The literal translation for epistasthai 'overstand' brings to mind the vanquishing of an enemy. A fait acompli. One can see where we've come up with the phrase, "Knowledge is power". An accomplished exploit, knowledge is a means of accomplishing exploitation.
Then there's this little ditty:
A sugar coating makes information easier to swallow, but that is not always a sufficiently reinforcing association to make it fit to be called "knowledge". Information swims like a sperm cell looking for a hole in our thinking wherein to take up residence. Entry gained, now there's a pregnant thought. The systems theory approach suggests that information may be modified by the system (our "brain") in order to "better fit in". This, of course, goes both ways – there is a mutual modification and it is not always a conscious process. What doesn't fit passes clean over our head. The output is always different than the input. This is what processing means. Sometimes this is what mis-understanding means as well. Lies and truth are only moral assessments to match input to preconceved notions. Truth is always pre-established until it is shattered by communication with the world around us. Shattering might produce an epiphany, a cognitive leap or a revolution, but mostly this doesn't happen. Repetition is the source of our conservative approach to the world, our wish for everything to be safe and predictable. From this process of communication, we attain "common sense". Repeated, we accomodate to tradition; shared, we form a school of thought. Truth by concensus. Organized knowledge. The infection has metastasized.
Children do not come into the world a blank slate. The slate is, from our grownup perspective, a surrealistic masterpiece. In fact, we often think it a nightmare. It is surrealistic in that newborns do not make distinctions. Freud informed us that the infant has no ego. If knowledge is distinguished, if it is disctinction, a mark of excellence, then the slate needs reduced, arranged, ordered, limited. Much must be erased. Distinct information is stored only if it becomes valued, and value is only an emotional attachment. Small children come to us fully capable, but without ability. Their babbling contains every possible sound found in human speech. It is stripped away in language acquisition with a Nietszchean forgetfullness. They become more able, but with increasingly limited capability. Adults find increasing difficulty learning new (spoken) languages, something which comes automatically to the child. A child is a master of every possible emotional display, capable of great feats of kindness as well as anger, always looking to connect the emotional burstings to incoming communication. The distinction is not yet there between without and within except in the capability to feel pleasure and pain and everything in between. Every moment is forever. Piaget called it the "sensory-motor" phase. Without giving it a thought, the child is fully cognisant of ecological immersion, something which able-bodied adults can only imagine. For us, it is an "altered state".
Small children, not making grand distinctions, have the best of memories, if memory is anything like holographic storage of patterns of perception. This is the source of familiarity (from "family"). The biggest whole is mother, and that is a huge pattern instantly recorded during the first twelve hours of birth. There is more to memory than simple regurgitation for further digestion. There is also the matter of feeding each other. While recognition of order produces distinction, distinction creates order. Nitpicking also creates order. Too much of this creates the obsessive-compulsive ritualized neurosis no longer capable of holostic thinking, of dealing with patterns. If trust is a bond, and it is not established, one can certainly appreciate order, but cannot live outside of chaos: the cluttered room syndrome sets in rapidly.
I'd like to suggest that Gregory Bateson's "difference which makes a difference", the process of distinction, may be inverted. Chaos, the unprocessed world, comes predistinguished. Every "bit" of information is (or seems) unique. Chaos is only extinguished through comparison, incorporation, merging. Patterns only become recognizable by their commensurability. One "thing" always stands in relation to another. Trained in oppositional thinking (or perhaps it is that we come into the world defiant), we call this the process, the learning of distinction. We forget there must first be a capture before we can proceed with our experimental dissections. What is new is compared to everything else, including internal patterns before it can stand at all in our perceptual or cognitive fields. Of course "new" patterns are given birth, but only on our resonance in our environment. Merging or incorporation must be preceded by recognition (pattern matching), and that is necessary for iteration. Reiteration transforms information into knowledge. Presumption is born. We feel secure to perform without giving the world a second thought.
Addressing gender as participation in a performance act, the "post-structuralist" Judith Butler echoes Boas' "anti-intellectualist" focus on custom, habit and tradition, but ostensibly, only through the works of such as Foucalt and Derrida:
Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that 'performance' is not a singular 'act' or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production, but not, I will insist, determining it fully in advance. – Judith Butler
Nineteenth century revolutionists had an infatuation with science, and in fact some (Kropotkin, Reclus) were scientists themselves. Emerging from philosophy and naturalism, the science of the day revolved around the also emerging fields of evolution (social evolution by Spencer (early) and Morgan (late) and biological by Darwin & Wallace) and behaviorism (toward the turn of the century) from a long tradition of largely British empiricism, and the "hard sciences" (chemistry and the physics of electromagnetism, metallurgy & engineering) more practical to industrialism and warfare. The naturalists found in the american frontier and european forests a laboratory for experimentation with intentional, autonomous communities, following a long tradition of drop-outs going back at least to the middle ages.
But science and technology seemed to have proven progress a good and worthy project. Potential was seen lurking from every dark alley but hypocrisy was also becoming more and more apparent from any perspective. Self criticism inherent in science seemed a good starting point to save progress and end hypocrisy. The second half of the twentieth century saw more and more people (largely philosophers and artists) questioning progress itself after witnessing the effects of two world wars and its energy sources which could realistically annihilate the entire planet. The 1960's nearly accomplished a spontaneous revolution, taking the old revolutionaries quite by surprise. Science itself has begun to question progress in the 21st century based on developments in physics in the early twentieth.
Differences found among radicals today often revolve around the epistemological bases (or unquestioned assumptions) of dialectical materialism and a quantum relativity lurking beneath post-modernism. The die-hard Marxist revolutionaries and leftist reformers are starting to show everyone else that stasis is a much stronger urge than change, even when that stasis is the preservation of progressive notions – the revolutionaries still refuse to initiate their revolution! Paradoxically, contradiction seems to be winning out over progress lending some credence to the dialectic approach. But everything seems to be falling apart without our help. Much discussion now centers on notions of collapse and extinction equally as much as gradualism and rupture. Minor adjustments in thinking will render them not mutually exclusive, but possibly lead to profound ends (or beginnings). The adjustment involves the merging of phenomenology and empiricism, long thought to be mutually exclusive. The apparent radical dualism is outlined below:
"All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the sun, from the protista to man, is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change." – Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature.
"Merely quantitative differences, beyond a certain point, pass into qualitative changes." – Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1.
Small changes early in embryology accumulate through growth to yield profound differences among adults." – Steven Gould
In the relativistic world view of Einstein and Boas, every statement can be inverted. The standard, or colloquial view of directional agency cannot invert the question "to what affect does the moon have on the tides?" to "to what affect do the tides have on the moon?". But the colloquial definition of gravity developed since Newton ties gravity to mass itself, such that all matter is mutually attractive not only in the physical sense, but also in the the erotic. The quantified answer to the first question is "gargantuan!", to the second is "minuscule!", but to neither is accurately answered "none whatsoever!". – Dufús
A small change, or "fluke" is insignificant (a statistical unlikelihood) only until it is not so. Its signification is the underpinning of catalysis, of crisis or catastrophe, a perturbation resulting in or from abrupt structural transformation. A fluke, or radical novelty, is in no fashion a matter of accident, chance or coincidence. A fluke is also the unanticipated outcome/response of a ("complex") interaction of conditions, ultimately meaning that flukes are necessary as both catalyst and transformed structure. A fluke must therefore be something to be expected. When it is reproduced and generalized, it becomes the status quo, the ubiquitous condition, the antifluke. Steven Gould called this "punctuated equilibrium". Without flukes, that is, the presence of the novel, unique individual (whether a grain of sand or the sun, a protista or a "man"), diversity would be a non sequitur. The process of the transformation from flukes to ubiquity is normalization: learning, natural selection. Reinforcement does not come from the environment so much as from interactions within the environment. What has often been confused as agency and direction is seen on closer examination to be nothing but self-fulfilling prophecy or the self-reinforcement of a continual positive feedback loop. If there is a direction, it is toward coherence and matriculation. If there is agency, it is reciprocal, a matter of mutual influence among interacting elements. This attraction has variously been labeled, from "gravity" to "love". Even so, everything which comes together eventually comes to fall apart, whether constituted by atoms or ideas. One could say complementarity is a view of life, dialectics of death. Empedocles reasoned not the ultimate dialectic but the polarity of flux as "love" and "strife".
Adaptation via natural selection is a statistical change in pre-existing elements interrelating to form a pattern. The structure itself, the coherence of pattern somewhat constrains the number of possible relations within: pigs can't fly, else we would not call them "pigs". This is the a priori argument from linguistics. The more deductive structuralist argument comes to the same conclusion based on the necessity of a complete structural transformation of the organism required before any designs for flight could be entertained by a pig. The physicist would require a change in gravity, such that the same pig could probably fly on the moon. The genetic perspective informs us that the pig's ancestors couldn't fly, and they were pigs too. In any case, these represent no limitation to the pig's ability to live (interrelate) as a pig but in fact open up (bring forth) a world of options for doing so, much as an understanding of music theory allows one to produce a symphony which doesn't sound like chalk on a blackboard. (This is not to suggest that such music is not possible without theory – the "groove", like zen bowling, does not derive from theoretical analysis). Theory is interpretive, not generative. Only our interaction with theory produces predictions, and we can only wait and see if the world agrees or disagrees with us to assess them. Like a zoom lens, the only value of a theory is in its adjustability. Piaget called this "accomodation".
Everything seems driven to make connections. From one perspective, the difference between a rock and an idea is in the tightness and manner of its connections. A well matriculated rock is a mountain. A dying mountain becomes many rocks, rubble. Dead rocks are dust. A good idea is no less "real", just less sensual, even though it can have sensational implications: a titillating idea such as "mutual eroticism", a repulsive thought like "police state" can equally change the world. Yet we scoff at the "native" who sees magical potential (agency) in words (incantations). This is because we see our words as stand-alone creations which are only roadsigns to the "out there". When ideas are expressed as word combinations, the coherence we call logic: the logic of passion is "poetry", the logic of empire is "tyranny", the logic of speech is "grammar". Logic does not generate meaning. The words themselves are more windows than sign-posts. Reason is not a map or representation, but a construction, a glass house whose windows either have darkened shades or produce a view of other glass houses peering back. Meaning is always a matter of ecology – the total relations within and between houses.
Reason is a television show confused with a reality of rocks and organisms. Reality tv is an idea which goes on to produce a reality outside of tv. That is why we call its shows "television production", not the production of televisions (aka factory work). In an older English, "production" refered to what went on on a stage, a performance, not a commodity shat out from the backside of a factory. Television is an audio-visual reinforcer which inspires us to keep our jobs at the factory by limiting our views of novelty and therefore choice. It assures the conservation of the stasis of progress and perpetual change in the direction of oblivion to which all systems of unrestrained positive (teleological) feedback (reinforcement) must eventually arrive. Television is not a conspiracy, but the unintended by-product of a technology (radar) meant to detect unseen enemy bombers on their way to annihilate us. It is a fluke born of paranoia which transformed (through normalization) into an anti-fluke limiting the re-occurrence of new flukes. It is a good thing the world is not a machine, else it would have gone itself extinct eons ago. Contrary to Deleuze, the world is not machinic, machines attempt to be worldly.
Even god was made into the image and likeness of "Man". As the television producer said to the witch doctor, "Who knew that the voodoo that you do would be seen as nothing but hoo hoo?" Whereupon the good doctor replied "That's just a bunch of academic doo-doo!"
Novelty (diversification) and the still enormous amount of possible relationships within, precludes the thought of absolute stasis in existing conditions. This does not imply progress, only flux. Variability must exist before any variation is selected (reinforced). For example, there used to be an on-going debate as to whether television corrupts youth (via propagating a social lie of the ubiquity of violence, sex, etc. associated with pleasure in the first place and pain in the second) or only reflects the corruption already "out there", as the media apologists defensively proclaimed. A non-aristotelian ("both/and") perspective of the world will see "truth" in both sides. There is "corruption" and its representation universally propagated (propaganda) increases its likelihood among the viewing public, particularly when the target audience is the very young (still "open" or not yet so set in their ways; it reinforces the world view of those who are so "set"; the world itself obediently responds without the merest speculation of awareness). The process is the normalization of what might have been a historical fluke (antisocial behavior) by means of self-fulfilling prophesy. I've always noticed a strong homology between the idea of natural selection (evolutionary theory) and learning theory (especially operant conditioning), and I think this is it. Maturana called it autopoiesis, a merging of synergy (or "emergence"), self-organization & conservation.
Conservation is the first law of physical systems. Conservation becomes us!
Life (actually, "living") converts matter to energy and vise versa. It also converts one kind of energy to another kind of energy and one kind of matter to another kind of matter. It also reproduces itself so that it can continue to do this. Life is metabolic as well as reproductive. It could be said life is death-defying. Reproduction is the ultimate joke played on mortality. This has all been said before:
History is a process of transformation through conservation. History is a process of transformation that is continually arising on what is being conserved... such that although something ended, something fundamental was conserved... If conservation stops, history ends... There has to be a continuity in the story. This is exactly what we find in the history of living systems: some life forms disappear but living systems go on. And what is conserved? Living.
So the history of living things is a history of the conservation of living, with many changes in form, each of which conserves living. We are one of these millions of forms that comprise the biosphere [ecosphere]; a biosphere which is the present of a history of the conservation of living. We are part of the biosphere, the natural landscape has to do with us. We look at the biosphere and find it beautiful because we are coherent with it. We are coherent with it because we belong to the same history - as well as to the local coherences we may have generated. – Maturana
“Universal causality is nothing else than the eternally reproduced resultant of an infinity of actions and reactions naturally performed by the infinite quantity of things that are born, exist and then disappear within it”, – Bakunin
"Certain phenomena in nature produce what he called “qualitative novelty” — material changes that cannot be expressed in simple quantitative terms; they are emergents rather than resultants. To quote G. H. Lewes (1875):
Every resultant is either a sum or a difference of the cooperant forces; their sum, when their directions are the same — their difference, when their directions are contrary. Further, every resultant is clearly traceable in its components, because these are homogeneous and commensurable... It is otherwise with emergents, when, instead of adding measurable motion to measurable motion, or things of one kind to other individuals of their kind, there is a cooperation of things of unlike kinds...The emergent is unlike its components in so far as these are incommensurable, and it cannot be reduced to their sum or their difference.“Nature is not a homogenous and spatial system [… but] the result or effect of a multiplicity of geneses. New existences continually spring up and add to the older ones which compose with them […] a common nature”. – D. Debaise
“We talk about the ‘march from monad to man’ (old-style language again) as though evolution followed continuous pathways of progress along unbroken lineages. Nothing could be further from reality. I do not deny that, through time, the most ‘advanced’ organism has tended to increase in complexity. But the sequence from protozoan to jellyfish to trilobite to nautiloid to armored fish to dinosaur to monkey to human is no lineage at all, but a chronological set of termini on unrelated darwinian trunks. Moreover life shows no trend to complexity in the usual sense—only an asymmetrical expansion of diversity around a starting point constrained to be simple.” – Gould
Evolution is not a theory of change, but a theory of the process of staying the same, which is the continuity of living, engaging and reproduction. Evolution is performative. Sometimes a revolution is required to accomplish this, and change is the result. Some other times shit happens. Conservative stasis should not be taken to mean "no change". Drift (microevolution) is expected if variety is to be maintained. Appearance may change but the general pattern oscillates within a recognizable range of parameters.
Neodarwinians (gradualists) think that this gradual drift ultimately leads to speciation in a regular, timely fashion. In other words, at some point, the differences which make a difference end up totally unrecognizable and the breeding population becomes separated (one group is no longer attractive to the other). This invites the argument of the missing link. As long as breeding (sex) is still going on in the interim, there will be a normalizing effect. This focal point also provides the racist logic of the nation-state.
The progressivists (gradualist reformers) see this problem in logic, and go on to say this is the source of increased complexity over time. In other words, increased variability requires new modes of organization in order to maintain coherence. This, it is thought, might account for the original development of social organisms, society, culture.
Both progressivist revolutionaries, Trotsky and Jefferson thought revolution must be a permanent (in the first case) or predictably repeated (in the second) condition to prevent tyranny. Trotsky killed anarchists and communists as counter-revolutionaries and Jefferson, who called Native American leaderless societies the preferable condition, went on to call for their extermination for the sake of the preservation of democratic progress and unity – "civilization".
The problem with these views is that inevitable increased variability often leads to fissioning (Bateson's "schizmogenesis") and social cohesion begins to break down. The drop out is a common event in evolutionary biology, although few biologists would use this term. Juveniles of sheep, horses, chimps, baboons, and Apache unwilling to compete for access to feed and breeding partners will go off to form their own bands, if the territory will afford it. Yet they rarely become reproductively isolated (this is the Romeo & Juliette syndrome!). If the territory will not permit it (territorial circumscription), conditions are ripe for revolution. (We often note the strife seemingly inherent to ghettoes and refugee camps. The function of the police is to make sure this strife does not spill out). Often the juveniles will overpower the offending dominant male. When such insurrection is not chosen, juveniles may out-wait the offender, who becomes feeble with old age. In many species, the alpha male mellows out with age or experience soon after puberty. Sometimes a little personal conflict is necessary to return to or maintain a state of cooperative living. There is nothing inherently authoritarian about self-defense. Humans seem to be the only animal to have designed their social relations around power, submission and competition, but only during their most recent history, a mere fraction of the time they've been on the planet, the same period in which they discovered property and kings. We are starting to see that progress and unity may not be such grand assumptions after all. ("Speak for yourself" I seem to hear coming from the wings!)
If we think of biology as the observation of living organisms and ecology as the observation of the relationships between them, following Battaile we can see a 'bio-economics' of matter and energy cycling (the system of eating and shitting). In this context, even at the cellular level, all relations are predator-prey relations (the eaters and the eaten). The distinction between parasitism and symbiosis is not always clear. From this perspective, such relations are not examples of competition for or over resources, for like a killer virus (see Burroughs), the animal or plant which extinguishes its resource base (feeds on prey to its extinction, saps the earth of its nutrients faster than it can replace them through decomposition as seen in monocrop farming even with the addition of petrofertilizers) causes its own extinction.
From the ecological perspective, all predator-prey relations are also symbiotic relations between populations or between (especially in the case of plants) the organisms and the molecular matrix they are ensconced in (or more accurately, matriculated with). The less diversity (in tactics for living), the more important (or apparent) is symbiosis, and the less distinction between symbiotic organisms is meaningful (for example, the moth and orchid which have evolved together in such tight reciprocity that one cannot be described without reference to the other; the ruminant is both defined and enabled by the microflora inhabiting the rumen; a lichen is a tight symbiosis between an algae and a fungus, I am rarely seen without the presence of "my" dog, etc.). Without some kind of symbiosis, the slightest perturbation of relations can cause instability or even the death of the individual or the extinction of highly specialized species.
The entire process depends upon the maintenance of diversity. In fact, diversity can be seen as a result of the weakness or fragile nature of the relations between organisms. In fact, species itself, like "working class", is just a categorization with imposed boundaries. The world is always fuzzier than our classification systems imply, but they come in handy from time to time. Adaptation seen only in terms of specialization is fine in a world in which nothing changes, in a world without intervening variables. This is the view from a rock's perspective in a world without scissors or paper. Adaptability is the ability to roll with the punches, not to find a hole and hunker down (although this might be a very good short term strategy from time to time).
At the philosophical level, this also describes the relationship between diversity and flux. It is not a matter of give and take (economic exchange) but mutual influence (circular and reciprocal): diversity produces flux produces diversity. Mutual attraction keeps it all from exploding into space. Adaptation should not be confused with accommodation to existing conditions, which has submissive undertones. If the living we desire is a system of mutual (social) relationships, then our praxis for living should be directed toward destroying those conditions by creating new connections. The frog trick is to jump out of the pot before the water begins to boil. Revolution is always a matter of self-defense. The argument opposing revolution and dropping out is an absurdity. From a biological perspective, if the "end" is living over survival, letting nature take her course and revolution are one and the same. It's as plain as the nose on your face. Shifting one's perspective from dialectics, especially dialectical materialism to complementarity in no way weakens revolutionary theory, and in fact, just might help us see what it is we're trying to accomplish. Destruction and creation become mutually implicative. The same relationship will be seen between organization and disorganization: "the world is not binary!".
None of this is an attempt to discount the existence of competition, but that outside of our own manufactured world, competition is something to be immediately resolved or avoided. Competition is the source of dialectic friction. Property is the basis of its prolongation. Connections are made by cooperation, they are broken by strife. Our civilized history illustrates a prolonged counter system of power and competition which rents the weaker relations between organisms (particularly our relations with them and with each other).
Growing up with (or without) property, we have come to see competition as the normal operating procedure in life. As a starting point (in linear thinking) and in the manner of the self-fulfilling prophecy, we are directed more and more toward isolation, disconection, anthropocentrism, alienation, egoism: the individual in and of itself. The opposite (reactionary) tendency is also seen: we disappear in the presence of the overpowering machine. The individual ceases to exist except as an isolated frustration of impossible desire. Suicide becomes the ultimate response. In either case, communism is the ultimate contradiction and logical impossibility. Where competition is the beginning (essential condition), community is unimaginable and the universe of organisms and ecology (the ecosphere) also disappears.
Linear thinking would see as a paradox a distinction (even with moral overtones) between the individual overpowering and consuming its prey (the gazelle eats the bush, the lioness eats the gazelle) and the behavior of species' interactions maintaining each other's populations, mutually enhancing each other. Because of our metaphoric capabilities in human language, we ought to be masters of jumping out of our own skin, of ecstasis, of alternating our points of view. But as civilization progresses, our view becomes narrower and narrower. It is because we have cut our ties with the rest of the cosmos. Everything becomes das ding an sich, especially ourselves. Beyond objectivity, reality consists of observers and the observed. Light is both wave and particle, but only exists as an interrelation. Without the observer, the observed ceases to exist. But we must not forget that the inversion is also true: Without the observed, the observer also ceases to exist. We did not create the world. It continually creates itself. And we are not so much in it as of it.
It is true humans are an impressive lot, but we are also impressed with ourselves to the point that we are the only "subject", our capabilities (power) justify all that we do. Everything else (objective reality) is at our disposal. Our grandiosity is only a function of our anthropocentricity. We show off our power by annihilating the universe and call this "progress". When confronted with the "why" question, we speak as a mountain climber: "because it's there, because we can". When we systematically cause the extinction of one species after another, pour asphalt over most of the planet, we limit our possibilities. We reduce our options down to zero. Like Poe's Dupin, when we eliminate the indefensible we are left only with truth (and the only truth we know for certain is "death"). Yet Steven Hawkings, the "smartest" among us, has announced we must speed up progress so we can finally escape the planet and experience the final frontier. Our computer wizzards tell us we must hurry things along so we can be downloaded into the machine, predicted to be the only survivor of an assured extinction of life on earth. If our knowledge is a reflection of the world around us, the more we eliminate diversity, the more stupid we must become. From this perspective, we cannot view capitalism as the agency of our alienation, but only as a symptom and accelerant of our stupidity and demise.
The one lesson from paleontology we should apply to ourselves is that increasing overspecialization (the accelerated reduction of ecological connections) has always resulted in extinction. To repeat Auntie Dave's question, "Do we even believe in life before death?"