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from critical realism 16 Jan 2022 09:39
Critical realism is a series of philosophical positions on a range of matters including ontology, causation, structure, persons, and forms of explanation. Emerging in the context of the post-positivist crises in the natural and social sciences in the 1970s and 1980s, critical realism represents a broad alliance of social theorists and researchers trying to develop a properly post-positivist social science. Critical realism situates itself as an alternative paradigm both to scientistic forms of positivism concerned with regularities, regression-based variables models, and the quest for law-like forms; and also to the strong interpretivist or postmodern turn which denied explanation in favor of interpretation, with a focus on hermeneutics and description at the cost of causation.
from consent 16 Jan 2022 09:38
...agency, both individual and collective, is at the heart of the feminist, and indeed, all radical political projects. The attractions of poststructuralist theorizing for many feminists has been its decisive break with logocentrism. In this paper I will argue that we should adopt a different theoretical starting point. Drawing heavily on the work of Margaret Archer, I will argue that critical realism has much to offer theories of political action.
Consent is a concept from Good Old-fashioned Liberal Individualism and as such is in disrepute these days, eg from feminists like Catherine Mackinnon:
Fundamentally, it needs to be faced that consent is not an equal concept. It is an intrinsically unequal one that presupposes an actor and an acted-upon — the purported form of power of the acted-upon being acceding to the actor’s actions, doing what you are told to do — with no guarantee of equality of circumstance. That it might make sense in a society of actual social equality does not mean that it will get us there, because it silently presupposes that the parties are equals whether they are or not. It relies on an illusory image of a woman’s “agency” under conditions of inequality, as if one can be free without being equal.
Archer, M. S. (2000) Being human: the problem of agency (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
For me, it's an interesting edge-case for agency. Feminism and other liberation movements can be conceptualized as efforts to build both group and individual agency among populations that are thought to lack it.
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I suggest that feminist work has too often been shaped by an incomplete and static view of women as either victims or agents, and argue that what I have previously identified as the false dichotomy between women's victimization and women's agency is a central tension within feminism.
Working within a critical realist framework Margaret Archer (1995, 1996, 2000) has developed her analysis of human agency over the course of three books.
Also I would think that all the weirdness at the margins of the Trump movement (Kek, meme magic, the Qanon cult, and the connections with Yarvin and Nick Land) would be topics of great interest here. Maybe it's too unpleasant to think about how weird shit is being weaponized by malignant forces, but probably not good idea to ignore it either.
And it's particularly wrong when it comes to fascism, which attacks the liberal and rational basis of society. Fascism doesn't operate on ideas; and the Trumpian form of fascism is explcitly designed to allow people to express their feelings without regard to any ground truths, which are dismissed as "fake news".
Deplatforming is the social analog of Freudian repression. And while both of those might be necessary for civilization, they are imperfect, and the repressed will always try to find ways to reassert itself.
But this is entirely wrong, and its particularly wrong for political speech, which is always aimed at producing some kind of power shift in the real world. Political speech is not about ideas, its about the political strength of people and coalitions. Everybody kind of knows this, too, except a few naive intellectuals.
Liberalism doesn't really know how to defend itself against these toxic ideas, given its metaphysics. I view all the cancellation brou-ha-ha as kind of a weak immune response of liberal civilization against an invasive and potentially fatal disease. It's maybe not the best defense, but its better than nothing, And like a biological immune response, it can go too far and cause more damage than it prevents.
...the realization that the old-school liberalism that I grew up with is just false in many respects, and one of those its its model of free speech. The liberal idea is that speech and discourse is highly separable from action and power, so you can let all manner of ideas be debated in the speech-sphere and hopefully the good ones will win out due to rationality and make it into the sphere of action.
from Technic and Magic 16 Jan 2022 09:11
Ernst Jünger, whom we briefly encountered in Chapter 1, began his century-long literary career by identifying Technic as the reality-principle of the contemporary age, while proposing to wholeheartedly embrace its reshaping of the world and of our lives within it....It was only after the Second World War, at the dawn of the atomic age, that Jünger radically modified the ethical direction of his philosophy.... Jünger recognized Technic’s nihilism as pure annihilation of any possibility of life, imagination and action in the world.
To better elucidate the quality of language as understood absolutely, let us bring in our first example of an archetypal incarnation of a hypostasis. The archetypal incarnation of the first hypostasis in Technic’s chain of emanations, consists in a suggested equivalence between truth and representation, according to which: truth is representation and representation is truth} We can find this equivalence at work in countless aspects of our contemporary experience of the world, in all fields of human activity.
Something about "hypostases", which is the plural of hypostasis, the underlying state or underlying substance and is the fundamental reality that supports all else.
I wondered if it was precisely at this axiomatic level, that I could detect the present constitution of our world and of today’s range of the possible. I started asking myself: what are the implicit metaphysical assumptions that define the architecture of our reality, and that structure our contemporary existential experience?
The record-shattering investments in Big-Data systems and technology rest on the belief that there can’t possibly be anything ontologically relevant that couldn’t, at least potentially, be reduced (and reduced truthfully) to the serial units of the language of data.
This is not really right. Every practicing data scientist is acutely aware that the data available for computation is only a very coarse image of the underlying reality, both error and incompleteness are well-understood facts of life.
In traditional philosophical parlance, that is the level of metaphysics: the place where it is discussed what it means to exist, what kind of things legitimately exist, how they exist, in what relation they stand to each other and to their attributes and so on. By deciding on metaphysics, that is by deciding on the most fundamental composition of our world, it is implicitly decided what kind of things can or cannot take place in that world.
Through Technic’s education, one learns to become a better ‘processor’: a better engineer, professor, nurse, father, lover, citizen and so on. Education in the age of Technic has to do, predictably, with the acceleration of the pace with which an ‘abstract general entity’ can contribute to the overall expansion of as many productive series as possible.....Conversely, the process of initiation is aimed precisely at producing in its subject a radical transformation at the existential and ontological level. After initiation, a person ceases to be merely the sum of their linguistic and productive dimensions, while beco­ming also a manifestation of the ineffable dimension that constitutes existence in itself.
Technic is not exactly technology, but it's close enough to make me slightly defensive. As a software guy I have a professional interest in untangling technology from the bad ideas it is associated with, include Rationalism and the like.
politics meets metaphysics. OK. I just fear (as a technic kind of guy) I might find myself on the wrong side.
This is so anti-computational, or more accurately, anti-world-as-computation, as in cellular automata models of physics. Have to say it doesn't sound so bad to me.
book by Federico Campagna, via Weird Studies. Posits two contrasting "cosmogonic forces"; Technic, which dominates today's world, and Magic, an alternative approach to reality that is supposed to be liberatory or at least not subject to Technic's flaws, which include being ultimately self-destructive of the very reality it attempts to construct.
This is the age of metaphysical nihilism: the nihilism that sets the background on fire and undoes the very fabric of reality. Under its attack, ‘everything can become everything, that is to say: nothingness emerges’
But what is it, what kind of thing is it? Technic (and its counterpart Magic) are "cosmogonic forces", or maybe "hyperobjects", which to me translates as "powerful large-scale psychosocial dynamics that have their own logics and agency". OK that kind of makes sense, and certainly the power behind both capitalism, technology, and modernism would seem to qualify. These forces manifest through "emanations" and "hypostases" and I won't pretend to understand what that means.
Technic is the force behind our present world, with so responsbile for its well-known flaws, but its exact nature is a bit unclear. It seems closely tied to technology, rationalism, modernism, abstraction, and capitalism, but is not quite any of those. It is relentlessly instrumental, purposeful, and totalizing in its use of language. It makes up our world and is also intent on destroying even the possibility of a world. It's too powerful to defeat, but there are other worlds available that Technic does not rule, and they offer the possibility of escape.
Yet, such ‘political’ aims are not the main reasons behind a person’s adoption of Magic’s reality-setting. Rather, they come as welcome consequences, in the same manner that the adoption of anarchist ‘prefigurative’ practices (i.e. living already as if we had achieved radical emancipation) has public, macro-political consequences only as a symptom, rather than as its primary aim. In fact, the parallels between anarchic practice and an individual’s adoption of Magic’s reality-system in today’s world of Technic are more than superficial
In other words, we can define existence as the limit-concept that points towards the tendency of pure ineffability, measureless­ ness, ‘in itself-ness’ as absolute solidity (that which is, as it is in itself before its reduction to semantics) and towards all that can be approached only through direct apprehension. Conversely, we can define essence as the limit-concept pointing towards the tendency of pure language, measure, presence as contextually defined {what is, as defined by its difference from other existents - like words in a dictionary), and towards all that can be approached only through rational categorization.
Also reminds me of Christopher Alexander, another thinker who hates industrial modernity and thinks of it as anti-life, and requires reconstructing an entirely new worldview with different metaphysics to combat it.
If the metaphysical architecture of Technic’s world has produced such an annihilating immiseration of our existential experience, then we must imagine a new set of reality-principles that would allow for a new range of the possible to emerge.
The character of our contemporary existential experience, points towards a certain type of ordering of our world, and of ourselves within it. This ordering is superficially social/economic/etc., but in fact derives from a set of fundamental metaphysical axioms. These axioms combine together in an overall system, which is the reality-system of our age.
OK, I find it weird that the sphere is the bad guy in this scenario...isn't a sphere also the image of wholeness, and so anti-technic?
And in fact, the next chapter will be dedicated to an alternative form of cosmogony that is centred around the principle of ineffability, which so far we have encountered only negatively as the nemesis of absolute language
the relationship of enmity between two terminological false friends: unit and unity. Unity, as represented for example by the Pythagorean monad or by the Neoplatonic One, is a principle that presents completeness and a state of self-containment, as the pinnacle both of the perfection of a thing and of its existence. The unitary One exists above all else, because nothing else is as stable and self-sufficient. Conversely, the unit indicates a state of necessary disintegration of the world. It is not just that a unit can never be complete, but that it shouldn’t; was it ever to exit the endless chain of production and of limitless growth, it would suddenly lose any possibility to reclaim citizenship in the world. In the face of this imperative to be reduced to the level of pure instrumentality, we begin to sense that subtle, silent form of resistance to which we referred at the beginning of this paragraph on the third hypostas
See Telling the American Story for another attempt to axiomatize existence, or a local version of one.
Considered ontologically, truth’s reference to something ‘being the case’, takes the place of something simply ‘being’.
Maybe you might reductively say that technic is roughly science and magic is roughly art, although I am suspicious of attempts to oppose these forces. Technology and art are not in opposition, or shouldn't be – artists are hackers.
As a method, its primary justification is in its usefulness rather than its truthfulness. Important insights on this distinction were offered by nineteenth-twentieth-century German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, particularly in his influential 1911 work Philosophie des Als Ob (The Philosophy of the As If). Departing from some of Kant’s basic intuitions, Vaihinger developed a vertiginous system of philosophy, based on the notion that our way of dealing with the world is always based on ‘fictions’ rather than ‘facts’ or even ‘hypotheses’. Since the world as it is in itself is hidden to our rational understanding, claims Vaihinger, we cannot then proceed through our life by way of verifiable hypotheses - rather, we must always make up fictional concepts and notions that we employ to navigate the world, while treating them ‘as if’ they were ‘real’
This recalls the situated action critique of AI, unsurprisingly, I think both they and Campagna are drinking from the Heideggerian well.
Thus, according to Vaihinger, we should treat our ideas about the world - that is, the notion that I exist as an individual, that this rock and its atoms exist, that freedom exists, etc. - ‘as if’ they were real, because by doing so we are able to enjoy a dignified existence in the world. Indeed, they are never to be considered as representative of anything true in itself - they don’t truthfully depict anything that preexists them - and they should be discarded as soon as their usefulness fades or is supplanted by a better fiction.
Likewise, a person who has adopted Magic’s reality-system treats the descriptively linguistic structures of the world as if s/he accepted their claim to existence. How could one traverse the world, if one was to fully reject the linguistic labels that distinguish one thing from another, or to the conventions that distinguish between noise and sound? Yet, such a belief is always performed at a distance, always shrouded in the caveat of the as if.
Truth as representation and representation as truth, indicates an ontological scenario in which the ‘stuff’ that makes up the world is merely a ‘state of affairs’, at once devoid of autonomous existence, uniqueness and substantiality, and so radically un-situated at an ontological level as to be available for limitless reproduction - better, corresponding exactly to its own reproduction.
Stripped of its autonomy and volition, the processor cannot even be said to be part of a deterministic mechanism, since for determinism to take place there should be at least a theoretical possibility for things to be different than they actually are;
It is in reference to these aspects, that we can find the archetypal incarnation of this hypostasis in the figure of the processor. The processor can be considered here as the peculiar evolution of the traditional notion of subject, of which it retains the ‘subjecthood’, while doing without the aspect of autonomous existence and volition.
It reminds me of Blake's Urizen, who symbolized the relentless rationalizing part of the human mind. Or Ginsberg's Moloch, a later incarnation of the same spirit.
To truly believe in a world that is a sphere, is the mark of one who has lost any perception of an irreducible existence animating the world from within.
from Gaia Hypothesis 15 Jan 2022 12:31
In effect, Lovelock argued that the earth itself is a unit of evolution, still subject to natural selection but on a cosmic or universal scale where the selection pressures are established by the parameters of life itself.
The spirit of instrumentality, according to Illich, became the leading feature of the age which stretches from the 12th century to our own time, an age characterized by its “extraordinary intensity of purposefulness” and by its idea that to each end some special instrument must correspond. Even love, says Illich, becomes “an instrument for satisfaction”...There is nothing that is worth doing for its own sake, nothing good in itself, which will not finally be made to submit to a rational means/ends logic. Modernity, Illich says, was characterized by “the loss of gratuity.”
Modern sciences rest on the banishment of any idea of end, goal or purpose from their accounts. Aristotle held that each thing was determined by its end or final cause, as well as by its material character and the forces acting on it. Objects fall to earth because they seek their “natural place” – it is in their nature to do so. 17th century natural philosophy subtracted this idea. It held that things move only because some overt and discernible force pushes them – everything can be reduced to matter in motion, “Occult” causes were ruled out. Purpose was driven out of science and thereby fated to return endlessly as heresy.
from Accursed Ipsissimosity 15 Jan 2022 08:36
It is not completely clear what the word means, but I take it to indicate something like “the characteristic and intractable uniqueness of the individual”. For some strange reason it hasn’t caught on, and Nietzsche seems to have only used it once. I ran into it as I was pondering writing something on the differences between me and the “rationalist community”. Nietzsche seems to have some issues with the analogous rationalists of his day; that is, the bearers of the “objective spirit”. Like him, I have a good deal of positive regard for this spirit but can’t embrace it wholly; there seem to be a divergence between what I seek and what it seeks.
2016-12-05: OTOH: 'Pataphysics will be, above all, the science of the particular, despite the common opinion that the only science is that of the general. ‘Pataphysics will examine the laws governing exceptions.
The problem is that it then resists modification; it isn't quite assimilated into the new construction. Like I want to add a link to This John Zorn album I just learned about.
Ipsissimosity goes a further and necessary step beyond embodiment. It acknowledges not just that minds are bodies, and bodies are situated, but that we are all inescapably and radically unique, we see the view from different places, our minds are not going to be the same because we don’t have the same problems to address.
The idea of embodiment always struck me as both stunningly good and rather obvious – or more precisely, the fact that it wasn՚t obvious and needed to be put forward as a radical insurgent movement was kind of alarming. It indicated that there was some kind of culture-level sclerosis going on, a form of brain-damage that I avoided mostly by unplanned deficiencies in my education. As an approach to the mind, it promised fixes for a variety of conceptual and technical problems with the more traditional approach. It fights the tendency in rationalists to see the abstract thought as the most valuable (or in extreme cases, the only) kind. However, embodiment seems to have somewhat fizzled as an intellectual revolution, (although I am no longer involved enough with the research community to know that for a fact). Despite having its origins in fancy Continental philosophy, it seemed to me to be a more pragmatic and realistic approach to the problem of intelligence, one that should appeal to engineers. That largely didn՚t happen, and I think it՚s because engineers are just as entrapped by the standard received mindset of Western culture as anyone else, possibly more so. Our idea of what the mind is pretty much hard-coded in our culture and breaking loose of those received ideas is not easy.
However gratefully we may welcome an objective spirit – and is there anyone who has never been mortally sick of everything subjective and of his accursed ipsissimosity? — in the end we also have to learn caution against our gratitude and put a halt to the exaggerated manner in which “unselfing” and depersonalization of the spirit is being celebrated nowadays as if it were the goal itself, as if it were redemption and transfiguration. — (Beyond Good and Evil, p126)
It also seems to me that in one sense embodiment didn’t go quite far enough, as though it too was making some kind of implicit promise that it wasn’t quite delivering on. Consider that everybody is embodied in roughly the same way, so thinking about embodiment doesn’t really address the false universalism of the standard models. Instead of the universal (Western) mind, we have a less universal but still somewhat generic culturally embedded actor.
The objective spirit has increased its scope into many more areas than Nietzsche could have dreamed of, while subjectivity remains something of a scientific and philosophical embarrassment. We know a lot about the brain from the outside, but scientific theories of consciousness almost always fail to deliver on their promise, which is to reconcile the objective scientific view of the self (the outside view) with the experience of subjectivity (the inside view).
Maybe this has always been psychology’s problem. It wants to be a science and it also wants to be liberatory, but the universalizing and abstracting tendencies of science are inescapably set against the self՚s assertion of its individuality. This doesn՚t have to be a war to the death between science and the individual, although the culture seems to encourage this, probably because war sells newspapers. It՚s more a matter of each knowing their place, and of knowing what intellectual territory they should cede to the other.
I am not surprised to find myself both in sympathy and conflict with Nietzsche, given that he manages to be in conflict with himself in the space of this short passage. It seems somewhat shameful to admit that I am not terribly interested in objectivity. Perhaps it would be a sin in any other form of writing – academic papers, journalism, anything claiming to speak with an authoritative voice – but this is a blog, and the whole point of it is that it permits me to write in a personal mode if I feel like it. It would make me happy, I guess, if whatever insights or truths I turn up here are true for other people as well as me, and if they are true for everyone, then objectivity has been achieved. Nice, but not my goal. I am more into selfing than unselfing, at least as far as writing goes. If you want the highly processed industrial intellectual product called “objective truth”, go buy a textbook in the field of your choice. Really, textbooks are wonderful things. The problem with textbooks, and maybe with our whole system of knowledge, is that they are boring, which is why students have to be force-marched through them, and why they usually require a human lecturer to re-personalize the depersonalized contents. The ability to do that is really at the core of the art of teaching, and it doesn՚t come easily or naturally.
Your vocabulary word of the day is ippsissimosity, a coinage by Nietzsche from the Latin ippsissima, “very own self”:
There have been some trends, or a variety of related trends, in cognitive science and related disciplines like anthropology, which might be crudely lumped under the term embodiment or situatedness. An embodied mind is not some universal abstract reasoning engine, but instead strongly constrained by its structure and physical circumstances. Embodied minds have their thinking closely tied to physical action in the world. Classical Artificial Intelligence sought to make chess-playing programs, embodied AI is more concerned with helping a robot manage manage a simple physical task like making breakfast. Traditional AI took its inspiration from formal logic; embodied AI from animal behavior, anthropology, and phenomenology. Traditional AI universalizes Western styles of thought; embodied AI employs ethnography to try to understand particular context and culture dependent modes of thought.
from anthropic selection 14 Jan 2022 08:11
Just like Darwin explained how biological function arises out of sheer randomness + selection, this explains how existence and consciousness arise out of randomness plus this larger-scale selection. All universes exist (are equprobably), but most aren't percieved. Only the relatively orderly ones permit that.
Roughly the idea that all possible worlds exist, but only the ones that generate mind and consciousness are going to be perceived. We are in one of those, of course.
The nice thing about this is that it effectively explains how mind can bootstrap itself out of nothing, or in this case, everything.
from How to think about Nazis 12 Jan 2022 10:12
I have trouble with this; I do in fact cling to this one shred of moral certainty; I am unable to let it go. The best I can do is mercilessly critique it – it seems like a cheap form of fake moral heroism; a way of posturing, maybe of fantasizing that I am some bold member of the Resistance (rather than what I actually am, a guy who likes to pick pseudonymous arguments with random rightwing wackjobs on the internet).
There's something to be said for this view. It's kind of true, for one thing. And if it dissolves the crippling neurotic guilt a lot of us suffer under, that's really positive.
They provide a much needed form of sacredness, in perhaps the only form that works in the contemporary world – its inversion. We can't agree on what's sacred, but we better damn well agree on its opposite.
Helpless and fearful people are drawn to magical figures, mythic figures, epic men who intimidate and darkly loom." "You're talking about Hitler, I take it." "Some people are larger than life. Hitler is larger than death. You thought he would protect you. I understand completely."
I think eliminativist positions in general are kind of stupid – it's obvious that "agency" denotes something real, even if we aren't certain about what that is. It's obvious that there's a difference between good and evil, even if people disagree on the specifics, and if our mechanistic theories make it harder to see that, then the problem might be with our theories.
The problem of course is that it not only lets us off the hook, it lets the Nazis off as well. They aren't evil, they are just a regrettable consequence of their circumstances – like everything else, a product of the basic processes of mechanical causation.