New Starts and New Missions, Jamming, 28/12/2017

I still have a bunch of notes from going through What Is Philosophy?, and I’ve written up some more thoughts on some of the commentaries I’ve been working on. I find it rather curious that many of the major names in Deleuze Studies™ are based in Canada.

Something about this country these days that feels welcoming to a philosophical community who revolve their thoughts around the creativity of difference. Canada can be an oasis today from the nationalist extremism that’s burning Western democratic traditions to the ground.

The icons of a movement are more than people;
they're pastiches of imagery that express raw desire.
If we defend it, of course. Democracy must always be defended. Freedom has never not been under siege. To be free is to be under siege.

You could call these my final thoughts on 2017. I’m not going to attempt some grand summary of the year to date. I’m not paid enough to write this blog to attempt anything so massive as that. History, in progress, now feels properly overwhelming to people. India and Africa, for example, are just as full of events and madness as the West, to name only two examples.

I feel simultaneously hopeful, agitated, and afraid of the future. Personally, more opportunities are opening in my professional life – a new job in Ontario’s education sector with a proper middle-class salary, real responsibilities, and real respect.

I do want to put to keys and screen some plans I have for the future. A few things that are ending and a few things that are beginning. I want to do as much of what I can that I can, because I’m no longer struggling to survive.

For 40ish hours each week, I’ll be working as Education Manager for Anderson College, a small trades college – business, some medical sciences – in northern Toronto. Basically, I make sure all the programs run smoothly, and that we keep up with our programs’ accreditation needs as we maintain and grow.

It puts an end to five years of contingent, precarious employment as a teacher and communicator. I never fit in well among the more mercenary culture of communications and public relations firms, but my position at Anderson lets me use the skills and conceptual frameworks I learned for that field in my daily work. A lot of my job falls under internal communications, liaising between instructors and college leaders.

While this changes the schedule of my research work, it won’t be detracting from it. I’ve taken over at Digital Editor at the Reply Collective, and expanding the reach of this platform will be my major publication project for the next year. I’m working on a few content strategies, but I’m only just starting my outreach to promote the platform and bring in new contributors.

My work here feeds into my work at Anderson because one subset of social epistemology – the study of social and political aspects of knowledge production – is education studies. So one direction the research at the Reply Collective will cover (among many, many vectors) is education theory.

I might make a return to some of John Dewey's ideas about the nature
and purpose of education as a starting point for this new professional
direction in my life and thinking.
Beyond that, I want to use contemporary research in education to improve accessibility and quality throughout Canada’s college and university education sector. Here’s one medium-long term goal that I want to work toward from my position.

This year’s public college instructors’ strike in Ontario was an unmitigated disaster in terms of the union’s leadership. Essentially, they walked ass-backwards into an unwinnable strike that alienated most Ontarians from any empathy with college teachers for the next generation, minimum. But one of their major issues – aside from the horrible inequality and terrible compensations most college teachers live with – is curriculum updates.

Generally speaking, Ontario public college curriculums are horribly out of date. This is because the only people with the authority to update curriculums are high-level college administrators. But they don’t move to update the curriculum until government employment surveys reveal that their graduates no longer have the required skills to build careers in their fields.

Facing this massive mismatch of learning material and working conditions, the colleges undertake a total and expensive overhaul of whole programs. The instructors’ union wanted teacher input into this process to make small, piecemeal updates that would save costs overall. A continuing process of updating curriculum as industry conditions shift and fluctuate.

Such a process is ordinary for a private institution like Anderson College, and there’s no reason why it can’t be done in larger institutions. I’m ultimately responsible for the programs of just over 300 students. But such a sensible policy needs to apply throughout Ontario – tens of thousands of students.

My work as an education manager, students’ advocate, and global research hub coordinator has this larger goal of improving education for Canada’s largest province – ultimately for my entire country of about 36-million people.

That’s the journey I’m beginning as 2018 begins. At the beginning of this year, I had no clue I’d get here. Hell, a year ago, my day job was still at the delivery department of IKEA Etobicoke. I am beyond grateful, and I will not let the people of Canada down.

On What There Isn't, Research Time, 22/12/2017

Here’s another takeaway from the chapter in What Is Philosophy? about the nature of science – Atheism is ridiculous.

Now, I’m not talking about the many different schools of thoughtful, philosophically rigorous, conceptually beautiful atheism that people have discussed and believed in for millennia.

Forget about Bertrand Russell’s arguments for skepticism. Forget Nietzsche’s disturbingly ethical rejection of Christianity, on grounds that it was a morality that made people weak and resentful. Leave the Hellenic Cynics behind.

He's just so smug. Frankly, all the trolling jerks and fascists are so
insufferably smug. Have fascists ever been quite so irritating as
they are today?
I’m going to come back to Spinoza, because of course I am.

Think about that shrill atheism of people like Richard Dawkins.* Dawkins own second, longest, and most annoying wave as a public intellectual began with his advocacy for atheism in the early 1990s. Deleuze was writing What Is Philosophy? He knew who Dawkins was, and would have heard talk of his new books.

* Canadian politics sidebar. Do you think Jordan Peterson might be shooting to become the Richard Dawkins for the revanchist set? Dawkins courted a populist college kid atheism of thinking religion was stupid. Peterson’s demo simply thinks the same about women’s rights. I think a severe category shift just happened.

Science and religion don’t need to be hostile to each other. They are pretty much all the time, but it’s not necessary.

I think the secret is in the ideology of Western science that’s grown up around it for the past couple of centuries. It goes – Science can investigate the entire universe, discovering the truth in the material world and proving religion empty dogma. The Galileo Myth, you could call it.

Galileo the person is totally absent from this mythic version of him so many of us learned, if not in school, then on PBS. His estate eventually licensed his image for use in the cleaned-up PIXAR-perfect movie version of his life.

The general method of science is to describe the world as it is in the greatest possible detail. Its domain is the entire universe.

Deleuze has the very rare clarity to say that this means science will inevitably fragment disciplines fractally ad infinitum – and that’s great! We need scientific knowledge to find out more and more about the world. We need scientific knowledge to help us figure a way out of this economic-ecological-political clusterfuck we’re in as a global civilization.

Pictured: A proper atheist. I only wish official portraits of
Spinoza depicted him as how brown he really was. The
man was born in Amsterdam to a family of Portuguese-
Jewish immigrants. Put him in a time machine, he would
likely fit in fine walking around Marrakech or east LA.
But that truth contradicts the today’s cult of populist atheism. Because populist atheism has two founding Myths – Galileo and Einstein. Well, more like Galileo’s Myth and Einstein’s Word.** E=mc2

** Fitting that the Man be Catholic and the Word be Jewish. Moses heard the Word and Christ had become the Man.

The ideology of populist scientific atheism has twin foundations. 1) Science’s truth stands against religion’s dogmas; 2) The most universal truth of science will be simple enough to put on a T-shirt.

I remember reading Stephen Hawking talk about the theory of everything having as simple a heart as E=mc2. These days, I can’t believe someone apparently so smart could be so naive.

When you understand the world in more and more detail, it doesn’t make things simpler. It makes things more complicated. There are so many domains of knowledge – what there is to be learned gets denser and denser. Each scientific discipline is a different domain of knowledge.

Real scientific investigation – discovering more about the world – will never unify all the domains because such an investigation moves in the opposite direction as simplicity and unity.

Empirical knowledge expands and proliferates – even the most arcane theoretical work relies on the empirical reality of having to make sense of our everyday world.

What about religion? God isn’t something you find like you find the Higgs Boson, building an experiment to detect God by a predicted ancillary affect. God isn’t even something you find like your car keys, remembering that they slid off the table where you threw them coming home and you thought you’d pick them up later.

You want to know how you discover God? Read Spinoza. Second time you read it, start with Book One. First time you read it, start with Book Five and go backwards. You find God in learning more about the world, and how to move with ease, happiness, and joy within it.

You realize that when a real atheist says, “I believe only in material reality,” he is literally saying, “I believe only in God.” Substance. Material reality, of which we’re each a flickering little quirky process.

On What There Is, Research Time, 21/12/2017

When Neil DeGrasse Tyson opens his mouth about philosophy, he usually doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If I was going to make this a pissing contest, I’d tell him what a better grasp many philosophers have on the core concepts of the sciences and scientific knowledge.

I could cite him plenty. I’ve known several specialists in philosophy of science who also have bachelor’s degrees in different sciences. An old McMaster colleague has a degree in physics, the department has run a joint degree program in philosophy and mathematics, a friend from my doctoral program has a biology degree, and my old friend Johnny Five has a colleague with a degree in microbiology.

These days, I feel like Bill Nye has simply lost his
touch. He's less an advocate for science, and is now
just one more talking head.
Nice poster, though.
We don't fuck around.

Maybe that’s why philosophy is such an unpopular subject, a tradition that Tyson and Bill Nye shit on. Philosophers don’t even fuck around enough to do children’s entertainment and become national icons of education.*

* John Dewey would be enraged. He might even furrow his brow.

Gilles Deleuze has plenty to say about science, which is actually very insightful in his weird way. Remember that extended riff I went on about his idea that philosophy was about catching hold of chaos? In What Is Philosophy?, he contrasts science.

Scientific thinking is rooted in mathematics – as Deleuze terms it, functions. You use mathematics to plot and describe quantities, intensities, and differentials. You end up with specific measurements. Even in the many situations and disciplines where you deal in probabilities, you’re still dealing in ranges or numbers.

A mathematically indefinite limit is still an infinitely more sane number than the kind of thinking Deleuze calls chaos in this context – ideas changing so infinitely fast that they change completely in the moment of grasping.

Deleuze says philosophy is thinking in terms of what a process can do – its potential, its virtual existence – the limits and frameworks for all that a process or machine** can achieve. Philosophy’s domain is purely about the structure of potentials. At least that’s one reading of this very complex book.

** Same difference, really.

Science, as he contrasts it, is about the actual. Sciences are mathematical ways to describe different domains of actual existence – how things are right now, what they become, what they can become, and the likelihood of their becoming.

Properly speaking, philosophy and the sciences are partners. Historically, they were united in a single, multifaceted discipline. But the different sciences proliferated, differentiated, developed more complex knowledge in more unique domains.

We understood enough about the world to realize how many unique approaches to knowledge were needed to understand more of the world. So now we don’t have ‘natural philosophy’ anymore. We have a discipline that’s purely conceptual.

Rather, we have many disciplines that constitute together a human knowledge practice more profound than any single tradition within it – whether you start with Parmenides, Kongzi, Moses, or the Vedas. The creation of frameworks for understanding and thinking.

Now we also have the sciences – the detailed, mathematical knowledge of what is. They can exist in a positive feedback loop, each informing different aspects of the other’s practice. In philosophy, that’s what a lot of us do explicitly. How about the sciences?

Canada's Everyday Horror, Jamming, 20/12/2017

I’ll say this. I’ll get it out of the way. I never realized how good Alice Munro was until after she won the Nobel Prize.

But my response wasn’t all that much awe or respect. It was, “You know what? Fuck it. Dear Life is on sale for only $12 and I’ll get myself a proper physical copy.”

Because I could never get past the hype of Alice Munro – The Great Canadian Short Story Writer. Weirdly, I missed her work when I was in secondary school. Probably just by chance. When you grow up in Newfoundland, the curriculum has a schizophrenic relationship with Canadian literature.

A lot of Newfoundlanders don’t even consider themselves Canadian. Since each province’s government feels something of an obligation to include literature from its own territory, we chop a lot of the mainstream Canadian authors in favour of local material.

There are few authors in Canada better suited to a whimsical, yet
ever so slightly deranged, postage stamp. I wonder how many
people in the last year or so thought she wrote The Handmaid's
Tale
.
So instead of the middle-years collections of Alice Munro, I got The Lure of the Labrador Wild. A book written so badly that it made desolation and death seem boring.

You know what you can do instead of reading that, Newfoundland secondary education curriculum designers? Cut it in favour of some Inuit poets and Voss by Patrick White. I know he’s Australian, but you’ll never read a trippier, freakier, more existentially terrifying book about dying lost in an unforgiving wilderness.

Where was I? Alice Munro. No, I think I was exposed to so much Canadian literature that felt like artistic dead ends to me. Austere tomes about petty, small lives on the Canadian Prairies. That damn Hockey Sweater.

I think I only hated it at the time – elementary school – because the teachers expected us all to know about hockey, and none of them explained that the kid got the Leafs sweater because the head of the retail company was a racist Anglo. It was all, “Oh! Wasn’t he so embarrassed! The Toronto Maple Leafs!”

I’m kind of glad I avoided Alice Munro until I was almost 30. I think I can appreciate the unpretentious craftsmanship. A couple of months ago, I found The Love of a Good Woman at a garage sale when I was walking around The Esplanade with my 10 year old niece.

Stories of ordinary lives with violent, creepy secrets. People, just interesting enough on their own to follow for 30-70 pages. Then you discover some terrible incident in their pasts that flip all that ordinariness into haunted space.

A fat old man drowns in a small town’s river. A young-ish husband leaves his wife and dies mysteriously in Indonesia. A garish old woman’s first husband is conveniently killed in a house fire. Courtenay, British Columbia turns from a quaint hub of hippies, Whole Food shoppers, and wrinkled old white people into a screaming graveyard.

You never learn about Canadian literature as everyday terror. Maybe you should.

If We Can’t Go Back Then We Have to Overcome, Research Time, 19/12/2017

It’s a wistful book, What Is Philosophy?. There aren’t too many philosophy books that you can call wistful. But Gilles has his moments.

There's a moment about halfway through the book when Deleuze wonders whether the uniquely vibrant spirit of Hellenic culture could emerge in human communities again. The Hellenes lived with convivial hearts, where your ambition was to get rich enough to spend it all, leading your society through a jovial parliament of friendly, back-slapping rivals. Can it return?

There was once a young man who was very strong, with a good
heart, but who could not express himself in words. He could dream
about terrors that were coming to his people. Death and terror.
He wanted to warn them – he had to warn them.
Of course it can’t, because we live in a contingent universe where nothing can return exactly as it once was. But you can ask whether a human society can produce a similar cultural balance of brotherhood, ego, and intelligence.

But that spirit can’t return. Deleuze knows it. The question is why. When you ask why, you’re asking for reasons. Now, reasons are different from causes. A cause is a question of how, not why, but that’s a matter for semantics.

The distinction between why and how can help work out the difference between a reason and a cause.

Causes bring new processes about – they’re production processes. The universe being as complex as it is, nothing really has only one cause. That we ever thought causality worked that way was a matter of cultural stupidity – Western culture understood causality with images of billiard balls and clocks.

Compared to our contemporary understanding of complex systems – the sciences of turbulence, chance, and contingency – the West at the beginning of the imperialist era were worse than blind. They were foolish. Especially since the best ancient philosophical tradition that could help Westerners was about to get hit with a shotgun blast of colonialism.

But I’m digressing a little. Causes refer to the field of dynamic material processes whose activity constitutes the universe. Reasons refer to conditions – What about the world has to change to make a particular event more or less likely? Possible or impossible?

They were his friends, his family. He had to warn them, make plans,
do something to protect themselves from the coming horror. But he
could not speak well. He could only speak from his heart, not from
his mind. All he could say was, "The horror! It is coming!"
It’s what Bertrand Russell called the difference that makes a difference. Punny Brit bastard.

But yes, the question why hunts down possibility conditions, what kind of world there has to be for something to happen. So what’s changed possibility conditions so radically that the boisterous friendships of Hellenic culture can’t emerge in a new context?

Capitalism is one. The Hellenes never had to deal with the universal social solvent. Pick your flavour of capitalism. Industrial capitalism is a system whose products include mass manufacturing, revolutions in medical and communication technology, and pollution so thick and omnipresent that it’ll likely kill us all.

But the more relevant aspect of capitalism is the venture finance capitalism that I talked about yesterday – the one that converts the profit motive into billion-dollar piracy. Yet capitalism itself has that spark of freedom at the heart of all its processes – creativity in destruction. You have to raze to build again, even if the fires are horrifying.

No, Deleuze picks a worse fire than capitalism. However terrible the effects of unrestrained capitalist desire are, there remains a liberatory force in the structure of its system.

Held back from piracy and governed with heart, capitalism can lay the conditions for a free society – it’s the liberal vision of freedom. Maybe the liberal vision has become impossible now, but it could still have been – at least in its ideal, conceptual, philosophical form – a flight to freedom on many vectors.

Even for us, who think we're so smart and articulate, we find it tough
to talk about the real horror. We can make films, paint amazing
images of terror and its looming face. But look into the abyss itself
and it will do more than stare back. The abyss will make you as
empty as it is. Unless there's a friend to hold you back from the
ethical solvent of the desire for horror.
No, Deleuze is thinking of the Holocaust. We’ve become a people – humanity, that is – who kills by the millions. Worse than that, we’ve come to find it ordinary. Even worse than that – as if it could get worse – we’ve come to find it fun. It’s something we want, a desire for genocide. Mass murder has become a path to personal and community fulfillment.

Not that this happens very often. Anytime is too often, but there are rarely more than a few active genocides happening at a time. Most of them are slow matters of cultural displacement. This century, things are getting more terrifyingly frequent.

But a crime like the systematic murder and displacement of millions has become a matter of course. An ordinary thing. People run on this as a campaign platform in elections, win, then do it.

Can we be convivial friends in such a world? Deleuze doesn’t think we can, and I don’t think so either. Consider the magnitude of the destruction we bring on each other every day. Friends can’t smile and joke when faced with that kind of knowledge.

Philosophy in a culture where this horrific violence has become so ordinary can’t be so jocular or congenial. Philosophy for humans in the 21st century emerges from the tears of friends consoling each other over terrible losses, wondering how and why such things could happen.

The Universal Solvent of Money, Research Time, 18/12/2017

The irony is coming on thick today. I want to write a little about Gilles Deleuze’s comments on capitalism in What Is Philosophy?. Capitalism – the universal solvent of total freedom.

I move in pretty left-wing political circles, so that sounds pretty damn funny to me. Probably to a lot of my semi-regular readers.

The structures that conditioned every aspect of your lives are blown
apart – you now have total freedom of movement. Not even the
ground can restrict you. Of course, that means you can do nothing
but aimlessly and endlessly fall.
It's one of the ironic difficulties in understanding Deleuze's work and concepts. He lived and worked in a very left-wing context. His writing partner Félix Guattari was himself a marxist militant, who had materially supported anti-French guerrilla armies in Algeria. Their first book together, Anti-Œdipus was a philosophy for the anarchist revolutions of May 1968 Paris.

As well, Deleuze helped Italian militants escape prison to France and found them places to live in the city. This while they were wanted by a militant right-wing Italian government who reacted to the murder of Prime Minister Moro.

Deleuze was a profound critic of capitalism. So profound that he could, at the same time, point out its destructive flaws and celebrate it as a social and economic force of liberation.

Say it like that, and it looks like he contradicts himself. But actually look at what he says, and you realize how profound this idea is.

Look at history this way. Big urban centres, states, and military organizations develop. They expand their regional power as their population, wealth, trade networks, and military force grow. But eventually some sudden shift – military invasion, ecological disaster like several years of drought – throws off their productivity.

Now get to Europe, as the old monarchist states are falling. Modern industrial capitalism is kicking into gear. The new class of wealthy business leaders are growing more powerful than the land-owning gentry that consolidated around the kings, princes, armies, and administrations at the heart of the state.

Totally losing your grounding is losing your shape itself.
All those oppressive powers were being destabilized. That’s what capitalism does – the profit motive, acting on the scales of entire societies and planets, destabilizes existing structures and institutions of a whole region.

That was one key insight that sets Deleuze – and those who understand his lessons for contemporary politics – apart from the more typical anti-capitalist activists. Capitalism produces a powerful freedom – it really is a liberating force.

With old institutions and power structures destabilized and falling apart, it opens up a space for people to reorganize their societies. New institutions can be built that are more egalitarian and open.

The problem sets in when capitalism destabilizes those structures too. Not in the same way as the old despotic state models were overthrown, but differently. You can very easily see that capitalist profit motive activities are destabilizing the liberal democratic institutions that developed from the ashes of despotic institutions.

We now have a class of business leaders so wealthy that they’re able to remove billions of dollars in raw holdings – bank account assets – from their countries to rest in tax haven accounts. That’s billions of dollars that aren’t being invested in new businesses or institutions that provide people services and career opportunities.

There's another form of capitalism that Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Œdipus, which is smacking our civilization – hedge fund piracy. A company with billions of dollars in assets and liquid holding accounts invests in another company, which has prospered by making and selling real things to people.

When we think about the destructive effects of capitalism, we think
of imagery of greed and consumption. But that doesn't really get to
the heart of what capitalism specifically is, how capitalism as an
economic and social system differs from others. All living systems
involve consumption and production – to understand capitalism,
you have to understand what its singular kind of production and
consumption involves.
Hedge funds regularly buy these productive companies and strip them for parts or find other ways to bleed them dry. Here are some examples. Dupont Chemicals was bought by Trian Fund Management. Then its research labs were sold to peak share prices and Dupont was merged with Dow Chemical to slam more billions from it.

Hedge fund guru Eddie Lampert bought Sears, merged it with K-Mart to create billions from redundancies, then things got diabolical. Sears owned almost all the real estate where its stores sat – paid off and owned outright. But Lampert sold that property to a real estate firm his hedge fund also owned, which began charging Sears enormous rent.

Then Lampert loaned Sears billions of dollars to pay its rent to the firm he owned himself. So Sears now had two massive debts – bleeding money to its owner twice over. No matter how much money it made, the retailer couldn’t manage all that debt.

That is capitalism – profit-seeking that sets money and wealth free from its current structures. It’s the universal destabilizer – great for overthrowing an oppressive system like feudalism or monarchism. Also great at overthrowing even the stuff you want to keep, like manufacturing companies, steady jobs, and democracy.

Begin the Begin, Research Time, 15/12/2017

Last week, I wrote a bit of a free-wheeling post. I’m writing about Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, so being a little free-wheeling and weird is generally acceptable. One thing I wanted to get off my chest was my frustration that Deleuze considered only the Western tradition to be real philosophy.

I mean, if you have a conception of philosophy as catching hold of chaos in thought, it makes sense that such an activity will take many forms besides this curious Hellenic tradition of writing, discourse, and thought.

That's what I take Western philosophy to be – the tradition of conceptual engineering that began with the sages / educators / scientists / mathematicians of Hellenic Greece.

A reproduction of a painting of Ibn Rushd, one of the
greatest philosophers in the history of Spain.
Now, that means what I count as Western philosophy is a bit larger than a lot of what I was taught in school. I don’t really expand the tradition by much.

I consider the medieval Muslim and Jewish thinkers of the Abbasid Empire the direct successors of Hellenic philosophical and mathematical traditions. More than only following the Greeks, Persia, Syria, and the Maghreb contributed major new creative directions in ontology, mathematics, medicine and the nature of divinity.

Also, I read some very interesting writing about Ethiopians’ contribution to the Western tradition of philosophy in the 1600s and 1700s. So I don’t just stick to Europe and America.*

* What an odd coincidence that these are the two regions at the top of the old global colonial hierarchy. Funny, isn’t it?

I’m not writing to catalogue the world’s traditions, though. I’m writing this to make a more straightforward account of my last problem with Deleuze. It was a vicious tension in this last work that I think he could (and should) have reconciled if he’d had a few more years of productive life after What Is Philosophy?.

As it is, he developed an insightful account of why philosophy developed in Hellenic Greece. Which is really an insightful account of why Western philosophy developed in Hellenic Greece.

That region had a curious and peculiar position in the Mediterranean world when philosophy and geometry developed in communities of sages – the Pythagoreans, Plato’s Academy, and the Lyceum.

Greece had a fluid, plural, and largely non-hierarchical cultural environment – they were close enough to the Persian Empire for maritime trade but, for the most part, were beyond the point where they could be easily conquered.

So Hellenic cities were free of subjugation to a monarch, and had a much more dynamic relationship among themselves than the static role of submission to an imperialist authority.

Being a seafaring society also encouraged a culture of friendliness and openness among cities and trading partners. There was a similar culture of friendly rivalry among the leaders of each individual polis – governed by argument and debate among a local parliament of jovial neighbours.

These were the unique conditions of one of the most philosophically vibrant and creative cultures of human history. They were not inevitable – a few inconvenient famines or a better Persian shipbuilding industry could have destroyed Hellenic philosophy when they were largely still mystics in the woods.

Western philosophy is a unique tradition, with many strange and surprising transformations. But it isn’t the only philosophical tradition. It simply happens to be mine.

The Full Meta, Jamming, 14/12/2017

The last week of philosophical reflection was actually very illuminating for me. It helped me get a better grip on a difficult idea of Deleuze’s – the conceptual persona. Same goes for his very evocative – but not always the most enlightening – metaphor for philosophy as grasping hold of chaos in thought.

I managed to clarify how I understood this very imagistic concept. The great thing about Gilles Deleuze as a writer was that, no matter how far into one project he was, his writing also involved new ideas that he’d expand and further explain in the future.

So you’d read early books and see vague treatments of concepts, then see them developed in amazing depth and complexity a few years later. The problem with Deleuze’s talk of thought moving at infinite speed and catching hold of chaos, is that the follow-up never came.

Even when we intend to die, life never ends
when we want it to. That's another thing that I
connect with Deleuze over – he had so many
more ideas for books to write, even when he
physically couldn't live anymore, even when
it had become impossible for him to write.
Which Deleuze considered the same thing.
I'll likely end up the same way. I could live
to 100 and I'll still be coming up with ideas.
His health declined massively, and less than four years after publishing What Is Philosophy?, he was dead.

But the legacy lives on, doesn’t it? Why else would you publish groundbreaking philosophical works at a damn near annual rate in your peak period? You want to have a massive impact in the world you devote yourself to, you could pick far worse role models than Deleuze.

Same with any thinker of that kind of calibre. There were plenty – Deleuze is one member of a literally multiple-millennium tradition of writing and thought.

I find it a little strange that someone who’d devoted himself to philosophy in his career and life to the degree and intensity that Deleuze did, only wrote one work of concentrated meta-philosophy. Where he gives an explicit argument about what philosophy is.

That’s why, in my list of tags, I haven’t used too many in these last few entries other than the proper names and ‘creativity.’ To me, meta-philosophy is built into every worthwhile philosophical project.

It isn’t often remarked on because a philosophical writer takes for granted that you all know what philosophy is. Of course, he’s only certain about his own conception of what philosophy is. But don’t think you can tell him that.

Deleuze gives his own answer to that question. There’s a lot to value in his response. I’ve been talking about it for a couple of weeks now, and I have enough material from my revisit to What Is Philosophy? for at least another week of posts. The main reason I’m not digging deeper today is because I’m writing this at the end of some very long days, and I'm a little tired before bed.

More details tomorrow.

But there’s also a few ideas in What Is Philosophy? that I can’t really get down with. His restriction of what philosophy is to the Western tradition definitely irks me. It’s based on a curious account of cultural / economic contingency, which I’ll talk about tomorrow.

Yet his conclusion goes well beyond the evidence he presents, and contradicts a lot of what he’s said before in his career. Seriously now, more details tomorrow.

Creative Energy VI: Riding the Lightning, Research Time, 13/12/2017

Let's begin that trip into what Gilles Deleuze called catching hold of chaos. The essence of philosophical thinking.

Try a little experiment in imagination.

Step One. Imagine your intuition is perfectly right every time. You naturally understand every practically important aspect of the world around you – the conditions of every action, the most likely effects of every piece of communication no matter the medium or institution.

Every decision you make in your life is perfect – not by luck or unthinking instinct, but because you understand every situation completely at first glance. Literally at first glance. I cannot emphasize this last part enough.

When thought itself becomes so fast, the distance between
your insights falls to zero. That's what Deleuze means by
catching hold of the infinite.
Image by Aykut Aydogdu. Check out his stuff.
AT FIRST GLANCE.

The most important part of this illustration is that you understand every situation you encounter in your life completely and perfectly at first glance.

Now imagine the same kind of perfect intellectual intuition, but in thought alone. Nothing to do with the world of practical life, unfortunately – nothing to do with social interaction, dancing, home repair, finding a quick way home through heavy traffic. Nothing useful like that.

Step Two. Imagine the same kind of perfect intellectual intuition, but you’re just thinking about the abstract. Concepts, arguments, inferences, images, relationships – all the ways you can put them together as components in more complex arrangements.

You understand all the ways they can fit together and all the dynamics, processes, and frameworks for thinking and perception those abstract ideas would create. That’s in every combination, as you try out each new conceptual experiment, each new arrangement of thought components.

You think so well that you don’t need to doubt yourself or check your work, because you know in thinking it that you’ve understood everything perfectly.

Step Three. Imagine that intellectual intuition in your thinking, but that intuition is in perfect tune because – as it assembles those concepts and abstract components – it’s creating its world.

In Step One – perfect intuition in daily life – you lived in a world and your intellectual intuition connected and flowed with that world in perfect harmony. In Step Two, you’re putting concepts together with perfect accuracy.

But Step Three is actually the same as Step Two. If you’re dealing with thought alone, you’re always retreating from practical life. The concepts are frameworks for thinking to be used in everyday life – that includes a grocery run, negotiating peace treaties, wiring an apartment building, and writing epochal philosophy.

The space where you do your experiments – where you see how the components fit together, try new arrangements, make new arguments, figure out new ways to infer, imagine, analyze, think.

Deleuze described the conceptual persona as something that you became when you were thinking this way, so divorced from the daily needs of your life that your personality could become the concepts you were using. Descartes truly was an idiot – absolute inward-turning – when he was planning and writing his most revolutionary work.

All the other greats likewise became the images of their own thought, at least while they were thinking so intensely.

Creative Energy V: Listing Some Categories, Jamming, 12/12/2017

I think I’ve at last figured out how to talk, in the fairly ordinary language of my blog, about the most intense kind of creativity in philosophical thinking and discourse. I had to talk around it for a while first – getting a sense of what it wasn’t before I could wrap my tongue around the idea.

When I was re-reading What Is Philosophy? I could understand the idea well. But I couldn’t just repeat Deleuze’s lines about catching hold of chaos. I wanted to take what, in his language, remains really weird, and make it more broadly understandable.

To catch hold of chaos and ride it as long as you can. That's what it
means to create at the speed of thought.
So let’s list what we’ve got here.

D) Your work becomes an object of historical study.

C) Other people pick up your concepts and elaborate them into more complex, versatile, multifaceted ideas and problem spaces – or else they devolve into sniping and arguing over each other’s interpretations.

B) Actively applying your novel logic of thought in more specific problems, or to issues in different disciplinary discourses.

A) Developing an entirely new logic of thought in the thinking, blurring the distinction in your thought between your own acts of thinking and the movement of the new logic itself.

Qualifier. When I say the phrase, ‘logic of thought,’ I’m not necessarily talking about a new symbolic logic.* I’m talking about inference in general, how you move from one idea to another. So a new logic of thought is a new way to infer from one idea to another, leading you to construct entirely new concepts to suit those new kinds of inference.

* But developing symbolic logics can be one way, among many, to develop a new logic of thought. Look at Saul Kripke or Graham Priest for examples.

My first education in philosophy, at Memorial
University's philosophy department in the mid-
2000s, had a very Kantian framework, simply
because there were so many Kant specialists
and Kant fans in the department at the time. It
didn't make me a Kantian, but I think the
influence is pretty clear in how I use the word
'understanding' on the blog and in my other
essays.
Also, if you want a print of this cartoon, or
any other funny pictures of great thinkers,
it's by Gary Brown.
Let’s go back to that example of Kant’s thought. After all, he’s a famous thinker in the Western tradition of philosophy, who also embodies very distinctly each category of how creativity begins and is received in philosophy.

Example of (D). Read any essay or book discussing Kant’s development as a thinker, or explaining his philosophical ideas and concepts.

Example of (C) – the bad kind. Go to a conference of tenured or tenure-seeking Kant scholars and listen to them talk to each other. It’s infuriating. “I’m right!” “No, I’m right!” “No, you’re both wrong! But I’m wrong too!”

Example of (C) – the good kind. Books and essays that adapt Kant’s ideas to contemporary problems in morality, politics, and science. They don’t even have to reference or quote Kant in any detailed sense – simply demonstrate your skills at applying the concepts.

Example of (C) – the best kind. Use Kant’s concepts as a launching point or components for your own attempt to build a new logic of thought. Think of the Kantian components of John Rawls’ liberalism, or Hannah Arendt’s fascinating spin on the Critique of Judgement that informs her own departure into a new language of political thinking.

Example of (B). Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. Kant applies the concepts he developed in the Critique of Practical Reason to pretty much every moral question that mattered to Prussians in the 1790s.

Also, think about the later chapters of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, where he applies the concepts he developed in the first half of the book to the major debates of political and social philosophy in the 1970s.

Example of (A). Kant’s three Critiques. The concepts of empiricism, mind as a framework for understanding experience and empirically limited reason in the Critique of Pure Reason. The postulates and machine of universal moral reasoning in the Critique of Practical Reason. The positive account of empiricism and as-if concepts in the Critique of Judgment.

So we have our examples. Now what is actually happening in the (A) mode of philosophical thinking? This is where things can get super-trippy.

Creative Energy IV: Becoming Thought or Thinking, Research Time, 11/12/2017

I've talked about what it means for a philosopher to become an adjective or a noun. That’s a matter of social reception – how is your work received by those who study and continue your tradition.

That’s one aspect of what Gilles Deleuze calls the conceptual persona – what a thinker becomes in the tradition through his influence. It’s sometimes hard to get past this, because the whole field of influence includes how we’re taught about a thinker.

How they’re presented in class – Analytic or Continental? Rationalist or Empiricist? Liberal or Communitarian? – is part of that influence. But that influence also happens outside universities, through the general influence their ideas have had on everyday discourse.

To be most human, we have to be the most rational. Another twist on the
old definition from Aristotle, the rational animal? Ten Thousand Doctoral
Theses have been written on the subject. Do we need to prove it? Or
simply note the similarity of the ideas, and move on to more
important things.
Image by Renee Bolinger
One of the major ideas in contemporary extreme nationalism, especially its libertarian streak, is cultural marxism. This is their label for the common features of all progressive ideologies. It’s based on Andrew Breitbart having a very strange reading of Theodor Adorno.

That’s how we’re taught. If I want to dig into the heart of Deleuze’s idea – the conceptual persona – here’s a question I should ask. Having figured out their own core concepts, how did a great thinker use them?

Example. When did Kant become a Kantian? When he wrote The Metaphysics of Morals. That’s clear enough to me. The process goes like this.

In 1785, he publishes The Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals. It lays out in really simple language* the basic guiding principles he’ll use to build a comprehensive set of moral laws for his society. The moral imperatives of reason, which we have a duty to follow wherever they lead us in life – because reason is the highest human power.

* Compared to the Critique of Pure Reason anyway.

Three years later, he drops the Critique of Practical Reason, in 1788. It’s the shortest of all the Critiques, but incredibly dense. The entire book is, as far as this example is concerned, a single argument that the basic laws of human reason, expressed in the most abstract moral context,** describes a universal moral imperative.

** Or maybe call it a plane?

What did I just say? The argument is that we know there’s a moral law, and reason is how we deduce it. Reason, like Kant said in 1781’s Critique of Pure Reason, can’t apply to understanding how the world works because the physical world doesn’t run according to laws of logical deduction.***

I don't know how much I'll include of
these examples in the Utopias text. Kant,
for all the solemnity of his style, gets so
many academicians riled up when you talk
about him. It's like the community of
academics can't deal with people
speaking off the cuff about the ideas
you've spent your careers studying.
Now that I put it that way, I think I
finally see where they're coming
from.
*** The most TL;DR sentence I think I’ve ever written.

But morality works according to laws, Kant says. Let’s build a concept of moral law where the logical operations of reason show what actions you should do – show you your duty.

The Metaphysics of Morals is Kant, at extreme length, applying the duty of reason every moral law he could identify – from murder and lying through marriage and masturbation. It takes him nearly a decade to pound this one out.

So the project’s introduction is in 1785, he lays out the key principles in 1788, then spends – on and off – until 1797 on a massive application of those principles.

In 1785, the Groundwork was released to help create a few Kantians in the world. In 1788, Kant releases a work of profound and complex philosophy – Kant the person becoming Kant the philosopher. Then in 1797, Kant becomes a Kantian.

As a Kantian, Kant knew his own concepts better than anyone, so could apply them most faithfully and rigorously. In that, he was speaking through his conceptual persona – he was at the smallest possible remove from Kant as conceptual persona.

Most Kantians – all the ones who weren’t Kant – could be as rigorous as they wanted, but they’d inevitably put their own spin on becoming a Kantian. To be a Kantian is to think with the conceptual persona Kant created.

Hans is becoming a Kantian philosopher. Apply the machinery of Kant’s concepts to your own thinking and investigations – let the concepts he established become the framework of your thought. That’s what it is to adopt a conceptual persona.

How is a conceptual persona created in the first place? My next example will be about what Kant was doing in 1788.

Creative Energy III: Becoming Adjective, Research Time, 08/12/2017

When a thinker develops a concept comprehensive enough to think through as a framework for understanding the world, his activity changes from just regular old writing about philosophy. What I’m doing right now, obviously, isn’t writing at the intensity and density that actually creates new concepts.

Neither is writing a philosophical lecture. Neither is writing most articles for peer review in journals of philosophy. Creating new concepts is a weird enough process that it can only be snuck past peer review processes.

Imagine if you could achieve immortality. Ask what the
biggest jerk of a genie would do with that wish.
It creates by implication, always present in the text, but it only comes to a reader when she thinks for a second about what she’s read. The true weirdness of creative philosophical writing appears in disguise as something more ordinary.

Example. The key paper by Edmund Gettier is the best example I can think of. Looks like an absolutely mundane little thought experiment, built around some pretty clear symbolic logic. Read it. It looks utterly ordinary.

Think about it. A clear, easy-to-understand demonstration that you can have a justified true belief that isn’t actual knowledge of the situation. It’s a transformative moment.

You realize what he’s done in those three pages, and you understand what it means to break an entire discourse. The philosophy of pure knowledge would never be the same again.

Gettier had an immensely destructive effect. I’m not sure that pure epistemology can find a way out. Thinkers in that discipline frequently return to the problem of justified true belief, but are never able to develop a standard for what knowledge can be so apparently unassailable as the old one.

I don’t know that they ever will. My old friend Walther is a pure epistemologist. I’ll ask him what he thinks.

It’s a cheeky way to think about it, but it makes a good label. Gettier turned himself into a noun – the Gettier Case. Becoming a noun is a very dangerous thing for a person to do – imagine freezing thought in carbonite like Han Solo. That’s what Gettier did with himself.

Good way to secure tenure, but it’s sad that our era considers academic tenure so precious and rare that stasis is a fair trade-off. It’s a joke, but it’s true. There are already plenty of Gettier Cases. But there’s never going to be a Gettian.

Not everyone who looks like a marxist is one. Not necessarily,
anyway.
There are plenty of Kantians – some willing, some unwilling, and some coincidental. A few Cartesians, some Platonists, plenty of Marxists but not nearly as many as most people think, Habermasians, Foucauldians. Some annoying Spinozists and some precious fun Spinozists. I have a friend who’s a Rawlsian, though I’ve never been able to understand why.

Whole traditions have become Aristotelians for centuries. There are all kinds of Platonists, a couple of deranged Heracliteans, plenty of Thomists, not enough Ockhamists, There might be one lonely Scotist left in the wild.

There are a few dull Quineans, intensely argumentative Wittgensteinians. Davidsonians who can never agree on what it means to be Davidsonian. The Arendtians are vibrant, but feel so sad. Countless Hayekians who won’t shut up even when they should.

When you pump out primary material – when you create concepts – you create texts that people can get lost in. There are countless nooks and crannies to explore in thinking about those concepts. You re-read a book, and it expands fractally for you, as different details emerge in the return.

That’s a philosophical concept – a framework for understanding the world should have the same infinite possibility to surprise as real life does. When people encounter this concept, they’re able to pick it up and use it to understand their lives, the cosmos, and the philosophical or theoretical problems they write about.

They may never be able to create a concept themselves – to become an adjective* – but they can become experts in carrying it forward, applying it, advancing it.

* Or at least having the potential to become an adjective. It helps to have a good publisher, or at least get into the right people’s hands.

Creative Energy II: When a Voice Speaks You, Research Time, 07/12/2017

Sorry for not having uploaded a post earlier today. I didn’t have time to write one because I was too busy writing. I’m working on my own piece in reply to a debate unfolding at the Reply Collective over the nature of the social. It might provide the discussion a new kick of energy to explore some intriguing theoretical territory.

I’m also fully prepared for my contribution to result in puzzled looks and scratching heads. My philosophical work has inspired both of those reactions in more or less equal proportions for as long as I’ve been in the field.

As it is, some more reflections on Deleuze’s philosophy (and meta-philosophy) today.
• • •
So about those incredibly difficult ideas. Tuesday’s post ended with a description of a type of inadequate philosopher – an inadequate thinker, really.

Call such a person a Master Debater.

There are few things more obnoxious than a self-declared Master
Debater. Yes, I know he'd say that's not an argument. And my response
would be to remind him that I never intended to make an argument.
My intention was to insult him.
I’ve written about these types of people before, in a post that remains one of my most popular. I think it’s because I very accurately described the essence of a specific type of extremely annoying person. These days, such a person can also be quite dangerous politically.

If someone takes to heart that the primary purpose of philosophical reasoning is critiquing and evaluating arguments, then he’s reduced all the world’s traditions of philosophy to a debate club about some of the weirdest ideas in the world.

Example. You ask whether Kant’s arguments for the specific limits he describes on legitimate human thought are logically valid, or look for critical or knockdown counter-arguments.

There are aesthetic aspects of philosophical thinking too, where you study the concepts and ideas of philosophical greats as creative artworks. This is the best approach to being a historian of philosophy – your methods carefully read philosophical texts to understand precisely their concepts.

Problem is, historians of philosophy tend to think that there’s only one true reading of a philosophical text or great figure. Or at least, that’s how much their papers tend to snipe at each other’s interpretations.

Example. Describe in detail the conception of the human mind that Kant develops in his Critical period.

Becoming-Cosmos
Trying to become a primary literature philosopher is a different kind of process entirely. This is where the artistic meets the practical – you’re developing frameworks of thought to interpret and understand the world from mundane human experience to the fundamental nature of the cosmos. What would you call such a person?

Let’s start with that idea, person. A person is an individual sapient creature. Most of the people we know are humans. A historian isn’t a historian all the time – sometimes she’s a cook, an athlete, or a daughter. Likewise, an obnoxious philosophical debater isn’t an obnoxious debater all the time – sometimes, he’s a dog owner, a father, a lawyer.

He’s always obnoxious, but that’s another matter.

When these people start on their historical research projects, or launch into a debate, they’re adopting a persona – the historian of philosophy, the master debater. Likewise, the developer of philosophical concepts adopts a persona too, the philosopher.

Philosophy, says Deleuze, creates a particular kind of persona, though. A feedback loop starts to develop between the philosopher and her concepts. Immanuel Kant the professor and long-distance power-walker were ordinary personae. But philosophically, the concepts Kant later developed would influence his own thinking.

Not necessarily like an inference early in an argument or a logical proof would influence a later conclusion. When you develop a framework for thought, you begin to use that framework in your own thinking, analyzing its details by developing new aspects and applications.

Maybe you begin to see your own framework for thought through that framework itself. Maybe the wider application brings new additions and complexities to the simpler way of thinking that began the whole enterprise.

Example. The average philosophical reader in the 1780s and 90s couldn’t have foreseen a work like the Critique of Judgment coming based on the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant couldn’t either.

But thinking from the new perspective Kant developed, he wasn’t an ordinary philosopher anymore. He’d become the first Kantian too. Think on that for a day (or two).

Creative Energy I: The Problem With Philosophy, A History Boy, 06/12/2017

I’m getting back on my wander through What Is Philosophy? with a few of his difficult ideas. Gilles Deleuze’s approach to philosophical thinking showed me what I thought was the best way to deal with the whole tradition.*

Like looking for pictures in the clouds. I can see a pattern of light
that suggests Deleuze's face, as water flows over two rocks at the
centre of the frame, by the bottom edge.
* Traditions. Only one thing bugs me about Deleuze, that he makes philosophy itself a Western creation. Western philosophy is one tradition of a general feature of human society that develops anything you could call a tradition of wisdom. Creating frameworks for understanding the world is much more fundamental to human thought than this one contingent Hellenic vector.
• • •
I felt like I had to get that note out of the way. It was bugging me all the way through reading this book. That was the biggest difference between when I first read What Is Philosophy? and when I read it again this Fall. 

A man develops a way of thinking about philosophy that makes it central to some peculiar essence in humanity itself – the wisdom that separates us from the animals. That makes us an order above the other animals.

One man, steeped in the left-wing politics and intellectual environment of a country coming to grips with the loss of its empire – the spectre of radical equality. He’s also a keen mathematician, a careful student of sciences that depend on calculus – he understood intimately how fundamental dynamic differentials were to reality. 

A pure materialist who understood how profoundly stupid that metaphor of the clockwork mechanism really was. One of the very few. So he roots humanity’s remarkable nature in our ability to develop frameworks of thinking self-consciously – we can build intellectual machines to change our instincts. That’s the power of philosophy!


One man, steeped in profound ethnic national
culture, with deep feelings of connection to land
and soil, as if it were in his blood, understands
his chosen field of thought, philosophy, in the
same way – mystic wisdom of a people who
speak with the voice of being itself, revealing
its nature through the prophecies of a sage. A
sage we now call philosophers. This, he
thought, it what makes us an order above the
animals.
Deleuze's dark and terrifying mirror.
Yet it begins in Hellenic Greece. Like we wouldn’t have been doing that for the hundreds of thousands of years it took us to diverge from all the other hominids. 
• • •
There’s such a strange paradox that I see in philosophy. Maybe it’s just from my own experience, which is unlike anyone else’s. Maybe my experience is more typical. I’d like to know whether I’m on to something when I say this.

Side A. Here’s my experience of philosophy as it tends to be taught. You analyze texts to understand their arguments, you critique that argument using the different rules of reasoning. Has Descartes made a good argument that we cannot trust our senses?

Side B. The key works in the history of any tradition in philosophy are not always all that concerned with point by point rebuttals back and forth. But it’s very tough to get to the intensity of thought where you’ve built such a profound conceptual mechanism that you influence the character of your whole culture’s thought for centuries after.

Too many higher education programs teach philosophy as if it were training in argumentation. Now, that’s important, but it shouldn’t be taught as the primary skill, as the essence of the discipline.

The problem is that when you hear the professionals talking philosophy – the professors, grad students, nerdy upper-levels – they’re all arguing. It’s professional, it’s clinical, it’s sometimes a little too cold, it’s expert, it’s insightful. But it’s all the back and forth of argument, critique, counter-argument.

We’re not doing what the people we talk about did. Next couple of posts this week, I want to work out some ideas about what we should do to fix that.

Graphs of Our Ignorance, Jamming, 05/12/2017

I had a really nice moment with my students yesterday – I don’t often talk about my teaching here, for confidentiality reasons. But this was different.

We’re in a unit about how to write research reports of different lengths and formats for professional reasons and purposes. I’m teaching a class full of engineers, so I’m concentrating my supplementary comments on writing techniques and how to synthesize a big pile of ideas into a coherent, accessible picture.

If you're carrying out some work of research for your company, it’s going to have a purpose. You’re going to have to recommend actions, goals, and define some strategies for your company going forward.

I think of the subject matter as a practical epistemology class – how to gather and organize knowledge in the best way for action.

The most important part of any research is understanding what you actually have to learn before you know it. Let me explain that in a way that I tried for my class, in a way that gave me a little nostalgia.

You see, there are known knowns. . . . Yeah, I’m going there. Because it sounded ridiculous but was actually remarkably insightful and useful, like the most profoundly pregnant Bushism.

Known Knowns. You already know the answers. This is your starting point for any investigation – what you have actually learned, discovered, made sense of, and put to use already.

Known Unknowns. Your immediate targets for research and investigation. You’ve learned enough about your subject matter that you’ve formulated specific research questions. Your first major task in this project is to answer these questions.

You can’t always answer those questions univocally. But you at least have a research question in mind – you can understand how different variations in conditions can affect this aspect of your work going forward. You may not know how to handle it in advance, but you know enough about a problem to prepare.

Unknown Unknowns. You don’t even know how to ask the question. The notion isn’t anywhere in your thinking at all. You can’t prepare for it – You don’t even have any idea it could happen or exist.

What this amounts to is that the world tends to be more complex than we know. The invasion of Iraq itself, from the American perspective at least, is a really good example, unfortunately. The entire US military was, practically speaking, built for state-on-state combat. Total war, just like back in the Second World War.

Their ability to deal with a guerrilla movement was so pathetic for that exact reason. When you don’t even consider guerrilla movements a possible thing you could deal with, you won’t be able to fight them.

It’s a dramatic example for a business class, but the concept still works for more typical corporate priorities. For example, it’s difficult to prepare for your business model being disrupted by a wholly new technological development, or the law being changed to undercut your business practice or allow for more competitors.

You can’t ask people to prepare for future events which have literally no signs in the present. How can you plan for what you don’t understand?

Zizek hit the last category, in his depressingly Freudian style. Unknown Knowns. His example was the return of the repressed – the best example being Abu Ghraib.

We now know that it was much worse, the head of Blackwater being a radical Christian extremist. It’s a much better example of the Unknown Known – our blindnesses to how our own nature corrupts us. In the example of the war, it’s the American exceptionalist presumption that their military power brings good, that it liberates.

But that triumphalist vision of America ignores the horrors of slavery and religious extremism that were just as much parts of America’s origins as their heritage of liberal democracy.

Of course, I didn’t really discuss it that way in class. Instead, I talked about corporate issues – blindness to your own flaws, weaknesses that you don’t discuss or confront in the name of, maybe, maintaining company morale. Or just plain hubris.

Practical epistemology. A study of human stupidity.

Shame to Be So Very Ordinary, Research Time, 01/12/2017

Here’s why I think Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy is ultimately pragmatist – philosophy begins in ordinary life.

It’s not a special communion with being, as the early Greek sages and some modern revanchists saw it. It isn’t a tradition that seeks absolute truths or God’s truths, even though a terrible majority of philosophers in the Western tradition think so.

I'm glad exploring for concepts isn't as dangerous as exploring in
real life. I won't end up like the Franklin Expedition developing
posts for SERRC or book ideas.
When you're trying to say what is philosophy,* Deleuze says you shouldn’t think about the tradition itself and the lofty – sometimes, a little too lofty – pronouncements about philosophy’s purpose. No, look at philosophical thought itself and examine what it’s doing – philosophical thinking creates, analyzes, and maps concepts.

* Narrator: “Hey! That’s the name of this book I’m talking about.”

That makes philosophical thinking ultimately pragmatic – you’re building new concepts, new frameworks for understanding the world. The focus is on navigating problems, and different frameworks for understanding the world make up different ways to make sense of problems, different tools to reveal their complexities from obscurity.

Different substances are visible under different kinds of light. What one lighting condition obscures, another will reveal. Same with concepts. There isn’t one absolutely better set of concepts than another. You get that idea when you think philosophy is about accessing the truth. Because what isn’t true is false.

But when you’re talking about concepts – frameworks for understanding – you have only different models that reveal different aspects of the world. Everything that’s revealed is true, but there won’t be one concept that reveals every truth or all the greatest truths.

That’s why I once said – and still believe – that Deleuze’s thinking carries forward philosophical pragmatism. American pragmatism had a complex account of the production of truths and the plural nature of truth and reason. But the tradition couldn't escape the problems of relativism that kept creeping into John Dewey’s mature thinking.

Don’t think I’m being dismissive of pragmatism. It’s one of the few philosophical -isms with which I self-identify.** The landmark ontological work of his career, Experience and Nature, is a masterpiece that captures the spirit of his whole philosophical movement.

** Even though when I do, I run a decent risk of people thinking I just write commentary and other secondary literature on Dewey.

But that American tradition of pragmatism through its secular trinity of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey could never get through to the other side of that skepticism – how many truths could still be true, even when they weren’t all coherent with each other. Truth is fractured, but no less true for all that.

The Deleuzian idea repairs this issue by showing how you can throw universal mutual coherence among every truth out the window. All you had to do was demonstrate the logic of philosophical thinking is compossibility. Coherence is a framework of logic and thought, not reality itself.

Reality itself is chaos – understood in the abyssal sense – and philosophical thinking is the best set of techniques humanity has developed to try to think chaos. Coherence is how you make maps and draw paths in chaos – plotting the order that does exist in any chaos by investigating what can and cannot fit together.

A small patch of arid desert can’t develop surrounded by a lush rainforest without a mountain range around its rim. That’s a possibility condition for a desert in the centre of a rainforest.

Mapping a plane of immanence is to do the same survey with concepts.

Constructing a Geometry of Thinking, Research Time, 30/11/2017

Let's actually get a little bit into this idea of a geometry for philosophy. I talked yesterday about what a plane of immanence is – now let’s get into how particular planes work.

So Gilles Deleuze’s term, plane of immanence, is a map of concepts, a map of their mutual possibility. If you can develop a coherent philosophy out of a set of concepts, then that set all exists on the same plane of immanence.

That they can cohere means that their components and structures can all fit together without internal contradictions that make nonsense of the conceptual machinery. But that’s just one philosophical system that fits on the plane.

Imagine that you’re Bernhard Riemann. Sitting in your office, doing mathematics, like a mathematician would. You’re setting up some guidelines for how a particular type of space would work. You can extrapolate from those mathematical rules what types of shapes can exist in your space.

Deleuze: "The components of the schema are as follows:
1) the "I think" as an ox head wired for sound, which
constantly repeats Self=Self; 2) the categories as universal
concepts (four great headings): shafts that are extensive
and retractile according to the movement of; 3) the
moving wheel of the schemata; 4) the shallow stream of
Time as form of interiority, in and out of which the wheel
of the schemata plunges; 5) space as form of exteriority;
the stream's banks and bed; 6) the passive self at the bottom
of the stream and as junction of the two forms; 7) the
principles of synthetic judgments that run across spacetime;
8) the transcendental field of possible experience,
immanent to the "I"; 9) the three Ideas or illusion of
transcendence (circles turning on the absolute horizon;
Soul, World, and God).
A shape that fits a spherical-section space – space curved like a planet – will flay apart, unable to hold itself together, on a negatively-curved space – curved like a saddle. Same goes for shapes that work on saddle spaces splitting apart on spheres.

Now imagine that instead of setting up the boundary conditions for this geometric space, you had to figure out its parameters by trial and error. Try constructing different kinds of shapes and see whether they can exist together. If they can’t, then they each project from themselves a different type of space.

Well, that’s Gilles Deleuze sitting in his office, doing philosophy. But instead of shapes and spaces, he’s working with concepts – frameworks of organizing perceptual and cultural thought to understand our experiences and lives in different ways.

In philosophy, there’s no function to set the boundary conditions for the concepts you develop first. Philosophical concepts have many components organized in complicated ways. Check out this example of Kant’s philosophy. It’s a ridiculous-looking diagram, but it’s a genuinely pithy description (and depiction) of his concept of subjectivity.

Analyze this concept. Think about all of its components and their dynamic relationships with each other. How does this concept help us understand our own subject-hood, mind, personality, and experience? Once you understand all the concept’s components, internal dynamics, and practical effects, then you can start the next step in the process.

Yeah, I know. You’re not even done after all that work. At least this is only one possible process for philosophical thinking – it might be the most admirable, if you consider only the dedication to such a strange and difficult task. So here’s the next step.

Figure out its plane of immanence. Extrapolate from those components, dynamics, and practical affects what other concepts are compatible with this particular way of thinking. If you’re lucky, the thinker you’re studying has done a lot of the work for you. Like Kant, who developed concepts in morality, aesthetics, theology, and philosophy of science alongside his central concept of subjectivity.

Maybe you’re a bit less lucky, and the map expands across the work of many thinkers. You might study a particular tradition of thinkers, like the Abbasid-era Aristotelians.

Or maybe you do comparative philosophy, looking for conceptual compatibilities across cultures and civilizations – analyzing structures of thought developed in Chinese Legalism of the Warring States period and contemporary authoritarian philosophies like those of Carl Schmitt, Giovanni Gentile, or Vladimir Lenin.

Most terrifying task of all in mapping planes of immanence – straight-up creating concepts from near-scratch and testing them for mutual compatibility. If they fit, you have another few points on the map. If not, rinse and repeat.