GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

June 18, 2018

The Ends of Man

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:22 pm

The ends of humans lie in their origins: representation as the deferral of violence. Teleology and morality are fully implicit in the originary structure. The deferral of violence through representation is what we are “meant” to do. The implications require some unfolding, though. First of all, we are not talking about just any violence—rather, we have in mind the specifically mimetic violence that intensifies desire to the point where each mimics the other’s destructiveness to the point of annihilation. This is the specifically human violence that infests all institutions, which are the very institutions created so as to defer it. Second, violence can only ever be deferred; there is no fantasy here of discovering a formula to eliminate the possibility of violence once and for all. We are always and forever mimetic beings, and deferring violence is what we will always be doing. Third, violence is deferred through representation: a representation of, simultaneously, the symmetrical positioning tending toward violence, the reciprocal awareness of that tendency (I see what you’re doing and can thereby realize I’m doing the same), and a kind of cessation before taking the next step toward the collapse of the differentiation entailed by the mimetic crisis. The aborted gesture of appropriation is the model for all representation: the indication that one progressed toward appropriation; the indication that one sees everyone else has as well; and the indication that one has ceased to progress, one has stepped down, and one is showing others this and modeling for others the way to show it to other others. All of this comes well before there can be anything like rules, agreements, promises, moral codes, laws and so on—all of which are, in fact, constructed on this foundation of deferral. Finally, there is the central object, which has precipitated the rush toward the center, and is now “credited” with effecting the “stand down.” The center is the model for all that we will henceforth do: it has made peace and created community (such words are anachronistic but unavoidable) and is therefore the fount of wisdom, knowledge and power. Our telos is to desist from mimetically and rivalrously imitating our fellows by imitating the center.

This does not mean that we live constantly in fear that the least unwonted or potentially aggressive movement will be taken as hostile, or in constant suspicion that such movements by others will restart the contagion—although it is possible that much of the social life of very early humanity was consumed in such fears and suspicions. Once the initial catastrophe has been averted a sign, which is to say a kind of “method” is in place for preventing subsequent conflicts from getting to that point. The sign/gesture can be issued before anyone moves towards the object; it can be issued in the process of dismembering and consuming the meal; it can be issued once again afterward, to ensure and “certify” that all has gone as it should, that the benefits of the central being have been conferred once again. A kind of mastery is acquired over the situation, and once this happens, that same practice can be introduced into other situations, other, less dire conflicts. Eventually, if the possibility of conflict is pushed sufficiently far, signs and gestures can be used to explore new modes of cooperation—once the ability to direct and follow another’s attention has been formed, all kinds of new uses can be found for it. Such uses are never simply “useful”—the new modes of cooperation and the ends to which they are directed themselves become signs of deferral, activities that can be referred to and remembered as gifts of the central being and models of action to preserve and aspire to. Finally, we can take ourselves as sites of potential violence (including self-violence) by identifying inclinations towards envy and resentment and work on attaining self-mastery, quelling rebellions of our desiring selves, never quite satisfied by whatever recognition of our own centrality we receive.

The more you look at something, the more you notice things and the more interesting it becomes. This is especially the case if you are looking at something that and because others are looking at it (but this is the case for everything we look at) and this act of observation and engagement is formative. The thing you are looking at is shaping you in some way—how? What does it want? This is an endlessly interesting question, and it gets more interesting the more prolonged the attention you are capable of, and the more you are able to “factor” others’ actual or potential, past, present or future attention into your own (but that is really what makes prolonged attention possible). It is also the work of deferral, as what the center has to say always has to do with the detecting and diverting the various forms of mimetic violence. And the forms of mimetic violence themselves multiply and in some ways are strengthened as signs and institutions are fortified and attention is prolonged: each new social structure relies upon a new increment of shared deferral and is therefore vulnerable to refusals of deferral; and the more we can think (i.e., prolong attention toward the center, oscillate between different centers) the subtler and more tenacious forms of refusal we become capable of. Our inquiries (organizations of attention) are attempts to distinguish, even in our own thinking, between refusals of deferral and the introduction of new grades of deferral. All of this is devotion to the center.

The forms of symmetrical desire likewise become more complex and mediated, and so must our gestural and postural positioning. We give signs, but more and more become signs, all of us, in all of our appearances. We look to the center to guide us in becoming centers ourselves. People are looking at us all the time, in casual and highly personalized ways, in formal and informal settings, in mass and individualized forms, from positions of inferiority and superiority. We elicit envy and generate resentment, or we calm and de-escalate; we make ourselves contemptible or model modes of being for others; we fill up a space or make room for others. In so doing, we either refuse or enact models of deferral derived from the center—we demonstrate that the central being is just there for the plucking, first come, first served, or we show how resentful convergence can be converted into a new way of sharing space and being. This doesn’t mean always being nice, considerate, much less pacifist—sometimes evil needs to be driven out, sometimes that’s what modeling the center entails. Those who refuse deferral, even if through their own failure rather than ill will, model their own behavior on normative and admirable forms of action, using it for camouflage, probing for weaknesses—the logic of mimesis is such that sometimes these behaviors must be modeled in turn, and people must be given what they are “asking for.”

How do we, how can we, know that these are the ends of man? Why isn’t this some arbitrary construct, a form of “belief” that is more or less well supported by “reasons,” “proofs,” “logic,” etc.? In this case, we know it from our language. The languages of despair, of rage, of hope and love all have mimetic desire and the desire to control it inscribed within them. “I can’t go on any more”—this confession of a lack of inner strength is made for others even (or especially) if it is a suicide note, and the person making it asserts himself as a center that has gone unrecognized, unjustly unrecognized; or, perhaps, it is the discourse of someone who has been made too central, burdened with expectations of being able to sustain others that can no longer be met—one’s centrality to oneself is misaligned with one’s centrality to others. “How could you do this to me!”—here, another’s centrality is asserted as both false and all too real: the speaker has relied on the other, which is to say has organized the elements of a life around her, and that other has now rent that fabric, leaving desires, resentments, memories, signs, uncentered—and nothing is more terrifying than being bereft of a center. All utterances, actions, all signs, can ultimately be made sense of in this way, as creating, uncreating, asserting, denying some form of centrality, and can ultimately really only be made sense of in this way. Everything we engage in our lives defers violence in some way, however distantly, and when something we engage no longer offers itself up for engagement, some new form of deferral must be created. This is a highly tentative and dangerous condition, for individuals as well as groups. One of the biggest mistakes any one in a position of responsibility can make is to remove, weaken or destroy one center without having at least the beginnings of a new center ready to replace it.

All of the moral vocabulary and grammar we need is contained within the deferral of violence through representation. What, exactly, is the center in a particular case—what is the issue, the thing we are talking about, the model of action we draw from the space on which we appear? What is involved in giving ourselves over to it, shaping ourselves as centers in order to model it? What are our desires for it and resentments towards it? What derogates and distracts us from the center? The answers will often not be obvious, although it’s certainly immoral to deny anyone the means of constructing their forms of deferral. All of our ends are bound up in discerning the imperatives of the center, knowing it, shaping ourselves in accord with it. You could deny this, but in what language would you do so? Language that asserts a general centerlessness?—but if you say there are nothing but “processes” without purpose, why do you have to say this? (How can you say it to another, and assume the possibility of him understanding?) Why do you have to deny what you deny? Because others are stupider and less “scientific” than you—but an interest in things precedes a specifically scientific interest and where does that come from? Do you put forth yourself as the only real center? But all of the language in which you do so, your very assumption that others can make the slightest sense of your assertion, precede your assertion—and subvert it. If you already have some name for the center, like, most obviously, “God,” then wherein does the language you use discussing and addressing the center diverge, in essentials, from the grammar of the center presented here? If you proclaim the meaningless of existence, you proclaim in language which presupposes and even intensifies the very meaning you find lacking. We are always pursuing and enacting the meanings of the words we use (and we must use words), even in expressions of resentment: what is the meaning of “home,” of “love,” of “work,” and so on—or of “God.” We are to inhabit these meanings more fully by finding in them an incline toward the center.

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