Life and Death (and everything in-between)

+                                                     -
Life                          -                    Death
Con-   Syn-              -                    De-
Together                   -                   Apart
Addition                   -                    Division
Synergy                    -                   Entropy
Synthesis                  -                    Analysis
Induction                  -                    Deduction
Construct                  -                    Destroy
Concentrate              -                    Decentrate
Conserve                   -                    Deplete
Confirm                     -                    Deny
Connote                     -                     Denote
Centripetal                -                    Centrifugal
Attach                       -                     Detach
Close                         -                    Distant
Tight                          -                    Loose
Conservative              -                    Liberal

Stay on the left too long and we seize up, become a statue.
Stay on the right too long and we fall apart, lose ourselves.

In all things there is a pull towards dissolution, and an opposite pull towards unification. This tug of war is everywhere, at all scales; from a society, to the bodies that make up that society, to the cells that make up those bodies.

It is the interchange between life and death.

Life is a combining of things; to preserve life, things must be kept together. Death, on the other hand, strives to pull those things apart.

When we look at a society we can see these processes. There are always those who pull towards the centre. These are the individuals who aim to preserve the status quo, who want to keep things as they are. We could call this a drive towards life, inasmuch as change would mean death to society in its current form, for it to be reborn in another. And of course, that new form would require its life force - those pulling inwards - in order to keep it healthy.

There are also those who pull in the opposite direction, towards the outside.  They want to pull society apart. We could call them change agents, and they represent the drive towards death, death being synonymous with change.

Neither of these are any better than the other. Context defines their value. When something is not working, when it must be pulled apart, then those that seek to keep it together could be described as dysfunctional. When something is working, and must be kept together, then the situation is reversed.

Status-quo agents will always insist that it is working; or that, at the very least, it is ‘okay’; that death is too extreme; that change is not necessary.

Change agents will always insist that it is not working; that it is never okay; that change is always necessary.

Perhaps it remains, then, to those that lie in-between to decide what is necessary; life, or death?

None of us are ever all for life, or all for death. We all contain both poles within us. However, it may be true to say that we contain them in differing amounts. So there will be some that are inclined towards the status quo in any given situation; who feel an urge to conserve and protect. And there are others who are more inclined to pull at the seams; to question and critique. So whilst we all lie in between life and death, some lie nearer to one than the other. It is their combination that produces balance, and health. It is, therefore, imperative for the health of any collective, that all voices are given an airing.

It is context that defines which voice is heeded in any given situation. If you have something that works then you would be wise to amplify those voices that seek to keep it together and to diminish those voices that seek to pull it apart. If you have something that does not work then the opposite is true.

Barthes disapproves of any art that merely makes itself available to gratify its culture.

According to this view, Fisher-Dieskau is flattering petit-bourgeois society by offering it an image of its own perfection, of the sense of itself as perfect. He allows his talent to coincide with the particular kind of perfection a petit-bourgeois culture dreams of. Panzera’s art, apparently, set itself aslant its culture.

For the same reason, Barthes prefers Landowska to other harpsichordists, and Lipatti to other pianists: their playing is never flattened to perfection, they don’t add intention to the music or fuss over its every detail, contrary to petit-bourgeois art which, according to Barthes, is ‘always indiscreet.’

[…] Barthes argued that every aesthetic merit depends upon an interrogative and ultimately subversive relation between the art and its society. There should always be a certain recalcitrance.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 58

Those at the periphery are interested in deconstructing culture, rather than perfecting it. They seek alternatives to the status quo - new paths, new solutions, new forms. They adhere to the principle of destruction, and are moved by a centrifugal force.

Those at the centre adhere to the principle of creation, or consolidation, and are moved by a centripetal force. They are interested in the perfection of certain prescribed forms.

Barthes was, perhaps, someone who dwelled at the outskirts, and as such wasn’t interested in confirmatory, petit-bourgeois art. Barthes valued art as exploration, as a means to find alternatives to the conventional forms of the centre.

Donoghue paints him as a partisan, as someone who was committed to the ideals of the periphery to the exclusion of the centre. Accordingly, he doesn’t value art as confirmation: he insists that art always ought to be interrogative, subversive, and recalcitrant in its relation to society; that it ought never to be entirely enamoured. As a partisan, he cannot (or will not) see the value of his opposition; he cannot enjoy confirmatory art, it repels his sensibility (and his politics).

In Barthes’s view, society can never be entirely good, or good-enough; it must always be questioned.

It seems to me that society should be both questioned, and accepted. In other words, there must be those elements within it that confirm it, and those that deny it. Society itself exists as a tug of war between these factions. As with most partisans, Barthes, seemingly, can't admit to the value of his opponent; perhaps because to do so would be to weaken his hand. He is embattled; and in a battle any gesture of reconciliation may be turned against you. 

The most fundamental observation that one can make about the observable universe [...] is that there are at all levels forces that tend to coherence and unification, and forces that tend to incoherence and separation.

The tension between them seems to be an inalienable condition of existence, regardless of the level at which one contemplates it.

The hemispheres of the human brain, I believe, are an expression of this necessary tension. And the two hemispheres also adopt different stances about their differences: the right hemisphere towards cohesion of their two dispositions, the left hemisphere towards competition between them.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 128-9

The forces of the past tend to cause clockwise drift in the Cynefin space: people living together and sharing mutual needs lead to the emergence of ideas; convenience leads to stabilization and ordering of the ideas; tradition solidifies the ideas into ritual; and sometimes, either lack of maintenance or the buildup of biases leads to breakdown.

The forces of the future push dynamics to the counter-clockwise: the death of people and obsolescence of roles cause what is known to be forgotten and require seeking; new generations filled with curiosity begin new explorations that question the validity of established patterns; the energy of youth breaks the rules and brings radical shifts in power and perspective; and sometimes imposition of order is the result.

In a sense, these two forces are always pulling society in both directions at once, and this is reflected in organizations as well. 

[Cynthia Kurtz & Dave Snowden]
'The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world'

The weak and quasi feminine type of the dissatisfied has a sensitivity for making life more beautiful and profound; the strong or masculine type, to stick to this metaphor, has a sensitivity for making life better and safer.

The former type manifests its weaknesses and femininity by gladly being deceived occasionally and settling for a little intoxication and effusive enthusiasm, although it can never be satisfied altogether and suffers from the incurability of its dissatisfaction. Moreover, this type promotes all those who know how to provide opiates and narcotic consolations, and it resents all who esteem physicians above priests: thus it assures the continuation of real misery. 

If this type had not been superabundant in Europe since the Middle Ages, the celebrated European capacity for constant change might never have come into existence, for the requirements of the strong among the dissatisfied are too crude and at bottom so undemanding that eventually they can surely be brought to rest.
China, for example, is a country in which large-scale dissatisfaction and the capacity for change have become extinct centuries ago; and the socialists and state idolaters of Europe with their measures for making life better and safer might easily establish in Europe, too, Chinese conditions and a Chinese "happiness," if only they could first extirpate the sicklier, tenderer, more feminine dissatisfaction and romanticism that at present are still superabundant here. 

Europe is sick but owes the utmost gratitude to her incurability and to the eternal changes in her affliction: these constantly new conditions and these no less constantly new dangers, pains, and media of information have finally generated an intellectual irritability that almost amounts to genius and is in any case the mother of all genius.

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 24

[…] those who live according to time, the changing and destroying element, fix and conserve themselves; those who live according to space, the fixed and permanent element, disperse themselves and change unceasingly. 

This must be so in order that the existence of each may remain possible, for in this way at least a relative equilibrium is established between the terms representing the two contrary tendencies; if only one or the other of the compressive and expansive tendencies were in action the end would come soon, either by ‘crystallization' or by 'volatilization’ […]

This is why nomadism, in its ‘malefic' and deviated aspect, easily comes to exercise a ‘dissolving’ action on everything with which it comes into contact; sedentarism on its side, and under the same aspect, must inevitably lead only toward the grossest form of an aimless materialism.

[René Guénon] 
The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, p.149

[…] the business of poets and other prophets is not only to celebrate things, and it is certainly not to go on always celebrating the same things.

Just as often, they need to denounce things, to shake us from our dogmatic slumbers, to warn us, to point to what is going wrong. Sometimes, that is, they have to act as unacknowledged legislators of the world.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.65

[…] John Stuart Mill called it “commonplace” for political systems to have “‘a party of order or stability and a party of progress or reform’... 

The antagonism between two primal mindsets certainly pervades human history: Sparta and Athens; optimates and populares; Roundheads and Cavaliers; Inquisition and Enlightenment; Protagonus and Plato; Pope Urban VIII and Galileo; Barry Goldwater and George McGovern; Sarah Palin and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

[Jonathan Haidt]
‘Ideological differences in the expanse of the moral circle’, p.8

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