GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

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.

September 6, 2020

Hypothesis/Practice Vs. Narrative: The Iterative Center

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:38 am

In my previous post I found myself in possession of a neat and very promising distinction between the ritual/myth nexus, on the one hand, and the practice/hypothesis nexus, on the other. This means that the hypothesis, or, more precisely, hypothesizing the present, has the same relation to practice as myth does to ritual. Myth provides a narrative explanation for the vagaries of the imperative exchange that is ritual: the community gives what is prescribed to the central being, who, in return, ensures that the community will have more of the sustenance out of which a portion is returned to the central being. This exchange is, of course, not 100% predictable and successful, and if the central being doesn’t provide what it has promised, some accounting needs to be provided: perhaps the community didn’t, or didn’t “really,” conform to divine instructions; perhaps the divine being has some lesson to teach, or some longer game in mind. These possibilities provide a rich source of narrative possibilities, all of which must ultimately reconstruct an origin of the ritual itself—and therefore of the exchange arrangement which is constantly being revised and examined. This can work for a very long time because what the ritual and myth actually does is produce communal coherence along with a set of practices and discursive rules for negotiating differences and sustaining coherence. Along the way, we can assume ritual and myth reciprocally inform and transform each the other. All this presupposes, though, that at the end there is a central object to be divided and consumed equally, in the sense of including all members.

A practice, meanwhile, is stripped of any pretensions to imperative exchange: its relation to the center involves a higher form of reciprocity.  A practice iterates the originary scene as a whole—the possibility of refining and perfecting our scenic aptitude is itself the gift from the center, and the commitment to refinement and perfection is the return. A practice aims at producing an ostensive sign: as a result of the practice we can all see something that is there only because of the practice, and we see insofar as we participate in the practice—even as an observer, which is a role many practices provide for. We can speak of scientific practices, or ludic practices (games, sports), or artistic practices, but every time we try to clarify or agree upon the meaning of a word we construct a practice. Let’s say we want to define “courage,” which is really to say we want a model of courage. But we must want a model of what courage means here and now, an example of a contemporary possibility of courageousness. We can then construct a practice which treats other practices, whatever their aims, as exemplifying either courage or cowardice. If we want the best example, we would seek out one where the boundary between courage and cowardice is thinnest—where some action that seems like cowardice from the outside, or to those with undeveloped practices of discrimination, is in fact the most courageous for this very reason. We are practicing seeing and hearing, and directing attention to what normally goes undetected. If we turn out to be wrong in a particular case, the results of the study remain applicable; indeed, realizing our mistake would be a result of the further perfection of the practice. Getting clearer about what you’re looking for is more important than finding it in any instant.

Such a practice contains and generates within itself the hypotheses which it also tests. The hypothesis is the generation of minimal possible differences in the course of conducting the practice. “I thought that guy was courageous but then he goes ahead and does X.” Here, one’s practice of courage detection has produced evidence of imperfection. Something I took to signify courage must have signified cowardice; or, something I’m taking now to signify cowardice in fact signifies courage. There’s your hypothesis: what does this action, or word, or gesture, actually mean? If he now does Y, it means cowardice; if Z, courage. And then he does something that’s not quite Y or Z, and you refine the hypothesis. The analogy with the articulation of myth and ritual is very precise. For the sake of the hypotheses, the whole world becomes nothing but possible signs of courage and cowardice—that’s the practice of transformation, one which can, of course, carry over into your interactions, as you test this or that individual in order to elicit such signs. Any argument can be reframed this way: should we “take action” now or lay the groundwork for when “conditions are ripe”? Here’s a hypothetical approach: what could you be doing right now that would be equally meaningful—more meaningful than anything else, even—whether the possibility of contributing directly to the kind of transformation you want arises 5 days or 50 years from now?

It is now clear to me that the conversion of ritual/myth into practice/hypothesis implies the opposition to narrative, which is really the continuation of myth. Narrative is always sacrificial, regardless of the best efforts of its most sophisticated practitioners. Proof of this is not only in the invariance with which the moral truth of narrative can still only be proven through the trial of the protagonist, but in the very fact that there is a protagonist along with other, dispensable characters who are essentially props, butts of jokes, and so on. A narrative in which all the characters are equally important, and in which actions and events are so open-ended as to make it impossible to draw “repeatable” conclusions from the consequences of those actions and events would not be recognizable as a narrative. This is no less true of high cultural than of popular or mass cultural narratives. The point is not that the sacrificial character of narratives makes them “bad,” or not worth preserving and enjoying—I’m not interested in that question at all. The point is that in a post-sacrificial order and for a post-sacrificial practice, such narratives suffer a credibility defect—like myths do, once the rituals to which they are adjunct fall into disuse. We no longer have a sacrificial center which can be shared and devoured, and about the distribution of whose parts we can therefore argue meaningfully. But we do have a center, which is occupied, which cannot be sacrificed, and through which we also cannot sacrifice ourselves by opposing it. The center we have can only be perfected through the perfection of our practices, by iterating the originary scene in the creation of ostensives—which is to say, names. The center we have abolishes sacrifice along with the vendetta, and replaces them with an articulation of practices that can be entered into through other practices. A world of disciplines and practices cannot be interested in narrative.

But wait! How can we do without narratives? I mean, things happen, and we have to recount them, don’t we? First A happened, then as a resultB, and then as a result of that, C, etc. Yes, but what makes a narrative a narrative is the skeleton it provides for hanging “attributes” to characters, fleshing them out in order to produce the sacrificial moral lesson. We can recount events without that. And it’s true that causality will get thinned out along the way—indeed, causality is reduced to those charged with specific responsibilities and allotted specific powers with doing what they can and should, or not, through some imperfection in their practices. But those occupying delegated centers and sustaining or derogating them in some manner is really nothing more than the iteration of the scene itself. Everything that happens answers to a particular hypothesis regarding the constitution of the scene. An instance of violent centralization directs our attention to a lapse in responsibility or a misallocation of power somewhere on the scene, not to the trials and agony of the victim. So, if someone in a position of authority delegates power to a subordinate because that subordinate has displayed the requisite mode and degree of courage in previous assignments, the hypothesis constructed above regarding the meaning of “courage” finds its place within a practice. We can become students of courage in order to formulate and test such hypotheses as effectively as possible, but we will never exhaust all the causes of courage and cowardice and so we will always have to restrict our hypotheses to the fitness of this person for this task. Maybe, in fact, his relation to his father (for example), or some childhood trauma, is relevant here; but, maybe not, and, at any rate, no possible “causes” can become independently interesting in relation to determining the meaning of “courage” in this case. (Of course, as a kind of data, it can be preserved and might become relevant for later hypothesis formation.)

So, what was once narrative becomes scenic intelligence. As we come to know that we are intrinsically scenic beings, we aim at making our scenicity more overt and subject to practices—which counters the reliance on narrative formulas. I’ve drawn before on a model of scenic temporality drawn from Charles Sanders Peirce, and this seems helpful here. How can you determine the borderline between the inside and outside of an object, or between two objects? Everyplace you try to draw it, some of the outside is inside and some of the inside outside. So, Peirce says, the border is where there are an equal number of particles of both objects, or inside and outside. We look toward a distribution rather than an ontologically replete object. The equivalent of this for time, Peirce says, and the way we can therefore distinguish when one event is over, and another has begun, is as follows. The beginning of any event is the middle of another event and the end of yet another (to just stick to the strict, narrative, which is also to say, scenic, beginning-middle-end parameters). So, the end of one event is identified as the beginning of another and the middle of a third event—all within the same space. In Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Gregor’s death coincides with his sister’s rebirth, and marks the resumption of his parents’ normal middle class life, once they’ve cleaned up Gregor’s room. Kafka’s novella is certainly a narrative, but perhaps it contains something anti-narrative as well, and that’s something we can learn to look for.

So, our hypothetical lapse in the exercise of authority is a kind of end, as the authority becomes no longer authoritative; but we can locate in it the beginning, somewhere on the scene, of a more adequate form of authority (maybe even the same person in a different incarnation), in the midst of more and less adequate exercises of authority in adjacent practices distributed across the scene—the beginning and middle “measure” the end. In this scenic auto-generation, the scene reconfiguring itself out of its own (a)symmetries, we have the source of our hypotheses. Whether or not the authority in question has in fact become less authoritative, if what looked like courage is in fact cowardice, is going to be measured by the middles and beginnings stretched out across this end. We have the elements of a narrative but we stay in the present as those middles are supporting and auxiliary practices of the supposed end, and the beginnings are its continuations, refoundings, sproutings, or repudiations. Our focus is not narrative, even if it’s temporal, invoking overlapping temporalities—our only interest is in perfecting our practices of inquiry by introducing hypotheses into the practices we examine.

Narrative, with its mythical, sacrificial roots, is a kind of addiction. Everyone speaks of “The Narrative,” and the need to have a counter-narrative. The practice/hypothesis nexus will prove to be more powerful than narrative. Narratives make people hysterical and it pumps them up like a drug because they don’t really believe it, because has no ritual grounding—and attempts to provide, e.g., demonstrations with a ritual form are just as pathetic as the narratives themselves. Large scale, “big scenic” narratives that have generalized agents (unified groups with coherent motivations) are just preparations for lynch mobs, whether the agent in question represents potential perpetrators or victims. Rather than counter-narratives, hypotheses should be used to dismantle narratives and to show that people are capable of things no one has yet seen. And we actually have a model of this in President Trump, whose presidency continues to astonish despite all the carping by people who supplement dubious news stories with the narrative fleshing out they crave. Whatever happens in what remains of his presidency, whether it’s 5 months or 5 years, will continue to be a rich source of models for hypothetical interventions in practices. A practice of studying Trump under the assumption that he knows what he’s doing better than you do would yield far more than turning Trump into a prop in your own narrative. It’s amazing how few people with even the most marginal public persona are capable of admitting that they are learning from someone else.

So, instead of narratives, we have the generation of scenes out of scenes, as a beginning is treated as a middle, a middle as an end, and so on. If the originary scene must have taken a while to pervade all human activities, once it did, it’s only possible to think about one scene from within another scene, and that other scene must more and more come to be just the foregrounding of the scenicity of the scene itself. But we could have only arrived at this point through the emergence of expanded scenes that completely absorbed and demolished local scenes. I’m referring to the ancient empires, which no doubt destroyed thousands of little worlds, a process that has continued in various forms since then. Without the imperial scene of demolition, there would be no “meta” scene. The meta derives from the imperial external position. It also derives from the “minor” scenes that preserved their scenic memory and posited a “meta” that transcended the imperial. From the Axial Age moral acquisitions, in other words.

The meta is only fully accomplished once the fantasy of installing a “genuine” center to monitor and control the occupied center has been relinquished. (Perhaps there are various layers of trauma that are being worked through in this connection.) At that point, and in a sense this is that point, we can speak of the “iterative center,” and not merely the “post-sacrificial.” Instead of trying to institute a global scene modeled on the originary one, with the inevitably apocalyptic consequences, we can accept the imperative to iterate the originary scene in practices where new ostensives can be affirmed, and practices named. Such practices don’t stand alone—they overlap with each other, and report upward and downward in other, pedagogical practices. We accept the center acting at a distance, because the ostensives it allows us to generate also replenish the center in ways we can hypothesize as samples. The point, again, is not to think small, but to ask the biggest questions of the center in a way commensurate with our practices at a certain level of perfection.

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.


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.

August 11, 2020

Successful Succession

Filed under: GA — adam @ 5:36 am

This post could be seen as a “successor” to my previous post on model events insofar as it identifies the kind of event we should be looking towards as models.

In a recent post I extended an argument I made in Anthropomoprhicsand previously to the effect that the mode of succession is the most important question for assessing a social order—how is the center transferred from one occupant to the next tells us everything important we need to know about that social order. I want to further extend that argument now so as to apply it to all practices—everywhere, succession is the sign of success. Whatever you do or say is meaningful and important insofar as create the place for and when possible installs your successor. A “childless” practice is a failure.

This argument seems to me the necessary and sufficient answer to the notion of “spontaneous organization.” Spontaneous organization seems plausible because so many “causes” go into an event that we could never identify them all and weigh their various contributions to the event—so, if we can’t know all that, even when it comes to our own actions, which we can always see, in the aftermath, as being caused by lines of thinking, memories, automatic responses, and so on above and beyond our own intentions, how could anyone possible control all of those causes and bring them together to produce an event? We can see a paradox here: the more we know about everything that goes into some social process, the less it seems to us that anyone could have determined its outcome. Indeed, it follows that any attempt to control things will have the opposite effect of generating unintended and undesirable results. Better to go with the flow, and if one must act, act so as to balance things out and maintain equilibria that seem at risk.

But why wouldn’t it be just as “hubristic” to decide “unilaterally” where things are out of balance, what counts as “balance” in this case, what are the “forces” that seem out of balance, what would be the correct action to rectify rather than exacerbate the imbalance? Where does that knowledge come from, and what makes it certain enough to act on? It seems that everyone must see himself as in sufficient control of at least some “portion” of his existence—enough so that a practice can be constructed so as to produce predictable outcomes. If one believes this, one also believes that more effective control can be exercised—practices can be perfected. And perfecting a practice involves distinguishing between what is inside and what is outside the practice, which is to say what you need to be able to control and what you can’t control but don’t need to control in order to control what you can. You can’t control your dreams, but you can prevent your dreams from interfering with your management of your household. Making this kind of distinction is, in turn, key to constructing the meta-practices that enable you to maintain and extend your practices—what we could call the maintenance of subjectivity. And, who knows, maybe such maintenance acts back upon your dreams.

Every time something happens, we are faced with a choice of explanations: identify the “spontaneous process” that produced it, or look for the hierarchy of human decision making that did so. The two explanations are defined against each other—to look for spontaneity is to deliberately “debunk” any claim to autonomy and authority in a decision making process. This is the assertion of power of those within an anti-imperative declarative culture: you think that the president’s and military leadership’s decisions led to the loss of the war but it was really a critical mass of generational changes, shifts in diplomatic culture, profits driving media coverage, and so on. The purpose of the argument is to subvert clear lines of decision making and to give power to precisely all the spontaneous elements you cite—the media, the diplomats, crowds, and so on. There are lots of power bases to be found in directing decision making along these lines—you present yourself as necessary to those making executive decisions because you are clever enough to manipulate the media, popular opinion, the political scientists in universities or whomever. To stay focused on the executive arena, or the imperative order, is to identify the executive power informing all the spontaneous non-agents, all of whom are at the very least initiated by someone.

The question of succession brings a great deal of force to the executive argument. Every institution, needless to say, takes great care in propagating itself, which is to say ensuring a succession practice that will sustain and enhance the institution. Every decision made can be seen as aiming at solving the problem of succession—who to hire, who to promote, which rationalizations to use in justifying the institution’s priorities, internal policies, and so on. All these decisions lay the groundwork for one kind of potential successor to emerge as opposed to other kinds. Whoever is in charge, then, is always involved in choosing his successor—and this is even the case where there are rules of succession that completely cut the present executive out of the loop—insofar as the governor has any power at all he’s using it to manipulate the very levers of power that overtly preclude his making the decision in order to propagate his own “kind.”

I was thinking of writing a separate post on “American freedom,” but what I want to say about that can be incorporated here by way of an example. I am very favorably and generously inclined toward American freedom because what American freedom really means is a very strong prejudice in favor of an executive culture—freedom means that people in charge of something should be allowed to actually be in charge of it. This is just about the healthiest thing one can believe. Americans passionately hate the “consensus” model of decision making that seems to be popular pretty much everywhere else in the world and is systematically recommended to us as a move toward a less “white” and more “diverse” culture. I also hate the consensus model, in part because it’s so obviously a way for everyone to evade responsibility. A consensus culture would want to ride the wave of spontaneity, whereas an executive culture wants to make cuts everywhere—this is what I did, this is what he did, this is what I was charged with, this was his responsibility, I’m depending on you to do this, and so on. The “cure” for the more “idiosyncratic” and reactive elements of American freedom, then, is to restore what was once very explicitly part of it—the desire to found something, to institutionalize, to have one’s successors look back to one as a model. (The left’s current attack on the memorialization of America’s past shows that they are also aware of how important this is.)

All contemporary institutions seem dead set on producing successors who will repudiate the founding work of the institution itself. I’ve been hanging around the academy long enough to have witnessed a couple of generations of nice, gentle, open-minded, egalitarian professors who were adamantly against “racism” and “sexism” and “war” and other things harmful to living things who would, of course, have never burned an American flag, torn down a statue, boycotted a store whose owners made a “problematic” political statement, and so on—but very cheerfully and proudly paved the way for those who now encourage and, I’m sure, sometimes participate in, such activities. And they are still proud of it—with very few exceptions, these nice elderly English professors sign petitions claiming that all of American history has been a conspiracy to torment America’s black population, whether or not they realize that this would invalidate most of what they themselves taught and wrote during their careers. These are liberalism’s chickens coming home to roost, of course, because liberalism has never been anything more than the repudiation of what came before, but I’m insisting that a successor focused version of what gets called “American freedom” is crucial to the antidote. To counter liberalism, then, means to put the successor problem front and center, and this allows us to “recruit” whatever dispositions toward continuity that can still be located.

We give names to the spontaneous processes: capitalism, democracy, socialism, and, of course, liberalism. We can append verbs to these nouns: capitalism does this, the market does that, and so on. Creating abstract agencies like this means some power centers have broken free of “tyranny,” so the names can be more or less accurate and penetrating. They give names to forms of decision making practices, which to say that they are ways of addressing the succession problem in lieu of any hierarchy that articulates the totality of practices. The problem of history is replacing the shared sacrificial center that was lost with the rise of the ancient empires—I’ve focused more precisely on sacral kingship, but that’s simply the point at which the shared sacrificial center becomes fully “vested” and therefore reveals its limitations—sacrificing the king is an inadequate solution to the succession problem. Capital is a distribution of power aimed at solving the succession problem by constraining the possibilities—no ruler can rule against capital. Succession within capital is solved by having the enterprise serve as a conduit through which state decision making circulates through disciplinary practices that facilitate the further abstraction of subjects from practices that obscure them in some way from the corporate-state center. Next up in corporate leadership will be someone who can plug the disciplines into the state through the corporation. So, the names of these processes identify sites of inquiry into the succession problem.

The succession problem is the problem of all our practices. It’s the problem of immortality—how else do we live on if not through others repeating and extending our practices and words? According to Denise Schmandt-Besserat (who very decisively clarified the origin of writing in ancient accounting notation), the ancient emperors helped advance the development of phonetic writing by having declarative sentences, spoken in their “voice,” inscribed on their monuments in the earliest forms of phonetic lettering. They did this because they wanted the reader of the inscription to have to repeat, “I am _________, ruler of _______,” etc. By speaking in the king’s first person voice, you give the king’s words, and therefore the king himself, continued life. So, you want your actions and words to have successors, to be repeated in enough contexts so as to live forever, even if the words are ultimately changed and forgotten along with the name of the author. Why should the words of someone who says, essentially, “it’s all spontaneous, I’m not really doing anything and neither should you,” be remembered or carried forward? Speaking and writing are practices—you say or inscribe something so that something happens that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, so that a repetition and perfection of the practice can produce “similar” effects—you perfect your practices so others can repeat them. Whatever appears spontaneous is where the succession problem needs to be worked out—all of those unknowable causes are sites of deficient or misaligned power and authority, and the most memorable thing one can do is institute the proper forms. Anything else is delinquency, malingering and mindless subversion.

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