From one extreme to another?


Liquid                      -                    Solid
Progressive              -                    Conservative
Chaos                       -                    Order
Surface                     -                    Depth
Unlimited                 -                    Limited
Sky                           -                    Ground


In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. 

As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

[Harold Pinter]
Nobel Lecture, 'Art, Truth & Politics'


In this post I talked about the idea of exclusion, and made the case that exclusion is inherent in creation. In other words, whenever a thing comes into being (be it an physical object, or a mental construct), it does so by not being all of the other things it could have been. From a chaotic multitude, certain characteristics are selected and this collection of elements constitutes the thing in question. An order, or direction, is imposed.

You are tall and not short; you like quiet places rather than busy ones; you are Left and not Right: creation is a process of narrowing down; from all possibilities, to these ones.

All structures are made from constituent parts; including and bonding separate elements into something greater (if it is a healthy structure it will be coherent, i.e. its parts will follow a common set of instructions; if it is unhealthy, it will be incoherent). In this sense, structure is also synonymous with ‘story,’ ‘category,’ ‘group,’ ‘identity,’ and so on. Any ‘thing’ that you can think of will be composed of other ‘things’. Any ‘thing’ has borders, and defends its borders. A borderless ‘thing’ is no ‘thing’ at all.

From this it follows that any structure, by its nature, is exclusive; that exclusion is a vital element in how we build structures. A thing is this thing because it is not every other thing. You are who you are because of your preferences, the things that you say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to; that you include and exclude.

However, exclusion is not a fashionable word these days, which is one of the reasons why I feel it important to assert its value. It is a vital part of a balance, and as such has a crucial role to play in how we apprehend the world.

Postmodern culture - that is, the culture that more or less predominates at the minute - arose in part as a reaction to too much structure. It is accordingly characterised by the urge to break structure down, and was crystallised in the philosophy known as post-structuralism, espoused by the likes of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze (if you look at the binary at the top of this page, then postmodernism is characterised by those words on the left hand side).

At its heart, postmodernism is opposed to any form of categorization (i.e. structure-building) because categorizing excludes, limits, and separates. Its god is Hermes, the shapeshifter; he who dances from here to there but never stays put; never puts down roots. Like quicksilver, he refuses form, and eludes all categories.

Postmodernism started life as a reactionary movement; a tugging on the pendulum of culture, a pendulum that had swung, in the eyes of many, too far in one direction. But like any reactionary movement, it was inherently imbalanced. In order to counteract the prevailing trends of the day it took an oppositional stance: inasmuch as white was the shade of the establishment, it clothed itself entirely in black.

And this is the crucial point. By defining itself in opposition to what had gone before it threw the baby out with the bathwater. A balanced approach would have been to combine the best of black, and the best of white; to have recognised that to deny either is pathological; and to have made gray the shade-de-jour. Yes, the pendulum must always swing, but it needn’t go to  extremes. Swinging from one extreme to another is the characteristic pattern of the manic-depressive; and as most manic-depressives would attest, it may be fun from time to time (jet-black and snow-white are much sexier than shades of gray), but it is also unsustainable and destructive. If a healthy society is truly what we desire then we must seek homeostasis, the temperate middle path.

The postmodernist mindset fell in love with one side of the opposition - became enamoured with black - and pushed the other side into the darkness. It placed emphasis on those concepts that were associated with a lack of structure - ‘fluidity,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘relativism’ - whilst devaluing those associated with structure - ‘solidity,’ ‘exclusion,’ ‘absolutism.’ In other words, it repressed a whole section of human experience.

In consciously denying these elements it condemned itself to unconsciously enact them: witness, for instance, its moral absolutism, or its exclusion in the name of inclusion ('no-platforming,' 'safe-spaces'). Repressed elements will always find a way to the surface, generally emerging as symptoms, or pathology; as blind spots, or sore spots. Accordingly, our cultural landscape is becoming increasingly pathologized. Disturbing data points are cropping up all over the place; chattering, doubting voices assail the postmodern psyche. A split is occurring.

How the prevailing order deals with these symptoms is of crucial importance to us all. We are facing another pendulum shift, and the critical question is whether we will once again swing into another imbalance; whether we will heed the lessons of our time, or whether we will again, in our disgust at the current way of things, attempt to repress one side of the balance in favour of the other.

I'm writing this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else, because at times like this it is always tempting to vilify the old and make heroes of the new; to raise the qualities of the incoming order whilst denouncing those of the outgoing. But in vilifying one side of the balance we also make a villain of the corresponding aspect of ourselves. Collective repression goes hand in hand with individual repression. As a result we're unable to see that the villain isn't really a villain at all; that, as unfashionable as he may now be, he still has many positive qualities, and many important things to share.

It is vital that we retain the positive aspects of postmodernism, and do not, in our haste to distance ourselves from it, reject it outright. 

This would be an immature reaction, a knee-jerk venting of pent-up emotion. Whilst it may have gone too far, it was not all in vain. Nor is it now irrelevant. And its proponents are not, for the most part, villains.

It has been said that evolution works by transcending and including. If we are to evolve then we must find a way to include what came before and to integrate it into something greater, rather than seeking to erase it from our memory.

It is becoming ever more clear that we must begin to allow to the surface those things that postmodernism has held under for so long. We must begin to accept the importance of structure, and all of its analogs (limits, exclusion, solidity, fixity). But in doing so we must resist the temptation to make virtues of these elements at the expense of their counterparts.

After an excess of one thing, its opposite will always seem disproportionately appealing; but we must keep our heads; and keep our eyes on both sides of the balance.


Unfortunately, we are somewhat unpracticed in polytheism. We don’t know how to acknowledge all the squabbling gods together. When one god lets us down we tend to redirect all our worship to another.

Yet swapping the groundlessness of our Hermes-pathology for the fundamentalism of a Senex-Pathology is no solution to our problems. Far better to learn from Hermes that all the gods are to be worshipped.

A polytheistic Hermes consciousness is something we desperately need. It is a necessary protection against the oppression of new and old orthodoxies.

The development of a Hermes consciousness in this century provided a long awaited relief from the domination of Apollo and Prometheus. The Enlightenment invited humankind to see the world clearly for the first time. The technological revolution invited us to break free from the domination of the gods and gain control of our world. If Hermes asserts anything, it is that we must honour all the gods equally, and allow soul back into the world.

It is consistent with Jungian theory to argue that it is the suppression of Hermes for so long which has led to this outbreak of the negative Hermes, and the best way of dealing with this is to acknowledge and value the positive manifestations of the god: imagination, flexibility, intuition, the sense of the sacred, playfulness, irony, delight in paradox, grace, heterogeneity, complexity, healing, transformation.

[Bernie Neville]
‘The Charm of Hermes: Hillman, Leotard, and the Postmodern Condition’, Journal of Analytical Psychology (1992), p. 351-2


Related posts:-
Land and Sea
Life Amongst the Rubble
The Perils of Radical Subjectivity 
Forever Becoming
The Real Thing
Walk a Straight Line 

The Dance of Hermes


Thank you for your podcast. I enjoyed listening to you describe your processes, even though they were just small snapshots. I think the ways by which artists arrive at their art is as interesting as the art itself.

Your thoughts represent for me a way of thinking, indicative of the intellectual Left that confuses me to no end. They embrace Continental philosophy and all its post-modern approaches to epistemology; they'll argue that the almost impenetrable obfuscation and equivocation inherent to the ideas of Derrida, Lacan, et al. are in actuality where its complexity of thought and meaning reside, for truth only exists as a reflection of the context of the time and space (and the culture therein) of its conception...

... but where politics is concerned, Rationalism and Empiricism are suddenly redeemed. Out goes the post-modern ambiguity of truth and meaning, out goes Relativism. In comes the arguments that there is most definitely a proper and scientific way of structuring society, and people would realise this universal objectivity if they were just educated enough [...]

Getting somewhat back to the idea of themes for this album rather than discussing politics in general - I'm a fan of your techniques and you incorporation of stylistically Japanese elements to your music, but I'm disappointed that as a resident of Japan you've restricted your perspective to the west and its politics. Shinzo Abe, having just won the upper house elections, is pushing to rewrite Japan's pacifist constitution. What's happening in Japan?

And even if you're too disconnected from Japanese society, because of the language barrier, to have a proper perspective, I'd expect Japan to be a richer source of thematic inspiration for you. You seem to utterly loath England's (as you see it) insular, xenophobic, inward looking spirit. But you've moved to a country arguably even more insular, xenophobic and inward looking, and which was made (arguably) culturally richer for it through the retention of its traditions and unique character -- from the geographical separation being an island provides, to Sakoku of the medieval period, to modern Japan that has fewer foreigners than any other developed country in the globalised first world. How do you reconcile that and explain it to yourself? Do you not see the cognitive dissonance? Do you not see maybe the benefits of being Sakoku?

I might be wasting my time with this line of enquiry because I'm half expecting a thoroughly glib retort of "Whites doing it = bad, foreigners doing it = good". Either way, I'm enjoying your album, despite (and maybe because of) my finding its themes somewhat depressing and ugly at times.

Momus > Heigardt

It's interesting to have some critical points raised, reminds me of the old blogging days. I'll try not to be glib, but I'm sure I'll inevitably leave you dissatisfied.

Basically, opinions (including my own) interest me a lot less these days, particularly when they're supposed to be rational and consistent, part of a large logical worldview which all ties up and is all moral and neat and good. The game of saying that someone is "hypocritical" seems a particularly sterile one: people are living paradoxes, they express vacillating and contradictory points of view, or emotions, or ideas; they're dialectical, the way I describe my songwriting as being (one day's work correcting the perceived flaws of the previous day's work).

This is what interests me these days. I would feel silly singing about the pacifist constitution in Japan. I feel it's not my job, as a precarian "permanent tourist" here, to do that. I do appreciate the ironies (my preferred term) of the lack of immigration here. And actually, when I do encounter enclaves of immigrants in Japan, I like and am drawn to them (except, yes, you guessed it, enclaves of white Westerners here), the same way I am in Europe. But there's certainly something to be said for Sakoku also, in preserving a system of cultural differences.

You seem to expect me to be logical: I would rather say I'm psychoanalytical. Psychoanalysis is good at seeing contradictions as something we live through and live out, something foundational and inherent in us, something basic to our humanity. I find that a lot more interesting than taking the line that it's hypocrisy or a logical flaw in one's worldview. To be human is to play out a series of paradoxes and contradictions (desire, sublimation, guilt, anger, frustration, desire again), and to make art is to turn that into a theatre of personae. You cannot make art with a neat, consistent, watertight worldview. Well, you can, but it's going to be bloody boring art.

Leigh > Momus

Here’s a story:
I’ve found you tremendously frustrating over the years, and yet, in spite of myself, tremendously interesting. I think of you as Peter Pan; your eyes are unusually youthful; as if you’ve studiously avoided something your whole life, something that, to most people, is important. These other people get lines and wrinkles from this thing that they think is important; it ties them to the earth and they get bogged down, become like trees, all weathered and worn and static.

The spirit of Hermes is in you Momus; you’re quicksilver, dancing from here to there and never staying put. You seem to refuse form, and all of its analogs: commitment, devotion, and so on. And yet, you are devoted, or so it seems, to art. A paradox.

People think they have you pinned down, they call you a hypocrite, but you slip out from under, greased and nimble. You thought I was that, but I never was; never am; never will be. As soon as you pin me down I will shape shift, become something else. Even age can’t catch you.

Cognitive dissonance is no problem, because it assumes consistency, shape, form. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t trouble old Hermes, his merry dance leaves it standing. Hypocrisy likewise. Sterility is what happens when things stand still, when the sediments gather. Yours never do.

People are living paradoxes; people are everything and nothing. But some, in becoming a ‘person,’ feel it important to dig a flagpole into the ground and say ‘here,’ ‘this,’ ‘now.’ They repress, ignore, cut-off and pare-down; and this is part of the sacrifice they make. Some go too far, and believe in the fiction that they’e created. Some are able to see through it; I’ve built this castle, but its made of sand. And some never build a structure at all; they dance around other people’s … oh, but what a lovely dance it is … ; )

Momus > Leigh

Thank you, that was delightful! So much more substantive than a social media "like".

I do appreciate people who can think and write and know their psychoanalysis and their Greek myths, especially when they're defending my cognitive dissonance with such admirable... cognitive consonance!

(By the way, I posted this having checked the box that says "I'd rather post as a guest". On my own blog! I think that rather confirms what you're saying.

Comments from this blogpost on MrsTsk

Connotations proliferate like a cancer and at every step the previous sign is forgotten, obliterated, since the pleasure of the [Hermetic] drift is given by the shifting from sign to sign and there is no purpose outside the enjoyment of travel through the labyrinth of signs or of things.

[Umberto Eco]
The Limits of Interpretation, p. 31

The romantic withdraws from reality. He does this ironically, however, and in a spirit of intrigue.

Irony and intrigue do not constitute the state of mind of a person in flight, but rather the activity of a person who, instead of creating new realities, plays one reality off against another in order to paralyse the reality that is actually present and limited.

He ironically avoids the constraints of objectivity and guards himself against becoming committed to anything. The reservation of all infinite possibilities lies in irony. In this way he preserves his own inner, genial freedom, which consists in not giving up any possibility.

He regards being taken seriously as a violation because he does not want the actual present confused with his infinite freedom.

Irony is not, however, supposed to destroy reality. On the contrary, retaining the quality of real being, it is supposed to make reality available to the subject as an expedient and make it possible for him to avoid any definitive position.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 71-3

It is inherent in romanticism that it perhaps claims to be incomprehensible and more than human words can intimate. 

This need not mislead us, for in general the logical tactics of its claim are thoroughly wretched. We need only take note of the way the romantic attempts to define everything in terms of himself and avoids every definition of himself in terms of something else. 

It is romantic to identify myself with everything, and yet not permit anyone to identify me with the romantic.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 7


We should not overlook, however, the point that for the romantic subject every form of art that is used was also merely an occasion, just like every concrete point of reality, which served as a point of departure for the romantic interest.

The mood of the subject was the focal point of this kind of productivity. It remained both the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem, regardless of whether a lyrical poem, literary criticism, or a philosophical argument was at stake. 

The object was always nothing more than an occasion.

In this state, it is by no means the case that the external world is negated. Every concrete point of the external world can be the “elastic point”: in other words, the beginning of the romantic novel, the occasio for the adventure, the point of departure for the fanciful game.

Thus the "sensuous coloration" of the romantic, in opposition to the mystic. The romantic, who has no interest in really changing the world, regards it as good if it does not disturb him in his illusion. Irony and intrigue provide him with enough weapons to secure his subjectivistic autarchy and to hold out in the domain of the occasional.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 97-8 

Related posts:-

Order / Chaos

Order                  -          Chaos
Life                     -          Death
Known                -          Unknown
Permanence        -          Change
Universal             -          Particular
Transcendent       -          Immanent
Masculine           -           Feminine
Collective           -           Individual
Authoritarian       -          Libertarian 

Within any structure there must be those elements that are mainly interested in order, those elements that are mainly interested in chaos, and those elements that are in-between; that are at times interested in order and at other times interested in chaos.

This arrangement represents a universal balance of opposites. Both order and chaos are vital for the health of any structure, and an imbalance in favour of either can be classed as unhealthy and potentially life-threatening.

Order is characterised by the coming-together of separate elements. We order the world by conceptualising what we experience, which is another way of saying that we take separate and unrelated experiences and create connections between them, creating a new unit from those formerly separate elements.

Chaos is characterised by a flow in the opposite direction, by the separation of enjoined elements. Whenever we break something apart we are moving towards chaos.

We can see an example of this arrangement in the structure of the atom: the electrons are interested in chaos, the protons in order, and the neutrons mediate between the two.

In this sense, those within a society who push towards individualism are swinging the pendulum towards chaos; and those who push towards collectivism are swinging it towards order.

Neither direction is inherently better than the other, rather they form a dialectic; which is another way of saying that they are always in conversation with one another. The health of the structure depends on this conversation, upon each side having a say.

When it comes to a society we call those who are mainly interested in order 'authoritarians' (amongst other things) and those who are mainly interested in chaos 'libertarians' (amongst other things). The authoritarian impulse is to move towards a single point of power. If we picture a pyramid, then the authoritarian favours the top, the capstone, and favours a movement up towards it. The libertarian impulse, on the other hand, is to move towards multiple points of power, which is a move down the pyramid towards the many blocks that form its lower layers.

In this sense the authoritarian impulse is synonymous with idealism, or abstraction. The idealist is also interested in the upward movement towards something singular and all-encompassing, and the ultimate aim of idealism is a concept that can encapsulate everything. Again, abstraction can be visualised as the journey up a pyramid, from the multiple concepts that form its bottom layers, to the all-seeing totality of the capstone. One of the drawbacks of idealism is that its process takes us further and further from 'reality,' from the raw data of the ground-level. The idealist is always in danger of losing touch with 'the real world,' in floating off into abstractions.

The libertarian impulse is synonymous with empiricism, a move towards raw non-conceptualised experience. The empiricist is interested in the move down the pyramid, preferring the specifics of parts to the generality of wholes. One of the drawbacks of empiricism is that as it moves ever closer to reality it loses the ability to make sense of that reality. The empiricist is always in danger of drowning in the chaos of experience.

The libertarian impulse has as its goal a state of anarchy in which there are no social norms, and is in this sense a hetrogenising influence, preferring diversity over similarity.

The authoritarian impulse has as its goal a strict all-inclusive ideology to which all must conform, and is in this sense a homogenising influence, preferring similarity over diversity.

I remember a long while back I read a paper on why human beings have two hemispheres […] roughly speaking, the left/linguistic hemisphere attempts to impose predictable structure on the world, simplifying it.

Its not exactly an ideological simplification, its more like a practical simplification, because the world is so complex that unless you chunk it into categories it overwhelms you. So you have to chunk it into categories. And those categories aren’t exactly descriptions of things or objects, they’re more like tools for operating in the world.

And then the right hemisphere keeps track of anomalies and exceptions, and tries to build those slowly into the category system so that it doesn’t blow the category system […]

There was an example of this that a researcher named Goldberg offered. He’d trained a neural network to recognise images of fish, and the same […] network to recognise images of birds. But when he showed it a Penguin it blew the category structure, so that all fish became birds and all birds became fish.

Now, the postmodernists like Derrida claim that category structures were primarily tools of power and oppression - which to me is an absurd claim, because that’s not their primary use, even though that may be one of their consequences, and one of their occasional uses. And he became very very concerned about who the category systems marginalised, and what the consequence was of that for them.

[…] Its a really fundamental problem, that categories exclude; but then of you include the excluded in the category then you blow the category structure […] this is partly why right-wing Christians were so opposed to homosexual marriage.

What’s happening very rapidly is, because the binary category has been violated you get an explosion of chaotic identities. So its gone from two, to […] three, to […] thirty one in New York, and seventy online; and then there’s this additional explosion which is being promoted by people, who aren’t concerned with the category of gender identity but with other categories like human vs non-human identity.

[…] its a really interesting example of how binary categories maintain order, and if you violate them to include those who are excluded what you produce is an up-swelling of unmanageable chaos.

[Jordan B. Peterson ]
'I discuss chaos and order with Theryn Meyer, reasonable transperson'

The situation of homosexually inclined males in Yucatan is much different from that of members of the urban gay subculture of the United States. Because homoeroticism is much more diffuse in the society, there are not separate subcultural institutions for homosexuals.

[…] We can question whether a separated gay subculture, a minority lifestyle built around sexual preferences, is more preferable to integration of gender variance and same-sex eroticism into the general family structure and the mainstream society. We can use the American Indian concept of spirituality to break out of the deviancy model, to reunite families, and to offer special benefits to society as a whole.

[Walter L. Williams]
The Spirit and the Flesh, p. 143, 275

[...] authoritarianism is not a stable personality trait. It is rather a psychological predisposition to become intolerant when the person perceives a certain kind of threat.

It’s as though some people have a button on their foreheads, and when the button is pushed, they suddenly become intensely focused on defending their in-group, kicking out foreigners and non-conformists, and stamping out dissent within the group. At those times they are more attracted to strongmen and the use of force.

What pushes that button is a] “normative threat,” which basically means a threat to the integrity of the moral order (as they perceive it). It is the perception that “we” are coming apart [...]

"The experience or perception of disobedience to group authorities or authorities unworthy of respect, nonconformity to group norms or norms proving questionable, lack of consensus in group values and beliefs and, in general, diversity and freedom ‘run amok’ should activate the predisposition and increase the manifestation of these characteristic attitudes and behaviors."

[...] authoritarians are not being selfish [...] They are trying to protect their group or society.

"[T]he increasing license allowed by [...] evolving cultures generates the very conditions guaranteed to goad latent authoritarians to sudden and intense, perhaps violent, and almost certainly unexpected, expressions of intolerance."

[...] whenever a country has historically high levels of immigration, from countries with very different moralities, and without a strong and successful assimilationist program, it is virtually certain that there will be an authoritarian counter-reaction, and you can expect many status quo conservatives to support it.

"Ultimately, nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes. And regrettably, nothing is more certain to provoke increased expression of their latent predispositions than the likes of “multicultural education,” bilingual policies, and nonassimilation."

[Jonathan Haidt, and Karen Stenner (in quotations)]
'When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism'

Many of my clients think that if they set any boundaries for their dogs, they automatically become the bad guy. That's certainly the problem John Grogan and Jenny Vogt had. Without discipline they could not accomplish respect. They could not give Marley the rules, boundaries and limitations he needed in order to live a more peaceful life. He ended up full of [...] instability.

By giving a dog rules, boundaries, and limitations, you don't "kill his spirit." You just give him the structure he needs in his life in order to find peace and allow his true dog self to emerge.

[Cesar Millan]
Be the Pack Leader, p. 39

Pribram and McTaggart [...] contrast “entropy” (as the movement of the inanimate world – which is towards chaos and disorder), with the coherence of consciousness which creates order.

This view is to some extent supported by Braud’s examination of interpersonal connection.

Braud (MacTaggart, 2003, p. 180) has indicated that human interaction results in the synchronisation of brainwave patterns, and that the person with the most cohesive pattern has the greatest influence on the EEG patterns of others.

[Maretha Prinsloo]
'Consciousness Models in Action: Comparisons'

The strongest and most evil spirits have so far done the most to advance humanity: again and again they relumed the passions that were going to sleep - all ordered society puts the passions to sleep - and they reawakened again and again the sense of comparison, of contradiction, of the pleasure in what is new, daring, untried; they compelled men to pit opinion against opinion, model against model. 

Usually by force of arms, by toppling boundary markers, by violating pieties—but also by means of new religions and moralities. In every teacher and preacher of what is new we encounter the same "wickedness" that makes conquerors notorious, even if its expression is subtler and it does not immediately set the muscles in motion, and therefore also does not make one that notorious. 

What is new, however, is always evil, being that which wants to conquer and overthrow the old boundary markers and the old pieties; and only what is old is good. 

The good men are in all ages those who dig the old thoughts, digging deep and getting them to bear fruit—the farmers of the spirit. But eventually all land is exploited, and the ploughshare of evil must come again and again.

Nowadays there is a profoundly erroneous moral doctrine that is celebrated especially in England: this holds that judgments of "good" and "evil” sum up experiences of what is "expedient" and "inexpedient.” One holds that what is called good preserves the species, while what is called evil harms the species. In truth, however, the evil instincts are expedient, species-preserving, and indispensable to as high a degree as the good ones; their function is merely different.

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 4

[…] any organisation has to strive continuously for the orderliness of order and the disorderliness of creative freedom. And the specific danger inherent in large-scale organisation is that its natural bias and tendency favour order, at the expense of creative freedom.

We can associate many further pairs of opposites with this basic pair of order and freedom. Centralisation is mainly an idea of order; decentralisation, one of freedom. The man of order is typically the accountant and, generally, the administrator; while the man of creative freedom is the entrepreneur. Order requires intelligence and is conducive to efficiency; while freedom calls for, and opens the door to, intuition and leads to innovation.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 203

To create a category is to set a boundary within thought. It is to place a conceptual circumference around something. But, again, we must recall what the Blackfoot people say about their circles - they are always open, always ready to accept something new.

Thus, if Indigenous science were to erect a category of thought, it would just be inviting the trickster to enter and transcend any boundaries that had been erected.

An animal like a caribou, moose, bear, or salmon is never divided according to abstract geometrical proportions such as shape; neither is it divided by weight. Rather, it divides naturally and physiologically according to the joints between its bones and its muscle structure. Neither can the food from different parts of its body be compared according to its weight. For how can cheeks, lungs, brains, tongue, stomach, and rump be placed on the same set of scales and evaluated? And when it comes to the division of food, should an old man's portion weigh the same as a young hunter's? Or should people be given to according to their needs and requirements?

Fixed categories and abstractions simply could not work in such a situation. Instead, division must always be done within the context of the situation and with respect to each person.

Aboriginal peoples have no need for these idealistic classifications, for the tools they make - canoes, arrows, moccasins, snowshoes, knives, mittens, and so on - are always irregularly and individually shaped. Objects are made to be used; they follow the demands of the natural forms of materials and of the uses to which they are to be put […] Thus, language and perception is geared to the relationships of irregular, natural forms.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.229-30

The vital point to note here is the following: the system organises itself towards the critical point where single events have the widest possible range of effects.

Put differently, the system tunes itself towards optimum sensitivity to external inputs.

A method often employed to visualise the behaviour of a system is to describe it in state-space. State-space has a separate dimension for each independent variable of the system. In the case of three variables, say temperature, volume and pressure, the state-space will be three-dimensional. In the case of a thousand variables, as one would have in a network with a thousand nodes, the state-space will be thousand-dimensional. Every possible state of the system will then be characterised by a unique point in state-space, and the dynamics of the system will form trajectories through state-space.

When a number of trajectories lead towards a point (or area) in state-space, that point (or area) is an 'attractor', and represents a stable state of the system. When trajectories all lead away from a point, that point is unstable - a 'repellor'. A point that has trajectories leading towards it as well as away from it is known as 'meta-stable'.

[…] In a very stable system there will be one, or only a few strong attractors. The system will quickly come to rest in one of these, and will not move to another one easily. The resulting behaviour of the system is not very interesting. On the other hand, in a very unstable system, there will be no strong attractors, and the system will just jump around chaotically.

The theory of self-organised criticality tells us the following. A self-organising system will try to balance itself at a critical point between rigid order and chaos. It will try to optimise the number of attractors without becoming unstable.

Why is this important? It is clear that a system that only behaves chaotically is useless. On the other hand, a system that is too stable is also handicapped. If each required state of the system has to be represented by a strong, stable attractor, a lot of the resources of the system will be tied up (limiting all the degrees of freedom at a certain point means that many nodes must participate), and the capacity of the system for adaptation will be badly impaired. Furthermore, movement from one stable state to another will require very strong perturbations. For this reason the system will respond sluggishly to changes in the environment.

However, with the system poised at the point of criticality, the number of stable states will not only be optimised, but the system will also be able to change its state with the least amount of effort.

It should be clear that the principle of competition is the driving force behind this behaviour. Each node in the network will tend to dominate as large a portion of state-space as possible, and nodes therefore compete for the available resources.

Inputs to the system that do not have much variety will be represented by a few strong attractors. As the inputs increase in variability, the system will tend towards the critical point where it is optimised for flexibility. If the information that the system has to cope with becomes more than the inherent capability of the system, the system will be forced beyond the critical point. It will not be able to produce any stable attractors and chaos will ensue. For this reason, the resources of a self-organising system should be neither over-extended, nor under-extended.

The tendency a system has to move towards criticality results in an increase in complexity. What researchers like Kauffman and Bak are trying to show is that this tendency is an intrinsic characteristic of complex systems. Once a system has the capacity to self-organise, there is a 'natural' drive to optimise the organisation.

The drive towards a more complex structure is a result of 'economic' reasons: resources cannot be wasted. In this respect there is an observation to be made. The critical state of a system is often referred to as being 'on the edge of chaos' (Lewin 1993).

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.97-8

Lyotard and Feyerabend are not wilfully disruptive, anti-scientific anarchists; they are considering the conditions of knowledge in a complex society.

To allow previously marginalised voices equal opportunity once again does not imply that 'anything goes'. Dissenting voices receive no special privilege; they have to enter into the 'agonistics of the network', where their relevance is dynamically determined through competition and co-operation in terms of the history as well as the changing needs and goals of the system.

Since all the networks we have talked about are contingent entities, they are finite. Even the most complex ones have a finite capacity for handling information. A network can therefore suffer from an overload, especially when confronted with too much novelty.

An overloaded network will show 'pathological' behaviour, either in terms of chaotic behaviour or in terms of catatonic shutdown. This may actually be the state of affairs many critics of postmodernism fear, one in which we are being overloaded with information and, in the process, annihilated (e.g. Baudrillard 1988).

The point is, however, that there is little escape. Reverting to rigid, central control or the reintroduction of grand narratives will not make the information go away. We have to learn to cope with it by being more discriminating, by filtering out some of the excesses.

Once again, the connectionist model is the most effective one for performing this 'filtering'. In a rule-based system, preferences have to be programmed in, and can be adjusted only with difficulty. Such systems remain paradigmatic of the modernist approach working with abstract forms of meaning (representation) and central control.

Connectionist models can dynamically adjust themselves in order to select that which is to be inhibited and that which is to be enhanced. Robustness and flexibility are two sides of the same coin. In terms of our social condition, this means that we would experience less postmodern stress by becoming less rigid in our interaction with each other and our environment.

This does not mean that one should give up, or go with the flow. It means that we all have to enter into the agonistics of the network.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.118-9

[...] for Plato, becoming is itself an unlimited becoming, a becoming insane, a becoming hubric and guilty which, in order to be made circular needs the act of a demiurge who forcibly bends it, who imposes the model of the idea on it.

This is how becoming or chaos are transferred to the side of an obscure mechanical causality and the cycle is referred to a kind of finality which is imposed from the outside. There is no chaos in the cycle, the cycle expresses the forced submission of becoming to an external law.

Even among the Pre-Socratics perhaps only Heraclitus knew that becoming is not "judged", that it cannot be and has not to be judged, that it does not receive its law from elsewhere, that it is "just" and possesses its own law in itself.

[Gilles Deleuze]
Nietzsche and Philosophy, p.28

[...] we have managed to discover another game, another way of playing: we have discovered the Overman beyond two human-all-too-human ways of existing; we have managed to make chaos an object of affirmation instead of positing it as something to be denied.

[Gilles Deleuze]
Nietzsche and Philosophy, p.37