I suppose this piece is in some way a continuation of my essay on definition. Not really, but actually. I deal again here with a form of categorisation. I explore how ‘we’ designates ourselves and all of the duplicities a we embodies. Yet somewhat oddly there is a short hand around the nuances and complexities any we represents. And it is the simple pronoun itself and the ubiquity it so jarringly represents via two simple letters, just the three awkward syllables of a ‘w’ and the hard worked ‘e’. This I find baffling and an incredible example of humanity’s desperation for simplicity .

In Tristan Garcia’s second instalment of the Letting Be trilogy, We Ourselves: The Politics of Us, Garcia outlines the way in which ‘we’s’ are conceptualised in society as a representational form, in order to give identifying traits to people. ‘We’ is a form of categorisation, which allows us to mark ourselves as part of a constellation of likeminded individuals in a way that we can be identified by those who don’t belong to our order of we. In other words, ‘we’ is a fundamental designation for group identification, which enables groups to reference themselves under the banner of a similar identity, ideology or interest. These marks of identity are often symbolic: a holy rood, a style of dress, a uniform etc. Some examples include, ‘we, Christians’, ‘we, foodies’, ‘we, petrol-heads’ or ‘we, racists’. However, despite the differentiation of identifying traits, because the first person plural is even used by those with radically differing worldviews it nonetheless, even as it divides us, unites us under this tiny pronoun, ‘we’. As Garcia explains:

Try for a moment to make no distinction between all of the possible groups and associations to which you feel you belong and those that appear distant, even exotic. Stop separating the collective identities that you consider to be grounded, universal, and serious from those you consider irrational, ridiculous, or dangerous. Suspend your moral judgement. Then, through thought, try to establish a sort of imaginary plane upon which you might consider, at once equally and distinctly, everything that speaks in the name of we. Try this now, and you will see that everyone who says ‘we’ speaks as the same person, which is to say that they take on the being of people who speak that way, even when those people have an identity or principles that irritate or repulse them. (6)

How we organise ourselves is through subscription to divisional forms of collectives, each with a set of codes of conduct and ideological biases, which either stem from or retaliate against historically informed groundings. These grounded forms have generated the appearance of being universally ‘real’ because they have structured we’s for more time than a novel ‘we’ which is in its infancy. However, this overlooks how new we’s emerge because human ingenuity discovers more knowledge through scientific and philosophical thought. Just because all humans don’t understand the same thing should not reduce the gravity of such endeavours and the reality of the influence they have had. The knowledge we discover isn’t new to reality or nature but only to our understanding of it. Nature’s generative mechanics don’t need us around to pay attention to them. This proved impossible for empirical realism to reconcile. How could anything, so they thought, be meaningful unless it is all for humanity alone?

Roy Bhaskar, in A Realist Theory of Science gives us strong theoretical grounding for understanding this. What Bhaskar outlines is a structurally stratified reality in which, what Bhaskar calls, a real ‘generative  mechanism’ or what we know as the invisible domains of reality (atoms, DNA etc) are irrefutably separated from the actual domain of reality, which is the form of causality we are affected by every day. The reason we can conclusively illustrate this, according to Bhaskar, is because we can do an experiment and repeat it. That we can use science experimentally to pry into the matter of objects in the world, indicates that a substratum-world exists underneath the one which is phenomenologically encountered. In other words, what makes the materials we see is not perceivable except through scientific discovery, because to observe beneath the phenomenological world of colour, shape and texture is impossible. The world we perceive is not governed by the same laws that emerge because of the generative mechanisms which are fundamental to the world we perceive. To distinguish these two operative strata of reality Bhaskar calls the fundamental, generative domain intransitive and the phenomenological, experiential domain transitive. This distinction may appear superfluous, until you consider the influence of science on our understanding of gender. Garcia provides us with such an example: 

Genital sex…depends on external developmental conditions and genetic code. A fertilised egg is always undifferentiated, or bivalent. This means that genital sex is linked to a hormonal mechanism. In the lab, one can always induce a more or less stable inversion of sex by administering variable quantities of hormones to an embryo. (115-116)

In addition to this, we may consider that in 1959 scientists discovered that the chromosomes do not always come in the neat pairs we assume they always take. There are always exceptions to the rule, which is not to say that the exception becomes a rule, but that whatever the exceptions are, they are actual phenomena, which people use to create worldviews through which they experience their lives. This is owing to experimentally reproducible actions, which illustrate causal laws, which just are reality’s way of happening.  

The knowledge which materialises out of scientific understanding grounds us in potentially new methods of defining ourselves. This is why theory and philosophy is so important. Yes, science provides the potential for revising the ground of reality, but because it is a separate strata to the one we perceive it requires careful deliberation outside of its criteria, in order to allow us to make use of it in the context of society. Otherwise we create scenarios in which science becomes distorted in unpredictable ways. One such example from my own life has been the implications of the Double Slit experiment. A lot of people I have known, because the observer interferes with the object observed through the act of observing in this experiment, have drawn the conclusion that we must organise reality through observation. I too have naively assumed this to be the only possibility. This is dangerously close to idealism and a radical form of empirical realism, in which man only needs to be an observer to manifest reality. While I cannot claim to know the answer to why the observer interferes it seems that the application of consciousness to fundamental particles is potentially not the cause. It could be something much more complex, or merely different. It seems to fail to factor in do how both actors operate in different domains of time and space from each other. Whatever that complication may give rise to, in this case, that the observer interferes with how the photon organises itself, serves only to complicate things further by giving consciousness full power to manifest fundamental particles into matter.

What new information does then is code itself against a territory of information which has embedded itself over a period of time. To put it in Michel Serres terms it distorts with a ‘noise’ which perturbs the well grounded information, which has consequently grounded opinion in a traditional worldview. So for example, the neat clockwork universe of the Enlightenment was radically perturbed by the discovery that atoms contained something. That is, it changed humanity’s trajectory. In addition, the discovery of DNA and genes had immense ramifications for how we think about the emergence of life. These lead to a significantly altered potential, a noise which some people gather around and build new perspectives upon.

Oversimplifications erroneously assume the ‘world’ to be simpler than it is. This mode of perception has grounded itself and made reactions to the contrary appear ridiculous. However, as I have explained repeatedly, if somebody thinks something is happening to them then this informs the actualisation of that sensation. The point Garcia is trying to make in regards to the construct of ‘we’ is that all manifestations of we are actual and should be treated as such. This is why Garcia is a speculative realist.

Without others any definition of the group we belong to is jeopardised unless it has a we contrary to it. This does not mean we’s must be constantly at war, but that should they realise their reliance on the other they might just understand the requirement of others to their identity. Garcia puts it like this: 

A we is a forced identity that makes the differences between us appear all the more clearly. It is also a forced difference that makes the identity that we have in common with others increasingly apparent. Within any we whatsoever, an excess of identity produces a lack of difference, and, likewise, an excess of difference produces a lack of identity. Whatever a we lacks becomes its next historical end. For an extremely small we such as our tribe or our family, stretching out towards universality gradually becomes an end. (220)

Some of Garcia’s examples of representational ideologies include Christianity, Marxism and Evolutionary Optimism. Each of these establish a code of conduct, a set of parameters, which subscription to transforms into ideological traits, which, if followed, incorporate the practitioner into them and the practitioner indicates the reality of by performing the code through their actions in the world, all informed by the code. But ideologies are not the only representations, we could also, as aforementioned, input identity or interest. The individual becomes a node in the manifestation of the worldview which is what is represented when the subscriber uses the first person plural ‘we’. The aim of each ideology/interest/identity is to persuade the “other”, which is every external first person singular, to be represented by this code. This is what Garcia calls extension and it is how we’s become grounded, which is another way of saying hegemonic or universal. 

The dynamism of extension is domination. Without domination there is no securing of the territory gained by the extended we. However, there are pitfalls to dominating ideological territory. Garcia explains how, ‘The larger the set of different organisms incorporated by a we becomes, the more that the differences within that we become stronger than the one difference that is supposed to hold the boundary between we and not-we’ (180). It may be tempting to think that we’s are inevitably dyadic, expressing either an extensive or intensive character. However, this is not accurate. 

If we think back to my previous essay ‘The New Conspiracy Visibility’ there I talk about what Deleuze & Guattari call the body without organs (BwO). I explained how, for D+G, society is structured like a strata, through which BwOs (or in our current instance, we’s) make lines of flight through various other strata. This is because the plane of consistency (the most extended of we’s) contains within it the germs of intensity, which countervail the dominant, consistent we. Intensive and extensive we’s overlap, then: two subscribers to differing ideologies can be of the same sex, same race, can live next door to each other and share a passion for lepidopterology and the novels of Vladimir Nabokov; and yet, they could both despise each other because one is an advocate of social justice and reads critical race theory while the other happens to be a UKIP supporter who wishes for a pure British, white, heterosexual population. It is not uncommon to discover congruence and incongruence in close proximity.

Grounded we’s have a habit of spreading themselves too thin, so that ‘The more a we extends, the less intense it is; the inverse also holds: the more a we intensifies, the less extended it becomes’ (180). This may seem oxymoronic after what is written above. However, just because an intense we is within an extended we doesn’t mean it belongs there as such. They are still separated by the territorial demarcations of their worldview. An interesting consequence of an extended we is that it eventually begins to collapse in on itself. A politician speaks to a nation as a we because they share a land mass. But they don’t necessarily share the same national concerns. And this is supposed to be what is encouraging about democracy.

We see another example of this in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Israel has become so dominant a we that it has coded itself so extensively into the landscape itself that it is plausible that fragmentation from the inside can occur. This has materialised in the form of political activists like Eyal Weizman, a Jewish architect who wrote an influential book called Hollow Land which outlines the history of how Israel used military force and architecture to usurp and occupy Palestinian territory. The domination of Israel has extended so viciously that even a coterie of its own we are critical of its cruel hegemony over the Palestinian people. Moreover, we can imagine Palestinians, who inhabit the valleys overlooked by settlers who have usurped their land, do not regard politics in the same way Israelis do, for very obvious reasons. 

Any dissenting, intensive voice within an extended we is capable of existing because a we pulls itself so tightly over an ideological terrain that it can be perforated by intensive we’s embedded in its network of causalities. This is because societies and life just aren’t simple enough to create total coverage. If this were so Nazism would not have collapsed, nor the Roman empire; Christianity would not be on the back foot and there could not be any criticism of capitalism. 

So how can we begin to be inclusive toward we’s that we disagree with and thus disregard. Well Garcia gives us a pretty strong abstract model for doing this and he calls we’s transparencies in order to do it. What this involves is the tracing of the contours of a we in order to see how it is structured. If you have a number of we’s traced and line them up, you would see where their different contours align and where they divide. What you would notice is where we overlap and where we diverge. This would lead to eureka moments of ‘O wow…you do that too!’ What this results in is a strata of planes, which are transparent so that we can look down through all the other planes and see all the lines of divergence and contours of overlap. Of course this is a mental, abstract exercise. But you can imagine those lines of division and overlap and you can begin to understand that the problem of division isn’t totally divisive. This is just impossible. We would discover that every we would overlap with every other we. This is just what a society formed of natural materials, reliant upon natural processes of varying micro and macro scales and with particular needs results in. We overlap. This is because the world is an ecological system. Both nature and society are not mutually exclusive but mutually reenforcing. if we want to be grounded in anything it should be this: we are ecological beings within and without.    For this reason being ecological enables us to forge relationships not just with people following different coded worldviews, but moreover with nonhumans actors who are a regulatory principle in the health of the world’s ecosystems. Moreover, stand up and give a round of applause to the fundamental, generative principles that work tirelessly to give us what we see. I mean, don’t because they just do it anyway. This is why they are difficult to observe and play tricks on us, even as they reveal themselves to help us discern, how insane is reality?

What we need to see is an overhaul of how we ground worldviews. The process of domination must be less aggressive. The phrase ‘that’s just how things are’ needs eradicating. This way-things-are mentality is disastrous for addressing the ever increasing nuance of identifying factors. There is only one domain that is irrefutable and that is the domain of generative mechanisms, which persist despite us. They are not directly perceivable and though they can inform our social life, we cannot make the actualised phenomenological processes of politics and life into ‘real’ generative mechanisms, because they are not experimentally repeatable in this same way. For us everything is linear.

We should instead create an inclusive grounding, which would enable diversity. We must recognise the interchangeability of our worldviews, where we overlap and agree, as well as where we disagree. In this system of exchange, what makes us dissimilar would be what makes us similar. We are the same because we are all different. And we would talk and listen rather than ignore each other. Maybe we’d get a bit further with ourselves. Subscription to small pockets of identity would be the intensive similarity conjoining us in an overlapping, fragmented unity. This is not utopian, in fact, we already have all of the different identities, the obstacle now is accepting that difference just is the repetition. 

Make friends with something weird.

Posted by:DPM

DPM is an idea-logue (sic) and object-oriented speculative realist, attempting to be response-able in an irresponse-able society.

43 thoughts on “What is ‘We’?

  1. Just a quick note on change by observation.

    I have most often heard this in the context of ethnology. An ethnologist, by sitting in on, say, a ritual, alters it to be a subject for study. A tourist to an entertainment, and so on. Each of these alters the experience of the participants, though they may try their best to maintain the ritual function.

    Whether change by observation works in any other way – for example the computer screen here changes because I look at it – I am less convinced about. Any object is insouciant (metaphor) to anything I do to it or with it, including leaving it alone.

    I had an argument with a friend about an abandoned shoe on the beach; I had been talking about it in terms of OOO, she inststed “It’s LITTER, for God’s sake!” “Yes, it’s litter,” I said by reply, “but that’s not what this is about.” The shoe itself couldn’t give a James Clark Ross about being “litter.” Or about being/having been a “shoe.” All of which makes me think that what changes by observation is in fact ourselves, more than anything we observe.

    Even photons ignore us.

    1. It is surprising how quickly, after the bafflement of the Double Slit experiment, people jumped to the conclusion that it must be consciousness (something only we have) that influences the quantum arrangement of what would generate matter as we know it. We never really thought about whether animals aid in organising the quantum domain into expressive, actual matter.

      The thing to be gained, as I continue to see it, by not attributing every event/object to ourselves is a humbling detachment from ourselves as the only changed things or the only thing that can change anything. Objects and their ‘volcanic powers’, to quote Bryant, are out there ready to pounce and they aren’t doing it for a reason.

      1. Your last phrase there is telling. Things don’t do anything for a “reason” at all. “Reason” is our concept. Things just get on about their (metaphorical) business, no matter what we attribute – or don’t attribute – to ourselves. Or to them, for that matter.

        The idea of objects’ “volcanic powers” is, after all, an idea. A human came up with it. Ideas are human things which we conjure up, in our vanity. I suspect that creation is a damn sight more banal than we imagine.

      2. That ideas are malleable is perhaps what is so telling about Garcia’s latest book. In the context of a formal, substratum which generates despite us, ideas as representations of us are pretty weak compared with the definite, concrete insouciance of fundamental things. This isn’t to say human ideas don’t matter but that they should matter in abundance rather than as mono-ideas. Ideas should be as abundant as things. I guess this is dangerous but it seems better to be saturated in more ideas than to be dictated by a totalising single idea.

  2. “Ideas should be as abundant as things.”

    Well…

    Why? “Ideas” are human, weak or not, and we are a tiny minority in the cosmos, and our ideas are therefore limited. And even we are made up of insouciant things.

    1. Ah yes, but we are still a thing among the things that do not care for our reasons. If you remove our unique capacity to have, develop and create ideas, then what do we become? Another thing, which we already are. It just so happens we are a thing thinking things and putting ourselves above them. But this doesn’t detract from the fact that we are objects among objects. Just because we are infinitesimally unimportant to the scale of the cosmos, the cosmos nonetheless contains us. What we do is an actual thing itself. We are a thing stuck to things, which aren’t always tactile, but mental. It is just that the things we do need attuning, I guess. And this is possible. One of the reasons I think ecologically is because what we are is something that feels itself living. What we do is incredible, it is exceptionally rare too. We’d be travelling a long time before we met other sophisticated life. Life expresses and we express life. That to me is worth having a multitude of ideas for. I can imagine the contrary, I know that the cosmos illustrates the contrary consistently. But I live in a pocket of this cosmos because that is what cosmoses are for: the habitation and expression of life.

      1. Dear Daniel (Paul) Marshall and Paul Thompson,

        I enjoyed your conversation here, and noticed that Marshall’s middle name is the same as Thompson’s first name.

        Daniel, I would like to inform you that your statement “But I live in a pocket of this cosmos because that is what cosmoses are for: the habitation and expression of life.” is and can be considered highly problematic in at least nine areas: teleology, dysteleology, modern philosophical naturalism, anthropocentrism, the anthropic principle (or the anthropic bias or the anthropic cosmological principle), the mediocrity principle, the Copernican principle, cosmicism and cosmic indifferentism.

        Happy June to both of you!

      2. I don’t see how this phrase as in any way problematic. What do cosmoses do if they don’t provide the space and conditions for the potential of life? While it is certain that is not their sole function, if we can attribute function to the at all. The sheer magnitude of the cosmos indicates that it is a place in which life may be expressed. It may not, but the fact that it does express life indicates that it is a space for such a thing to happen.
        A list of nine problematic areas provides me with no details as to why this statement is in anyway incorrect.

      3. Moreover, much of the list doesn’t apply to the statement, unless you take it out of context. I am not saying it is for us, or that it has a teleological end game. It is merely a statement of fact that within the cosmos there is (among a multitude of other forces and objects) life and therefore as a thing of enormity cosmoses harbour life as part of what they do.

      4. Dear Daniel,

        Hello! Both of your previous replies clearly indicate that the respective connections, significances and implications of the nine areas to and with your said problematic statement have completely eluded you. Therefore, it is pointless for you to believe or disbelieve and agree or disagree with me here. You may ignore me and respond no further. Indeed, there is even a distinct possibility or high probability that you may never “see how [your statement] as in any way problematic.” And indeed, I don’t even mind that you deem for whatever reason(s) that I have been largely or wholely mistaken.

        Nevertheless, you are welcome to look into the nine areas yourself in great detail to comprehend why and how your said statement is highly problematic, as I have not the time to explain and elaborate on them, not to mention that I do not even have the time to follow up on making two comments regarding two of your other posts. Your not being truly multidisciplinary and having multiple tertiary degrees can be a definite and distinct disadvantage. In any case, if you were to make that kind of statement to experts who are well-versed in logic, philosophy, cosmology, astronomy, astrophysics, evolutionary sciences, natural sciences (including biology and ecology) and the like, and who are familiar with at least two or more of these nine areas, there would be plenty of criticisms.

        Apart from the said nine areas, another problem associated with your statement is its appeal to omniscience, formally called argument from omniscience (also known as allness or absolute thinking), which is the opposite of argument from ignorance. An argument from omniscience occurs when the argument, statement or quotation presents a case that amounts to someone having or claiming to know literally everything about the subject matter at hand. Upholding (the validity or reliability of) an argument from omniscience is a tall order indeed, if not an impossibility, as there may always be unknowns, exceptions, outliers, anomalies, counterexamples and the like to the putative claim or extant generalization. Such an argument, statement or quotation is typically expressed with words like “all”, “everyone”, “no one”, “everything”, “always”, “never”, “since/because that is what it is for”, or the like, and is often plagued by false precision (also called overprecision, fake precision, misplaced precision or spurious precision) and precision bias (also known as numeracy bias or range estimate aversion). The latter is a form of cognitive bias in which an evaluator of information commits a logical fallacy as the result of confusing accuracy and precision. Specifically, in assessing the merits of an argument, measurement or report, an observer or assessor mistakenly believes that greater precision implies greater accuracy, and that since a quotation or statement is precise, it is also true.

        Happy Sunday to you!

        Yours sincerely,
        SoundEagle

      5. I merely think that given the context of the essay, and the theorists that I am talking about (both inherently not anthropocentric in their leanings) it seems unfair to charge me with the error of not being a logician or multidisciplinary. This isn’t my intention and in the context of the representative ‘we’ informing my writing here, it seems to not be congruent with the worldview I am trying to speculate about.
        While I am no logician nor do I feel the need to be, I am a deliberate thinker who is regurgitating information I have learned.
        I also think it unfair to charge me with thinking I have all the answers, or being omniscient, which again jars with the theorists who have informed me in this essay.
        The sentence you have critiqued comes from a position informed by Garcia, who takes the cosmos, which he deems a ‘big thing’ as a given, in that it is the container of all things.
        I am aware things I write about may be problematic, and I am open to different worldviews, if I wasn’t how could I look myself in the mirror with any earnestness after writing about the things I write about. Everything I write about is related to a non-anthropcentrised worldview. But we must bear in mind what my chosen theory also explains: because everything is an object, each with their own intensities, then each need to be understood & analysed for what it is & does. I cannot know everything, obviously, but I can try to analyse as many blind spots as possible. This is what I have done here by looking at how ‘we’ functions to collectivise. Am I right? Well if I am not, we need to take it up with Garcia.
        My criticism of Paul’s original comment, which has catalysed this discussion, was that we must be cautious in non-anthropocentrising too far, as we must also reckon with the idiosyncrasies of our own behaviour toward ourselves and nonhumans, within a ‘world’ that is nestled snugly in that glorious goldilocks zone of the Milky Way, which is itself embedded in a wider cosmos. To say ‘I live in the cosmos’ is not anthropocentric, it is merely an acknowledgement that Earth, where I live, is in a spatiality, which is a space from which I can orient my being. As I have mentioned previously, Garcia tells us a being can only be if they are in something. I am in my room, in a city, in a county, in a country, in an ocean, in space (milky way) in the cosmos. Is this important. I don’t know. I know it to be the case though. Does this mean I am the centre of everything… Of course not.
        If this is problematic as a statement then I don’t need to think too deeply about those 9 fields which would position me anywhere other than here. And any philosophy that would erase me from its observations has a Sisyphean task on its hand, because this just isn’t what OOO advocates and while it is relevant not to position ourselves at the centre, we do need to position ourselves even improvisationally if only to be able to say, this is stuff we do: make ideas!

        “An argument from omniscience occurs when the argument, statement or quotation presents a case that amounts to someone having or claiming to know literally everything about the subject matter at hand. Upholding (the validity or reliability of) an argument from omniscience is a tall order indeed, if not an impossibility, as there may always be unknowns, exceptions, outliers, anomalies, counterexamples and the like to the putative claim or extant generalization.”
        Again, if we go over everything I write about and marry it to this phrase, then I just don’t feel it accurate as a criticism. I perfectly understand what OOO calls ‘withdrawn potentials’. Anything can surprise you at any moment.

        Sorry if this feels ranty or you feel offended, but I was not pleased to feel belittled. I hope I am mistaken in this assumption.

      6. Dear Daniel,

        Thank you for your impassioned defence of or clarification about your said statement or argument, presented in the form of

        But I live in a pocket of this cosmos because that is what cosmoses are for: the habitation and expression of life.

        .

        Unfortunately, the kinds and nature of the issues that can be identified (via careful inspections including but not limited to the respective considerations and detailed tours of the said nine areas) in your aforementioned statement are inherent and multipronged, and can be largely or totally established both in spite of and irrespective/independent of “the context of the essay, and the theorists that [you are] talking about”, and regardless of whether that (kind of) statement appears in a comment, post, journal article or academic thesis.

        Your previous comment, largely couched in an impassioned defence, contains further multiple issues, for which I have no time to unpack. In any case, some of the issues in both your comments and your post here have also been repeated elsewhere in your other posts and their respective comments, which nevertheless also come with their own issues, which I cannot possibly invest time and energy to list them let alone elaborate on them every time I read any one of your blog posts and your comments, regardless of whether you are (inclined to be) receptive or otherwise.

        Still, I shall endeavour to read as many of your posts and comments (plus those of your followers) as I possibly can to follow your development and journey, which, if all goes reasonably well according to your plan, talent and persistence, will soon bring forth a time when I shall customarily start my comment with Dear Dr Marshall.

        Happy mid-June to you and your family!

      7. “An argument from omniscience occurs when the argument, statement or quotation presents a case that amounts to someone having or claiming to know literally everything about the subject matter at hand.”

        This is akin to Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of rationalism, in that he said it represented a “God’s eye view” from a dais set somewhere apart from / above human experience, from which vantage point the rationalist considers he can analyse everything.

      8. Dear Paul Thompson,

        Thank you for your mentioning Merleau-Ponty. I would like to inform you and Daniel that there are typos in my previous long comment: I actually meant “confusing precision for accuracy”, not “confusing accuracy and precision”.

        Happy Sunday!

      9. No, not really, it was a bit of a side-track. I was commenting more on what our colleague said, simply because it reminded me of M-P’s criticism of rationalism. I wasn’t necessarily referring to you.

  3. Hello Daniel,

    I would like first to discuss with you your observation of humanities need to over simplify. Although I agree that there is a problem with over simplification, being that life is infinitely complex, isn’t it possible then that it is necessary to make ideas as simple as possible in order for us to navigate our way sanely into the complex?
    If you are going to learn to cook, you wouldn’t start with a Soufflé.

    Although it is true that there are an infinite number of ways of interpreting the world, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are an infinite number of useful ways of interpreting the world. Couldn’t it be argued then that the problem lies within over complexification?

    I’d like to make a a comment about :
    “The phrase ‘that’s just how things are’ needs eradicating.”

    Although I agree somewhat, shouldn’t there be a certain amount of acceptance as to – the way things are?
    The phrase could be instead “that’s just the way things are – for the moment”.
    Our contribution to the the world at large, as individuals and as a part of our collective we’s, is obviously important to consider, but shouldn’t we also be considering and accepting our limitations to make change happen, the time it takes for things to change, but also how quickly things are actually changing for the good. Perhaps to change the perspective completely, we could try to appreciate the way things are? I wouldn’t consider this perspective to be idyllic, but actually realistic. Things have never been better in many ways.

    There are obviously a multitude of ways in which society could be changed and needs changing for the good, but I feel that there is also a sincere lack of gratitude and appreciation for what exactly we have achieved as a species. It is very easy to pick away at the crumbling plaster on the walls of our society, it is also very easy to notice in all the ways the ‘we’s’ are being victimised, we are all after all, oppressed in a variety of ways, obviously. But look at where we are, look at where we have and continue to succeed. I am not suggesting that we stop trying to improve things, just that perhaps things aren’t as bad as they seem.
    I would recommend listening to Ayaan Hirsi Ali perspective on this.

    I like the thought experiment laid out by Garcia, ‘tracing the contours of a we in order to see how it is structured’ and thereby revealing the ways in which we are connected within and without our differences. The ultimate goal being to unite us, the ecological We. What I find utopian here though, ironically, is the simplicity of it.

    It seems to be suggested that this is a perspective who’s longevity is easy to maintain. Perhaps it is, but what about when life is unexpectedly or overwhelmingly tragic? If I’m having a particularly wonderful day for example, the sun is shining, I am in good health, my friends and family are safe, and I am confronted with a person’s differences which happen to be somewhat disagreeable, it may be challenging, but I am much more likely to be able to meet that person with compassion and understanding. It’s when life throws at us unexpected or overwhelming suffering that our capacity to maintain our compassion is truly tested.
    If I’m running late for work because of a bad nights sleep or, if I am sick or worried about a family member, and I’m confronted by a strangers malevolence, I’m going find it much harder, if not impossible, to see or remain connected to our connectedness. How can we make Garcia’s way of thinking sustainable?

    I’d like to hear from you how you are implementing this analogy into your everyday life? How difficult is it for you to maintain this focus in your everyday interaction with the world you encounter outside?

    My suggestion is that, although Garcia’s idea is valuable, it is too abstract. Its an idea too far down the road.
    You can’t hope to run a marathon without having sufficiently trained yourself to do so first.
    Before it is possible to start thinking ecologically and connectedly outside, don’t we have to have first give time to reflecting on, and connecting ourselves from the inside? The majority of people I encounter on a daily basis are living their lives unconsciously, it astonishes me how unaware of themselves people are in general. We were never taught or given the tools to be any other way. So if this is the case, that people are living in a state of unawareness on the most fundamental level, that being an unawareness of themselves, and therefore an incapacity to process and manage efficiently their own inner lives, how can we expect them to have an effective level of conscious and ecological awareness of there outer lives?

    1. I don’t have a problem as such with simplification, but oversimplification seems a step too far in the wrong direction. I mean, I think my writing is simplified to a point, However, because we need shorthands to concepts we have to design terms and pack them with meanings. If you read a lot of my stuff you’ll find I repeat many words in order to designate. This is because I want to be understood. I think it unfair to ask for oversimplification of something complex. The reason for this is that it doesn’t encourage people to learn, which is reall important. I look at it like the logic of wearing a bike helmet: if I do I may be inviting the motorist to act recklessly because after all I am protected. But if am helmet-less then am I not potentially inviting the motorist to be aware of me? If I invite oversimplification I do a injustice to the complexity of ideas. Sure, start simple, but not over-simple.

      I would also like to stress that I do not personally feel the need to change society. I am merely interested in writing about how societies operate, and how reality and objects operate to affect society into different expressions. So I do not believe a single man ever changes things. This is anthropocentrism ramped up to 11. Any great figure had help, there were objects ready-to-hand and a host of other actors involved.

      I am a fallible human. I try my best to think about the affective potentials of things. I try to accept people. This is why I like Garcia. His system is helpful for navigating not only our various identities, but moreover how they are informed and altered by nonhuman objects. The reason I think this way is not because it is going to make the world an ideal place to be, but because it makes me appreciate what reality is in its ever changing form. You should read my writing in the context of someone who is continuously astonished with the idea that reality is here at all. & even more baffled at its complex intricacies, which my heavily informed worldview enables me to experience as much as possible.

      My inner life is less important to me than just thinking and observing as best I can. I am in no way special, I am university educated, but I am from a working class background, the only university graduate in my family. I just study really hard a lot. I am not intelligent really. I just read a lot, and broadly.

      I appreciate the comment.

  4. I’m not suggesting that ideas should only exist in their simplest form but simplification is not always unfair, it can just be precise and easier to grasp.

    A bike helmets utility isn’t only to protect us from motorists, it also, and perhaps more importantly, protects us from our own idiocy. And the unexpected wasp. The same can be said for advocating the simplification of ideas.

    You don’t feel the need to change society personally or, you don’t feel society needs changing?
    If you aren’t trying to change anything then why share it with others, if not in the hope that you might change someones perspective? Everyone would like to be responsible for positive change, I just think people bite off more than they could possibly ever chew in a lifetime. It’s also much easier to see where everyone else, outside, the we’s, the they’s, are going wrong.

    Don’t you think perhaps we are always thinking of society from a macro perspective, our city, our country our culture. I think one man alone can change quite a lot actually, if you know what your limitations are, and perhaps start looking at society as being represented by the few people/objects you interact with on a regular basis. If you saw that actually your society was your housemates, your partner, your bin man, the chef at your favourite restaurant, your fridge, your coffee cup, your shoes, your plants, then you might see that changing the world might actually be possible, within your acknowledged limitations, by simply reflecting upon your interconnectedness with those beings, tracing the contours of your overlap, and appreciating your interdependence accordingly. Changing the world isn’t necessarily being responsible for ending poverty, it could just mean taking care of your shoes. With a change of perspective and respect for your limitations, changing the world becomes possible. If we start where it’s absolutely impossible to fail.

    Like I said before, I really liked Garcia’s system, but what he doesn’t take into consideration is the individual using it. It’s a valuable system for a person who’s living consciously and who’s looking for ways of sustaining that. But what about the people who haven’t even achieved that yet?
    I know that these people aren’t the people reading your material, and so perhaps this is entirely irrelevant as a criticism. just seems to me that people have to start somewhere and I’m not convinced that that’s within complex ideas. Start where it is impossible to fail, and work your way up. Start inside.

    1. “A bike helmets utility isn’t only to protect us from motorists, it also, and perhaps more importantly, protects us from our own idiocy. ” I like yes. Yes, true. But we can all imagine ourselves as potential, either/or—unless you are like me & don’t drive.

      I don’t feel society can be changed, as such. I mean, it will change & a thing will change it. But that thing isn’t just an individual, as I mentioned before. Moreover it relies on such incomprehensibly improbability. How to plan such a thing as human change? How to even measure it. We have to create academic fields to understand things. This is a logistical process.

      I don’t think I’m feel comfortable talking about society as something static. I don’t think this is something I do, although abstracting does tend toward something like inflexibility I suppose. But if you note my influences none of them would be comfortable stating that immovability was possible in any way. Process is life and matter.

      “If you aren’t trying to change anything then why share it with others, if not in the hope that you might change someones perspective? ”

      This is something I have asked myself repeatedly. I do it for numerous reasons. I like to influence perspective; not in a didactic way but an I-never-thought-about-it-that-way, way. I enjoy the challenge of rearranging & synthesising ideas, I think it is a profoundly aesthetic activity. I read theory & philosophy because I find it aesthetically pleasing. The joy of the jargon and the density of imagery and idea. I do it because I like having discussions, like the one we are having. I do it because I want there to be people who care about ideas as much as I do. The reason I don’t want things too simple is because I don’t want to accept a hegemonic set of traditional behavioural traits, through which we can designate a sense of normality. This does not mean other behavioural traits from it can’t be mundane. I agree that your ‘world’ & the place that gives you meaning can be very local. I live in Exeter, I don’t drive & spend a lot of my time around a dozen or so people within a distance of about 15 miles (I am a cyclist) & they enrich my life. I have a simple existence, an unremarkable job. I just study, because miraculously I got given a brain & the capacity for thought & I do my best to use them to learn stuff. Unfortunately, this brain I got isn’t great at much but it seems pretty good at processing ideas or producing a melody, so I run with what I have.

      I worry about what people don’t understand. But I haven’t decided if it is right to belittle people because they don’t know how to be different. I think this will always be a difficult thing to ask of such a divisive & unpredictable world. Cultures are very different. People too. & there are so many unpredictabilities. Maybe this is how things are meant to be. I don’t know…. They are like this after all. Maybe we just don’t really understand why.

  5. You’re still thinking about change on the macro scale, and that’s the wrong place to start.
    Looking at chaos, it seems that only destruction can happen instantaneously, whereas growth takes time.
    Imagine a spool of cotton, how effortless it is to unravel it, and how unfathomably quickly it turns to knots, and what a seemingly impossible task it is to return it to its spool.

    Like a line of dominoes, it takes effort, care and attention to line them all up, but it takes very little to start them to fall, and when they do they take every other with them. And the problem is, is its not always because of something we did, that we could deal with, but sometimes its just because life’s unfair and there was a draught.

    Of course an individual alone is essentially useless, and yes, there is the factor of incomprehensible improbability, but with the latter we have very little control. We’re only able to control how we choose to react when faced with it. With the fact that alone we are useless, now with that we have some power.

    “How to plan such a thing as human change? How to even measure it. We have to create academic fields to understand things. This is a logistical process.”

    What is literature for, if not for documenting and experimenting with the potential of humanity for understanding and change? We have psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians all on a quest for the same gold.

    I wasn’t suggesting in my analogy that society is static, Im actually suggesting that it couldn’t be further from it. Although we are powerless individually, we are nonetheless, a sun at the centre of a micro cosmos. The people and objects we interact with are affected by our gravity, pulled into our orbit, whilst simultaneously being their own sun, causing and effecting. If you start on a scale where you represent the centre of a mini-verse with the power of causing and effecting, and then you scale out, and you see that every person, object and being is also at the centre of their own universe, with the same power, you start to see how little is needed to start a ripple.

    “We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.” – Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

    What Huxley fails to observe, because of the context of the book, is that our interactions within our mini-verses are never static, we are each a bumper car at the fair. From the moment I wake up in the morning and start my day, my decisions are causing change, however seemingly infinitesimal that may be . Even that sock down the side of your bed, that’s been there for a year without you even realising, it might not be responsible for much right now, but it still exists, it’s still on a journey someplace. Most probably a landfill within the next 100 years, where it will continue to have an impact, not on you, but on the earth it’s buried in and your children who outlived you. Everything has the potential for cause and effect. That’s why we as individuals aren’t entirely powerless, if you consider what it is that you are causing and effecting.

    “I do it because I want there to be people who care about ideas as much as I do.”

    It’s obvious that you care about ideas, but perhaps it wouldn’t be too presumptuous of me to assume that this type of thinking and these areas of exploration aren’t exactly difficult anymore. It’s obviously still challenging, but you’ve cultivated a skill for thinking for many years, and have reached a certain level of ease. That being the reward for your hard work. I’m not so much interested in what people can already do well though, although I’m grateful for their efforts and what I can learn from their dedication. But, I’m more interested in what people avoid becoming good at, and why. We enjoy reading books about the trauma in somebody else’s existence as a way to gain insight, but would we be as willing to read a book that contained our own?

    “Unfortunately, this brain I got isn’t great at much but it seems pretty good at processing ideas ”

    Don’t you think there’s a risk that you’re only trying to win a race you’ve won already? Wheres the challenge?
    I’m not suggesting that you should stop cultivating what you’ve worked so hard to grow, just that wouldn’t it be productive to begin cultivating and try to tackle that part of the garden which is overgrown, and full of thorns?

    “I worry about what people don’t understand. But I haven’t decided if it is right to belittle people because they don’t know how to be different. I think this will always be a difficult thing to ask of such a divisive & unpredictable world. Cultures are very different. People too. & there are so many unpredictabilities. Maybe this is how things are meant to be. I don’t know…. They are like this after all. Maybe we just don’t really understand why.”

    Belittling people is easy, that’s why we do it. It takes way more effort to actually take into consideration all the factors that have caused a situation to be. Reading a book is easy, trying to understand a cunt, is not. Life’s soul is a whirling chaos, we just have to be brave enough to enter it, with the certainty of the potentials within it.

    1. I wonder if you are familiar with Tim Morton’s work…Well I talk about Morton a lot. He helped me understand that ecological thinking requires us to orient our thinking about objects not just at the macro, but also at the micro scale. We are after all regulated by tiny bacterium, which influence our health.
      Morton gives us the ‘hyperobject’. Hyperobjects are entities which are difficult for us to comprehend because they are massively extended temporally and spatially. Some examples are climate change, the internet or capitalism. To navigate hyperobjects we need to understand what Morton calls ‘phasing’. Think of this as a toggle function through the stratification of object-realities. With phasing we can try to understand how phytoplankton affects and has affected landscapes. It is the fundamental ingredient of British chalk landscapes, and also one of the contributors to photosynthesis. It is tiny, infinitesimal & yet of profound importance to our lives, if indirectly. I have talked about this in previous essays, which I recommend you read so as to not misunderstand my worldview as inflexibly macro. I have an essay on ‘phasing’ and also on the Spectrality Of Phytoplankton. I wrote an MA dissertation on this topic, explaining how landfills infiltrate and influence marine ecosystems, negatively. I am perfectly accepting of change coming from all domains of existence. I write about this stuff all the time.

  6. “The reason I don’t want things too simple is because I don’t want to accept a hegemonic set of traditional behavioural traits, through which we can designate a sense of normality.”

    This makes me very uneasy. I don’t understand why normality in this context is something to be avoided. Behavioural traits are as old and as fundamental as time, of course they are forever evolving and manifesting in new ways, but their foundations exist like a law of nature.

    1. Ooh, be careful how you use the word “normality.” It has only existed since the foundation of the discipline of statistics, and only later applied to human behaviour. Prior to that “behavioural traits” were… well… something different, differently thought of and differently controlled, not so much subject to evolution as to mutation. The judgment you are making about their oldness and fundamental-ness is made within a modern culture and a modern philosophy, which is temporary and arbitrary. [I go back to my illustration of an ancient Egyptian walking down a corridor on the walls of which are depictions of the gods… he has no word for “art,” so… there is nothing to separate him from them. Daniel knows what I’m talking about.]

    2. This is something we will just have to disagree on, for the reason Paul gives below. I am not saying normality isn’t an existent thing, but only that it leads to things like COVID & habitat destruction, which I simply cannot accept.

  7. I’m not sure if the fundamental nature of behavioural traits can be argued, perhaps the use of the world ‘normal’ to describe them can, but we and the universe was created within a biological and physiological mechanism. What I would describe as ‘normal’ is the continuous repetition of certain laws of nature, one being the behaviour of things, regardless of its evolution, or of whether we have a word yet to describe it, they remain unchanged at the fundamental level

    1. “the continuous repetition of certain laws of nature”

      Which again is the application of a modern concept. How would you have expressed all this if the word “normal” did not exist? What we think of as the laws of nature do not exist because THEY somehow simply ARE; they exist because WE are who we are.

  8. It might be a modern concept, being that we have only recently been able to see it and describe it and therefore name it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist before any of that were possible. It was all there, waiting to be discovered.

    Scientists continually prove the existence of the continuous repetition of certain laws of nature, by being able make predictions based on them.

    1. Firstly, the scientific method is not about “proof” but wholly about predictability.

      Secondly, our “seeing” something is dependent on our devising a vocabulary for it. Our vocabulary is wholly metaphorical, but it then goes on to govern how we think of things, how we think we “see” things. Thus we impose a hegemony on what we think we see.

  9. ” I am not saying normality isn’t an existent thing, but only that it leads to things like COVID & habitat destruction, which I simply cannot accept.”

    Just because it can lead to those things doesn’t mean it has to. The problem is that’s perhaps because of the power of chaos, it’s easier for those outcomes to arrive. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

    1. But it has done so. And if it isn’t a normalising of certain behaviours at the macro-level influencing the micro-level then I am stumped as to what has caused COVID or the climate emergency. According to Andrea Malm in ‘Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency’ COVID emerged because of the deforestation of bat habitats: we got close to them, not the other way around. It is unfortunate this nearness was to bats, as bats are unique physiologically: they live with high temperatures. This means that they are resilient to coronaviruses. A single bat can incubate innumerable coronaviruses simultaneously, as well as living in colonies of millions of bats, making them ideal for coronavirus mutation. The macro and micro are in cahoots here. Couple this with rampant consumerism, which takes their habitat. Consumerism is that normalisation & has significantly contributed to the potential for a viral outbreak. Ok, so this is a probable scenario. It isn’t impossible at all. But there isn’t concrete proof, yet. But it also illustrates a potential because of a normalised factor: consumerism. Normalisation doesn’t have to lead to these things but it does and it has. Normality has a lot to answer for and will lead to other forms of normality. But accepting a given, hegemonic order of normality is a dangerous place to situate ourselves, in my opinion. A good chunk of our current problems have been caused by taking things for granted, or normalisation.

  10. Isn’t predictability proof in itself?

    and don’t we need to live within a certain amount of hegemony?

    1. No.

      and that’s not really the point.

      [If you don’t mind, I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m supposed to be writing a chapter on W.G. Sebald’s philosophical models. This has been a pleasant distraction, but a distraction nonetheless.]

  11. “But it has done so…”

    Ok, yes it has, but again, the fact that it has happened, doesn’t mean it had to happen, which leaves room for change as a realistic possibility.

    Your observation of the causes of climate change and Covid are all rooted within the individual and the need for them to notice their individual responsibility. Again, we have to respect our limitations, and look for, and at the ways in which we contribute, and act accordingly. You deciding not to drive for example, you are aware that just you alone making the decision not to drive a car makes very little difference to the global emissions produced by people who drive, but you aren’t going to go out tomorrow and buy a car just because your contribution is seemingly insignificant. You know in which ways you have the power to make a difference, no matter how small.

    This can used in every interaction you make with the outside world. The bus driver, your friend who needs a hug, your plant that needs watering, your shoes that need a clean.

    I have no personal control to prevent or stop deforestation. But I can make decisions that avoid making the problem worse. I can choose not to consume in ways that continue to make deforestation profitable. Your choices make an impact. But people generally haven’t got the conscious mind required for this kind of reflection, they’re entirely capable, but how can we expect people to be concerned with these matters, and subsequently choose to make conscious well informed choices, when they aren’t even courageous enough to reflect upon their own flaws which cause to themselves and those around them, the equivalent of an inner deforestation.

    Each individual is responsible for themselves as an individual. It’s the ONLY thing we have control over.
    We may only have control over our own choices, but that doesn’t mean we are powerless in our influence.
    This is what I mean when I say that we have to start with our insides before we can hope to change our outsides. Theres no other place to begin. You’ve got to live within a sovereignty of your morality.

    1. What you are talking about is what Morton explains as the way hyper objects are created: individual actions multiplied millions of times. I don’t think we are wildly opposed in our worldview my friend. Thanks for your time again, I hope you’ll bring your input to future posts.

  12. Thanks for your contribution, Paul. You got me thinking. Have fun with Sebald!

  13. what’s the point of an idea if it cannot be lived and be a creation of good?

  14. Thank you for your time, Daniel.
    I hope we gave each other food for thought.

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