Topoλόγος disputatio


Psychoanalysis sets itself apart as clinical method because it doesn’t understand the role of the clinical intervention to be the same as do scientific intervention practices. This doesn’t mean only scientific psychiatry; geologists looking into the fault lines of rocks and pseudoscientists such as homeopaths share the same concept structures of wellness and infirmity. Indeed psychoanalysis is disconnected enough from the unity of science (more so even than witch doctoring) that it’s not [proto/pseudo/anti/para/meta]scientific at all.

On the clinical side, the core teaching of psychoanalysis, on the other hand, is that you cannot be made whole again. Psychoanalytic treatment therefore mostly presses toward amor fati and resignation. Unsurprisingly the impact of psychoanalysis in the clinical setting has been minuscule in comparison to its impact as a non-philosophical mode of theorizing about the human situation. Even then, the quotation from the Dhammapada applies: “these teachings are like a raft to be abandoned once you have crossed the flood”.

General axiology has a parallel structure as a potential method for intervening in the world. It looks at hierarchies of value systems, but it can only promise a movement upwards. While the results of axiological analysis may yield opportunities for intuitive conflict resolution, analysis itself works by conflict discovery and even conflict generation. It therefore lends itself nicely to settings such as corporate strategic planning because it presses hard against the environment of chaotic incentives that arises in any kind of large organization.

Can political programs be derived from the theoretical framework of general axiology? It’s not impossible; but its implications for any kind of action program are comparable in a certain sense to psychoanalysis’s implications for clinical treatment: the political patient cannot be cured, he can at best be cut down to size.

In the straightforward application of general axiology ideas to a political debate, combatant parties are led through a process of abstracting away their grievances and interests until a general formulation where the disagreement has disappeared emerges. I haven’t tried this beyond internet forums, so I can’t be sure it actually works in complex real settings. Yet there is a sense in which the emergence of modern states and political parties dissolves long-running family feuds: the state and the political process that reproduces it are almost like axiological vacuum pumps such that economic, religious and cultural matters are continually raised to a more abstract political setting.

This should make clear that “more abstract” and “better” are far from interchangeable (it’s easy to do economic planning wrong); what is needed is a theory of abstraction that displaces “the ladder” for a structure such that there can always be multiple paths toward more abstraction and most end up in deadlock. This is where axiological thinking  both clears and blocks the path. It should block the path as a structure of theory-suspicion; it should discourage most possibilities of bogus, unanalyzed agreement so that the kind of uncomfortable temporary agreement that pave the way for abstraction can survive.

Maybe for the better, this program probably doesn’t work for politics. The very existence of a clear and visible political process is the symptom of a mal-adaptation (from the point of view of axiological analysis) that will defend itself to the death.


The first beatitude of axiological thinking is to not mistake a person’s actions and evaluations for their underlying axiological setup. Economists with their simple convex-analysis theory of consumer preferences are more clear about this than almost everyone else: a world of concreteness interposes itself between the inscrutable field of wants and the effect of human dissatisfaction on the world. But economists focus on people and people only; the import of the Heidegger story, culminating on interfacticity, is to foreground the interactions between facticities (subjectivities y compris) at large. Once grokked, this idea obviates the first beatitude; but it’s a difficult idea that at this moment really serves to found the first beatitude.

The practical consequence of this is that you can never take disagreement at face value, particularly in real-time setting. Everyone knows debates are useless at getting “truths” across belligerent parts; the proper theoretical model for this is that the real-time debate model is simply impotent in setting up the ambient conditions of truth for display — in other words, a debate can’t be had in truth. But this doesn’t make it useless: debates are typically forums to parade difference, whether earnest or forced.

A better model for applied axiological thinking is a marital row. The optimal outcome for a disagreement between married persons is not to find a winner; most of the time, it isn’t even to arrive at the best objective thesis.  Rather, the best results are obtained by repeatedly reframing the disagreement until it dissolves under the weight of the reasons why you’re married in first place — a strong axiology if there’s ever one in bourgeois society.

Whether this model applies in other contexts depends similarly on the existing axiological infrastructure. A corporation is bound by revenue, salaries, promotions and at best pride in product. What about a small town? Thinking through this will readily show that politics repels axiological analysis because it gains its power from destroying existing axiological infrastructures.


Can we propose an alternative to politics? Possibly — but for it to be wortwhile, it would have to be simultaneously a general abstract proposal with multiple other concrete instances — maybe ranging from the cure of psychosomatic illnesses to the acquisition of a better singing voice. And I can’t promise those things — maybe never.

Still, I have been working at this procedure; after some iterations it seems to have acquired the barbarous Greek-Latin hybrid name of “topologos disputatio“.

Topologos” stands rather crudely for “reasoning about place”; that the term has a very definite interpretation in the contemporary mathematical discipline of topology is lucky, in that everyone who’s seen the basics of the discipline will understand me immediately. I translate “Disputatio” to “debate”. The whole expression therefore crudely translates to “discuss the structure of territory”. People hip to mathematics can imagine trying out different topologies to a given mathematical object; people hip to Deleuze may instead groove on lines of flight and bodies without organs. (There are technical differences to these interpretations, but in a sufficiently abstract setting they eventually dissolve.

Topologos disputatio is an alternative to debate, agreement and disagreement altogether. What it tries to accomplish is a focus on problems that are complex enough that they can only at best be tentatively explored in their gross structural features. A territory, as about half of you know already, is only a territory because we expect to leave and return. A topology, as the other half knows, can be quite a coarse theory, even more so as the underlying spaces become stranger.

The benefits from this strange “post-truth” practice should be clear — have I undersold the delights of general axiology?

At any rate, this is an experimental procedure I’ve been trying here and there. To carry on with the experiment, I just created a Telegram channel. Maybe it takes off, maybe it doesn’t.