GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

July 26, 2020

The Imperative Constant

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:50 am

A practice, as I have been using the term, is doing something so that something happens as a result of what you have done. The better the practice, the more it is reduced to only those means that produce these results, and the more it can be ascertained that these results can be attributed completely and only to that practice. Since a given practice relies upon other practices in order to have the necessary means available, practices also convert other practices into auxiliary practices, or practices to which the practice in question is auxiliary. What I will be more explicit about now is that part of the practice is narrating the history, outcome and purpose of the practice, all of which derive from the limitations of other practices—this part of the practice can also, of course, be perfected. Since all of human life is comprised of practices, articulated with each other in various ways, and at various stages of perfection, the theory of practice is the theory of society and culture.

The power of this theoretical approach can be demonstrated by the similarity between practices and rituals. A ritual also aims at producing a result that can be completely and reliably attributed to the shared act. The ritual arranges a gifting to the being at the center in such a way as to obey the imperative attached to the gift expected in return from the being at the center. A good ritual would be one that excludes all acts, thoughts or gestures that don’t contribute to the devotion to the center enacted by the ritual. The outcome of the ritual is, of course, uncertain—burning the choice chunk of meat to the god, or renewing one’s “membership” in the “clan” led by the antelope-god will not in itself make the upcoming hunt more successful. But if we keep in mind that rituals are collective acts, aimed at increasing mutual trust and cooperation amongst the congregants, it may very well in fact be the case that a ritual can be deemed successful. This is especially so since the tightly scripted and choreographed ritual can be replicated in other activities, further enhancing effectivity—which is in turn enhanced through legend and lore retelling of hunting expeditions, war, and other shared projects, through which the discovery and deployment of techniques become ritualized. Ritual and myth shape the “soul” so as to encourage imitation of the models considered most admirable in the community, which also is part of their “perfection.”

This similarity between ritual and practice means that we could think about post-sacrificial history, as the imperative to participate in the ongoing conversion of rituals into practices. Without a shared sacrificial center, ritual cannot survive, and without ritual, myth becomes detached stories rather than communication with the founders of the community. So, there’s no way to return to a ritual order, but this doesn’t make the Enlightenment approach to “demythification” any less delusional and destructive. If a particular ritual/myth nexus is dismantled, it has to be replaced by an equivalent—the most historically important project of demythification, Christianity, understood this. If a particular ritual/myth nexus is not replaced by a higher form of sacrality and a new integration of ritual and “theology,” it will be replaced by lower forms of centralized violence, or scapegoating. What anyone says and “believes,” and their enactment of their priorities and commitments, is an account of their relation to the center and that relation to the center must be revised not “debunked.” And that goes for any of us, as the center is always taking on new “data” that changes our relation to it, making the narratives we rely on at least partially “mythical,” indicating (as so many contemporary deperfecting practices do, on fantasies of return to a shared sacrificial center).

The conversion of ritual into practice provides us with a practice of history. What is the relationship between what anyone says and does, on the one hand, and the expected vs. the actual outcome, on the other hand? This is always a very interesting topic of conversation! What, exactly, are you trying to do here? And, assuming you manage to do it, then what? These questions can never get old. Whatever is ritualistic and mythical in your practice is that which “serves” a particular figure in your narrative (the “free” man, the “anti-racist” man/woman, etc.) but can’t be shown to actually follow from your practice. We can perfect the practice of zeroing in on this ritualistic and mythical residue by oscillating between macro and micro frames. So, for example, you want a “more equal” society and so you go to this demonstration, hold up this sign, shout that this counter-demonstrator, argue with these less doctrinaire comrades, etc. What path do you see from doing all these things to a “more equal” (in what sense, measured how?) society? What other practices would need to be constructed so as to actualize that path? How would the construction of those practices follow from the practice you are currently engaged in? How would you know those practices when you see them? These are very good questions for anyone. At every point along the path, then, you construct hypothetical practices, keep perfecting them as practices by fitting them to other practices, and the chances are very good that the “path” ends up looking very different than was originally imagined.

The conversion of ritual into practice follows the imperative of the center to construct an iterable scene around an object. On the originary scene, a gesture must have been “perfected,” at least “sufficiently.” The “outcome” of the gesture was the repetition of the gesture on the part of the others in group, as a “marker” of each member’s refraining from advancing unilaterally toward the center. All subsequent actions are to be coordinated, and any “unilateralism” is to lead to a distribution including all within the group. The gesture both says and does this. The construction of practices that identify and preempt violent centralization is identical to the construction of practices that transform the social order into reciprocally supporting practices. So, in trying to hear the imperative of the center, you convert whatever command you do hear (from your boss, your parent, your priest, your conscience, your president…) and convert it into a practice that identifies, translates and where necessary discards whatever is ritualistic and mythical in it. This is what it means to resolve the ambiguities of any command by following that command back to an earlier, and then yet earlier one—each command you seek the traces of is ordering you to bring what you do and what happens into greater conformity, both with each other and with what others do and make happen. Like on the originary scene, the aim is a sign everyone can say is “the same.”

We can call this practice of converting ritual into practice the imperative constant, which makes all practices increasingly consonant with each other. Only an imperative from the center can make the perfection of practices more than a kind of professional scruple. Even the professional scruple presupposes a social order in which such scruples can be formulated and protected, and the resulting work properly distributed and appreciated. Wanting to become the best teacher, doctor, welder, landscaper, writer, etc., I can be only makes sense if all of these skills are integrated into a community in which people can tell and value the difference between good and bad teaching, welding, and so on. And if they can’t, I can note that as a measure of social dysfunction or decline. I can’t possibly want anything other than the internal anomalies of the practice and its intersection with other practices to enter into my work on perfecting the practice. And this means I want the imperative from the center—to do nothing other than convert rituals into practices—to remain constant, for each member of society to be able to show any other member how he is doing this. From a total ritual society to a total disciplinary society—whatever we do is perfected so as to make the relation between doing it and this transformation happening more consistent and iterable.

This practice is a performative one—practices are always on display, even if in different ways and to differing extents for different “audiences.” And it is always moral, even when seemingly primarily or even completely technical. There is always resistance to the perfection of practice and relapse into more ritual practices and mythical narratives. Here is where we can locate such “mimetic structures” as desire, envy and resentment. The perfection of the practice always rubs up against existing habit, relations and hierarchies—it always threatens to shift existing relations to the center. Even under the most collaborative conditions, with a group of dedicated practitioners wholly in accord regarding the shared end, to propose some further perfection is always to appear a bit of a usurper of the center. Registering these appearances as they are distributed across the group, giving them representation, and converting them to proposals for distinctive contributions by those less central is itself a practice that one perfects.

All of the historical and conceptual material I’ve been generating and gathering—the “exemplary victim,” the “metalanguage of literacy,” more recently, the “ve/orticist app” and so on—should all be used to bringing about the conversion of rituals into practices. These are features of discourses to be surfaced and identified, with the language in which they are articulated subjected to translation practices. It is quite remarkable that it’s almost impossible to speak about politics without some victim of the other’s practices to gather around—the whys and the hows of victim selection and promotion and insertion into practices is always a productive site of attention (George Floyd died, therefore we…. What, exactly, and why?). The problem with the metapolitical concepts generated in opposition to “tyranny”—justice, freedom, equality, democracy, the republic, etc.—is that they are resistant to being converted into practices, which marks them as ritualistic and mythical.

At the same time, though, we can’t simply discard all these words and expect others to do so as well. They must be turned into transitional concepts as they are stripped of their mythical content and the victimologies through which they cohere subjected to the pressure of more perfect practices. New concepts derived from the “stack” and the data-driven algorithmically articulated reality are themselves meaningful as parts of practices that break up oralizing fantasies of community and distribute signs and discourses across practices within disciplines that can accordingly be infiltrated and their practices perfected. The exemplary victim and the metalanguage of literacy allow us to construct model scenes and narratives against which we can generate various algorithmic paths to the scenes and models constructed by the media—and transitioning to the defense of the center (the perfecting practice) and infralanguages of literacy help us to block those paths. All metalinguistic concepts are aimed at obstructing some “tyranny” and thereby indirectly indicate some possible executive action—to put it simply, what should be done is something the anti-tyranny metaconcept enjoins. Convergence upon a victim is a ritual and mythical practice, but it signifies, not a specific form “tyranny” targeting that victim, but disordered power to which the specificities of the victim are incidental. Infralinguistic centering practices follow the imperative constant to disable the victimary-metalinguistic link. “This violence against this victim means that the system is guilty of this form of tyranny which we must devote our entire being to overthrowing” always needs to be translated into “this anomaly (whether in a law enforcement, or economic, or reporting, or educational practice) indicates the need to perfect this cluster of practices.” This would be the continual conversion of ritual into practice.

July 16, 2020

Truth and Practice

Filed under: GA — adam @ 10:15 am

What is true? Whatever enables you to further perfect your practice. You have a practice when you can point to something that happens that could only have been a result of something you did. So, if I drop a glass and it shatters, something that only happened because I dropped it, do I have a practice? Yes, but a limited one—you could expand it by, for example, dropping other things and seeing that they too shatter; or by hitting the glass with a hammer or throwing it against the wall, and seeing that these actions also lead to its shattering; but that’s about it. On the other hand, if you drop the glass on a pillow, and see that it doesn’t shatter, and then try it out on surfaces intermediate in hardness between floor and pillow, we might start getting somewhere interesting. You have a practice that we might describe as testing the resilience of various substances under various conditions, and that could get very sophisticated and be extremely useful. (Obviously, it is.) Every time you identify some correlation between resiliency and constraining conditions you have said or recorded something true.

Part of having a practice is reframing things you were doing previously as imperfect versions of that practice. Looking back, the scientist testing the resiliency of objects can say that’s what he was “really” doing when he dropped the glass. And that’s also true, if you can trace that accident to your present practices—no one can know everything about one’s attentional state in some prior event, and very often later actions in a sequence are needed to bring out the truth of earlier actions. That’s part of the practice—deriving the elements of your practice from previous, maybe “unconscious” attempts at it. This is also a helpful way to remind yourself that you don’t know everything you’re doing right now, and to conduct your present practices in such a way that subsequent versions will reveal what presently remains obscure. The more inclusive of past practices and the more anticipatory of future ones they are, the more truth your present practices generate.

This doesn’t mean, though, that the earlier practices “contain” or inexorably lead to, the later practices—nothing about breaking a glass sets you on the path to create technologies to test the effects of various temperatures on specific objects. Social and technological histories have to intervene. Various substances come to be used for various purposes; a social space must be created in which people have the time to “specialize” in certain modes of production; and this means certain kinds of violence must be minimized and certain kinds of authority constructed. We can leave scientific practices to the scientists, except for when those practices cross over into other domains; what we can focus on, though, is the practical structures of those other domains, which “receive” the results of scientific practices and provide the conditions for them. And in the domains of human interaction in its various media, the question of what counts as a practice, or as the perfection of practices within a system of practices, is more complex. When I speak with someone, what makes that a practice? What happens, and happens in such a way that I can point to it so that others can see it as only as a result of what I say? How do I conduct my speech so as make things happen so that their effects can be singled out in this way?

It’s good to be both matter of fact and revelatory at the same time—you’re doing something that can be repeated, i.e., made routine and practicable for anyone, while you’ve designed that practice, and determined the site of its use, in such a way as to produce some knowledge that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. The construction of a practice is simultaneous with realizing that you’ve already been constructing a practice. The starting point is always an anomaly or a mistake—someone does or says something that doesn’t fit the frame of expectations that enable us to make sense of something. The first step is to suppress your impulse to “harmonize” the anomaly with the field of expectations or correct the mistake, and in the latter case to suppress your shame if it happens to be your own. It has to become interesting. The breaking of a frame makes you realize there was a frame; since a mistake or anomaly is essentially the collision of some other frame than the one determining your expectations, you now have two frames that happened to interfere with each other. Such interference is what brings the newly recognized frame into view.

You now have a question around which to organize your emergent practice: what does each frame include and exclude? To answer this question, you have to run tests: repeat the mistake or anomaly, and see how the frame responds. But this raises a question—what counts as a “repeat”? No gesture or utterance can simply be repeated, because part of the gesture or utterance is the context, which has been transformed by the gesture, or utterance, or sample in question. You need to single out what, exactly, in that sample you are identifying as iterable. Since what we’re interested in is the frame which has been disrupted, what needs to be singled out is a particular form of disruption of that frame, or that “kind” of frame. What makes it that kind of frame is the practice that initiated it, and the way it draws in the elements and means from the whole. We can converge the two: the evidence of the practice that initiated a given frame or field is in the way it appropriates and converts elements from the surrounding fields. Something in those surrounding fields will resist incorporation, and the attempt to subdue or ignore this resistance will generate anomalies.

If we know the starting point of inquiry is the anomaly or mistake, we can refine our attention so as to lower the threshold for what we count as an anomaly or mistake. We can do this by imagining the contexts, actual or potential, in which some sample would appear anomalous. There’s a short step from such refinements to adopting the perpetual disciplinary stance that is always on the lookout for what might be anomalous or mistaken in any sample we come across—always looking at things askew, we might say. In this way we see the possibilities of cultural innovation everywhere, because, as we can know from Eric Gans’s study of the succession of speech forms in The Origin of Language, the new cultural form emerges from the treatment of the mistake as the creation of a new form of presence, if only one can find a way to turn it into a practice others might repeat. So, as we’re lowering the threshold for the identification of mistakes, and widening the hypothetical fields in which those samples would be mistakes, we are also, in the very act of ostensively identifying these mistakes, modeling a way of turning them into the origin of new practices.

The path, then, toward perfecting our practices, lies in the ongoing surfacing of the mistake/practice interfaces all across the field of the present. This involves iterating samples in the closest possible way, making our iterations as indistinguishable as possible from the original; while at the same time revealing everything mistaken or anomalous in the “original” and producing the practice that would make up the difference. It’s a kind of infiltration that’s right out in the open and transforms the space being infiltrated so that it’s no longer an infiltration. The practice is the transposition of a sample from one field to another, in such a way that the fields are converted into elements appropriable by the practice. One would never say anything other than what is being said, but in such a way as to summon everything that makes it sayable.

We can frame this in algorithmic terms. What we notice are low probability events. We notice them against the background of high probability events, which can be held constant. The paradox here is that the low probability event, if it happened, was in fact very high probability—100%, in fact. What made it seem low probability, then, were precisely all the other events that were being held constant. (The originary hypothesis is a very helpful model here: there’s nothing that we find ourselves more entitled to hold constant than our existence as human beings, whatever we take that to entail—but holding all that constant makes the emergence of the human itself very low probability, since not having the center is unimaginable.) Whatever our system of measurement is equipped to detect made it incapable of detecting whatever pointed to the emergence of what actually happened. So, we work backwards from the supposedly low-probability event to the system of measurement and we identify everything that pointed to the surprising occurrence, and set it alongside what was actually noticed instead. That’s the instruction that sets the algorithm to work: find all the markers of the event’s emergence, from beginning to end (the parameters for all this would have to be determined), and determine the threshold of detectability of those markers within the existing system of measurement. An obvious example here would be the 2016 election: an intellectually honest prognosticator who was 99% sure Hillary Clinton would win the election might want to do a study of the forms of attention that led to that conclusion, and part of doing that would be to go back and look for all the things you could have noticed and articulated into a better prediction, but never saw because you disdained the source (as opposed to more “reliable” ones), or saw but relegated to the irrelevant because it conflicted with other information you held constant as relevant, things that you noticed and found curious or troubling but never pieced together because that didn’t fit a paradigm that had been successful in the past, and so on. You could imagine this being done through a continual refinement of search terms taking you through the archives, through the feedback you received from the previous search. The algorithm would be the formula or set of instructions enabling the computer to do this on its own, producing various models for you of reconfigured attentional structures that would have led to different results.

So, right now, spreading out to the fringes of your awareness and beyond, there are emergent events one outcome of which, if the event were to be brought to your attention, would seem to be 73%, another outcome 17%, another 5%, and so on, until we get to an outcome that seems .000001% likely to happen. Of course, this breakdown will be wrong in some ways, and it will be wrong in more ways as the predictions get more “granular.” (Someone was right in predicting Trump would win, but did they predict he’d win Wisconsin, etc.?) You would then want an ongoing thought process that’s looking into all the ways you might be wrong and refining your explicit and implicit predictions, not so much to be right more often (this is actually not particularly important) but so as to continually lower the threshold at which you notice things. What, exactly, is an “implicit prediction”? That’s everything you’re paying attention to and not paying attention to, everything you’re hoping and fearing, all the people and institutions you rely on to show you things—every move you make presupposes a structure of predictions.

There’s a question of whether probabilities are “real,” or just a method of thinking: we can’t help but consider one outcome more likely than another; and once we assign greater likelihood to one outcome, we can consider how much greater likelihood to attribute to it, and so on. This presents itself as reality to us. But whatever happens, actually happens. Rather than enter this debate, I will say that what is processed by us, more or less formally, as probabilities, can be resolved into who we think is where, doing what. If I think Trump has a 25% chance of winning the election, then I’m attributing to his supporters, opponents and neutrals a “mass,” a set of motivations and capacities, very different than if I think he has a 75% chance of winning. The same goes for all the social institutions that are facilitating one outcome rather than another. The distribution of probabilities is really a distribution of “anthropomorphized” people, ranging themselves in relation to each other. To clarify, at the risk of caricaturing, the point, there’s some guy in Michigan upon whom my system of measurement hangs who “must” be accessing certain sources of information, have a certain circle of friends, be ready to argue with others and help campaign to a specific extent, be annoyed or outraged when he sees and hears certain things, and so on—we could construct a detailed profile, which is much of what present day algorithms do. My thinking, we might say, is entangled with the existence of this guy, as a kind of tipping point. We can, then, people the probabilities, which involves peopling ourselves as well—who I am is the sum total of everyone out there I imagine manning their stations, or not. “Peopling yourself” is therefore a practice of distributing the present: present who you imagine as your tipping point for whatever event, and you begin to elicit a model of the entire social order as others do the same. We are all of us tipping points for some set of events and you find out which those are by peopling yourself.

July 7, 2020

The V(e/o)rticist App

Filed under: GA — adam @ 11:54 am

This post continues the thinking initiated in “The Pursuit of Appiness” several posts back. What I want to emphasize is the importance of thinking, not in terms of external attempts to affect and influence others’ thinking and actions, but in terms of working within the broader computational system so as to participate in the semiotic metabolism which creates “belief,” “opinions,” “principles” and the rest further downstream. The analogy I used there was prospective (and, for all I know, real) transformations in medical treatment where, instead of counter-attacking some direct threat to the body’s integrity, like bacteria, a virus, or cancerous cells, the use of nanobots informed by data accessed from global computing systems would enable the body to self-regulate so as to be less vulnerable to such “invasions” in the first place. The nanobots in this case would be governed by an App, an interface between the individual “user” and the “cloud,” and part of the “exchange” is that the bots would be collecting data from your own biological system so as to contribute to the ongoing refinement of the organization of globally collected and algorithmically processed data. The implication of the analogy is that as social actors we ourselves become “apps,” and, to continue the analogy a bit further, these apps turn the existing social signs into “bots.”

This approach presupposes that we are all located at some intersection along the algorithmic order—our actions are most significant insofar as we modify the calculation of probabilities being made incessantly by computational systems. Either we play according to the rules of some algorithm or we help design their rules—and “helping design” is ultimately a more complex form of “playing according to.” The starting point is making a decision has to how to make what is implicit in a statement explicit—that is, making utterances or samples more declarative. Let’s take a statement like “boys like to play with cars.” Every word in that sentence presupposes a great deal and includes a great deal of ambiguity. “Boys” can refer to males between the ages of 0 to 18—for that matter, sometimes grown men are referred to, more or less ironically, as “boys.” Does “liking” and “playing” mean the same thing for a 4 year old as for a 14 year old male? How would we operationalize “like”? Does that mean anything from being obsessed with vintage cars to having some old toy hot rods around that one enjoys playing with when there’s nothing else to do? Does “liking” place a particular activity on a scale with other activities, like playing football, meeting girls, bike riding, etc.? Think about how important it would be to a toy car manufacturer to get the numbers right on this. We could generate an at least equally involved “explicitation” for a sentence like “that’s a dangerous street to walk at night.” What counts as a danger, as different levels of danger, as various sources of danger, what are the variations for different hours of the night, what are the different kinds and degrees of danger for different categories of pedestrians at different hours of the night, and so on. Every algorithm starts out with the operationalization of a statement like this, which can now be put to the test and continually revised—there are various ways of gathering and processing information regarding people’s walks through that street at night and each one would add further data regarding forms and degrees of dangers. Ultimately, of course, we’d be at the point where we wouldn’t even be using a commonsensical word like “danger” anymore—we’d be able to speak much more precisely of the probability of suffering a violent assault of a specific kind given specific behavioral patterns at a specific location, etc. Even words like “violent assault,” while legal and formal, might be reduced to more explicit descriptions of unanticipated forcible bodily contact, and so on.

All this is the unfolding of declarative culture, which aims at the articulation of virtualities at different levels of abstraction. There are already apps (although I think they were “canceled” for being “racist”) that would warn you of the probability of a particular kind of danger at a particular place at a particular time. And, again, you being there produces more data that will be part of the revision of probabilities provided for the next person to use the app there. But there is an ostensive dimension to the algorithm as well, insofar as the algorithm begins with a model: a particular type of event, which must itself be abstracted from things that have happened. When you think of a street being dangerous, you think in terms of specific people, whose physical attributes, dress, manners and speech you might imagine in pretty concrete terms, doing specific things to you. You might be wrong about much of the way you sketch it out, but that’s enough to set the algorithm in motion—if you’re wrong, the algorithm will reveal that through a series of revisions based on data input determined by search instructions. The process involves matching events to each other from a continually growing archive, rather than a purely analytical construction drawing upon all possible actors and actions. The question then becomes how similar one “dangerous” event is to others that have been marked as “dangerous,” rather than an encyclopedia style listing of all the “features” of a “dangerous” situation, followed by the establishment of a rule for determining whether these features are observed in specific events. Google Translate is a helpful example here. The early, ludicrously bad attempts to produce translation programs involved using dictionaries and grammatical rules (the basic metalanguage of literacy) to reconstruct sentences from the original to the target language in a one-to-one manner. What made genuine translation possible was to perform a search for previous instances of translation of a particular phrase or sentence, and simply use that—even here, of course, there may be all kinds of problems (a sentence translated for a medical textbook might be translated differently in a novel, etc.), but, then, that is what the algorithm is for—to determine the closest match, for current purposes (with “current purposes” itself modeled in a particular way), between original and translation.

Which kind of event you choose as the model is crucial, then, as is the way you revise and modify that event as subsequent data comes in. To be an “app,” then, is to be situated in that relationship between the original (or, “originary,” a word that is very appropriate here) event and its revisions. For example, when most Americans think of ‘racism,” they don’t think of a dictionary or textbook definition (which they could barely provide, if asked—and which are not very helpful, anyway), much less of the deductive logic that would get us from that definition to the act they want to stigmatize—they think of a fat Southern sheriff named Buford, sometimes with a German Shepherd, sneering or barking at a helpless black guy. This model has appeared in countless movies and TV shows, as well as footage from the civil rights protests of the 50s and 60s.  So, the real starting point of any discussion or representation of “racism” is the relation between Buford and, say, some middle-aged white woman who gets nervous and acts out when a nearby black man seems “menacing.” The “anti-racist” activist wants to line up Buford with “Karen,” and so we can imagine and supply the implicit algorithm that would make the latest instance a “sample” derived from the model “source”; the “app” I’m proposing “wants” to interfere with this attempt, this implicit algorithm, to scramble the wires connecting the two figures. This would involve acting algorithmically—making explicit new features of either scene and introducing new third scenes that would revise the meaning of both of our starting ones. There’s a sliding scale here, which allows for differing responses to different situations—one could “argue” along these lines, if the conditions are right; or, one could simply introduce subversive juxtapositions, if that’s what the situation allows for. Of course, the originary model won’t always be so obvious, and part of the process of self-appification is to extract the model from what others are saying. In this way, you’re not only in the narrative—you’re also working on the narrative, from within.

Working on it toward what end? What’s the practice here? You, along with your interlocutor or audience, are to be placed in real positions on virtual scenes. We all know that the most pointless way of responding to, say, an accusation of racism, is to deny it—if you’re being positioned as a racist on some scene, the “appy” approach is to enact all of the features of the “racist” (everything Buford or Karen-like in your setting) minus the one that actually marks you as “racist.” What that will be requires a study of the scene, of course, but that’s the target—that’s what we want to learn how to do. And the same thing holds if you’re positioned as a victim of a “racist” act, or as a “complicit bystander.” If you construct yourself as an anomaly relative to the model you are being measured against, the entire scene and the relation between models needs to be reconfigured. The goal is to disable the word “racist” and redirect attention to, say, the competing models of “violence” between which the charge of “racism” attempts to adjudicate: for example, a model of violence as “scapegoating” of the “powerless,” on the one hand, as opposed to a model of violence as the attack on ordered hierarchy (which is really a case of scapegoating “up”), on the other. If we’re talking about “violence,” then we’re talking about who permits, sponsors, defines and responds to “violence.” We’re talking about a central authority whose pragmatic “definition” of “violence” will not depend upon what any of us think, but which nevertheless can only “define” through us.

This move to blunt and redirect the “horizontalism” of charges of tyrannical usurpation so as to make the center the center of the problematic of the scene is what we might call “verticism.” The vertical looks upward, and aims at a vertex, the point where lines intersect and create an angle. The endpoint of our exchange is for all of our actions to meet in an angle, separate from all, which someone superintends the whole. Moreover, verticism is generated out of a vortex, an accelerating whirlpool that provides a perfect model for the intensification of mimetic crisis—and a vorticism aligned with verticism also pays homage to the artistic avant-garde movement created by Wyndham Lewis. “Vertex” and “vortex” are ultimately the same word, both deriving from the word for “turn”—from the spiraling, dedifferentiating and descending turns of the vortex to the differentiating and ascending turns of the vertex. The “app” I have in mind finds the “switch” (also a “turn”) that turns the vortex into a vertex. From “everyone is Buford” to “all the events you’re modeling on Buford are so different from each other that we might even be able to have a couple words with Buford himself.” So, I’m proposing The V(e/o)rticist App as the name for a practice aimed at converting the centering of the exemplary victim into the installation of the occupant of the center.

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