The Bottom Line

We often judge how effective a structure is by how long it lasts; how it weathers storms and stands the test of time. In this sense, the good structure must maintain its solidity; must remain what it is. If this is the underlying decree of the structure - survival before all else - then it will necessarily abandon anything else it may stand for in order to uphold this imperative.

So whilst a structure like a "newspaper" may claim its primary purpose is the communication of truths, if, in doing so, it risks its own survival, then it will necessarily abandon this purpose - perhaps even directly contradict it - in order to uphold the purpose that lies beneath; its fundamental imperative of "survival above (or beneath) all else."

In assessing how serious a structure is about its purposes we must then ask; what lies at the bottom of this structure? What is the fundamental imperative upon which it is built? What is most important to it?

We can also view people as structures and can ask the same questions about them. Jesus presents us with an interesting example. He represents an archetypal structure, one which does not - unlike most - have "survival ahead of all else" at its roots. Perhaps one of the reasons why Jesus is important to us is for this very reason; that, if we unearth his deepest imperative we will not find it to be "survival" - a fact that is illustrated by his death. He was prepared to disregard "survival" in favour of something deeper. Digging down to his foundations we might find something like "Truth," a cause for which all else is abandoned. His structure came crumbling down in order for Truth to go on living. His example is an outstanding one because few structures will risk their own survival for something deeper.

This is why most structures are inherently compromised; because they are things, and they want to go on being these things. And this is why the ultimate sacrifice for any structure is always death.

Death needn't mean literal death. It could mean the death of a certain way of doing things, or of the current status quo. An example of this is the person who quits their job because they cannot, for a reason of conscience, continue to do it; and especially so in the case of the person who really cannot afford to make such a sacrifice, yet does so anyway, risking a potentially great upheaval - a descent into the unknown. The status quo crumbles so that something greater may live.

Most structures must be willing to shape-shift slightly in order to adapt to changing circumstances; indeed, whilst a sign of the strong structure may be its permanence, to endure in a world of change it must also have a critical amount of malleability. The question then, is how much change can a structure incorporate before it stops being what it is?

For a structure to remain fundamentally what it is, it must stay true to a certain amount of descriptive statements. If it does not then it will shift and slide into something else. So whilst a newspaper and a blog may have many similarities, there are also a critical amount of differences between them; and it is these differences that define each as separate from the other, allowing us to differentiate between the two and apply the relevant labels. If we imagine a structure as consisting of two circles, one contained within the other: the smaller circle represents the critical descriptive statements that the structure must uphold in order to remain what it is. In terms of a "newspaper" these could be things like "must be tangible", "must have pages" and so on. Outside of the smaller circle are contained all of those statements that can be subject to change. These could be things like "size must be broadsheet", "must contain x amount of pages" and so on. All of these latter statements can be abandoned without the structure risking its fundamental integrity, without it becoming something other than what it is (without "newspaper" becoming "blog").

So when we talk about the survival of a structure it is probably this inner circle - the core descriptive statements - to which we are referring. As long as these remain true then "survival" continues; but if any one of these statements is contradicted then "survival" is threatened. Death, in this sense, is always followed by immediate rebirth; the structure stops being one thing and becomes another.

So to place a value like "Truth" beneath "survival" may mean that we are willing to reform our structure - to become liquid, dissolve and reform - if, and when, we need to. We shed our skin - death to the old - so that we may become something else; all in service to this deeper purpose.

What, then, can we say about those structures which have "survival" as their fundamental imperative? When and why might this be a problem?

We've already mentioned newspapers, but charities also provide us with interesting case studies. Let's look at Oxfam. Its purpose - its reason for being - is to "fight global poverty." An organization was formed, a structure built for a purpose, and global poverty is, we can presume, best fought through this structure. "Oxfam" was, then, birthed from this imperative; and it would not be unreasonable of us to assume that to "fight global poverty" remains its foundational decree. We must then ask; what if it was found that, in existing the way it does, as a structure, "Oxfam" is, in the long run, contributing towards the continuance of global poverty? What if we were to find, through wide scale systemic analysis, that "Oxfam" was part of the problem it hoped to eradicate? The true test for Oxfam at this point would be whether, in knowing this, it was willing to sacrifice its own existence in order to serve the "fight against global poverty."

With structures like Oxfam - those that claim to have a specific mission that runs deeper than their own survival - we must always ask what lies down there at the bottom. Is it "fight global poverty"? Or is it "survival"? If Oxfam was to blink out of existence, thousands of people would be without jobs. We must also ask; what runs deeper for these people; "fight global poverty" or "survival (of the current way of things)."

When a structure with the foundational imperative of "survival" claims to be motivated by some other root-purpose then we can rightly describe it as playing games. It is not, in the strictest sense of the word, serious about its stated purposes; and it cannot be until it is willing to unearth "survival" and place these purposes beneath it. This may seem a lot to ask, and indeed for most structures it is far too much; but this is one of the great ethical lessons that archetypes like Jesus offer us. He was serious. Deadly serious. And this is what he, and all others like him, ask of us.

Aristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its “telos” – its purpose, end, or goal.

The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is health or healing. What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” –- the word appears on so many university crests. But increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

[Jonathan Haidt]
'Why Universities Must Choose One Telos: Truth or Social Justice

Like the rats, who gradually lose all values except sheer competition, so companies in an economic environment of sufficiently intense competition are forced to abandon all values except optimizing-for-profit or else be outcompeted by companies that optimized for profit better and so can sell the same service at a lower price.

A basic principle unites all of the multipolar traps above. In some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. 

Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse.

In a sufficiently intense competition, everyone who doesn’t throw all their values under the bus dies out […] This is the infamous Malthusian trap, where everyone is reduced to “subsistence”.

[Scott Alexander]
'Meditations on Moloch'

The Importance of Rituals

Ritual allows us to deal with change and death - both inner and outer death.

I had the opportunity, recently, to hear a sermon from Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church. He addressed the importance of rituals in our lives and how they serve as a reminder for us as to what is most important.

Rituals should be seen as a "sacred holy task" that focuses you on what is most important. In his example, Rob discussed his morning ritual of making lunches and taking his boys to school. This ritual serves as a reminder of his calling to take care of his boys.

What is it that is most important to you?

Do your "rituals" reflect what is most important to you through your actions?

We need to constantly be checking ourselves and the rituals that we participate in, to make sure we are focused on the most worthy pursuits.

[David Korff]
Found at Thinking about things blog (now dead)

I recently read an article about a paramedic who created a ritual to help him separate from all the things he had seen during the day and create a space for being with his family.

Everyday when he got home, he would imagine hanging all the troubles of the work day on the tree next to his back door. As he entered the house he would touch the tree and walk into the house, leaving the work day behind–a simple ritual to help his subconscious mind to know that it was time to focus on his family.

Rituals of Transition

The paramedic touching the tree and setting the intention of being fully present for his family is an example of a transition ritual. Another example that most of us are familiar with is bedtime rituals which help children settle down for the night. The more consistent the story time and lights out, the more the child becomes to depend on the ritual and can make the transition from busy day to restful night.

Rituals of transition help us move from one area of our lives to another.  

We can make use of this idea of rituals to help us be in the moment and make the transition from one area of focus to another, e.g., work to home, creating space to focus on a project, bedtime, etc. The elements important to creating a ritual is setting an intention, performing the action and making the action a regular occurrence so that it becomes a habit.

Rituals of Relaxation and Focus

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of the book The Power of Full Engagement, maintain that we do not need to manage our time, we need to manage our energy, and that we have to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

Loehr and Schwartz worked for years with top athletes, and noticed that they were able to reset their bodies and minds in little time, with highly practiced, repeated - scheduled - actions (i.e., rituals.)

Watch a basketball player at the free throw line or a tennis player before they serve. Many have a little routine that they do each time before they take a shot or serve. It may be the number of times they bounce the ball or how they touch their body.

You can use this idea to create small rituals of relaxation and focus and repeat them regularly throughout your day. You can tie these rituals to specific events in your day.

[Carol Woodliff]
The Importance of Rituals, found at WMV Group

[...] I attribute a positive value to all religions. In their symbolism I recognize those figures which I have met with in the dreams and fantasies of my patients.

In their moral teaching I see efforts that are the same as or similar to those made by my patients, when, guided by their own insight or inspiration, they seek the right way of dealing with the forces of the inner life.

Ceremonial, ritual, initiation rites and ascetic practices, in all their forms and variations, interest me profoundly as so many techniques for bringing about a proper relation to these [inner] forces.

[C.G. Jung]
Modern Man In Search Of A Soul ('Freud and Jung'), p.121, 122

The game and the creation of the game must be seen as a single phenomenon, and indeed, it is subjectively plausible to say that the sequence is really playable only so long as it retains some elements of the creative and unexpected.

If the sequence is totally known, it is ritual, although perhaps still character forming.

If we define play as the establishment and exploration of relationship, then greeting and ritual are the affirmation of relationship. But obviously mixtures of affirmation and exploration are common.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 150-1

"Ritual is poetry in the world of acts."

In this way of thinking, the performance of ritual has no special power of its own. Its power comes from the effects that it, like poetry, has on the people who take part in and experience it. Just as a well-written poem can reshape the awareness of its reader or hearer, revealing connections that might otherwise go unnoticed and highlighting neglected meanings, a well-performed ritual can do the same for those who take part in it.

Thus, celebrating the stations of the year isn't a mere formality. It focuses the experience of time and the seasons, lifting participants out of the limited consciousness of passing days into a wider awareness of the turning wheel of the year. It reminds them that their lives take place in a larger context, one in which living beings and spiritual powers also have a place. It restores meaning to a world in which meaning often seems in short supply.

The mind also has unrecognized potentials that can be awakened through the redefining power of ritual. Thus ritual has effects that go well beyond the realm of psychology, and into subtler realms little understood by modern ways of approaching the world.

[...] ritual is empty only when it's misused or ineptly performed. Done with skill and a grasp of basic principles, it can be full to bursting with meaning and can communicate that fulness to our everyday lives.

Whatever else can be said about it, ritual is a performing art related to drama, storytelling, and poetry recitation [...] For this reason, the regular practice of ritual is the most important step in walking the Sun Path. By performing and experiencing rituals, novice ritualists learn from personal experience what works and what doesn't, and rehearse the skills required until they can do an effective ritual working at a moments notice.

[John Michael Greer]
The Druidry Handbook,  p. 170-1

To clarify, let us consider those ceremonials which devolve upon personal crises, such as death, marriage, puberty, or illness. These can be considered “existential" situations; that is, people die, marry, sicken, become sexually mature and economically responsible in all societies.

In primitive societies, such ordinary human events are rendered extraordinary, that is, they are made meaningful and valuable, through the medium of the dramatic ceremonies. Here we confront man raising himself above the level of the merely biological, affirming his identity, and defining his obligations to himself and to the group.

The ritual drama, then, focuses on ordinary human events and makes them, in a sense, sacramental.

At the same time, the ceremonials we are speaking of enable the individual to maintain integrity of self while changing life roles. The person is freed to act in new ways without crippling anxiety, or becoming a social automaton. That is, the person discharges the new status but the status does not become the person.

This, I believe, is the central psychological meaning of the theme of death and rebirth, of constant psychic renewal, which is encountered so frequently in primitive ceremonials. It is an organic theme; what one is emerges out of what one was. There is no mechanical separation, only an organic transition, extending, characteristically, over a considerable time, often crowded with events, and never traumatic, but modulated and realistic in its effects.

[Stanley Diamond]
'Plato and the Primitive'

People who are not in close contact with their own unconscious have great difficulty accepting the slow, unhurried, cyclic rhythms of nature, which allow time for birth, maturation, and death.

When some part of us dies, there must be a time of mourning, a period of withdrawal and introspection, a period of allowing the tears to fall. Tears connect us to our hearts, our real values, our own inner Home. Without them, we become brittle, warped, prunes instead of plums.

Born into a society in which rites of passage are not a consciously nor firmly entrenched part of life, we do not understand ritual. We hate death and we do not really believe in resurrection. The rituals which would connect us with these rhythms in ourselves we find "boring."

Thus when the unconscious naturally tries to move us onto a new level of awareness, we feel violated because we are unable to enter the death experience; we experience ourselves as victims, rather than participants. We are half-aware that some life-threatening sacrifice has been made, something dead is inside us, something "crazy" is going on, but we do not take time to find out who the new person is, nor do we have the slightest idea what territory we have crossed into (see Trafford 1982).

The tragedy is that if we do not give ourselves space and time to find out, we attempt to live in the new era despite being inadequately equipped to do so, for we still have only the old concepts of ourselves.

We are like confused butterflies just emerged from our chrysalises, butterflies who still think like caterpillars yet blame everyone else for damaging our wings, when the truth is we are afraid to take responsibility for the transformation that has taken place. Instead of taking time to let our beautiful wings unfold in readiness for new life, we fearfully draw back into non-existent cocoons, our protective coverings gone.

[Marion Woodman]
‘The Emergence of the Feminine’, Betwixt and Between, p.211

Related posts:-
Outer Supports
Magic and Illusion 
Status Quo
Lost Tribe 
Maintaining the Balance


We need tribe. We need to belong. This is hard-wired into us. And in modern life, there is a disconnect.

We live in little fenced-in square shelters, not only isolated from the collective shadow -- the murderers and rapists, but also the desirable parts of community -- the sense of tribe, belonging and a collective purpose. The more docile among us attempt to satiate this need to belong by staying in and locking our houses and communing with our television alone, watching episodes of Seinfeld and Friends. Or maybe we keep up with the latest Hollywood love trysts as if Angelinia Jolie is our B.F.F.

I'm finding that many of us have been on a long quest to find and co-create a deep community -- a tribe -- somewhere to belong. 

 The modern experience tends toward isolation and loneliness. Alone in offices, we peer through windows of pixels to connect to one another via Facebook. We drop our kids off at daycare to drive to work alone in a metal box. Then we work in that cubicle for eight to ten hours a day, come home, flop on the couch and crank the volume on the TV. We glean meaning from sitcoms and myth systems from film. We are desperate for meaning -- and tribe.

Our desire for tribe has been hijacked by Hollywood and I've often wondered if we would be less apathetic and more involved with local community if TV had never been invented.

Worse than that isolation, perhaps, are the generations born into this isolation, latchkey kids so desperate to feel alive, and to fill that essential need for rights of passage and belonging to tribe, that they join violent gangs and act out their projected rage upon one another and the neighborhoods where they live..

Many primordial languages in the Americas had no words for guilt or shame.

  For example, the Apaches say those words were developed by white men to control one another. Actions that we think of as unforgivable actions were considered by many native cultures as mistakes which created opportunities to discover more about themselves and growth toward deeper wisdom.

Anthropologist Rupert Ross said that primordial languages often center on the use of verbs rather than nouns. Native Americans for example, tend not to label individuals, but look at people as a process rather than a static thing. Ross says, "When we apply such labels to real people, however, they tend to stick. And when they stick, they cause us to start denying the complexity and wholeness of the human beings we are speaking of."

The belief that we create our lives (as masters of our own fate) rather than being the victims of events which happen to us involves overcoming guilt and shame and speaking our own truth. The meaning, and therefore our reality, created by us through our actions fills us with a sense of purpose and self-actualization. But creating reality from within a framework of shame or guilt stunts growth. Shame combined with lack of opportunity can lead to social apathy at best and violence at worst. We are social, story-telling organisms, propelled by an archetypal drive to create tribes and community.

Tribes are bonded through a sense of meaning.

When living close to nature, everything is in a constant flux of change. Nothing stays good or bad forever. Judgment and expectation get us in trouble. They become shorthand for a dead-end label that some thing or some one is good or bad.

Each of us individually struggles with the paradox of good and evil within, but a tribe creates a container that holds these disparate elements.

Tribalism is a perennial archetype that re-emerges whenever it is absent in the dominant culture. In our decidedly non-tribal culture, the archetype may appear as belonging to a gang, being a Dead-Head, or talking about what Jerry Seinfeld did in last night's episode with the coworker in the next cubicle. In all these cases, the tribe creates a feeling of belonging through unified meaning. This meaning, implicit or explicit, becomes the group's mission statement and raison d'etre. And the mission statement can be anywhere along a spectrum of possibilities. They can be syntropic, healthy, and positive or destructive, dystopic and entropic.

In creating meaning, and thus reality, our internal compass of morality guides our choices, rather than an externally imposed didactic moral code.

To clarify this internal morality, we need to experience our edges. We need to be pushed in experiences and mirrored in that journey.

This is why rites of passage like the sweat lodge or peyote vision quest are essential to realigning the compass of those who have lost their way -- whether in gang life, addiction, or just on the day-to-day journey of life in American culture.

For ex-con Joshua, participating in sweat lodges, exploring rites of passage facilitated by a medicine man fills his need to belong to something with a higher purpose. He told me later that the sense of belonging he feels in the sweat lodge tribe creates a container for him to explore honesty, vulnerability, and personal responsibility.

As with tribes, rites of passage must be activated by a sense of meaning, and that meaning travels along a spectrum of possibilities. Childbirth and prison tattoos seem to have no similarities, but both are rites of passage. Getting jumped into a gang, peyote vision quests, running a marathon, Bar Mitzvahs -- these are all archetypal rites of passage. One primary rite of passage is the boy's journey into manhood. A medicine woman once explained it to me this way:

A woman's vision quest is always childbirth... there is no other vision quest for men or women as powerful as childbirth. But for men, it is different. The vision quest is the sacred sweat lodge. Vision quest is suffering. It brings you to your knees. No more lies. I don't care how old you are. You are not a man until you go on your vision quest.

The remaining essential factor in creating and sustaining a functional tribe is mirroring by elders.

Without the witness of someone who has been on the path, the meaning and the importance of ritual are lost. The psyche acts out the rite of passage in endless repetition until it is witnessed. For example, in the rave, participants seek ritual ecstasy through ingesting "X" (Ecstasy or MDMA), which produces a cathartic merging and sense of belonging. This emulates a rite of passage, but often the meaning is lost when the psychedelic pilgrim sobers up because no shaman witnessed, digested and reflected the meaning for the seeker. The same is true for gangs. Drive-by shootings, hazings, school yard bullying -- all these acts are repeated and escalated until someone takes notice. Elders and mentors are essential to de-escalating violence. For troubled youth one of the most important ways through which to receive that guidance and wisdom is a caring and capable adult. Many kids just need someone to guide their journey toward responsible manhood and illuminate them to the fact that each of them has a unique gift to give the world.

Creating intentional tribes and rites of passage can restore a sense of purpose, belonging, respect, and morality. Regardless of the method, the ultimate success depends on whether the tribal morality can inspire. Then it may be assimilated and accommodated into the psyche, to emanate from within to create a lasting frame of relevance for the individual's gifts. The tribal morality must be able to allow and integrate the intrinsic diversity of personalities and how they react to the stages and challenges of the life journey.

[Sunny Strasburg]
'Violence and the Need for Tribalism', Reality Sandwich

In a pre-modern culture, creators would create as part of a tradition bigger than themselves. So a storyteller will tell a story that’s part of their culture; or if you’re a religious teacher, you’ve got a big tradition that you’re working in.

We’re people with no tradition, because that’s what modernity has done. It’s made us all into little individuals. So the story we tell, we have to come up with ourselves. 

And then we’re endlessly in pain, because we’re always driven to try and work everything out. Because we’re not supported by ancestry, we’re not supported by a culture. The bargain of modernity is we have no tradition to hold us back, but we also have no tradition to support us. So all the storytellers have to come up with their own vision which is why writers end up shooting themselves, or drinking themselves to death…

[Paul Kingsnorth]
'Earth does not speak in prose'

Modern individualism regards all social structures and obligations, even those created by family, as impediments to self-realisation, and therefore as forms of oppression. 

[James Goldsmith]
The Trap, p. 60-1

The breakdown of traditional values to some extent implies the breakdown of the bonds that hold together traditional small-scale social groups. 

The disintegration of small-scale social groups is also promoted by the fact that modern conditions often require or tempt individuals to move to new locations, separating themselves from their communities. 

Beyond that, a technological society HAS TO weaken family ties and local communities if it is to function efficiently. In modern society an individual’s loyalty must be first to the system and only secondarily to a small-scale community, because if the internal loyalties of small-scale communities were stronger than loyalty to the system, such communities would pursue their own advantage at the expense of the system.

[Ted Kaczynski]
Industrial Society and its Future, 51

Anticulture is the consequence of a regime of standardizing law replacing widely observed informal norms that come to be discarded as forms of oppression; and it is the simultaneous consequence of a universal and homogenous market, resulting in a monoculture that, like its agricultural analogue, colonizes and destroys actual cultures rooted in experience, history, and place.

These two visages of the liberal anticulture thus free us from other specific people and embedded relationships, replacing custom with abstract and depersonalized law, liberating us from personal obligations and debts, replacing what have come to be perceived as burdens on our individual autonomous freedom with pervasive legal threat and generalized financial indebtedness.

In the effort to secure the radical autonomy of individuals, liberal law and the liberal market replace actual culture with an encompassing anticulture.

Evidence of our anticulture surrounds us yet is pervasively denied. Liberalism extends itself by inhabiting spaces abandoned by local cultures and traditions, leading either to their discarding or suppression or, far more often, to their contentless redefinition.

Rather than produce our own cultures, grounded in local places, embedded in time, and usually developed from an inheritance from relatives, neighbors, and community - music, art, storytelling, food - we are more likely to consume prepackaged, market-tested, mass-marketed consumables, often branded in commercialized symbolism that masks that culture's evisceration.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.66, 88

Condemnation of Southern backwardness, in a liberal weekly, might have been expected. More surprising was that a series conceived as an exploration of diversity so often ended by holding up a uniform standard of cultural progress, one measured by great works of art and notable achievements in science and technology.

None of the contributors asked whether a new order in the South would not have to rest on traditions indigenous to the region. None showed much interest in the requirements for a vigorous civic life, as opposed to the number of orchestras, art galleries, libraries, and universities. The implication was that "civilization," if it was ever to come to the South, would have to come from outside. The only hope for Mississippi, according to Beulah Amidon Ratliff, was an invasion of “missionaries" from the North.

William Allen White described Kansas as a “Puritan survival.” […] Kansas had produced “no great poet, no great painter, no great musician, no great writer or philosopher,” […]

The equation of civic culture with progress and enlightenment made it difficult to see anything but arrested development even in a state like New York, depicted by Charles F. Wood as a benighted region dominated by “fear and suspicion” of the modern world. The “backwoods” element, Wood said, had a “throttle-hold upon the state.”

“Resistance to change is their most sacred principle. Modern conveniences appear as signs of degeneracy to them; and the boy who leaves home to go to the city is still their most popular theme of tragedy." It did not occur to Wood that a wholehearted celebration of rural depopulation was not the best index of a flourishing civilization or that a reluctance "to accept the automobile," in communities threatened with outward migration, did not necessarily indicate the idiocy of rural life.

“[…] Sentimental critics of technology lamented the “despoiling of Niagara Falls,” but the discovery by scientists that Niagara can be enslaved is producing a dream of human freedom which is mightily affecting New York State today." Niagara was doomed; "but on the other side of the ledger millions of people are breaking from the past."

The authors of “These United States" assumed […] that “breaking from the past” was the precondition of cultural and political advance […] As they understood it, democracy meant progress, intellectual emancipation, and personal freedom, not popular self-government. Self-government, it appeared, was incompatible with progress.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.418-21

Related posts:-
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Communal Benefits
Individual + Villager = Balance
What are the people saying?
Positive Space
Rights and Responsibilities
Entitlement and Accountability
Carry Each Other
Projecting a Shadow
Evil and Us
Imperfect Relationships
You laugh at my back, and I'll laugh at yours
Contain Conflict
Standing the Strain
My Advice? No Advice!
Empty Container
Touch Societies
Alone Together
Still Waters
The Importance of Rituals  
A Circle of Gifts

Mind Your Language

Noun                          -                    Verb
Being                         -                    Becoming
Solid                          -                    Liquid
State                           -                    Process
Rational                     -                    Empirical
Essentialism               -                    Nominalism
Left hemisphere         -                    Right hemisphere

And so castles made of sand,
fall in the sea,

[Jimi Hendrix]

[...] language tends to divide our experience into segments that have the appearance of objects.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 87-8

If our language tends to foster the delusion of misplaced concreteness, it is particularly nouns - substantives - that get in the way of our being able to clearly see the flux and interconnectedness of our world.

Yet the problem is not so much words per se as our relationship with them.

"Language [...] is a remarkable servant and a lousy master."

And there exists something called poetry, which is the practice of using words to say what cannot be said in words.

Language labels things for us. Jean Piaget wrote: "Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself." The problem with language is that it turns the world into things. Because of the incredible convenience of language, we hypnotize ourselves into believing the reality of linguistic symbols, especially nouns.

Gregory Bateson, following the inspiration of Anatol Holt, used to say that he wanted to get a bumper sticker that would say, "Stamp out Nouns."

Nouns, representing so-called persons, places, things, and ideas, are a marvelous convenience to allow us to get up and to move our mouth parts at each other and communicate, but they don't represent anything except for a very provisional and temporary kind of reality.

[Stephen Nachmanovitch]
'Old Men Ought to be Explorers', p.10-11
'Improvisation as a Tool for Investigating Reality', found here.

Anthropologist Rupert Ross said that primordial languages often center on the use of verbs rather than nouns.

Native Americans for example, tend not to label individuals, but look at people as a process rather than a static thing.

Ross says, "When we apply such labels to real people, however, they tend to stick. And when they stick, they cause us to start denying the complexity and wholeness of the human beings we are speaking of."

Many primordial languages in the Americas had no words for guilt or shame. For example, the Apaches say those words were developed by white men to control one another. Actions that we think of as unforgivable actions were considered by many native cultures as mistakes which created opportunities to discover more about themselves and growth toward deeper wisdom.

When living close to nature, everything is in a constant flux of change. Nothing stays good or bad forever. Judgment and expectation get us in trouble. They become shorthand for a dead-end label that some thing or some one is good or bad.

[Sunny Strasburg]
'Violence and the Need for Tribalism', found at Reality Sandwich

The physicist David Bohm argued that quantum reality is so very different from our everyday large scale experience that it requires a new language for its discussion.

Our Indo-European languages are strongly noun based and subject-object structured. For Bohm they represent a barrier to deeper understanding. The essence of the quantum world is flux, movement, transformation, symmetry and relationship rather than individual objects in interaction.

For Bohm the essence of such a reality requires a verb-based, process-based language - probably one very close to that still spoken by the Blackfoot.

[F. David Peat]
'Creativity: The Meeting of Apollo and Dionysus'

He: But aren't you supposed to be inside? My interior person?

Chest-Voice: You are stuck in words. Interior simply means deeper. Going inward simply means going more deeply into things, into their heart and soul.

Interior is a sense of inward chambers, the hollow in the chest that resounds. It isn't a place to go and it doesn't mean all those things you've learned and taken so literalistically: introverting, introspecting, internalizing.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.122

Unlike Westerners, Ladakhis never express themselves with certitude about something they have not experienced. Any event in which they have not personally participated will be described using verbs that reflect the limitations of their knowledge: "It is said that ...,""It appears that ...,""It is probable that ..." If I ask someone, "Is it a big house?" he or she will be likely to answer, "It seemed big to me."

Even when people have personal experience, they are far more reluctant than we are to categorize and judge. Good and bad, fast and slow, here and there; these are not sharply different qualities. In the same way, Ladakhis will not think in terms of fundamental opposition, for instance, between mind and body or reason and intuition.

Ladakhis experience the world through what they call their semba, best translated as a cross between "heart" and "mind." This reflects the Buddhist insistence that Wisdom and Compassion are inseparable.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.82

While rationality can explain much, there are limits to human capabilities of understanding. The English language is structured to account for cause and effect. For example, English speakers say, "It is raining," with the implication that there is a cause "it" that leads to rain.

Many Indian languages, on the other hand, merely note what is most accurately translated as "raining" as an observable fact. Such an approach brings a freedom to stop worrying about causes of things, and merely to relax and accept that our human insights can only go so far.

By not taking ourselves too seriously, or overinflating human importance, we can get beyond the logical world.

[Walter L. Williams]
The Spirit and the Flesh, p.20-1

"From West to East" is a commonplace journalistic structure for an article. "From West to Female" is more like poetry. By jumping from one criterion, one binary, to another, it represents a real difference rather than the staged differences of the binary. It's fresh!  

[language becomes] mere texture when dichotomy ends.

What the remapping of the binaries produces, I think, is something irrational: beauty. 

It also produces a sort of self-knowledge; the realisation that all truths are provisional, contextual, consensual, habitual. It's therefore good to break one's habits from time to time -- to "binary hop".

'Binary hopping'

Montaigne's thinking baffles our most common categories. The vision of an ever-changing world that he developed threatens the being of all things. ‘We have no communication with being’.

We wrongly take that which appears for that which is, and we indulge in a dogmatic, deceptive language that is cut off from an ever-changing reality. We ought to be more careful with our use of language. 

Montaigne would prefer that children be taught other ways of speaking, more appropriate to the nature of human inquiry, such as ‘What does that mean ?’, ‘I do not understand it’, ‘This might be’, ‘Is it true?’

Montaigne himself is fond of ‘these formulas that soften the boldness of our propositions’: “perhaps”, “to some extent”, “they say”, “I think”, and the like.

“I can see why the Pyrrhonian philosophers cannot express their general conception in any manner of speaking ; for they would need a new language. Ours is wholly formed of affirmative propositions….”

'Michel de Montaigne'

Saussure pointed out that the association of a given sound, or signifier, with a given concept, or signified, is arbitrary - there’s nothing natural, simple, or permanent about it. Saussure wrote, “the arbitrary nature of the sign … dominates all the linguistics of language; its consequences are numberless.”

[The arbitrary association between signifier/signified] suggested an uncertainty, or slippage, in language, that would become a key tenet of poststructuralism.

How does that slippage arise? In place of the idea that signified and signifier were closely tied to one another, Saussure observed that each term is defined in relation to other, similar, terms nearby. For example, the sound of the word ‘horse’ differs only slightly from ‘horn’ and ‘hearse.’ Saussure pointed out that the concept, the signified, was also defined differentially, in the same way. Defining meaning not positively, but negatively, as a gap between adjacent terms, also contributed to this sense of slippage […]

Saussure had another diagram to express the blurry boundaries between terms - he redrew the series of signifiers [and signifieds] as a continuum. It’s language’s role to delineate units of meaning, and map between these two streams.

“It is mysterious that language works out its units while taking shape between two shapeless masses.”

[Christopher Bolton]
Animating Poststructuralism

Saussure's radical observation that signifieds are linked only arbitrarily to signifiers, defined by the structure of a given language system, led him also to notice that the signified is not stable, but the signified slides under the signifier because that signifier requires other signifiers to define the original arbitrary one (e.g., "deciduous broad-leafed trees of the genus Quercus or Lithocarpus").

Each of those signifiers ("deciduous" and "broad-leafed" and "trees" and, yes, even "of") yield signifieds which are themselves caught up in the slippage under their signifieds, a process that could possibly slide all the way to pure meaninglessness.

One of Derrida's unlikely allies, Jaques Lacan, a French Freudian psychoanalyst, gave a series of lectures in which he reapplied Saussurian linguistics to Freud and launched a new theory of personality.

In Lacan's appropriation of Deconstruction, we are "normal" (i.e., merely neurotic) because our minds refuse to notice most of the slippage Derrida insisted was going on. 

Those who could not resist seeing the slippage fell into psychosis, which presents verbal symptoms known, for instance, as "word salad," "clang associations," "knight's move" thinking, "neologism" (coining new words), etc.. Thus, language's identity-structuring power could be used to explain losses of structure, as well. 

'Slippage of the Signified Under the Signifier: Unstable Identity in Language'

With the rise of Saussurian linguistics in the twentieth century, it has become fashionable to insist on the arbitrary nature of the sign - a fascinating and counterintuitive move, designed to emphasise the 'freedom' of language as far as possible from the trammels of the body and of the physical world it describes.

There is, however, plenty of evidence that the sounds of words are not arbitrary, but evocative, in a synaesthetic way, of the experience of the things they refer to.

Why do I emphasise this bodily origin of thought and language? Partly it has been denied in our own age, not by any means only, or even mainly, by de Saussure and his followers.

More than that, the fact of its denial seems to me to form part of a general trend, throughout the last hundred years or so, towards the ever greater repudiation of our embodied being, in favour of an abstracted, cerebralised, machine-like version of ourselves that has taken hold on popular thinking [...]

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 119-20

Hegel deals with a sequence of logical categories: being, becoming, one, many, essence, existence, cause, effect, universal, mechanism, and "life". Each is examined in turn and made to reveal its own inadequacies and internal tensions. Each category is made to generate another more promising one which in its turn will be subject to the same kind of scrutiny.

Hegel calls this dynamic aspect of his thinking the power of "negation".

It is by means of this "negativity" of thought that the static (or habitual) becomes discarded or dissolved, made fluid and adaptable, and recovers its eagerness to push on towards "the whole".

Dialectical thinking derives its dynamic of negation from its ability to reveal "contradictions" within almost any category or identity.

Hegel's "contradiction" does not simply mean a mechanical denial or opposition. Indeed, he challenges the classical notion of static self-identity, A = A, or A = non-A.

By negation or contradiction, Hegel means a wide variety of relations - difference, opposition, reflection or relation. It can indicate the mere insufficiency of a category or its incoherence. Most dramatically, categories are sometimes shown to be self-contradictory.

[Lloyd Spencer]
Introducing Hegel: A Graphic Guide

[...] Popper condemns 'what is?' questions generally [...] Their quasi-magical attempt to capture the essence of reality in a definition has led Popper to brand the use of such questions as 'essentialism.'

In politics the essentialist approach leads almost naturally to Utopianism and doctrinal conflict. Genuinely important questions are more like 'What should we do in these circumstances? What are your proposals?' [...]

Because authoritarian structures incorporate the same mistaken notions of certainty, and the same mistaken assumptions about method, as does the traditional view of science, the arguments underlying Popper's criticism of the view that in politics we can, let alone should aim to, establish and preserve a certain state of society are in point after point the same of those underlying his criticism of the view that science can, let alone should aim to, establish and preserve certain knowledge.

[Bryan Magee]
Popper, p. 106-7

[...] language is necessary neither for categorisation, nor for reasoning, nor for concept formation, nor perception: it does not itself bring the landscape of the world in which we live into being.

What it does, rather, is shape that landscape by fixing the 'counties' into which we divide it, defining which categories or types of entities we see there - how we carve it up.

In the process, language helps some things stand forward, but by the same token makes others recede.

What language contributes is to firm up certain particular ways of seeing the world and give fixity to them. This has its good side, and its bad. It aids consistency of reference over time and space. But it can also exert a restrictive force on what and how we think. It represents a more fixed version of the world: it shapes, rather than grounds our thinking.

Language enables the left hemisphere to represent the world 'off-line', a conceptual version, distinct from the world of experience, and shielded from the immediate environment, with its insistent impressions, feelings and demands, abstracted from the body, no longer dealing with what is concrete, specific, individual, unrepeatable, and constantly changing, but with a disembodied representation of the world, abstracted, central, not particularised in time and place, generally applicable, clear and fixed.

Isolating things from their context brings the advantage of enabling us to focus intently on a particular aspect of reality and how it can be modelled, so that it can be grasped and controlled.

But its losses are the picture as a whole. Whatever lies in the realm of the implicit, or depends on flexibility, whatever can't be brought into focus and fixed, ceases to exist as far as the speaking hemisphere is concerned.

Language in summary brings precision and fixity, two very important features if we are to succeed in manipulating the world.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 110, 114-5

In short I would say the term "infinite" should only ever modify verbs. "Infinite counting" instead of infinity, its meaning being merely "ceaseless counting."

Nouns are usually to be suspected in precise contexts unless they describe physical objects and we are doing physics or something. Otherwise they too easily hide verbs within them.

A waving action is bundled into "a wave." An act of collecting is bundled into a "collection," more familiarly called a "set." Counting or numbering becomes "numbers." English (and I assume most languages) then lets us blithely throw these around with the same grammatical machinery as we use for physical objects.

['J J']
Comments on 'Ep. 100 - Trying to Solve Philosophy'

E-Prime (short for English-Prime or English Prime, sometimes denoted É or E′) is a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be, including all conjugations, contractions and archaic forms.

Words not used in E-prime include: be, being, been, am, is, isn't, are, aren't, was, wasn't, were, and weren't.

Bourland and other advocates also suggest that use of E-Prime leads to a less dogmatic style of language that reduces the possibility of misunderstanding or conflict.

Kellogg and Bourland describe misuse of the verb to be as creating a "deity mode of speech", allowing "even the most ignorant to transform their opinions magically into god-like pronouncements on the nature of things".


Consider the following paired sets of propositions, in which Standard English alternates with English-Prime (E-Prime):

lA. The electron is a wave.
lB. The electron appears as a wave when measured with instrument-l.
2A. The electron is a particle.
2B. The electron appears as a particle when measured with instrument-2.
3A. John is lethargic and unhappy.
3B. John appears lethargic and unhappy in the office.
4A. John is bright and cheerful.
4B. John appears bright and cheerful on holiday at the beach.
5A. This is the knife the first man used to stab the second man.
5B. The first man appeared to stab the second man with what looked like a knife to me.
6A. The car involved in the hit-and-run accident was a blue Ford.
6B. In memory, I think I recall the car involved in the hit-and-run accident as a blue Ford.
7A. This is a fascist idea.
7B. This seems like a fascist idea to me.
8A. Beethoven is better than Mozart.
8B. In my present mixed state of musical education and ignorance, Beethoven seems better to me than Mozart.
9A. That is a sexist movie.
9B. That seems like a sexist movie to me. 
10A. The fetus is a person.
10B. In my system of metaphysics, I classify the fetus as a person.

The "A"-type statements (Standard English) all implicitly or explicitly assume the medieval view called "Aristotelian essentialism" or "naive realism." In other words, they assume a world made up of block-like entities with indwelling "essences" or spooks- "ghosts in the machine."

The "B"-type statements (E-Prime) recast these sentences into a form isomorphic to modern science by first abolishing the "is" of Aristotelian essence and then reformulating each observation in terms of signals received and interpreted by a body (or instrument) moving in space-time.

Relativity, quantum mechanics, large sections of general physics, perception psychology, sociology, linguistics, modern math, anthropology, ethology, and several other sciences make perfect sense when put into the software of E-Prime. Each of these sciences generates paradoxes, some bordering on "nonsense" or "gibberish," if you try to translate them back into the software of Standard English.

Concretely, "The electron is a wave" employs the Aristotelian "is" and thereby introduces us to the false-to-experience notion that we can know the indwelling "essence" of the electron. 

"The electron appears as a wave when measured by instrument-1" reports what actually occurred in space-time, namely that the electron when constrained by a certain instrument behaved in a certain way. Similarly, "The electron is a particle" contains medieval Aristotelian software, but "The electron appears as a particle when measured by instrument-2" contains modern scientific software. Once again, the software determines whether we impose a medieval or modern grid upon our reality-tunnel.

Note that "the electron is a wave" and "the electron is a particle" contradict each other and begin the insidious process by which we move gradually from paradox to nonsense to total gibberish. 

On the other hand, the modern scientific statements "the electron appears as a wave when measured one way" and "the electron appears as a particle measured another way" do not contradict, but rather complement each other. (Bohr's Principle of Complementarity, which explained this and revolutionized physics, would have appeared obvious to all, and not just to a person of his genius, if physicists had written in E-Prime all along. . . .)

I have found repeatedly that when baffled by a problem in science, in "philosophy," or in daily life, I gain immediate insight by writing down what I know about the enigma in strict E-Prime. Often, solutions appear immediately - just as happens when you throw out the "wrong" software and put the "right" software into your PC. In other cases, I at least get an insight into why the problem remains intractable and where and how future science might go about finding an answer. (This has contributed greatly to my ever-escalating agnosticism about the political, ideological, and religious issues that still generate the most passion on this primitive planet.)

'Toward Understanding E-Prime'
[Robert Anton Wilson]

Nietzsche does not simply attack the distinction between appearance and reality. He also offers, as we have seen, a psychological account of its origin.

He claims that the distinction is simply a projection onto the external world of our belief that the self is a substance, somehow set over and above its thoughts, desires, and actions.

Language, he writes, "everywhere ... sees a doer and doing; it believes in will as the cause; it believes in the ego, in the ego as being, in the ego as substance, and it projects this faith in the ego-substance upon all things - only thereby does it first create the concept of a 'thing' ... the concept of being follows, and is a derivative of, the concept of ego."

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 171

Fichte's work abounds with such incantations, such as "simply," "completely,” “nothing but,” “really,” “purely," "only, “merely," "absolutely," "unconditionally.”

He knows, for example, "with absolute certainty," "that only by means of real, pure, and true thought, and simply by means of no other organ, can one grasp and bring to oneself the divinity and the blissful life that flows from it.”

In Fichte, this arises from the endeavor to force others to submit to his ideas. It was the despotic impulse for subjugation and the annihilating power of proof.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p.137

Unconditional language betrays a domineering tendency, a desire for others to submit to your view

Within our Western worldview agents carry out actions, nouns/objects interact and bring about changes in each other. The author of a process is a noun, an object, and the verb is its action.

But for the Montagnais reality is profoundly different; it is flux, process and change within which individual human beings are transitory form; and manifest expression of temporary alliances of power, spirits, and energies.

[…] “he sings in the sweat tent,” is really […] an expression of a pure process of singing. It is as if many nouns emerge out of the verbs, the object out of the process […] What is really happening is “singing” - the action, the process. The healer cannot really say that it is “he” who is singing, rather the process of singing is going on.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.144-5

English, Saʼke'j says, is a language for the eye, while an Algonquin language is a language for the ear.

When he has to speak English instead of Mic Maq, Saʼke'j feels that he is being forced to interact with a world of objects, things, rigid boundaries and categories in place of a more familiar world of flows, processes, activities, transformations, and energies.

For Saʼke'j, the Mic Maq language is itself a world of sounds that echoes and reflects the vibrations of the physical world. 

While the surface world of objects and material things can easily be identified by the eye, it is the ear that must deal with the more subtle levels of flux, transformation, and reality behind appearances.

The English language, in his opinion, does little more than mimic what the eye can do far better by giving emphasis to names and objects, while the Algonquin family of languages complements the eye's abilities by addressing a world of sounds and energies. In speaking English Sa'ke'j is also struck by the many metaphors that refer to seeing. We say "Yes, I see that" or speak of an "illuminating idea." Mic Maq, by contrast, places less emphasis upon this world of visual appearances.

The problem with English is that when it tries to grapple with abstractions and categories it tends to trap the mind into believing that such categories have an equal status with tangible objects.

Algonquin languages, being for the ear, deal in vibrations in which each word is related directly, not only to a process of thought, but also to the animating energies of the universe. To the Algonquin people, language is not a duplication of sight, but a complement to it. Thus, "popping wind" is not a representation of reality, or something separate from it; rather it is an integral part.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.231-2

Related posts:-
Shades of Gray
Lost Tribe
All is Change
Escaping Uncertainty
Are You Sure?
Where language ends and art begins
Making it up as we go along
A Difference that makes a Difference
The Eternal Ideas
Middle World
Dancing at the Border

Mediocre / Exceptional

Exceptional                          -                      Mediocre
Representation                     -                      Will
Earthly                                 -                       Transcendent
Desires                                 -                       No desires
Individual                             -                      Universal

Beneath our individual characters there is a universal character - the 'same will in all' as Schopenhauer puts it. This common character is always speaking, but not often heard. If we are able to quiet our will - our various earthly desires - then we are more able to hear its voice.

[...] so long as the knowledge is only that which is involved in the principium individuationis, and which positively follows the principle of sufficient reason, the power of the motives is irresistible.

But when the principium individuationis is seen through, when the Ideas, and indeed the inner nature of the thing-in-itself, are immediately recognized as the same will in all, and the result of this knowledge is a universal quieter of willing, then the individual motives become ineffective, because the kind of knowledge that corresponds to them is obscured and pushed into the background by knowledge of quite a different kind.

[...] the character can never partially change, but must, with the consistency of a law of nature, realize in the particular individual the will whose phenomena it is in general and as a whole. But this whole, the character itself, can be entirely eliminated by the above mentioned change of knowledge.

It is this elimination or suppression at which Asmus marvels, as said above, and which he describes as the "catholic, transcendental change." It is also that which in the Christian Church is very appropriately called new birth or regeneration, and the knowledge from which it springs, the effect of divine grace.

Therefore, it is not a question of change, but of an entire suppression of the character;

and so it happens that, however different the characters that arrived at that suppression were before it, they nevertheless show after it a great similarity in their mode of conduct, although each speaks very differently according to his concepts and dogmas.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.403

[Nietzsche] attacks Christian morality precisely because of its "leveling" effect, its successful effort to prolong the life of a society composed of mediocrities:

"We can see nothing today that wants to grow greater, we suspect that things will continue to go down, more mediocre, more indifferent, more Chinese, more Christian - there is no doubt that human beings are getting 'better' all the time."

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 212

Related posts:-
Growing Down
The Mature Individual
Small Mind/Large Mind 
Everything is connected

Living Things and Dead Things

Dead                     -             Alive
Concept                -             Idea
Man                      -             God
Machine               -             Organism
Closed                  -             Open
Convergent           -            Divergent
Simple                  -            Complex
Limited                 -            Unlimited
Conscious             -             Unconscious
Known                 -             Unknown
Intentional            -             Accidental
Left hemisphere   -             Right hemisphere

Concepts are devices with which we hold the world still. They are structures that we stand upon and live within; and when viewed from 'Middle World' they seem solid enough.

However, walk a little further out, or dig a little deeper, and their supposed solidity is thrown into question. When viewed from outside Middle World our structures are not as consistent, or as solid, as they first appear.

By believing in our structures - that they are solid, real - we are able to create grand illusions: vast organisations, towering buildings, complex bureaucracies. It is through putting our faith in the idea of permanence - through taking our games seriously, and our stories literally - that we have been able to construct the monumental edifice of Modernity, with its many rewards.

Perhaps this is one reason why traditional societies, like the Blackfoot - who were less inclined to view things as static, or solid - did not build such edifices. They did not take things seriously enough.

Whereas the scientistic approach tends to see mysteries - things that are ill-defined - as problems to be solved, a traditional approach would be more likely to leave the mystery alone. The insoluble problem becomes instead a fertile symbol, unceasingly giving rise to 'fantasy and reflection.'

Schumacher calls those problems that can't be solved 'divergent.' A divergent problem is formed by the interplay of opposites, both of which call for recognition. We can see this interplay as a form of 'opponent processing', where a desired outcome is achieved via the tension of opposites. To treat a divergent, complex problem as convergent and simple, is to only recognise a single pole of the opposition - it is, in a sense, to deny the validity of the opposition.

Foundational myths of traditional cultures remained to some degree present and alive. For the Pintupi, such stories didn't take place in the past, rather they occurred in the 'The Dreaming', a kind of timeless alternative reality whose events and figures are always proximate. Contrast this with the myths of modernity - our scientific theories - which are constantly, and necessarily, outmoded; and which are always, therefore, insufficient

The Idea is the unity that has fallen into plurality by virtue of the temporal and spatial form of our intuitive apprehension.

The concept, on the other hand, is the unity once more produced out of plurality by means of abstraction through our faculty of reason;

the latter can be described as unitas post rem, and the former as unitas ante rem.

Finally we can express the distinction between concept and Idea figuratively, by saying that the concept is like a dead receptacle in which whatever has been put actually lies side by side, but from which no more can be taken out (by analytical judgements) than has been put in (by synthetical reflection).

The Idea, on the other hand, develops in him who has grasped it representations that are new as regards the concept of the same name; it is like a living organism, developing itself and endowed with generative force, which brings forth that which was not previously put into it.

Now it follows from all that has been said that the concept, useful as it is in life, serviceable, necessary, and productive as it is in science, is eternally barren and unproductive in art. The apprehended Idea, on the contrary, is the true and only source of every genuine work of art.

The generation, in other words the dull multitude of any time, itself knows only concepts and sticks to them; it therefore accepts mannered works with ready and loud applause. After a few years, however, these works become unpalatable, because the spirit of the times, in other words the prevailing concepts, in which alone those works could take root, has changed.

Only the genuine works that are drawn directly from nature and life remain eternally young and strong, like nature and life itself. For they belong to no age, but to mankind; and for this reason they are received with indifference by their own age to which they distained to conform; and because they indirectly and negatively exposed the errors of the age, they were recognized tardily and reluctantly.

Now, if the purpose of all art is the communication of the apprehended Idea, this Idea is then grasped by the man of weaker susceptibility and no productive capacity through the medium of the artist's mind, in which it appears isolated and purged of everything foreign;

further, if starting from the concept is objectionable in art, then we shall not be able to approve, when a work of art is intentionally and avowedly chosen to express a concept; this is the case in allegory.

An allegory is a work of art signifying something different from what it depicts. But that which is perceptive, and consequently the Idea as well, expresses itself immediately and completely, and does not require the medium of another thing through which it is outlined or suggested. Therefore that which is suggested and represented in this way by something quite different is always a concept, because it cannot itself be brought before perception.

Hence through the allegory a concept is always to be signified, and consequently the mind of the beholder has to be turned aside from the depicted representation of perception to one that is quite different, abstract, and not perceptive, and lies entirely outside the work of art. Here, therefore, the picture or statue is supposed to achieve what a written work achieves far more perfectly.

[...] certainly no great perfection in the work of art is demanded for what is here intended; on the contrary, it is enough if we see what the thing is supposed to be; for as soon as this is found, the end is reached, and the mind is then led on to quite a different kind of representation, to an abstract concept which was the end in view.

If in plastic and pictorial art we are led from what is immediately given to something else, this must always be a concept, because here only the abstract cannot be immediately given. But a concept can never be the source, and its communication can never be the aim, of a work of art. On the other hand, in poetry the concept is the material, the immediately given, and we can therefore very well leave it, in order to bring about something perceptive which is entirely different, and in which the end is attained.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.234-7, 240

We continue the iconoclast habit and destroy images in religion and literature through allegory and in psychology through conceptual interpretation. (This kitten in your dream is your feeling function; this dog, your sexual desire; this great snake coiled in the corner is your unconscious, or mother, or anxiety.)

The image is slain and stuffed with concepts or vanishes into an abstraction.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.70-1

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. 

I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

[J.R.R. Tolkien]

Calling a story an allegory is intellectually lazy, unless the author intended it to be so. It tricks people into forcing themselves to accept one possible explanation for any story, if it has a "lesson." 

 On some level it is also insulting to an author to suggest that their entire work is a one-to-one substitution to an actual event, unless it is strictly intended. Calling an Onion article an allegory wouldn't be insulting, as each article specifically tackles an issue of choice; it is a lampooning of one aspect of modern culture per article, and the whole production of works is great, because of the format. But it is intended.

LotR is often considered an allegory to WWII, and the Ring has been compared to nuclear weaponry or even nationalism. I personally don't find any of those interpretations to hold much merit, as they lack any of the metaphysical aspects of the object in question.

I mean, really, it's magic.

Some allegories really are timeless lessons in philosophy and folk wisdom and should not be discounted. No one argues the conversation that can result from discussing the Allegory of the Cave or any of the Parables.

However, these allegories all have an intended purpose and point to them, as well as a specific audience that is intended to hear them. To reduce the entirety of the story of LotR into one lesson or one point is reductive.

'Why did Tolkien hate allegory?' 

[...] men, that is to say, are now writing only with the male side of their brains [...] It is the power of suggestion that one most misses, I thought, taking Mr B the critic in my hand and reading, very carefully and very dutifully, his remarks upon the art of poetry.

Very able they were, acute and full of learning; but the trouble was that his feelings no longer communicated; his mind seemed separated into different chambers; not a sound carried from one to the other.

Thus, when one takes a sentence of Mr B into the mind it falls plump to the ground - dead; but when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life.

[Virginia Woolf]
A Room of One's Own, p.117

Critics who want to escape from the mysteriousness of the work try to replace it by the intention they ascribe to the artist.

A few years ago, Robert Klein argued that it is no longer possible to judge a painting or sculpture without knowing who made it and in what spirit. When we look at a contemporary painting in a gallery, we search for the artist’s name and the title of the painting, if it has one. We do this not out of mere helplessness or curiosity but in the hope of seeing the work as the fulfilment of an intention.

What Klein meant, I think, was that the work of art now persists chiefly as an indication of an intention; it is as an embodied intention that it can best be studied. It is comforting to be in the presence of intentions we understand because the considerations of psychology and economics aren’t at all mysterious—discussion of them is easy.

You’ll recall the incident, a few years ago, when the Tate Gallery paid good domestic cash for a work called 'Equivalent VIII', a load of bricks laid on the floor by the artist Carl Andre. Andre’s intention was far more interesting than the bricks or the order in which he assembled them.

'I sever matter from depiction,’ he said, ‘I am the Turner of matter’. He meant that in choosing bricks, metal plates, or bales of hay, he chooses things that are associated with particular uses, and he diverts them from those uses so that he can give them intrinsic existence.

(Andre's materials have not already become what their manufacturer wanted them finally to be: as, for instance, a car-mirror (Joseph Bueys) or a lavatory seat (Duchamp).)

Normally we look at things mainly for their use; we deal with them as we deal with the wallpaper in our rooms, we would notice it only if it was gone, torn or daubed with black paint.

Carl Andre wants much the same result. Looking at his bricks, we see them as such, as objects: the artist has forced us to pay attention. He doesn’t claim that there is anything sacred in the bricks themselves, or even in his way of disposing them.

Andre regards the artistic event as a combination of the artist’s intention and our way of receiving it. Is there anything against this? No, except that art in this sense can have no history other than that of its intention.

Once we have taken the point and resolved to amend our lives accordingly, there is nothing more to do. Like any one of Andy Warhol’s films, it is not necessary to see it, it’s enough to understand that it is there, and why.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 36

The way I think about making exhibitions is less about having an argument I’m trying to prove to the world - that this is the right way to think, or to see - it’s more a hypothetical story that I’m trying to tell.

I’m trying to keep it as open as possible, to provide lots of different entry points for different audiences. I’m not interested in trying to hammer away at people's perceptions to make sure they only see it one way.

I do an exhibition because I want to know what the show is about, and if I already did know what it was about then I would not find much interest in doing the show, because it just becomes an exercise in illustrating an argument I’ve already figured out.

For me its more exciting, and more alive, to [not know what it’s about].

[Anthony Huberman]
'Anthony Huberman on For the Blind Man…' 

While the Western world, and particularly Western science, converts the world into a series of concepts that can then be manipulated in the mind, such concepts do not come so easily in the Blackfoot language.

Their philosophy deals with relationships to individual things rather than to collections of similar objects, or ideas into fixed concepts.

Likewise names of things are not fixed. A person's name will change several times during his or her lifetime and to reflect particular deeds and attitudes. Neither is there a fixed concept of personality.

Indeed, while we find multiple personality to be a mental aberration, the Blackfoot would view someone who believed they had only a single self, more or less fixed for life, as missing out on the richness of life's possibilities.

In place of fixed laws and organizations the Blackfoot have networks of relationships with all living things, including rocks and trees, as well as compacts that were negotiated by their ancestors with the spirits and energies of the cosmos. In a world of flux each person has an obligation to renew these relationships and compacts.

And so the Blackfoot world is one of ceremony and responsibility and the recognition of life's basic impermanence. How different their vision of reality is from that which has created our vast organizations, multinationals, and government bureaucracies.

As yet the deeper meaning of quantum theory and process reality has not permeated into our general culture. However, the world of the Blackfoot does show that a society can function in a world of process.

[F. David Peat]
From Certainty to Uncertainty, p. 69-70

The contextual versus abstract distinction is illustrated by the different use of symbols by each hemisphere.

In one sense of the word, a symbol such as the rose is the focus or centre of an endless network of connotations which ramify through our physical and mental, personal and cultural, experience in life, literature and art: the strength of the symbol is in direct proportion to the power it has to convey an array of implicit meanings, which need to remain implicit to be powerful.

In this it is like a joke that has several layers of meaning - explaining them destroys its power.

The other sort of symbol could be exemplified by the red traffic light: its power lies in its use, and its use depends on a 1:1 mapping of the command 'stop' onto the colour red, which precludes ambiguity and has to be explicit.

This sort of symbolic function is in the realm of the left hemisphere, while the first type belongs to the realm of the right.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and His Emissary, p. 51

Any work of art which is simply a copy, simply a piece of knowledge, something which, like science, is simply the product of careful observation and then of noting down in scrupulous terms what you have seen in a fully lucid, accurate and scientific manner - that is death.

Life in a work of art is analogous with - is some kind of quality the work has in common with - what we admire in nature, namely some kind of power, force, energy, life, vitality bursting forth.

That is why the great [works of art] are called great, because we see in them not merely the surface, not merely the technique, not merely the form which the artist, perhaps consciously, imposed, but also something of which the artist may not be wholly aware, namely the pulsations within him of some kind of infinite spirit of which he happens to be the particularly articulate and self-conscious representative.

When this is lacking, when the whole thing is wholly conventional, done according to rules, done in the full self-conscious blaze of complete awareness of what one is doing, the product is of necessity elegant, symmetrical and dead.

This is something to do with the notion of depth [...] According to the romantics [...] what I mean by depth, although they do not discuss it under that name, is inexhaustibility, unembraceability.

[...] in the case of works which are profound the more I say the more remains to be said. There is no doubt that, although I attempt to describe what their profundity consists in, as soon as I speak it becomes quite clear that, no matter how long I speak, new chasms open. No matter what I say I always have to leave three dots at the end.

'Can the sacred be seized?' asked Friedrich Schlegel, and he replied, 'No, it can never be seized because the mere imposition of form deforms it.'

[Isaiah Berlin]
The Roots of Romanticism, p. 98-9, 103-4

A thing explained is a thing we have no further concern with. - What did that god mean who counselled: 'know thyself!'? Does that perhaps mean: 'Have no further concern with thyself! become objective!'- And Socrates ? - And the man of science'? -

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
Beyond Good and Evil, 80

The question arises of whether agriculture is, in fact, an industry, or whether it might be something essentially different. Not surprisingly, as this is a metaphysical - or meta-economic – question, it is never raised by economists.

Now, the fundamental 'principle’ of agriculture is that it deals with life, that is to say, with living substances. Its products are the results of processes of life and its means of production is the living soil. A cubic centimetre of fertile soil contains milliards of living organisms, the full exploration of which is far beyond the capacities of man. 

The fundamental 'principle’ of modern industry, on the other hand, is that it deals with man-devised processes which work reliably only when applied to man-devised, non-living materials. The ideal of industry is the elimination of living substances. 

Man-made materials are preferable to natural materials, because we can make them to measure and apply perfect quality control. Man-made machines work more reliably and more predictably than do such living substances as men. The ideal of industry is to eliminate the living factor, even including the human factor, and to turn the productive process over to machines. 

Alfred North Whitehead defined life as 'an offensive directed against the repetitious mechanism of the universe', so we may define modern industry as 'an offensive against the unpredictability, unpunctuality, general waywardness and cussedness of living nature, including man'.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 91

But the unity of principle found in organisms and evidenced in their form's growth, maturation, and development is not explicable through "mere mechanism," Kant realized. The causal connections implicated in intrinsic physical ends "involve regressive as well as progressive dependency"  and are a priori in the sense mentioned earlier. 

An organism is not a machine and therefore cannot be understood mechanistically precisely because machines lack formative power, that is, they neither produce nor reproduce themselves, nor do they self-organize. 

"Organization' and its cognates, such as "organism," Kant noted, refer to a structure wherein a member is not only a means but also an end; it both contributes to the whole and is defined by it. No machine exhibits this kind of organization, for the efficient cause of a machine lies "outside” the machine in its designer, and its parts do not owe their existence to each other or to the whole. A machine, unlike an organized being, exhibits solely motive power. 

Organisms, on the contrary, self-organize.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.47

Reason, system and comprehension kill as they "cognize." 

That which is cognized becomes a rigid object, capable of measurement and subdivision. Intuitive vision, on the other hand, vivifies and incorporates the details in a living inwardly-felt unity. Poetry and historical study are kin. Calculation and cognition also are kin. But, as Hebbel says somewhere, systems are not dreamed, and art-works are not calculated or (what is the same thing) thought out. 

Becoming has no number. We can count, measure, dissect only the lifeless and so much of the living as can be dissociated from livingness. Pure becoming, pure life, is in this sense incapable of being bounded. It lies beyond the domain of cause and effect, law and measure.

The artist or the real historian sees the becoming of a thing, and he can reenact its becoming from its lineaments, whereas the systematist, whether he be physicist, logician, evolutionist or pragmatical historian, learns the thing that has become. 

The artist's soul, like the soul of a Culture, is something potential that may actualize itself, something complete and perfect - in the language of an older philosophy, a microcosm. The systematic spirit, narrow and withdrawn (“abs-tract") from the sensual, is an autumnal and passing phenomenon belonging to the ripest conditions of a Culture. 

Linked with the city, into which its life is more and more herded, it comes and goes with the city. In the Classical world, there is science only from the 6th-century Ionians to the Roman period, but there was art in the Classical world for just as long as there was existence.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 95, 102

But, if the characteristics, or rather the characteristic, of extension - limit and causality - is really wizard's gear wherewith our proper soul attempts to conjure and bind alien powers - Goethe speaks somewhere of the “principle of reasonable order that we bear within ourselves and could impress as the seal of our power upon everything that we touch" - if all law is a fetter which our world-dread hurries to fix upon the incrowding sensuous, a deep necessity of self-preservation, so also the invention of a time that is knowable and spatially representable within causality is a later act of this same self-preservation, an attempt to bind by the force of notion the tormenting inward riddle that is doubly tormenting to the intellect that has attained power only to find itself defied. 

Always a subtle hatred underlies the intellectual process by which anything is forced into the domain and form-world of measure and law. The living is killed by being introduced into space, for space is dead and makes dead. With birth is given death, with the fulfilment the end. 

Something dies within the woman when she conceives — hence comes that eternal hatred of the sexes, child of world-fear. The man destroys, in a very deep sense, when he begets - by bodily act in the sensuous world, by "knowing" in the intellectual […] And with the "knowledge" of life - which remains alien to the lower animals — the knowledge of death has gained that power which dominates man's whole waking consciousness. By a picture of time the actual is changed into the transitory.

The mere creation of the name Time was an unparalleled deliverance. To name anything by a name is to win power over it. This is the essence of primitive man's art of magic – the evil powers are constrained by naming them, and the enemy is weakened or killed by coupling certain magic procedures with his name.  

And there is something of this primitive expression of world-fear in the way in which all systematic philosophies use mere names as a last resort for getting rid of the Incomprehensible, the Almighty that is all too mighty for the intellect. We name something or other the "Absolute," and we feel ourselves at once its superior. 

Philosophy, the love of Wisdom, is at the very bottom defence against the incomprehensible. What is named, comprehended, measured is ipso facto overpowered, made inert and taboo. Once more, "knowledge is power." 

Herein lies one root of the difference between the idealist's and the realist's attitude towards the Unapproachable; it is expressed by the two meanings of the German word Scheu - respect and abhorrence. The idealist contemplates, the realist would subject, mechanize, render innocuous. Plato and Goethe accept the secret in humility, Aristotle and Kant would open it up and destroy it. 

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 123-4

The soul is a deliberately ambiguous concept […] in the same manner as all ultimate symbols which provide the root metaphors for the systems of human thought. 

Symbols, as we know, are not completely within our control, so that we are not able to use the word in an unambiguous way, even though we take it to refer to that unknown human factor which makes meaning possible, which turns events into experiences, which is communicated in love and which has a religious concern. 

"Matter” and “nature" and "energy" have ultimately the same ambiguity; so too have “life,” “health.”

[James Hillman]
Suicide and the Soul, p. 43-47

[…] where we are concerned with phenomena on a grand scale and with colossal movements, nothing is more precise than a vague word.

[Giovanni Papini]
Il crepuscolo dei filosofi, 56


What is it - the Soul?

If the mere reason could give an answer to that question, the science would be ab initio unnecessary […] this is no notion, but a name, a prime-word like God, a sign for something of which we have an immediate inward certainty but which we are for ever unable to describe.

We are dealing here with something eternally inaccessible to learned investigation. It is not for nothing that every language presents a baffling complexity of labels for the spiritual, warning us thereby that it is something not susceptible of theoretical synthesis or systematic ordering. Here there is nothing for us to order.

Critical (i.e., literally, separating) methods apply only to the world-as-Nature. It would be easier to break up a theme of Beethoven with dissecting-knife or acid than to break up the soul by methods of abstract thought.

Nature-knowledge and man-knowledge have neither aims nor ways in common. The primitive man experiences “soul,” first in other men and then in himself, as a Numen, just as he knows numina of the outer world, and develops his impressions in mythological form.

His words for these things are symbols, sounds, not descriptive of the indescribable but indicative of it for him who hath ears to hear. They evoke images, likenesses (in the sense of Faust II) – the only language of spiritual intercourse that man has discovered to this day […]

Certain ineffable stirrings of soul can be imparted by one man to the sensibility of another man through a look, two bars of a melody, an almost imperceptible movement. That is the real language of souls, and it remains incomprehensible to the outsider.

The word as utterance, as poetic clement, may establish the link, but the word as notion, as element of scientific prose, never.

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, Vol. 1, p. 300

The archetypal anima expressed through the voice of Diotima would seem to want to shift the phallus-penis mystery from the level of insoluble problem to that of symbol - an object for and source of continuing fantasy. 

In this way it becomes a creative symbol and a symbol of the creative, since it unceasingly gives rise to psychic fantasy and reflection.

[James Hillman]
The Myth of Analysis, p. 65

To convert the creative mystery into a problem for solution is not only indecent but impossible. 

The analysis of creativity would mean laying bare the nature of man and the nature of creation. These are mysteries concerning whence we have come, from what we live, and whither we return. They do not yield to analysis, to an explanatory psychology. 

We may speculate and fantasy and with our logos tell a tale, that is, confabulate a bit, bringing a mythologem as contribution to "creativity” in celebration of it, communion with it; but we will not attend its sacrifice (were this even possible), not its ritual dismemberment by psychological analysis. Therefore, there shall be no definition, which limits and cuts, but rather amplification, which extends and connects. 

[James Hillman]
The Myth of Analysis, p. 30-1

Helmholtz observed, in a lecture of 1869 that has become famous, that “the final aim of Natural Science is to discover the motions underlying all alteration, and the motive forces thereof; that is, to resolve itself into Mechanics." 

What this resolution into mechanics means is the reference of all qualitative impressions to fixed quantitative base-values, that is, to the extended and to change of place therein. It means, further - if we bear in mind the opposition of becoming and become, form and law, image and notion — the referring of the seen Nature-picture to the imagined picture of a single numerically and structurally measurable Order. 

The specific tendency of all Western mechanics is towards an intellectual conquest by measurement, and it is therefore obliged to look for the essence of the phenomenon in a system of constant elements that are susceptible of full and inclusive appreciation by measurement, of which Helmholtz distinguishes motion (using the word in its everyday sense) as the most important.

To the physicist this definition appears unambiguous and exhaustive, but to the sceptic who has followed out the history of this scientific conviction, it is very far from being either. To the physicist, present-day mechanics is a logical system of clear, uniquely-significant concepts and of simple, necessary relations; while to the other it is a picture distinctive of the structure of the West-European spirit, though he admits that the picture is consistent in the highest degree and most impressively convincing. 

[Oswald Spengler]
The Decline of the West, p. 377

With a convergent problem, as already mentioned, the answers suggested for its solution tend to converge, to become increasingly precise; they can be finalised and written down in the form of an instruction.

Once the answer has been found, the problem ceases to be interesting: a solved problem is a dead problem. 

To make use of the solution does not require any higher faculties or abilities - the challenge is gone, the work is done. Whoever makes use of the solution can remain relatively passive; he is a recipient, getting something for nothing, as it were.

Convergent problems relate to the dead aspect of the Universe, where manipulation can proceed without let or hindrance and where man can make himself 'master and possessor', because the subtle, higher forces, which we have labelled life, consciousness and self-awareness, are not there to complicate matters.

Wherever these higher forces intervene to a significant extent, the problem ceases to be convergent.

We can say, therefore, that convergence may be expected with regard to any problem that does not involve life, consciousness or self-awareness, which means in the fields of physics, chemistry, astronomy, in abstract subjects like geometry and mathematics, or in games like chess. The moment we are dealing with problems involving the higher Levels of Being, we must expect divergence, for there enters, to however modest a degree, the element of freedom and inner experience.

Looked at from another angle, we see the most universal pair of opposites, the very hallmark of life: growth and decay […] These basic pairs of opposites […] are encountered wherever there is life, consciousness, self-awareness.

As we have seen, it is pairs of opposites that make a problem divergent, while the absence of pairs of opposites (of this basic character) ensures convergence.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.144-5

If some physicists now think of God as a great mathematician, this is a significant reflection of the fact that 'instructive science' deals only with the dead aspect of nature.

Mathematics, after all, is far removed from life. At its heights it certainly manifests a severe kind of beauty and also a captivating elegance, which may even be taken as a sign of Truth; but, equally certainly, it has no warmth, none of life's messiness of growth, and decay, hope and despair, joy and suffering.

This must never be overlooked or forgotten: physics and the other instructional sciences limit themselves to the lifeless aspect of reality, and this is necessarily so if the aim and purpose of science is to produce predictable results.

Life, and, even more so, consciousness and self-awareness, cannot be ordered about; they have, we might say, a will of their own, which is a sign of maturity.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.122-3

Custom concerns the ordinary and unexceptional; memory, the extraordinary and unexpected. Custom surrounds itself with silence, a hushed air of veneration; memory, with oratory, disputation, dialectic.

Societies that set a high value on custom take little interest in their own origins, whereas societies unified (and divided) by memories cultivate a founding myth that remains a point of moral reference and recalls men and women to an awareness of their civic obligations.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.131

Don’t lose sight of the founding myth - keeping it in mind keeps the culture flexible and vital. When it is forgotten then customs lose their meaning and become empty, dry routines.

In Australia one finds the dream tracks, or songlines, made by the Ancestors when they walked the land.

And, recalling that time is neither linear nor an arrow, we should realize that this time of the dreaming of the Australian Aborigines is not something that exists only in an absolute past, nor should dreaming be associated with our Western sense of what a dream is.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.266

Narratives have a strange temporal nature. Their function is not primarily to remember the past, but to re-enact past events as present events.

The meaning of the narrative lies not in the fact that it is supported by some important piece of history, but in the metre and rhythm of its present telling.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.128

If language is closed off, if it is formalised into a stable system in which meaning is fixed, it will die, or was dead to start with. A living language is in a state far from equilibrium. It changes, it is in contact with other languages, it is abused and transformed.

This does not mean that meaning is a random or arbitrary process. It means that meaning is a local phenomenon, valid in a certain frame of time and space.

Since every language also has a history - a history co-responsible for the meaning of terms - meaning is more stable than one would think, even within the context of a model that values flux and proliferation. Words bear with them the traces of previous meanings that cannot be discarded at will.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.124

Whether you are examining past societies or living and acting within one today, it’s important to distinguish between live and dead players.

A live player is a person or well-coordinated group of people that is able to do things they have not done before. A dead player is a person or group of people that is working off a script, incapable of doing new things.

A player will also die if their tight coordination is replaced by formal structures, which can happen as members of an organization change. If you’re constrained by formal structures, it becomes harder to go off script, and this won’t be adaptive enough. Remember, however, that tight coordination can be achieved by just one exceptional person.

[Samo Burja]
‘Live versus Dead Players’

Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it.

Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors — the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

[Chief Seattle]
'Chief Seattle's 1854 Oration'

If the sign, the signifier, is completely absorbed by meaning, by the signified, then language loses all its magic and splendour. It becomes purely informational; it works instead of plays.

Eloquence and linguistic elegance also derive from the luxury of the signifier. Only through the overabundance, the excess, of the signifier does language appear magical, poetic and seductive:

“This overabundant order of the signifier is that of magic (and poetry)… The long work of joining signifier and signified, the work of reason, somehow brakes and absorbs this fatal profusion.

The magical seduction of the word must be reduced, annulled. And it will be so the day when all signifiers receive their signifieds, when all has become meaning and reality.”

What is mysterious is not the signified but the signifier without the signified. Magic spells do not convey any meaning. They are empty signs, so to speak. That is why they appear magical, like doors that lead nowhere.

Ritual signs cannot be assigned a determinate meaning either. Thus, they appear enigmatic. As language becomes increasingly functional and informational, the overabundance, the excess, of the signifier diminishes. Language is disenchanted.

Pure information is nothing magical. It does not seduce. Language develops its magnificence, its seductive power, only thanks to the overabundance of the signifier.

The culture of information has lost the magic that comes from the empty signifier. We now live in a culture of the signified, which dismisses the signifier, form, as something external. Our culture is hostile to pleasure and form.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.61-2

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