The Aristocratic Ideal

The second position, advanced by Thorstein Veblen, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Dewey, Randolph Bourne, Lewis Mumford, Van Wyck Brooks, and Waldo Frank, among others, rested on a very different idea of both culture and democracy.

These writers distrusted the missionary impulse they detected in the progressives' program of cultural uplift. Instead of popularizing leisure-class values, they advocated a new set of values based on the dignity of labor.

Their program derived from William Morris rather than from Arnold. They did not necessarily share Morris's enthusiasm for handicraft production, but they followed him in making a revival of craftsmanship the prerequisite of a democratic culture. In his influential essay "The Art and Craft of the Machine" (1901), Wright tried to show that craftsmanship could be reconciled with machine production.

Dewey thought of his educational reforms - the clearest expression of this prewar speculation about the democratization of culture - as another method of bringing about a rehabilitation of labor. Like Veblen, Dewey deplored the "cultured" contempt for honest labor - a legacy, as he saw it, from the aristocratic past.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.346

Related posts:

The Rise of the Managers

Simple          -              Complex

As “good determinists,” liberals knew that history always marches forward. “The human race never turns back to an old order.” 

The best hope lay in an orderly “transition to that which Dewey and Beard have called a ‘technological-rationalist society.’” even if the “more valid equality” it promised meant the “inevitable sacrifice” of individual liberties.

“There is something ponderously fatal about such a transition,” Josephson mused, “but if it results in order, enthusiasm, harmony, we will be content with our sacrifice.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.363

"The public interest in a problem," Lippmann argued, "is limited to this: that there shall be rules. ...The public is interested in law, not in the laws; in the method of law, not in the substance." Questions of substance should be left to experts, whose access to scientific knowledge immunized them against the emotional "symbols" and "stereotypes" that dominated public debate.

Lippmann […] rejected the "mystical fallacy of democracy" and the "usual appeal to education as the remedy for the incompetence of democracy." Democratic theory presupposed an "omnicompetent citizen," a "jack of all trades" who could be found only in a "simple self-contained community." In the "wide and unpredictable environment" of the modern world, the old ideal of citizenship was obsolete.

In a complex industrial society, government had to be carried on by officials who were expected to "conceive a common interest." In their attempt to stretch their minds beyond the limits of immediate experience," these officials would be guided either by public opinion or by expert knowledge. There was no escape from this choice.

Public opinion was unreliable, according to Lippmann, because it could be united only by an appeal to slogans and “symbolic pictures.” In a society ruled by public opinion, government became the art of "manipulation" - the "manufacture of consent." "Where all news comes at second-hand, where all the testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions. The environment in which they act is not the realities themselves, but the pseudo-environment of reports, rumors, and guesses. ... Everything is on the plane of assertion and propaganda."

At best, public debate was a disagreeable necessity - not the very essence of democracy, as Brownson or Bourne would have argued, but its "primary defect," which arose only because "exact knowledge," unfortunately, was in limited supply. Ideally public debate would not take place at all; decisions would be based on scientific "standards of measurement" alone. Science cut through "entangling stereotypes and slogans," the "threads of memory and emotion" that kept the "responsible administrator" tied up in knots.

Like Edmund Burke, Lippmann distrusted memory as an important source of conflict and disagreement. He proposed to counter its influence, however, not with custom but with “organized intelligence."

An earlier theory of democracy had considered ordinary citizens at least competent to manage their own affairs, if not consistently capable of self-denial and sacrifice. Their opinions were held to command respect, as Lippman saw it, because the business of government did not greatly exceed their experience. But it was “not possible to assume that a world, carried on by division of labor and distribution of authority, can be governed by universal opinions in the whole population.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.366

Related posts:

One True Path

Reason                  -          Nature
One                       -          Many
Clear                     -          Complex
Transcendent         -          Immanent

Niebuhr found another example of this misguided search for unity - for an "absolute perspective which transcends the conflict” between competing loyalties - in Dewey's little book on religion, A Common Faith (1934).

Niebuhr considered Dewey's plea for a "religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race" as an attempt to “eliminate conflict and unite men of good will everywhere by stripping their spiritual life of historic, traditional, and supposedly anachronistic accretions." Dewey's position exemplified the "faith of modern rationalism in the ability of reason to transcend the partial perspectives of the natural world in which reason is rooted."

Liberals like Dewey mistakenly put their faith in moral suasion, education, and the scientific method. They imagined that “with a little more time, a little more adequate moral and social pedagogy and a generally higher development of human intelligence, our social problems will approach solution."

Dewey did not understand that competing loyalties were rooted in "something more vital and immediate than anachronistic religious traditions.” The fervor they evoked could not be modified or resolved, as Dewey seemed to think, by a "small group of intellectuals" who enjoyed the "comparative neutrality and security of the intellectual life."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.370, 375

Niebuhr distinguished prophetic religion not only from scientific rationality, which cannot justify hope, but from mystical religion, which cannot justify it either, except by turning its back on the "facts of incoherence.”

If science dismissed the existence of moral order and coherence in history as an illusion, mysticism dismissed the natural world itself as an illusion, together with the whole course of human history. For the mystic, reality dwelled in the timeless realm of pure essence, the contemplation of which, undistracted by unruly historical facts, became the goal of religious aspiration.

Mysticism, according to Niebuhr, was rationalism's mirror image. It carried the “rational passion for unity and coherence to the point where the eye turns from the outward scene, with its recalcitrant facts and stubborn variety, to the inner world of spirit."

The prophetic tradition found moral significance in history (since history is under God's judgment) without denying the reality of incoherence and evil. The achievement of the “prophetic movement in Hebraic religion," Niebuhr wrote, lay in its ability “to purge its religion of the parochial and puerile weaknesses of its childhood without rationalizing it and thus destroying the virtue of its myth."

His reference to the “virtue” of the prophetic myth, when we recall the rich associations and multiple meanings of the term, provides the clearest indication of the meaning of mythology, as Niebuhr understood it.

In the prophetic tradition, virtue is the truth that breaks the cycle of excessive optimism and disillusionment. It asserts the goodness of life without denying the evidence that would justify despair. Thus "Hebrew spirituality," Niebuhr argued, "was never corrupted by either the optimism which conceived the world as possessing unqualified sanctity and goodness or the pessimism which relegated historic existence to a realm of meaningless cycles.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.372

Related posts:


Apollo        -          Dionysus
Inflate         -          Deflate
Complete    -          Lacking

“The true goal is veiled by a phantasm: and while we stretch out our hands for the latter, nature attains the former by means of an illusion.”

This mechanism, Nietzsche had argued, could be observed in the functioning of tragedy itself. Too much (“Dionysian”) insight into the reality of life leads to despair and inaction: “Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet.” 

The action of tragedy shows the most powerful individuals trying, and failing, to have an effect on the “eternal nature of things.”

But juxtaposed with this most powerful representation of the vanity of all effort is the tragic chorus, assuring its spectators that even in their efforts to change nature, the tragic heroes, like those spectators themselves, are its products and elements, and the realisation that one is a part of everything that lives makes life “indestructibly powerful and pleasurable” and therefore worth living after all.

A main reason for Nietzsche’s continuing admiration of the Greeks is what he takes as their ability to exploit mechanisms of this sort. Having glimpsed the truth, personified in The Gay Science as Baubo, they were, according to his unsettling view, revolted by it. Accordingly they turned away from its pursuit. They made the preliminary stages of its conquest their final purpose: “Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for this is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, word, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial - out of profundity.”

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 119

Nietzsche seems to have believed that there are some ultimate facts, some noninterpretive truths, concerning the real nature of the world. But he denied that these facts could ever correctly be stated through reason, language, and science.

Yet he also believed […] that tragedy, primarily through the musically inspired, “Dionysian” chorus, can intimate the final truth that the ultimate nature of the world is to have no orderly structure: in itself the world is chaos, with no laws, no reason, and no purpose.

Tragedy gives a non discursive glimpse of the contrast between “the real truth of nature and the lie of culture that poses as if it were the only reality,” a contrast that “is similar to that between the eternal core of things, the thing-in-itself, and the whole world of appearances.” It shows that the orderly, apparently purposeful world within which we live is a creation we have placed between ourselves and the real world, which pursues its own course without any regard for our views, and our desires.

But what makes tragedy even more remarkable in Nietzsche’s eyes is that in the very process of revealing this painful truth, it offers a consolation for the negative and desperate reaction this is bound to generate. It shows that ultimately we are not different from the rest of nature, that we are part and parcel of it, and belong totally to it. 

It leaves its audience, which at least for a moment ceases to regard itself as separate from the rest of the world, with the “metaphysical comfort … that life is at the bottom of things, despite all the changes of appearance, indestructibly powerful and pleasurable,” and that its blind, purposeless, constant ebb and flow is to be admired and celebrated.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 42-3

Related posts:


Contained        -          Uncontained
Receptive         -          Formative
Uncover           -          Create
Imitate              -          Imagine
Complete         -          Incomplete
Preserve           -          Innovate
Fixed                -          Plastic
Closed              -          Open
Past                  -          Future
Old                   -          New

John Locke made clear that the new political and economic system he proposed in his Second treatise of Government, liberalism’s foundational text, would result in a different ruling class. In one of its key chapters, “Of Property,” he divided the world into two sorts of persons: the “industrious and the rational” and “the querulous and contentious.”

In the world of prehistory, he wrote, both kinds of characters might have existed in some number, but a subsistence economy marked above all by absence of private property made it impossible to tell them apart.

In such a world, each person gathers only enough food and requirements for each passing day, and any differences of talent, ability, and promise are wholly unrealized. Locke offers the Indians in the Americas as an example of such a “pre-history”: subsistence societies in which neither "industriousness and rationality” nor "querulousness and contentiousness” can become salient.

In such a world, a potential Bill Gates or Steve Jobs is so busy hunting or fishing for each day's meal that his potential goes wholly unrealized.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.136

Forms of oppressive “opinion” were mainly manifest in everyday morality—what Mill witheringly criticized as “Custom.” While Mill at times argued that a good society needed a balance of "Progress” and “Custom,” in the main, he saw custom as the enemy of human liberty, and progress as a basic aim of modern society.

To follow custom was to be fundamentally unreflective and mentally stagnant. “The human faculties of perception, judgement, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is a custom, makes no choice.”

The unleashing of spontaneous, creative, unpredictable, unconventional, often offensive forms of individuality was Mill's goal. Extraordinary individuals - the most educated, the most creative, the most adventurous, even the most powerful - freed from the rule of Custom, might transform society.

“Persons of genius,” Mill acknowledges, “are always likely to be a small minority”; yet such people, who are “more individual than any other people,” less capable of “fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which society provides,” require “an atmosphere of freedom.”

Society must be remade for the benefit of this small, but in Mill’s view vital, number. A society based on custom constrained individuality, and those who craved most to be liberated from its shackles were not “ordinary” people but people who thrived on breaking out of the customs that otherwise governed society. Mill called for a society premised around “experiments in living”: society as a test tube for the sake of geniuses who are “more individual.”

We live today in the world Mill proposed. Everywhere, at every moment, we are to engage in experiments in living.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.145-6

For Cassirer the unity of culture across the separate spheres inter alia of science, technology and art is given by the human capacity for symbolic self-expression, our capacity to create whole worlds of objective meaning.

Cassirer derived from Kant this image of the human being’s constructivist or formative powers of world-making. Heidegger by contrast insisted on the image of the human being as gifted with a receptive openness to the world. Receptivity is the attitude which allows things to appear rather than challenging them forth.

The two normative images of humanity thus describe two fundamental relationships to the world, spontaneity and receptivity, and thus two fundamentally opposed understandings of technology, tied in the case of Heidegger to an originary ontology of disclosure and in the case of Cassirer to a ‘modernist ontology of construction.’

If Cassirer offers us a modern answer, it is not one premised on a distinction between ancient and modern technology. On the contrary, the very first use of tools set in train an ongoing process of revealing as unconcealment, that is, the uncovering of what is present but hitherto concealed in the world.

The nature waiting to be shaped and given form by technology is thereby revealed as essentially incomplete. From the beginning technological ‘discovery’ signifies the experimental path of formation and transformation mediated by the essential plasticity of nature.

The spirit of technology therefore resides for Cassirer in its capacity to reveal the latent in nature, waiting to be actualized. This spirit requires an attitude capable of withdrawing from a given reality in order to posit the possible.

Cassirer terms this ‘possibilization’ of the world ‘the greatest and the most remarkable achievement of technology.’

Modern art ‘discovers’ the spirit of creation, hitherto concealed by the doctrine of imitation, just as in turn the recognition of human creativity announces the metaphysical need of the moderns to discover the new and bring it forth.

The work of art, but also the work of technology, become ontologically original once the closed cosmos of tradition is left behind.

And what this signifies […] is nothing less than the displacement of nature by art and technology, which now express the exemplary possibilities of human being as creativity. The modern spirit is in this sense ‘after nature’: imagination takes the place of the imitation of nature, technology emancipates itself from the model of physis to become the evolutionary supplement of nature.

[David Roberts]
'Technology and modernity: Spengler, Jünger, Heidegger, Cassirer', Thesis Eleven, 2012, p.26, 31-2

[William James’s] uncertainty about the moral value of submission and self-surrender illustrates the difficulty of carrying on an essentially theological controversy without its theological context.

Even more than Emerson and Carlyle, James believed that this context could now be dispensed with. In its absence, however, Emerson’s affirmation of the goodness of being would tend to be construed either as fatuous optimism or as the product of an emotional need for absolute security and reassurance, while heroism, on the other hand - notwithstanding James’s warning that “mere excitement is an unworthy ideal” - would degenerate into Nietzsche’s “will to power.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p. 294

Related posts:

Held Together

Shorn of the deepest ties to family (nuclear as well as extended), place, community, region, religion, and culture, and deeply shaped to believe that these forms of association are limits upon their autonomy, deracinated humans seek belonging and self-definition through the only legitimate form of organization remaining available to them: the state.

Nisbet saw the rise of fascism and communism as the predictable consequence of the liberal attack upon smaller associations and communities. Those ideologies offered a new form of belonging by adopting the evocations and imagery of the associations they had displaced, above all by offering a new form of quasi-religious membership, a kind of church of the state.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.60

Related posts:


It is important for us to become fully aware of these pairs of opposites.

Our logical mind does not like them: it generally operates on the either-or or yes-no principle, like a computer. So, at any one time it wishes to give its allegiance to either the one of the other of the pair, and as this exclusiveness inevitably leads to an ever more obvious loss of realism and truth, the mind suddenly changes sides, often without even noticing it.

It swings from one opposite to the other, and every time there is a feeling of ‘making up one's mind afresh'; or else the mind becomes rigid and lifeless, fixing itself on one side of the pair of opposites and feeling that now 'the problem has been solved'.

The pairs of opposites, of which freedom and order and growth and decay are the most basic, put tension into the world, a tension that sharpens man's sensitivity and increases his self-awareness. No real understanding is possible without awareness of these pairs of opposites, which, as it were, permeate everything man does.

Only a higher force - wisdom - can reconcile these opposites. 

The problem cannot be solved; but wisdom can transcend it […] societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation; public interest and private interest; planning and laissez-faire; order and freedom; growth and decay: everywhere society's health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims.

The adoption of a final solution means a kind of death sentence for man's humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, or generally both.

Divergent problems offend the logical mind which wishes to remove tension by coming down on one side or the other; but they provoke, stimulate and sharpen the higher human faculties without which man is nothing but a clever animal. A refusal to accept the divergency of divergent problems causes these higher faculties to remain dormant and to wither away, and when this happens the 'clever animal' is more likely than not to destroy itself.

Man’s life can thus be seen and understood as a succession of divergent problems which are inevitably encountered and have to be coped with in some way. They are refractory to mere logic and discursive reason, and constitute, as it were, a strain-and-stretch apparatus to develop the Whole Man, and that means to develop man's supra-logical faculties.

All traditional cultures have seen life as a school and have recognised, in one way or another, the essentiality of this teaching force.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.146-8

Without the enemy life would be meaningless and shallow.

To have no enemies, to have no power to decide who to include as a member of the body and who to exclude as a member of the body, is to not be political at all. And since man is political, and this is part of his human nature, those who attempt to eliminate conflict and transform enemies into “rational actors” whom one can persuade to not have qualms with, are nihilists out to destroy man’s political nature.

(Schmitt makes it clear that liberalism is one such force that attempts to eliminate all conflict and, in doing so, would destroy human nature and make man’s life miserable for he would not be political at all, which is to say he would cease being human if he ceased being political.)

[Paul Krause]
'Carl Schmitt: The Friend-Enemy Distinction'

Problem Solving

Convergent          -              Divergent
Simple                 -              Complex
Certain               -               Uncertain
Dead                   -               Living

The methodology of problem-solving, as can easily be observed, is what we might call ‘the laboratory approach'. It consists of eliminating all factors that cannot be strictly controlled or, at least, accurately measured and 'allowed for'.

What remains is no longer a part of real life with all its unpredictabilities, but an isolated system posing convergent, and therefore in principle soluble, problems. The solution of a convergent problem, at the same time, proves something about the isolated system, but nothing at all about matters outside and beyond it.

I have said that to solve a problem is to kill it.

There is nothing wrong with 'killing’ a convergent problem, for it relates to what remains after life, consciousness and self-awareness have already been eliminated. But can - or should - divergent problems be killed? (The words "final solution' still have a terrible ring in the ears of my generation.)

Divergent problems cannot be killed; they cannot be solved in the sense of establishing the 'correct formula'. They can however be transcended.

A pair of opposites - like freedom and order - are opposites at the level of ordinary life, but they cease to be opposites at the higher level, the really human level, where self-awareness plays its proper role. It is then that such higher forces as love and compassion, understanding and empathy, become available, not simply as occasional impulses (which they are at the lower level) but as a regular and reliable resource.

Opposites cease to be opposites; they lie down together peacefully like the lion and the lamb in the study of Saint Hieronymus (who on Dürer's famous picture represents ‘the higher level').

How can opposites cease to be opposites when a "higher force' is present? How is it that liberty and equality cease to be mutually antagonistic and become reconciled' when brotherliness is present? These are not logical but existential questions.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.145-6

The 'inner world' […] is the world of freedom; the outer world […] the world of necessity. All our serious problems of living are suspended, as it were, between these two poles of freedom and necessity. They are divergent problems, not for solving.

Our anxiety to solve problems stems from our total lack of self-knowledge, which has created the kind of existential anguish of which Kierkegaard is one of the early and most impressive exponents. The anxiety to solve problems has led to a virtually total concentration of intellectual effort on the study of convergent problems. Great pride is being taken in this voluntary limitation of the limitless Intellect and its confinement to ‘the art of the soluble'.

'Good scientists,' says Peter B. Medawar, 'study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them’. This is fair enough; it clearly demonstrates, at the same time, that ‘good scientists’ in this sense can deal only with the dead aspect of the Universe.

The real problems of life have to be grappled with. To repeat a quotation from Thomas Aquinas, ‘The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things'; and ‘grappling’ with the help of slender knowledge is the real stuff of life, whereas solving problems - which, to be soluble, must be convergent - with the help of ‘the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things' is merely one of many useful and perfectly honourable human activities designed to save labour.

While the logical mind abhors divergent problems and tries to run away from them, the higher faculties of man accept the challenges of life as they are offered, without complaint, knowing that when things are most contradictory, absurd, difficult and frustrating, then - just then - life really makes sense: as a mechanism provoking and almost forcing us to develop towards higher Levels of Being.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.154-5

One of the underlying generators is because we define the problems in too narrow a way. When we define a problem in a narrow way then we can create a solution to that narrow problem that does benefit that thing, but that interacts with a lot of other things and ends up causing externalities, or harm, in those other areas.

When we define problems in a narrow way in a world that is actually interconnected, we’re separating out from that interconnectedness a particular part that we care about or want to advance - and this is what is unique to humans, our capacity to understand particular parts with abstraction in a way that allows us to build tools - and we can advance parts irrespective of, and in ways that are harmful to, wholes, and that end up creating other issues.

Our way of thinking about problems is one of the problems.

We need to have a much more holistic way of thinking about what is worth advancing - what are all of the things that are driving a particular problem, what are the possible things that will come out of a particular solution that might create the other problems, and how to factor all that in to work out what solutions are worth advancing.

[Daniel Schmachtenberger]
'In Search of the Third Attractor, Daniel Schmachtenberger (part 1)', YouTube

[…] complex systems tend to have higher metabolic costs, higher energy costs. If you compare the opposite extreme, what did it cost to maintain a hundred gatherer society 300,000 years ago? If you measure that in terms of calories, it's not very many. It's basically just the human metabolism of a handful, or maybe even a couple of dozen people. Compare that to the thousands of kilo calories that every individual in our society uses today to maintain complexity.

Complexity always has a cost and ultimately the cost is energy. We're largely not aware of that today, because to us complexity seems to be free - we pay for it through fossil fuels. But in the past, increase in the complexity of a society meant that people had to work harder. There were always constraints against growth in complexity, because people realized that growing a more complex society would be costly.

Well, in terms of the long-term evolution of human societies, this brings up a fundamental question: why do human societies ever grow more complex? If growing more complex costs more, why didn’t we just stay as simple hunter-gatherer bands?

The answer I’ve proposed is that most of the time complexity increases to solve problems. In other words, we might develop new technologies to solve a problem, we might develop new kinds of social structures to solve a problem, we might increase the size of bureaucracy to solve a problem, we might initiate new kinds of programmes to solve a problem - all of these things are increases in complexity that are undertaken to solve problems.

In the past 90% of human populations were involved in producing energy, primarily though agriculture, which means that there is only 10% of the economy in the society left for education, training, specialisation, learning, developing new technologies, innovation; that all had to come from something like 10% of the population and also 10% of our energy budgets.

There are occasions in human history when access to energy gain has allowed human societies to grow complex, and we think this is normal because we’re in a period like that now with our reliance on fossil fuels. Because of that we think that this has been the normal course of human evolution, but in fact it’s highly abnormal and has occurred in human history only a few times, and it’s never lasted very long.

[Joseph Tainter]
'Joe Tainter: “Surplus, Complexity, and Simplification” | The Great Simplification #27’, YouTube

[…] one of the important things I've realized is that growing in complexity to solve problems is what I call a seductive process.

It's seductive in the sense that it is natural for us to want to solve problems. Each increment in complexity seems small and affordable at the time because we don't look at the long term cumulative costs. Ultimately, it's the cumulative costs that seem to do the damage, that make a society susceptible to collapse. 

By a 'cumulative cost', I mean the cost of solving the last problem before, and the last problem before that, and the last problem before that; all of which may have required increases in complexity and increases in the society's energy budget.

Again, I want to emphasize that people today are largely unaware of this because complexity to us appears to be free. We pay for it through fossil fuels.

[Joseph Tainter]
'Joe Tainter: “Surplus, Complexity, and Simplification” | The Great Simplification #27’, YouTube

Related posts:

Levels of Being

Science         -               Religion
Reason           -               Faith
Separate         -               Connected
Hate               -               Love
Head              -               Heart
Lower            -               Higher
Left brain       -               Right brain

In ‘A Guide for the Perplexed’, E.F. Schumacher makes reference to the ancient idea of the Great Chain of Being, suggesting that there are many levels of existence, from Mineral (Matter), to Plant (Life), to Animal (Consciousness), to Man (Self-consciousness), and beyond. There is truth at all levels and so life can be interpreted from any of them, but which you choose is always a matter of faith, not reason.

Religious faith is trusting/believing that there are higher levels, beyond the materialistic reality of science. Faith is a faculty of the heart, science of the head.

Brett Weinstein’s talk with Jonathan Pageau shows an interesting coming together of the different world-views. Weinstein wants to interpret everything through the head, through science, but to truly understand and dialogue with religion means taking it on its own terms and making a leap of faith. The leap itself is the entry requirement - you either leap, or you don’t - but the jump takes you out of science and into another realm entirely. The precepts of science, based as they are in proof and evidence, prevent the leap from being made, hence why the antagonism between religion and science can never really be reconciled.

Throughout the conversation both Weinstein and Pageau are keen to ‘agree’ with the other, which is really a way of showing that whatever argument the other advances has been prefigured and prevents no real threat to their respective world-views. What they are saying when they say ‘I agree’ is ‘my view contains yours.’ In many ways the entire conversation (as with most) was a struggle to assert the primacy of their respective view, albeit in a fairly good natured and non-aggressive way.

This brings to mind Integral and its notion that ‘second tier’ thought (‘Integral’ thought) contains all previous levels. Integral is ultimately a progressive scheme and as such is fundamentally opposed to tradition. There is no way that tradition can be ‘included’ within it because the two are mutually exclusive. Really this is the same as saying that religion cannot be contained within science. 

Integral supposes that as we progress upwards through the various levels of being we can transcend and include those below. Of course, there is some truth in this - if we adopt the modern, liberal, scientistic mindset (‘orange’) then we still contain traces of our more ancient and less civilised selves. However, it may be that these less civilised elements are in fundamental opposition to the later, ‘higher’ levels - there is nothing to say that they can sit together harmoniously within a unified whole.

We only see what our stories allow us to see. In the Great Chain of Being, higher levels are inherently more connected than those below, and in this way they contain them. What is separate at a lower level is seen to be connected at the higher level - indeed, to make connections is to shift to a higher level, to ‘go meta.’ ‘Making connections’ is another way of saying ‘telling a story.’ The validity of the connections that are made at higher levels - the truth of the story - can always be disputed by the level below because every connection is a leap of faith. It is at this point that the dialogue can go no further, because belief is ultimately grounded in faith - you either believe the story or you don’t. No amount of reasoning can facilitate the leap between levels.

Love sees connections. Perhaps Love is connections. This is why faith and love are inextricably linked. But always there is the problem of how to maintain criticality within this context. How to contain hate within love.

It seems to me that science must always be nested within a wider tradition, which is perhaps a way of saying that religion must always contain science, and not the other way around. There is an analogy here to Iain McGilchrist’s notion that the relationship between the brain hemispheres must be fundamentally asymmetrical - that the right must contain the left.

The level of significance to which an observer or investigator tries to attune himself is chosen, not by his intelligence, but by his faith.

The facts themselves, which he is going to observe, do not carry a label indicating the appropriate level at which they ought to be considered. Nor does the choice of an inadequate level lead the intelligence into factual error or logical contradiction. All levels of significance up to the adequate level - i.e. up to the level of meaning […] - are equally factual, equally logical, equally objective, but not equally real.

It is by an act of faith that I choose the level of my investigation; hence the saying 'Credo ut intelligam' - I have faith so as to be able to understand.

If I lack faith, and consequently choose an inadequate level of significance for my investigation, no degree of 'objectivity’ will ever save me from missing the point of the whole thing, and I rob myself of the very possibility of understanding. I shall then be one of those of whom it has been said: 'They, seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand.'

In short, when dealing with something representing a higher grade of significance or Level of Being than inanimate matter, the observer depends not only on the adequateness of his own higher qualities, perhaps 'developed’ through learning and training; he also depends on the adequateness of his 'faith’ or, to put it more conventionally, of his fundamental presuppositions and basic assumptions.

In this respect he tends to be very much a child of his time and of the civilisation in which he has spent his formative years; for the human mind, generally speaking, does not just think: it thinks with ideas, most of which it simply adopts and takes over from surrounding society.

Only through the 'heart' can contact be made with the higher grades of significance and Levels of Being.

For anyone wedded to the materialistic scientism of the modern age it will be impossible to understand what this means. He has no belief in anything higher than man, and he sees in man nothing but a relatively highly evolved animal. He insists that truth can be discovered only by means of the brain, which is situated in the head and not in the heart.

All this means that 'understanding with one's heart’ is to him a meaningless collection of words. From his point of view, he is quite right: the brain, situated in the head and supplied with data by the bodily senses, is fully adequate for dealing with inanimate matter, the lowest of the four great Levels of Being. Indeed, its working would only be disturbed and possibly be distorted if the ‘heart' interfered in any way.

As a materialistic scientist, he believes that life, consciousness and self-awareness are nothing but manifestations of complex arrangements of inanimate particles - a 'faith' which makes it perfectly rational for him to place exclusive reliance on the bodily senses, to 'stay in the head', and to reject any interference from the 'powers' situated in the heart.

For him, in other words, higher levels of reality simply do not exist, because his faith excludes the possibility of their existence.

Faith is not in conflict with reason; nor is it a substitute for reason. Faith chooses the grade of significance or Level of Being at which the search for knowledge and understanding is to aim. There is reasonable faith and also unreasonable faith. To look for meaning and purpose at the level of inanimate matter would be as unreasonable an act of faith as an attempt to explain the masterpieces of human genius as nothing but the outcome of economic interests or sexual frustrations.

The faith of the agnostic is perhaps the most unreasonable of all, because, unless it is mere camouflage, it is a decision to treat the question of significance as insignificant, like saying: 'I am not willing to decide whether […] a book is merely a coloured shape, a series of marks on paper, a series of letters arranged according to certain rules or an expression of meaning.'

Not surprisingly, traditional wisdom has always treated the agnostic with withering contempt: ‘I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.’

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.54-7

At all levels of analysis, the level above is unseen from the level below. 

If you’re analysing something at a molecular level you can never see the apple, you’ll see its constituents. If you go down, same problem; if you go up, same problem. If you’re talking about the apple and an orchard, then if you’re looking at the level of the apple you’ll never see the orchard.

Faith is that move between levels. 

From the level at which you are, if you only analyse the elements given to you at that level then there’s no jump to the higher identity. That jump is always a leap of faith. Once you’ve made it then you can analyse things at the higher level.

We can see parts of things, and we can see wholes - we can notice that things are made of parts, and also have unity. But the jump from the parts to the unity is one which is not accessible at the level of the parts.

[Jonathan Pageau]
'Ancient Wisdom, Modern World: Bret Speaks with Jonathan Pageau', YouTube

Evolutionism is not science; it is science fiction, even a kind of hoax.

It is a hoax that has succeeded too well and has imprisoned modern man in what looks like an irreconcilable conflict between 'science' and 'religion'. It has destroyed all faiths that pull mankind up and has substituted a faith that pulls mankind down. Nil admirari.

Chance and necessity and the utilitarian mechanism of natural selection may produce curiosities, improbabilities and atrocities, but nothing that can be admired as an achievement - just as winning a prize in a lottery cannot elicit admiration. There is nothing ‘higher’ and nothing 'lower'; everything is much of a muchness, even though some things are more complex than others – just by chance.

Evolutionism, purporting to explain all and everything solely and exclusively by natural selection for adaptation and survival, is the most extreme product of the materialistic utilitarianism of the nineteenth century. The inability of twentieth-century thought to rid itself of this imposture is a failure that may well cause the collapse of Western civilisation.

For it is impossible for any civilisation to survive without a faith in meanings and values transcending the utilitarianism of comfort and survival - in other words, without a religious faith.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.133

It is not a question of good or bad thoughts.

Reality, Truth, God, Nirvana cannot be found by thought, because thought belongs to the Level of Being established by consciousness and not to that higher Level which is established by self-awareness. At the latter, thought has its legitimate place, but it is a subservient one.

Thoughts cannot lead to 'Awakening' because the whole point is to awake from thinking into 'seeing'.

Thought can raise any number of questions; they may all be interesting, but their answers do nothing to wake us up. In Buddhism, they are called 'vain thoughts'

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.85

Art comes before language in human evolution - we learned to draw on the walls of caves before we really spoke.

Like everything in evolution, its accident. Basically we draw because it has use for the hunt, but what it also does is allow us to shift up a level of abstraction. If you go up a level of abstraction you make novel associations. I have some of my best ideas either walking or at the opera, because I’ve moved up a level of abstraction. My mind associates things in a less concrete way. Abstraction is key to innovation.

It is one of the arguments most of us from a scientific background are making against the focus on STEM education, because if you don’t have art you don’t have innovation. It is this engineering culture coming through again. Engineers who appreciate art are more likely to be exaptive.

[Dave Snowden]

[William James’s] preoccupation with "optimism" and "pessimism," together with his identification of these qualities with "health" and "sickness," suggests a certain deterioration in the intellectual atmosphere of the times, from the effects of which even those who set themselves against the times could not altogether escape - a coarsening of thought, which would eventually reduce all spiritual questions to questions of "mental health."

At first sight, James's work appears not merely to foreshadow this therapeutic view of religion, the dominant view in our own time, but to present it in a fully developed form. James conducts his investigation of religion, after all, in the psychological mode.

In […] The Varieties of Religious Experience […] he endorses the religious insight that only forces outside a person's conscious control can bring about real changes in character and outlook, but he takes the position that these forces enter the self not from above but from below, from the subterranean depths of the mind.

He judges religious ideas, or at least appears to judge them, solely by their effect on mental health, waving aside the question of their truth. Thus he argues that Christian Science and other mind-cure movements should be taken seriously because they sometimes produce a "change of character for the better," whereas liberal Christianity "does absolutely nothing" for the believer.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p. 284

Niebuhr had reservations about the political implications of Barth's neo-orthodoxy, which seemed to him to write off the political realm as irredeemably corrupt; but he too came to accept original sin as an "inescapable fact of human existence," to reject the shallow optimism of liberal theology, and to acknowledge the impossibility of justifying religious belief on purely rational grounds.

In the face of “nature's ruthlessness” - of the "brevity and mortality of natural life" - feelings of trust and gratitude (in other words, a belief in God) could not be defended by an appeal to reason, as Niebuhr explained in An Interpretation of Christian Ethics (1935).

Just as an "impartial science” could not fully justify the “right to believe” in justice or in the possibility that justice would prevail in the political order, so it could not justify a belief in the goodness of God's wicked world.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.370-1

Related posts:


Accept            -               Aspire
Static               -               Dynamic

[…] in the second volume of Democracy in America, he presents the energy of democratic society as fueled, in large part, by a certain kind of unhappiness. This unhappiness did not have the character of misery or despair; rather, Tocqueville observed a pervasive unease. The name he gave to this unease was restlessness (inquiétude).

For Pascal, restlessness is an expression of the human need for God. It derives from man’s desire to be immortal. Since man cannot be immortal, “he has decided to prevent himself from thinking about it.” All men have a “secret instinct to seek external diversion and occupation, coming from their feeling of constant wretchedness.”

[...] Tocqueville identifies two main sources of modern restlessness: the democratic preoccupation with material well-being and democratic envy.

Tocqueville argues that, in places untouched by progress, in which one finds a poor and uneducated populace, one finds hardship but also tranquility and resilience amid difficult circumstances. In America, where there is great material prosperity, relatively speaking, and great hopefulness of achieving still more prosperity, one finds widespread discontent.

He describes Americans moving, changing, and shifting from one place to another, from one occupation to another, from one life to another. He describes people buying land and houses only to sell them quickly and changing professions multiple times in their careers.

The phenomena he describes here overlap quite extensively with the universal change and motion that he praised in volume 1. What had been described as expressions of dynamic energy now become expressions of dissatisfaction and discontent.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.441-2, 447

[...] it is an essential characteristic of the personal and modifiable technics of Man, in contrast to the genus technics of animals, that every discovery contains the possibility and necessity of new discoveries, every fulfilled wish awakens a thousand more, every triumph over Nature incites to yet others.

The soul of this beast of prey is ever hungry, his will never satisfied - that is the curse that lies upon this kind of life, but also the greatness inherent in its destiny.

It is precisely its best specimens that know the least quiet, happiness, or enjoyment.

[Oswald Spengler]
Man and Technics, p. 58

To rise in the social scale, even in calm and normal times, the prime requisite, beyond any question, is a capacity for hard work, but the requisite next in importance is ambition, a firm resolve to get on in the world, to outstrip one's fellows.

Now those traits hardly go with extreme sensitiveness or, to be quite frank, with ‘goodness' either. For 'goodness' cannot remain indifferent to the hurts of those who must be thrust behind if one is to step ahead of them [….] If one is to govern men, more useful than a sense of justice and much more useful than altruism, or even than extent of knowledge or broadness of view—are perspicacity, a ready intuition of individual and mass psychology, strength of will and, especially, confidence in oneself.

With good reason did Machiavelli put into the mouth of Cosimo dei Medici the much quoted remark, that states are not ruled with prayer-books.

[Gaetano Mosca]
The Ruling Class, p. 449-50

Lucretius and Epicurus did not promise this kind of complete knowledge at all and took no interest in the technology that might grow from it. Their belief in chance went deeper, making them much more radically sceptical.

They had no confidence in any practical attempt to improve human life. Epicurus himself actually despised the pursuit of theoretical knowledge for its own sake as one more distraction from the pursuit of inner peace and warned his followers against it. 'Set your sail, O happy youth,' he cried, ‘and flee from every form of education.'

Lucretius is indeed more interested in details about atoms, but for him too knowledge itself is not the aim. Knowledge is a means not an end, a means to inward peace, not to improved outward activity. Primarily it is a cure for anxiety, a path to ataraxia, peace of mind.

What the Epicureans were preaching was essentially a fatalistic quietism. They did not think that human happiness could be increased at all either by political activity or by the satisfactions of love, or indeed by knowledge either.

Instead, they put their faith in a stern limitation of human ambition, a concentration on what little is possible to us here and now.

They thought that people who had once fully grasped that they could not change the world at all, either by sacrificing to the gods or by any other kind of effort, would cease their anxious striving, would compose their minds, would be able to enjoy the satisfactions that life actually gave them in the present, and would console themselves for their sorrows by admiring the cosmos.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.37-8

Contrasting free societies with those that are not free, Tocqueville writes that the former are “all bustle and activity,” while the latter are static and self-satisfied. In the former, “improvement and progress are on everyone’s mind.”

He thus seems to have judged that the constant change to which Americans were exposed made them adventurous and innovative, and this drove them to success in commercial pursuits. Even Lawler, whose book The Restless Mind greatly illuminated the influence of Pascal’s profoundly negative view of restlessness on Tocqueville, acknowledged that “Tocqueville sees greatness in the restlessness of the Americans.”

While Tocqueville spoke admiringly of the energy he observed in Americans, and of the lively, vibrant pace of their economic and political life, his praise for the spiritual effects of the “universal movement” occurring in America culminates in the suggestion that it gives rise to excellence in commercial pursuits. 

That is certainly noteworthy, but Tocqueville himself did not regard excellence in commercial pursuits as the highest kind of human excellence.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.446

‘Ambition’ and ‘stagnation’ are peculiarly modern, Faustian concepts.

The son of a 12th century blacksmith does not have ‘ambitions’ to become a blacksmith - he understands that to become a blacksmith is his lot in life, and so has no uncertainty in this regard. He does not need to aspire to the role - he needs merely to show the requisite level of application and industry, and his destiny will be secured.

Ambition is only relevant within a dynamic system, in which individuals are ‘mobile’ and free to choose their lot; and in which there are few limits on the size of your chosen lot.

From the perspective of modern man, the 12th century blacksmith is ‘unambitious’ - he has no desire to improve or change his lot, and so appears to be content to ‘stagnate’ - which is really just a modern way of saying ‘staying the same over time.’

We can, then, see the celebration of aspiration and ambition as a sign of a wider dissolution, encapsulated by the ubiquitous pattern of runaway growth - all of which is driven by the Faustian bio-spirit and its incessant push towards infinity.

Notes: Iain McGilchrist - ‘Iain McGilchrist on The Matter With Things’

Notes: Iain McGilchrist, The Jim Rutt Show - ‘EP 154 Iain McGilchrist on The Matter With Things’, ‘EP 155 Iain McGilchrist Part 2: The Matter With Things’


Jim: But to turn loose of objects as a core object in cognition for useful action in the world, I think is very dangerous. I often run into people trying to sell too much quantum mechanics with respect to its relevance higher up in the world.

Iain: […] my point is not that thinking of things as objects in daily life is necessarily wrong from a pragmatic point of view. I’m really making a philosophical point that actually when you come to look at them, that they’re better understood as processes, some very slow processes, some much more rapid processes. But it stops one from making elementary mistakes, like seeing them as sharply defined and distinct from the environment that they thrive in.

Jim: Maybe time is discontinuous at that range, or as I like to think, the distinction between continuous and discontinuous disappears into a fog of confusion at that scale, but I think my takeaway is that things that occur at this ultra micro level do not matter at the level of us.

Iain: Yes, you are right in one sense that when we’re dealing with daily life, we don’t have to be thinking about whether there is continuity or not.

Rutt points out that there are certain distinctions that are irrelevant at the everyday scale - that, for instance, it doesn’t really matter to most of us whether time is ultimately discontinuous because whether it is or isn’t has no impact on our decisions.

McGilchrist makes the point that distinctions at the level of ‘deep code’ are in fact important - that everyday life is, in fact, downstream from such deep, philosophical distinctions, and so it is important to get them right. Our worldview is the water that we swim in, it affects everything albeit in a very indirect fashion.

For instance, to give ‘process’ primacy over ‘state’ is important as it gives us a philosophical base which leads to wiser decisions at the everyday level. It establishes that the right hemisphere is primary and checks the expansiveness of the left hemisphere from the get-go.

Deep code, defaults

I take randomness to be an asymptotic element that we can only approach ever nearer to, but never actually to achieve - that order is the principle that is visible everywhere and that true randomness is not a reality. 

Although degrees of chaos, degrees of disorder are very, very important to the functioning of almost anything that we can think of, especially of life.

Animism, consciousness, order, process are the defaults, and their opposites - inanimacy, chaos, stasis - are asymptotic, limit conditions. That they appear to be real - that an object appears still, or a process appears chaotic - is an illusion of scale. Look closely enough and a deeper reality is revealed.

State / Process

I’m a follower of process philosophy. The most famous person in that sphere is A.N. Whitehead. And I effectively believe that what we see as things - which implies somehow that they’re contained and perhaps rather static and until given a push - is a mistake if we see it that way, because what they really are all processes.

I sometimes give the example of the mountain behind my house, which looks very solid, a very great big lump and a thing. But actually if you had a time lapse camera going back 13 billion years, you would see that it’s part of a wave that still hasn’t finished its motion.

So yeah, this business of freezing things, examining little tiny parts […] it can tell you something about the little bit you’re looking at, but it can’t tell you about the bigger picture.

I sometimes quote Yates saying, “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?” Because in a way, we are what we do, we become what our actions and interactions in the world make us.

Life is in some sense a speeding up of specific fundamental processes within a bounded region, a whirlwind.


[…] we have to have some idea about how we come towards ideas that are truer than others. And I’m not suggesting that there is one simple truth, but we wouldn’t be able to do anything or say anything unless we believe that certain things were truer than others. So how do we get that?

[…] there’s a difference between the left hemisphere’s idea of truth and the right hemisphere idea of truth.

[…] correspondence truth is the idea that the propositions that we make or have the thoughts, beliefs that we have a kind of version of the world, they reflect the world so that we’ve got a model to be able to work on. Whereas, coherence theory says it’s not about correspondence in a one-to-one way, it’s more about do these various aspects of what we believe to be true make a coherent whole?

I don’t think that either of these is right and I quote Anthony Quinton saying that probably truth will turn out to be an amalgam of these points of view.

But I think we can also, using the hemisphere approach, see a certain difference, which is that the left hemisphere is again viewing the world, the cosmos, as made of things, of stuff, bits here and there, whereas the right hemisphere is likely to prioritize relationships. This is what it is always seeing in both the human and the non-human world. And so it’s interested in the relationships that come and go between the observer and the thing that’s observed.

And the idea of this is not truth as a thing or correctness - which lies in a way behind all the left hemisphere versions of how we get at truth, including the coherence theory and the correspondence theory - it’s not so much like that, as a clearing a way of error.

So it’s working apophatically, in the way that science actually works, which is to clear away mistakes. Science never says this is true, it just says, this doesn’t look true on the basis of what we know now. And that leaves you with something else that you can work with.

[…] truth [is] as a process […] a never ending journey of a reverberative kind in which our consciousness and the consciousness of what is around us come into alignment. And this doesn’t really have the same features as a world of things that are in principle knowable, even if we can’t actually know them too well.

I oppose to that, the idea of truth as unconcealing, in other words, clearing away so that we see the picture ever more clearly, rather as a sculptor makes a statue, not by putting together an arm, a leg ahead, and a torso, but by actually clearing away the stone, that makes the thing stand out.

The process view of truth is provisional and more humble - it stops us from thinking that we have the truth, and so prevents the ‘seizing up’ of fundamentalism.

'Correctness' is only truly relevant to closed systems, such as mathematics. There is no binary correct/incorrect within a complex domain, only probability.  

Tradition is the container of innovation, which is another way of saying that the left hemisphere is contained within the right. 

In modernity the left hemisphere is uncontained and rampant, and so innovation becomes aimless and ultimately toxic for the wider collective.

The presence of complexity indicates the presence of a soul.

Finite and Infinite Games

Finite                -                 Infinite
Bounded           -                 Unbounded
Extrinsic            -                 Intrinsic
State                  -                 Process
Zero-sum           -                 Non-zero-sum
Short term          -                 Long term

Infinite and finite games can be roughly mapped to McGilchrist's conception of the left and right hemispheres. 

The idea that "finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game" mirrors McGilchrist's suggestion that the relationship between the hemispheres is asymmetrical, with the left contained within, or subordinate to, the right (the left acting as the 'emissary' to the right's 'master').

There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

Finite games are those instrumental activities - from sports to politics to wars - in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game - there is only one - includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game.

A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength. Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants […]

‘Finite and Infinite Games’, Wikipedia

Here are the rules of finite and infinite games:

  1. A finite game has a “playing field”, either physical or virtual, while infinite games have no boundaries.

  2. We cannot play a finite game alone. We must have an opponent to play against and usually teammates to play with.

  3. Only one person or team can win a finite game.

  4. Participation must be voluntary. If you must play a game, you cannot play a game.

  5. The rules of a finite game are the mutually-accepted terms that dertermine the winner. In an infinite game, the rules must change during the course of play to prevent anyone from winning, and to bring as many other persons as possible into play.

  6. Finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game.

[Al and David Blixt]
‘Never Win the Infinite Game’

James Carse has a distinction between finite games and infinite games. A finite game is a game that’s played because there is a goal to this game, which is as it were to pot all the billiard balls and win.

But there are other games in life which are absolutely not pointless or purposeless, but don’t have any interior purpose.

What is the purpose of playing music? What is the purpose of a play? It’s not something external that it has utilitarian value in reaching. It’s that the process itself is the purpose and the continuing of it infinitely would be a fulfilment of that purpose.

So it’s quite different from the finite situation in which you’re closing down on one particular outcome.

[…] the infinite games have intrinsic purpose, whereas the finite games have extrinsic purpose. They have a goal that’s definable. The purpose of the system is only fulfilled once it reaches that particular goal, whereas many purposes are not of that nature. They don’t have to have reached a certain point or certain goal, but their purpose lies within them.

When you come to think of animals, I think this is rather important, because the tendency is to think that somehow the purpose of living is to pass on life. Well, it depends how you think of that. If you think of life as a celebratory entity that we don’t understand, that we are part of and wish to continue being in and to continue making, then yes, but not in the sense that its purpose of life is to propagate your genes by copulation.

This is to reduce things to an almost absurd level.

[Iain McGilchrist]
‘EP 155 Iain McGilchrist Part 2: The Matter With Things’, The Jim Rutt Show, YouTube

Related posts:

The Goldilocks Zone

The edge of chaos is a transition space between order and disorder that is hypothesized to exist within a wide variety of systems. This transition zone is a region of bounded instability that engenders a constant dynamic interplay between order and disorder.

In the sciences in general, the phrase has come to refer to a metaphor that some physical, biological, economic and social systems operate in a region between order and either complete randomness or chaos, where the complexity is maximal.

Adaptation plays a vital role for all living organisms and systems. All of them are constantly changing their inner properties to better fit in the current environment. The most important instruments for the adaptation are the self-adjusting parameters inherent for many natural systems. The prominent feature of systems with self-adjusting parameters is an ability to avoid chaos. The name for this phenomenon is "Adaptation to the edge of chaos".

Adaptation to the edge of chaos refers to the idea that many complex adaptive systems (CAS) seem to intuitively evolve toward a regime near the boundary between chaos and order. 

Physics has shown that edge of chaos is the optimal settings for control of a system. It is also an optional setting that can influence the ability of a physical system to perform primitive functions for computation. In CAS, coevolution generally occurs near the edge of chaos, and a balance should be maintained between flexibility and stability to avoid structural failure. 

As a response to coping with turbulent environments; CAS bring out flexibility, creativity, agility, anti-fragility and innovation near the edge of chaos; provided the network structures have sufficient decentralized, non-hierarchical network structures.

'Edge of Chaos'

Related posts:

Sedentary / Mobile

Sedentary                -                      Mobile
State                        -                      Process
Permanence            -                      Change

A sense of looseness, negotiatedness, or temporariness is prominent in Pintupi social action. Very little ever seems "settled."

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.275

When individuals have the capacity to choose which social relations to sustain, such relations tend to be fragile.

On the other hand, Pintupi personal autonomy depends upon sustaining relations with others. Thus, the temporary polity must be continually renegotiated among the autonomous actors who are involved with each other. Aurarky is not by any means the goal of Pintupi action. On the contrary, they prefer to live with others. 

The question is whether any particular aggregation of persons can endure.

Thus, the relief with which older Pintupi describe the traditional movements out from the large, fixed gatherings at summer water holes to small, autonomous family groups is paralleled by contemporary events. Since establishing the early outstations in 1973, Pintupi continue to move centrifugally outward from the large settlements, where conflict and tension have been marked, to smaller and relatively more peaceful outstations.

The Pintupi system of organization places little emphasis on maintaining the structure of any residential community, finding its duration in other social forms. The relations that endure, objectified in the reproduction of "country," are those of the broader translocal social structure.

What it preserves, rather than community integrity, is individual autonomy. But the structure assumes the possibility of mobility among people who live in small and changing local groups. These have not been the conditions of the large, sedentary Aboriginal settlements of the past fifty years.

The critical feature of Pintupi politics is the continuing emphasis on individual autonomy, that sociality is reproduced without an individual's subordination to a higher-order social unit such as a “community.”

The Pintupi, in other words, are not communal. Society is not accomplished through an individual's duty to a corporation of which he or she is a part, but by obligations individuals have to each other.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.256-7

The Pintupi case illustrates that the relations enduring through time are those of the broader translocal social structure. Thus, the production of social persons is concerned specifically with the reproduction of the condition of widespread relatedness among people.

However much actual bands may coalesce and disperse, an underlying nexus of relations must be sustained.

On the one hand, individuals do not identify entirely with or subordinate their autonomy to the band they are currently living with; on the other hand, they must sustain the possibility of entering into productive relations with others not included in the current residential group. With the ironies so characteristic of history, the enduring dimension of Pintupi structure reflects regional organization as the condition on which any concrete residential community can exist.

Broader ties, in turn, limit the continuity of any residential group.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.291

Pintupi "trouble" is resolved less often by collective action and subordination of individual autonomy than it is by a reaggregation of people in space.

Pintupi remember the large aggregate communities that once formed around the few available water sources in summer months as exciting and socially intense. However, their descriptions also testify to mounting tension and conflict when coresidence had to be sustained for a long time.

During these larger gatherings, ceremony was the effective means of integrating coresidents into a more comprehensive community by coordinating autonomy and relatedness. Insofar as ritual requires large numbers of people, this correspondence was obviously more than a felicitous coincidence.

The large and semipermanent quality of contemporary Pintupi communities makes them similar to the temporary aggregations of Western Desert summers. Indeed, throughout the Northern Territory, observers have commented on the tension, conflict, and strain that settlement life imposes on Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal people who came to live at Papunya attempted to integrate themselves as "one countrymen" by traditional means, through marriage exchange and shared ritual. But the problems presented by the increased social scale and the permanence of sedentary life proved too great to surmount except by fission.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.259

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Come Together

The cultural meaning Pintupi attribute to "happiness" is clear in the following example. 

Informants frequently told me that the settlement where they lived was "not a happy place." There were fights all the time because there were "no ceremonies." There should be, they said, "ceremonies all the time." Indeed, on a day in which numerous fights and arguments were occurring, several men suggested that a ceremony be organized to stop the fighting. This would, it was thought, make everyone happy.

There is a reality to this expectation. Singing functions as a "ritual process" that reduces discord, and it also presents participants with a lesson about what it means to be among walytja.

Typically, when ceremonies take place among people who do not usually camp together, they are organized to reflect cooperation and complementarity (through exchange of functions and meat), drawing symbolically on the model of the individual camp. Ceremony presents intergroup relations as involving the same mutuality and sharing as other relations of walytja. Indeed, those with whom one takes part in a ceremony become walytja to a degree.

To the Pintupi, singing provides a salient image of sociability. Whenever large groups came together in traditional times, they would sing together at night. Ceremony-song and dance was the real content of most intergroup relations.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.112

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