"When one puts objectivity in parenthesis, all views, all verses in the multiverse are equally valid. Understanding this, you lose the passion for changing the other. One of the results is that you look apathetic to people. Now, those who do not live with objectivity in parentheses have a passion for changing the other. So they have this passion and you do not. For example, at the university where I work, people may say, ‘Humberto is not really interested in anything,’ because I don’t have the passion in the same sense that the person that has objectivity without parentheses. And I think that this is the main difficulty. To other people you may seem too tolerant. However, if the others also put objectivity in parentheses, you discover that disagreements can only be solved by entering a domain of co-inspiration, in which things are done together because the participants want to do them. With objectivity in parentheses, it is easy to do things together because one is not denying the other in the process of doing them."– Humberto Maturana
"Increasingly morbid societies have been built, which insist in disrespecting the autopoiesis of their components. We live in communities that describe themselves as always looking for a good quality of life. However, when observed with a more rigorous look, what can be seen is that this quality is accessible only to a minority. Furthermore, the costs of this quality are dangerously (and increasingly) high, because it keeps generating a dreadful series of by-products – which begin with social exclusion and end in death.
... the linear mental model is only adequate as a basis for the conventional market economy, that underestimates or simply discards the non-mechanical dimensions of human existence.
... [it] pretends that it is possible to resolve systemic problems by means of a linear and unidimensional mental model. As a consequence, this economy keeps creating scenarios in which the integral human being (that is, the complex human being) is always divided, used and finally excluded.
... We are talking about the consequences of an oversimplification of human condition"– Mariotti
An alternative perspective than this so-called object-knowing, rational thought comes out of the biological notion of autopoiesis, self producing (and reproducing) autonomous systems paradoxically dependent on mutual feedback within their environment. This is the first time I've seen the "modern condition" referred to as not only a simplification, but oversimplification, and it makes perfect sense. In Language, John Zerzan criticizes this ultimately western kind of cause-effect thinking as the basis of alienation, but attributes this rational (symbolic) thought to underly language itself and therefore culture itself and the human condition (species being). Mariotti points out that our unilinear, rational and "simple" thought (aka objective knowledge) derives from this culture, not culture itself (he nowhere describes or even mentions alternative cultures, but insists not only on their possibility but demands their ubiquity when we are seen as biological communities of healthy biological organisms). Mariotti comes close to the ideas I've tried to present on a primitivism which does not exist, the lessons which we can learn from so-called primitives, or as Seaweed insists, the tales remembered and told by "indigenous" elders who have a much shorter history of slavery than we and a handle on their ancient languages, all in the process of dying out completely, all casualties of the modern condition.
I've always had a problem with the idea of evolution as progress from simple to complex organization. This is a teleological explanation resting on the assumption of progress in nature: all things evolve from simple to complex organizational structures. What science has actually illustrated is that complex relations are just as apparent at the micro level (cellular biology, biochemical ecology or even molecular chemistry, atomic theory & quantum mechanics) as at the macro levels of analysis (general ecology, astrophysics, metaphysics). The implication is that simplicity itself is a figment of the imagination. It does not exist except as the "form" of something abstracted from its context. The "natural" progressive dialectic is destroyed by the very process which gave it birth. If we concentrate on parts removed from context to demand this simple-complex dialectic (for example, that picking berries off a bush is simpler than managing an orchard), we merely choose to ignore all the other complexities involved had we only turned our attention to the context surrounding both activities instead of the one we chose to perceive as more complex. The berry must still be picked! That a multicellular organism is more complex than the single celled creature is only a statement of quantity and ignores the fact that the former is merely an organized pattern consisting of multitudes of the latter. The latter engages in equally multiple and variable relations with its environment without such a tight connection (obvious skin or boundary only witnessed from our level of perception).
We're talking about organized patterns1 embedded within and interacting with a larger organized pattern, matrix, context. Mutual influence or nested levels of positive and negative feedback account for both change and reproduction (new versions of sameness, continuity). Autopoiesis implies that we are both creator/producer and created/product, organism and environment, cause and effect. This is no parodox. Paradox is the product of linear and binary thinking. But such interpretations which put determinism (unilinear agency) or dialectics to question are therefore usually rejected. Even though relativity predicts linear thinking will always end with paradox, we say "there must be a rational explanation", "it's all just very complex", "someone must be to blame". Yet paradox is ironically (according to Mariotti) the fundamental principle of living systems:
the term "autopoiesis" expresses what he [Maturana] called "the center of the constitutive dynamics of living systems". To live this dynamics in an autonomous way, living systems need to obtain resources from the environment in which they live. In other words, they are simultaneously autonomic and dependent systems. So, this condition is clearly a paradox.
The problem is not with nature but with the limits of our object-oriented language2. I think what we normally infer by "simplicity" is simply pattern recognition. We share a recognition of pattern and assume simple structural organizing principles. With "complexity", we may suspect or assume there is a pattern, but it remains elusive, unrecognized, intuited. We create theories about it or model it with nonfunctional miniatures or allegorical tales. On the other hand, we also recognize moments of uniqueness and distinction, and when repeated, come to form or suggest a pattern of their own. The truly novel is a free radical, unaffiliated, fleeting, forgotten unless it can be abstracted, co-opted and replaced into a foreign pattern. This is the process by which we eliminate the possibility of chaos (disorder, isolation, lack of fit or fitness). We can thereafter define the heretical and burn its proponent at the stake, or admit that the world is truly a great mystery which nevertheless gives us many clues for living in it.
Gregory Bateson reminds us that the majority of our world, even of our selves, lies beyond our conscious purpose and pondering – complexity becomes the sacred. Simplicity is by that virtue the banal, mundane, ordinary. How soon we forget that the ordinary, the minuscule, the banal represents the limit of our knowledge yet go on to proclaim our own grandiosity and power. How many simple patterns we have lost (like that of eating food on our own planet without the need for supermarts and their politico-economic regulating institutions). While climbing the tree of knowledge we've become so wise and competent (or is that complacent?) our life and experience is rendered simple, disconnected, ineffectual as measured by anything beyond one standard deviation above normality in IQ test performance or considered by the highly trained and state-certified psychological specialist "normal" rather than "schizophrenic" ('conflicted mind').
Knowledge itself is an interesting notion, subjected to much hostile discussion. We can, after several hundred years of debate, only conclude it is the notion of an idiot traveling a dead end road.3 Knowledge is not a thing which may be accumulated and possessed. It is only a small mirror reflecting bits of the totality. Sometimes it is a highly distorted reflection, but in most cases, the scenery travels by so fast it becomes meaningless and unrecognizable, at other times the surface of the mirror is totally opaque. Our brighter halogen bulbs and our faster thinking machines only announce that they are themselves only simplified versions (shards of small mirrors) of us. Our intention, of course, was self-improvement! Today's technophiles seem intent on replacing us altogether.4
Like the good doctor-mechanic, we ask only what we are, never who we are and why we are doing it. Motivation is always translated in terms of economic gain (good) or irrational (emotional) misguidance (bad) – in other words, an imposed moralism. We are subjected to medical experimentation, we are objects of study, structures with interchangeable parts. Structuralism views the world only in terms of such mechanical structures, and by forgetting the question of who we are, confuses three distinct processes, structure, organization and pattern, and calls them "synonym". Organization consists of the actual connections, the mutual feedbacks, cooperation, flow, reciprocity as well as their pathological subversions such as competition and struggle, antagonism, exclusion, rejection and finally, disposal. Organization is eroticism. Its subversion is war and disposability, or excrement. Even Maletesta essentially pointed out that modern hierarchic civilization is not a new principle of organization, but a process of disorganization, the conscious destruction of social organization which is the set of social connections ("the social relation") which mimic or recapitulate natural (undisturbed) organic systems. From the perspective of Mariotti, they are organic systems. A social relation is not a noun, however it's used in the sentence!
The implications of connectivity present to us recognizable and comparable patterns, statistical (probabilistic) tendencies, in fact, possibilities. In order to communicate these observed patterns as well as make sense of them ourselves, we create structures. Languaging can be seen as our (human) means of sharing recognized patterns, not answering the great question of "Life, The Universe and Everything". This is right out of Wittgenstein. I'd interpret Frere Dupont's "prehuman" as this prelinguistic, unconscious or intuitive mental activity. But this is not the source of gnostic revelation (if that level of "truth" is even possible) because as soon as we begin to language, the process of feedback changes everything – "higher" and "lower" levels of "consciousness" are mutually influential.
We abstract patterns from their context, give them a name such as "rock", "myself", "you", "garage door" and proceed to give them the qualities "reality" and "autonomy". This kind of thinking gives many phenomenological philosophers the mistaken idea that the entire world is created by our ideation. This is a pretty arrogant assumption. They mistake the totality, being, becoming, and all those other squishy notions only artists and lovers and occultists discuss with "structural reality". The empiricist demands that these structures exist "in themselves", all else is delusion! Just ask the carpenter who hung that door or the farmer who picked that rock from the field! Neither has left the simplified world of structural (objective) reality. Post-structural thought, often called "transcendentalism" by those who remember history5, is clearly in the realm of primitive superstitious discourse of an awesomely complex universe of infinite possibilities and spectacular transformations, precisely the world the reactionary wants – possibility, choice, revolution.
For both the phenomenologist and empiricist, the universe is composed of a void filled with objects (either hard, fast & "real" or imagined but with "real essence") which occasionally collide. We must be ever on our guard for big objects like global-killing asteroids and small objects like the virus or even free radical which is out to do us in. They differ mainly in terms of agency, that unilinear, unidirectional path of rational thinking – cause-and-effect "objectivity", "phenomenology" or solipsist "idealism". Neither apprehends community nor will even approach eros – that which makes community possible is "intimacy". The ultimate absurdity from the point of view of our "common sense" would be that the self is itself a community of autopoietic organisms living and dying independent of the imagined totality of "me" and yet constitute this plurality or multiplicity called "myself", this local "complex" here and now. The irony is that this is precisely what the microscopic examinations of cellular biologists reveal. "I" am rendered by this ignorance a singularity. I am an object in and of itself. I am all alone. What if all our objects are only the result of isolating reification? The most we can say is that everything which exists does in fact exist, and like the physicist of subatomic particles, we only know this because of their/our implications on everything else. All we are left with from an ontological point of view is the recognition of fluctuating patterns and sharing processes. Objectivity would infer just as much of a simplification of reality as subjectivity or the ultimate solipsism of Descartes and the out-of-the-frying-pan, into-the-fire dictates given to Moses.
Both objective and subjective reality leave no room for community. A community is an organic, autopoietic complex. Radical politics ascribing creative agency to revolutionaries only ever imposes its own complexity in the form of alternate institutional structures (which only replace existing institutions) rather than observing and mimicking the natural patterns of organization which are rapidly becoming extinct due to our incessant and arrogant meddling with the planet and each other. We remain objects which need to change or be changed. Margaret Mead suggested the following:
I used to say to my classes that the ways to get insight are: to study infants; to study animals; to study primitive people; to be psychoanalyzed; to have a religious conversion and get over it; to have a psychotic episode and get over it; or to have a love affair with an Old Russian. And I stopped saying that when a little dancer in the front row put up her hand and said, ‘Does he have to be old?’
An objective ontology ultimately concerns itself with (among other things like proper class membership or behavior interpreted only as means progressing towards ends, product, objective, etc.) whether reality, the world, universe, etc. is a singularity or multiplicity. We wonder if perhaps we shouldn't unify it, such that all ends correlate with my own, or alternately, my ends correspond to all others. Relativity predicts that at some point, the distinction will disappear because from one perspective, it presents itself as a singularity and comparing perspectives illustrates multiplicity. To concentrate on class membership so we know which noun is appropriate or to create new nouns, relativity soon demands fuzzy logic and even multiple class membership. Free radicals (all possible puns intended) belong to no class. Das ding an sich. Considering the set of all possible sets (which does not include itself) causes our eyes to cross and we have just created the void and killed the hierarchic (taxonomic) totality. The totality, the absolute cannot be a member of a superordinate set. Yet we have already demanded that the totality is a possible set. I think Bertrand Russel discovered this paradox. Whitehead found proof of god: the Superordinate need obey no rules, it can only (super)ordain. Both De Sade and Mark Twain saw this limitation as proof of the non-existence of god: he must obey the one rule excluding him from our domain, thereby becoming subordinate to man. Stirner said, man, god, whats the diff? Einstein was able to fold space-time inside out and resolve the problem mathematically, but that is not a language I understand. Would we have these problems if "life, the universe and everything" were not considered a noun? Obviously, many do not see a problem at all.
Another possible ontology is reflected in ecology. Reality becomes a verb or relationing. Things are only secondary effects of relational patterns. This is hard to phrase in English which places primary agency in the thing – the object or the subject is a transmitter or a receiver. We speak of ecology as a set or sets of relations. "It" is forced back into objective thinking. It is hard to think in terms of qualities of action (adverbs) without a separate referent, a specific subject or object of that relation or behavior. Consider two sentences. "There is a coyote behind the storage shed", and "Coyoting (going on) behind storing". The second makes sense to us when mapped against the first. We say "the noun phrase is implied by 'coyoting', therefore 'coyoting' is the nominal subject". But the second has implications we may not be aware of. The first sentence is a statement of epistemological authority. The second leaves open alternate interpretations: "No, hearing dogging!", "Trickster is only playing mind-games!". The "truth-value" of the statement is unaltered. The dog or coyote is defined by the pattern of signals it presents to us. One could say that the objective view can also be questioned, so what's the difference?
Both nouners and verbers are coming from an empirical base (both our epistemologizings are themselves verbs!). We only know a creature is present because it is creaturing. If it is not creaturing, a nouner will either call it dead or an inanimate object. Verbers are directed to whole behaviors or patterns of relationships rather than categorical membership based on minimal pairs demonstrating distinction – Bateson's "the difference that makes a difference" (for ex., a two-toed sloth is opposed to a three-toed sloth by virtue of anatomy for the structural morphologist, while an ecologically tuned zoologist will tell you their eating habits are more important than their number of toes – we have a bigger picture). The difference between a dog and a coyote will be argued inside and out for the user of nouns, depending on the level of abstraction each "speaker" is coming from. The verbally oriented will distinguish the two by means of compared pattern - "you'll know it when you see it". Dogs (n.) dog (v.) and coyotes (n.) coyote (v.). Men man and women woman, gorillas gorilla and baboons baboon. Radicals don't fit our expectations. The world (reality) presents itself as patterns or constellations of behavior and relationships between behavers. Nouners go on to dissect them, sometimes to the point of invisibility (atomic theory and politico-economics).
Verbers such as the Cheyenne were able to create behavioral "classes" (named patterns) such as Contrary (against social roles or categories) or Hemaneh (betwixt and between (gender) categories) to include those who exhibited behavior outside of social expectations within the community. Whether a "phase" or "permanent condition" was of no importance as both change and stasis are expected in the world, and the very existence of radicals makes them also part of the world. Nouners such as ourselves like to destroy what doesn't fit nicely into our established (structural) categories. Isn't the first rule of nature "survival of the fittest"? Of course, Vaneigam defined survival as "prolonged death"!
It shouldn't follow that I'm thinking verbers are superior to nouners. Relativity is an epistemological methodology, not a political moralism. In fact, likely neither even exists except among the most rigid of thinkers. On the other hand, a primacy on nouns (objects) and taxonomic classification does fit better with reductionism and may be, in the long run, "subjectively" restrictive, particularly when our behavior (who we are) is only valuable to another who's ends may not be our own – we become use-values, commodities. Could it be that verbs direct our gaze to bigger pictures which do not oppose subjects against objects and go on to mediate them? The point is that the implications of either tendency illustrate a different world view, not different (mutually exclusive) worlds, even though they may be "worlds apart". This is my interpretation of linguistic relativity, and perhaps why I've been diagnosed "schizophrenic".
All kidding aside, relativity and mutual influence should never be confused with determinism. It is true what Butler said, that a chicken is only an egg's way of making another egg. It is equally true that a chicken and egg are only nodes between more important lines. You can only guess at the picture until you connect the dots. An artist can draw a continuous line with nary a dot and still give us a recognizable representation.
What's this got to do with politics, anti-politics, class struggle, revolution or their critique? Related questions: "How do we find agency?" and "What sort of world do we want?"
So to make a long story short, just about everything we came to do was seen in terms of construction-work. Language is no exception. We, after all, make sentence constructions and we can deconstruct them as well. Poof! Languaging (not even a word) implies behavior. Language implies structure. We use structures. We use tools, we use language. Everything is a use value or it is nothing. We must keep busy and have something to show for it. If he hadn't insisted we share our products with those unfortunate souls who can't quite make the grade, Marx' Das Kapital might have become the New, New Testament. The Captains said we must only try harder, while sniggering and whispering to each other "in yer dreams, sucka!".
But what if we turned the equation around? What if we insisted on languaging and that it is a behavior which allows us to interface with our environment, and speech is a particularly human way of accomplishing this amongst ourselves? Would not this make tool-use a sort of language? Outside of civilization, this seems to describe just about everything. Everything interacts (communicates) with its environment in mutually influencial ways. Everything is the environment for everything else. Self and other, individual and environment become redundant distinctions. The only problem I see with this approach would be that we'd have to have very, very large dinner tables, with such a large family to entertain. We're taking our hammering and building sheltering and offending none but the nail and our dinner!"Relativity: Franz Boas is often considered the "father" of modern anthropology, and the ultimate mentor of all future ethnographic fieldworkers. Three methodological concepts in approaching cultures are almost invariably connected to Boas (or well they should be): Relativity, immersion and rapport.
Relativity puts parentheses around objectivity and this is the first condition of immersion superseding detachment. The objective view is always from a detached position. Immersion puts one into the context with wide open eyes. The object is removed from the other, the subject is removed from the self. Immersion likewise puts an end to armchair theorising (the pure subjective analysis). Within parenthes, objectivity is seen as but one perspective, one line of thinking (unilinear reasoning) among many possible lines all coming to form different but equally valid positions. From one perspective, light is a series of particles, from another it is waves washing up on the beach or ripples in the pond. But light is still light. From one point of view, a hammer is meaningless outside of what it does or allows us to do, how it facilitates our interaction (communication) with the world around us. But a hammer is also "just a hammer". Autopoiesis is mutual interindependence. One begins to see the opposition between autonomy and dependence disappear. Self-management and reproduction are themselves placed in parentheses.
Poiesis. This word, the root of our modern "poetry", was first a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world. Neither technical production nor creation in the romantic sense, poïetic work reconciles thought with matter and time, and man with the world.
Martin Heidegger refers to it as a 'bringing-forth', using this term in its widest sense. He explained poiesis as the blooming of the blossom, the coming-out of a butterfly from a cocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall when the snow begins to melt. The last two analogies underline Heidegger's example of a threshold occasion: a moment of ecstasis when something moves away from its standing as one thing to become another.
Western thinking is Enstatic, 'standing-within-oneself'. Enstasy is the source of the phrase, das ding an sich. It praises the unique, and rightly so. But it leads to a schizm between the subject and object. We are all rendered schizophrenic, minds in conflict, unless we retreat back into a pure objectivity or pure subjectivity and this reproduces the "modern" condition from one generation to the next. But of course, these are limited views. Ectasy derives from the ability to occasionally stand outside oneself and interact with the world from a different perspective. This is the source of empathy, the development of rapport, the creation of the participant-observer. It is the first condition for the ethnographer, without which, comparison is replaced by co-optation or appropriation. It constitutes communication, which is a mutual influence or it is nothing. This is not a world changing event, but can lead to changing the world. Poiesis is the root of poetry, creation, revolution. Autopoiesis is the organic community.