cluster of unmoored hermeneutical “educated guesses” about structure-making (and may we remind the reader that structure is structured like a structure); in practice, it functions as a spacey reverb-filter echoing out of finer ideas about semiosis that are most effectively as reverb (as self-destructuring sound-mass). As a concept candidate, de-signification, with the awkward hyphen that prevents it from collapsing into design-ification, tries to say something crisp about  something spacey and reverberative. Of course it doesn’t work.

Dereference (as a concept candidate emancipated from yngweism) fares somewhat better. It mirror-stages reference, which has a clear structural role in the semiotic domain of Yngwian aesthetics and is even more concrete (with concrete and even dramatic consequences for improper dereferencing) in the scenario of structured access to computer memory.

Building from that I want to say that there’s a a Greimas-like binary between an operation and a “de” operator connecting the referencing operation and the dereferencing operator; that in the rift between operation and operator there functions a structural, genericized version of the mirror-stage rift that psychology used to believe happened to humans. I can’t say that. It’s too large a claim. It doesn’t pass easily into the “we” voice that spells out theory. It comes from staring at trees and walls for too long and feeling like something coalesces. But it needs so, so much detail to be teased out, so much scholarly charliework and it will bore my readers so, so much. (I know by now what brings readers to the blog and I’m too human not to care).

So I’m not saying that. I’m giving it a suspended “thesis” name and say that it eats the “Yngwie thesis” for lunch while absorbing its essential nutrients and minerals. I’m going to give it a name — something like the “genericized mirror stage”; sexier than that, but not salacious; maybe sexy in the desexualized version of fashion-magazine heroin-chic that showcases a potential for sexual seduction that is not there but lies latent like the energy of a compressed coil.

II.

What other “de-x/x” binaries are mirror-stages? We’ve just sketched a scenario in which Kate Moss is desexualized and de-seductive — the two videos linked in this sentence will explain more without derailing this text. There are more interesting pairs, I think; I think deconstruction can be restated as a mirror-stage of construction. Deconstruction claims to detach the primitive bond of thinking from its surroundings in concrete determinations (Foucauldian microphysics from the Zizekian perversity of ideology; Lacan from biology; art from nude models and fruit baskets; Derrida from the logos of Christianity, only so superficially manifested in writing); it grows into something much more robust, a worldmaking thing that transcends the world of its infant desire; but it is shackled to this genericized id.

But we want (one thing the reader needs to notice is the we- and I-voices weaving back and forth) to try something else for size: deserving. I’ve noticed the mirror-stagity of deserving while reading this essay on liberal theodicy, which zeroes in on Rawls and plucks from Rawls a core agitating motive that in one dizzyingly powerful gesture connects political activists from all stripes to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake:

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls remarked that “no one deserves” their social ascendancy and the natural gifts—intelligence or industriousness—with which they achieved it. The fact that one person was endowed with them and another not was “morally arbitrary.” A theory of justice aiming at fairness rather than fortune would reject any sense that people deserved their class position. 

(The essay is not long and strongly recommended for readers that don’t have the meaning of “theodicy” fresh in mind right now.)

Consider the ongoing discussion about inequality-generating prosperity. It’s not hard to find someone who will strongly side against Pareto improvement as an axiological growth path. In the thought experiment where every arrangement can  be posited without pondering the policies that lead us there, such antiparetians will prefer an arrangement where the poorest and most wretched are worse off, provided that the luckiest are closer to them. I’ve personally heard only two barely cogent arguments for this position. One comes from the bad psychological experience of envy cited as an override; an alternate form of this is that being comparatively poor produces an existential dread with having failed to compete. More realistically but less relevantly, the issue of money in politics — rigorously, that societal power scales nonlinearly (and heavily so) with wealth.

At one level, these are all axiological issues — roughly that money and wealth fail to suture left and right axiologies (which doesn’t matter in General Axiology, but who can get through to these people?). At a lower level, they’re fundamentally linked via Rawls to the veil of ignorance and to deserving one’s privileges. But  de-serving mirror-stages out of serving. Words are a theoretician’s best friend: serving and deserving are, at least superficially, reference/dereference pairs (also straddling right and left axiologies; maybe we’re on to something) on a morality of responsibilities and rights.

I’ve sort of click-baited this to look like a polemic against “SJWs” and such, but in light of the above there might be something utterly sensible about mots d’ordre like “check your privilege”. This is the bikini all over again: what the Rawlsian veil (a mystification, a counterfactual beyond [inter]facticity) displays is interesting, but what it conceals is the objet a. It displays a theodicy; this theodicy is a gesture of seduction that suggests a Lisbon earthquake before one even happens (much like Blackbeard’s engine of virtual violence). What the bikini of theodicy claims to conceal is the other-wordly order that justifies this one — the victims of the Lisbon earthquake as they’re sucked upwards into Heaven.

III.

Did we suddenly change the subject to produce a vague effect of siding with “social justice”? That’d be an interesting, albeit cynical strategy: leave theory intact, so that anyone who works through it realizes what’s really going on; but at the same time produce surface disavowals of proscribed positions for lazy skimmers. This is something intellectuals have done many times under authoritarian governments. But it’s not what’s happening here — or if it is, not at a such direct level.

Read again — we said might be and proceeded with a bikini analysis of Rawlsian theodicy. But we could never endorse any particular reading of what is hidden by the bikini — that’s the impossible object of desire. We might even identify it with the connection to the whole-otherness that is severed at the (Lacanian infant) mirror stage, the umbilical cord, but it’s never that that you want.  But Rawls claims inside the bikini is the Lisbon earthquake, the radically unexpected event (straight from the Meillassouxsian grand dehors, the geological accretion of the Earth) that shakes Leibniz-Candide’s optimism and forces intellectuals to ponder a world that maybe is not fair. This later becomes the immiseration thesis in Marx, the nuclear catastrophe, the Piketty catastrophe, the climate-a-hard-rain’s-a-coming panic…

Am I saying liberal intellectuals want the worst to come? First, no — you’d have to ask a sample of people you consider to be liberal intellectuals… Second, no — the core point of Lacanian theory is that one can’t put a finger on what one’s desire; it’s concealed by the bikini. Third, no — I’m developing in this text something that’s not a subjectivity-form. Here the mirror stage does not separate an unconscious from an id, but a  “de-x” operator from a “x” operation. We’re talking about a deserving operator. It arises from a serving operation which arises from the natural structure of Man — specifically from his big head that prevents full development to happen within the womb. One is therefore born incomplete and partially of-nature (cf. “failure to thrive”). In short, one is born in debt.

This principle (a beautiful classical phrasing is non nobis solum — not us alone) is something that I’ve rediscovered multiple times with friends, in relaxed meatspace chats over coffee that inevitably border on the existential: one owes the world, not the other way around. After thriving in early infanthood (again, acquiring enough weight to be viable), one’s no longer of-nature, but falls into a social and physical infrastructure that one couldn’t have possibly devised, let alone built. If one wants to eat, one has to work (this is Uriel Alexis‘s “reality principle”).

This is where the dark ineffable desire for the Lisbon earthquake — again, one that is in the pair serving/deserving, not necessarily in people) — comes up: it’s the mirror-stage desire to be articulated and whole in oneself, not bound to the umwelt, that produces the Imaginary order, sets the stage for the signifying chain to emerge, etc.

 

IV.

This gets us finally to privilege. Discourse of privilege is not a simple matter of not getting what one deserves (a misalignment of right axiologies); someone who is defrauded of money or presents as “incel” simply didn’t get what they wanted and thought were theirs by right. Whatever the secret unconscious desires of incels are, they’re clearly related to what is typically hidden in actual bikinis; it’s possible even that the core illness has to do with the disconnect between these unconscious desires and the sex drive that arises from hormones produced in the testicles. Therefore: simple — volunteers should be getting these guys laid for the good of society.

Discourse of privilege is not about getting what’s mine: I have the clear impression, for example, that at least a small fraction of “male feminists” are sincere. It’s rather a more complicated relationship with the Rawlsian bikini that, at the same time that it appears to promote the Other’s subjectivity as a focus of concern, sublimates the plain principle of existential debt: one no longer owes the world for one’s liabilities; rather, service happens in the bikini (or rather in what it is imagined to be in it) and requires a great deal of work not to meet the immediate demands of the world, but to understand and promote understanding of the bikini.

The great political tension produced by discourse of the privilege has to do with the lack of yet another mirror-staged operator — desublimation. As it stands under ongoing conditions, discourse of privilege is unable to discharge the existential debt it has — apparently, but not in any real sense —  vaporized. Because its proponents cannot circulate this debt (in exchange for whatever they think that they do that’s valuable), the very structure of deserving wilts. Thereafter e.g. a corporation can no longer focus on making what’s valuable (in such a way that they deserve their profits).

Two things could be attempted with the “Yngwie thesis” in this scenario. First, we could fix lost dereferents — poverty refers to injustice which refers to privilege — but now we reject Pareto improvement and are willing to make the poor worse-off. This is interesting but sets up on a slippery slope — ultimately we have to refer to “true moral values”, but bouncing back from crisis could lead us astray from the road to General Axiology. Second, we could trace back those non-desublimated debts back to their originator — roughly the Ben Shapiro move. But back in this metaphorical innocent village where everyone just did the things they have to do — who knows who owns what?