April 9, 2019

The Big Scene is the Anthropological Basis of Anarchist Ontology

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:26 am

As sacral kingship disintegrated, and the unity of the sacred and social centers was dismembered, the response in the late middle ages in the West was to retrieve the originary scene. Going back to the scene is the only response to any social crisis: if the existing institutions and the totality of gestures they organize no longer defer violence, what else could there be to do other than discover some new gesture; and what other means could we have other than finding some central object the deferral of the appropriation of which we can organize around? Sacral kingship in its high imperial forms (i.e., “divine kingship”) is in fact anti-scenic: the sacral king of a community small enough that they might still be able to simply kill and replace the king if his powers fail is still the center of a scene; with the monstrous empires of antiquity, where the king is completely protected and most people, we can assume, pay him tribute while relying more directly on their ancestral cults, there is no real social scene. In a sense, nothing happens for very long periods of time, other than court intrigues.

The Axial Age acquisitions, then, restart history by creating centers outside of the imperial one. The Axial Age acquisitions—Greek philosophy, prophetic Judaism and Christianity and even, I think (but probably less so), Chinese philosophy, are both anti-imperial and imperial. They construct a position from which the existing emperor falls short in God’s eyes, which is to say they institute a kind of permanent resentment towards empire; while at the same time imagine an eternal and universal empire under a true, divinely ordained king. Western “history” is, we could say, the history of the deserved fall of empires until the establishment of the one true empire at the end of days. Both Marxism and liberalism fit this apocalyptic pattern. So, from the failure of non-scenic imperialism, the recovery of scenicity takes the form of the imagining of “History” as a scene. This is why the anti-imperial side of the Axial Age ultimately wins out—the only acceptable God-Emperor would be God himself, who will rule once love of Him has been implanted in all human hearts by some revelation produced by the final, cataclysmic fall of increasingly evil empires.

We can see a comprehensive iteration of the originary scene here: our evil inclinations lead to us wanting, also fearing, but finally demanding and deserving the tyrant to end all tyrants; while the gesture on this scene that prevents our final descent is the Word of God becoming our words. How violent this final apocalypse must be, and how much it depends on human action rather than divine intervention will vary according to circumstances, but the structure is unvarying right down to the present day. We are still told, in the midst of declared crises of the liberal order, that the “voice of the people” finally sets things right. We still think there is a “voice of the people”—nothing can be more commonplace than to hear commentators says the “American people want (or don’t want)” this or that. What they mean to the extent that they are accurate, is that a sufficient majority could be patched together, by hook and crook, for a particular purpose. But imagine what it would sound like if politicians and pundits spoke in that way (as they often undoubtedly do amongst themselves)—there would be absolutely no reason to grant any decision they make the slightest legitimacy. Which means there is no other way of thinking about liberal legitimacy than according to what is still a Rousseauian notion of the “general will.”

And it is also true that unanimity regarding the originary structure of a social order is necessary if that society is not to completely degenerate into warring forces devoid of any limits on the weapons used and aims pursued in the struggle. So, it’s not surprising that liberalism recognizes this. Even leftists need to reference a unanimously held originary structure. Their anti-whiteness, for example, is not asserted as a matter of taste or mere tribal hostility—they must assert that there was in fact another, truer, America all along, with its own genealogies, its own sacred events and names, its own anticipated apocalypse. These are all versions of what I would call The Big Scene, and in the end there isn’t that much to choose from among them. The Big Scene is big in size and in consequences, but most importantly it is big in the sense of limitless because it is a scene constructed, not around a center, but in order to prevent the emergence of a center. A centered scene always has limits in space and time—participants must be in a circumference a certain distance from the scene to be witnesses, and if the number of participants grows beyond the size of this original circumference, it is people in the “rows” further back who acknowledge the precedence, in space or time, of those in the front rows, so this growth can be orderly.

A scene whose participants are devoted to the suppression of any center, though, is inherently unlimited. One can organize entire countries, or the majority and most active parts of them, around preventing the emergence of some proxy for a center. One can even organize regions around it; it’s too soon to say whether the world can be organized in this way. Such scenes are like lynchings—anyone can come along and throw another stone. They tend toward egalitarianism—everyone is against the same thing, and intensity is always increasing so no one can establish real preeminence in that regard. Elections are still about selecting a government, so they must put someone, some imperial figure, at the center—but the history of democracy is the history of the effacement and disfiguring of these central figures so that they represent nothing more than “who we are as a people” at this point. No doubt part of the hysterical hostility to President Trump is the overly imperial figure he strikes—he seems to actually make decisions, rather than just being the final filter through which the information circulating among elites and specialized institutions is processed. But all of the surrounding para-governmental institutions—the media, the NGOs, the universities, and so on—are completely uninterested in governing, and are free to engage in perpetual center smashing. They support politicians, of course, and more fervently than ever, but center-smashing politicians, more interested in gestures and less in coherent imperatives. And the politicians themselves eventually assimilate to this crowd. Governing of a sort continues, by the civil servants hired to do it, but they are themselves increasingly caught up in virtue signaling and helping to take down anyone who threatens to establish order.

It was liberalism that finally tilted the apocalyptic scene towards its permanently anti-imperial trajectory. And that’s when we get The Big Scene firmly installed as the imagined retrieval of the originary scene. It is a false scene, because it imagines a world without the Big Men—in this sense, liberalism and democracy are carnivalesque. But for this very reason it seems closer to the originary scene, which had no one at the center, just an object to tear to pieces. Anyone presuming to be a Bigger Man would violate the scene, but the same must be the case for any attempt to propose a general basis for agreement on anything whatsoever because that too must merely be an attempt to sneak someone into the driver’s seat. This is why resentments cannot be remedied in this way: only resentments that are framed in terms of some discord between the social center and the sacred or paradoxical center can be addressed. But only a shared concord between both modes of centrality makes discordance a problem—if all social centers, all central authorities, are equally illegitimate because equally evanescent and arbitrary, resentments can only feed on each other.

The discourse of The Big Scene is deeply rooted in our cultural and political vocabularies. If you listen carefully, across the entire political spectrum, you will see that virtually no one criticizes anything or anyone on any other basis than the violation of one norm of equality against another. All we see is people leveraging one residue of liberalism against another. It’s all people elbowing each out of the front row in the march of The Big Scene. For example, people can acknowledge that there are relations between nations that are best described as “imperial” or “hegemonic,” but such words are only used as terms of opprobrium, and the states accused of creating such relations will insist on euphemisms disavowing them. Imagine somebody criticizing the Saudis and Israelis for not superintending the Middle East effectively enough, or China for not establishing clear rules of inter-state interaction for East Asia, or the US for not thinking seriously about the best mixture of traditional and modern social forms to promote throughout Latin America. For that matter, think about how the sting of populist nationalism would be removed, and the basic ends of such nationalisms brought closer to achievement, if we could simply acknowledge, one, that many, maybe most, societies will be ethnically mixed; and, two, that in ethnically mixed societies there will almost always be a dominant, majority ethnic group that should set the tone for, be deferred to by, and in turn offer patronage to, minority groups. All of these approaches would imply “little scenes” with a center, and therefore must be overrun by The Big Scene apocalypse.

Restoring the originary structure of the social order only secondarily involves getting into arguments over the officially recognized founding events: the “real meaning” of the American or French revolution, of “1688” or the Magna Carta. “Arguments” are part of the problem. The originary structure will be restored through the constitution of disciplinary scenes carved out of the many anomalies of The Big Scene. Every scene must be revealed as originary, as having a central object, even if unidentified or even unsought; every scene institutionalizes itself, even if minimally. The semiotic materials of the scene should be used to name every emergent practice on the scene. The practices on the scene at least then become objects of the scene, and the origins of those practices point to other objects to be placed at the center. Relapses into argumentative clichés can be named, as can the pedagogical moves used to circumvent them. This kind of practice in itself looks back toward other originary scenes, as it finds its precedents in them, in part by looking for models to extend its own scene. The more such practices inform and lead others to institute related practices, the more the commonly recognized founding events can be introduced, probably in a revised manner, into the discourse.

By the way, did you understand the title of this post? (Before you started reading? While you were reading? At this point?) “Anarchist ontology” might be a fairly familiar phrase, going back the Reactionary Futureblog. We’ve been contrasting it with “absolutist ontology” for a while. That one might propose that an ontology has an “anthropological basis” might not be very surprising for people familiar with GA. “The Big Scene” is a phrase new to this post, but, of course, in GA we are always speaking of scenes, the scenic, and scenicity. Perhaps the originary scene was a small scene, so this one is distinguished from it, perhaps pejoratively—that it’s the basis of anarchist ontology, which is generally distinguished unfavorably from absolutist ontology, would reinforce this impression. But if you’re unfamiliar with all of this, the title would look like sheer gibberish. It would be “unclear.” Now, that someone would say the title is gibberish and unclear, rather than saying that there are signs here of an unfamiliar disciplinary space is another way of being on The Big Scene. The norm of “classic prose” is that your writing should place all readers on the same scene along with each other and the writer. A text which some will understand but others won’t is inherently suspect. Imagining yourself on The Big Scene is the equivalent of what Marxism called “ideology.” The kinds of incommensurabilities between languages identified by Anna Wierzbicka are “retouched” through supplementations like “progress” and “cultural development” rather than seen for the originary constructs they are. There is nothing outside of the attention articulated in disciplinary spaces as they study the always distinctive and present imperatives from the center. Building distinctive spaces to study what is distinct even in those spaces under the spell of The Big Scene and being able to answer charges of merely having a little scene by ratcheting up the distinctions all around is the way you resist The Big Scene.

August 19, 2020

Transposing the Scene

Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:08 pm

I’ll be coming back here to issues addressed in a post from April 9, 2019, “The Big Scene is the Anthropological Basis of Anarchist Ontology,” and which I can now place in the context of the conversion of the ritual/mythical nexus into practices. The starting observation is a simple one: it is extremely difficult to speak about politics, history or social order without modeling these constructs on a scene upon which all are present. It is necessary to make a real effort not to talk about social groups (“whites” and “blacks,” “men” and “women,” “racists,” “transgendered,” “liberals,” “conservatives,” etc.) as if they were unified individuals with a single intention. It takes an even greater effort to resist speaking of individuals this way, even if doing so is equally delusional or, more precisely, “mythical.” The difficulty here is clarified by what Francis Noel-Thomas and Mark Turner call the “classic style,” which David Olson considers central to the emergence of “prose” (and therefore literacy) and which generates the illusion that the writer and reader share the same scene (this is what is taken to be “clear writing”). If we think that there is some “we” that shares the same scene, what we really believe is that we have a shared center, and that finding the right sacrificial object and the distribution of that object will resolve any conflicts.

It would be impossible to overstate how prevalent and destructive this mythical mode of thinking is. Anyone who says “we” without specifying the practice that constitutes the “we” participates in it. But no one can be blamed for it—it is a deeply laid intellectual and cultural inheritance. That we no longer share a sacrificial center, where distribution takes place directly and intentionally; that the social center is now permanently occupied by someone who cannot be sacrificed—after all these centuries this has still not registered. All of our social and political concepts—justice, liberty, equality, nature, democracy, right, and so on—share the same “big scenic” imaginary, as if we were all imagining ourselves standing around a shared central object. The occupied center is still taken as a kind of accident, acceptable only insofar as we can reduce the occupant to the implementation of one of these concepts. The concept of the free market, contrary to appearances, represents the same kind of primitivism, as if we were all at the same meal exchanging parts of the sacred body with each other: “wealth” and “GDP” are imagined as the beast at the center, even if the beast continues to grow. All of the “social” disciplines are engaged in the impossible task of transposing the scenic imaginary of a shared sacrificial scene onto the realities of a social order with a permanently occupied and sacrificial-repellent center. Our strongest moral inheritances are no less attempts to bypass this “imperial” reality and imagine a direct relation with other individuals with God as an ever more distant center. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was once a moral revolution—in what percentage of actual interactions that anyone today engages in does that statement provide even the slightest guidance? It only makes sense insofar as we can imagine directly dividing something up with our “neighbor”—rather than engaging with our neighbors only through very complex transactions presided over by the center. All the mystifications of our thinking, all of what Marxism tried to understand as “ideology,” or deconstruction as “logocentrism,” comes down to this. The same is true of what Bachelard called “atomism,” the “prejudice” in favor of seeing reality as composed of indivisible individual units, even if we keep dividing them further. We think of social being as divisible “substance” rather than articulated practices which have their end in more perfected practices because we have not yet developed modes of practice and inquiry that would identify and resolve once and for all the anomalies of transposed Big Scenic Thinking. But that, then, is exactly what the form of originary thinking I’m calling “anthropomorphics” is for.

Still, those moral inheritances pointed the way forward—not in their moral “principles” or theology but in new, disciplinary forms of organization they created. What is important about early Christianity, Talmudic Judaism and Greek philosophy is that they were communities dedicated to working out the implications of a particular revelation or mode of inquiry. It is in such disciplinary spaces that the originary scene can be retrieved, not in fulsome assertions of togetherness or universality. What matters is constructing practices that work out targeted cause and effect relations; or that iterate memorable events in controlled ways so as to make them transformative of other practices; or that modify or assess or create the conditions for other practices; or that confront mythical thinking with its sacrificial imaginary. Practices that, like the originary event, create forms of humanization, even if that now means relativizing the human in relation to the organic and technological non-human. All of these practices can proceed without or with occasional reference to the occupied center precisely to the extent that they operate under its assured security—they are all simply working out the implications of a secured center that need not be subordinated to one arbitrary principle or another, and thereby simply gives direction drawn from the strongest work in the most advanced disciplines. Everything comes from the center, and all is given back to the center, in accord with the imperative to create spaces of humanization. A little thought experiment that enables us to distinguish between when something has been learned, and when it has not been learned, is a greater tribute to the center than all the bleating about equality, love of humanity, etc.

One especially ruinous consequence of the attempt to transpose the parameters of the originary scene onto the occupied center society of scenes is the reduction of human desires to the lowest common denominator under liberalism. Politically, the wager of liberal democracies has been that the frustrations of being abstracted from communal relations into meaningless work and frivolous, often degenerate leisure and the hatreds generated by constantly playing groups off against each other could be kept below the threshold of destabilizing resistance or disintegration by ensuring each individual had enough possessions to fear losing them. At every point, responsibility, obligation and reciprocity are replaced by fear, humiliation and demoralization. Here as well disciplinary spaces of intergenerational pedagogy, invention and inquiry counter these tendencies, but then these kinds of spaces get targeted as well. But the reason this all seemed plausible is the assumption that an equalizing distribution modeled on the originary scene could be abstracted from the devotion to the center that is just as essential a component of the scene—as if humans are just animals capable of dividing portions in a peaceful way. But everyone needs to donate the center, even those who have so crippled themselves as to believe themselves capable of satisfaction with a growing piece of the pie. I have been wondering why the billionaires support the craziest left-wing groups—I know all the economic and political reasons regarding creating consumers, controlling workers, taking out competitors through regulation, high-low vs. the middle, etc. It’s all true, but it doesn’t seem to me enough—it reduces them to the same measure, in the same demeaning way, as the working class man assumed to be satisfied with a TV, house and car. They need to believe they are worthy of their wealth, which is actually a very worthy sentiment, and no doubt many of them support worthwhile enterprises (or at least sincerely try to) aside from their political giving—they simply can’t imagine any way of improving society other than giving a bigger piece of the pie to those with the least, because they have no way of imagining society other than on a scene with a shared center rather than a layered order with an occupied and directive center.

The moral imperative issued on the originary scene is to iterate the originary scene, and this is not done by imagining oneself in all kinds of friendly and cooperative relations with fictional collective constructs but by creating a present. And creating a present can be turned into a practice. Take any discussion—it will be filled with references to the past and future, along with the present. References to the past are inherently mythical: they represent narratives of attempted occupation of the center that serve as precedents of the imperatives from the center we see ourselves as following now. The same with references to the future: they are either projections of successful adherence to today’s central imperative as followed by the author of the narrative, or jeremiads warning of disaster for not following those imperatives cut to the size of the author. Convert all such mythical references to the present, and you impose a very enabling constraint upon your thinking.

What would otherwise have been constructed as a mythical narrative of the past must now be reconstructed as traces of the past in the present, identified as such through practices designed to recognize such traces. In this case there is an explicit acknowledgement of constructing a particular observational system designed to record some things and not others. A narrative of American slavery continued up through segregation and into the present can be aimed at positioning all of us on a single scene upon which some of us are where we are because of slavery and others are where they are for other reasons, and we must find some way to rearrange ourselves on that scene. If one is compelled to identify traces of slavery in contemporary institutions and practices, we get a very different distribution. Of course a practice and discipline created to find such traces will be able to do so, and it may be that the current practices of the anti-white cult have identified quite a few. But, of course, you find them because you’re looking for them, and have deliberately constructed practices to bring such things into view. In distributing these traces across the present, though, you necessarily open the field, in a way a linear narrative does not, to other practice designed to reveal other historical traces—and such practices will also uncover many traces that don’t fit the initial frame. And nothing obviously follows from identifying such traces: whether remedying the effects of past actions whose traces we find in the present is a meaningful project is itself to be determined by another practice.

Refusing to mythify the future, meanwhile, enables us to avoid fantasizing in the present. This doesn’t mean we don’t deliberately produce the future—it means that we construct practices whereby we find elements of possible futures in present practices. (I can use “we” here because I’m referring to practices that could produce such “wes”.) Practices are self-contained, while opening up onto other practice—indeed, they are self-contained by opening up onto other practices, which means converting other practices or elements of them into pieces of its own practice. A practice addresses problems generated from past practices—open questions, anomalies, hypotheses we haven’t yet found a way to test, etc. These new problems suggest new practices which haven’t yet been constructed, and it is out of these possible practices that the future will be produced. In other words, instead of “visions” of the future, look to everything tacitly spreading out from the “edges” of your current practices as signs of practices that could prepare the way for other practices, and could in turn prepare… Eliciting the tacit is itself a(n aesthetic) practice, which will in turn produce more of the tacit to elicit. Even to talk of the “goal” or “purpose” of a practice is to mythify, to imagine a whole scene in which we are all present in front of the center—what a practice produces is itself simply part of the practice, part of its continuation and revision, not some external objective reducing the practice to a means.

Converting past and future narratives into present practices involves extending practices “horizontally” across the various social scenes. Finding traces of slavery will lead you to find other historical traces and, in fact, constructing practices to identify other traces (and more differentiated forms of the traces you started looking for—why should “slavery” necessarily indicate a single, unified event producing homogeneous traces?) is an act of deferral that kicks in when mythical narratives that can’t be operationalized in a practice start to congeal. Similarly, identifying some elements of possible practices will “slide” over into identifying other elements, ones you can now identify because of the “apparatus” constructed in the course of previous practices so that you get more articulated practices of, say, pedagogy, showing others how to condition themselves to notice ever more minute elements of possible practices. All practices tend towards lowering the threshold of significance. It is precisely and only through this horizontalizing construction of the present that the vertical is accessed and comes through loud in the increasingly clear imperative to build more practices like this, like this distilled essence of the originary scene.

Constructing practices of presenting is the only way to break the addiction to the Big Scene, for which the blue pill of The Matrixis really a very good analogy. Redpilling involves the ongoing, patient work of distinguishing the Big Discipline from the Big Scene. The concepts generated by the metalanguage of literacy addressed at some length in Anthropomorphicsare essential to sustaining the Big Scene: the justice vs. tyranny opposition, for example, opposes a divinely sanctioned division of the center to its usurpation—as long as you think in such terms, you must imagine yourself on a Big Scene with other “citizens.” The same is true of all the concepts required to support the “internal scene of representation,” to refer to our recent Zoom discussion. The “internal scene” is really our “inalienable” piece of the Big Scene. But we can always initiate an inquiry with those terms. Is the tyrant always tyrannizing and doing nothing else besides? If so, “tyrannizing” becomes incredibly complex, and we’ll have to start making distinctions within the concept; if not, well, what else does he do aside from, alongside of, perhaps even as part of, his daily tyrannizing? Inventing practices that reveal such distinctions constitutes the disciplinary infiltration of the Big Scene. The same with the “internal scene”—where is the boundary between the inner and the outer here? Will we not find much of what is most interior to be, in fact, traceable to all kinds of external scenes? This is a kind of deconstruction, but, rather than discovering that positing centrality involves constructing a margin to play the center off against, we discover that constructing margins (the rebellious anti-tyrant, resisting from his inner scene) in fact reveals the center.

I’ll repeat the moral-political difference that follows here. Rather than, as we imagine ourselves doing on the Big Scene, expelling the tyrant (and his supporters and instruments) in the name of the exemplary (scapegoated) victim, we instead refrain from scapegoating (we learn to detect signs of accelerating convergent attention) because scapegoating is always an attempt to disorder the center by prepping us to look for indications of a hidden usurper behind it. Maybe there’s an attempted usurpation in process; maybe not—either way, it is increased coherence of the center and the matching of responsibility with power within practices at all levels that will always already disable any usurpation.

September 15, 2020

A Single Sample is Enough to Hypothesize the All

Filed under: GA — adam @ 4:52 am

The title of this post was actually the thought that got me started on the “hypothesizing the present” post, which, however, ended up going in a different direction. Coming across the following formulation, attributed to Yitzhak Bentov (previously unknown to me), who himself developed the notion of the “hologram” invented by (the also previously unknown to me) Dennis Gabor, in Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler’s Capital as Powersent me back to it:


Technically, the hologram is a photographic method that uses a laser beam to record and then read and project the interference pattern of incidental waves. But it is much more than a mere technical gadget. Seen as a conceptual approach, the hologram has immense potential implications that go far beyond photography.

To illustrate the underlying principle, think of a pond into which three pebbles are dropped simultaneously. These three incidental ‘events’ create a structure of evenly spreading – and intersecting – waves throughout the pond. Now, suppose that we were to freeze the pond instantaneously, pick up the top sheet of ice containing the wave pattern, and then drop it to the ground so that it shatters to pieces. Because of the curvature of the waves, each piece, no matter how small or from which part of the pond, will contain enough information, a bit fuzzy but nonetheless complete, to trace the three events. All we need to do is to ‘extend’ the partial arcs on the piece into complete circles and then find their centres. Our ability to do so turns each piece into a holo gramma– the ancient Greek for the ‘whole picture.’ (224)

So, one sample—a single utterance, or even a single sentence from a single utterance, provides all one needs to start hypothesizing the all. It contains enough “information” to “trace” all the “events” which produced it back to their center. As I often do, I will make the point that this is already what we do, in making meaning, not something I am claiming we should do—what we should do is be aware of and “own” this necessary intellectual move. Now, of course, upon hearing a second utterance, the hypothesis formed regarding the first one is revised; perhaps even rethinking the original utterance itself, or having it juxtaposed to another utterance, would lead to such a revision. We are always revising our hypotheses of the all as we engage with and become one sample after another. We can think of this as always revising our search terms within an algorithmic mediascape. The only test is kind of scene would materialize your hypothesis.

The truth, according to Peirce, is what we would all have to agree upon in the long run—but the long run never gets here (as Peirce knew). So, there’s no point getting bogged down in trying to “prove” or “falsify” a given hypothesis, except upon very carefully controlled conditions (in which case the implications will be limited), especially when the hypothesizer is part of the hypothesis itself. (Evoking the necessary conditions to “prove” what someone claims to know—what would have to be “controlled”?—is itself a fruitful source of hypotheses.) What makes for a good hypothesis is that it generates events in which a community of inquirers—a disciplinary space—into and of that event is created. The utterance, or sample, and the discourse on the sample, becomes an origin and model, and comes to position potentially everyone in relation to it—as someone addressed, or not addressed, or addressed under certain conditions, in a particular way, by the utterance; and therefore as someone responding to, resituating, repurposing, re-embedding, and so on, that utterance. For these purposes, sometimes it will be the “wild” hypothesis that is best, because it seeds the most possible scenes. This is what became the notion of “hypothesizing the present,” insofar as a single utterance is made the center of a system of reverberations and resonances that spreads across the entire field that has constituted the utterance in the first place.

There is a practice here that can always get us started, one I take from Gertrude Stein: treat every word in a sentence as equally important (which would further imply treating every event as equally important, every “component” of every event as equally important, etc.). This doesn’t entail a claim that they are all equally important: it’s a hypothetical move to counter the ingrained assumptions regarding hierarchies of importance we bring to any “sample.” It’s ultimately unsustainable: you can read a sentence as if the “a,” the “the,” and the “of,” are just as important as the noun and verb, and sometimes, under some conditions, for some purposes, they will, in fact, be—but the more a disciplinary space forms around the sample the more some hierarchy of importance will take shape. But it will be a different one than that with which you started, precisely because it had to “re-form” out of its “elements.” This is why I started Anthropomorphicsby referencing Gertrude Stein’s dictum (maxim? Aphorism?) to “act so that there is no use in a center.” This is a discovery procedure—the more you resist any center that seems to be taking shape in orienting your actions the more the center that will ultimately be revealed as having done so will have resonance and “anti-fragility.” The center will be iterative, insofar as, however it ultimately is structured, it contains within itself all these other possibilities. A model for thinking in these terms is Richard Feynman’s proposal for dealing the paradoxes of measurement in quantum physics which, as I understand it, entails positing that particles take or “try out” all the possible paths from origin until endpoint, any one of which might be captured in a particular measurement.

Any “element” of an event or model, in that case, can be extrapolated and presented as being always what it is within that event or model and, furthermore, to be fully determinative of that event or model. “A tall man killed a short man on Main Street last night” becomes “tall men always kill short men”; “tall men are inveterate killers”; “short men are perpetual defenseless victims”; “Main Street is a killing field”; “last night was the most violent night in the history of the town”; etc. Such wild hypotheses are always in the background as we work our way back to the more moderate conclusions that height probably had nothing to do with it, Main Street is not all that dangerous, etc.—it’s the only way of really bringing all the different features of the event or model into focus. If a part of your thinking holds on to all these wild hypotheses the relative significance of size, location, time, and so on will be composed. At the same time, these wild hypotheses are your transitions to other events and other models, which you seek to anchor in this one, as you seek to determine the “curvature of the wave” of this fragment as an effect and sign of all the killings, all the size differentials, all the Main Streets, all the night times, as differentiated from, say weight differentials, side streets, peaceful interactions, day and evening times, etc.

So, any utterance contains or indicates the entire social order, and so do you in taking up that utterance—how so, of course, is what is to be determined, or deferred. You can single out an especially odd and contemporary utterance (no shortage of those) but you can also defamiliarize an apparently unexceptional one: where could this have come from, is the initial question? Who would say this, in what media, in response to what problem or provocation, to what interlocutor or audience, within which field of possible effects, with what set of conceivable intentions? (We have to accept, I think, that curiosity and inquisitiveness, once viewed with suspicion at best, and for some good reasons, have become virtues.) You populate the field of the present around the utterance, and then keep repopulating it as you go. The utterance can be repeated in various contexts; indeed, in working with it, you are creating some of those contexts. Each repetition would reveal something new about the utterance. Each question opens up a field of others, which can be reviewed without prejudice, until a new “prejudice” takes shape: how do the various media work, what are the various audiences and sub-audiences and cross-over audiences; the institutions through which an utterance can circulate; under what conditions would the utterance be impossible or unthinkable; what are the observations, the confirmation of those observations, the transmission of the summaries of those observations that go into making up the referents in your sample utterance—all these become the origin of hypotheses as well.

The practice of explicitly hypothesizing the all from the single sample is a form of training in identifying what is peculiar to our present. One is placed on alert to the “signs of the times.” In doing so one knows oneself to be a sign of the times, and thereby comes to signify more. The practice also converts others into such signs, in a form of public pedagogy. And I will here remind you of the Natural Semantic Primes, which encourage us to translate all utterances into someone saying something to someone else, someone doing something, something happening to someone and so on, with the boundaries between doing and happening, saying and thinking, wanting and doing, and so on, being an endless source of hypotheses. As is attention to what David Olson calls (and I have called many times after him) the “metalanguage of literacy,” in which we can reduce, for example, “assumptions,” into something “many people say before they say this thing,” “belief” into something people say when they will also say “you can do bad things to me if I don’t do this thing,” and so on—and so generate scenes and histories of scenes out of every word. For example, I knew from the first time I heard of it the Trump-Russia collusion story was nonsense for the simple reason that no one could give it the form of an event one could imagine: Trump says_____; Putin replies_______; Trump responds_______; they shake hands, the election in the bag. Try and fill in the blanks to construct a coherent event without laughing out loud. (Of course, this also means its satiric possibilities are immense—how would all of Trump’s actions as president appear if we were to believe he really was remotely controlled by Moscow? Moscow would become very interesting!) And in the single sample of the Russia collusion hoax, we have the means to hypothesize the all—all those who pushed it, who constructed bits and pieces of pseudo-evidence to “corroborate” it, all those who actually believed it, everything they had to train themselves to ignore and everyone they had to train themselves to hate in order to continue believing it—this chain of hypotheses leads us to everything.

In hypothesizing the all from the single sample you transform the entire world into fellow inquirers as well as objects of inquiry, and you can treat all of their utterances as hypotheses of the all out of the single sample whether they like it or not. The practice overlaps with more conventional practices of “fact checking,” “context providing” and other elements of “critical thinking, but without claiming to saturate the field. If you think fact checking is a meaningful activity, you must believe you can gather and confirm all the “relevant” facts in a way all “reasonable” beings would agree on. This is nonsensical, because what counts as “relevant” is always institutionally and historically dependent, but, at the same time, the fact checker, in checking one fact in the way he does, in fact hypothesizes the all from the single sample because he’s hypothesizing the historical and institutional setting that makes the fact relevant—and the institutionalized “chain of custody” that makes it a “fact” in the first place. That’s the way to address the fact checker, not by pointing to some fact he left out (unless in doing so you are explicitly hypothesizing the all from a single sample). Similarly, nothing can be more obvious that we can never have, once and for all, the “whole” or “proper” context, which would really have to be the entire history of the human race. But in making a bid to close off the context, the context provider hypothesizes the all from a single sample, and can therefore be treated as a fellow inquirer, even if not in quite the way he might have wished. The same is true of logical fallacy detectors, who wish to institute rules regulating discourse which no one could follow consistently while actually generating any discourse. But chasing down any utterance into the definitions and if… then sequences that would make it acceptable to the exacting logician is a way of creating algorithms and mock algorithms.

The hypothesizing of the all out of the single sample (and as the single sample) is a form of self-appification, or turning yourself into an interface between other users and the Cloud. This is the way to install the iterative center into the stack. As all the practices I propose, it can operate on various levels—the advanced academic discussion no less than the Twitter ratioing. It can be mastered at a very high level of proficiency, but it can also be broken down into little techniques anyone can use. It’s a way of moving very quickly to broader frames, and also of sticking tenaciously to a single demand: no, tell how it was possible for this person to say this thing, and what follows from him having said it? Every utterance “calls for” translation, and every translation is a “transfer translation,” which resolves some inconsistency or anomaly between overlapping discourses (for our purposes here, we can say that a “transfer translation” is when one needs to reconcile the differences between equivalent utterances in the same discourse). My own hypothesis here is that the most important and generative translations will be those of statements uttered under the presumed rule of the Big Scene into statements intelligible within the scenes of scenes authorized by the iterative center. Each hypothesis of the all from the single sample creates such a scene and the revelation of a further iteration of the center.

A final practice to suggest here. All of us, as “selves,” which is to say, as the “same” as we were previously, are comprised of what has been deposited in us by previous incarnations of the center, on the one hand, and by our ongoing engagements with the center, wherein we are deputized, so to speak, to exercise those deposited capacities. Where is that line between what has been deposited, and what one currently exercises? (This bears some family resemblance to the free will vs. determinism problem. But also to Marx’s distinction between constant and variable capital.) No one can really say, but we are always hypothesizing by virtue of our construction of practices, which presuppose the possibility of exercising upon what has been deposited—on doing something with what has happened. This line can be hypothesized in the transfer translation of any utterance; it can be drawn up very close, so as to suggest almost nothing is exercised; or it can be pushed way back, so as to suggest that only bare remnants of what has been deposited remain—and we can identify practices where, depending upon the practice and disciplinary space being enacted, it can seem that either one or the other is the case. And such hypothesizing and thought experimenting is itself an exercise on the deposits.

August 28, 2020

Hypothesizing the Present

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:34 pm

This post will deal with the implications for knowledge production of the meta-practices of converting the ritual-mythic nexus into practices and the Big Scene into an articulation of centripetal disciplinary spaces. I haven’t explicitly connected the ritual/mythic and the Big Scene, but it’s not hard to see the connection: if you are imagining the social order (at any level: local, national, or global) on the model of the originary scene with its shared sacrificial center, then you can only think in terms of imperative exchanges with that center. Those imperative exchanges, moreover, will have to involve imagined forms of propitiation through some form of redistribution, material and/or symbolic. Put simply, you will be compelled to believe that relieving some kind of “inequity” between groups will lessen the total sum of resentment in the social order. This, in turn, dooms you to moving pieces around on a fantasy game board: will formal recognition of national independence propitiate? A check for X billion dollars? Opening new factories in a depressed area? Closing factories in an exploited area? This is all magical thinking and cargo-culting. An absolute precondition for any serious project of social renewal is the unqualified rejection of it.

The Big Scenic cargo cult is obsessed with big pictures and all-encompassing narratives—telling the story of a civilization or nation can employ the same tropes and formulas as a domestic melodrama, with anger, manipulation, conciliation and so on attributed to mythically constructed actors. The underlying pretense is that the center is no more than various ways these groups leverage power, which would mean the center is divisible and shareable—again, just like on the originary scene (more precisely, in the sparagmos, which is where Big Scenic thinking is always located). This kind of fantasizing can make someone feel powerful, because you can imagine building a big enough lever. But keep in mind that when someone pieces together various (reported) events and concludes that Trump is either a lazy, easily distracted incompetent being jerked around by “Javanka”; or, that he is a patient, calculation mastermind who is taking years to properly roll out a plan to drain the swamp, control the borders, neutralize the left, and reorder economic relations to the benefit of American workers—this someone doesn’t really know. These are hypotheses supplemented by attributions of familiar motivations and “plot devices” needed to make the narrative work.

Now, it is also important to say that of course they are hypotheses, because that’s all we have. I want not to eliminate hypothesizing but to make it more “austere” precisely by eliminating the melodramatic flourishes that allow us to find a role for ourselves. We have nothing but samples and are nothing but samples ourselves. We have to hypothesize the present out of a single sample, which in turn produces a new sample out of which one again hypothesizes the present. You keep initiating an ongoing inquiry in which your practices are both the objects and experimental systems. When Trump leaves some “traitor” subverting his policies in place in, say, ICE, well, maybe he’s being played, or maybe he’s letting the deep staters expose themselves, maybe he’s allowing for a distraction while something else is happening somewhere, maybe he doesn’t take his own policies seriously, maybe he’s allowing for an unavoidable “slack” in the system, etc. One or more of these hypotheses, or others, necessarily present themselves upon hearing the report (which is itself, of course, sliced out of a “thicker” layer of events)—we can’t make sense of anything without generating hypotheses about it. If you withhold the narrative props, though, you can freely oscillate between these hypotheses and use them to generate further “if… then” hypotheses predicated on each of them. This is an especially advanced form of deferral. This horizontal spreading of various possible presents is what generates the vertical because we also have to make decisions at every point along the way and the strongest decisions, the practices most in accord with the central imperative to iterate the originary scene, is the one that operationalizes in a consistent way the horizontal “slice” that allows for the completion of a practice while keeping all the other possible presents in reserve. If your hypothesis doesn’t enable the perfection of some practice—if you can’t say that doing what you do changes the conditions under which you do it—then both the sample you are working with and the sample you presently are are of tangential relevance at best.

We now have the question of how such a hypothesis and practice are bound up—what does a streamlined hypothesis, free of the narrative devices needed to make us feel like we’re present on a scene, look like? First, I want to bring this question into an intersection with another one, which I have tried out various solutions to over the years. When I first starting working on “originary grammar,” I wanted it to do the kind of work a traditional linguistic analysis would do, like analyzing a particular sentence as an articulation of ostensive, imperative and declarative. I realized that such an analysis would be overwhelmed by the contextual determinations one would have to take into account, and this enabled me to see that the grammar itself could not be complete without grounding it in the center, which is what grounds any ostensive in the first place. So, in Anthropomorphics, I did a different kind of work with the originary grammar, on an anthropological, moral, political and historical level. But I’ve never given up on the original intention, and continue to think that further inquiry will provide the materials so as to reframe the problem and make it generative. The recent work I’ve been doing on algorithmic thinking, self-appification and data immersion seems to provide a promising “context.”

Here is one axiom I developed long ago for determining what should count as a model sentence: it is predictable in direct proportion to the “recipient”’s participation in a given disciplinary space. So, if we imagine a sentence being uttered following a previous sentence and therefore an entire speech situation, which itself has roots in other speech situations more or less available to and recallable by other participants on the scene, that sentence can either come as a complete surprise to one, or be heard almost as an echo of what one was already thinking—or, of course, anywhere in between. The model sentence creates a continuum, which is a measure of one’s participation in a space with a history of speech situations, so that the sentence seems inevitable to those participants most immersed in the space. It now seems to me that a better way of formulating this is to say the continuum from astonishment to obviousness should be produced for all recipients, regardless of where they are situated in relation to the disciplinary space, with the difference between insiders and outsiders rather being in the rapidity with which one would move across the continuum. So, you want to say something that, for a peer, someone equally immersed and practiced as you, is astonishing, and then instantaneously intuitively obvious. For an outsider, meanwhile, the astonishment opens the prospect of a long period of study and initiation into a space, with the promise of intuitive obviousness lying at the end of the road.

This axiom is modeled on the creation of a new ostensive. Think in terms of what is involved in pointing out something new to someone, that is, creating a new space of joint attention. If it’s something the person has never seen before, you will have to single it out of a mass of “distracting” material—no, not that, no, look a little higher, yes, but only part of that, etc. That’s what declaratives are for—to make the negations and distinctions that eventually enable everyone to home in on what is being pointed to. And we can see how imperatives are necessary at each point along the way in order to bring the other into the ostensive space you already occupy. So, the axiom for the model sentence aims at creating sentences that rehearse the pedagogical practice of showing someone something new. Such a sentence, which arranges its audience so as create a virtual representation of the entire process of identifying something new and being able to say that we are seeing the same thing, may never actually exist. How could you prove you have it? But that doesn’t matter—it exists as a model, against which we can measure other sentences, and determine the extent to which they reveal and iterate this pedagogical practice. This differs from Turner and Noel-Thomas’s model of “classic prose” by, rather than pretending everyone hearing the sentence is on the same scene, constructing the emergence of the scene and the uneven ingress to it on the part of the audience. We can then take a single sentence as a sample and hypothesize various possible oscillations between that sentence and the model one from which it must in some ways and to some extent deviate. And this analysis could descend to the level of the embedded phrase, individual word and grammatical choices, and so on.

So, to return to the question of a single-sample based hypothesis inextricably bound up in the perfection of a practice, we can say that the proof is in the writing, or, even, the style. If I’m going to make a claim about Trump based upon a report about the actions of a mid-level bureaucrat in some department, the purpose of that is to lower the threshold of significance regarding Trump and Trump-related events (and which events are not Trump-related at this point?). To lower the threshold of significance and make my attention more laser-like is to produce a condition of enhanced readiness. Readiness for what? Well, that’s what’s bound up in the hypothesis. Readiness to contribute to Trump’s efforts; readiness to pick up the pieces after Trump’s failure; anything in between. Full spectrum readiness attunes us to all of these possibilities, and is a readiness to transition seamlessly from one to the other. I remember at some little league training session I took my son to many years ago the trainer showed the kids the ready position for a fielder in baseball. He then showed the ready position to receive a serve in tennis, and to start a play in football, and I think he mentioned a couple of other sports as well. It was the same position, which even he seemed to find astonishing. We want to write, think, and practice our way into the equivalent of such a position in participating in our various modes of centered ordinality. A good hypothesis/practice is one that creates that position with an ever so slight orientation to the most likely move you will be called upon to make.

A hypothesis/practice (a binary symmetrical to the myth/ritual one) is always a relation between something you (and others) do and what you (and others) say—a relation that you want to make as close and necessary as possible. What you say is the boundary between what happens and what you do. My opening and continuing criticisms of “Big Scenic” thinking may suggest that I’m in favor of thinking small, but that’s not the case—I’m just against imaginary solutions to real problems. “Trump is saving the world,” a hypothesis he himself put forth in a recent press conference, is a perfectly viable and even operationalizable hypothesis. The extent, means and forms in which Trump is saving the world directly impact your positions within the scenes in which you participate. You can convert yourself into a sample of Trump saving the world and, simultaneously, of a sample of the intractability of the present world to being saved on those terms. Everything in the world can be framed in those terms, and every action guided and representable by them—even if, of course, that not the only hypothesis that might take the shape of a practice The practice involves making the boundary (Trump saving the world/the world’s intractability) visible, so that any event can be placed on one side of the boundary and then the other, and in this way become a useful source of information. As for which boundaries to take an interest in, I think those which entail a rapid conversion of astonishment to intuitive obviousness on the part of your close colleagues, and presuppose a more arduous conversion for more distant potential colleagues, provide a good starting point. Of course, identifying those features involves hypothesizing as well.


July 3, 2019

Mistakenness Revisited

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:04 am

The ritual order provided models, along with comprehensive initiatory practices to enable members of the community to adopt and inhabit those models. The demise of the ritual order means the end of any harmonious or pre-arranged fit between models and aspirants of social membership. There are plenty of models, but no way to know which we are fit for, or, for that matter, which are “fit.” Our first approach to models, then, is to get them wrong. All of modern culture is a result of the misfit of models and aspirants, which is to say our fundamental mistakenness. This mistakenness is generative of the disciplines: social scientific and humanistic knowledge is essentially knowledge of all the human dispositions and social relations that interfere with our adaptation to models. All the making explicit, in secular and purely “human” terms, of what we are capable of, how we depend upon each other, how what we are capable of undermines our dependencies and vice versa—all the nominalizations and reifications of “attributes” and “characteristics”—is so many attempts to construct as necessary “steps” from one practice to another what was once acquired through a seamless network of ritual, kinship and myth.

The implication is that the secular disciplines (the metalanguages of literacy) begin with trying to figure out how we have gone wrong, while the only way of distinguishing right from wrong is imagining some non-alienated condition modeled on the ritual and mythical order. Let’s imagine a social order in which everything, every figure and every practice is named, and all the names are taken to be given by the center. The procedures for generating new names (for babies, captured slaves, etc.) are also named. Such a community, in principle, can continue indefinitely—many no doubt did so for millennia—and we can all feel, intuitively, how wrong it would be to interfere with it, however it offended our modern sensibilities. But what is of interest to us is what happens when anomalies creep into such a system, in particular due to its successes. My reflections here are in part inspired by Fustel de Coulanges The Ancient City, which traces the consequences of such anomalies, in the form of groups that couldn’t be “incorporated” into the sacred hearth of the family home, and, later, of the city—for example, the plebeians, or even younger sons without any inheritance. It is the attempts to find names for such anomalous figures that generated the “secular” in the first place: their names can only be some version of “that which cannot be fit into the system,” so they can then only be understood in (resentful) opposition to some figure recognized by the system, and this in turn ends up defining that named figure by its opposition to the “other.” What this leaves us with is a social order describable solely in terms of conflicts (patricians vs. plebeians, etc.), and the only way to imagine reconciling those conflicts is through one of those cant political terms that are still with us today: “justice,” the “common good,” the “public interest,” etc.

But these purely conflictual terms, which we can only systematize through some notion of “balancing,” generate all the abstractions that also enable us to diagnose this essentially shattered system. (Whether they enable us to “repair” it as well is a different question.) All secular social scientific terms are essentially versions of “that which has been expelled from the center and takes on its meaning through antagonism to other expelled non-members.” Of course, “expel” is itself such a term. And GA is itself a beneficiary of this devastating process of abstraction, as “mimesis,” “desire,” “resentment,” “sign” and so on are all names of what is nameless within any sacred order. GA’s ambition is to do what can only be done through the secular disciplines—point the way to a renewed practice of naming. In part, this involves getting more minimal, and in that sense more abstract and “secular” (de-mythicized) than the other social sciences; in larger part, it involves collecting and “collating” a vocabulary that can take us so far beyond the concealment of the sacred in the secular disciplines as to show us that even the concept of the “sacred” itself is a later accretion, already reactive and “abstract.” And here I think the concept of the “center” is critical, and unique to GA, as the center constitutes any name (like “God”) we might give to the center. If we want to get a little Heideggerean here, we can say that the center is “thisness,” what we can point to because it is “capable” of being pointed to, as shown by our pointing to it, etc. “This” is even one of Anna Wierzbicka’s Natural Semantic Primes. Restoring our relation to the center as the source of names, recovering “thisness,” is the neoabsolutist project in a nutshell.

Describing ourselves and each other to each other and ourselves is the only way forward here. On the one hand, I have been suggesting that virtually our entire secular vocabulary needs to be junked; but, on the other hand, the only way of doing that is by using all those vocabularies mistakenly to show that whatever sense they have is due to their references to some center, whether acknowledged or disavowed. Everyone wants things, knows things, thinks things, does things, sees things, has things happen to him: Wierzbicka’s primes need to be part of GA because we can see a kind of minimal, “secular,” abstraction constitutive of language here. All the secular vocabularies are more complex articulations of the primes: people knowing what they think, thinking that they want, someone seeing that what another thinks he is doing can be something happening to that person, and so on. And whatever you say about someone else is what you think you see or hear.

The mark of the secularity of words like “desire,” “imitation” and “resentment” is that in using them you feel you are exempt from them—to refer to someone else’s desire or resentment is to be free of it, to point out how another is mimicking someone else is proof that you are not doing so—if your noticing was implicated in what it noticed, how would noticing even be possible? An openly desiring, resentful, imitative discourse would be, by definition, “illegitimate.” Naming these dispositions in others generates the appearance of having transcended them. To put it even more strongly, discourses on these “topics” are attempts to establish a cordon sanitaire around the “contagion” they carry. Originary grammar, in renouncing (or at least bracketing) sanitized terms like “theory, “determinations,”” and “norms” with the more elemental speech forms (ostensive, imperative, interrogative, declarative), is an attempt to remove that cordon sanitaire. This is necessary because that cordon sanitaire, or social immune system, will leave us endlessly proposing new ways of “balancing” the various social elements that can only be named in opposition to each other, as is the case for all discussions of “class,” “race,” “ethnicity,” “nationality,” “gender” and “sexuality.” The compulsion to self-immunize has us looking for something slightly more nameless so as to put it into opposition to something slightly less nameless. But the only way we can explicitly “own” our desires, resentments and imitations is to make them explicitly desires, resentments and modelings of the center.

In this way, you claim to be exempt from the disposition you describe, but the claim is made explicit and the path out of desire, resentment, and contagious imitation made part of your “explanation.” And, of course, you could be wrong—the desires, resentments and mimicry you renounce might be all too evident in what you say and do. In that case, you have provided the terms on which others could point that out—in that way, we would be engaged in shared inquiry into the desire for and resentments of the center. In fact, the person claiming some relation to the center is most vulnerable to suspicions of being “hypocritical,” of being guilty of the very undisciplined resentfulness of which he “accuses” others. And these suspicions would themselves be resentment of your perceived usurpation of the center. Much of liberalism’s self-immunization process is aimed at pre-empting precisely such discussions over relative proximity to the center. And liberalism detects a genuine danger here. The way to respect that intuition is to never explicitly claim the “mantle” of the center, which would anyway put the declarative cart before the imperative horse, while unapologetically shaping the actual, imminent or potential crisis into a deferral and reframing of some violent centralization. The more you act for the center, the less you must claim to do so—must claim, in fact, to be doing the only thing that could be done because no one else seemed to be doing it. The “proof” here will be whether you thereby give others things to do that wouldn’t be done otherwise.

There is always a kind of linguistic test for implicit derivations of one’s performance from central imperatives. The greater your indebtedness to the imperatives of the center, the greater the disproportion between the center’s presence in your language and your own centeredness there. You will be talking about how others, your subordinates as well as your superiors, need to be attended to and followed; you will narrow down your centering of any other participant to their precise role within the system, and, to the extent possible, within the operation in question—someone may be corrupt, cowardly, or treasonous, and none of this should be concealed (because concealing it will force you to violently centralize others who do notice it), but it should all be referred to the inherited means for addressing these vices and crimes. In other words, not “get that guy!,” but “let’s treat Y the way X was treated,” even if you have to construct the way X was treated in a more coherent and sustainable way than was actually the case, and have to stretch the “similarity” between the case of X and the case of Y. Everyone’s resentments towards the coward, corrupter or traitor will be acknowledged, and, indeed, the precise details of the violation will be presented more openly and coherently than in “rushes to judgement,” but in such a way that the more important result is that we have further fortified ourselves against future instances of the same.

You can always tell, and can get better at telling, when someone is speaking in this way, or coming closer to speaking in this way. It’s how you can tell who you can trust but, even more importantly, this is the path towards a renewed naming-from-the-center. I’ve been using the concept of “centered ordinality” for a while now, but haven’t drawn that much attention to it. What the concept refers to is the way, once we identify a center, we all fall into rank behind whoever first identified it. As is often the case, the best examples here are drawn from emergency situations—if, in such a situation, one person sees the “way out” and points it out to others, they will all follow him and the one a little ahead of each of them in figuring the precise way “out.” Of course, in fluid situations the order can change often, but if everyone simply rushes to the way out, the order collapses and the way is no longer out. The more centered ordinality, the less rivalry and therefore the less chaos. What marks centered ordinality is that the naming it involves increases in proportion with the ordering itself—you can’t get a more precise set of “names” than “first, I do this, then, you do that, then he does something else”—even the shift from first, to second, to third person pronouns marks the shift from ostensive, to imperative, to declarative. To the extent that any situation is ordered, everyone is “this one doing this thing right now.” Secular discourse tells you you’re this one in opposition to all these other ones to be balanced by my unnaming of all of you on the Big Scene. The discourse of the center tells you who you are here and now by asking you to ask yourself who you are such that you can be who you are here and now. And that is the form taken by one’s ascension to their name.

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