Sunday, March 08, 2015

Part 7: (Whose Project; Does the Individual Exist?): Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

With this post Flora Sapio and I (and friends from time to time) continue an experiment in collaborative dialogue. The object is to approach the issue of philosophical inquiry from another, and perhaps more fundamentally ancient, manner. We begin, with this post, to develop a philosophy for the individual that itself is grounded on the negation of the isolated self as a basis for thought, and for elaboration. This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts. Your participation is encouraged. For ease of reading Flora Sapio is identified as (FS), and Larry Catá Backer as (LCB).

We continue with the discussion with Flora Sapio's response to points raised in Part  2 and  Part 3 and responses to Larry Catá Backer, Paul Van Fleet and Betita Horn Pepulim.

Contents: HERE


(FS): Responses to Part 2

Larry and Paul,

Normative traps, prisons and dungeons come in all varieties, and an important question is why one accepts to be placed in a prison, or chooses to walk past its gates?

Revealing the mechanisms that drive us to enter normative prisons is the first step towards their deactivation. The trap, the prison and the dungeon will likely continue to exist, but then we will need not concern ourselves with the fact a normative prison is there, because people may well refuse to enter the prison.

An escape is not an object or a goal, but a coming back to the most original state of the self.

The action through inaction of the followers of the Tao requires mastery of the processes of change and the chains of causality that produce them; it presupposes an embeddedness within such processes, and our responsiveness to them. “Action through inaction” requires a full intelligibility and accessibility of the world. While the world is in itself fully intelligible and accessible, who has got the ability to actually understand it?

Only the Sage can enjoy a perfect knowledge of potentially infinite chains of causality, and live “in the world”. These “Men of superior ability” should be valued and employed, as one would use an object, to rule those lowly people who would otherwise indulge in rivalry and theft.

“Action through inaction” then implies that all those who are not “the Sage” are either disconnected from the world, or cannot access the world. Moreover, the “Man of superior ability” by virtue of his superior ability (which presumably is his true essence) is eventually reduced to an instrument of rule.

Embracing conception over action is a false path. Privileging energeia, being-in-action/being-at-work over potentiality is an equally dangerous road. Am I myself only when I am fully immersed in action, only when I-am-at-work towards my alleged end (telos)? Does the final goal (telos) determine who we are? Or is it rather our function (ergon) that which determines who we are?

A rock may acquire its characteristics when it is moved or thrown but, does the rock cease to be a rock if it is not thrown? Differently put, if a rock is thrown at me, if I cannot dodge it and if I get hit then, depending on how sharp the rock is I may get cut and bruised. I may then say that I got wounded because I was hit by a rock. Yet if a sharp rock stays where it is, and I trip and fall on it, I may still get wounded, and I will still say that I fell on a rock.

On language

If there is both a “dark side” and a “bright side” to everything, then language is both an apparatus and something that exists and is created for no particular use, as when children make up words they pronounce over and over again, only because they like their sound. This second kind of language is a language without referent and without purpose, it is a language that destructures “language as an apparatus”.

The playful destructuration of “language as an apparatus”, the practices of Dadaism and Surrealism, sarcasm and satire are important as they point out to us possible ways in which the apparatus of language may be deactivated. The creation of a new terminology is another one but, such terminology should not be excessively arcane. No “truth” and no idea should remain the preserve of a caste of thinkers who communicate in their own secret language.

Responses to Part 3

What are the parameters of a “correct” education?

What kind of education can generate knowledge, and thus be transformative and liberating?

Where can I find this education? How many years does it take to become a Master of Liberation or a Doctor of Liberation, and how much does it cost? Can you guarantee that I will find peace and happiness with my degree?

These questions may lead to finding an important point of contact between abstract reflection and action.


There are things that no one possesses, either because they belong to everybody – they are used by all those who may need them (community bikes and community cars) - or because they belong to no one, or because they have been abandoned. A rock, a tree or a shell on the shore have no function in and of themselves. The so-called “function” can be predicated of objects only when they become the property of someone, and it is only then that the rock becomes a material to sculpt with, the tree becomes wood to burn, the shell becomes an object to display. An object that has been abandoned is an object that no longer has any usefulness or function: it is just what it is. Perhaps one does not need to become one's own priest, but to disposses oneself, renounce, let go and just be. Re-possession can only begin from an act of surrender and dispossession. Here the most obvious questions are what we need to surrender to and what we need to dispossess ourselves of.

On surrender.

Briefly, the modern construct of the human being as an aggregation of data of the self is not only a conceptual construct, it is what human life has become. We are continuously measured, rated, evaluated, assessed against a number of indicators and benchmarks. Our habits, tastes, preferences and lifestyles are monitored and used to rate our credit score, insurance score and consumer scores. We are called upon to compete and against others, and outperforming them is often a marker of personal success, regardless of the means that we use. Deceit and cunning, dishonesty and manipulation can become the most desirable qualities for those who aspire to this kind of “success”. Turning human beings into bundles of data and indicators and promoting unethical behaviors damage the quality of our relationship to ourselves and to others. The experience of relationships and behaviors that are either damaged or dysfunctional triggers aversive emotions.

We do have an ample vocabulary we use to express all that revolves around rational modes of behavior, conscious choices, means-ends calculations etc, and we can easily tap into rational modes of knowing and decision-making. The same observation cannot be made about our ability to express non-rational modes of behavior and emotional states, particularly aversive emotions.

Our cultural worship of competition (but also violence and death) is such that we must never allow ourselves to think thoughts or feel emotions which, if thought or experienced, would put us at disadvantage in the race towards the complete disaggregation of our being. As they signal weakness and vulnerability, aversive emotional responses should be suppressed. Suppressing fear – mostly fear but also anger, sadness etc. brings us a step further on the way to disaggregation of the self, causing further fear, pain and sadness until the point when we are caught in a downward spiral of emotional self-mutilation and self-rejection. Getting out of the downward spiral would be easy, if we only learned to accept our rage, anxiety etc. as normal and healthy emotional responses. But, we are not equipped with the radar to detect and recognize those emotions and no one ever compiled a vocabulary that would allow us to talk about them...

Reaggregating the data of the self that have been dispersed does cause those unpleasant feelings that we have been trained to believe should be subdued. Leaving behind old and familiar strictures and structures can be a little scary. Therefore, even before an act of dispossession is performed, an act of surrender to one's experiencing of fear (or truly any other aversive feeling) is necessary.

What we need to dispossess ourselves of is a self that is no longer the multiplicity of its attributes and qualities, but a mere aggregation of scores, data and indicators, which include some dimensions of the self to leave out many, many others.

The aggregation of scores and data is made possible by all too concrete mechanisms and institutions, which will continue to exist and reproduce themselves despite any attempt at subverting them. None of these mechanisms and institutions would work, if we did not attributed at least some legitimacy to them. The mythical body of the Hobbesian Leviathan is a body made of us, if we chose to walk away the King's head would fall off and roll to the ground.

An important question is then: what causes us to accept mechanism X or institution Z as legitimate? Is it perhaps a misplaced sense of self-worth, the feeling that if we did not meet certain expectations we would somehow be less than we are? The reasons for our acceptance of processes of disaggregation of the self are in part psychological, in part emotional, in part social...

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