Category Archives: Physics

George Orwell and Emmanuel Levinas Introspective: Socialism and the Other

Introduction

George Orwell (1903 to 1950) and Emmanuel Levinas (1905 to 1995) were both engaged in the fight against fascism during the 20th century. Orwell, born in India but educated and resided in England, fought with the Popular Front, leftist government in Spain against the right-wing, military coup of Nationalists lead by General Francisco Franco. Orwell was shot in the neck and barely escaped with his life (Colls, 2014). Levinas, a Lithuanian, became a naturalized French citizen in 1931. He fought with the French and was captured by the Nazis where he remained a prisoner of war until the end of the war in 1945. His father and brothers died at the hands of the Nazi SS in Lithuania. Maurice Blanchot helped Levinas’ wife and daughter spend the war in a monastery (Emm). Both men understood the horror of war and made brilliant strides to wrestle with the absolute need for meaning in what appeared to be a meaningless world. They both described in very different ways the pitfalls of humanity and articulated with painful integrity and brilliance an avenue of hope in a hopeless world. For Orwell, with astute recognition of the weaknesses of socialism, nevertheless thought of socialism as the only possible hope for the disenfranchised and horrors of impoverishment in industrialized England. Levinas is not so easy to pin down with a political philosophy. Levinas warns us of the insidious nature of totalitarianism. In this way, his forebodings about the state have a kinship to Orwell’s critique of nationalism. While Levinas’ philosophy is deeply informed by the history of philosophy, his purpose is quite simple.

Sometimes, I think academic philosophy is its own worst enemy. Philosophy started out and literally means ‘love of wisdom’. Wisdom is not limited to the Aristotelian academy and its occidental linage. To the contrary, wisdom is widely available to every tradition, every culture, every human being. Personally, I also find wisdom in other animals besides humans. It seems the repetition which comes with age invites a certain sort of memory which allows the possibility for accommodation of difference and a sense of the profundity of love amid inevitable tragedies. This is not a given but a potential as Aristotle would suggest.

Perhaps, one way to think of the failure to make wisdom actual could be as a decline of our species, an evolutionary failure. However, even in this paradigm, individual evolutionary adaptation is always given as a possibility endemic to life. The downside of reducing wisdom to an evolutionary paradigm is to once again fall into the mode of totalizing objectivity which transforms the other to an ‘it’ of objectivity in the form of evolutionary taxonomy. In any case, the paradigm of evolution is not adequate in thinking about and desiring wisdom.

Levinas opens an alternative route to wisdom by putting a face on the other. He exposes convention which itself totalizes the other in the form of self-interest. In my estimation, anyone who follows the actual teachings of compassion and responsibility for the other, the stranger, the oppressed, the impoverished has achieved the goal, the telos (culmination, end) of Levinas’ monumental challenge – to help us see the face of the other for the very first time not obscured by the pitfalls of an already-assumed, historic situatedness cooked into language and tradition.

However, as each one of us carries our histories with us, we will eventually have to write a new history if the state is to be viable. This is the direction I am pointing towards in this post. Certainly, the kinds of historic changes I am thinking of takes hundreds of years. To the extent that academics bring the notions of Levinas and similar others to a wider audience is how they live the responsibility Levinas’ places on each of us. To the extent that academics puts up barriers of access to the wisdom of our responsibility to the other is once again reinforcing the barriers of totalitarianism. My goal is, to the best of my ability, to continue to open with others which proceeded me the historic way we came into totalitarianism and highlight the way out of the prison of self-interest to the he or she who faces us. In any case, let us remember the following which I will come back to later:

Language is the historic, cultural map that defines reality for us.

First, I would like to look at Orwell’s eyewitness chronicling of Europe’s devolution leading up to World War II with a view to his political solutions for the state. Today, we once again hear the rhyme of Orwell’s history. It seems we are always only condemned to repeat the past no matter what the state looks like although certainly some states seem better than others for delaying the inevitable. Levinas provides us with an especially needful alternative to the inability of the state to survive inevitable catastrophic failure and to deal effectively with planet wide threats from climate change and nuclear weapons. However, Levinas’ alternative requires a monumental change which probably represents more like a species type adaptation. It resides in the potential of wisdom if humans are to survive on this planet. To arrive at Levinas’ solution, we will need to look at how we arrived philosophically from ancient Greeks to modernity and what perpetually sabotages the state, any state.

Democratic democracies, communism, and science all arrived in the modern, occidental age from enlightened liberalism. Enlightenment also brings in the rise of capitalism and socialism. For once and for all lets please put this oxymoron to rest, there has never been a pure democracy or a pure socialism. Every democratic country, including the U.S., is a combination of both. Democracy is the will of the people. If the people vote for government run social programs like welfare and food stamps or government funded research and development, health care, retirement, industry regulation, and so forth, it is because private enterprise is unable or unwilling to address the human condition and suffering of its citizens. When people in a democracy vote for government owned and operated services, the people want the text-book definition of socialism. The U.S. is a democratic, capitalistic, socialist country like it or not. If democracy denies the vote of the people, democracy is plain and simple totalitarianism. If the state totally controls and owns every resource, that is not socialism it is communism. Communism clearly is nothing other than totalitarianism as history has shown.

In this post we will take a brief look at the beginning of modernity and British Enlightenment to orient us to the path we are traversing. This will also require a look at the ancient Greeks to situate how Enlightenment came about in the first place. After that, I will take the political, and necessarily philosophical, challenge Levinas presents us to prevent the fate of the totalitarian state. Levinas understood the necessity of the state and the conditions for which it could escape its failed history. For Orwell, socialism was the hope for resolving an inevitable fascist nationalism resulting in the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Orwell faced the impossibility of democratic change in 20th century England with the intractability of aristocracy and its self-interest in the face of Hitler’s fascism. He saw no other solution for England except revolution. For Levinas, the inevitability of state totalitarianism was due to how each person in the state was locked in a philosophical and historic leveling off, or totalizing, of the other to the same. For now, the ‘same’ here is meant as how we find ourselves always already caught up in a history, a language, a culture which levels off radical alterity (otherness, difference) and holds the state hostage to preconceptions doomed to violence.

Orwell Chronicles the Impossibility of Totalitarianism in the Histories of 20th Century States

One of the most alarming struggles of reality over illusion is chronicled in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 by an early thirty-year-old Eric Blair whose pen name was George Orwell. Orwell fought in the war with the Popular Front government Republicans against the Spanish revolutionary Nationalists. For Orwell nationalism was synonymous with fascism. Contrary to the propagandized illusions of Jonah Goldberg in his book “Liberal Fascism”, the history of fascism is the history of conservatism, aristocracy, and wealth. The Spanish Civil War is yet one more example of how corrosive nationalism will always pit the haves against the have nots. Orwell faced the autocracies of nationalism and extreme poverty in England. He traveled to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republicans, a left-leaning group, against the Nationalist fascists. As a life-long devoted socialist, Orwell’s greatest virtue was his devotion to the plight of impoverished and oppressed others and his undying willingness to critically question any ideology which undermined that quest, including the horrors of communism. He would even make fun of his own socialists in “Can Socialists Be Happy” (Freeman, 1943) written under the pseudonym John Freeman where he writes,

Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache. They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary. The wider course would be to say that there are certain lines along which humanity must move, the grand strategy is mapped out, but detailed prophecy is not our business. Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness. This is the case even with a great writer like Swift, who can flay a bishop or a politician so neatly, but who, when he tries to create a superman, merely leaves one with the impression the very last he can have intended that the stinking Yahoos had in them more possibility of development than the enlightened Houyhnhnms.

The debate between those that believe Orwell was ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ in contemporary, U.S. politics is superficial. Most appropriately, Orwell was a painfully honest socialist. When the Franco fascists won the Spanish Civil War, Stalin and the Bolshevik communists who fought on the side of the socialists against fascism exterminated the socialists. Thus, we have Orwell’s hatred of communism illustrated in “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. However, the essential link between fascism and communism for Orwell was nationalism. In Orwell’s essay, Notes on Nationalism (Orwell, 1945), he lays this out very clearly. Nationalism is the eternal struggle between rotting protectionism, spoiled mana, violent conservation of wealth, consolidation of power and the resulting facts of human suffering. He writes,

It is also worth emphasizing once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the U.S.S.R. without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist – that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating – but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the up-grade and some hated rival is on the down-grade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also – since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself – unshakeably certain of being in the right.

Indifference to Reality. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts.

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.

Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered. He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as they should – in which, for example, the Spanish Armada was a success or the Russian Revolution was crushed in 1918 – and he will transfer fragments of this world to the history books whenever possible. Much of the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events which, it is felt, ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately denied.

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events.

Eerily, this reminds us of events in the U.S. today. In the buildup between the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany, the aristocracy and conservatism of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in England from 1937 to 1940 was sympathetic to the other axis powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan of World War II. Orwell writes,

The British ruling class were not altogether wrong in thinking that Fascism was on their side. It is a fact that any rich man, unless he is a Jew, has less to fear from Fascism than from either Communism or democratic Socialism. One ought never to forget this, for nearly the whole of German and Italian propaganda is designed to cover it up. The natural instinct of men like Simon, Hoare, Chamberlain, etc. was to come to an agreement with Hitler. But – and here the peculiar feature of English life that I have spoken of, the deep sense of national solidarity, comes in – they could only do so by breaking up the Empire and selling their own people into semi-slavery. A truly corrupt class would have done this without hesitation, as in France. But things had not gone that distance in England. Politicians who would make cringing speeches about “the duty of loyalty to our conquerors” are hardly to be found in English public life. Tossed to and fro between their incomes and their principles, it was impossible that men like Chamberlain should do anything but make the worst of both worlds (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941).

While Orwell detested war with Germany he believed that war was a necessity despite the conservative leanings of Chamberlain to make peace with Hitler and avoid war,

If I had to defend my reasons for supporting the war, I believe I could do so. There is no real alternative between resisting Hitler and surrendering to him, and from a Socialist point of view I should say that it is better to resist; in any case I can see no argument for surrender that does not make nonsense of the Republican resistance in Spain, the Chinese resistance to Japan, etc. etc. But I don’t pretend that that is the emotional basis of my actions. What I knew in my dream that night was that the long drilling in patriotism which the middle classes go through had done its work, and that once England was in a serious jam it would be impossible for me to sabotage. But let no one mistake the meaning of this. Patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism. It is devotion to something that is changing but is felt to be mystically the same, like the devotion of the ex-White Bolshevik to Russia. To be loyal both to Chamberlain’s England and to the England of tomorrow might seem an impossibility, if one did not know it to be an everyday phenomenon. Only revolution can save England, that has been obvious for years, but now the revolution has started, and it may proceed quite quickly if only we can keep Hitler out. Within two years, maybe a year, if only we can hang on, we shall see changes that will surprise the idiots who have no foresight. I dare say the London gutters will have to run with blood. All right, let them, if it is necessary. But when the red militias are billeted in the Ritz I shall still feel that the England I was taught to love so long ago for such different reasons is somehow persisting. (Orwell, My Country Right or Left, 1940)

Orwell determined that inaction was the action of fascism and could not be tolerated. He also saw that the indifference of ‘democracies’ prior to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, some anarchists, pacifists, and those that did not have the will to actively oppose bourgeois fascism, were themselves an instrument of nationalism and thus, fascism.

‘It is nonsense to talk of opposing Fascism by bourgeois “democracy”. Bourgeois “democracy” is only another name for capitalism, and so is Fascism; to fight against Fascism on behalf of “democracy” is to fight against one form of capitalism on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any moment. The only real alternative to Fascism is workers’ control. If you set up any less goal than this, you will either hand the victory to Franco, or, at best, let in Fascism by the back door. Meanwhile the workers must cling to every scrap of what they have won; if they yield anything to the semi-bourgeois Government they can depend upon being cheated. The workers’ militias and police-forces must be preserved in their present form and every effort to “bourgeoisify” them must be resisted. If the workers do not control the armed forces, the armed forces will control the workers. The war and the revolution are inseparable.’ (Orwell, ‘Three Parties that Mattered’: Extract from Homage to Catalonia, 1938)

In any serious emergency the contradiction implied in the Popular Front is bound to make itself felt. For even when the worker and the bourgeois are both fighting against Fascism, they are not fighting for the same things; the bourgeois is fighting for bourgeois democracy, i.e., capitalism, the worker, in so far as he understands the issue, for Socialism. And in the early days of the revolution the Spanish workers understood the issue very well. In the areas where Fascism was defeated they did not content themselves with driving the rebellious troops out of the towns; they also took the opportunity of seizing land and factories and setting up the rough beginnings of a workers’ government by means of local committees, workers’ militias, police forces, and so forth. They made the mistake, however (possibly because most of the active revolutionaries were Anarchists with a mistrust of all parliaments), of leaving the Republican Government in nominal control. And, in spite of various changes in personnel, every subsequent Government had been of approximately the same bourgeois-reformist character. At the beginning this seemed not to matter, because the Government, especially in Cataloñia, was almost powerless and the bourgeoisie had to lie low or even (this was still happening when I reached Spain in December) to disguise themselves as workers. Later, as power slipped from the hands of the Anarchists into the hands of the Communists and right-wing Socialists, the Government was able to reassert itself, the bourgeoisie came out of hiding and the old division of society into rich and poor reappeared, not much modified. Henceforward every move, except a few dictated by military emergency, was directed towards undoing the work of the first few months of revolution. Out of the many illustrations I could choose, I will cite only one, the breaking-up of the old workers’ militias, which were organized on a genuinely democratic system, with officers and men receiving the same pay and mingling on terms of complete equality, and the substitution of the Popular Army (once again, in Communist jargon, “People’s Army”), modelled as far as possible on an ordinary bourgeois army, with a privileged officer-caste, immense differences of pay, etc., etc. Needless to say, this is given out as a military necessity, and almost certainly it does make for military efficiency, at least for a short period. But the undoubted purpose of the change was to strike a blow at equalitarianism. In every department the same policy has been followed, with the result that only a year after the outbreak of war and revolution you get what is in effect an ordinary bourgeois State, with, in addition, a reign of terror to preserve the status quo. (Orwell, ‘Spilling the Spanish Beans’: Extract from Homage to Catalonia, 1937)

But who are the pro-Fascists? The idea of a Hitler victory appeals to the very rich, to the Communists, to Mosley’s followers, to the pacifists, and to certain sections among the Catholics. (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941)

Orwell would not tolerate apathy with the oncoming tidal waves of fascist autocracy in World War II. He believed that while socialism was flawed, it was the better than all the other alternatives, so much so that here was his plan to save England,

I suggest that the following six-point programme is the kind of thing we need. The first three points deal with England’s internal policy, the other three with the Empire and the world:–

I. Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.

II. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.

III. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.

IV. Immediate Dominion status for India, with power to secede when the war is over.

V. Formation of an Imperial General Council, in which the coloured peoples are to be represented.

VI. Declaration of formal alliance with China, Abyssinia and all other victims of the Fascist powers.

The general tendency of this programme is unmistakable. It aims quite frankly at turning this war into a revolutionary war and England into a Socialist democracy. I have deliberately included in it nothing that the simplest person could not understand and see the reason for. In the form in which I have put it, it could be printed on the front page of the Daily Mirror. But for the purposes of this book a certain amount of amplification is needed. (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941)

Immediately following this plan, he elaborates in detail on each point. I will only state the first one in the main text of this paper but will include the rest in the notes below. [1]  On the first point he writes,

I. Nationalization. One can “nationalize” industry by the stroke of a pen, but the actual process is slow and complicated. What is needed is that the ownership of all major industry shall be formally vested in the State, representing the common people. Once that is done it becomes possible to eliminate the class of mere owners who live not by virtue of anything they produce but by the possession of title-deeds and share certificates. State-ownership implies, therefore, that nobody shall live without working. How sudden a change in the conduct of industry it implies is less certain. In a country like England we cannot rip down the whole structure and build again from the bottom, least of all in time of war. Inevitably the majority of industrial concerns will continue with much the same personnel as before, the one-time owners or managing directors carrying on with their jobs as State-employees. There is reason to think that many of the smaller capitalists would actually welcome some such arrangement. The resistance will come from the big capitalists, the bankers, the landlords and the idle rich, roughly speaking the class with over £2,000 a year – and even if one counts in all their dependants there are not more than half a million of these people in England. Nationalization of agricultural land implies cutting out the landlord and the tithe-drawer, but not necessarily interfering with the farmer. It is difficult to imagine any reorganization of English agriculture that would not retain most of the existing farms as units, at any rate at the beginning. The farmer, when he is competent, will continue as a salaried manager. He is virtually that already, with the added disadvantage of having to make a profit and being permanently in debt to the bank. With certain kinds of petty trading, and even the small-scale ownership of land, the State will probably not interfere at all. It would be a great mistake to start by victimizing the smallholder class, for instance. These people are necessary, on the whole they are competent, and the amount of work they do depends on the feeling that they are “their own masters”. But the State will certainly impose an upward limit to the ownership of land (probably fifteen acres at the very most), and will never permit any ownership of land in town areas.

From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property of the State, the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is themselves. They will be ready then to endure the sacrifices that are ahead of us, war or no war. And even if the face of England hardly seems to change, on the day that our main industries are formally nationalized the dominance of a single class will have been broken. From then onwards the emphasis will be shifted from ownership to management, from privilege to competence. It is quite possible that State-ownership will in itself bring about less social change than will be forced upon us by the common hardships of war. But it is the necessary first step without any real reconstruction is impossible. (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941)

From our current vantage in the history in the United States, “bourgeois fascism” seems to many on the political right to be an impossibility. However, our state as a constitutionally based democracy is in tatters on the Republican right who are increasingly in favor of authoritarianism – the necessary step to fascism. Many conservative libertarians have also jettisoned the state as, at best, an example of anti-capitalism due to market regulation and at worse to make it so small we can drown it in the bathtub. While many of these folks have not acknowledged it, this really ranges from anarchism to pure market Darwinism. Certainly, all this would only play into the hands of those who would seek to protect their wealth and power not some anti-government ideology. In Orwell’s time the ‘state’ was not optional even with 20th century fascism and communism breathing down his throat. For Orwell, the state as “the common people” in socialism would make them “feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is themselves”. The proletariat would be promoted to co-owners of the state. Orwell did not see the oblivion of the state as a viable alternative. Certainly, the abolition of the state is not ‘viable’ in any sense of the word. However, for Orwell, the fatal flaw of any state was nationalism. He cited the rich English class as shining examples of decadent nationalism,

England is a family with the wrong members in control. Almost entirely we are governed by the rich, and by people who step into positions of command by right of birth. Few if any of these people are consciously treacherous, some of them are not even fools, but as a class they are quite incapable of leading us to victory. They could not do it, even if their material interests did not constantly trip them up. As I pointed out earlier, they have been artificially stupefied. Quite apart from anything else, the rule of money sees to it that we shall be governed largely by the old – that is, by people utterly unable to grasp what age they are living in or what enemy they are fighting. Nothing was more desolating at the beginning of this war than the way in which the whole of the older generation conspired to pretend that it was the war of 1914-18 over again. All the old duds were back on the job, twenty years older, with the skull plainer in their faces. Ian Hay was cheering up the troops, Belloc was writing articles on strategy, Maurois doing broadcasts, Bairnsfather drawing cartoons. It was like a tea-party of ghosts. And that state of affairs has barely altered. The shock of disaster brought a few able men like Bevin to the front, but in general we are still commanded by people who managed to live through the years 1931-9 without even discovering that Hitler was dangerous. A generation of the unteachable is hanging upon us like a necklace of corpses. (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941)

Orwell was a Democratic Socialist which is still the most prolific party in Europe today. There is no doubt that Jonah Goldberg was merely smoking the pot of bourgeois fascism when he fantasized the link between liberalism and fascism. Even now, in U.S. politics, the warnings and admonitions of Orwell ring true as QAnon regurgitates its radical conservative fantasies in praise of bourgeois fascism. Ironically, it is those that have the least to gain from bourgeois fascism that are its most ardent supporters. This exemplifies the extent to which history, language, culture, and marketing have eroded the hard-earned lessons from the past. It appears that the demons of Orwell’s era once again rise from the depths of Hades to conserve its dark domain in the twilight of mere mortals.

So, history certainly has a rhyme which beckons to us today. The reality of living in illusion in the U.S. is that the cat we see jumping on our lap to purr is really a very hungry old lion akin to the one in Nazi Germany. When the ancient notion of democracy is wholly abandoned by the ruling elites (e.g., white bred, wealthy capitalists) we find ourselves in Orwell’s chaotic world of ‘damned if we do’ and ‘damned if we don’t’, the hellacious necessity of impossible decision. For Orwell, the choice of every individual living in an illusory, anti-government, ‘free market’ with little or no state, was a ‘wish-fulfillment’ conservatism that must result in a dystopian nightmare. He was right. Let’s not forget that even Germany was required after World War I to be a republic, the Weimar Republic. These republics eventually erupted in the horrors of World War II. Orwell’s fight on the side of the proletariat, artists, and socialists in the Spanish Civil War against fascism failed and, to add insult to injury, the Stalinists communists took over much of what was left of the Republican resistance in Spain slaughtering the remaining socialists.

Orwell was a man who felt the pain of injustice in a time of mind-boggling, body-numbing dizziness requiring action but thriving on the meaninglessness of any action. When all ideals fail or fall into delusion, one must still find a way to live with meaning even if it has little hope of succeeding. However, unlike the delusions of the bourgeoisie, Orwell hung on to a version of the state that would be ‘owned’ by the people. Orwell was fully aware that that the communists were an abject failure just as the bourgeois capitalists were. However, his compass was to move towards egalitarianism, fairness, dignity, and income equality for the common folk. Even if this is yet another delusion, at least, it is based on a concern for the other which cannot dismiss the other or belittle the other in its delusional obsession with itself. If it is a delusion, it is a delusion which is centered on the same ideals the ancient Greeks envisioned in democracy as flawed as it was. So how did democracies and communism evolve from modernity? Through what lens does Levinas view the violence of 20th century states?

The Rise of the State in Modernity

For Levinas, traditional, enlightened liberalism is contaminated by a kind of obscurantism resulting in a more sedated but deadly predecessor to the endlessly repeated horrors of National Socialism or Nazi fascism. By ‘liberalism’ I do not mean the trite understanding in today’s U.S. politics. Hitherto, liberalism is meant as the enduring history from Kant to Hegel to British empiricism and enlightenment embodying all forms of democracy, capitalism, communism, and socialism. Enlightened liberalism is found upon the individual and its function as a collectivity. Both modern democracies and communism were offshoots of this tradition.

For 17th century English, Enlightenment thinkers Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke, the greater good was promoted by self-interest. Self-interest was necessarily tied to the ‘state of nature’ for these thinkers. In modern terms Hobbes is what we might call a pure materialist. Hobbes saw reasoning as merely a causal reaction to sensation. The world was full of objects which we bump into with our senses. We form images of them in our mind which remain there when we close our eyes. From this, similarities are recognized between things which give rise to signifiers. An example of a signifier could be a mark made on a stone which stands for some animal. The mark is a signifier. Signifiers can be abstracted in the mind and used in various applications. Signifiers give rise to ideas and knowledge is acquired from them. Ultimately, everything is material substance. Hobbes had a public disagreement with a contemporary of his time named Rene Descartes who believed that mind and body were two distinct substances so there could be a thinking thing which had no body. This was absurd for Hobbes who thought the only substance was in nature as a material body.

For Hobbes, it seems a certain insidious idea of ‘nature’ has been assigned to phenomenon as already known – as matter, as stuff, as thing called ‘substance’ which was self-evident. By ‘self-evident’ he did not mean ‘innate’. He meant how phenomena show itself to our sense. ‘Substance’ is a shorthand for showing of phenomena as material object, whether human, animals, or inanimate and nothing more. With this pre-understanding of phenomenon, relations are simply transactions. Generic signifiers such as matter, stuff, things can then be pragmatically taken as a common, radically reduced (regressus) assumption of all phenomena, as what really ‘is’ and nothing more. For example, a rock is an object. In turn, the assumed essence of a rock is simply its ‘thingness’, ‘object-ness’, its ‘stuff-ness’ or what in Latin we could call substance (substantia meaning ‘stand under’). By the way, in using the word ‘reduction’ I am not intending to evoke a true or false judgement. What I am referring to is a way of seeing, understanding, orienting oneself to our environing in the world. In a Kantian sense this kind of understanding would be stated as temporally a priori or a prior conditioning which makes a certain kind of sense possible. This is what I mean by ‘understanding’ as what rests under and guides our footing, our orientation, our standing. What stands under all phenomenon from Enlightenment is already understood from the ancient notion of substance.

Substantia is a controversial translation of the ancient Greek work ousia. A well-known 20th century phenomenologist philosopher Martin Heidegger takes issue with translating ousia as substance. Rather, Heidegger thinks the word should be translated as ‘being”. So, already in the translation from ancient Greece to Latin Christendom we have a change from being to what Heidegger tells us is present-at-hand. By present-at-hand he means a certain modality of being which privileges presence, a stark appearance of phenomena, over other ways or modalities of human beings in the world. For example, another way of human being in the world is when we are working with tools. When we are working with tools, we are not looking at the tool as an object present before us. The modality of “ready-to-hand” is how we work with tools because the tool disappears in use so we can focus on the work we are trying to accomplish with the tool. This modality can change if the tool breaks. In that case, the tool immediately becomes present-at-hand while we curse it out. I will come back to this a little further down. What I want to draw our attention back to is the modality of present-at-hand where substantia accurately describes a particular modality of human being in the world. In the case of present-at-hand, substantia is a particular appearing of how we are situated in phenomenon. When the Latin translation converts this modality of our being in the world into ‘essence’ we privilege a modality of human being in the world over other ways we are in the world. In this case, substantia refers to the verb ‘to be’. ‘Being’ here is thought as stark existence, as the privileged and myopic way in which we are situated in the modality of present-at-hand.

Once this historic reduction is made, all is reduced to mere materiality and control, ownership, and self-interest become front and center. The ancient Latin idea of res publica (republic) became a loose translation as the term ‘commonwealth’. Hobbes had a notion of the commonwealth that was based on rational self-interest which motivated each person’s compulsory entry into an implicit ‘social contract’ with a ‘sovereign authority’ to preserve his or her life. Certainly, this contract could be broken by the sovereign at any time, but the social contract was based on the devil you thought you knew. Let’s take a deeper dive into this and the idea of commonwealth with its ancient underpinnings.

The Cato Institute, a very conservative, libertarian think tank is sympathetic to the idea that the commonwealth was invented to protect private property. The idea of a commonwealth as self-interest rests on ancient metaphysics which can be traced back certainly to a Roman statesman named Cicero. Cicero was a major influencer of the founding fathers most notable, Thomas Jefferson. In an article on the Cato Institute’s web site Paul Meany tells us,

Cicero believed “political communities and commonwealths were established particularly so that people could hold on to their property.” He advised that the first and foremost duty of those who administer public affairs is to “see that everyone holds on to what is his, and that private men are never deprived of their goods by public acts.” Cicero accepts that no property is private by nature; however, “everything produced on the earth is created for the use of mankind.” Despite explaining the importance of the state’s protection of private property at great length, a glaring fault in Cicero’s writings is that he did not adequately explain how one can initially appropriate property justly. At best, he reasoned that convention, tradition, and harmony are adequate reasons for us to respect private property. (Paul Meany, 2021)

The notion of commonwealth was really a religious idea that Latin Christianity took from the ancient Hebrew account of Genesis where God says,

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:27 to 1:31)

So, the earth belongs to all humankind, but practicality requires private property. While Meany acknowledges commonwealth means literally what it says, he goes further to state Rome meant it to protect private property. Meany goes on to discuss how John Locke arrived at this conclusion as well. However, his reasoning does not follow the path of Locke’s reasoning as I will show a little later. For now, I want to dig deeper into what made such notions as private property and commonwealth even possible in the way they get articulated in the Enlightenment tradition especially. So, how does the idea of commonwealth play into the previous mentioned idea of substance?

In a review of Michael Krom’s book “The Limits of Reason in Hobbes’s Commonwealth”, the reviewer tells us,

In chapter 6, Krom moves to the role of philosophy in maintaining political stability. He distinguishes vain from true philosophy, and summarises Hobbes’s explanation of the origin of vain philosophy and how it leads to sedition through the pride of philosophers in thinking that they know better than the sovereign. In explaining the origin of vain philosophy, Krom focuses on the failure of philosophers to define their terms (Leviathan 8), and omits to mention the passage in Leviathan 46 (especially the Latin version), where Hobbes ingeniously diagnoses the ultimate source of vain philosophy as being the verb ‘to be’ when used as the copula and Greek and Latin. Aristotle assumed that there must be something in reality corresponding to every component of a true proposition. Since there is no material substance or quality corresponding to ‘is’, he invented the immaterial entity ‘being’, and hence the whole range of fictitious metaphysical entities integral to vain philosophy. Since it lacks the copula, the Hebrew language is not infected by meaningless abstractions or immaterialism, and the Old Testament contains a purer theology than that of Greek and Latin writers influenced by Aristotle. (Reviewed by George MacDonald Ross, 2011)

The notion of being in Aristotle as existence is disputed by a very renown Greek scholar named Charles Kahn is his work “The Greek Verb ‘To Be’ and the Problem of Being” (Kahn, 1965). He claims that the notion of existence or ‘is-ness’ is not in the ancient Greek language as a much later 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill claims. Mill was highly influenced by the Enlightenment philosophers we are discussing. Mill furthers Enlightenment in suggesting what matters is what is and leads him to utilitarianism which has been taken up by the analytic school of philosophy in the United States and some psychological branches of behaviorism. Kahn does believe that the Greeks used the verb einai translated as to-be more as a grammatical connector for a noun and a predicate or premise and conclusion of logic. Furthermore, Kahn tells us for the ancient Greeks, einai did not have anything to do with being or existence and later Latin notions of substance. Without even thinking about it, we use the term existence as a word which privileges the ‘real’ over illusion.

We think the practical world as ‘real’. Utility is more important because of what it does in ‘reality’. So, at a certain point in history we take what every child thinks when they ask us, “Why do we have money and why isn’t everything free?” We explain to them the notion of private property upon which they look at us puzzled and respond, “Oh, ok” as if it should be in a Monty Python skit. Could it be that the child, as many philosophers of the past, had not yet comprehended the history of ‘what is’ and ‘what is real’ and why it is exclusive? I am trying to elucidate here a valid question in language and history and how our answer came to color, before we even are aware of it, how we understand the nature of ‘reality’. Also, to avoid any confusion, I do not deny the need for money and private property. Certainly, it is a necessity from a practical point of view. I am simply trying to bring out how the notions of utility and practicality have been truncated from their origins. In so doing, the consequences of this negatively affects how we understand the world, other people, and our notions of state.

These distinctions are important because the phenomenologist philosopher, Martin Heidegger, claims to think that what comes to presence in the mode of present-at-hand does not, for example, account for how humans are spread across time from the past through the present to the future. We are not merely temporally located in a ‘now’ moment as a stone would be for instance. We are not locked in a present, ‘now’ moment where our senses are only perceiving matter as stark presence-at-hand. Our lived experience of time has a stretch. One example is how we experience time when we are depressed as slow or when we are on a roller coast and time flies by. Neither do we experience space as linear distance. We experience distance as what Heidegger thinks as the human capacity to dissever, bring closer and nearer, ‘regions’. For example, when we are looking at a glass of water through a pair of glasses the glasses may be closer to us in terms of linear distance, but our lived reality is that we inhabit the ‘space’ of the glass of water, the region of the glass of water that our attention is directed to, not the abstract, linear distance of the glasses on our face. This is how we experience time and space which comes ‘naturally’ with children as well. To think that clock time and linear space is the ‘practical reality’ we live is an abstraction based on a history of language and thought, not what actually ‘is’ as it shows itself. Additionally, science has well shown us that clock time and linear spatiality are highly relative – there is no absolute. Heidegger thought this reduction privileges the present due to an abstraction of history and grievously reduces the reality of how we experience and think about ‘what is’.

We do not process language in terms of a serial succession of words. It would be like walking down a hallway and calculating the spatial distance between each wall, floor, and ceiling before we take another step. We orient ourselves in a totally different way when it comes to space and time. Space and time are not a serial successions of linear spatial calculations or a consciousness of one ‘now’ moment after another. If that were so, we would be running into walls and moving very slowly in a way which would not make the survival of Homo sapiens possible. Similarly, ideas do not come to us as present-at-hand where each word comes to our consciousness before we process the next word. Our current digital computers process information in a serial fashion like this and only seem to ‘think’ in certain ways in which we think because they process data much faster. In my opinion, with very recent breakthroughs in the last few days, quantum computing we will be able to have androids which think like we do. Apparently, IBM already has a 127-qubit machine. [2]

Human consciousness or ideas as present-at-hand take around 150 to 300 milliseconds to come into a conscious idea. Athletes are able to process their movements much faster because they trained their motion to be reflexive after years of habitual training. When we are thinking an idea, we dissever the idea from the whole of language so that it becomes present-at-hand or visible as a particular conscious thought. Behavioral psychology is effective because it deals with our associative behavior without reference to language and ideas. Behaviorists work at the level of habituation and retrain associations more as reflexive embodiment. The ability we have to experience language as a whole rather than as pieces is what Kant, Heidegger, Chomsky, Jung, and many others have referred to as a priori. A priori means prior to our conscious, intentional ideas. Freuds notion of the unconscious is based on a priori. Now we can rewrite the sentence we used earlier in the introduction as this:

Language is the a priori historic, cultural map that defines reality for us.

The ancient Greeks did not have these historic shorthand ways to perceive the world that we take for granted. They had a much older and richer history and language which took account of a much fuller range of what we now think as ‘reality’ or existence.

Ancient Greeks and the Time Before Being

From my reading of the ancient Greeks, I find their notion of privation (steresis) and apeiron (infinite, unlimited, indefinite) might illustrate an unaccounted-for excess which has been lost through time. Steresis for the latter ancient Greek Aristotle (c. 384-c.322 BC) is opposition defined in terms of the absence to presence, negation to affirmation. Eidos (idea in Plato) is used by Plato (c. 428-c.348 BC) as his notion of the forms.

In much earlier Greek history, Eidos meant look or shape. Heraclitus (c. 535-c.475 BC) used the logos (word) to suggest order and speech. Here are some translations of some of the fragments from various sources that we have,

Though this Word [logos] is true evermore, yet men are as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time as before they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how it is what it is. But other men know not what they are doing when awake, even as they forget what they do in sleep.

Though the logos is common, the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.

things whole and not whole, what is drawn together and what is drawn asunder, the harmonious and the discordant. The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one.

On those who enter the same rivers, ever different waters flow.

Also, another source is translated as,

We step and do not step in to the same rivers; we are and are not. (DKBht)

Apeiron (without limit, peras) was a very ancient term associated with Hesiod’s idea of chaos as prior to the gods. I prefer to think about it as the fertile void from which form (peras) emerges. This is common to many cosmological myths including the Hebrew account in Genesis. Peras (end, limit, boundary) brings order and harmony as logos.

However, in earlier Greek thinking privation is thought as what cannot come to presence. It seems to me that, in varying degrees, not all could be brought into what is seen as a reduction to a negative idea (eidos). Other ancient Greek, pre-Socratic philosophers seem to go against privation as negative idea with various admonitions of Heraclitus, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Xenophanes, Pythagoreans, Eleatics by Melissus, the atomists, and Zeno. They do not write exclusively in such explicit bipolar, reductional oppositions.

Anaximander by Diogenes Laertius tells us this about apeiron,

Anaximander son of Praxiades, of Miletus: he said that the principle and element is the Indefinite, not distinguishing air or water or anything else… [Diogenes Laertius n, 1-2 (DKi2Ai])

We also have this account from Aristotle of the earlier Greek philosophers,

We cannot say that the apeiron has no effect, and the only effectiveness which we can ascribe to it is that of a principle. Everything is either a source or derived from a source. But there cannot be a source of the apeiron, for that would be a limit of it. Further, as it is a beginning, it is both uncreatable and indestructible. For there must be a point at which what has come to be reaches completion, and also a termination of all passing away. That is why, as we say, there is no principle of this, but it is this which is held to be the principle of other things, and to encompass all and to steer all, as those assert who do not recognize, alongside the infinite, other causes, such as Mind or Friendship. Further they identify it with the Divine, for it is ‘deathless and imperishable’ as Anaximander says, with the majority of the physicists. (Physics 3.4; 203b)

These accounts tend to disqualify apeiron as having an origin (archê) much less even an opposite as in propositional negation. It seems that for Anaximander chaos (χάος, yawning gap) and apeiron may have had some early similarity in the sense of indeterminate. This notion of apeiron would appear to add another hint of anarchy, no origin, and bring it closer to Hesiod’s notion of chaos. It could well be that Hesiod and perhaps Anaximander are telling us of a radical disjunction, a gap other than distinctions of whole/not whole, together/asunder, harmony/disharmony, and all things/one. (Dreher)

In this way of thinking, privation in early Greek thinking does not necessarily have elements as what comes to presence as mere negation, as the idea (eidos) of what is not. In the case of idea as negation, privation must always come to presence under the auspices of the showing of absence. Perhaps one might think the earlier ‘primitive’ Greek notions were inferior or under-developed with a view to latter developments. However, I understand this as, the early Greeks did not yet have, much less accept, such a reduction as a positive indication of the scope of their inquiries. As I previously discussed, Kahn makes the case that einai has nothing to do with being and existence. This would indicate that a reduction to being was not a given for Aristotle as Heidegger and Latin Christianity thought. I think the earlier notion of privation as an unaccounted-for excess, a radical rupture of what we think as ‘being’, was what Levinas would latter put a face on, the face of the other. In this case, Hesiod’s chaos has become a face.

From the latter Greek philosophers, logos seems to have been associated with speaking/words and strife as oppositions of whole/not whole, together/asunder, harmony/disharmony, and ‘all things’/one. I find this to have elements of the seen/unseen in Aristotle’s notion of privation. Aristotle thinks of logos as persuasive dialectics. When privation or steresis “becomes a kind of eidos“, it becomes a “thinking about being”. Eidos is in Heideggerian terminology is ‘what shows itself’ or what becomes present as coming to presence before us. Ontology is the study of being (Greek: ὄν, on; GEN. ὄντος, ontos, ‘being’ or ‘that which is’ and -logia (from logos, -λογία, ‘logical discourse).

“Heidegger says that the basic category of steresis dominates Aristotle’s ontology. Steresis means lack, privation. It can also mean loss or deprivation of something, as in the example of blindness, which is a loss of sight in one who by nature sees. Steresis can also mean confiscation, the violent appropriation of something for oneself that belongs to another (Met. 1022 b33). Finally, Aristotle often calls that which is held as other in an opposition of contraries a privation. Heidegger will point out in his later essay on Physics B1 that Aristotle understands this deprivation as itself a kind of eidos. Thus, steresis is the lack that belongs intrinsically to being. According to Heidegger, with the notion of steresis Aristotle reaches the pinnacle of his thinking about being. Heidegger even remarks that Hegel’s notion of negation needs to be returned to its dependency on Aristotle’s more primordial conception of the not.” (Brogan)

To suggest that – privation may be an excess to Heidegger’s notion of Being would be absurd to Heidegger. Heretofore, in keeping Macquarrie and Robinson translation of “Being and Time” I will capitalize ‘Sein’ to mean Being as the universal, ontological sense of all of Being and lower case ‘sein’ to mean ontic or individual beings. Heidegger discusses certain phenomenal ways of being as in anxiety when “all beings retreat” meaning there is no object, reason, cause as in the case of fear. He further states, “in anxiety, Dasein gets brought before itself through its own Being” (Being and Time, 184). In anxiety there is sheer and empty Being or Being as such. However, anxiety as an existentiell or situational way of being in the world casts privation more as a lack not as an exteriority to Being for Heidegger. Heidegger imputes on Aristotle an assumption that einai meant to-be. Kahn disputes this as a certain later development in which the notion of Being cannot, in Heidegger’s definition, exclude anything. If this definition is accepted, then of course any excess would be ‘thought’ as nonsense since the definition of Being cannot be limited for Heidegger. Heidegger thought human beings can have an inauthentic relation to Being. This is more like the negative of authenticity. Being cannot have an unaccounted excess as in the earlier Greek notion of privation. Or, as we shall see for Levinas, the other is exteriority, an excess to Being. For Levinas, ‘Being’ is a totalitarian retreat from radical alterity.

Let’s look at a notion of privation from G.W. Hegel (1770-1831). In Hegelian dialectical terms what is ‘seen’ of the idea of privation is its ‘not’ or negation. Hegel was highly influenced by Aristotle. Hegel is thought of as a German Idealist. Hegel earlier in his dialectic had derived the intuitive, abstract, universal, ideal concept of self from the plurality of individual selves. He then goes on to write that the self wants an external to itself. He calls this self-externalization. Since it is impossible, as no externality exists outside the self, self-externality negates itself and in so doing transforms (lifts up, sublates, German: aufheben) itself to a point. Self-externality wants to externalize itself as a point but again finds that impossible. So, self-externality negates itself to make another point. In so doing, self-externality wants to externalize itself again but since that is impossible, self-externalization negates multiple points and transforms itself to a line. As you might guess, self-externality as a line wants to externalize itself again. However, since that is impossible, self-externalizing transforms itself to a plane. When self-externalization wants to externalize itself as a plane, it also finds that impossible. Again, self-externalization negates itself as space and becomes time. Hegel thinks space and time are natural occurrences and intuitive phenomena. I think Antonio Wolf has a better explanation of how space and time come about in Hegel,

Space, Hegel tells us, is self-externality as such. To be external to itself is the concept of space. Immediate absolute space runs away infinitely from itself and never contains itself as it is always outside itself. Without determinacy, without distinctions of spatial or any other character, this self-externality fails to be self-external. It does not succeed in going outside itself and is immediately inside itself, and so space is itself revealed as non-spatial to itself, it is the zero-dimensional point. The point, however, is also the beginning of the success of space to be spatial, for a point is how space as outside itself appears as and relates to itself. From the standpoint of the absolute runaway expanse of immediate space, its encounter with another space which is outside it is the presence of that space as a point in relation to it. Mutually these two spaces are points to each other, but how can this be? In order to appear as points they must themselves be separated, they must be divided from each other by a third self-externality which enables them. One-dimensionality, or the line, is the self-externality of points. Two-dimensionality, or the plane, is the self-externality of lines. Three-dimensionality, or volume, is the self-externality of planes. (Wolf)

The reason I bring this up is to show how entrenched the notion of self was from an earlier period of Enlightenment. Hegel takes this notion to an absolute ideal as Concept. Hegel is still very popular in many kinds of philosophical circles. We can also see from Hegel how externality is thought vis-à-vis the self’s impossibility. Here privation is literally the concept of negation. As I previously wrote the notion of privation as the ‘idea’ of dialectical negation is found in the latter ancient Greek thinker, Aristotle. In this case, what is seen as privation is the negative of a positive premise of logic. Privation finds its utter dependence on the light or showing of what is seen as idea. Privation at this point in Greek thought has become a premise of logic. Nietzsche in his dissertation work that became the book “The Birth of Tragedy” sees this period in ancient Greece as the end of the greatness of the ancient Greeks which became ‘frozen’ as logic.

It seems to me the Greeks understood the notion of privation as a kind of excess which hid from experience but nevertheless was not nothing or emptiness. It was more like Heraclitus’ notion of a river which cannot be stepped into twice. The reduction we find beginning in Christian Rome and traversing through Descartes as ‘everything which could be doubted’ to his notion of perfection and infinity as overflowing itself to be proof of the existence of God, rests in the earliest beginnings of modernity with its prejudice for short-hand reductions to the purely negative. These reductions inevitably lead to private property, self-interest, ‘practicality’, ‘utility’ as found in Enlightenment. They get simply accepted as what is real, as what is true, and cannot be separated from the idea of the state. The negative makes the universal possible as it appears to polarize the opposition or contrary of a premise making any excess or difference to it reduced to its domain. The elimination of an excess or middle term gives it the appearance of a universal account. Could it be that the state, as long as it must live under the absolute terms of ‘Being’ or ‘Idea’ from the tradition of self-interested substantia is always doomed to fail? Isn’t there a kind of anesthetic circularity in these a priori, historic and linguistic assumptions?

Back to the Age of Enlightenment

In the reduction of all to ‘Being’ or the substantia of Enlightenment that philosophers call ontology we have a kind of circularity that always already sums up all possibilities of human experience. Even what ‘Being’ isn’t finds its negative idea and thus logical (logos) totality. This useless circularity elicits a certain orientation to everything we encounter as mere objects to which we now simply think or associate as pure practicality. Being and existence itself is more generically given as what stands under all; the rubric of ‘stuff’. This then is what Hobbes referred to as the state of “mere nature” which differed from John Locke in some ways we will explore further below.

As a side note, science has, in its own way, gone well beyond the Hobbesian reduction by looking much more closely at what makes up ‘stuff’, a planet, a universe, an atom, a sub-atomic ‘particle’. For science, the word ‘particle’ is a useful abstraction.

With any other object, the object’s properties depend on its physical makeup — ultimately, its constituent particles. But those particles’ properties derive not from constituents of their own but from mathematical patterns. As points of contact between mathematics and reality, particles straddle both worlds with an uncertain footing. (Editor) [3]

A ‘particle’ is a virtual ‘wave function’. It only becomes a ‘particle’ when the wave function collapses. Even then, the ‘particle’ is more like an ocean with wave-like currents. Particles are better thought as energy fields with wave crests and troughs. The crests and troughs have higher and lower concentrations of quantum energies. Quantum waves are thought to ‘pop in and out of existence’ according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. What do they mean by ‘popping in and out of existence’? Quantum physicists tell us ‘out of existence’ means ‘virtual particles’ which do not ‘exist’ except as a highly abstract mathematical function which includes all possibilities of matter. Virtual particles are an essential part of what we think as ‘existence’. Under certain circumstances these virtual particles are elicited to make such things as electrons, protons, etc. – matter. Virtual particles may also explain entangled particles and how they can react instantly over vast distances with no respect to time and the speed of light. What we think as ‘real’, as materiality, as what shows itself to the senses can never become merely an object to the senses. It can only exist as a yet unfinished mathematics. There is no absolute ‘is’ as an object present to the senses, no substance, to reality in the way Hobbes and Enlightenment perceived it. Similarly, philosophy from the ancient Greeks to modern science and, perhaps intuitively religion, perceives that our ‘understanding’ is what is lacking. I think our history is also what makes our notions of state condemned to perpetually push Sisyphus’ stone up the hill which must always roll down from the fascist state.

To review, Hobbes viewed absolute sovereignty as a collective decision where the ruled entered unwillingly into a social contract with the sovereign. The only alternative would be the chaotic ‘state of nature’ somehow ruled under the pure signification of random materiality. Hobbes viewed this state of nature as the war of all against all. In his book, Leviathan published in 1651, he writes on social contract theory. For Hobbes, “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” Here, self-interest meant people willingly give up some things in the hope that the sovereign authority would let them live. The social contract theory gave them a sense of order, commerce, God – meaning for their “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives”. (Hobbes, Leviathan XIII.9)

Ironically, Hobbes did believe in God and gave a cosmological argument for the existence of God saying the only thing we can know about God is that he is the “first cause of all causes”, and therefore, exits. (Thomas Hobbes) Here we have God as a substance which is the first cause of ‘stuff’ and the rest must be left to agnosticism. He made no attempt to explain how the ‘first cause’ could be material without a prior cause.

So, what of the state and the mere ‘state of nature’ as our model?

Hobbes’s near descendant, John Locke, insisted in his Second Treatise of Government that the state of nature was indeed to be preferred to subjection to the arbitrary power of an absolute sovereign. But Hobbes famously argued that such a “dissolute condition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and a coercive Power to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge” would make impossible all of the basic security upon which comfortable, sociable, civilized life depends. There would be “no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” If this is the state of nature, people have strong reasons to avoid it, which can be done only by submitting to some mutually recognized public authority, for “so long a man is in the condition of mere nature, (which is a condition of war,) as private appetite is the measure of good and evill.” (Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy)

As Orwell, John Locke was highly critical of authoritarianism both on an individual and institutional level. Individuals must use critical reason to make decisions for themselves based on facts not opinions or superstitions. On the institutional level there are legitimate and illegitimate functions. Reason should be used to maximize human flourishing “for the individual and society both in respect to its material and spiritual welfare”,

It shall suffice to my present Purpose, to consider the discerning Faculties of a Man, as they are employ’d about the Objects, which they have to do with: and I shall imagine that I have not wholly misimploy’d my self in the Thoughts I shall have on this Occasion, if in this Historical, Plain Method, I can give any Account of the Ways, whereby our Understanding comes to attain those Notions of Things, and can set down any Measure of the Certainty of our Knowledge…. (I.1.2, N: 43–4—the three numbers, are book, chapter and section numbers respectively, followed by the page number in the Nidditch edition)

The term ‘idea’, Locke tells us “…stands for whatsoever is the Object of the Understanding, when a man thinks” (I.1.8, N: 47). Experience is of two kinds, sensation and reflection. One of these—sensation—tells us about things and processes in the external world. The other—reflection—tells us about the operations of our own minds. Reflection is a sort of internal sense that makes us conscious of the mental processes we are engaged in. Some ideas we get only from sensation, some only from reflection and some from both. (John Locke)

Locke tells us that sovereignty lies in the people not an aristocrat. Neither Hobbes nor Locke believed in innate ideas as Plato did with his notion of memory. Descartes thought an innate idea was infinity which was placed in our mind by God and from which we get the idea of God. Locke believed we all start as blank tablets (tabula rasa) and, as Hobbes, believed all ideas comes from the senses but Locke broadens the senses from Hobbes to include reflection. Locke, as Hobbes, also believes in social contract theory. However, his conception of the state of nature necessarily includes “natural rights”. Like Hobbes, Locke tells us an idea signifies an “Object of Understanding” which must arise from the sensation of objects in the “external world”. However, unlike Hobbes, Locke tells us ideas arise from reflection. Reflection is not merely a signifier for an object which can be abstracted from material substance but another kind or type of idea which arises from the senses. While reflection arises from senses of the external world, Locke thinks of reflection as internal. In reflection, rationality is internally based not based on external objects. Rationality in reflection gives us access to another kind of ‘state of nature’ he calls “natural rights”.

For Locke ideas could start as simple ideas but the mind could put simple ideas together to make complex ideas. There were three kinds of actions the mind could perform:

1. Complex ideas were made up of two kinds he called ideas of substance and ideas of modes. Substances are independent existents like God, angels, humans, animals, plants, etc. Modes are dependent existents.

2. Complex ideas of relation where separate ideas could be thought in relation to each other.

3. Complex ideas could be made abstract so they could leave behind particularities from which they were derived. We might call these transformations today.

He also speculated that God could add ideas to matter with a kind of internal organization which mimicked the mind. This could lead Locke to think that the soul could trans-mutate from one body to another and there could even be bodies with multiple souls. From this, it could be that the soul was immortal.

In any case, the reflective mind could ascertain a law of nature he called natural rights and which the brute beast of Hobbes would not include. Locke tells us,

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions…. (Treatises II.2.6)

Since, natural law dictated the equivalent of the Golden Rule, social contract theory was called for so that mutual respect would guarantee these rights. According to Locke, this natural right entitled everyone to life, liberty, health, and property. The U.S. Declaration of Independence contains the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which is an indication of the sway Locke had on our Founding Fathers. Also, this natural right forbid war and slavery. However, if one side started a war unjustly then Locke would allow the offenders to be taken as slaves. This consideration seemed to conveniently be left out of the original U.S. Constitution which simply stated nothing about the injustice of slavery. Additionally, Locke believed,

God, who hath given the World to Men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of Life, and convenience. The Earth, and all that is therein, is given to Men for the Support and Comfort of their being. (Locke, 1689)

In the first U.S. Constitution written by John Adams entitled “Constitution of Massachusetts”, Adams starts with (Adams, 1780),

A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Article I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

In the U.S. ‘commonwealth’ is still the official description of Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The immediate influence for John Adams in thinking of a new government came from England which was a ‘British Commonwealth’. The idea of a commonwealth was not just an idea of Locke but went all the way back to the Romans and Cicero as was previously mentioned. Locke had to jump through lots of hoops to justify private property. He thought of private property as a more of a practical necessity.

As much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much by his labor he may fix a property in; whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. (Locke, 1689) (Treatises II.5.31)

and furthermore,

Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough, and as good left; and more than the as yet unprovided could use. So that, in effect, there was never the less for others because of his inclosure for himself: for he that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all. No body could consider himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left to quench his thirst: and the case of land and water, where there is enough, is perfectly the same. (Locke, 1689) (Treatises II.5.33)

which lead to the need for money,

… before the desire of having more than one needed had altered the intrinsic value of things, which depends only on their usefulness to the life of man; or had agreed, that a little piece of yellow metal, which would keep without wasting or decay, should be worth a great piece of flesh, or a whole heap of corn; though men had a right to appropriate by their labor, each one of himself, as much of the things of nature, as he could use; yet this could not be much, nor to the prejudice of others, where the same plenty was left to those who would use the same industry. (Locke, 1689) (Treatises II.5.37)

This partage of things in an inequality of private possessions, men have made practicable out of the bounds of society, and without compact, only by putting a value on gold and silver, and tacitly agreeing to the use of money: for in governments, the laws regulate the rights of property, and the possession of land is determined by positive constitutions. (Locke, 1689) (Treatises II.5.50)

From the commonwealth that God gave to all men, Locke’s reflection based on internal ideas lead to the notion of private property and the legitimacy of money. The importance of this discussion is that Locke recognized a higher level of ideas which synthesized simple ideas into complex ideas which did not rest simply on pure substance, the ‘stuff’ of Hobbes universe. Reflection could take on a level of complexity, transformations, relations, and dependence which was not merely external but internal. In this, Locke imperfectly conceived how a world could be internally mirrored in each person. However, it also introduced major problems like, how is it every person does not have to learn language from brute repetition and individual synthesis after we are born? Perhaps for Locke, it was the trans-mutation of the soul but that is more an idea of dogma than reflection. Also, how is it that ideas came already categorized such as quantity (unity, plurality, totality), quality (reality, negation, limitation), relation (inherence and subsistence (substance and accident), causality and dependence (cause and effect), community (reciprocity)), and modality (possibility, existence, necessity)? These are the categories of understanding which Kant tells us are a priori.

Kant’s monumental breakthrough in philosophy, the transcendental method, allowed him to fuse the salient objectives of rationalism and empiricism, the two integral yet distinct views of philosophy. Rationalism attributed intellectual intuition (i.e., innate ideas) to humans dispensing the notions of universality and necessary factual knowledge whereas empiricism accorded the sensible intuition, hindering the rationalist approach. Kant helped bridge this gap by agreeing with empiricists that all human factual knowledge begins with sensible intuition (the only kind we have), and by agreeing with rationalists that we bring something a priori to the knowing process. Factual knowledge, according to Kant, involves both sensory experiences, which provide its content, and a priori mental structures, which provide its form. It is insufficient to have one without the other. He famously writes, “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind”. There is nothing for us to know without empirical, sense content; nevertheless, without such a priori frameworks, we have no method of giving intelligible form to whatever content we may have. (Gupta)

In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy in the article entitled “Kant and Hume on Morality”, Kant tells us the individual is autonomous, from Greek meaning ‘self-rule’. By ‘autonomy’ Kant means,

the property of the will by which it is a law to itself (independently of any property of the objects of volition)” (G 4:440). According to Kant, the will of a moral agent is autonomous in that it both gives itself the moral law (is self-legislating) and can constrain or motivate itself to follow the law (is self-constraining or self-motivating). The source of the moral law is not in the agent’s feelings or inclinations, but in her “pure” rational will, which Kant identifies as the “proper self” (G 4:461). A heteronomous will, on the other hand, is governed by something other than itself, such as an external force or authority. (Wilson, 2022)

Enlightenment is built on the notion that the proper meaning of individual will is that it is a law unto itself. Enlightenment defines the ‘law unto itself’ as self-interest. Additionally, the improper will is heterogenous as it is governed by something other than itself. If individual will is interrupted by the radical alterity of the other or by an ethics not based on the social contract of self-interest the will is condemned to inauthenticity. Therefore, autonomy is based on rationality. Kant intended that ‘proper’ self-interest would give way to a universal law. The proper meaning is satisfied by Kant’s categorical imperative which states, “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal [moral] law”. While he may have envisioned a link of altruistic ethics based on the universal, the basis is derived from me, the individual. Many powerful people have reasoned that they are the ‘final solution’ to the ignorant masses of “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives”. However, Kant also tells us not to treat people as a means but as an end. The ‘end’ for Kant is not just any end but an end which arrives at ethics. However, when ethics is based on rationality determined by self-interest, the history of the state has repeatedly shown that it can only rise to the façade of ethics. Only an end not based on me or ‘not me’ or its endless simulacrum but on the radical infinity of the face of the other can ‘end’ find ethics.

Capitalism as formulated by Adam Smith appears to satisfy the categorical imperative in that if all people act on self-interest, then the greatest satisfaction will be generated for the greatest amount of people meaning competition produces the greatest quality product for the cheapest price. However, self-interest promotes treating people as a means and not an end. The result of this is that Kant’s notion of the proper, autonomous individual was later overtaken by capitalistic democracies to be the Enlightenment notion of self-interested individual. The greater good had become subject to and defined by the greater self-interest. Capitalism encourages and rewards self-interest. In this way it can work to amalgamate self-interests into the hands of a few. Contrarily, the Founding Fathers believed the separation of powers in the structure of our government would prevent this kind of amalgamation.

Locke’s “state of nature has a law of nature to govern it” which “obliges everyone” that “reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions”. However, when ‘equal’ right to vote is taken as ‘the election was rigged’ or ‘life’ means a woman’s individual autonomy is subject to the state so she cannot decide under any circumstances to abort a fetus or ‘possessions’ means the one with the most toys wins while the masses of the world are impoverished, then – ‘ethics’ becomes the sole domain of the bourgeoisie and once again plants the seeds of fascism. For Kant, we have a state of nature whose self-interest leads by rationality and founds a state in which somehow self-interest and the other live in harmony. Kant’s ‘proper self’ is motivated by pure rational will, people are treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to the self-interest of others. Our Founding Fathers were fully aware of the dangerous results of self-interest which were not guided by Locke and Kant’s rationality. They believed that the checks and balances of our Constitution was built to resist such attacks. When others are treated like a means to an end, transactionally, James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers how the balance of his government structure would prevent the consolidation of power into a few,

Having reviewed the general form of the proposed government, and the general mass of power allotted to it; I proceed to examine the particular structure of this government, and the distribution of this mass of power among its constituent parts.

One of the principal objections inculcated by the more respectable adversaries to the constitution, is its supposed violation of the political maxim, that the legislative, executive and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct. In the structure of the federal government, no regard, it is said, seems to have been paid to this essential precaution in favor of liberty. The several departments of power are distributed and blended in such a manner, as at once to destroy all symmetry and beauty of form; and to expose some of the essential parts of the edifice to the danger of being crushed by the disproportionate weight of other parts.

No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Were the federal constitution therefore, really chargeable with this accumulation of power or with a mixture of powers, having a dangerous tendency to such an accumulation, no further arguments would be necessary to inspire a universal reprobation of the system. I persuade myself however, that it will be made apparent to every one, that the charge cannot be supported, and that the maxim on which it relies, has been totally misconceived and misapplied. In order to form correct ideas on this important subject, it will be proper to investigate the sense, in which the preservation of liberty requires, that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct. (Madison, 1788)

In this structural balance of government powers, Madison thought the basic conflict which occurs from the pure self-interest of capitalism and the enlightened rational imperative to treat others as an end in themselves would be solved for the state. However, as we have seen, the Enlightenment path of rationalism was itself built partially on the self-evidence of the objectivity of the senses which adhered to social contract. For Enlightenment, this meant that the checks and balances of self-interest would prevent, for Locke, or at least resist, for Hobbes, tyranny. It turns out after Enlightenment the trial of history demonstrated by the Trump administration pointedly tells us that self-interest does not necessarily spawn social contracts that are guided by treating others equally. Furthermore, there are no governmental checks and balances which can perpetually forestall the consolidation of various branches of government like the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government. Under the insane and dangerous lies of Trump, the corruption of the Justice Department, decades of Congressional gerrymandering, and shameful radical right-wing loading of the Supreme Court clearly demonstrate to those paying attention that the practical reality of self-interest mitigated by social contract results in one more example of the failed history of state from liberal Enlightenment. Under Trump we could have very easily lost our democracy and the next time, there will be a next time, we may not be so fortunate.

We are all baptized in the tragic consequences of being “all too human” as Nietzsche reminds us. However, the daemon of wisdom and justice requires action even when action seems impossible. It is not possible to be true to oneself without being true to the other. The state is a collection of people who are bound together for better or worse. We are not nomadic. We only find an empty shell of existence if we live in narcissistic delusions that the state is optional or able to survive by mere self-interest of a few. For Orwell, the only way the state could be viable was for the ‘state to be themselves’. However, when ‘themselves’ is conditioned by unmitigated self-interest in the socialist state, it is also doomed to failure. Eventually, the history of Enlightenment must be replaced by a new history which points us in the direction of Levinas. The only way to be ‘ourselves’ is for us to be towards the other; to face the other with integrity and conscience. The poor, the disenfranchised the oppressed must have a stake in the state for the state to thrive. Self-interest does not and cannot provide a path forward and is only forever condemned to repeat the past. The history of self-interest continually shows the battle lines of protectionism are draw by the few to prohibit entry and conserve power at the expense of the many.

Foucault’s symbiotic necessity and fog of sanity and insanity in “Madness and Civilization” is the inevitable result of creating the world, the state, in our own image. The gaze of Medusa is the narcissism of state nationalism when protected by the few. The ‘one’ as state is made up of many ‘ones’. When ‘me’ is pronounced, the invocation of the state is already assured. The existential decision which reckons with the other to which I am essentially indebted, must by decision decry the illusory fictions of self-satisfaction at the expense of the other. To paraphrase a wise man, to lose one’s life for the sake of the other is to find life. The essence of life is the other, which cannot be the propositional negation of ‘not-me’. To abandon oneself to the nationalism of self-interest is to lose oneself in auto-fascination of a supplemented and marketed recreation of reality in certain one’s own image. When all one sees is pre-manufactured history of ‘oneself’, we call this dreaming while one is awake. When those among us mock the “Woke”, they put to death exteriority. The externality of the other recognizes indebtedness to the destitution and plight of the other. The prescription to be warm and filled by the bourgeoisie is like giving vinegar to a thirsty man dying on a Roman cross. Orwell recognized the monstrosity of the elite and the impending doom of the holocaust. He recognized the source as the unmitigated, protectionist strategies of the wealthy which pitted the other into a war of all against all, a Hobbesian Leviathan, a Machiavellian prince, a Donald Trump. Orwell also wrote about how even Catholicism, or I would add Christianity in general, has been sublimated in service to the nationalism of self-interest. Currently, in the U.S we are seeing the rise of Christian Nationalism. How will this be any different from what the Maga people call Sharia law?

Totalization of the Other Culminates in Nationalism of the State

From the perspective of the dominate occidental, philosophical history of ‘Being’ called ontology, the other is an idea, an eidos. This is fundamental to liberal Enlightenment as we have seen. The idea of the individual is universalized in the collectivity of self-interest under social contract theory. This is utilitarian transactionalism as the essence of the other. Transactionalism is only possible when the modality of the other is already, a priori, understood as eidos. The other becomes ‘presence’ as idea. This seems to me to take on the same reduction as substance which I discussed earlier. The other is substance as idea. Self-interest requires us to make use of the substance of the other who has become idea so we can acquire capital. To harken back to Heidegger and the idea of environment as standing reserve, we can also use the environment in the self-interest of capital acquisition. But what is the break between Heidegger and his ex-student Levinas?

Here is where the massive split between Levinas and Heidegger begins. For Heidegger, ‘Being’ (German: Sein) is a totality without excess. For Levinas, Heidegger’s ‘Being’ is a ‘nationalism’ of the highest order. Reinforcing Levinas’ claim is the fact that Heidegger committed himself to Nazism when he became the Rector of Freiberg University in 1933. While Levinas certainly understood Heidegger’s tact on the concrete facticity of lived human being in such acts as lived space and time, standing reserve of technology and the environment, the experience of art, etc., Levinas had a fundamental difference with the consignment of the other to Being. Additionally, Heidegger also discussed the everydayness of the ‘they-self’ (das man) as an inauthentic modality of being-in-the world. Wrathall writes this in his “Being-with (mitsein)” summary,

BEING-WITH is the character of DASEIN whereby it is always already structurally related to other Daseins (even when one is alone and others are actually absent). Mitsein (literally “being-with”) in everyday German simply means “togetherness” or “companionship,” but in Being and Time Heidegger gives the term a particular philosophical inflection. The everyday, public, cultural world of oneself among others is a “primary phenomenon” for Heidegger. Each one exists in a world saturated with others linked through shared social practices. (24. – Being-with (Mitsein), 2021)

For Heidegger, ‘being-with’ can fall into the inauthenticity of ‘everydayness’ he calls the ‘they-self’ (das man). Levinas found that such renditions of others reenforced a kind of totalism, or I would say a nationalism of Spirit, in the form of Being. Levinas asks us, are all experiences consumed by the totality of Being or are there concrete experiences which point towards an exteriority to Being? Certainly, as we have seen, concrete relations to others can take on transactional qualities but does that sum up our experiences of the other? The occidental history of metaphysics evolved from Aristotle’s inquiry into the physics of ‘first philosophy’, the study of being as being, to other ancient wisdom traditions to the advent of Christian metaphysics in Rome, and perhaps even from questions that loom in modern physics on the big bang (or big bounces) beg the question of first causes.

For Heidegger, metaphysics is ‘Being’ suspended over nothingness. He claims metaphysics asks the question, why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing? Jose Conrado A. Estafia tells us,

Science, with all its vastness, only deals with something. It accepts nothing of the nothing. For how can the nothing be tested or verified? We need not trouble about the nothing. “Science,” observes Heidegger, “wishes to know nothing of the nothing.” Science, in expressing its own proper essence, never calls upon the nothing for help. In the midst of this “controversy” the question begins to unfold and must be formulated explicitly: “How is it with nothing?” Such kind of inquiry may presuppose something. Thus we “posit the nothing in advance as something that ‘is’ such and such; we posit it as a being.” Our assumption is that nothing is something this or that. Hence Heidegger proceeds by saying that, with regard to the nothing, “question and answer alike are inherently absurd.” (Estafia, 2019)

However, for Heidegger, the metaphysical question brings us “for the first time before beings as such”. Estafia writes,

This is the reason why logic can never be of help in the original revelation of the truth of our existence. Heidegger’s declaration that logic is not primarily important for philosophy means that logic merely deals with the “surface phenomena of meaning – theoretical propositions.” The nothing is no object or any being at all. With nothing the manifestation of beings as such is possible. Heidegger believes that “in the being of beings the nihilation of the nothing occurs.” With this original nihilation of the nothing, Dasein is brought “for the first time before beings as such.” (Estafia, 2019)

For Levinas, metaphysics is the failed history of the radical alterity of the other. This can be demonstrated by many violent histories of theism. Additionally, instead of a face as Levinas would tell us, Heidegger finds the nothingness of metaphysics brings us before the question of Being as a whole. Heidegger writes,

Our inquiry concerning the nothing is to bring us face to face with metaphysics itself

….

Metaphysics is inquiry beyond or over beings that aims to recover them as such and as a whole for our grasp. In the question concerning the nothing such an inquiry beyond or over beings, beings as a whole, takes place. It proves thereby to be a “metaphysical” question. (Heidegger)

Levinas believes metaphysics historically lost its way from the root of metaphysics, which was always anchored in phenomenal, concrete experiences of radical alterity, the other. It is the question of exteriority with a face, a face of the he or she that we concretely experience. His inquiry asks, what was the metaphysical experience really always about? Do we get the notion of metaphysics from the question of nothingness which brings us before “beings as such” or does nothingness have a face? Is it possible that infinity is not just mathematical, not just a supposition of a mathematical singularity, or a Cartesian idea? Is it possible that the retreat from infinity which we face every day gets effaced by Being, by history and language as idea? If so, doesn’t this fundamentally change our orientation to ethics? Instead of ethics as social contract in the service of self-interest or some optional consideration of altruism, could it be that ethics points to a radical exteriority to all our lived experiences as mine (Heidegger, jemeinigkeit, “mineness”) or mitsein (literally “being-with”)? As we have seen, does the history of liberal Enlightenment level over the meta in our experience of the other? My question in this post is, if so, can we write an other history. Can we start a history more habitable for the planet and for each other?

If beings can only be understood in the framework of Being, the presentation of the other is already mediated into an authentic or inauthentic conception or experience of Being. However, the other which stands before me in his or her presentation is not always, already understood as a universal. The mode in which I actually encounter the other is not an assimilation or covering over of Being. Nor is it merely a repetitive simulacrum of some prefabricated mirage or phantasma of a face. Levinas goes even further to suggest that using the other as a means to an end has also become an end in itself – but not of the other, of the end as totalization. Totalization of the other is violent in its reduction. It is domination and slavery in the service of use-value to borrow a term of Karl Marx. Here, the exchange is human capital captivated by marketing in the useful object’s unknowing enslavement to artificial needs. The other has become a cog in a machine and as such is an end in itself – Levinas calls this murder.

The popular criticism of the ‘bad faith’ other (“othering me”) as the way others get objectified as an insufficient, evil, ignorant, weaker, inferior other is not the other at all. It is the idea of an other projected onto the other. It is the by-product of self-interest which totalizes the other, retreats from the face of the other as Levinas would tell us. It is the a priori historic, cultural map which defines reality and, in so doing, imprisons us in an internality without any reference to externality, the alterity of the other. The other in this sense is not the other at all but my own narcissistic face which gets taken as the other. If there is a hell, it is the one without another, my self-interest as ‘all there is’. In my estimation of Levinas, ontology is the totality of me without an other, without radical externality. Externality is not of the idea of God but externality has a face. The other does not inhabit my time, my space my universe as the totality of me. In Christian metaphysics, isn’t this the sin of vanity that cast the arch-angel Lucifer out of heaven into external hell – the sin of absolute narcissism? When a collectivity of self-interested ‘me-s’ create a state, it is inevitable that nationalism will doom the state to authoritarianism and fascism. Eventually, those who consolidate their self-interested power over others will create the Hobbesian state of Leviathan, the war of all against all. The war of all against all is fundamentally the absolute incongruity of one without the other.

Our history and language are not inconsequential as Enlightenment’s raw sense data would have us believe. Some might think it was fashioned for a reason, for survival. However, at the present time this tool which we employ has become a detriment to our planet and our survival. We need only look at the tragic failures of modernity to the present to understand that our time for adaptation to an essentially other history is now. Climate change informs us it can no longer be postponed. Ethics, altruism, self-interest, our major religions have all left us helpless to have a state which is survivable for us and the planet. The voice of Levinas offers a radical solution to start a history which does not retreat, deface, and totalize the other. What is needed is a recognition that the insufficiency of history itself gives no avenue for the other to be radically external other from the ‘me’ of history. This new history would be the call of responsibility to me to put away the historic narcissism of self-interested me-ism and recognize our limitations by allowing a radical alterity in the face of she or he. A history which allows exteriority is a history which fully realizes that we are not creators of reality. We have gifts freely given to us from the unknowing of birth which now must lead us to the recognition of externality – not just neutral, homogenized externality but externality which brings ‘me’ into fundamental question. For the first time the responsible choice to recognize radical externality of a he or she that is not a “not -me”, a negation of me, but a he or she, or they of the “third other” (mentioned below from Levinas’ latter work “Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence”). The externality of the other is not in my power, my history, or my freedom to comprehend. I think even the current state of modern physics should at least hint of the gravity of what we do not know.

The other that we stand before interrupts my deliberation of who she is. She is not called forth from my comprehension. She interrupts my monologue of her essence. Not only is she not contingent on me but she always breaks through the plastic caste I make of her face. She is not a derivative of my lived temporality or my lived space. She is a radical exteriority, a time not my time, a space not my space. I will never know her essence. Her ‘being’ is my radical reduction of her not who she is. My history, the history of Enlightenment has led me towards a totalization of her and not-her. She is not a moment of my freedom. I have no power over her. Therefore, I must recognize my powerlessness and my debt to her before my will and my power can define her. The only way to recognize her radical alterity which cannot be a not-me is in the responsibility of ethics. Ethics is the recognition of my inability before the infinitude of her or him. My politics required by this ethics is not based in some altruistic or benevolent concern. It is based on my debt to the stranger, the sojourner, the indigent, the oppressed that faces me.

In relation to beings in the opening of being, comprehension finds a signification for them on the basis of being. In this sense, it does not invoke these beings but only names them, thus accomplishing a violence and a negation. A partial negation which is violence. This partiality is indicated by the fact that, without disappearing, those beings are in my power. Partial negation, which is violence, denies the independence of being: it belongs to me. Possession is the mode whereby a being, while existing, is partially denied. It. is not only a question of the fact that the being is an instrument, a tool, that is to say, a means. It is an end also. As consumable, it is nourishment and in enjoyment, it offers itself, gives itself, belongs to me. To be sure vision measures my power over the object, but it is already enjoyment. The encounter with the other (autrui) consists in the fact that despite the extent of my domination and his slavery, I do not possess him. He does not enter entirely into the opening of being where I already stand, as in the field of my freedom. It is not starting from being in general that he comes to meet me. Everything which comes to me from the other (autrui) starting from being in general certainly offers itself to my comprehension and possession. I understand him in the framework of his history, his surroundings and habits. That which escapes comprehension in the other (autrui) is him, a being. I cannot negate him partially, in violence, in grasping him within the horizon of being in general and possessing him. The Other (Autrui) is the sole being whose negation can only announce itself as total: as murder. The Other (Autrui) is the sole being I can wish to kill. (Levinas)

I find Levinas’ remarks here to be almost eerily reminiscent of what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount.

You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Mathew 5:21 (MBT)

This is also repeated in 1 John.

If you hate each other, you are murderers, and we know murderers do not have eternal life. 1 John 3:15 (CEV)

The retreat from the other which stands before us into the totalitarianism of history, of Being, is the inevitable leveling off the same as reduction to idea, to substance, to mere presence before the self-interested ‘me’. The other is simply the understood ‘not-me’. When the collection of ‘not-me-s’ become a state, this is the definition of nationalism and its certain demise into fascism. In view of this, how could the state work in a way which is habitable for the planet and us?

What would Levinas’ State Look Like?

Levinas has been thought from one political theorist as a kind of “inverted liberalism”. In Fred Alford’s words,

“Three propositions about the state define Levinas’ project: peace is impossible within the state; peace is possible only beyond the state; going beyond the state to find peace cannot mean leaving the state behind. All three propositions are reflected in the title of article published shortly after his death, “Beyond the State in the State.” (Alford, 2004)

This presents a very difficult challenge in trying to find a political strategy in Levinas. Alford tells us,

One way to take his challenge seriously is to demonstrate that Levinas’ thinking does not fit into any of the categories by which we ordinarily approach political theory. If one were forced to categorize Levinas’ political theory, the term inverted liberalism would come closest to the mark. As long, that is, as one emphasizes the term “inverted” over “liberalism.” Levinas’ defense of liberalism is likely the strangest defense the reader has encountered. We should, argues Levinas, foster and protect the individual because only the individual can see the tears of the other, the tears that even the just regime cannot see. The individual is to be fostered and protected for the sake of the other individual. (Alford, 2004)

From my understanding of Levinas, we encounter the other in an anarchical (without origin) infinity which cannot be temporally consumed. I think of it as a kind of awkward nakedness in which we are left bare until we can immediately cover ourselves with temporality, with history, with Being. Levinas refers us to radical alterity, an interruption of the face of the other. Being is the garb from which we hide from the other. We temporalize the other in existence as an ‘existent’, a being among other beings, a thing among other things. In other words, we retreat from the infinite face of the other into history as if from chaos. Even ‘chaos’ is already thought as origin in Hesiod. From chaos and dystopia, we already are determining and determined as universal, as retreat from the temporal determination of horror. The ‘fear of death’ becomes ground for retreat. In chapter 17 of Huxley’s “Brave New World”, Mustapha is extolling the virtues of the drug soma to John telling him,

And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is. (Huxley, 1932)

In Huxley’s book soma is a drug which makes Huxley’s futuristic, dystopia possible. The future is here for MAGA Republicans. We have finally seen a Christianity without tears. They envision a state where the traditional, ‘tried and true’ comes back in the form of Christian Nationalism’s ‘democratic autocracy’ and they blink. Autocracy here is guaranteed by the ‘true’ majority in which voting can only reflect their ‘trueness’.

For the first time social problems and the struggles between humans do not reveal the ultimate meaning of the real. This end of the world will lack the last judgement. The elements exceed the states that until now contained them. Reason no longer appears in political wisdom, but in the historically unconditioned truths announcing cosmic dangers. For politics is substituted a cosmo-politics that is a physics. (Caygill, 2000)

Reminiscent of Huxley’s ‘somatic’ futuristic virtues, Caygill points to a Baudrillardian nether world in which simulacra begets simulacra ad infinitum. Judgement has been replaced by titillation and ‘somatic’ delight. Marketing is the futuristic oracle of Apollo at Delphi where instead of the declaration that Socrates was “the most free, upright, and prudent of all people” we have the state is “the most free, upright, and prudent of all” states or Trump is “the most free, upright, and prudent of all people”. Truth is what Trump says. Contradiction itself has become the truth of non-sensical. In nationalism’s extreme, the Enlightenment tradition based on sense data gets given over to a ‘sense’ without externality. In all this we hear the echo of Nietzsche’s last man where absolute mediocrity wins the day. The state as totality levels off. Nationalism determines and is determined by the place of custom, tradition, manufactured reality. Marketing becomes the ‘physics’ of what is.

For Levinas, the totalitarian state is a vehicle that must always flee from my responsibility to the other. In the radical asymmetry and timelessness of the exteriority of the other we are held hostage, powerless to utilize the state, our state, in pure self-interest. We must retreat from an anarchical past which we never knew. We must temporalize the other to retreat from primal fear which has already brought the other into a symmetry, a relation, which mediates our fundamental angst. In our moment of horrific retreat, we envision Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. However, the other we shrink from is not the infinity of the other but the finitude of our phantom-sized proximity to the other. Proximity to the other which has lost the distance of infinity is our account, logos, of the other. On this account, proximity is the physics of space and time where people ‘things’ mingle. I am related to another in pre-determined ‘physics’ of the state unknowingly derived from the history of Being.

But unless there is an ‘I’ how can there even be an other? The ego must be, exist, to retreat from the face of the other. We must be temporally embodied as a condition for the encounter of the radical alterity of other. The ‘I’ is not extinguished by the other. Only in embodiment can the other face us. Fleeing from the face of the other is not an active choice. It is raw impulse inextricably wedded to the ‘there of being’ as Heidegger situates ‘mineness’ (jemeinigkeit). Furthermore, we are not alone. We encounter many others. The encounter of many others is what Levinas refers to as the “third other”.

When we retreat from the other, we retreat from many others. Here Frankenstein is no longer a monster but many monsters. This is the encounter of the evil others where violence to the other is taken up into justice. In the determinations of good and evil we efface all the others. Here we have the state. The state as composed of many others is the historic, cultural ground from which justice is required and to which it is invented without reference to the radical alterity of the other which faces ‘me’ with tears. To the degree that justice is ‘soma’, we level off the encounter with others as appeasement, as transactional. Justice becomes self-justification. Justice is ‘the election was rigged’. It is the mechanism which vindicates, sanctifies, and translates us into Lewis Carrol’s up is down and down is up. However, justice need not cover over shame. Shame is the essence of retreat from others. We hide ourselves from the nakedness of the face of others.

This is how we arrive at Alford’s notion of “inverted liberalism”. From the Enlightenment era of Hobbes and Locke, practicality as my embodiment is taken up as the liberal tradition of individuality. We are all individuals, single monads in a collectivity, in which we live and move and have our being in the day to day so how can there be a beyond the state? How can Alford tell us,

“Three propositions about the state define Levinas’ project: peace is impossible within the state; peace is possible only beyond the state; going beyond the state to find peace cannot mean leaving the state behind.” (Alford, 2004)

Apart from the seeming senseless riddle of this statement, how can the practical embodiment for individuals in the state be anything other than what it presents to us in the day to day? In view of my recent discussion, I would rather put Alford’s statement like this:

“peace is impossible within the state”

The face-to-face encounter with the other is impossible in ontology, totality, nationalism also known as the history of Being. The other must always be leveled off, comprehended, and totalized as a practical this or that which becomes the foundation of the state. Peace as decision to not level off the other cannot be achieved in the practicality of the enlightened state or any nationalism.

“peace is possible only beyond the state”

The determination that the stranger, the indigent, the disenfranchised are not simply refuse of the state cannot be achieved by a collectivity of enlightened individuals in the self-interested, totalitarian state. Only by a ‘beyond’ the state to a face-to-face encounter with alterity of the other can the state be viable. The viability of the state is only possible when the other is not reduced to mere existents, objects, cogs in a ‘being machine’ waiting for the lightning strike of animation. It turns out the day-to-day practicality of the state cannot produce a living human being but a disembodied human being which impossibly can never come to life except in the fictions of groupthink. Here groupthink goes well beyond Orwell’s critique of Stalin and penetrates the very fabric of occidental, democratic liberalism. Groupthink must inevitably produce monsters not others. To go beyond the state is to decide on a day-today basis to let groupthink go and let the other be other. The other is not simply a ‘not-me’, not simply substance, a thing, animated by the metaphysical lightning strike which magically makes life. There is no infinite regression into a ‘Huxleyian’ utopia which always mediates, codetermines, and thus, universalizes. Beyond the state is not deep philosophy but simple decision which in the day-to-day restrains itself from mediation in deference to the immediacy of radical alterity, of the he or she which faces me.

“going beyond the state to find peace cannot mean leaving the state behind”

In this then we come back to the state but ‘inverted’. I am no longer determined by the state but determine by decision my responsibility to the other which exceeds the state. I think Alford is correct in suggesting that Levinas comes back to liberal democracy but ‘inverted’ or as I would suggest, radical rupture which invigorates us by decision to help the poor, the stranger and the disenfranchised. Externally, we still look like a liberal democracy, but not by ‘self-interested enlightenment of the other’ – by my decision based on the radical, anarchic encounter with the face of the other which resists place and situatedness in my determinations. A state cannot see tears. Only I can see tears. Only I can decide I am responsible.

Conclusion

The impossibility Orwell faced in a meaningless world was not vanquished but simply receded into the simmering politics of post-World War II states. The liberal democracy in which Orwell envisioned in socialism was not utopian but the best form of dystopia. It can only find its dark promise in Huxley’s future. It can only repeat an Orwellian past in ebbs and flows from marketed, utilitarian determinations of the nationalistic state to apocalyptic nightmare. Here ‘meaning’ is subsumed by a Derridean ‘differance’ where endless deferment results in the trace which is,

not a presence but is rather the simulacrum of a presence that dislocates, displaces, and refers beyond itself. The trace has, properly speaking, no place, for effacement belongs to the very structure of the trace. (Derrida, 1973)

The trace never ends in my freedom. The trace is my infinite regression of one without the other. However, the trace is not an infinite regression as Baudrillard thought. Levinas tells us the choice which ends the infinite regression of trace is not the never-ending mediation of the face but the ethics of responsibility which interrupts history with the radical rupture of infinity; an infinity which was never mine but him or her.

The state cannot be a mediated field of ghastly dreams in which the passivity of nebulous nationalism is homogenized by mass marketing dressed up as truth values – an endless procession of a presence which never gets revealed. Passivity is death. Virtual reality is an oxymoron imbued as true. The simple face of she or he is not immediacy which begins or continues mediation as Hegel would have it. Its immediacy is anarchic, without origin, as Moses’ inability to look at the face of God without hiding in the cleft of the rock. Such analogies are meant to ask us, do we really know what we think we know. Are we really so sure that a face is merely a mediated idea of a face not dissimilar from a rock – a mere body of Concept or physics? Can we perhaps sense an encounter where ‘sense’ did not immediately cover over something raw, radically unknown, which felt infinite only to reflexively draw away back into something that felt more like home? Did you ever feel a glimpse of another as radical rupture which threw you back on yourself? And yet, you were stone cold sober. Isn’t love really the shadow of the otherness of the other where idea arrives too late? Levinas invites us to simply encounter the other as if we were the stranger to the one who cannot ‘know’, the eyes of whom we look. Perhaps, we are not alone in an assumed cosmic machine but have retreated away from the other which cannot ‘be’, cannot have origin, cannot be synchronously invested in me. Only when the political can be beyond ontology for ‘me’ can I find a state, can we find a state, which is found upon a history not yet written of state that brings forth the ethics of responsibility for the other and for environing which preserves and sustains environment as the cradle of incomprehensible others. While this seems like high-brow philosophy it is embodied in the simple face to face encounter with the other. It is not restricted to the domain of academic philosophy. It need only meet with humility as choice taken into responsibility to the other whom we do not know, who cries before us as if he or she was not in my thought, nor the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, but the “the still, small voice” saying but not ever captured in the said.

“My effort consists in showing that knowledge is in reality an immanence, and that there is no rupture of the isolation of being in knowledge; and on the other hand, that in communication of knowledge one is found beside the Other, not confronted with him, not in the rectitude of the in-front-of-him. But being in direct relation with the Other is not to thematize the Other and consider him in the same manner as one considers a known object, nor to communicate a knowledge to him. In reality, the fact of being is what is most private; existence is the sole thing I cannot communicate; I can tell about it, but I cannot share my existence. Solitude thus appears as the isolation which marks the very event of being. The social is beyond ontology.” (Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, 1985)

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Further Reading Links:

https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s3.html

https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/the-limits-of-reason-in-hobbes-s-commonwealth/

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/

https://orb.binghamton.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1094&context=sagp

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mill/

https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/complicated-presence-heidegger-and-the-postmetaphysical-unity-of-being/

End Notes:

[1] More from Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius:

  1. Incomes. Limitation of incomes implies the fixing of a minimum wage, which implies a managed internal currency based simply on the amount of consumption-goods available. And this again implies a stricter rationing-scheme than is now in operation. It is no use at this stage of the world’s history to suggest that all human beings should have exactly equal incomes. It has been shown over and over again that without some kind of money reward there is no incentive to undertake certain jobs. On the other hand the money reward need not be very large. In practice it is impossible that earnings should be limited quite as rigidly as I have suggested. There will always be anomalies and evasions. But there is no reason why ten to one should not be the maximum normal variation. And within those limits some sense of equality is possible. A man with £3 a week and a man with £1,500 a year can feel themselves fellow-creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot.

III. Education. In wartime, educational reform must necessarily be promise rather than performance. At the moment we are not in a position to raise the school-leaving age or increase the teaching staffs of the Elementary Schools. But there are certain immediate steps that we could take towards a democratic educational system. We could start by abolishing the autonomy of the public schools and the older universities and flooding them with State-aided pupils chosen simply on grounds of ability. At present, public-school education is partly a training in class prejudice and partly a sort of tax that the middle classes pay to the upper class in return for the right to enter certain professions. It is true that that state of affairs is altering. The middle classes have begun to rebel against the expensiveness of education, and the war will bankrupt the majority of the public schools if it continues for another year or two. The evacuation is also producing certain minor changes. But there is a danger that some of the older schools, which will be able to weather the financial storm longest, will survive in some form or another as festering centres of snobbery. As for the 10,000 “private” schools that England possesses, the vast majority of them deserve nothing except suppression. They are simply commercial undertakings, and in many cases their educational level is actually lower than that of the Elementary Schools. They merely exist because of a widespread idea that there is something disgraceful in being educated by the public authorities. The State could quell this idea by declaring itself responsible for all education, even if at the start this were no more than a gesture. We need gestures, as well as actions. It is all too obvious that our talk of “defending democracy” is nonsense while it is a mere accident of birth that decides whether a gifted child shall or shall not get the education it deserves.

  1. India. What we must offer India is not “freedom”, which, I have said earlier, is impossible, but alliance, partnership – in a word, equality. But we must also tell the Indians that they are free to secede, if they want to. Without that there can be no equality of partnership, and our claim to be defending the coloured peoples against Fascism will never be believed. But it is a mistake to imagine that if the Indians were free to cut themselves adrift they would immediately do so. When a British government offers them unconditional independence, they will refuse it. For as soon as they have the power to secede the chief reasons for doing so will have disappeared.

A complete severance of the two countries would be a disaster for India no less than for England. Intelligent Indians know this. As things are at present, India not only cannot defend itself, it is hardly even capable of feeding itself. The whole administration of the country depends on a framework of experts (engineers, forest officers, railwaymen, soldiers, doctors) who are predominantly English and could not be replaced within five or ten years. Moreover, English is the chief lingua franca and nearly the whole of the Indian intelligentsia is deeply anglicised. Any transference to foreign rule – for if the British marched out of India the Japanese and other powers would immediately march in – would mean an immense dislocation. Neither the Japanese, the Russians, the Germans nor the Italians would be capable of administering India even at the low level of efficiency that is attained by the British. They do not possess the necessary supplies of technical experts or the knowledge of languages and local conditions, and they probably could not win the confidence of indispensable go-betweens such as the Eurasians. If India were simply “liberated”, i.e. deprived of British military protection, the first result would be a fresh foreign conquest, and the second a series of enormous famines which would kill millions of people within a few years.

What India needs is the power to work out its own constitution without British interference, but in some kind of partnership that ensures its military protection and technical advice. This is unthinkable until there is a Socialist government in England. For at least eighty years England has artificially prevented the development of India, partly from fear of trade competition if Indian industries were too highly developed, partly because backward peoples are more easily governed than civilized ones. It is a commonplace that the average Indian suffers far more from his own countrymen than from the British. The petty Indian capitalist exploits the town worker with the utmost ruthlessness, the peasant lives from birth to death in the grip of the moneylender. But all this is an indirect result of the British rule, which aims half-consciously at keeping India as backward as possible. The classes most loyal to Britain are the princes, the landowners and the business community – in general, the reactionary classes who are doing fairly well out of the status quo. The moment that England ceased to stand towards India in the relation of an exploiter, the balance of forces would be altered. No need then for the British to flatter the ridiculous Indian princes, with their gilded elephants and cardboard armies, to prevent the growth of the Indian Trade Unions, to play off Moslem against Hindu, to protect the worthless life of the moneylender, to receive the salaams of toadying minor officials, to prefer the half-barbarous Gurkha to the educated Bengali. Once check that stream of dividends that flows from the bodies of Indian coolies to the banking accounts of old ladies in Cheltenham, and the whole sahib-native nexus, with its haughty ignorance on one side and envy and servility on the other, can come to an end. Englishmen and Indians can work side by side for the development of India, and for the training of Indians in all the arts which, so far, they have been systematically prevented from learning. How many of the existing British personnel in India, commercial or official, would fall in with such an arrangement – which would mean ceasing once and for all to be “sahibs” – is a different question. But, broadly speaking, more is to be hoped from the younger men and from those officials (civil engineers, forestry and agriculture experts, doctors, educationists) who have been scientifically educated. The higher officials, the provincial governors, commissioners, judges, etc., are hopeless; but they are also the most easily replaceable.

That, roughly, is what would be meant by Dominion status if it were offered to India by a Socialist government. It is an offer of partnership on equal terms until such time as the world has ceased to be ruled by bombing planes. But we must add to it the unconditional right to secede. It is the only way of proving that we mean what we say. And what applies to India applies, mutatis mutandis, to Burma, Malaya and most of our African possessions.

V and VI explain themselves. They are the necessary preliminary to any claim that we are fighting this war for the protection of peaceful peoples against Fascist aggression.

Is it impossibly hopeful to think that such a policy as this could get a following in England? A year ago, even six months ago, it would have been, but not now. Moreover – and this is the peculiar opportunity of this moment – it could be given the necessary publicity. There is now a considerable weekly press, with a circulation of millions, which would be ready to popularize – if not exactly the programme I have sketched above, at any rate some policy along those lines. There are even three or four daily papers which would be prepared to give it a sympathetic hearing. That is the distance we have travelled in the last six months.

But is such a policy realizable? That depends entirely on ourselves.

Some of the points I have suggested are of the kind that could be carried out immediately, others would take years or decades and even then would not be perfectly achieved. No political programme is ever carried out in its entirety. But what matters is that that or something like it should be our declared policy. It is always the direction that counts. It is of course quite hopeless to expect the present government to pledge itself to any policy that implies turning this war into a revolutionary war. It is at best a government of compromise, with Churchill riding two horses like a circus acrobat. Before such measures as limitation of incomes become even thinkable, there will have to be complete shift of power away from the old ruling class. If during this winter the war settles into another stagnant period, we ought in my opinion to agitate for a General Election, a thing which the Tory Party machine will make frantic efforts to prevent. But even without an election we can get the government we want, provided that we want it urgently enough. A real shove from below will accomplish it. As to who will be in that government when it comes, I make no guess. I only know that the right men will be there when the people really want them, for it is movements that make leaders and not leaders movements.

Within a year, perhaps even within six months, if we are still unconquered, we shall see the rise of something that has never existed before, a specifically English Socialist movement. Hitherto there has been only the Labour Party, which was the creation of the working class but did not aim at any fundamental change, and Marxism, which was a German theory interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted to England. There was nothing that really touched the heart of the English people. Throughout its entire history the English Socialist movement has never produced a song with a catchy tune – nothing like La Marseillaise or La Cucaracha, for instance. When a Socialist movement native to England appears, the Marxists, like all others with a vested interest in the past, will be its bitter enemies. Inevitably they will denounce it as ‘Fascism’. Already it is customary among the more soft-boiled intellectuals of the Left to declare that if we fight against Nazis we shall “go Nazi” ourselves. They might almost equally well say that if we fight Negroes we shall turn black. To “go Nazi” we should have to have the history of Germany behind us. Nations do not escape from their past merely by making a revolution. An English Socialist government will transform the nation from top to bottom, but it will still bear all over it the unmistakable marks of our own civilization, the peculiar civilization which I discussed earlier in this book.

It will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical. It will abolish the House of Lords, but quite probably will not abolish the Monarchy. It will leave anachronisms and loose ends everywhere, the judge in his ridiculous horsehair wig and the lion and the unicorn on the soldier’s cap-buttons. It will not set up any explicit class dictatorship. It will group itself round the old Labour Party and its mass following will be in the Trade Unions, but it will draw into it most of the middle class and many of the younger sons of the bourgeoisie. Most of its directing brains will come from the new indeterminate class of skilled workers, technical experts, airmen, scientists, architects and journalists, the people who feel at home in the radio and ferro-concrete age. But it will never lose touch with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above the State. It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand, and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as “a Christian country”. The Catholic Church will war against it, but the Nonconformist sects and the bulk of the Anglican Church will be able to come to terms with it. It will show a power of assimilating the past which will shock foreign observers and sometimes make them doubt whether any revolution has happened.

But all the same it will have done the essential thing. It will have nationalized industry, scaled down incomes, set up a classless educational system. Its real nature will be apparent from the hatred which the surviving rich men of the world will feel for it. It will aim not at disintegrating the Empire but at turning it into a federation of Socialist states, freed not so much from the British flag as from the moneylender, the dividend-drawer and the wooden-headed British official. Its war-strategy will be totally different from that of any property-ruled state, because it will not be afraid of the revolutionary after-effects when any existing régime is brought down. It will not have the smallest scruple about attacking hostile neutrals or stirring up native rebellion in enemy colonies. It will fight in such a way that even if it is beaten its memory will be dangerous to the victor, as the memory of the French Revolution was dangerous to Metternich’s Europe. The dictators will fear it as they could not fear the existing British régime, even if its military strength were ten times what it is.

But at this moment, when the drowsy life of England has barely altered, and the offensive contrast of wealth and poverty still exists everywhere, even amid the bombs, why do I dare to say that all these things “will” happen?

Because the time has come when one can predict the future in terms of an “either – or”. Either we turn this war into a revolutionary war (I do not say that our policy will be exactly what I have indicated above – merely that it will be along those general lines) or we lose it, and much more besides. Quite soon it will be possible to say definitely that our feet are set upon one path or the other. But at any rate it is certain that with our present social structure we cannot win. Our real forces, physical, moral or intellectual, cannot be mobilized.

[2] Additional Information:

https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/scientists-just-achieved-a-breakthrough-in-quantum-computing/, https://scitechdaily.com/quantum-breakthrough-researchers-demonstrate-full-control-of-a-three-qubit-system/, https://newsroom.ibm.com/2021-11-16-IBM-Unveils-Breakthrough-127-Qubit-Quantum-Processor

[3] Additional Information:

https://sites.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/teaching/HPS_0410/chapters/quantum_theory_waves/index.html

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-virtual-particles-rea/

https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/july-2009/60-seconds-virtual-particles

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Reviewed by George MacDonald Ross, U. o. (2011). The Limits of Reason in Hobbes’s Commonwealth. Notre Dame Philosphical Reviews. Retrieved from https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/the-limits-of-reason-in-hobbes-s-commonwealth/

(n.d.). Thomas Hobbes. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hobbes/

Wilson, E. E. (2022). Kant and Hume on Morality. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Archive. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2022/entries/kant-hume-morality/

Wolf, A. (n.d.). Fichte and Hegel On The Definition of Concepts. Epoche Philosophy Monthly. Retrieved from https://epochemagazine.org/40/fichte-and-hegel-on-the-definition-of-concepts/

Draw a Point on the Face of Infinity

(First, let me write that this is simply an exercise in what I term ‘musings’ which matters not about truth or falsity but only possibilities; possibilities flame the mind with openness and fuel the passions of many desires.)

Infinity, Descartes tells us, is an idea which overflows itself. It is one of many avenues which free the spirit as musings rooted in music lights up the mind and rouses our passions.

A point in the face of infinity is one of many particularizations of an abstraction. The face, as a boundary imposed on infinity is nevertheless an abstraction which in our case has been conjured up by a point. A point need not be finite, it may also be infinitesimally small which once again rouses the fabric from whence it is made. It demonstrates a circularity in facing us.

Physics as appearance, as what shows itself; what presents itself, utilizes the ‘point’ quite often to concretize abstractions which cannot be seen except in the presentation of another abstraction; the point as facing us in its stark abstraction.

If we make a series of points into an imaginary line and stretch the line through space, we will find that the shortest distance between two points is not a line because time is space and space is time and they are vastly curved by planets, suns, galaxies, and black holes. It makes no sense to speak of a straight line in time-space without lapsing into an imaginary fantasy world, an abstraction. Even a worm hole, if it exists, would be more like a curvy worm writhing time-space into extremely twisted distortions which could hardly be called a straight line. With this in mind let’s say our line is really a small increment on a non-linear abstraction such as a circle or a sphere. What happens when we shrink our circle into smaller and smaller loops? In a recent article called “The Origins of Space and Time” in Scientific America a stark observation is made:

“Natalie Paquette spends her time thinking about how to grow an extra dimension. Start with little circles, scattered across every point in space and time—a curlicue dimension, looped back onto itself. Then shrink those circles down, smaller and smaller, tightening the loop, until a curious transformation occurs: the dimension stops seeming tiny and instead becomes enormous, like when you realize something that looks small and nearby is actually huge and distant. “We’re shrinking a spatial direction,” Paquette says. “But when we try to shrink it past a certain point, a new, large spatial direction emerges instead.”” (Becker, 2022)

The article goes on to state that in two radically different mathematics, one of the extremely small which deals with quantum mechanics called conformal field theory (CFT) and one of the extremely large which deals with gravity called anti-de Sitter (AdS) space, can each equally describe the very large and the very small, gravity and quantum mechanics. AdS has one more dimension in it than CFT. Four dimensional CFT encodes everything in AdS, in five-dimensional space. Two nearby regions of space on the AdS side correspond to two highly entangled quantum components of CFT.

Certainly, as we have mentioned a point can simply revert back to what it always was, an infinitesimal, ideal and not real. However, physics has discovered that infinitesimally small does not rest in infinity in practice but reverts to infinitely large. At some point the singularity, the infinity point, of a black hole may result in a big bang creating time and space, binding into mass and forces of atoms (electro-magnetic, weak and strong force) and gravity which unfold from pure energy into forces which clump as densities and time-space fabrics weighed down by mass, deforming time and space with a force called gravity. In all of this we find a circularity from chaos as massless pure unbound energy, neutrally charged with no attraction or repulsion to anything, simply popping in and out of existence prior to a universe.

Additionally, researchers have note that,

“The researchers’ previous investigation into the early universe replaced the idea of a Big Bang singularity, where the universe emerged from nothing, with the Big Bounce, where the current expanding universe emerged from a super-compressed mass that was created when the universe contracted in its preceding phase. They found that all of the large-scale structures of the universe accounted for by general relativity are equally explained by inflation after this Big Bounce using equations of loop quantum cosmology.

In the new study, the researchers determined that inflation under loop quantum cosmology also resolves two of the major anomalies that appear under general relativity.

“The primordial fluctuations we are talking about occur at the incredibly small Planck scale,” said Brajesh Gupt, a postdoctoral researcher at Penn State at the time of the research and currently at the Texas Advanced Computing Center of the University of Texas at Austin. “A Planck length is about 20 orders of magnitude smaller than the radius of a proton. But corrections to inflation at this unimaginably small scale simultaneously explain two of the anomalies at the largest scales in the universe, in a cosmic tango of the very small and the very large.”” (McCormick, 2020)

Pure energy is unbound energy. It is a cacophony, chaotic and unable to clump together as atoms. Heavier atom nuclei are created in the fusion of the sun. Protons and neutrons are held together in the nucleus by the strong force and are millions of times more bonded together than electrons that are bonded to an atom, especially in the outer shells. Atoms are waves which bind to each other. The Higgs boson is a sub-atomic particle which is responsible for this harmony of wave-like bonds. The atom brings harmony to the world. Quantum mechanics comes from the word quanta which means discrete or digital as opposed to analog which has infinitesimally small ‘points’ which get ever closer together. The nuclei of atoms pull in free electrons from free ranging radiation, unbound energy such as photons and impose structure and order on them in the form of particles or bound energy. The closest cloud shell to the nucleus has a resonant frequency depending on the type of element. All the further shells are octaves of the first shell. Actually, electron particles are described mathematically as standing waves. These standing waves are harmonic octaves of energy ‘shells’ around the nuclei. When an orchestra resolves notes into octaves, we hear the sound as an agreement of sorts. Parmenides saw harmony as a balancing of opposites which gave illumination to the muses, to music. It was pleasing and created form from chaos. In physics we call this phenomenon standing waves.

Standing waves are a moment when waves combine perfectly to create their highest moment or amplitude. Instead of fighting each other the waves unite as a collectivity, a whole moment of their highest goal, culmination or perhaps, telos in Greek thought. This is the discrete octaves of quantum mechanics. The nuclei pull in chaotic radiation and photons to create an electron and an excess amount of energy which is called kinetic or in Aristotle’s terms ‘actual’ energy. The kinetic energy is spent keeping the electron in its quanta shell with angular momentum. The cool thing about an atom is the way it absorbs and radiates energy. When it is bombarded with energetic radiation, to a degree, it maintains its structural nucleus and spends and absorbs energy by binding or releasing electrons and using the energy produced in this creation to fuel its quanta shells. It is important to remember that these bounded electrons and the nuclei itself are waves. Electrons around the nucleus are more like waves in the ocean on a calm day. Atoms can maintain their nature, in Latin terms, without transitioning to another kind of nature, another kind of element. When radiation energy is too high atoms can lose or gain protons and neutrons in radioactive decay called fission or fusion. After this kind of storm of radiation atoms become something other than what they were, they transform to another element, a transposition of a musical key. Chemical bonds called molecules which make up cells are able to withstand a certain amount of abuse before they break down. This is due to the way atoms can absorb or radiate energy without changing their nature. Cells can maintain themselves with a certain amount of abuse before cancer sets in and changes their atomic nature.

What is important to understand in the previous discussion is that chaos, unbound energy, can harmonize, transform chaotic void to form. The atomic, harmonic moment is harmony in and from chaos, unbound radiation and free energy. They can also share electrons with other elements to become molecules, a symphony of octaves. String theory utilizes musical metaphors to capture how multidimensional time-space can bring sub-atomic particles into our universe. Form and order are not absolutes, they are momentary mirages in a desert of chaotic nothingness we call the universe. Form and order are not absolutes. They are a moment of a movement in the orchestration of existence. We are the audience of the music of the gods. We are serenaded by reality. It is our choice if we let the muses move us into the fleeting light or we harden our ears and become deaf to beauty, wonder and awe. Mass is the reality of a harmonic song. It is the clumping of energy into an orchestral symphony of standing waves, of harmonizing unity.

Space/time emerges from chaos. Without the clumping of wave/masses, the speed limit of light may not exist as the fabric of time-space could not emerge. For those of us in the light, we perceive sub-atomic particles of quantum mechanics chaotically existing and not existing since our universe is bound by light thrown through the prism of time-space abstractly at the speed of light in a perfect vacuum. Physics loves to isolate to see what happens to a phenomenon when it is alone and unaffected by externality. The problem is that a perfect vacuum does not exist except as an abstraction like a point. In reality, nothing exists alone, without an externality, at least in our universe. Physicists want to explore in localities. They want a compromise from a perfect vacuum to a delineated region they call a locality. They know that a locality is yet another abstraction because the universe defies localities on smaller and smaller scales. However, to greater or lesser degrees, the abstraction of localities can aid understanding. Macro phenomenon disappears into micro phenomenon which do not seem to care much about the macro and the rules of macro physics as smaller looms larger and larger. As the macro environment disappears into the micro-environment, the macro rules of physics become an abstraction. There is a radical divide between the macro and the micro. On the micro scale, we get Einstein’s, “spooky action at a distance” – entanglement. A particle is yet another abstraction like a point. Phenomena is wave-like. Waves in the ocean are created by gravity undulations. Particles focus the peaks of their waves to greater or lesser degrees. Particles can be thought as culminations or more visible, closely spaced, energy-wise, peaks. Particles are foci of energy waves. However, particles do not exist as some kind of Latin ‘substance’. What is more, these waves seem to be haunted by entanglement.

Entanglement is at the heart of quantum physics and future quantum technologies. Like other aspects of quantum science, the phenomenon of entanglement reveals itself at very tiny, subatomic scales. When two particles, such as a pair of photons or electrons, become entangled, they remain connected even when separated by vast distances. In the same way that a ballet or tango emerges from individual dancers, entanglement arises from the connection between particles. It is what scientists call an emergent property.

Entanglement can also occur among hundreds, millions, and even more particles. The phenomenon is thought to take place throughout nature, among the atoms and molecules in living species and within metals and other materials. When hundreds of particles become entangled, they still act as one unified object. Like a flock of birds, the particles become a whole entity unto itself without being in direct contact with one another. Caltech scientists focus on the study of these so-called many-body entangled systems, both to understand the fundamental physics and to create and develop new quantum technologies. As John Preskill, Caltech’s Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair, and director of the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, says, “We are making investments in and betting on entanglement being one of the most important themes of 21st-century science.” (Article, What Is Entanglement and Why Is It Important?)

Entanglement is not a phenomenon of particles. In quantum mechanics it is a result of a mathematics which takes place in something called Hilbert space. Hilbert space can have infinite dimensions or a minimum of 2 dimensions (called qubits). While mathematics is certainly an abstraction, there is a physical component which would more properly be called waves than particles. Photons are commonly used to observe entanglement. Entanglement binds two waves and even networks, for the merely illustrative example of a tree given below. Entanglement occurs when the quantum wave functions collapse. Does it happen faster than the speed of light? No one knows for sure, but N. Gisin published a paper in 2001 suggesting that the wave function collapse happens somewhere between two-third the speed of light and 1.6 times the speed of light. see (H. Zbinden, 2001)

Whether it is truly instantaneous is still up for debate. However, interesting to note that identical behavior dependent on observation has no dependence on distance. Distance is space and space is time. So, it appears plausible to me that this phenomenon could be pre-emergent to time-space. As I mentioned in a previous post, the block universe tells us that the universe is static and time is emergent. The Wheeler-Dewitt equations predict this. For those of us in the universe it seems quite apparent that time has an arrow, from a past to a future. However, an external observer would see a painting rather than a symphony according to current physicists. Actually, the big bang or big bounce is an emergent theory of the universe. It describes how the three forces, strong, weak and electromagnetic forces evolved from a single force. If quantum gravity is correct, that also would be an emergent force. see (Ekaterina Moreva)

Entanglement appears to be highly volatile to certain types of noisy environments. It can have very short lifespans. It can also have sudden deaths and re-births for unknown reasons. see (A. Kowalewska-Kudlaszyk, 2010)

Entanglement may happen much more often than is commonly believed but so far it has been produced more in laboratory settings where disruptive variables can be controlled. Entanglement appears to defy time-space causal relations. However, the tale of entanglement is much more bizarre than that as this analogy tries to illustrate:

Suppose we have two entangled trees.

From one angle we can see the tree has three branches.

From another angle we can see the tree has four branches.

The entangled trees are on opposite sides of the universe, and no one is looking at them (the quantum wave function has not collapsed which means the trees have both three branches and four branches).

An observer is posted on each side of the universe to watch the trees.

One observer sees the tree has three branches.

Now, the other observer looks at the tree from the same angle as the first observer (the quantum wave function has collapsed).

Both observers see the tree has three branches.

Now, the second observer changes their angle, so the second observer sees four branches (the quantum wave function has not collapsed).

The first observer now has a 50% chance of seeing three branches and a 50% chance of seeing four branches.

However, if the first observer changes their angle of perception to match the second observer’s angle, both observers will see four branches (the quantum wave function has collapsed).

In some mysterious way the connection between the two is dependent on perception. This phenomenon is called uncertainty in quantum physics. Somehow what is entangled involves perception on the part of the observer and memory in the entangled objects. In this way, entanglement embodies memory. This is how quantum computers may be the future of artificial intelligence. Entanglement has been proven to absolutely defy locality. Einstein pushed the idea of locality so far as to hypothesize hidden, perhaps multi-dimensional variables, which were later conclusively disproven. Entangled particles could possibly occur all the time, whenever particle/wave collisions occur creating new particles and new anti-particles.

Entanglement lies at the heart of quantum mechanics, and in recent years has been identified as an essential resource for quantum information processing and computation. The experimentally challenging production of highly entangled multi-particle states is therefore important for investigating both fundamental physics and practical applications. Here we report the creation of highly entangled states of neutral atoms trapped in the periodic potential of an optical lattice. Controlled collisions between individual neighbouring atoms are used to realize an array of quantum gates, with massively parallel operation. We observe a coherent entangling-disentangling evolution in the many-body system, depending on the phase shift acquired during the collision between neighbouring atoms. Such dynamics are indicative of highly entangled many-body states; moreover, these are formed in a single operational step, independent of the size of the system. (Mandel, et al., 2003)

Under certain conditions entangled particles demonstrate non-causal relationships. This alone seriously jeopardizes the metaphysics of a mechanical universe which was prevalent in the 19th century. Physics and philosophy after this period have taken seriously the implications of a non-deterministic universe.

Could it be that everything that has ever happened in the universe from the infinitesimally small to infinitely large has been copied and retained by entanglement? That would be quite a leap from what we know now. However, if entangled particles can survive, the question of where the wandering entangled particle goes when it is created may not be absurd? If entanglement is pre-emergent of time-space, this would imply that entanglement is much more important to the emergence of time-space. And, since entanglement has two fundamental components: the observer and memory, it may be that information is not created and destroyed with the big bang and the heat death of the universe. Some believe, we may exist in a black hole. Could it be that information, even observation and memory, is stored on the boundary, the event horizon of the black hole in the form of ‘hairs’? Physicists have analogized this information as ‘hairs’ on the event horizon of the black hole. Could this be the face of our universe? Others, think of this information as a two-dimensional hologram on the surface of the universe. Could it be that everything that has ever happened, including reactions from our brain neurons to galaxies and worlds has been retained as memory somewhere such that no information is lost by the universe?

In this case, the memory of the universe is the score of the symphony. A score is static as a painting but why keep a score if there is no repeat performance? Form as the Greeks thought it has been meticulously recorded so that perhaps it will yet find another performance. There may be a reason the universe remembers but perhaps we will not be in the audience next time it is performed. Or perhaps, we will become better listeners next time. In any case, we certainly see a circularity in whatever reality is, not only in terms of creation and destruction, large and small, wave and particle but also in terms of temperature. We have the tendency to think in terms of linearity which inevitably brings on such questions as, what is outside the edge, the face of the universe? What is after this life? What was before the big bang? Linearity has evolved into metaphysics – the haunting question of how is nothing possible? If nothingness is impossible there must be a God. If nothingness is possible, it must be regardless of its perceived impossibility. All of these questions are spawned by the foreboding question of nothingness pro and con. Is nothingness spawned by the perception of linearity?

Linearity is the standing wave of our existence. It is the moment when the universe gathers itself, rouses itself, from the slumber of chaos and declares, “I am that I am” or tat tvam asi (Buddhism: thou art that; the union of Atman (individual, self, soul) and Brahman (universal consciousness, Absolute) as plurality/one, wave/particle uncertainty(?)…). Whatever we call reality, it is not an unchanging permeance otherwise it would be mechanical, the dead metaphysics of mechanism. The beauty of existence is the standing moment of harmony and unity which does not have to be, given the wave nature of reality arising out of pure energy, chaotic energy and yet, nevertheless, is. So, what about temperature? How is temperature non-linear in this sense? We think absolute zero Kelvin is the end of the temperature scale and some unknown large temperature is the high end of temperature. What if that is also circular?

A new study finds that there is a ‘negative’ to absolute zero Kelvin. Temperature is not fundamentally a measure of cold and hot, but it is really a measure of less or more active energy. While energy does have a zero point we think as absolute zero, the study shows that this is not the end of the story. At absolute zero all motion freezes, it stops – just as at the speed of light nothing can change, grow old and die, since time stops. The study shows that in a laboratory situation when temperature is zero and energy is motionless, change is possible in the ‘negative Kelvin direction’. The team pushed further in a highly controlled laboratory experiment to show results of high energetic activity after crossing the Kelvin zero point into the ‘negative’ domain. In our universe, we started out with a high level of pure energy in the big bang. However, with entropy, that higher level of energy gets ‘colder and colder’, more and more entropy, and the energy clumping level goes down until, in the heat death of the universe, the universe reaches absolute zero in which no change can occur. At this point there is no change just as when time stops at the speed of light. What the new experiment showed is that when pushed past zero into ‘negativity’ we get an immediate burst of high energy. As we push further into negativity the energy calms down.

On the absolute temperature scale, which is used by physicists and is also called the Kelvin scale, it is not possible to go below zero – at least not in the sense of getting colder than zero kelvin. According to the physical meaning of temperature, the temperature of a gas is determined by the chaotic movement of its particles – the colder the gas, the slower the particles. At zero kelvin (minus 273 degrees Celsius) the particles stop moving and all disorder disappears. Thus, nothing can be colder than absolute zero on the Kelvin scale. Physicists have now created an atomic gas in the laboratory that nonetheless has negative Kelvin values. These negative absolute temperatures have several apparently absurd consequences: although the atoms in the gas attract each other and give rise to a negative pressure, the gas does not collapse – a behavior that is also postulated for dark energy in cosmology.

According to the physical meaning of temperature, the temperature of a gas is determined by the chaotic movement of its particles – the colder the gas, the slower the particles. At zero kelvin (minus 273 degrees Celsius) the particles stop moving and all disorder disappears. Thus, nothing can be colder than absolute zero on the Kelvin scale. Physicists at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching have now created an atomic gas in the laboratory that nonetheless has negative Kelvin values. These negative absolute temperatures have several apparently absurd consequences: although the atoms in the gas attract each other and give rise to a negative pressure, the gas does not collapse – a behaviour that is also postulated for dark energy in cosmology. Supposedly impossible heat engines such as a combustion engine with a thermodynamic efficiency of over 100% can also be realised with the help of negative absolute temperatures.

 “The inverted Boltzmann distribution is the hallmark of negative absolute temperature; and this is what we have achieved,” says Ulrich Schneider. “Yet the gas is not colder than zero kelvin, but hotter,” as the physicist explains: “It is even hotter than at any positive temperature – the temperature scale simply does not end at infinity, but jumps to negative values instead.”

The achievement of the Munich physicists could additionally be interesting for cosmology, since the thermodynamic behaviour of negative temperature exhibits parallels to so-called dark energy. Cosmologists postulate dark energy as the elusive force that accelerates the expansion of the universe, although the cosmos should in fact contract because of the gravitational attraction between all masses. There is a similar phenomenon in the atomic cloud in the Munich laboratory: the experiment relies upon the fact that the atoms in the gas do not repel each other as in a usual gas, but instead interact attractively. This means that the atoms exert a negative instead of a positive pressure. As a consequence, the atom cloud wants to contract and should really collapse – just as would be expected for the universe under the effect of gravity. But because of its negative temperature this does not happen. The gas is saved from collapse just like the universe.” (S. Braun, 2013)

Doesn’t this remind us intuitively of anti-particles, dark matter, dark energy and even the singularity, the zero point of a black hole? We know that the universe is expanding and will eventually result in the heat death of the universe but is heat death the end like absolute zero? What happens when energy is frozen and motionless? Does it linearly stay that way forever? That would be impossible since time, or change, is no more as we also think occurs at the speed of light, how can we call that zero point an instant, a moment of time, since time-space is no more?

What is more, in 2005 a study was published, “Influence of quantum entanglement on quantum tunnelling between two atomic Bose-Einstein condensates [rapid communication]” (Zeng & Kuang, 2005), which showed that close to zero degrees Kelvin atoms are in a highly coherent state. This means they are stable, and all occupy the same position in space. When they separated these atoms into two clouds, they found that the two clouds were entangled and remained entangled. This generated much excitement from quantum computing research.

Quantum tunneling is essential to fusion. It is an odd phenomenon that allows electrons to move through potential energy barriers which would normally offer a high degree of difficulty for the electron waves to penetrate. It is based on the quantum wave function which, like the tree branch example, utilizes uncertainty to perform a totally different kind of computation than our current digital technology allows. Our brains work like quantum computers. We can recognize images and make associations faster because we can deal with probabilities without have to perform very complex matrix operations in a more serial, linear, operation which can only use zeros and ones. Quantum computing allows much faster computational rates than our current computers. This is because the technology is much smaller than our current computing technology. It is also able to perform calculations in multi-dimensional, matrix operations. The matrix operations are highly scalable so more complex matrixes simply use more qubits. A qubit is a quantum bit. It can be in a state of 0 or 1 or both 0 and 1, like the tree branch example. This allows it to compute complex probability equations much faster using quantum transistors.

When researchers were able to couple quantum tunnelling with quantum entanglement at near zero degrees Kelvin, they found that this increased the possibilities for quantum computing exponentially from mere quantum tunneling. Article, (A quantum entanglement between two physically separated ultra-cold atomic clouds, 2018) If true, artificial intelligence is possible, it would have to be based on this technology. I was a skeptic for a long time because it seemed that for a time, artificial intelligence was really a marketing spin on expert systems. However, with quantum computing we are most likely employing the same ‘technology’ that our brains use AND that technology has the capacity to far out ‘think’ our brains. See (Article, What is a qubit?), (Article, Quantum tunnelling), (Article, What Is Entanglement and Why Is It Important?)

If intelligence is endemic to the universe as I believe, then, while it burns my fingers to type this, could it be that close to plus zero degrees Kelvin we have some indication that there is a capacity for a ‘brain’ that would make our brains look like a piece of wood? Okay, I know that sounds nutty, and likely is nutty, but not as nutty as certain politics these days (equivocations for fun). However, why have an ultra-mega-supercomputer if it is not used? While some may call this the mind of God. I would simply say that it is mind or as Plato would say, the form of which we only perceive shadows. However, these shadows are not copies of some absolute. They/we participate in the first moments (which are not anything like our time-space moments) of creation and destruction just as entanglement, likely is pre-emergent from, and gives rise to, time-space. My only redemption in thinking this is that, unlike a new-ager, I have no problem being wrong as I am merely musing.

We know that pure energy has massless, and even neutrally charged moments of pure, unbound energy in which sub-atomic, particle/waves pop in and out of existence, perhaps below and above the speed limit of light or somehow still ‘are’ that zero point where time-space has not yet emerged. Is this how we can see such artifacts of pre-emergent time/space as entanglement? I think of Shunyata in Buddhism which has been translated as emptiness, but I think of it more as Aperion in classic Greek which is more closely translated as the fertile void. There is nothing to constrain pure energy to be in this universe. Additionally, we know there are darker and colder spots in the current universe from the background heat radiation of the big bang, perhaps the fingerprint of God? Could these dark spots indicate the transition from absolute zero to negative Kelvin still at work in our universe? – before the fabric of space and time, pre-light, when light was anti-light, matter was anti-matter, energy was dark, mass was dark. Is our universe still a composite of this pre-time and its other? Could it be that when a black hole breaks reality down into a singularity it reaches a zero point where nothing is bound, nothing can move, time cannot exist and, therefore, -we can relieve ourselves of the impossible idea that more and more stuff can be crammed into nothingness and still retaining its linear, ‘stuff-ness’. Perhaps a black hole is the transition from,

stuff => no-stuff => anti-stuff => repeat

or from,

universe => heat death of the universe => zero point => immense stuff => repeat

in the opening moments of another big bang. In this case, creation and destruction are bookmarked by zero points where negative Kelvin, the speed of light, marks the transition from,

universe of high energy dying in entropy => the nothingness of zero, motionless, changeless, timeless => high energy, anti-universe (noteworthy that anti-universe would be indistinguishable from our universe or universes) => anti-entropy, increasingly lower energy => once again the zero point => beginning all over again.

If the speed of light is the limit of time and zero degrees Kelvin is the limit of space, then time-space is emergent from this limit. The limit is both the end and the beginning of time-space. Additionally, traces of another time-space an anti-time-space are still with us as dark energy, dark matter, anti-matter.

Could it be <time-space> and <speed of light-zero degrees Kelvin> are cousins of someone who plays dice with the universe?

All of this is shrouded in the wave of uncertainty and anti-matter. Anti-particles are created every time a particle is created. Anti-matter has been created ever since the big bang. Anti-matter annihilates matter but due the Higgs boson matter wins out in our universe. Could it be the opposite in the anti-universe?

The energy of the Big Bang can be converted into particles with mass, via E = mc². However, this conversion happens only in a particular way: every time a particle of matter is created, along with it an associated particle of anti-matter must also be created. That is, when an electron is created from energy, an anti-electron (positron) is also created; when a proton is created, so is an anti-proton, and so on. Each anti-particle has exactly the same properties as its ordinary matter counterpart: exactly the same mass, the same size of electric charge (but of opposite sign). To turn mass back into energy, one matter and an equivalent antimatter particle must annihilate each other. (Article, Prof. David DeMille awarded Cottrell Plus SEED award, 2021)

In physics, the Copenhagen interpretation of physics tells us that uncertainty is a real as anything else we call reality. It agrees that uncertainty is reality. It also agrees that the looming questions of anti-reality and uncertainty, should be ignored in so far as it does not produce any real results.

So, pragmatism should win out over unanswerable questions. Yet, uncertainty is the basis of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics makes probability guesses about energies and wave/particles. It does so highly accurately which is why we talk about technology, computers and quantum computers (the next evolution of computers). However, what the Copenhagen agreement agrees to ignore might be exactly why we cannot reconcile the macro and the micro, gravity and the three forces (strong force, weak force, electromagnetic force). Are we still looking for a linear-like mechanism, a ‘pragmatism of uncertainty’ (oxymoron or Zen Koan) which cannot be found in nature or mathematics? Uncertainty is real and usable in physics to a high degree, but the implications may go much further than practicality will allow. Pure energy as motionless, timeless, changeless, the architype of zero, is but a moment when moments are impossible so we call that eternity; may as well ‘be’ – if ‘be’ here is thought for lack of better word. I see this as a type of nexus where philosophy and physics need to come back together to complete themselves in a way which cannot be accomplished separately, linearly/mechanically/causally/deterministically/absolutely. The two are at least on speaking terms after the great divorce of the Royal Society and the transmutation of alchemy. Further back still we have the possibilities all laid out in astonishing detail from the pre-Socratics of Anaximander and Heraclitus to Parmenides who is told by the goddess:

TRUTH

Come, I shall tell you, and do you listen and convey the story,
What routes of inquiry alone there are for thinking:
The one- that (it) is, and that (it) cannot be,
Is the path of Persuasion (for it attends upon truth);
The other- that (it) is not and that (it) needs must not be,
That I point out to you to be a path wholly unlearnable,
For you could not know what-is-not (for that is not feasible),
Nor could you point it out.
(areopagite, 202)

If the universe requires observers, listeners of the muses, we must not think that this means Homo sapiens. Beauty, wonder and awe can lapse into mechanics, mere causality and determinism. In this case, the death of music has become the static death of possibility. All is mere repetition, simulacra and simulation. If we choose the path of appreciative observation, do we end as Aristotle did in Nicomachean Ethics and the later revised Eudemian Ethics? -On happiness and virtue? Would this be the telos, the culmination of a life well lived? – the best observer and participatory engagement with the universal muses? Mechanics speaks of self-engagement. Mechanics does not require an other to itself. It merely needs to fulfill its cog-like function. Externality is abandoned in favor of isolated function. Does the universe spring forth the other as a face to be recognized? Is recognition purely pragmatic where any excess is mere interaction as language games, is accounted for as superfluous, mere whim, simply an all too human fabrication? If so, why is there something rather than nothing? A cog in a machine needs to know nothing, it simply functions until it doesn’t. Does the universe bring forth form and order from chaos so it cannot be recognized beyond function? Why do we reflect and observe infinites and uncertainties which astound and confound us? How far can we let the face of the other be more than ships passing in the night, quarks popping in and out of existence? Is recognition and participation as a possibility built into the universe, into the other, which sparks and invites recognition, responsibility and ethics? I will explore these topics in a later post.

References

A.Kowalewska-Kudlaszyk, W. L. (2010). Sudden death of entanglement and its rebirth in a system of two nonlinear oscillators. Physica Scripta, 2010, 014051. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Sudden-death-of-entanglement-and-its-rebirth-in-a-Kowalewska-Kudlaszyk-Leo%C5%84ski/c3ce044260abfa80d3d4288abb75ba6e58b45f83

areopagite, a. d. (202, November 18). Commentary on Parmenides’s On Nature. Retrieved from https://dionysiosareopagite.substack.com/p/commentary-on-parmenidess-on-nature

Article. (2018, May 16). A quantum entanglement between two physically separated ultra-cold atomic clouds. University of the Basque Country. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180516102307.htm

Article. (2021, September 16). Prof. David DeMille awarded Cottrell Plus SEED award. Retrieved from https://physicalsciences.uchicago.edu/news/article/prof-david-demille-awarded-cottrell-plus-seed-award/#:~:text=However%2C%20this%20conversion%20happens%20only%20in%20a%20particular,created%2C%20so%20is%20an%20anti-proton%2C%20and%20so%20on.

Article. (n.d.). Quantum tunnelling. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_tunnelling#:~:text=A%20European%20research%20project%20demonstrated,by%20up%20to%20100%C3%97.

Article. (n.d.). What is a qubit? Retrieved from https://www.quantum-inspire.com/kbase/what-is-a-qubit/

Article. (n.d.). What Is Entanglement and Why Is It Important? Retrieved from https://scienceexchange.caltech.edu/topics/quantum-science-explained/entanglement

Becker, A. (2022, February). What Is Spacetime Really Made Of? SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-spacetime-really-made-of/

Does quantum entanglement allow information to travel faster than light? (2011, June 21). Retrieved from https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/does-quantum-entanglement-allow-information-to-travel-faster-than-light.508536/page-4

Ekaterina Moreva, G. B. (n.d.). Time from quantum entanglement: an experimental illustration. Journal of Physics(Phys. Rev. A 89, 052122 (2014)). Retrieved from https://arxiv.org/abs/1310.4691

H. Zbinden, J. B. (2001). Experimental Test of Relativistic Quantum State Collapse with Moving Reference Frames. Journal of Physics A, 34(35). Retrieved from https://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0002031

Hajjar, A. J. (2021, April 11). Quantum Entanglement: What it is & Why it is important in 2022. Quantum Computing. Retrieved from https://research.aimultiple.com/quantum-computing-entanglement/

Mandel, O., Greiner, M., Widera, A., Rom, T., Hänsch, T. W., & Bloch, I. (2003, October). Controlled collisions for multi-particle entanglement of optically trapped atoms. Retrieved from https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2003Natur.425..937M/abstract

McCormick, G. (2020, July 29). Cosmic tango between the very small and the very large. Retrieved from https://science.psu.edu/news/Ashtekar7-2020

S. Braun, J. P. (2013). Negative Absolute Temperature for Motional Degrees of Freedom. 339 (6115): 52 DOI: 10.1126/science.1227831. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130104143516.htm

Zeng, A.-H., & Kuang, L.-M. (2005, May). Influence of quantum entanglement on quantum tunnelling between two atomic Bose-Einstein condensates [rapid communication]. Physics Letters A, Volume 338(Issue 3-5), p. 323-331. doi:10.1016/j.physleta.2005.03.002. Retrieved from https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2005PhLA..338..323Z/abstract

Musings on Time and the Other

Generally unbeknownst to many, language and history have given us cliff notes versions of temporality. Assumptions given in this fashion can and does become absolutizing even, ‘self-evident’ and innate. Can we think perhaps, in some sense, apriori analytic judgements in Kant’s vernacular. They may even reproduce themselves in the lexicon of logic. However, as Einstein and Husserl demonstrated in great detail, time is not static. The sense of temporality as static, sensed presence or reality is what Husserl calls Präsenzzeit. It is a historical derivation we deem as common sense or ‘reality’. In everyday life we assume clock time is absolute. In this notion, physics and lived-life proceed from a universal, clock machine. Time is neatly divided in linear ‘now’ moments which uniformly proceed from a past to a present to a future. It turns out that in the early 20th century, this notion was uniformly dismissed as ‘real’ or accurate in physics and philosophy.

To start with, there is never a time which exists apart from our bodily sensation of time. The idealization of time as a uniform ‘reality’ is not a reality of physics but a reality of a specific history. This particular history can be traced all the way back to the classic Greek notion of nun or presence as the now moment which was a moving image of eternity. For the Greeks, eternity was not thought as we think of it as endless time but, curious enough, more like current physics which thinks the speed of light where nothing changes or as Aristotle tells us eternity never moves or changes as the unmoved mover (ὃ οὐ κινούμενον κινεῖ, or more colorfully: ho ou kinoúmenon kineî, literally ’that which moves without being moved’). An abstraction distorts and mis-represents reality as something which it is not. As lived experience no one has ever experienced time as an abstract notion of presence which is a moving image of the changeless; more widely thought as a linear now-moments in the idea of clock time (a historic, mechanical notion of the flux of time).

Furthermore, time is not uniform but widely stratified and layered in our experience of it. Our bodies have a dynamic stretch of temporality as we age, we become ill, have varying health conditions. Our experience of time also varies with mood such as anxiety or excitement. We tend to psychologize these notions away as some aberration of time in order to protect the sanctity of our historic idealization of temporality. We also may rationalize our idealization as ‘scientific’, but the fact is that this notion of time has to do with Newton and classic physics, absolute time and space, which finally met its end in Einstein. Did you know that you age more on top a mountain than in a valley because of the mass of the earth? Also, moving faster relative to another frame of reference causes you to age slower. Each one of us has an absolutely unique but measurable space-time bubble which enshrouds us our entire lifetime. We are also comingled with other temporalities such as geological, relativity of space-time in frames of perspective, and even biological in all the varying biology of our bodies – cells dying and being replaced, youth, middle age, old age all mark epochs in out biological time. We also experience the time of the other which intervenes and interrupts in our deliberations and moods – our temporalized affects. Have you ever experienced a disruption of your dismal mood when your friend showed up?

All of space-time is tossed by turbulent collisions of massive black holes resulting in cacophonous distortions of space-time, silently playing through being, our being, in spatial-temporal variations. Variations where awareness remains oblivious except for the proprioceptive stretch of time over epochs (movements) of lived-life. Since time and space are the same phenomenon, can we assume just as space can be traversed in many directions so can time? Worm holes in space would be ‘time machines’ which would alter space temporally to allow vast distances to be traveled in vastly shorter amounts of time. Nothing could ever be seen as entering a block hole as time would stop, from our perception, at the event horizon but not from the perspective of the object entering it. Physics tells us that at the accretion disk of a black hole time and space are so radically twisted that the chronology we expect from a past to a future, cause and effect, would be so radically jumbled such that time events would be more like an unassembled puzzle without what we would think as continuity. It would even be possible to leave a place before you entered it. Furthermore, at the singularity of a black hole, all motion and change would cease reminding us of Aristotle’s unmoved mover.

In Quantamagazine, Dan Falk tells us,

Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric — that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now” — a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe” — a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion. (Falk)

The standard acceptance of the block universe understands reality as static. Time as flowing through now-moments is a ‘metal construct’ or, for the purposes of this post, perhaps we can think of a shared historic narrative of a particularly occidental text taken as ‘reality’. The block universe are referential frames which have no implied priorities as that would imply a kind of mystic frame overlayed on vastly different temporal-spatial regionalities. In effect, the block universe denies any such thing as a ‘now’. It is deterministic and denies any absolute construction of cause and effect.

Of course, there are competing and contrarian proponents of such a deterministic reality. Entropy has been employed as a linear, deterministic temporalization to support a progression of time. One physicist I find interesting is George Ellis who advocates an evolving block universe (EBU). In such a scheme the boundary conditions of a block-universe can be thought as a surface where the “the indefiniteness of the future changes to the definiteness of the past”. So, the present can be thought as this surface boundary which expands the universe itself into an indeterminate future. So, while all the temporal cards can be shuffled in any temporal fashion the cards themselves can be increased by the uncertainty of quantum mechanics, specifically Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. In this way he attempts to unite quantum mechanics and relativity. Note that this whole debate has nothing to do with psychological perceptions or subjective perspectives but empirical observations on the nature of reality. This further exemplifies why the absolute space and time of Newton, the dualism of Kants noumena (thing-in-itself), and the startling ramifications of relativity can no longer be thought in abstract terms such as subject/object, mind/body, spirit/matter, and even nature/nurture. Those distinctions coinciding with physics in the 20th century naively deny philosophical confluences perhaps starting in Kant through Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and postmodern thinkers who make such implacable boundaries something other than self-evident.

The evolving spatial-temporal truths of radically, heterogenous philosophical realities in our era have little to do with the history of substance and things, whether in-themselves or not, but more to do with multifarious, intimately interactive, flows through and in us as music.

Gravitational waves from the big bang are still surging space-time, swelling with undulating crescendos to monster fortissimo receding into quiescent, glistening, pianissimo of space-time. Reality seems to engage us as song where both listener and listened dance together as emergent reciprocity which can not be one or the other but co-determined and determining in the dance of spirits. The voices of our musical dance have more to with what has largely been in lost in modern languages. However, ancient languages all over the world including ancient Greece had what linguists and, my friend Dr. Wendell, Kisner call the middle-voice.

Space and time are not static but widely stratified on many different levels. It is more like a silent symphony where there are many parts all playing simultaneously from which we draw a ‘whole of meaning’, as sense of uniformity in the movement of widely varying harmonies and melodies. The meaning we draw from the symphony makes it something other than pure random noise. We find ourselves drawn to the flow of its movements. Movements in a symphony have a stretch of quality not just tempo. It is wide ranging from ecstatic to depressing. We draw meaning from this incalculable variety. In the same way, time and space is the movement of meaning for living humans. We draw from its deep wells. These wells are called history and language. We did not create these wells. They are not merely subjective as if to imply they are extraneous or the product of an imagined hermetically sealed self we think as ‘I’. And, as Nietzsche, prophesied, be careful, “If you stare too long into the abyss, then it stares back at you.” The void can no longer remain cacophonous but bows to the determinations you bring to it and the ones it brings to you as moments which you create and are created by.

We should give place to our capacity for history and language as an incredible but widely varying diversity from which meaning and themes can be derived. These phenomena filter the radical alterities which we are into uniformities which separate musicality from mere noise or more precisely make impossible diversities into capabilities for actions and movements. However, the danger of this marvelous ability which we are is to think of them in terms of self-authorship, homogenous origin, absolute knowledge and thus: power.

Reality as such is a wonderous idea which overflows itself and, in this way, reminds us of minuets which long for more in their entrancements. We are not authors of reality. Reality is not homogenous. It has no home or origin in which it resides as eternity or God. It is without origin and in this sense chaotic. However, we draw meaning from what we name reality as we do from music. Language and history and have no single author. Their authors have long since passed into the uniformity of words and ideas. Even the Hebrew God tells us after the fall that “now man has become like one of US”.

Reality is historic shorthand for the absolute other as it pervades me and my assumed ownership of it. In this sense we are creators of the meaning we derive from it and what it endows with us. However, when we artificially try to impose universal meaning to reality, we position ourselves in opposition to it. Reality again and again wants to refresh us with its own refrain in our entrancement with it. Likewise, the other – our wife, a stranger, a child interrupts our linguistic monologue. We hear another song from the other which, with a still small voice, asks us to listen, to take note, to give place to another moment, another movement. When we move with what moves us, we dance with the gods and take leave of static abode which promises security but only delivers perpetual demise in reduction, stagnation and meaningless repetition and death. The muses invite us to sing in the symphonic voices of others which have no relation to animate and inanimate but a necromancy which our many deaths fail to author, own, or extinguish.

Further reading…

References

Aylesworth, G. (n.d.). Postmodernism. (E. N. Zalta, Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/postmodernism/

DiSalle, R. (n.d.). Space and Time: Inertial Frames. (E. N. (ed.), Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2020/entries/spacetime-iframes/

Ellis, G. F. (2005). PHYSICS AND THE REAL WORLD. Physic Today. Retrieved from http://www.mth.uct.ac.za/sites/default/files/image_tool/images/32/Staff/Emeritus_Professors/Prof_George_Ellis/Overview/realworld.pdf

Falk, D. (n.d.). A Debate Over the Physics of Time. Quantamagazine. Retrieved from https://www.quantamagazine.org/a-debate-over-the-physics-of-time-20160719/

Hilgevoord, J. a. (n.d.). The Uncertainty Principle. (E. N. Zalta, Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/qt-uncertainty/

 

Maslow, Law & Grace, Reactionary & Revolutionary

Figure 1 – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow captured a moment in human evolution which, in the Enlightenment tradition, summed up the need for meaning from an individual perspective. What is perhaps understated to some degree by his model is that the Latin idea of nātūra (nature) and the more radical Greek notion of φύσις, εως, ἡ (phusis, physics) was our tutor and guardian. The dance of environment and individual conspired together to bring us to the next stage of human evolution. Basic needs demanded and required, upon the pain of death, obedience. The height of individualism was addressing the need for human meaning and personal fulfillment. Just as human individuality, from the physics of space-time, essentially entails ‘from a past’, ‘in a present’, and ‘to a future’ so meaning is derived from origin, to presence, and toward telos, a goal or culmination. In Aristotelian terms,

In Metaphysics Α.1, Aristotle says that “everyone takes what is called ‘wisdom’ (sophia) to be concerned with the primary causes (aitia) and the starting-points (or principles, archai).” (Cohen, 2020)

Furthermore, Aristotle writes of dunamis (potentiality) and entelecheia (actuality) or energeia (activity),

Since Aristotle gives form priority over matter, we would expect him similarly to give actuality priority over potentiality. And that is exactly what we find (Θ.8, 1049b4–5). Aristotle distinguishes between priority in logos (account or definition), in time, and in substance. (1) Actuality is prior in logos since we must cite the actuality when we give an account of its corresponding potentiality. Thus, ‘visible’ means ‘capable of being seen’; ‘buildable’ means ‘capable of being built'(1049b14–16). (2) As regards temporal priority, by contrast, potentiality may well seem to be prior to actuality, since the wood precedes the table that is built from it, and the acorn precedes the oak that it grows into. Nevertheless, Aristotle finds that even temporally there is a sense in which actuality is prior to potentiality: “the active that is the same in form, though not in number [with a potentially existing thing], is prior [to it]” (1049b18–19). A particular acorn is, of course, temporally prior to the particular oak tree that it grows into, but it is preceded in time by the actual oak tree that produced it, with which it is identical in species. The seed (potential substance) must have been preceded by an adult (actual substance). So in this sense actuality is prior even in time. which it is identical in species. The seed (potential substance) must have been preceded by an adult (actual substance). So in this sense actuality is prior even in time[1]. (Cohen, 2020)

From Aristotle’s perspective human individuality is not self-identical but essentially interwoven in phusis. Actuality and potentiality are both fundamentally constituent of reality[2]. From the Latin world and Roman Christianity, the individual emerges predominately in the landscape of phusis. This brings us to law and grace.

The law, as what Christianity deems the ‘Old Testament’, was a tutor and guardian until grace, what Christianity deems the ‘New Testament’, would transform the individual in the same way Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs transformed needs. Needs in the fight for survival was unforgiving and ruthless to offenders. Transformations to psychological needs and to higher needs of self-fulfillment also resulted in a kind of reprieve from more basic needs. While Judaic laws required, upon pain of death in certain instances, obedience; grace writes the law in the heart. So, for grace the law is no longer fundamentally wed to phusis but becomes a kind of phusis unto itself in its transformation. This is how individuality emerges from phusis.

Underlying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the background of phusis. The individual finds meaning by moving from the law to grace, from mere survival to self-fulfillment, self-determination but cannot end in the laws of individuality but move on to the contextual, potentiality, which is determinate of the metaphysic of individuality. This movement is dependent upon fulfilling the earlier requirements of biological dependence on phusis. However, the individual has the potential to transform itself to a higher level of meaning and purpose than mere servitude to phusis and the truncation of contextuality into actuality.

Capitalism is the economic expression of individualism. Capitalism holds the stick of phusis but also raises the carrot of higher individual potentiality. However, it proposes not a grace of human individuality in which the individual attains a transformation of meaning but a domination of phusis. By conquering the slavery of mere survival, ideally, we can put phusis into the position of bondage and subjugation to affluent needlessness. In this then, we find the Error of the illusion of power and the reality of phusis. In Karl Marx’ terms the problem of capitalism is the creation of artificial needs, otherwise called marketing. We must have the next smart phone. In this sense, meaning is accomplished by the myth of Sisyphus. In cheating phusis Sisyphus was forever condemned to push a rock up a hill only to have it roll down once again. The promise of capitalism could never deliver us from phusis but could only forever require our aspirations which, for most, was doomed to fail. Even the most successful capitalist must give way to phusis in death. Furthermore, conquering phusis turns out to merely produce climate change and not the end of phusis but the end of humanity – eternal death of human.

This is how individualism has played itself out through history. However, another marginalized narrative has also held the potentiality of grace through cooperation with phusis. Cooperation does not spring forth from absolute individualism but from collectivity and responsibility. Human meaning is not obtained through the desperations of individualism but through the graces of maturity. Maturity recognizes our dependence upon phusis and each other. We no longer actualize the dynamics of power and subjugation built into the metaphysics of individualism but allow, make way, for the gift of the other; the other as phusis and as the he or she we face. When we give way to the other, we take responsibility for our obligation, our indebtedness to what we are not. We integrate and harmonize, make peace, with reality instead of a pitched battle with it. We no longer blame the other for our lack of power but take hold of our responsibility to the cry of the other. This does not take us back to manufactured needs of self-justification in the form of individual merit.

The bourgeoisie labor in self-adoring-adorning will imputing their metaphysic of failed individualism upon the proletariat. They absolve themselves of responsibility to the higher call of action in care. Democracy is based in a call higher than the metaphysics of individualism can understand. It places political responsibility on the individual to respond to the call of collectivity and the other. By the ‘other’ I mean phusis and the he or she. As long as we lapse into individualism, we absolve ourselves of the phenomenological reality of language.

Language is not private and individual. Language is not something we manufacture for the purpose of creating artificial needs which enrich its producers. Language is an archeology, an origin which we did not create, which preceded us from those we never knew. It is not merely a tool but a history-scape which informs us before we become cognitively aware of it. Self-realization cannot happen without others who have long since receded into language’s background. Even as eyes and ears are filters which let us make sense of the world, language functions as filters we call ‘reality’ in which ‘I’ as an individual never created or became the origin of. In this way, we are ‘individuals’. We name ourselves and bestow on ourselves the title of identity as if we were some kind of self-unification. Insanity is what we call those who have a private language and found identity upon it.

Democracy requires a perspective and a horizon in which each individual has place. ‘Place’ here is not a badge of individual merit. It is bestowed from how we actually are. We are bound and indebted to the other, to phusis, to any such thing which we call reality. While this can be denied in favor of autocracy, whether individual or political, it is ultimately self-defeating as it vaults the individual to heights which can only be maintained by the very opposite phenomenon it employs to create its artificial, virtual reality. It uses language to deny how language is, how it emerges from an exteriority which cannot be solipsistic. The eternal recurrence of the same in linguistic filters are fabricated to protect and destroy the myth of power. The endless repetition of simulacra and re-simulation are doomed from within because they cannot hear the still small voice of phusis. They can only result in the rise and demise of civilization and our environment. This is where reactionary and revolution find relevance.

Reactionary is a throw back to a fabricated past the never was. It is the wild west of individualism. There never was a John Wayne of individualism. It was created, manufactured, re-produced to protect the few violently. However, there is no evil genius here. Rather, it is a result of a linguistic history which advocates against itself. The heroic defies reality in favor of its own phantasma of who it is. It creates a past in which it is its own origin. It is self-caused. It is the creator of heroic and horror-ic values. It is the law in the garb of self-identity.

The Judaic law was given by God not man, but the new version of the law is the created simulacra of man, of a history which wishes to be but cannot be. Reactionaryism can only produce the reality of Sisyphus, an eternal recurrence of the same, reproduction of something that never was. It is wish-fulfillment which attempts to renew itself in itself and by itself. Revolution welcomes the new but all to often fails in the linguistic sanctums of power.

Revolution, as the new which never was, looks toward a future which has never been but is all too often doomed by its self-sufficiency in the phantasms of language which pull it back into the gravitational orbit of self-identity. Just as the revolutionary idea of democracy has lapsed in the United States back into the reactionary simulations of authoritarianism, revolution cannot succeed if it utilizes tools from our linguistic past which were devised to protect the illusion of power. What we need is to re-think language in terms of phusis. Our situatedness in history and phusis is not as masters of power but fundamentally dependent upon that which is not-me. Revolution can only find a higher transformation when it lets the ghost of power and absolute individualism fall into the dust bin of failed, phantasmas of a past that can never be. We must find an ethics which is participatory and essential to the responsibility towards the other. As human we are all part of a pluralistic, heterogenous reality-scape which offers many abodes that can never be commensurate.

Those that revel in power and self-identity have fashioned for themselves a simulacra, a golden calf, which can only be repeated in reactionary violence. The cry of the other, the suffering of the other. The relegation of oppression and self-absorbed denial of who we are and not who we imagine the ‘they’ are is the revolution which will usher in a transformation with ourselves and our environment. Transformation from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Individual Needs must give up the ghost of labor which can only toil in eternal repetition of the same. This is not a new hierarchy. This is an acceptance of responsibility and obligation to the other, to phusis. We cannot arise at the expense of the other and our environment. We must have the grace of making place for the other. We must allow the content of phusis and the real needs of the other to call us to responsibility. The individual does not disappear in collectivity as drop of water in the ocean. This is another illusion built on the mirage of individualism. Responsibility places us as situatedness to that that which we cannot efface and calls us to actualize our responsibility to that call. In this untapped potential for what it means to be human we find cooperation and concern for what we cannot erect a phantasma of. It is founded in a language and history which we cannot have power over but can recognize our absolute limitation in the face of radical alterity which requires our responsibility not our violence in its defacement.

References

Cohen, S. M. (2020). “Aristotle’s Metaphysics”. (E. N. (ed.), Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-metaphysics/

[1] Interesting to note that Aristotle’s notion of actuality and potentiality seems to me to have some reverberations in modern chaos theory. Chaos theory does not deny order or actuality. Instead, it tells us that order is a co-determination of chaos. Order and chaos are not diametrically opposed as subject and object. They have an essential relationship. The universe is structured as self-organizing as fractals. Fractals have the unique capacity to be both ordered and chaotic infinitely. There appears to no limit to the patterns they can make in the same way as each snowflake is absolutely unique. This is what is called self-organizing. In the chaos theory the universe is self-organizing. There is no limit to the nature of how it organizes. A butterfly’s wings can spark a tsunami on the other side of the world. This makes the outcome essentially unpredictable. Likewise, actuality or energy emerges from potentiality as limitless patterns emerge from fractals. Actuality emerges as particular forms just as language emerges as particular histories, invocations of reality and absolutes. The are uniquely particular and ordered but their origins are not in the absolute of their actuality, of their content, or the mystery we call reality, but in the absolutely unpredictable outcomes of potentiality. Additionally, they are intimately the subject of absolute unpredictable, chaotic changes. Therefore, cause and effect are not a reality but an observation of a commonality, a particular fractal pattern, which emerges in language and history.

[2] I use the word ‘reality’ here on the context of its philosophical history which I cited in my previous post, Maslow, Law & Grace, Reactionary & Revolutionary. Reality is not the simplicity of an object related to a subject as philosophy starting in the 19th century has argued culminating around the same time that Einstein’s theory of relativity was taking off at the beginning of the 20th century. Reality is a chaotic and ordered process of language and its other. It is not self-evident except in supposed, assumed and metaphysical histories. It is interactive and chaotically potential in its actual forms. One simple example is the relativity of space-time. As an individual human we have mass. Since we have mass, we create small but not insignificant distortions of space-time around us. Additionally, time runs faster on the top of a mountain than in a valley (gravitational time dilation). Each individual is wrapped from birth to death in their space-time continuum. Additionally, this space-time continuum has stretch and minute variations which directly correspond to relative masses and speed called frames of reference. It is wrong to think of time and space as static, universal and absolute. Similarly, it is wrong to think of individuality as absolute as it is determined by the other of history, language, phusis, and the he and she. All of this is dynamic and chaotic, its capacity for predictability. Closing down individuality into an absolute is death. As Heidegger tells us, “Death is the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein (human being or more precisely the ‘there’ of being).” The impossibility of individuality emerges in language and history as an absolute impossibility or as Heidegger calls it the “they-self”. The they as a self is immediately contradictory and unsustainable as it is a self-contradiction. Similarly, absolute individuality cloaks it contextual histories which are relegated to its margins. This does not negate the form of the individual but places it in relative context with it’s ‘not’ as a pattern in fractals does not deny it’s infinite, unpredictable, and chaotic patterns but emerges from them. However, the not is not a negation but an affirmation of an absolutely ‘other’, even as death is a possibility in its absolute impossibility. The fear of death is actually the fear of life since no one will ever experience death as Epicurus tells us,

“Why should I fear death?

If I am, then death is not.

If Death is, then I am not.

Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?

Long time men lay oppressed with slavish fear.

Religious tyranny did domineer.

At length the mighty one of Greece

Began to assent the liberty of man.”

What is Reality?

I have had several conversations recently which I think bring up this interesting question. My background in a lifetime of interest in philosophy and physics has sometimes caused me to over-assume that others are aware to some degree of how 19th century metaphysics of mechanics is still very dominate in most folks thinking. The metaphysics of mechanics assume an absolute time and space dominated by Cartesian metaphysics in which Renes’ Descartes writing in the 17th century declares, “I think, therefore I am”. At the very beginning of the Scientific Revolution, time and space was thought through the metaphor of a machine. This was no ‘spooky action at a distance’ but with Newton there soon would be ‘action at a distance’ with gravity and later with electromagnetism. The notion of aether had been around for a very long time before Newton but Newton would attribute gravity to a Christian God. Therefore, it was reasonable that shortly before the birth of Newton, Descartes in keeping with Latin Christianity would think of reality as subject and object. The subject was the domain of aether, God, mind, spirit, etc. and the object was matter, substance, body, just dead stuff. This metaphysic of absolute dualism would make the Mechanical Revolution of the 18th and 19th century possible. I use metaphysic from the Latin as the Christianized transformation from Aristotle’s works on ‘first philosophy’ or being as such. This metaphysic became ‘reality’. It became a largely unquestioned assumption which underscores more the impact and vast significance of history as human than any such thing as the ‘real’.

In the 19th century Hegel’s dialectic shattered with great genius and logic this dominate metaphysic. His impact was so devastating that reactions to Hegel spun off Karl Marx and communism (long before the Russian Revolution). Marx vigorously opposed the bourgeois Hegel in favor of material dialecticism. Hegel also spun off the British Empiricists and Adam Smith which became the foundation of capitalism. What was so devastating about Hegel’s observations? Hegel pointed out clearly that the dominate metaphysic of his day was an abstraction. It was not a matter denying the ‘reality’ of Cartesian dualism but of showing how it was an abstraction. Kant tells us,

For human reason, impelled by its own need rather than moved by the mere vanity of gaining a lot of knowledge, proceeds irresistibly to such questions as cannot be answered by any experiential use of reason and any principles taken from such use. And thus all human beings, once their reason has expanded to [the point where it can] speculate, actually have always had in them, and always will have in them, some metaphysics.

—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Isaac Topete writes,

Kant posits a two-fold constitution of knowledge by the two faculties of understanding and sensibility, and thereby, rejects the hypothesis of an intuitive understanding. With these two stances in mind, Hegel—within the Science of Logic—is critical of Kant insofar as he sees these above positions by Kant as detrimental to the project of idealism. Detrimental in the sense that Hegel thinks that Kant’s position is self-contradictory to the extent that concepts exist only in relation to appearance (i.e. illusory being) and, hence, concepts do not have any actual ‘truth’ to them insofar as they only apply haphazardly. So, from the perspective of Hegel, for Kant, concepts are derivative and hold no actual traction beyond that which appears. This, therefore, leads to Hegel’s attempt to critique and overcome these Kantian assumptions within the Science of Logic. (Topete)

Kant distinguished concepts from the ‘thing in itself’ or noumenon as opposed to phenomenon or manifestations – concepts. So, Kant was still to some extent working from Cartesian metaphysics. However, even Kant was already thinking clearly about the absolute abstractions of concepts and their inability to sustain any such thing as ‘reality’ without essentially being a metaphysic. Hegel shows through rigorous and extensive writings that Kant’s dualism resulting in the ‘thing in itself’ could not stand as Kant intended but even Kant’s unstated dualism was itself merely Concept. Hegel thinks Kant is still a victim of abstraction in that he could not break with some notion of reality which maintained the opposition of noumenon and phenomenon. This was the beginning of the end for Cartesian dualism over one hundred and fifty years ago.

Philosophy after Hegel broke into two main divisions: Continental and Analytic Philosophy. Continental meaning mainland Europe and Analytic meaning chiefly United States. However Analytic Philosophy grew out of the British Empiricist’s reaction to Hegel and the German Idealists. Both strains of philosophy have also traversed to widely varying degrees away from the mechanics of Cartesian reality.

Continental philosophy eloquently shows the break from the classical world to the modern world beginning with Existentialism and into phenomenology. Existentialism was focused on the matter of existing in a daily world and how to live without the metaphysics which made the classical world possible. Phenomenology was contemporaneous in the early 20th century with Einstein and Relativity. While not directly affecting each other they had some interesting parallels. Phenomenology started in earnest when Edmund Husserl began by focusing not on abstractions of metaphysics but how phenomenon shows itself from intentionality. As human we always encounter the world with intention which is not passive but active in determining what shows itself. His student Martin Heidegger also working from Husserl discusses two examples of how this works. Heidegger asks how do we experience spatiality? Do we encounter it as linear extension, as feet or inches from objects?

Actually, linear extension is an abstraction. It is a grid we impose on the world. Even Einstein tells us space is not linear but relative to time and frames of perspective. ‘Long’ and ‘short’ change relative to the speed of light. For Heidegger, we have lived-space. We bring close and distance ourselves from regions of contoured spatiality. While the glasses on our face may be much closer to us in linear extension our lived space is what our intentions are occupying in interests beyond and through our glasses. When we are in a class room there is a space between the teacher and the students which we experience as different regions where possibilities are delineated in advance. Lived space is not devoid of everything except dead extension. It is alive and has various qualities which inform us about ourselves, others and the world and how we act in various regionalities. Additionally, lived-time is not linear now moments. Lived time has a stretch of duration from a past through a present to a future. When we are happy ‘time flies’ and when we are bored or depressed time slows to a halt. Lived-time is a stretch of qualities and not just dead time. In terms of Einstein, time is relative to us, our frame of reference. Continental philosophy goes on to show how time and space are concretized by qualities of our experience of them.

Continental philosophy moved on in the mid to latter 20th century to structuralism and poststructuralism, modernism and post-modernism. These movement encompassed vast areas beyond philosophy including architecture, art, feminism, etc. These movements laid a foundation for a critique of abstractions from the classical and modern world and showed how their influences became occasions for violence and domination both to ourselves and our environment. Derrida showed through deconstruction how dominate, historic narratives must necessarily include their own antithesis and undoing. Fanaticism and terrorism result from their inevitable collapse. Furthermore, any form of structuralism is doomed to carry the seeds of its own demise. Derrida even goes so far as to say that “deconstruction deconstructs itself”. A case and point here is the interesting turns we find in Analytic Philosophy.

Analytic philosophy got its impetus from getting back to the senses in British Empiricism and not German Idealism. However, it quickly became entangled in linguistics, semantic and syntax. Once it emerged from the logic of language it took on the philosophy of language in a much more evasive role.

Those who use the term “philosophy of language” typically use it to refer to work within the field of Anglo-American analytical philosophy and its roots in German and Austrian philosophy of the early twentieth century. Many philosophers outside this tradition have views on the nature and use of language, and the border between “analytical” and “continental” philosophy is becoming more porous with time, but most who speak of this field are appealing to a specific set of traditions, canonical authors and methods. (PhiIn)

I am not as familiar with the Analytic tradition but I understand that sense perception has become inseparable from language games, context, intentions, intersubjectivity and histories. Rudolf Carnap even went so far as to substitute intention for sense. Contextuality is not something added on to reality but constituent of reality. The ‘Pittsburg Hegelians’ have even taken Analytic Philosophy back to Hegel in some important respects. Writing of Wilfred Sellars (an important advocate of the Pittsburg Hegelians) Willem A. deVries writes,

For both Hegel and Sellars, the sociality of thought entails also its historicity. We always operate with a less than ultimately satisfactory conceptual framework that is fated to be replaced by something more satisfactory, whether on the basis of conceptual or empirical considerations… Sellars denies both that there are ‘atoms’ of knowledge or meaning independent of their relation to other ‘pieces’ of knowledge or meaning, and that they are structured in a neat hierarchy rather than an interlocking (social) network. The determinate content of a thought or utterance is fixed by its position in the space of implications and employments available to the community in its language or conceptual framework. This kind of holism is congenial to Hegelian modes of thinking… Hegel is an epistemological realist: he rejects the idea that we do not (or are not even able to) know things as they are in themselves. Yet neither Hegel nor Sellars wants to reject altogether the distinction between phenomenal reality and things as they are in themselves. Sellars calls the distinction between the phenomenal and the real the distinction between the manifest and the scientific images of man in the world.

Hegel provides for numerous phenomenal realities related in ways that require a phenomenology to understand. It is not the distinction between phenomenon and reality itself that Hegel and Sellars attack, but the notion that it is absolute, establishing an unbridgeable divide.

McDowell, however, is concerned to defend our ‘openness to the layout of reality’ and seems not to take seriously the idea that we might have systematically false beliefs about the nature of things… The strategy, boiled down, is this: Kant’s critical philosophy is formulated in terms of basic dualisms, apriori/aposteriori, analytic/synthetic, receptivity/spontaneity, even empirical science/philosophy. Hegel insists that trapped in these dualisms Kant cannot satisfactorily explain human cognition or action. The gaps imposed by the assumed dualisms never get properly bridged. (deVries)

DeVries goes on to state that Sellars rejects the standard static interpretation given by Hegel in Hegel’s absolutisms. The important point here is that even the arch-typical school of sense empiricism has re-discovered, perhaps in some novel ways, the radical and complete loss of metaphysical ground which dominated the West from the Roman Empire to the 19th century.

Physics tells us of the absolute (if you will) relativity of ‘objects’ in which size and even temporal existence is contingent. In quantum mechanics it appears that even the notion of a particle is simply relative concentrations of energetic field densities more like micro and macro waves and currents in the ocean. Subatomic ‘particles’ with no mass (infinitesimal forces popping in and out of existence) energize these densities to create mass, gravity and their relative temporalities. This tells us that a ‘particle’ as a solid piece of matter is an abstraction which we have told ourselves through history based more on a quasi-scientific/theological notion of Newton’s absolute time and space. Newton told us gravity as action at a distance was God.

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle even tells us that there are aspects of phenomena which are impossible to reconcile (position and momentum of the wave-particle). This hits at the very heart of logic as built upon the principle of non-contradiction.

Schrödinger’s cat in the box thought experiment tells us the cat in the box can both be alive and dead at the same time. This is really an observation about the mathematics of superposition which is the basis of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics tells us about infinite possibilities which are actualized, made real, by observation. The immediate reaction of many including myself years ago was, ‘Are we saying that everything is subjective?’ This jump to subjectivity was the only possibility given to us by our metaphysics when confronted with this observation.

Einstein referred to entanglement as ‘spooky action at a distance’. Most quantum fields have a property called spin. These fields become constituents of many particles such as an electron. One characteristic of spin is called up and down. This is really how a magnetic field effects the orientation of the field. When particles such as an electron become entangled with each other they form a pair that can be separated by billions of light years and a magnetic field on one electron will instantly change the orientation of the other electron no matter what the distance between the two electrons. This seems to violate Einstein’s basic postulate which tells us nothing in the universe can move faster than the speed of light. This appears to violate a fundamental law of physics concerning locality. Einstein thought perhaps there were hidden variables which could explain this problem. One possibility could be that the universe is composed of more dimensions than four, three dimensions of space and one of time. Locality is intuitively thought as the ‘me’, the ‘I’ of ‘I think, therefore I am’. History has taught us that we are all absolute individuals. We have a certain sacred and protected domain which endows us with sacred, unalienable and unquestionable ‘rights’. We typically downplay the absolute of individuality with the equal and opposite other half of rights which is responsibility.

The notion of a multi-dimensional universe has contributed to many-worlds theory (which goes all the way back to the Greeks). String theory and parallel universes coupled with Schrödinger’s observation tell us that possibilities may be more than reality fictions but fundamentally comprise the ‘stuff’ of reality. What we thought as dead stuff, substance, may have much more to it that could make the boundaries of what is thought as living and dead a more complex problem.

Dark energy is thought to comprise 73% of all mass and energy in the universe. Additionally, dark matter is thought to comprise another 23% of the universe. The leaves 4% to comprise everything we see such as planets, stars and people. And, we really have no clue what it is. We know it must exist because we see its effects like wind in the trees. Dark matter and dark energy may solve a problem which resulted in perhaps Einstein’s greatest blunder, the cosmological constant. In short, Einstein inserted this ‘x’ factor into his equations to make relativity of time and space work with gravity. This made the universe static and kept the universe from flying apart. However, many subsequent discoveries have leads us to the dark halls of dark energy and matter as the reason why the universe does not fly apart. Without the gravitational effects of dark matter and energy we would have to accept the almost theological explanation of Einstein’s ‘x’ factor. The mystery of what dark matter and energy tell us is to buckle up, we really know very little about reality.

What is the real? It is neither subjective nor objective but those tired old metaphysics should tell us more about who we are that what reality is. We have inherited ‘filters’ which help us make sense of the world in language and history. Language and history are as much a part of our anatomy as our heart is. The ‘real’ is not some absolute, everlasting reality apart from us to which we are enslaved but essential to us in an ‘essentially’ indeterminate way. Philosophy and physics have come together to show us that our ability to abstract not only is the ‘real’ but somehow indeterminately determinate of what gets taken up as ‘real’.

To speak of the ‘real’ in this way is not to deny the ‘real’ but to put the ‘real’ in a more nuanced and less abstract way than historic embodiments which grossly oversimplify and distort ‘isness’. These distortions lead to the worst of human behavior as they champion the heroic ‘defender of the faith’ at any horrific cost. The threats to reality are manufactured inherent in ‘reality’ not imputed from the unrepentant. We do not really know to what extent our forceful expectations of ‘reality’ force the reality we ultimately find. It may be that the worlds we create become our tomb and not the occasion for an ‘other’, infinitely removed from our metaphysical prisons.

Creation did not happen from our reality but from a reality we never knew. Language was not our invention after birth but in some indeterminate and historic fashion constitutes who we are, what ‘reality’ is or isn’t. It constitutes a past that never was our personal past but somehow participates intimately in our moments and after-moments of creation, of birth. To think of ourselves as an absolute individual is perhaps the momentous sin of ‘reality’ which ignores the grace which makes us possible. We owe a debt to creation, the moment of birth, that gives gifts and makes possible language and meaning. It is up to us as to how we embody these gifts with wistful arrogance or humble gratitude. The other, the he or the she, is not diminished or captured by our petty judgements of them. They are as much the miracle of who we are as language, as ‘reality, as the indeterminate infinity which we choose together and apart. The possibility of ethics is a choice, perhaps the only choice we can make. Over one hundred and fifty years we have traversed from ‘I think, therefore I am’ to ‘We think, therefore we are’. We can welcome this transformation or die fighting it but who is to say if we meet our apocryphal demise, another unaccounted, unrecognized moment of creation will not create infinites of ‘realities’ which once again ask for gratitude, grace and ethical desire for what we know not.

Works Cited

(n.d.). Philosophy of Language. Retrieved from https://iep.utm.edu/lang-phi/

deVries, W. A. (n.d.). Hegel’s Revival in Analytic Philosophy. Retrieved from https://mypages.unh.edu/sites/default/files/wad/files/devries_hegels_revival_in_analytic_philosophy.pdf

Topete, I. (n.d.). Idealism from Kant to Hegel. Retrieved from https://www.csustan.edu/sites/default/files/groups/University%20Honors%20Program/Journals/isaac_topete.pdf

Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Tales

Part of the beauty of life is not knowing. ‘Knowing’ has a tendency for reduction. It can dampen basic questions of existence. It can provide an answer, at least a contingent answer. It has the allure of solace, comfort, and security. While it does dampen the angst of existence, it also dampens the intensity of passions; of beauty, wonder and awe. It also squelches creativity. Creativity is the catalyst which made science and our present lived-world possible. In religion, the lack of distance from God undermines the passion of the Holy. It gives ready-made answers in lieu of faith. God talks to devotees in regular and daily conversation which they all too happy to tell us about. Whatever happened to the passion of faith was a problem Kierkegaard brought to our attention. Kierkegaard tells us that we do not need faith to believe that 1 + 1 = 2. We have no real stake in the daily and absolute knowledge of a God we know and understand with absolute certainty. That is not faith but the mechanical garbs of science without the objectivity of facts and instead, the subjective experience of knowledge which has become an unfalsifiable fact, which is intolerant of doubt. What we have in this case is the inception of extremism that can solipsistically know no other. What this really brings to the surface is a uniquely historic, 19th century, worldview in which absolute time and space came into fruition with the Industrial Revolution. This is why religious modernity and capitalism have become cozy bedfellows and why anything such as a ‘Trump’ was made possible in the vestibules of faith. All the resentment in religious, reaction to enlightenment is,

“Wokeism makes you lose, ruins your mind, and ruins you as a person”

which Trump tells us is why the US soccer team lost. Enlightenment as the result of unbridled positivism in an empirical reality of objective science has in religious modernity become a battle cry for God-Enlightenment. Science is no longer needed; education has become a vehicle for radical “Wokeism” in which one knows all especially about “two Corinthians”.

The path of religion in post modernity is riddled with extremism, danger and desperation. Kierkegaardian passion of faith has been replaced with social media’s fanaticism to indoctrinate and dominate more and more adherents to ‘Sleepism’. Anti-enlightenment is the new battle cry of those who will not settle for anything less than total and absolute submission to the social, economic, political, moral theory of everything which grows as a cancer in the rapidly evolving dogma of religious groupthink. Religion has been replaced with Mephistopheles’ ‘hell of a deal’ when you accept Jesus Christ as you Lord and Savior. You are welcomed into the on-line group where you all become one in everything you always wanted to know about; everything with rapidly evolving answers of salvation, politics, morality, economics, “Wokeism” in general. In all this we see a radical conformism which consumes without cessation. Has this become the actualization of Nietzsche’s “last man”? What we see in ‘sleepism’ is lucid dreaming which can only end in nightmare. The looming problem of ‘sleepism’ that it robs us of what made religions a reality in the first place. Religion was not born of ready-made answers although, like manna from heaven which was miraculous edible substance, decays in institutionalism and even faster now with virtual reality. Could it be that ‘mana’ has been replaced with manna:

Mana is the spiritual life force energy or healing power that permeates the universe, in the culture of the Melanesians and Polynesians. Anyone or anything can have mana. It is a cultivation or possession of energy and power, rather than being a source of power. It is an intentional force. (Wikipedia)

In the interest of provoking some whimsical and perhaps more fresh questioning on the topic of an afterlife, I would like to attempt a thought experiment.

We know that the universe has memory to an exquisite degree. Scientists call this information theory. Entropy is key to information theory as it is a predictor of more and less information. Physicists have traditionally shown that information is encoded in the most intricate and exquisite workings of the universe. Stephen Hawking went against this knowledge base in showing that information might be lost in the long death of a black hole which is called “Hawking radiation”. A long and intense battle with physicists Leonard Susskind and Gerald t’ Hooft ensued in 2008 and ended in the “Susskind quashes Hawking in quarrel over quantum quandary” with the holographic principle. The holographic principle shows that radiation receives quantum corrections which encodes information about the black hole’s interior and thus retains information. Later theories offer further alternatives to the loss of information in non-unitary time evolution. The point here is that the universe has an exquisite memory. Even if other universes exist with vastly different ‘laws of physics’ (coined and piggybacked in Latin Christianity as ‘natural laws’), information theory is still an absolute necessity as only the Hesiodic theory of chaos would be the absolute loss of information…more about this later. Information is also clearly exhibited in chromosomes and the evolution of species. Instinct is also another evident form of information theory.

If the universe has memory in the form of information, it is not hard to understand that information theory is the retention of memory. While I personally am 50/50 on the certain knowledge that an afterlife is possible, I do find that apart from religious concerns, it is not hard to make the uncertain leap from information theory to a thought that information could be retained in the form of memory in other realities. I think this not so much from a personal desire for any kind of ‘proof of an afterlife’ but more from a non-mechanical, 19th century, basis which finds truly astounding and quite unmoored observations in the recent century of Continental and Analytic philosophy trends. Even in the 19th century, in Hegel there is a foreshadowing of information theory in his notion of Concept. Metaphysics, a Latin term not ancient Greek, is a tradition which counters what philosophy and science is telling us about what we [metaphysically] ‘think’ as reality. The question of objectivity and subjectivity are both brought into fundamental question. This Cartesian dilemma which encapsulates much of modernity in historic certainty has truly been overcome in recent trends in philosophy and physics. We see this most clearly in Phenomenology, Structures and History of Language and physics starting in the early 20th century in Einstein’s Relativity Principle. What all this is telling us is that what we think we know is more about who we are and less about reality.

I would not be surprised in the least if there was an ‘afterlife’ which retained the intimate information of what we think as ‘my life’ or ‘our history’. Knowledge does not have to be Blanchot’s unescapable impossibility of death or Sartre’s horror of No-Exit. Neither does it have to be absolute extinction into the impossibility of nothingness. Knowledge itself may be a clue, a bread crumb, to a retention intrinsic to the universe. In Hegelian terms perhaps the universe itself is a retreat from what he deems ‘Absolute Concept’. The larger point for the purposes of this post is to attempt to unmoor ourselves from the supposed history we think as reality and point to a confluence of fundamental inquiries which do not ‘add’ to our current understanding of reality but actually and radically transform our ‘sleepism’ into a ‘wokeism’ which cannot be escaped except into deeper sleep. In sleep we find the brain escapes into non-sense. Perhaps the brain’s cure of too much apparent sense is to counter with a truth of its own; to what may point to an other, a radical other from all our Platonic Forms which history has made static and a kind of living death. Levinas called this static-sation, totalization. Totalization has been saturated through and through with the notion of being, what philosophers call ontology (the study of being). Totalization reduces absolutely. It denies the face in Levinas’ terms. The face absolutely counters the concretization in which sleep-fully determines who and what the other is. Truly totalization is Blanchot’s death of language, Satres No-Exit, and Levinas’ “there-is” in which the ‘I’ entombs itself as if to find relief from the radical alterity of the other. We have devised intricate, historic, linguistic escapisms to give us certainty or apparent certainty in the face of radical otherness. Our dreams tells us that our waking life is fundamentally contradictory and inadequate. Hesiod tells us that chaos or more precisely the ‘yawning gap’ is the face of the-an-other which we tirelessly want to retreat from. We have fashioned for ourselves an oasis in the chaos which we think is dry land but firmly rooted in sub-atomic particles popping in and out of existence in which the vastness a subatomic space implies infinitely more space than matter (if there really is such a thing) – gap, is the root of our realities and incessant daydreams. Perhaps waking up is discovering what we do not know, what inspires creativity and wonder, is vastly more meaningful than what we think we know. All the while an other, the other, which requires ethics, decision, to counter the incredible smallness of our certainties; to actively hold open the beauty of infinities which we behold every day in waking sleep.

On Death

Death is not something that happens at the end of life. As Blanchot mentions in the quote at the end of my recent post,

As long as I live, I am a mortal man, but when I die, by ceasing to be man I also cease to be mortal, I am no longer capable of dying, and my impending death horrifies me because I see it as it is: no longer death, but the impossibility of dying…. I have no relationship with it, it is that toward which I cannot go, for in it I do not die, I have fallen from the power to die. In it they die; they do not cease, and they do not finish dying ― Maurice Blanchot, Literature and the Right to Death.

The only way I experience death is through life. Death is strictly a phenomenon of life. The fear of death is a fear of life as life and death are inseparable. The death of my son in 2017 is not ‘his’ death. He is not experiencing death as he is not mortal any longer; not living. Chris is not human now. He was a beautiful, young, and amazing human but now his humanity is in my heart, my memory, my pain. This is where he dwells now in me and those who knew and loved him. The pain of death is the pain of living. It is not optional but essential. The question remains, how shall we live in the essence of death?

Death is a zenith. It is where life disappears into the infinity of horizon. It is not the horror of hell or bliss of heaven. It is the gate of the infinite. Mortality cannot pass through its gate. The absolute fluidity of this universe breaks upon the shores of death in which there is no return. Does death start where it began as if some universal law of physics requires it to do so?

What we know of physics is that there is a vast multitude of possible and actual physics. The laws of physics in our current universe are themselves a zenith of time and place. The ‘laws’ are an invention of circumstance. According to physicists, they were radically different at the beginning. If not for slightly more matter than antimatter after the ‘big bang’ or the ‘big bounce’ we would not be here at all. As to the question of what’s ‘outside’ the universe we are told two things: 1) Outside is a conventional notion we have derived from this time, this space, this circumstance and says nothing about this mythical notion of an outside to the universe, 2) If there are other universes, they have radically different physics. They would have absolutely no necessity placed on them to mimic our space/time physics in this singular moment of our circumstance.

So, this tells us that even this moment we call ‘life’ is itself a zenith caught on the brink of infinity. We stare infinity in the face every moment of our existence and found or are found by language as history to pacify our delusions of security as we draw in the breath of ‘I’. We forget the boundless ocean of eternity we stand on the shores of. We rationalize and sanctify and flee in the face of this awe and beauty and wonder which is the essence which can no longer be thought as ‘essence’. There is no ground beneath our feet only instantaneous, massless ‘particles’ better thought as infinitesimal force fields which pop in and out of existence and declare, “I am”. What we need in the face of eternity is perspective not absolute determinations.

We breath ‘we’ in this eternity of temporality. Sure, we have individual bodies which are really a communion of organism, cells, molecules, atoms, infinitesimals popping in and out of existence but somehow organizing themselves as an illusion of a whole, a body, my body. We communicate with language which we did not invent but in some undeciphered way acquired from a history we never knew or experienced. ‘Understanding’ is not a something but an acquisition of a ‘not me’, a gift given without merit or even existence as ‘mine’. We think ‘me’ from ‘we’. The ‘me’ that protests, that complains, that judges is a construction of the ‘we’ of language which speaks and has spoken and will speak with and without me, my existence. In all our languages we face plurality of other languages. Not just human but also animal languages, plant languages (actual science behind this). Existence is language. It is communication. It is the physics of interaction. It is the boundary conditions. It is the face. The face is not just a ‘presentation’, a presence. It is an absence of infinity which cannot present itself except as the boundary conditions of this moment, this interaction, this ‘idea’ of reality.

‘Idea’ informs us of notions which give reason, promise meaning, promotes sense and sensible. We even have the notion of ‘absolute’ which finds no home in infinity except as ‘idea’. What is more, ‘idea’ is what Hegel believes is all that faces us. There is no exterior ‘thing’ out there. The ‘thing’ is the idea. There is never a ‘thing’ without an idea. So, in Hegel’s estimation idea ‘is’ infinity and finite, it is ‘isness’. The face of which I spoke is the idea of face, nothing more, nothing less. For Hegel, the ‘notion’ exceeds other notions as being and nothingness and finds place as ‘Concept’. Concept is the embodiment of place, of divine, of me and us, of face. The other and the same cannot remain as they are but must be taken up by the necessity of self-consciousness. There is no self as a notion without an other as a counter notion. The same and the other are the necessity of a self, a me. Even the notion of space and time is a requirement of particularity. We must be a ‘we’ by necessity of Concept not by some exteriority which makes it so. For Hegel this does not do violence to the other as another person for example but requires us to look further into exactly what we are talking about and referring to; to fundamentally question the very fabric of isness and how Concept becomes the necessity of isness.

This leads us to choice. There is no way in my estimation to prove Hegel wrong. He may well be correct that Concept is essentially ‘is’. For Hegel this does not end in some kind of essential narcissism but in a foundation from any such thing as narcissism. Hegel is not bestowing sainthood on individualism and such notions as chest-beating ‘capitalism’. He is certainly providing a foundation for their existence, for existence itself, but not some modern right-wing notion of ultra-conservatism. In any case, there is a question Hegel poses which must be faced, a choice must be made.

I started this post with the notion of infinity. In due course, we have found that infinity and finitude may have and certainly, in some yet undetermined sense, has a basis in Concept but is that the end of the story (or perhaps another beginning)? Even if Hegel is correct, is there an ethical necessity placed on us to face the other, to face my son without Hegel’s face? Are we to abandon ourselves to the necessity of Concept and if so, how does that effect my orientation to the other, to the infinity of the face, to the requirement of my son’s life and living death which I must endure? Even more, what of the suffering of the other? How shall I face this lifetime of suffering which I must endure, my suffering and the suffering of the other? Should I find some kind of solace in the absolute fact of ‘Concept’? Should I think infinity as a necessary condition of finitude? Have I violated something other than my own biases and misunderstandings of Concept? Isn’t ethics just another requirement of Concept, of self-consciousness?

This is where choice determines eternity. I have no basis external to the requirements of self-consciousness for choosing an exteriority which cannot be thought only or more precisely determined by thought. I can choose to found self on Concept and call that ‘isness’. I probably have more reason to do so than not in Hegelian terms. I see many folks who use Hegel (and less intellectual achievements) as a kind of license to justify whatever they want to do to whomever they want to do it to. Perhaps, Hegel’s philosophy is not ready for mere mortals or vice versa. However, I do have to live in the face of the absolute, unsubstantiated abyss of existence. I have to wake up every day with my death, the death of my son, the death of innocence from bigotry, greed, injustice and I have to face it on an ongoing basis without any justification for why it must be so from Concept. In all this I must act and I must make choices not because I am that Concept but because I suffer and I am with those that suffer. My choice is to be self-determined or, without necessity, to heed the cry of the other.

To conclude, I would like to add a bit of speculation, highly speculative. We see in nature and physics (whether it is pure Concept or not) a return to regularity, order, instinct; to repetition in some degree. We did not proceed from Concept to birth but from nothingness (certainly with regard to consciousness) to birth. Somehow, I and we popped into existence. Is there a regularity in ‘popping into existence’? Perhaps, we don’t know. However, one thing we do know is that we did become but from what? We can call this Concept and satisfy the need for origin. However, I prefer to leave that to what Hesiod referred to as chaos (really the yawning gap). There is a gap of not knowing which we can choose to reserve. There is also the observation that phusis or physics, biology, ‘isness’ might like to repeat itself. We are gift standing from infinite abyss facing eternity with language and consciousness that is not our own. Who is to say that that gift cannot find repetition, increasing wisdom and another moment when what I did, how I acted in the face of the other; who is to say it is not the foundation for something I know not what…choose wisely.

Postscript from “A thought experiment…”

While I am not a Christian, I find ages of accumulated wisdom in many religious traditions which must be wrested out from the noise which history has encased within these traditions. While I certainly do not ascribe to the effectively cliche metaphysical positions which have dominated these traditions, I do find the historic play of metaphysics can embody allegorical dramas which has the possibility to bring a kind of clarity from the dust bins of dystopic ages past.

One of the more interesting and intentionally playful metaphysical musing was given to us by Friedrich Nietzsche most notably in his work, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. Within the backdrop of classic, Newtonian physics, Nietzsche reasons that since space and mater is limited and time is eternal all combinations of matter will eventually be repeated exactly as it was before. Effectively, this means every human life will always come again only to repeat itself in the exact same way for an infinite amount of time. Zarathustra called this the ‘Great Nausea”. By this he meant that it sickened human spirit to think such a metaphysical thought. However, Zarathustra’s insight was that this nausea held the possibility for affirming life as the ‘eternal recurrence of the same’. He thought this was the sign of an ascendant life as opposed to the decadent, sickened life of despair and the utter pitifulness of those who are forever condemned to take their extreme vengeance on life. In the case of Zarathustra, we can clearly see a kind of allegorical play with Metaphysics which can illustrate the philosophical underpinnings of Nietzsche’s thought. In this way, I would propose another metaphysics in a contrary direction as Nietzsche’s concern which has a more updated take on physics.

With the advent of relativity and quantum mechanics absolute time and space are no more. While physicists hate singularities and infinities, they are compelled at the current time to labor under these mathematical obscurities. Certainly, calculus is the mathematics of infinities and the peculiar formalities in which physics currently shows its dilemma (e.g., as converging and diverging infinite series, peculiarities of zero, etc.). What is more, physics has discovered that most of the universe is pervaded by an absolute mystery called dark matter and dark energy. We find that the fundamental building blocks of all mater is held together by quarks which pop in and out of existence, more like flavors of reality than reality itself. We are told that nothing can be smaller than a Planck size or the distance light travels in a perfect vacuum. A Planck is the absolute smallest possible unit of measurement which can have meaning (approximately 1.6 X 10 -35 m). And yet we are told that black holes can reduce the mass of a sun, billions of times larger than our sun, down to a singularity. What is more, we also have the peculiar dilemma which has yet to be disproven that intrigues many physicists that black holes may really be the other side of a ‘big bang’. So, even though we know meaning can only be thought in terms of Planck size we effectively are saying that universes can be created from what we think is a finite amount of matter in a huge sun. Universes have much more matter than one huge black hole. Our universe has many supermassive and known ultra-massive black holes in addition to all the other mass in our universe. So, if a black hole can create a universe with extreme orders of magnitudes more mass than the mass of its collapsed star – even more so, according to Einstein’s physics, the infinite mass of a singularity, we have a huge amount of mass in the new universe which can have no meaning according to the notion of a Planck size. What shows itself here is that our idea of meaning is more convention than ‘meaning’. Furthermore, to suggest as some physicists do that there may be infinite universes, makes Nietzsche’s metaphysics outdated and a bit moldy. That is why I would like to propose a counter metaphysics which has more affinity with the present.

Instead of a finite amount of matter given over to the infinite amount of time producing eternal recurrence of the same. Perhaps the singularity of Heraclitus’ river which can never be stepped in twice is more apropos. Nothing is ever repeated in exactly the same way. There can by rhymes but not repetitions. If the metaphysical notion of the soul has a rhyme, may it be in the notion of a one without another which nevertheless cannot remain in absolute obscurity but must affirm an Other, the other. A singularity cannot remain shrouded in absolute meaninglessness but must rise again to affirm the other, not the same which is fundamentally meaningless. Instead of the assertion of power and might, of absolute Spirit, perhaps the weakest confounds the strongest. The weakest not condemned to utter despair and vengeance but opened upon the possibility of others. The decision that spirit cannot remain in absolute certitude of itself but must Decide that others, that other, is built into the cry of despair and emptiness. Instead of perpetual and eternal vengeance we have the ‘meek inheriting the earth’. Why? Because they cannot stand in the allusion of grandeur, of mastery and self-subsistence, ‘self-substance’ which makes no sense. The other is not the multiplication of the same, it is the opening onto the ‘tree of life’, that which makes possible any such erroneous notion as the same. Meaning as convention fails to be what it aspires to, what it asserts itself as. Only in the Decision of choice, Ethics, can obscurity rouse itself from its eternal slumbers in welcoming the Other, the stranger, the he and the she.

Whimsically, can I also suggest that in order to rise from the dead as the God, mythically spoken of in the last post (“A thought experiment…”), could it be that every obscure singularity must through many universes and worlds ultimately become a ‘Jesus’ and die for the world, the Other, eternal Agape?

All life and death and elsewise must forever be in its singularity, its moment which can never be altered. Even more I, as a rhyme of singularity, must ultimately take upon myself the sins of the world, missing the mark, such that I become sin meaning that I am Responsible and held to account for the suffering of the Other…just saying…

Philosophy Series 14 – George Orwell and Emmanuel Levinas Introspective: Socialism and the Other

Philosophy Series 2 – Introduction

Philosophy Series 3 – Appendix A, Part 1

Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod

Philosophy Series 5 – A Detour of Time

Philosophy Series 6 – The Origin

Philosophy Series 7 – Eros

Philosophy Series 8 – Thales

Philosophy Series 9 – An Interlude to Anaximander

Philosophy Series 10 – On the Way to Anaximander: Language and Proximity

Philosophy Series 11 – Aristotle and Modernity: The Eternal and Science

Philosophy Series 12 – Levinas and the Problem of Metaphysics

Philosophy Series 13 – On Origin

Philosophy Series 14 – George Orwell and Emmanuel Levinas Introspective: Socialism and the Other

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Philosophy Series 14

George Orwell and Emmanuel Levinas Introspective: Socialism and the Other

Introduction

George Orwell (1903 to 1950) and Emmanuel Levinas (1905 to 1995) were both engaged in the fight against fascism during the 20th century. Orwell, born in India but educated and resided in England, fought with the Popular Front, leftist government in Spain against the right-wing, military coup of Nationalists lead by General Francisco Franco. Orwell was shot in the neck and barely escaped with his life (Colls, 2014). Levinas, a Lithuanian, became a naturalized French citizen in 1931. He fought with the French and was captured by the Nazis where he remained a prisoner of war until the end of the war in 1945. His father and brothers died at the hands of the Nazi SS in Lithuania. Maurice Blanchot helped Levinas’ wife and daughter spend the war in a monastery (Emm). Both men understood the horror of war and made brilliant strides to wrestle with the absolute need for meaning in what appeared to be a meaningless world. They both described in very different ways the pitfalls of humanity and articulated with painful integrity and brilliance an avenue of hope in a hopeless world. For Orwell, with astute recognition of the weaknesses of socialism, nevertheless thought of socialism as the only possible hope for the disenfranchised and horrors of impoverishment in industrialized England. Levinas is not so easy to pin down with a political philosophy. Levinas warns us of the insidious nature of totalitarianism. In this way, his forebodings about the state have a kinship to Orwell’s critique of nationalism. While Levinas’ philosophy is deeply informed by the history of philosophy, his purpose is quite simple.

Sometimes, I think academic philosophy is its own worst enemy. Philosophy started out and literally means ‘love of wisdom’. Wisdom is not limited to the Aristotelian academy and its occidental linage. To the contrary, wisdom is widely available to every tradition, every culture, every human being. Personally, I also find wisdom in other animals besides humans. It seems the repetition which comes with age invites a certain sort of memory which allows the possibility for accommodation of difference and a sense of the profundity of love amid inevitable tragedies. This is not a given but a potential as Aristotle would suggest.

Perhaps, one way to think of the failure to make wisdom actual could be as a decline of our species, an evolutionary failure. However, even in this paradigm, individual evolutionary adaptation is always given as a possibility endemic to life. The downside of reducing wisdom to an evolutionary paradigm is to once again fall into the mode of totalizing objectivity which transforms the other to an ‘it’ of objectivity in the form of evolutionary taxonomy. In any case, the paradigm of evolution is not adequate in thinking about and desiring wisdom.

Levinas opens an alternative route to wisdom by putting a face on the other. He exposes convention which itself totalizes the other in the form of self-interest. In my estimation, anyone who follows the actual teachings of compassion and responsibility for the other, the stranger, the oppressed, the impoverished has achieved the goal, the telos (culmination, end) of Levinas’ monumental challenge – to help us see the face of the other for the very first time not obscured by the pitfalls of an already-assumed, historic situatedness cooked into language and tradition.

However, as each one of us carries our histories with us, we will eventually have to write a new history if the state is to be viable. This is the direction I am pointing towards in this post. Certainly, the kinds of historic changes I am thinking of takes hundreds of years. To the extent that academics bring the notions of Levinas and similar others to a wider audience is how they live the responsibility Levinas’ places on each of us. To the extent that academics puts up barriers of access to the wisdom of our responsibility to the other is once again reinforcing the barriers of totalitarianism. My goal is, to the best of my ability, to continue to open with others which proceeded me the historic way we came into totalitarianism and highlight the way out of the prison of self-interest to the he or she who faces us. In any case, let us remember the following which I will come back to later:

Language is the historic, cultural map that defines reality for us.

First, I would like to look at Orwell’s eyewitness chronicling of Europe’s devolution leading up to World War II with a view to his political solutions for the state. Today, we once again hear the rhyme of Orwell’s history. It seems we are always only condemned to repeat the past no matter what the state looks like although certainly some states seem better than others for delaying the inevitable. Levinas provides us with an especially needful alternative to the inability of the state to survive inevitable catastrophic failure and to deal effectively with planet wide threats from climate change and nuclear weapons. However, Levinas’ alternative requires a monumental change which probably represents more like a species type adaptation. It resides in the potential of wisdom if humans are to survive on this planet. To arrive at Levinas’ solution, we will need to look at how we arrived philosophically from ancient Greeks to modernity and what perpetually sabotages the state, any state.

Democratic democracies, communism, and science all arrived in the modern, occidental age from enlightened liberalism. Enlightenment also brings in the rise of capitalism and socialism. For once and for all lets please put this oxymoron to rest, there has never been a pure democracy or a pure socialism. Every democratic country, including the U.S., is a combination of both. Democracy is the will of the people. If the people vote for government run social programs like welfare and food stamps or government funded research and development, health care, retirement, industry regulation, and so forth, it is because private enterprise is unable or unwilling to address the human condition and suffering of its citizens. When people in a democracy vote for government owned and operated services, the people want the text-book definition of socialism. The U.S. is a democratic, capitalistic, socialist country like it or not. If democracy denies the vote of the people, democracy is plain and simple totalitarianism. If the state totally controls and owns every resource, that is not socialism it is communism. Communism clearly is nothing other than totalitarianism as history has shown.

In this post we will take a brief look at the beginning of modernity and British Enlightenment to orient us to the path we are traversing. This will also require a look at the ancient Greeks to situate how Enlightenment came about in the first place. After that, I will take the political, and necessarily philosophical, challenge Levinas presents us to prevent the fate of the totalitarian state. Levinas understood the necessity of the state and the conditions for which it could escape its failed history. For Orwell, socialism was the hope for resolving an inevitable fascist nationalism resulting in the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Orwell faced the impossibility of democratic change in 20th century England with the intractability of aristocracy and its self-interest in the face of Hitler’s fascism. He saw no other solution for England except revolution. For Levinas, the inevitability of state totalitarianism was due to how each person in the state was locked in a philosophical and historic leveling off, or totalizing, of the other to the same. For now, the ‘same’ here is meant as how we find ourselves always already caught up in a history, a language, a culture which levels off radical alterity (otherness, difference) and holds the state hostage to preconceptions doomed to violence.

Orwell Chronicles the Impossibility of Totalitarianism in the Histories of 20th Century States

One of the most alarming struggles of reality over illusion is chronicled in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 by an early thirty-year-old Eric Blair whose pen name was George Orwell. Orwell fought in the war with the Popular Front government Republicans against the Spanish revolutionary Nationalists. For Orwell nationalism was synonymous with fascism. Contrary to the propagandized illusions of Jonah Goldberg in his book “Liberal Fascism”, the history of fascism is the history of conservatism, aristocracy, and wealth. The Spanish Civil War is yet one more example of how corrosive nationalism will always pit the haves against the have nots. Orwell faced the autocracies of nationalism and extreme poverty in England. He traveled to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republicans, a left-leaning group, against the Nationalist fascists. As a life-long devoted socialist, Orwell’s greatest virtue was his devotion to the plight of impoverished and oppressed others and his undying willingness to critically question any ideology which undermined that quest, including the horrors of communism. He would even make fun of his own socialists in “Can Socialists Be Happy” (Freeman, 1943) written under the pseudonym John Freeman where he writes,

Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache. They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary. The wider course would be to say that there are certain lines along which humanity must move, the grand strategy is mapped out, but detailed prophecy is not our business. Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness. This is the case even with a great writer like Swift, who can flay a bishop or a politician so neatly, but who, when he tries to create a superman, merely leaves one with the impression the very last he can have intended that the stinking Yahoos had in them more possibility of development than the enlightened Houyhnhnms.

The debate between those that believe Orwell was ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ in contemporary, U.S. politics is superficial. Most appropriately, Orwell was a painfully honest socialist. When the Franco fascists won the Spanish Civil War, Stalin and the Bolshevik communists who fought on the side of the socialists against fascism exterminated the socialists. Thus, we have Orwell’s hatred of communism illustrated in “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. However, the essential link between fascism and communism for Orwell was nationalism. In Orwell’s essay, Notes on Nationalism (Orwell, 1945), he lays this out very clearly. Nationalism is the eternal struggle between rotting protectionism, spoiled mana, violent conservation of wealth, consolidation of power and the resulting facts of human suffering. He writes,

It is also worth emphasizing once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the U.S.S.R. without developing a corresponding loyalty to any other unit. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist – that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating – but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the up-grade and some hated rival is on the down-grade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also – since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself – unshakeably certain of being in the right.

Indifference to Reality. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts.

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.

Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered. He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as they should – in which, for example, the Spanish Armada was a success or the Russian Revolution was crushed in 1918 – and he will transfer fragments of this world to the history books whenever possible. Much of the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events which, it is felt, ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately denied.

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events.

Eerily, this reminds us of events in the U.S. today. In the buildup between the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany, the aristocracy and conservatism of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in England from 1937 to 1940 was sympathetic to the other axis powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan of World War II. Orwell writes,

The British ruling class were not altogether wrong in thinking that Fascism was on their side. It is a fact that any rich man, unless he is a Jew, has less to fear from Fascism than from either Communism or democratic Socialism. One ought never to forget this, for nearly the whole of German and Italian propaganda is designed to cover it up. The natural instinct of men like Simon, Hoare, Chamberlain, etc. was to come to an agreement with Hitler. But – and here the peculiar feature of English life that I have spoken of, the deep sense of national solidarity, comes in – they could only do so by breaking up the Empire and selling their own people into semi-slavery. A truly corrupt class would have done this without hesitation, as in France. But things had not gone that distance in England. Politicians who would make cringing speeches about “the duty of loyalty to our conquerors” are hardly to be found in English public life. Tossed to and fro between their incomes and their principles, it was impossible that men like Chamberlain should do anything but make the worst of both worlds (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941).

While Orwell detested war with Germany he believed that war was a necessity despite the conservative leanings of Chamberlain to make peace with Hitler and avoid war,

If I had to defend my reasons for supporting the war, I believe I could do so. There is no real alternative between resisting Hitler and surrendering to him, and from a Socialist point of view I should say that it is better to resist; in any case I can see no argument for surrender that does not make nonsense of the Republican resistance in Spain, the Chinese resistance to Japan, etc. etc. But I don’t pretend that that is the emotional basis of my actions. What I knew in my dream that night was that the long drilling in patriotism which the middle classes go through had done its work, and that once England was in a serious jam it would be impossible for me to sabotage. But let no one mistake the meaning of this. Patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism. It is devotion to something that is changing but is felt to be mystically the same, like the devotion of the ex-White Bolshevik to Russia. To be loyal both to Chamberlain’s England and to the England of tomorrow might seem an impossibility, if one did not know it to be an everyday phenomenon. Only revolution can save England, that has been obvious for years, but now the revolution has started, and it may proceed quite quickly if only we can keep Hitler out. Within two years, maybe a year, if only we can hang on, we shall see changes that will surprise the idiots who have no foresight. I dare say the London gutters will have to run with blood. All right, let them, if it is necessary. But when the red militias are billeted in the Ritz I shall still feel that the England I was taught to love so long ago for such different reasons is somehow persisting. (Orwell, My Country Right or Left, 1940)

Orwell determined that inaction was the action of fascism and could not be tolerated. He also saw that the indifference of ‘democracies’ prior to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, some anarchists, pacifists, and those that did not have the will to actively oppose bourgeois fascism, were themselves an instrument of nationalism and thus, fascism.

‘It is nonsense to talk of opposing Fascism by bourgeois “democracy”. Bourgeois “democracy” is only another name for capitalism, and so is Fascism; to fight against Fascism on behalf of “democracy” is to fight against one form of capitalism on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any moment. The only real alternative to Fascism is workers’ control. If you set up any less goal than this, you will either hand the victory to Franco, or, at best, let in Fascism by the back door. Meanwhile the workers must cling to every scrap of what they have won; if they yield anything to the semi-bourgeois Government they can depend upon being cheated. The workers’ militias and police-forces must be preserved in their present form and every effort to “bourgeoisify” them must be resisted. If the workers do not control the armed forces, the armed forces will control the workers. The war and the revolution are inseparable.’ (Orwell, ‘Three Parties that Mattered’: Extract from Homage to Catalonia, 1938)

In any serious emergency the contradiction implied in the Popular Front is bound to make itself felt. For even when the worker and the bourgeois are both fighting against Fascism, they are not fighting for the same things; the bourgeois is fighting for bourgeois democracy, i.e., capitalism, the worker, in so far as he understands the issue, for Socialism. And in the early days of the revolution the Spanish workers understood the issue very well. In the areas where Fascism was defeated they did not content themselves with driving the rebellious troops out of the towns; they also took the opportunity of seizing land and factories and setting up the rough beginnings of a workers’ government by means of local committees, workers’ militias, police forces, and so forth. They made the mistake, however (possibly because most of the active revolutionaries were Anarchists with a mistrust of all parliaments), of leaving the Republican Government in nominal control. And, in spite of various changes in personnel, every subsequent Government had been of approximately the same bourgeois-reformist character. At the beginning this seemed not to matter, because the Government, especially in Cataloñia, was almost powerless and the bourgeoisie had to lie low or even (this was still happening when I reached Spain in December) to disguise themselves as workers. Later, as power slipped from the hands of the Anarchists into the hands of the Communists and right-wing Socialists, the Government was able to reassert itself, the bourgeoisie came out of hiding and the old division of society into rich and poor reappeared, not much modified. Henceforward every move, except a few dictated by military emergency, was directed towards undoing the work of the first few months of revolution. Out of the many illustrations I could choose, I will cite only one, the breaking-up of the old workers’ militias, which were organized on a genuinely democratic system, with officers and men receiving the same pay and mingling on terms of complete equality, and the substitution of the Popular Army (once again, in Communist jargon, “People’s Army”), modelled as far as possible on an ordinary bourgeois army, with a privileged officer-caste, immense differences of pay, etc., etc. Needless to say, this is given out as a military necessity, and almost certainly it does make for military efficiency, at least for a short period. But the undoubted purpose of the change was to strike a blow at equalitarianism. In every department the same policy has been followed, with the result that only a year after the outbreak of war and revolution you get what is in effect an ordinary bourgeois State, with, in addition, a reign of terror to preserve the status quo. (Orwell, ‘Spilling the Spanish Beans’: Extract from Homage to Catalonia, 1937)

But who are the pro-Fascists? The idea of a Hitler victory appeals to the very rich, to the Communists, to Mosley’s followers, to the pacifists, and to certain sections among the Catholics. (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941)

Orwell would not tolerate apathy with the oncoming tidal waves of fascist autocracy in World War II. He believed that while socialism was flawed, it was the better than all the other alternatives, so much so that here was his plan to save England,

I suggest that the following six-point programme is the kind of thing we need. The first three points deal with England’s internal policy, the other three with the Empire and the world:–

I. Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.

II. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.

III. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.

IV. Immediate Dominion status for India, with power to secede when the war is over.

V. Formation of an Imperial General Council, in which the coloured peoples are to be represented.

VI. Declaration of formal alliance with China, Abyssinia and all other victims of the Fascist powers.

The general tendency of this programme is unmistakable. It aims quite frankly at turning this war into a revolutionary war and England into a Socialist democracy. I have deliberately included in it nothing that the simplest person could not understand and see the reason for. In the form in which I have put it, it could be printed on the front page of the Daily Mirror. But for the purposes of this book a certain amount of amplification is needed. (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941)

Immediately following this plan, he elaborates in detail on each point. I will only state the first one in the main text of this paper but will include the rest in the notes below. [1]  On the first point he writes,

I. Nationalization. One can “nationalize” industry by the stroke of a pen, but the actual process is slow and complicated. What is needed is that the ownership of all major industry shall be formally vested in the State, representing the common people. Once that is done it becomes possible to eliminate the class of mere owners who live not by virtue of anything they produce but by the possession of title-deeds and share certificates. State-ownership implies, therefore, that nobody shall live without working. How sudden a change in the conduct of industry it implies is less certain. In a country like England we cannot rip down the whole structure and build again from the bottom, least of all in time of war. Inevitably the majority of industrial concerns will continue with much the same personnel as before, the one-time owners or managing directors carrying on with their jobs as State-employees. There is reason to think that many of the smaller capitalists would actually welcome some such arrangement. The resistance will come from the big capitalists, the bankers, the landlords and the idle rich, roughly speaking the class with over £2,000 a year – and even if one counts in all their dependants there are not more than half a million of these people in England. Nationalization of agricultural land implies cutting out the landlord and the tithe-drawer, but not necessarily interfering with the farmer. It is difficult to imagine any reorganization of English agriculture that would not retain most of the existing farms as units, at any rate at the beginning. The farmer, when he is competent, will continue as a salaried manager. He is virtually that already, with the added disadvantage of having to make a profit and being permanently in debt to the bank. With certain kinds of petty trading, and even the small-scale ownership of land, the State will probably not interfere at all. It would be a great mistake to start by victimizing the smallholder class, for instance. These people are necessary, on the whole they are competent, and the amount of work they do depends on the feeling that they are “their own masters”. But the State will certainly impose an upward limit to the ownership of land (probably fifteen acres at the very most), and will never permit any ownership of land in town areas.

From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property of the State, the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is themselves. They will be ready then to endure the sacrifices that are ahead of us, war or no war. And even if the face of England hardly seems to change, on the day that our main industries are formally nationalized the dominance of a single class will have been broken. From then onwards the emphasis will be shifted from ownership to management, from privilege to competence. It is quite possible that State-ownership will in itself bring about less social change than will be forced upon us by the common hardships of war. But it is the necessary first step without any real reconstruction is impossible. (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941)

From our current vantage in the history in the United States, “bourgeois fascism” seems to many on the political right to be an impossibility. However, our state as a constitutionally based democracy is in tatters on the Republican right who are increasingly in favor of authoritarianism – the necessary step to fascism. Many conservative libertarians have also jettisoned the state as, at best, an example of anti-capitalism due to market regulation and at worse to make it so small we can drown it in the bathtub. While many of these folks have not acknowledged it, this really ranges from anarchism to pure market Darwinism. Certainly, all this would only play into the hands of those who would seek to protect their wealth and power not some anti-government ideology. In Orwell’s time the ‘state’ was not optional even with 20th century fascism and communism breathing down his throat. For Orwell, the state as “the common people” in socialism would make them “feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is themselves”. The proletariat would be promoted to co-owners of the state. Orwell did not see the oblivion of the state as a viable alternative. Certainly, the abolition of the state is not ‘viable’ in any sense of the word. However, for Orwell, the fatal flaw of any state was nationalism. He cited the rich English class as shining examples of decadent nationalism,

England is a family with the wrong members in control. Almost entirely we are governed by the rich, and by people who step into positions of command by right of birth. Few if any of these people are consciously treacherous, some of them are not even fools, but as a class they are quite incapable of leading us to victory. They could not do it, even if their material interests did not constantly trip them up. As I pointed out earlier, they have been artificially stupefied. Quite apart from anything else, the rule of money sees to it that we shall be governed largely by the old – that is, by people utterly unable to grasp what age they are living in or what enemy they are fighting. Nothing was more desolating at the beginning of this war than the way in which the whole of the older generation conspired to pretend that it was the war of 1914-18 over again. All the old duds were back on the job, twenty years older, with the skull plainer in their faces. Ian Hay was cheering up the troops, Belloc was writing articles on strategy, Maurois doing broadcasts, Bairnsfather drawing cartoons. It was like a tea-party of ghosts. And that state of affairs has barely altered. The shock of disaster brought a few able men like Bevin to the front, but in general we are still commanded by people who managed to live through the years 1931-9 without even discovering that Hitler was dangerous. A generation of the unteachable is hanging upon us like a necklace of corpses. (Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, 1941)

Orwell was a Democratic Socialist which is still the most prolific party in Europe today. There is no doubt that Jonah Goldberg was merely smoking the pot of bourgeois fascism when he fantasized the link between liberalism and fascism. Even now, in U.S. politics, the warnings and admonitions of Orwell ring true as QAnon regurgitates its radical conservative fantasies in praise of bourgeois fascism. Ironically, it is those that have the least to gain from bourgeois fascism that are its most ardent supporters. This exemplifies the extent to which history, language, culture, and marketing have eroded the hard-earned lessons from the past. It appears that the demons of Orwell’s era once again rise from the depths of Hades to conserve its dark domain in the twilight of mere mortals.

So, history certainly has a rhyme which beckons to us today. The reality of living in illusion in the U.S. is that the cat we see jumping on our lap to purr is really a very hungry old lion akin to the one in Nazi Germany. When the ancient notion of democracy is wholly abandoned by the ruling elites (e.g., white bred, wealthy capitalists) we find ourselves in Orwell’s chaotic world of ‘damned if we do’ and ‘damned if we don’t’, the hellacious necessity of impossible decision. For Orwell, the choice of every individual living in an illusory, anti-government, ‘free market’ with little or no state, was a ‘wish-fulfillment’ conservatism that must result in a dystopian nightmare. He was right. Let’s not forget that even Germany was required after World War I to be a republic, the Weimar Republic. These republics eventually erupted in the horrors of World War II. Orwell’s fight on the side of the proletariat, artists, and socialists in the Spanish Civil War against fascism failed and, to add insult to injury, the Stalinists communists took over much of what was left of the Republican resistance in Spain slaughtering the remaining socialists.

Orwell was a man who felt the pain of injustice in a time of mind-boggling, body-numbing dizziness requiring action but thriving on the meaninglessness of any action. When all ideals fail or fall into delusion, one must still find a way to live with meaning even if it has little hope of succeeding. However, unlike the delusions of the bourgeoisie, Orwell hung on to a version of the state that would be ‘owned’ by the people. Orwell was fully aware that that the communists were an abject failure just as the bourgeois capitalists were. However, his compass was to move towards egalitarianism, fairness, dignity, and income equality for the common folk. Even if this is yet another delusion, at least, it is based on a concern for the other which cannot dismiss the other or belittle the other in its delusional obsession with itself. If it is a delusion, it is a delusion which is centered on the same ideals the ancient Greeks envisioned in democracy as flawed as it was. So how did democracies and communism evolve from modernity? Through what lens does Levinas view the violence of 20th century states?

The Rise of the State in Modernity

For Levinas, traditional, enlightened liberalism is contaminated by a kind of obscurantism resulting in a more sedated but deadly predecessor to the endlessly repeated horrors of National Socialism or Nazi fascism. By ‘liberalism’ I do not mean the trite understanding in today’s U.S. politics. Hitherto, liberalism is meant as the enduring history from Kant to Hegel to British empiricism and enlightenment embodying all forms of democracy, capitalism, communism, and socialism. Enlightened liberalism is found upon the individual and its function as a collectivity. Both modern democracies and communism were offshoots of this tradition.

For 17th century English, Enlightenment thinkers Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke, the greater good was promoted by self-interest. Self-interest was necessarily tied to the ‘state of nature’ for these thinkers. In modern terms Hobbes is what we might call a pure materialist. Hobbes saw reasoning as merely a causal reaction to sensation. The world was full of objects which we bump into with our senses. We form images of them in our mind which remain there when we close our eyes. From this, similarities are recognized between things which give rise to signifiers. An example of a signifier could be a mark made on a stone which stands for some animal. The mark is a signifier. Signifiers can be abstracted in the mind and used in various applications. Signifiers give rise to ideas and knowledge is acquired from them. Ultimately, everything is material substance. Hobbes had a public disagreement with a contemporary of his time named Rene Descartes who believed that mind and body were two distinct substances so there could be a thinking thing which had no body. This was absurd for Hobbes who thought the only substance was in nature as a material body.

For Hobbes, it seems a certain insidious idea of ‘nature’ has been assigned to phenomenon as already known – as matter, as stuff, as thing called ‘substance’ which was self-evident. By ‘self-evident’ he did not mean ‘innate’. He meant how phenomena show itself to our sense. ‘Substance’ is a shorthand for showing of phenomena as material object, whether human, animals, or inanimate and nothing more. With this pre-understanding of phenomenon, relations are simply transactions. Generic signifiers such as matter, stuff, things can then be pragmatically taken as a common, radically reduced (regressus) assumption of all phenomena, as what really ‘is’ and nothing more. For example, a rock is an object. In turn, the assumed essence of a rock is simply its ‘thingness’, ‘object-ness’, its ‘stuff-ness’ or what in Latin we could call substance (substantia meaning ‘stand under’). By the way, in using the word ‘reduction’ I am not intending to evoke a true or false judgement. What I am referring to is a way of seeing, understanding, orienting oneself to our environing in the world. In a Kantian sense this kind of understanding would be stated as temporally a priori or a prior conditioning which makes a certain kind of sense possible. This is what I mean by ‘understanding’ as what rests under and guides our footing, our orientation, our standing. What stands under all phenomenon from Enlightenment is already understood from the ancient notion of substance.

Substantia is a controversial translation of the ancient Greek work ousia. A well-known 20th century phenomenologist philosopher Martin Heidegger takes issue with translating ousia as substance. Rather, Heidegger thinks the word should be translated as ‘being”. So, already in the translation from ancient Greece to Latin Christendom we have a change from being to what Heidegger tells us is present-at-hand. By present-at-hand he means a certain modality of being which privileges presence, a stark appearance of phenomena, over other ways or modalities of human beings in the world. For example, another way of human being in the world is when we are working with tools. When we are working with tools, we are not looking at the tool as an object present before us. The modality of “ready-to-hand” is how we work with tools because the tool disappears in use so we can focus on the work we are trying to accomplish with the tool. This modality can change if the tool breaks. In that case, the tool immediately becomes present-at-hand while we curse it out. I will come back to this a little further down. What I want to draw our attention back to is the modality of present-at-hand where substantia accurately describes a particular modality of human being in the world. In the case of present-at-hand, substantia is a particular appearing of how we are situated in phenomenon. When the Latin translation converts this modality of our being in the world into ‘essence’ we privilege a modality of human being in the world over other ways we are in the world. In this case, substantia refers to the verb ‘to be’. ‘Being’ here is thought as stark existence, as the privileged and myopic way in which we are situated in the modality of present-at-hand.

Once this historic reduction is made, all is reduced to mere materiality and control, ownership, and self-interest become front and center. The ancient Latin idea of res publica (republic) became a loose translation as the term ‘commonwealth’. Hobbes had a notion of the commonwealth that was based on rational self-interest which motivated each person’s compulsory entry into an implicit ‘social contract’ with a ‘sovereign authority’ to preserve his or her life. Certainly, this contract could be broken by the sovereign at any time, but the social contract was based on the devil you thought you knew. Let’s take a deeper dive into this and the idea of commonwealth with its ancient underpinnings.

The Cato Institute, a very conservative, libertarian think tank is sympathetic to the idea that the commonwealth was invented to protect private property. The idea of a commonwealth as self-interest rests on ancient metaphysics which can be traced back certainly to a Roman statesman named Cicero. Cicero was a major influencer of the founding fathers most notable, Thomas Jefferson. In an article on the Cato Institute’s web site Paul Meany tells us,

Cicero believed “political communities and commonwealths were established particularly so that people could hold on to their property.” He advised that the first and foremost duty of those who administer public affairs is to “see that everyone holds on to what is his, and that private men are never deprived of their goods by public acts.” Cicero accepts that no property is private by nature; however, “everything produced on the earth is created for the use of mankind.” Despite explaining the importance of the state’s protection of private property at great length, a glaring fault in Cicero’s writings is that he did not adequately explain how one can initially appropriate property justly. At best, he reasoned that convention, tradition, and harmony are adequate reasons for us to respect private property. (Paul Meany, 2021)

The notion of commonwealth was really a religious idea that Latin Christianity took from the ancient Hebrew account of Genesis where God says,

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:27 to 1:31)

So, the earth belongs to all humankind, but practicality requires private property. While Meany acknowledges commonwealth means literally what it says, he goes further to state Rome meant it to protect private property. Meany goes on to discuss how John Locke arrived at this conclusion as well. However, his reasoning does not follow the path of Locke’s reasoning as I will show a little later. For now, I want to dig deeper into what made such notions as private property and commonwealth even possible in the way they get articulated in the Enlightenment tradition especially. So, how does the idea of commonwealth play into the previous mentioned idea of substance?

In a review of Michael Krom’s book “The Limits of Reason in Hobbes’s Commonwealth”, the reviewer tells us,

In chapter 6, Krom moves to the role of philosophy in maintaining political stability. He distinguishes vain from true philosophy, and summarises Hobbes’s explanation of the origin of vain philosophy and how it leads to sedition through the pride of philosophers in thinking that they know better than the sovereign. In explaining the origin of vain philosophy, Krom focuses on the failure of philosophers to define their terms (Leviathan 8), and omits to mention the passage in Leviathan 46 (especially the Latin version), where Hobbes ingeniously diagnoses the ultimate source of vain philosophy as being the verb ‘to be’ when used as the copula and Greek and Latin. Aristotle assumed that there must be something in reality corresponding to every component of a true proposition. Since there is no material substance or quality corresponding to ‘is’, he invented the immaterial entity ‘being’, and hence the whole range of fictitious metaphysical entities integral to vain philosophy. Since it lacks the copula, the Hebrew language is not infected by meaningless abstractions or immaterialism, and the Old Testament contains a purer theology than that of Greek and Latin writers influenced by Aristotle. (Reviewed by George MacDonald Ross, 2011)

The notion of being in Aristotle as existence is disputed by a very renown Greek scholar named Charles Kahn is his work “The Greek Verb ‘To Be’ and the Problem of Being” (Kahn, 1965). He claims that the notion of existence or ‘is-ness’ is not in the ancient Greek language as a much later 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill claims. Mill was highly influenced by the Enlightenment philosophers we are discussing. Mill furthers Enlightenment in suggesting what matters is what is and leads him to utilitarianism which has been taken up by the analytic school of philosophy in the United States and some psychological branches of behaviorism. Kahn does believe that the Greeks used the verb einai translated as to-be more as a grammatical connector for a noun and a predicate or premise and conclusion of logic. Furthermore, Kahn tells us for the ancient Greeks, einai did not have anything to do with being or existence and later Latin notions of substance. Without even thinking about it, we use the term existence as a word which privileges the ‘real’ over illusion.

We think the practical world as ‘real’. Utility is more important because of what it does in ‘reality’. So, at a certain point in history we take what every child thinks when they ask us, “Why do we have money and why isn’t everything free?” We explain to them the notion of private property upon which they look at us puzzled and respond, “Oh, ok” as if it should be in a Monty Python skit. Could it be that the child, as many philosophers of the past, had not yet comprehended the history of ‘what is’ and ‘what is real’ and why it is exclusive? I am trying to elucidate here a valid question in language and history and how our answer came to color, before we even are aware of it, how we understand the nature of ‘reality’. Also, to avoid any confusion, I do not deny the need for money and private property. Certainly, it is a necessity from a practical point of view. I am simply trying to bring out how the notions of utility and practicality have been truncated from their origins. In so doing, the consequences of this negatively affects how we understand the world, other people, and our notions of state.

These distinctions are important because the phenomenologist philosopher, Martin Heidegger, claims to think that what comes to presence in the mode of present-at-hand does not, for example, account for how humans are spread across time from the past through the present to the future. We are not merely temporally located in a ‘now’ moment as a stone would be for instance. We are not locked in a present, ‘now’ moment where our senses are only perceiving matter as stark presence-at-hand. Our lived experience of time has a stretch. One example is how we experience time when we are depressed as slow or when we are on a roller coast and time flies by. Neither do we experience space as linear distance. We experience distance as what Heidegger thinks as the human capacity to dissever, bring closer and nearer, ‘regions’. For example, when we are looking at a glass of water through a pair of glasses the glasses may be closer to us in terms of linear distance, but our lived reality is that we inhabit the ‘space’ of the glass of water, the region of the glass of water that our attention is directed to, not the abstract, linear distance of the glasses on our face. This is how we experience time and space which comes ‘naturally’ with children as well. To think that clock time and linear space is the ‘practical reality’ we live is an abstraction based on a history of language and thought, not what actually ‘is’ as it shows itself. Additionally, science has well shown us that clock time and linear spatiality are highly relative – there is no absolute. Heidegger thought this reduction privileges the present due to an abstraction of history and grievously reduces the reality of how we experience and think about ‘what is’.

We do not process language in terms of a serial succession of words. It would be like walking down a hallway and calculating the spatial distance between each wall, floor, and ceiling before we take another step. We orient ourselves in a totally different way when it comes to space and time. Space and time are not a serial successions of linear spatial calculations or a consciousness of one ‘now’ moment after another. If that were so, we would be running into walls and moving very slowly in a way which would not make the survival of Homo sapiens possible. Similarly, ideas do not come to us as present-at-hand where each word comes to our consciousness before we process the next word. Our current digital computers process information in a serial fashion like this and only seem to ‘think’ in certain ways in which we think because they process data much faster. In my opinion, with very recent breakthroughs in the last few days, quantum computing we will be able to have androids which think like we do. Apparently, IBM already has a 127-qubit machine. [2]

Human consciousness or ideas as present-at-hand take around 150 to 300 milliseconds to come into a conscious idea. Athletes are able to process their movements much faster because they trained their motion to be reflexive after years of habitual training. When we are thinking an idea, we dissever the idea from the whole of language so that it becomes present-at-hand or visible as a particular conscious thought. Behavioral psychology is effective because it deals with our associative behavior without reference to language and ideas. Behaviorists work at the level of habituation and retrain associations more as reflexive embodiment. The ability we have to experience language as a whole rather than as pieces is what Kant, Heidegger, Chomsky, Jung, and many others have referred to as a priori. A priori means prior to our conscious, intentional ideas. Freuds notion of the unconscious is based on a priori. Now we can rewrite the sentence we used earlier in the introduction as this:

Language is the a priori historic, cultural map that defines reality for us.

The ancient Greeks did not have these historic shorthand ways to perceive the world that we take for granted. They had a much older and richer history and language which took account of a much fuller range of what we now think as ‘reality’ or existence.

Ancient Greeks and the Time Before Being

From my reading of the ancient Greeks, I find their notion of privation (steresis) and apeiron (infinite, unlimited, indefinite) might illustrate an unaccounted-for excess which has been lost through time. Steresis for the latter ancient Greek Aristotle (c. 384-c.322 BC) is opposition defined in terms of the absence to presence, negation to affirmation. Eidos (idea in Plato) is used by Plato (c. 428-c.348 BC) as his notion of the forms.

In much earlier Greek history, Eidos meant look or shape. Heraclitus (c. 535-c.475 BC) used the logos (word) to suggest order and speech. Here are some translations of some of the fragments from various sources that we have,

Though this Word [logos] is true evermore, yet men are as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time as before they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how it is what it is. But other men know not what they are doing when awake, even as they forget what they do in sleep.

Though the logos is common, the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.

things whole and not whole, what is drawn together and what is drawn asunder, the harmonious and the discordant. The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one.

On those who enter the same rivers, ever different waters flow.

Also, another source is translated as,

We step and do not step in to the same rivers; we are and are not. (DKBht)

Apeiron (without limit, peras) was a very ancient term associated with Hesiod’s idea of chaos as prior to the gods. I prefer to think about it as the fertile void from which form (peras) emerges. This is common to many cosmological myths including the Hebrew account in Genesis. Peras (end, limit, boundary) brings order and harmony as logos.

However, in earlier Greek thinking privation is thought as what cannot come to presence. It seems to me that, in varying degrees, not all could be brought into what is seen as a reduction to a negative idea (eidos). Other ancient Greek, pre-Socratic philosophers seem to go against privation as negative idea with various admonitions of Heraclitus, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Xenophanes, Pythagoreans, Eleatics by Melissus, the atomists, and Zeno. They do not write exclusively in such explicit bipolar, reductional oppositions.

Anaximander by Diogenes Laertius tells us this about apeiron,

Anaximander son of Praxiades, of Miletus: he said that the principle and element is the Indefinite, not distinguishing air or water or anything else… [Diogenes Laertius n, 1-2 (DKi2Ai])

We also have this account from Aristotle of the earlier Greek philosophers,

We cannot say that the apeiron has no effect, and the only effectiveness which we can ascribe to it is that of a principle. Everything is either a source or derived from a source. But there cannot be a source of the apeiron, for that would be a limit of it. Further, as it is a beginning, it is both uncreatable and indestructible. For there must be a point at which what has come to be reaches completion, and also a termination of all passing away. That is why, as we say, there is no principle of this, but it is this which is held to be the principle of other things, and to encompass all and to steer all, as those assert who do not recognize, alongside the infinite, other causes, such as Mind or Friendship. Further they identify it with the Divine, for it is ‘deathless and imperishable’ as Anaximander says, with the majority of the physicists. (Physics 3.4; 203b)

These accounts tend to disqualify apeiron as having an origin (archê) much less even an opposite as in propositional negation. It seems that for Anaximander chaos (χάος, yawning gap) and apeiron may have had some early similarity in the sense of indeterminate. This notion of apeiron would appear to add another hint of anarchy, no origin, and bring it closer to Hesiod’s notion of chaos. It could well be that Hesiod and perhaps Anaximander are telling us of a radical disjunction, a gap other than distinctions of whole/not whole, together/asunder, harmony/disharmony, and all things/one. (Dreher)

In this way of thinking, privation in early Greek thinking does not necessarily have elements as what comes to presence as mere negation, as the idea (eidos) of what is not. In the case of idea as negation, privation must always come to presence under the auspices of the showing of absence. Perhaps one might think the earlier ‘primitive’ Greek notions were inferior or under-developed with a view to latter developments. However, I understand this as, the early Greeks did not yet have, much less accept, such a reduction as a positive indication of the scope of their inquiries. As I previously discussed, Kahn makes the case that einai has nothing to do with being and existence. This would indicate that a reduction to being was not a given for Aristotle as Heidegger and Latin Christianity thought. I think the earlier notion of privation as an unaccounted-for excess, a radical rupture of what we think as ‘being’, was what Levinas would latter put a face on, the face of the other. In this case, Hesiod’s chaos has become a face.

From the latter Greek philosophers, logos seems to have been associated with speaking/words and strife as oppositions of whole/not whole, together/asunder, harmony/disharmony, and ‘all things’/one. I find this to have elements of the seen/unseen in Aristotle’s notion of privation. Aristotle thinks of logos as persuasive dialectics. When privation or steresis “becomes a kind of eidos“, it becomes a “thinking about being”. Eidos is in Heideggerian terminology is ‘what shows itself’ or what becomes present as coming to presence before us. Ontology is the study of being (Greek: ὄν, on; GEN. ὄντος, ontos, ‘being’ or ‘that which is’ and -logia (from logos, -λογία, ‘logical discourse).

“Heidegger says that the basic category of steresis dominates Aristotle’s ontology. Steresis means lack, privation. It can also mean loss or deprivation of something, as in the example of blindness, which is a loss of sight in one who by nature sees. Steresis can also mean confiscation, the violent appropriation of something for oneself that belongs to another (Met. 1022 b33). Finally, Aristotle often calls that which is held as other in an opposition of contraries a privation. Heidegger will point out in his later essay on Physics B1 that Aristotle understands this deprivation as itself a kind of eidos. Thus, steresis is the lack that belongs intrinsically to being. According to Heidegger, with the notion of steresis Aristotle reaches the pinnacle of his thinking about being. Heidegger even remarks that Hegel’s notion of negation needs to be returned to its dependency on Aristotle’s more primordial conception of the not.” (Brogan)

To suggest that – privation may be an excess to Heidegger’s notion of Being would be absurd to Heidegger. Heretofore, in keeping Macquarrie and Robinson translation of “Being and Time” I will capitalize ‘Sein’ to mean Being as the universal, ontological sense of all of Being and lower case ‘sein’ to mean ontic or individual beings. Heidegger discusses certain phenomenal ways of being as in anxiety when “all beings retreat” meaning there is no object, reason, cause as in the case of fear. He further states, “in anxiety, Dasein gets brought before itself through its own Being” (Being and Time, 184). In anxiety there is sheer and empty Being or Being as such. However, anxiety as an existentiell or situational way of being in the world casts privation more as a lack not as an exteriority to Being for Heidegger. Heidegger imputes on Aristotle an assumption that einai meant to-be. Kahn disputes this as a certain later development in which the notion of Being cannot, in Heidegger’s definition, exclude anything. If this definition is accepted, then of course any excess would be ‘thought’ as nonsense since the definition of Being cannot be limited for Heidegger. Heidegger thought human beings can have an inauthentic relation to Being. This is more like the negative of authenticity. Being cannot have an unaccounted excess as in the earlier Greek notion of privation. Or, as we shall see for Levinas, the other is exteriority, an excess to Being. For Levinas, ‘Being’ is a totalitarian retreat from radical alterity.

Let’s look at a notion of privation from G.W. Hegel (1770-1831). In Hegelian dialectical terms what is ‘seen’ of the idea of privation is its ‘not’ or negation. Hegel was highly influenced by Aristotle. Hegel is thought of as a German Idealist. Hegel earlier in his dialectic had derived the intuitive, abstract, universal, ideal concept of self from the plurality of individual selves. He then goes on to write that the self wants an external to itself. He calls this self-externalization. Since it is impossible, as no externality exists outside the self, self-externality negates itself and in so doing transforms (lifts up, sublates, German: aufheben) itself to a point. Self-externality wants to externalize itself as a point but again finds that impossible. So, self-externality negates itself to make another point. In so doing, self-externality wants to externalize itself again but since that is impossible, self-externalization negates multiple points and transforms itself to a line. As you might guess, self-externality as a line wants to externalize itself again. However, since that is impossible, self-externalizing transforms itself to a plane. When self-externalization wants to externalize itself as a plane, it also finds that impossible. Again, self-externalization negates itself as space and becomes time. Hegel thinks space and time are natural occurrences and intuitive phenomena. I think Antonio Wolf has a better explanation of how space and time come about in Hegel,

Space, Hegel tells us, is self-externality as such. To be external to itself is the concept of space. Immediate absolute space runs away infinitely from itself and never contains itself as it is always outside itself. Without determinacy, without distinctions of spatial or any other character, this self-externality fails to be self-external. It does not succeed in going outside itself and is immediately inside itself, and so space is itself revealed as non-spatial to itself, it is the zero-dimensional point. The point, however, is also the beginning of the success of space to be spatial, for a point is how space as outside itself appears as and relates to itself. From the standpoint of the absolute runaway expanse of immediate space, its encounter with another space which is outside it is the presence of that space as a point in relation to it. Mutually these two spaces are points to each other, but how can this be? In order to appear as points they must themselves be separated, they must be divided from each other by a third self-externality which enables them. One-dimensionality, or the line, is the self-externality of points. Two-dimensionality, or the plane, is the self-externality of lines. Three-dimensionality, or volume, is the self-externality of planes. (Wolf)

The reason I bring this up is to show how entrenched the notion of self was from an earlier period of Enlightenment. Hegel takes this notion to an absolute ideal as Concept. Hegel is still very popular in many kinds of philosophical circles. We can also see from Hegel how externality is thought vis-à-vis the self’s impossibility. Here privation is literally the concept of negation. As I previously wrote the notion of privation as the ‘idea’ of dialectical negation is found in the latter ancient Greek thinker, Aristotle. In this case, what is seen as privation is the negative of a positive premise of logic. Privation finds its utter dependence on the light or showing of what is seen as idea. Privation at this point in Greek thought has become a premise of logic. Nietzsche in his dissertation work that became the book “The Birth of Tragedy” sees this period in ancient Greece as the end of the greatness of the ancient Greeks which became ‘frozen’ as logic.

It seems to me the Greeks understood the notion of privation as a kind of excess which hid from experience but nevertheless was not nothing or emptiness. It was more like Heraclitus’ notion of a river which cannot be stepped into twice. The reduction we find beginning in Christian Rome and traversing through Descartes as ‘everything which could be doubted’ to his notion of perfection and infinity as overflowing itself to be proof of the existence of God, rests in the earliest beginnings of modernity with its prejudice for short-hand reductions to the purely negative. These reductions inevitably lead to private property, self-interest, ‘practicality’, ‘utility’ as found in Enlightenment. They get simply accepted as what is real, as what is true, and cannot be separated from the idea of the state. The negative makes the universal possible as it appears to polarize the opposition or contrary of a premise making any excess or difference to it reduced to its domain. The elimination of an excess or middle term gives it the appearance of a universal account. Could it be that the state, as long as it must live under the absolute terms of ‘Being’ or ‘Idea’ from the tradition of self-interested substantia is always doomed to fail? Isn’t there a kind of anesthetic circularity in these a priori, historic and linguistic assumptions?

Back to the Age of Enlightenment

In the reduction of all to ‘Being’ or the substantia of Enlightenment that philosophers call ontology we have a kind of circularity that always already sums up all possibilities of human experience. Even what ‘Being’ isn’t finds its negative idea and thus logical (logos) totality. This useless circularity elicits a certain orientation to everything we encounter as mere objects to which we now simply think or associate as pure practicality. Being and existence itself is more generically given as what stands under all; the rubric of ‘stuff’. This then is what Hobbes referred to as the state of “mere nature” which differed from John Locke in some ways we will explore further below.

As a side note, science has, in its own way, gone well beyond the Hobbesian reduction by looking much more closely at what makes up ‘stuff’, a planet, a universe, an atom, a sub-atomic ‘particle’. For science, the word ‘particle’ is a useful abstraction.

With any other object, the object’s properties depend on its physical makeup — ultimately, its constituent particles. But those particles’ properties derive not from constituents of their own but from mathematical patterns. As points of contact between mathematics and reality, particles straddle both worlds with an uncertain footing. (Editor) [3]

A ‘particle’ is a virtual ‘wave function’. It only becomes a ‘particle’ when the wave function collapses. Even then, the ‘particle’ is more like an ocean with wave-like currents. Particles are better thought as energy fields with wave crests and troughs. The crests and troughs have higher and lower concentrations of quantum energies. Quantum waves are thought to ‘pop in and out of existence’ according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. What do they mean by ‘popping in and out of existence’? Quantum physicists tell us ‘out of existence’ means ‘virtual particles’ which do not ‘exist’ except as a highly abstract mathematical function which includes all possibilities of matter. Virtual particles are an essential part of what we think as ‘existence’. Under certain circumstances these virtual particles are elicited to make such things as electrons, protons, etc. – matter. Virtual particles may also explain entangled particles and how they can react instantly over vast distances with no respect to time and the speed of light. What we think as ‘real’, as materiality, as what shows itself to the senses can never become merely an object to the senses. It can only exist as a yet unfinished mathematics. There is no absolute ‘is’ as an object present to the senses, no substance, to reality in the way Hobbes and Enlightenment perceived it. Similarly, philosophy from the ancient Greeks to modern science and, perhaps intuitively religion, perceives that our ‘understanding’ is what is lacking. I think our history is also what makes our notions of state condemned to perpetually push Sisyphus’ stone up the hill which must always roll down from the fascist state.

To review, Hobbes viewed absolute sovereignty as a collective decision where the ruled entered unwillingly into a social contract with the sovereign. The only alternative would be the chaotic ‘state of nature’ somehow ruled under the pure signification of random materiality. Hobbes viewed this state of nature as the war of all against all. In his book, Leviathan published in 1651, he writes on social contract theory. For Hobbes, “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.” Here, self-interest meant people willingly give up some things in the hope that the sovereign authority would let them live. The social contract theory gave them a sense of order, commerce, God – meaning for their “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives”. (Hobbes, Leviathan XIII.9)

Ironically, Hobbes did believe in God and gave a cosmological argument for the existence of God saying the only thing we can know about God is that he is the “first cause of all causes”, and therefore, exits. (Thomas Hobbes) Here we have God as a substance which is the first cause of ‘stuff’ and the rest must be left to agnosticism. He made no attempt to explain how the ‘first cause’ could be material without a prior cause.

So, what of the state and the mere ‘state of nature’ as our model?

Hobbes’s near descendant, John Locke, insisted in his Second Treatise of Government that the state of nature was indeed to be preferred to subjection to the arbitrary power of an absolute sovereign. But Hobbes famously argued that such a “dissolute condition of masterlesse men, without subjection to Lawes, and a coercive Power to tye their hands from rapine, and revenge” would make impossible all of the basic security upon which comfortable, sociable, civilized life depends. There would be “no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” If this is the state of nature, people have strong reasons to avoid it, which can be done only by submitting to some mutually recognized public authority, for “so long a man is in the condition of mere nature, (which is a condition of war,) as private appetite is the measure of good and evill.” (Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy)

As Orwell, John Locke was highly critical of authoritarianism both on an individual and institutional level. Individuals must use critical reason to make decisions for themselves based on facts not opinions or superstitions. On the institutional level there are legitimate and illegitimate functions. Reason should be used to maximize human flourishing “for the individual and society both in respect to its material and spiritual welfare”,

It shall suffice to my present Purpose, to consider the discerning Faculties of a Man, as they are employ’d about the Objects, which they have to do with: and I shall imagine that I have not wholly misimploy’d my self in the Thoughts I shall have on this Occasion, if in this Historical, Plain Method, I can give any Account of the Ways, whereby our Understanding comes to attain those Notions of Things, and can set down any Measure of the Certainty of our Knowledge…. (I.1.2, N: 43–4—the three numbers, are book, chapter and section numbers respectively, followed by the page number in the Nidditch edition)

The term ‘idea’, Locke tells us “…stands for whatsoever is the Object of the Understanding, when a man thinks” (I.1.8, N: 47). Experience is of two kinds, sensation and reflection. One of these—sensation—tells us about things and processes in the external world. The other—reflection—tells us about the operations of our own minds. Reflection is a sort of internal sense that makes us conscious of the mental processes we are engaged in. Some ideas we get only from sensation, some only from reflection and some from both. (John Locke)

Locke tells us that sovereignty lies in the people not an aristocrat. Neither Hobbes nor Locke believed in innate ideas as Plato did with his notion of memory. Descartes thought an innate idea was infinity which was placed in our mind by God and from which we get the idea of God. Locke believed we all start as blank tablets (tabula rasa) and, as Hobbes, believed all ideas comes from the senses but Locke broadens the senses from Hobbes to include reflection. Locke, as Hobbes, also believes in social contract theory. However, his conception of the state of nature necessarily includes “natural rights”. Like Hobbes, Locke tells us an idea signifies an “Object of Understanding” which must arise from the sensation of objects in the “external world”. However, unlike Hobbes, Locke tells us ideas arise from reflection. Reflection is not merely a signifier for an object which can be abstracted from material substance but another kind or type of idea which arises from the senses. While reflection arises from senses of the external world, Locke thinks of reflection as internal. In reflection, rationality is internally based not based on external objects. Rationality in reflection gives us access to another kind of ‘state of nature’ he calls “natural rights”.

For Locke ideas could start as simple ideas but the mind could put simple ideas together to make complex ideas. There were three kinds of actions the mind could perform:

1. Complex ideas were made up of two kinds he called ideas of substance and ideas of modes. Substances are independent existents like God, angels, humans, animals, plants, etc. Modes are dependent existents.

2. Complex ideas of relation where separate ideas could be thought in relation to each other.

3. Complex ideas could be made abstract so they could leave behind particularities from which they were derived. We might call these transformations today.

He also speculated that God could add ideas to matter with a kind of internal organization which mimicked the mind. This could lead Locke to think that the soul could trans-mutate from one body to another and there could even be bodies with multiple souls. From this, it could be that the soul was immortal.

In any case, the reflective mind could ascertain a law of nature he called natural rights and which the brute beast of Hobbes would not include. Locke tells us,

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions…. (Treatises II.2.6)

Since, natural law dictated the equivalent of the Golden Rule, social contract theory was called for so that mutual respect would guarantee these rights. According to Locke, this natural right entitled everyone to life, liberty, health, and property. The U.S. Declaration of Independence contains the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which is an indication of the sway Locke had on our Founding Fathers. Also, this natural right forbid war and slavery. However, if one side started a war unjustly then Locke would allow the offenders to be taken as slaves. This consideration seemed to conveniently be left out of the original U.S. Constitution which simply stated nothing about the injustice of slavery. Additionally, Locke believed,

God, who hath given the World to Men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of Life, and convenience. The Earth, and all that is therein, is given to Men for the Support and Comfort of their being. (Locke, 1689)

In the first U.S. Constitution written by John Adams entitled “Constitution of Massachusetts”, Adams starts with (Adams, 1780),

A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Article I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

In the U.S. ‘commonwealth’ is still the official description of Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The immediate influence for John Adams in thinking of a new government came from England which was a ‘British Commonwealth’. The idea of a commonwealth was not just an idea of Locke but went all the way back to the Romans and Cicero as was previously mentioned. Locke had to jump through lots of hoops to justify private property. He thought of private property as a more of a practical necessity.

As much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much by his labor he may fix a property in; whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. (Locke, 1689) (Treatises II.5.31)

and furthermore,

Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough, and as good left; and more than the as yet unprovided could use. So that, in effect, there was never the less for others because of his inclosure for himself: for he that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all. No body could consider himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left to quench his thirst: and the case of land and water, where there is enough, is perfectly the same. (Locke, 1689) (Treatises II.5.33)

which lead to the need for money,

… before the desire of having more than one needed had altered the intrinsic value of things, which depends only on their usefulness to the life of man; or had agreed, that a little piece of yellow metal, which would keep without wasting or decay, should be worth a great piece of flesh, or a whole heap of corn; though men had a right to appropriate by their labor, each one of himself, as much of the things of nature, as he could use; yet this could not be much, nor to the prejudice of others, where the same plenty was left to those who would use the same industry. (Locke, 1689) (Treatises II.5.37)

This partage of things in an inequality of private possessions, men have made practicable out of the bounds of society, and without compact, only by putting a value on gold and silver, and tacitly agreeing to the use of money: for in governments, the laws regulate the rights of property, and the possession of land is determined by positive constitutions. (Locke, 1689) (Treatises II.5.50)

From the commonwealth that God gave to all men, Locke’s reflection based on internal ideas lead to the notion of private property and the legitimacy of money. The importance of this discussion is that Locke recognized a higher level of ideas which synthesized simple ideas into complex ideas which did not rest simply on pure substance, the ‘stuff’ of Hobbes universe. Reflection could take on a level of complexity, transformations, relations, and dependence which was not merely external but internal. In this, Locke imperfectly conceived how a world could be internally mirrored in each person. However, it also introduced major problems like, how is it every person does not have to learn language from brute repetition and individual synthesis after we are born? Perhaps for Locke, it was the trans-mutation of the soul but that is more an idea of dogma than reflection. Also, how is it that ideas came already categorized such as quantity (unity, plurality, totality), quality (reality, negation, limitation), relation (inherence and subsistence (substance and accident), causality and dependence (cause and effect), community (reciprocity)), and modality (possibility, existence, necessity)? These are the categories of understanding which Kant tells us are a priori.

Kant’s monumental breakthrough in philosophy, the transcendental method, allowed him to fuse the salient objectives of rationalism and empiricism, the two integral yet distinct views of philosophy. Rationalism attributed intellectual intuition (i.e., innate ideas) to humans dispensing the notions of universality and necessary factual knowledge whereas empiricism accorded the sensible intuition, hindering the rationalist approach. Kant helped bridge this gap by agreeing with empiricists that all human factual knowledge begins with sensible intuition (the only kind we have), and by agreeing with rationalists that we bring something a priori to the knowing process. Factual knowledge, according to Kant, involves both sensory experiences, which provide its content, and a priori mental structures, which provide its form. It is insufficient to have one without the other. He famously writes, “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind”. There is nothing for us to know without empirical, sense content; nevertheless, without such a priori frameworks, we have no method of giving intelligible form to whatever content we may have. (Gupta)

In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy in the article entitled “Kant and Hume on Morality”, Kant tells us the individual is autonomous, from Greek meaning ‘self-rule’. By ‘autonomy’ Kant means,

the property of the will by which it is a law to itself (independently of any property of the objects of volition)” (G 4:440). According to Kant, the will of a moral agent is autonomous in that it both gives itself the moral law (is self-legislating) and can constrain or motivate itself to follow the law (is self-constraining or self-motivating). The source of the moral law is not in the agent’s feelings or inclinations, but in her “pure” rational will, which Kant identifies as the “proper self” (G 4:461). A heteronomous will, on the other hand, is governed by something other than itself, such as an external force or authority. (Wilson, 2022)

Enlightenment is built on the notion that the proper meaning of individual will is that it is a law unto itself. Enlightenment defines the ‘law unto itself’ as self-interest. Additionally, the improper will is heterogenous as it is governed by something other than itself. If individual will is interrupted by the radical alterity of the other or by an ethics not based on the social contract of self-interest the will is condemned to inauthenticity. Therefore, autonomy is based on rationality. Kant intended that ‘proper’ self-interest would give way to a universal law. The proper meaning is satisfied by Kant’s categorical imperative which states, “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal [moral] law”. While he may have envisioned a link of altruistic ethics based on the universal, the basis is derived from me, the individual. Many powerful people have reasoned that they are the ‘final solution’ to the ignorant masses of “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives”. However, Kant also tells us not to treat people as a means but as an end. The ‘end’ for Kant is not just any end but an end which arrives at ethics. However, when ethics is based on rationality determined by self-interest, the history of the state has repeatedly shown that it can only rise to the façade of ethics. Only an end not based on me or ‘not me’ or its endless simulacrum but on the radical infinity of the face of the other can ‘end’ find ethics.

Capitalism as formulated by Adam Smith appears to satisfy the categorical imperative in that if all people act on self-interest, then the greatest satisfaction will be generated for the greatest amount of people meaning competition produces the greatest quality product for the cheapest price. However, self-interest promotes treating people as a means and not an end. The result of this is that Kant’s notion of the proper, autonomous individual was later overtaken by capitalistic democracies to be the Enlightenment notion of self-interested individual. The greater good had become subject to and defined by the greater self-interest. Capitalism encourages and rewards self-interest. In this way it can work to amalgamate self-interests into the hands of a few. Contrarily, the Founding Fathers believed the separation of powers in the structure of our government would prevent this kind of amalgamation.

Locke’s “state of nature has a law of nature to govern it” which “obliges everyone” that “reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions”. However, when ‘equal’ right to vote is taken as ‘the election was rigged’ or ‘life’ means a woman’s individual autonomy is subject to the state so she cannot decide under any circumstances to abort a fetus or ‘possessions’ means the one with the most toys wins while the masses of the world are impoverished, then – ‘ethics’ becomes the sole domain of the bourgeoisie and once again plants the seeds of fascism. For Kant, we have a state of nature whose self-interest leads by rationality and founds a state in which somehow self-interest and the other live in harmony. Kant’s ‘proper self’ is motivated by pure rational will, people are treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to the self-interest of others. Our Founding Fathers were fully aware of the dangerous results of self-interest which were not guided by Locke and Kant’s rationality. They believed that the checks and balances of our Constitution was built to resist such attacks. When others are treated like a means to an end, transactionally, James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers how the balance of his government structure would prevent the consolidation of power into a few,

Having reviewed the general form of the proposed government, and the general mass of power allotted to it; I proceed to examine the particular structure of this government, and the distribution of this mass of power among its constituent parts.

One of the principal objections inculcated by the more respectable adversaries to the constitution, is its supposed violation of the political maxim, that the legislative, executive and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct. In the structure of the federal government, no regard, it is said, seems to have been paid to this essential precaution in favor of liberty. The several departments of power are distributed and blended in such a manner, as at once to destroy all symmetry and beauty of form; and to expose some of the essential parts of the edifice to the danger of being crushed by the disproportionate weight of other parts.

No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Were the federal constitution therefore, really chargeable with this accumulation of power or with a mixture of powers, having a dangerous tendency to such an accumulation, no further arguments would be necessary to inspire a universal reprobation of the system. I persuade myself however, that it will be made apparent to every one, that the charge cannot be supported, and that the maxim on which it relies, has been totally misconceived and misapplied. In order to form correct ideas on this important subject, it will be proper to investigate the sense, in which the preservation of liberty requires, that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct. (Madison, 1788)

In this structural balance of government powers, Madison thought the basic conflict which occurs from the pure self-interest of capitalism and the enlightened rational imperative to treat others as an end in themselves would be solved for the state. However, as we have seen, the Enlightenment path of rationalism was itself built partially on the self-evidence of the objectivity of the senses which adhered to social contract. For Enlightenment, this meant that the checks and balances of self-interest would prevent, for Locke, or at least resist, for Hobbes, tyranny. It turns out after Enlightenment the trial of history demonstrated by the Trump administration pointedly tells us that self-interest does not necessarily spawn social contracts that are guided by treating others equally. Furthermore, there are no governmental checks and balances which can perpetually forestall the consolidation of various branches of government like the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government. Under the insane and dangerous lies of Trump, the corruption of the Justice Department, decades of Congressional gerrymandering, and shameful radical right-wing loading of the Supreme Court clearly demonstrate to those paying attention that the practical reality of self-interest mitigated by social contract results in one more example of the failed history of state from liberal Enlightenment. Under Trump we could have very easily lost our democracy and the next time, there will be a next time, we may not be so fortunate.

We are all baptized in the tragic consequences of being “all too human” as Nietzsche reminds us. However, the daemon of wisdom and justice requires action even when action seems impossible. It is not possible to be true to oneself without being true to the other. The state is a collection of people who are bound together for better or worse. We are not nomadic. We only find an empty shell of existence if we live in narcissistic delusions that the state is optional or able to survive by mere self-interest of a few. For Orwell, the only way the state could be viable was for the ‘state to be themselves’. However, when ‘themselves’ is conditioned by unmitigated self-interest in the socialist state, it is also doomed to failure. Eventually, the history of Enlightenment must be replaced by a new history which points us in the direction of Levinas. The only way to be ‘ourselves’ is for us to be towards the other; to face the other with integrity and conscience. The poor, the disenfranchised the oppressed must have a stake in the state for the state to thrive. Self-interest does not and cannot provide a path forward and is only forever condemned to repeat the past. The history of self-interest continually shows the battle lines of protectionism are draw by the few to prohibit entry and conserve power at the expense of the many.

Foucault’s symbiotic necessity and fog of sanity and insanity in “Madness and Civilization” is the inevitable result of creating the world, the state, in our own image. The gaze of Medusa is the narcissism of state nationalism when protected by the few. The ‘one’ as state is made up of many ‘ones’. When ‘me’ is pronounced, the invocation of the state is already assured. The existential decision which reckons with the other to which I am essentially indebted, must by decision decry the illusory fictions of self-satisfaction at the expense of the other. To paraphrase a wise man, to lose one’s life for the sake of the other is to find life. The essence of life is the other, which cannot be the propositional negation of ‘not-me’. To abandon oneself to the nationalism of self-interest is to lose oneself in auto-fascination of a supplemented and marketed recreation of reality in certain one’s own image. When all one sees is pre-manufactured history of ‘oneself’, we call this dreaming while one is awake. When those among us mock the “Woke”, they put to death exteriority. The externality of the other recognizes indebtedness to the destitution and plight of the other. The prescription to be warm and filled by the bourgeoisie is like giving vinegar to a thirsty man dying on a Roman cross. Orwell recognized the monstrosity of the elite and the impending doom of the holocaust. He recognized the source as the unmitigated, protectionist strategies of the wealthy which pitted the other into a war of all against all, a Hobbesian Leviathan, a Machiavellian prince, a Donald Trump. Orwell also wrote about how even Catholicism, or I would add Christianity in general, has been sublimated in service to the nationalism of self-interest. Currently, in the U.S we are seeing the rise of Christian Nationalism. How will this be any different from what the Maga people call Sharia law?

Totalization of the Other Culminates in Nationalism of the State

From the perspective of the dominate occidental, philosophical history of ‘Being’ called ontology, the other is an idea, an eidos. This is fundamental to liberal Enlightenment as we have seen. The idea of the individual is universalized in the collectivity of self-interest under social contract theory. This is utilitarian transactionalism as the essence of the other. Transactionalism is only possible when the modality of the other is already, a priori, understood as eidos. The other becomes ‘presence’ as idea. This seems to me to take on the same reduction as substance which I discussed earlier. The other is substance as idea. Self-interest requires us to make use of the substance of the other who has become idea so we can acquire capital. To harken back to Heidegger and the idea of environment as standing reserve, we can also use the environment in the self-interest of capital acquisition. But what is the break between Heidegger and his ex-student Levinas?

Here is where the massive split between Levinas and Heidegger begins. For Heidegger, ‘Being’ (German: Sein) is a totality without excess. For Levinas, Heidegger’s ‘Being’ is a ‘nationalism’ of the highest order. Reinforcing Levinas’ claim is the fact that Heidegger committed himself to Nazism when he became the Rector of Freiberg University in 1933. While Levinas certainly understood Heidegger’s tact on the concrete facticity of lived human being in such acts as lived space and time, standing reserve of technology and the environment, the experience of art, etc., Levinas had a fundamental difference with the consignment of the other to Being. Additionally, Heidegger also discussed the everydayness of the ‘they-self’ (das man) as an inauthentic modality of being-in-the world. Wrathall writes this in his “Being-with (mitsein)” summary,

BEING-WITH is the character of DASEIN whereby it is always already structurally related to other Daseins (even when one is alone and others are actually absent). Mitsein (literally “being-with”) in everyday German simply means “togetherness” or “companionship,” but in Being and Time Heidegger gives the term a particular philosophical inflection. The everyday, public, cultural world of oneself among others is a “primary phenomenon” for Heidegger. Each one exists in a world saturated with others linked through shared social practices. (24. – Being-with (Mitsein), 2021)

For Heidegger, ‘being-with’ can fall into the inauthenticity of ‘everydayness’ he calls the ‘they-self’ (das man). Levinas found that such renditions of others reenforced a kind of totalism, or I would say a nationalism of Spirit, in the form of Being. Levinas asks us, are all experiences consumed by the totality of Being or are there concrete experiences which point towards an exteriority to Being? Certainly, as we have seen, concrete relations to others can take on transactional qualities but does that sum up our experiences of the other? The occidental history of metaphysics evolved from Aristotle’s inquiry into the physics of ‘first philosophy’, the study of being as being, to other ancient wisdom traditions to the advent of Christian metaphysics in Rome, and perhaps even from questions that loom in modern physics on the big bang (or big bounces) beg the question of first causes.

For Heidegger, metaphysics is ‘Being’ suspended over nothingness. He claims metaphysics asks the question, why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing? Jose Conrado A. Estafia tells us,

Science, with all its vastness, only deals with something. It accepts nothing of the nothing. For how can the nothing be tested or verified? We need not trouble about the nothing. “Science,” observes Heidegger, “wishes to know nothing of the nothing.” Science, in expressing its own proper essence, never calls upon the nothing for help. In the midst of this “controversy” the question begins to unfold and must be formulated explicitly: “How is it with nothing?” Such kind of inquiry may presuppose something. Thus we “posit the nothing in advance as something that ‘is’ such and such; we posit it as a being.” Our assumption is that nothing is something this or that. Hence Heidegger proceeds by saying that, with regard to the nothing, “question and answer alike are inherently absurd.” (Estafia, 2019)

However, for Heidegger, the metaphysical question brings us “for the first time before beings as such”. Estafia writes,

This is the reason why logic can never be of help in the original revelation of the truth of our existence. Heidegger’s declaration that logic is not primarily important for philosophy means that logic merely deals with the “surface phenomena of meaning – theoretical propositions.” The nothing is no object or any being at all. With nothing the manifestation of beings as such is possible. Heidegger believes that “in the being of beings the nihilation of the nothing occurs.” With this original nihilation of the nothing, Dasein is brought “for the first time before beings as such.” (Estafia, 2019)

For Levinas, metaphysics is the failed history of the radical alterity of the other. This can be demonstrated by many violent histories of theism. Additionally, instead of a face as Levinas would tell us, Heidegger finds the nothingness of metaphysics brings us before the question of Being as a whole. Heidegger writes,

Our inquiry concerning the nothing is to bring us face to face with metaphysics itself

….

Metaphysics is inquiry beyond or over beings that aims to recover them as such and as a whole for our grasp. In the question concerning the nothing such an inquiry beyond or over beings, beings as a whole, takes place. It proves thereby to be a “metaphysical” question. (Heidegger)

Levinas believes metaphysics historically lost its way from the root of metaphysics, which was always anchored in phenomenal, concrete experiences of radical alterity, the other. It is the question of exteriority with a face, a face of the he or she that we concretely experience. His inquiry asks, what was the metaphysical experience really always about? Do we get the notion of metaphysics from the question of nothingness which brings us before “beings as such” or does nothingness have a face? Is it possible that infinity is not just mathematical, not just a supposition of a mathematical singularity, or a Cartesian idea? Is it possible that the retreat from infinity which we face every day gets effaced by Being, by history and language as idea? If so, doesn’t this fundamentally change our orientation to ethics? Instead of ethics as social contract in the service of self-interest or some optional consideration of altruism, could it be that ethics points to a radical exteriority to all our lived experiences as mine (Heidegger, jemeinigkeit, “mineness”) or mitsein (literally “being-with”)? As we have seen, does the history of liberal Enlightenment level over the meta in our experience of the other? My question in this post is, if so, can we write an other history. Can we start a history more habitable for the planet and for each other?

If beings can only be understood in the framework of Being, the presentation of the other is already mediated into an authentic or inauthentic conception or experience of Being. However, the other which stands before me in his or her presentation is not always, already understood as a universal. The mode in which I actually encounter the other is not an assimilation or covering over of Being. Nor is it merely a repetitive simulacrum of some prefabricated mirage or phantasma of a face. Levinas goes even further to suggest that using the other as a means to an end has also become an end in itself – but not of the other, of the end as totalization. Totalization of the other is violent in its reduction. It is domination and slavery in the service of use-value to borrow a term of Karl Marx. Here, the exchange is human capital captivated by marketing in the useful object’s unknowing enslavement to artificial needs. The other has become a cog in a machine and as such is an end in itself – Levinas calls this murder.

The popular criticism of the ‘bad faith’ other (“othering me”) as the way others get objectified as an insufficient, evil, ignorant, weaker, inferior other is not the other at all. It is the idea of an other projected onto the other. It is the by-product of self-interest which totalizes the other, retreats from the face of the other as Levinas would tell us. It is the a priori historic, cultural map which defines reality and, in so doing, imprisons us in an internality without any reference to externality, the alterity of the other. The other in this sense is not the other at all but my own narcissistic face which gets taken as the other. If there is a hell, it is the one without another, my self-interest as ‘all there is’. In my estimation of Levinas, ontology is the totality of me without an other, without radical externality. Externality is not of the idea of God but externality has a face. The other does not inhabit my time, my space my universe as the totality of me. In Christian metaphysics, isn’t this the sin of vanity that cast the arch-angel Lucifer out of heaven into external hell – the sin of absolute narcissism? When a collectivity of self-interested ‘me-s’ create a state, it is inevitable that nationalism will doom the state to authoritarianism and fascism. Eventually, those who consolidate their self-interested power over others will create the Hobbesian state of Leviathan, the war of all against all. The war of all against all is fundamentally the absolute incongruity of one without the other.

Our history and language are not inconsequential as Enlightenment’s raw sense data would have us believe. Some might think it was fashioned for a reason, for survival. However, at the present time this tool which we employ has become a detriment to our planet and our survival. We need only look at the tragic failures of modernity to the present to understand that our time for adaptation to an essentially other history is now. Climate change informs us it can no longer be postponed. Ethics, altruism, self-interest, our major religions have all left us helpless to have a state which is survivable for us and the planet. The voice of Levinas offers a radical solution to start a history which does not retreat, deface, and totalize the other. What is needed is a recognition that the insufficiency of history itself gives no avenue for the other to be radically external other from the ‘me’ of history. This new history would be the call of responsibility to me to put away the historic narcissism of self-interested me-ism and recognize our limitations by allowing a radical alterity in the face of she or he. A history which allows exteriority is a history which fully realizes that we are not creators of reality. We have gifts freely given to us from the unknowing of birth which now must lead us to the recognition of externality – not just neutral, homogenized externality but externality which brings ‘me’ into fundamental question. For the first time the responsible choice to recognize radical externality of a he or she that is not a “not -me”, a negation of me, but a he or she, or they of the “third other” (mentioned below from Levinas’ latter work “Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence”). The externality of the other is not in my power, my history, or my freedom to comprehend. I think even the current state of modern physics should at least hint of the gravity of what we do not know.

The other that we stand before interrupts my deliberation of who she is. She is not called forth from my comprehension. She interrupts my monologue of her essence. Not only is she not contingent on me but she always breaks through the plastic caste I make of her face. She is not a derivative of my lived temporality or my lived space. She is a radical exteriority, a time not my time, a space not my space. I will never know her essence. Her ‘being’ is my radical reduction of her not who she is. My history, the history of Enlightenment has led me towards a totalization of her and not-her. She is not a moment of my freedom. I have no power over her. Therefore, I must recognize my powerlessness and my debt to her before my will and my power can define her. The only way to recognize her radical alterity which cannot be a not-me is in the responsibility of ethics. Ethics is the recognition of my inability before the infinitude of her or him. My politics required by this ethics is not based in some altruistic or benevolent concern. It is based on my debt to the stranger, the sojourner, the indigent, the oppressed that faces me.

In relation to beings in the opening of being, comprehension finds a signification for them on the basis of being. In this sense, it does not invoke these beings but only names them, thus accomplishing a violence and a negation. A partial negation which is violence. This partiality is indicated by the fact that, without disappearing, those beings are in my power. Partial negation, which is violence, denies the independence of being: it belongs to me. Possession is the mode whereby a being, while existing, is partially denied. It. is not only a question of the fact that the being is an instrument, a tool, that is to say, a means. It is an end also. As consumable, it is nourishment and in enjoyment, it offers itself, gives itself, belongs to me. To be sure vision measures my power over the object, but it is already enjoyment. The encounter with the other (autrui) consists in the fact that despite the extent of my domination and his slavery, I do not possess him. He does not enter entirely into the opening of being where I already stand, as in the field of my freedom. It is not starting from being in general that he comes to meet me. Everything which comes to me from the other (autrui) starting from being in general certainly offers itself to my comprehension and possession. I understand him in the framework of his history, his surroundings and habits. That which escapes comprehension in the other (autrui) is him, a being. I cannot negate him partially, in violence, in grasping him within the horizon of being in general and possessing him. The Other (Autrui) is the sole being whose negation can only announce itself as total: as murder. The Other (Autrui) is the sole being I can wish to kill. (Levinas)

I find Levinas’ remarks here to be almost eerily reminiscent of what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount.

You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Mathew 5:21 (MBT)

This is also repeated in 1 John.

If you hate each other, you are murderers, and we know murderers do not have eternal life. 1 John 3:15 (CEV)

The retreat from the other which stands before us into the totalitarianism of history, of Being, is the inevitable leveling off the same as reduction to idea, to substance, to mere presence before the self-interested ‘me’. The other is simply the understood ‘not-me’. When the collection of ‘not-me-s’ become a state, this is the definition of nationalism and its certain demise into fascism. In view of this, how could the state work in a way which is habitable for the planet and us?

What would Levinas’ State Look Like?

Levinas has been thought from one political theorist as a kind of “inverted liberalism”. In Fred Alford’s words,

“Three propositions about the state define Levinas’ project: peace is impossible within the state; peace is possible only beyond the state; going beyond the state to find peace cannot mean leaving the state behind. All three propositions are reflected in the title of article published shortly after his death, “Beyond the State in the State.” (Alford, 2004)

This presents a very difficult challenge in trying to find a political strategy in Levinas. Alford tells us,

One way to take his challenge seriously is to demonstrate that Levinas’ thinking does not fit into any of the categories by which we ordinarily approach political theory. If one were forced to categorize Levinas’ political theory, the term inverted liberalism would come closest to the mark. As long, that is, as one emphasizes the term “inverted” over “liberalism.” Levinas’ defense of liberalism is likely the strangest defense the reader has encountered. We should, argues Levinas, foster and protect the individual because only the individual can see the tears of the other, the tears that even the just regime cannot see. The individual is to be fostered and protected for the sake of the other individual. (Alford, 2004)

From my understanding of Levinas, we encounter the other in an anarchical (without origin) infinity which cannot be temporally consumed. I think of it as a kind of awkward nakedness in which we are left bare until we can immediately cover ourselves with temporality, with history, with Being. Levinas refers us to radical alterity, an interruption of the face of the other. Being is the garb from which we hide from the other. We temporalize the other in existence as an ‘existent’, a being among other beings, a thing among other things. In other words, we retreat from the infinite face of the other into history as if from chaos. Even ‘chaos’ is already thought as origin in Hesiod. From chaos and dystopia, we already are determining and determined as universal, as retreat from the temporal determination of horror. The ‘fear of death’ becomes ground for retreat. In chapter 17 of Huxley’s “Brave New World”, Mustapha is extolling the virtues of the drug soma to John telling him,

And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is. (Huxley, 1932)

In Huxley’s book soma is a drug which makes Huxley’s futuristic, dystopia possible. The future is here for MAGA Republicans. We have finally seen a Christianity without tears. They envision a state where the traditional, ‘tried and true’ comes back in the form of Christian Nationalism’s ‘democratic autocracy’ and they blink. Autocracy here is guaranteed by the ‘true’ majority in which voting can only reflect their ‘trueness’.

For the first time social problems and the struggles between humans do not reveal the ultimate meaning of the real. This end of the world will lack the last judgement. The elements exceed the states that until now contained them. Reason no longer appears in political wisdom, but in the historically unconditioned truths announcing cosmic dangers. For politics is substituted a cosmo-politics that is a physics. (Caygill, 2000)

Reminiscent of Huxley’s ‘somatic’ futuristic virtues, Caygill points to a Baudrillardian nether world in which simulacra begets simulacra ad infinitum. Judgement has been replaced by titillation and ‘somatic’ delight. Marketing is the futuristic oracle of Apollo at Delphi where instead of the declaration that Socrates was “the most free, upright, and prudent of all people” we have the state is “the most free, upright, and prudent of all” states or Trump is “the most free, upright, and prudent of all people”. Truth is what Trump says. Contradiction itself has become the truth of non-sensical. In nationalism’s extreme, the Enlightenment tradition based on sense data gets given over to a ‘sense’ without externality. In all this we hear the echo of Nietzsche’s last man where absolute mediocrity wins the day. The state as totality levels off. Nationalism determines and is determined by the place of custom, tradition, manufactured reality. Marketing becomes the ‘physics’ of what is.

For Levinas, the totalitarian state is a vehicle that must always flee from my responsibility to the other. In the radical asymmetry and timelessness of the exteriority of the other we are held hostage, powerless to utilize the state, our state, in pure self-interest. We must retreat from an anarchical past which we never knew. We must temporalize the other to retreat from primal fear which has already brought the other into a symmetry, a relation, which mediates our fundamental angst. In our moment of horrific retreat, we envision Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. However, the other we shrink from is not the infinity of the other but the finitude of our phantom-sized proximity to the other. Proximity to the other which has lost the distance of infinity is our account, logos, of the other. On this account, proximity is the physics of space and time where people ‘things’ mingle. I am related to another in pre-determined ‘physics’ of the state unknowingly derived from the history of Being.

But unless there is an ‘I’ how can there even be an other? The ego must be, exist, to retreat from the face of the other. We must be temporally embodied as a condition for the encounter of the radical alterity of other. The ‘I’ is not extinguished by the other. Only in embodiment can the other face us. Fleeing from the face of the other is not an active choice. It is raw impulse inextricably wedded to the ‘there of being’ as Heidegger situates ‘mineness’ (jemeinigkeit). Furthermore, we are not alone. We encounter many others. The encounter of many others is what Levinas refers to as the “third other”.

When we retreat from the other, we retreat from many others. Here Frankenstein is no longer a monster but many monsters. This is the encounter of the evil others where violence to the other is taken up into justice. In the determinations of good and evil we efface all the others. Here we have the state. The state as composed of many others is the historic, cultural ground from which justice is required and to which it is invented without reference to the radical alterity of the other which faces ‘me’ with tears. To the degree that justice is ‘soma’, we level off the encounter with others as appeasement, as transactional. Justice becomes self-justification. Justice is ‘the election was rigged’. It is the mechanism which vindicates, sanctifies, and translates us into Lewis Carrol’s up is down and down is up. However, justice need not cover over shame. Shame is the essence of retreat from others. We hide ourselves from the nakedness of the face of others.

This is how we arrive at Alford’s notion of “inverted liberalism”. From the Enlightenment era of Hobbes and Locke, practicality as my embodiment is taken up as the liberal tradition of individuality. We are all individuals, single monads in a collectivity, in which we live and move and have our being in the day to day so how can there be a beyond the state? How can Alford tell us,

“Three propositions about the state define Levinas’ project: peace is impossible within the state; peace is possible only beyond the state; going beyond the state to find peace cannot mean leaving the state behind.” (Alford, 2004)

Apart from the seeming senseless riddle of this statement, how can the practical embodiment for individuals in the state be anything other than what it presents to us in the day to day? In view of my recent discussion, I would rather put Alford’s statement like this:

“peace is impossible within the state”

The face-to-face encounter with the other is impossible in ontology, totality, nationalism also known as the history of Being. The other must always be leveled off, comprehended, and totalized as a practical this or that which becomes the foundation of the state. Peace as decision to not level off the other cannot be achieved in the practicality of the enlightened state or any nationalism.

“peace is possible only beyond the state”

The determination that the stranger, the indigent, the disenfranchised are not simply refuse of the state cannot be achieved by a collectivity of enlightened individuals in the self-interested, totalitarian state. Only by a ‘beyond’ the state to a face-to-face encounter with alterity of the other can the state be viable. The viability of the state is only possible when the other is not reduced to mere existents, objects, cogs in a ‘being machine’ waiting for the lightning strike of animation. It turns out the day-to-day practicality of the state cannot produce a living human being but a disembodied human being which impossibly can never come to life except in the fictions of groupthink. Here groupthink goes well beyond Orwell’s critique of Stalin and penetrates the very fabric of occidental, democratic liberalism. Groupthink must inevitably produce monsters not others. To go beyond the state is to decide on a day-today basis to let groupthink go and let the other be other. The other is not simply a ‘not-me’, not simply substance, a thing, animated by the metaphysical lightning strike which magically makes life. There is no infinite regression into a ‘Huxleyian’ utopia which always mediates, codetermines, and thus, universalizes. Beyond the state is not deep philosophy but simple decision which in the day-to-day restrains itself from mediation in deference to the immediacy of radical alterity, of the he or she which faces me.

“going beyond the state to find peace cannot mean leaving the state behind”

In this then we come back to the state but ‘inverted’. I am no longer determined by the state but determine by decision my responsibility to the other which exceeds the state. I think Alford is correct in suggesting that Levinas comes back to liberal democracy but ‘inverted’ or as I would suggest, radical rupture which invigorates us by decision to help the poor, the stranger and the disenfranchised. Externally, we still look like a liberal democracy, but not by ‘self-interested enlightenment of the other’ – by my decision based on the radical, anarchic encounter with the face of the other which resists place and situatedness in my determinations. A state cannot see tears. Only I can see tears. Only I can decide I am responsible.

Conclusion

The impossibility Orwell faced in a meaningless world was not vanquished but simply receded into the simmering politics of post-World War II states. The liberal democracy in which Orwell envisioned in socialism was not utopian but the best form of dystopia. It can only find its dark promise in Huxley’s future. It can only repeat an Orwellian past in ebbs and flows from marketed, utilitarian determinations of the nationalistic state to apocalyptic nightmare. Here ‘meaning’ is subsumed by a Derridean ‘differance’ where endless deferment results in the trace which is,

not a presence but is rather the simulacrum of a presence that dislocates, displaces, and refers beyond itself. The trace has, properly speaking, no place, for effacement belongs to the very structure of the trace. (Derrida, 1973)

The trace never ends in my freedom. The trace is my infinite regression of one without the other. However, the trace is not an infinite regression as Baudrillard thought. Levinas tells us the choice which ends the infinite regression of trace is not the never-ending mediation of the face but the ethics of responsibility which interrupts history with the radical rupture of infinity; an infinity which was never mine but him or her.

The state cannot be a mediated field of ghastly dreams in which the passivity of nebulous nationalism is homogenized by mass marketing dressed up as truth values – an endless procession of a presence which never gets revealed. Passivity is death. Virtual reality is an oxymoron imbued as true. The simple face of she or he is not immediacy which begins or continues mediation as Hegel would have it. Its immediacy is anarchic, without origin, as Moses’ inability to look at the face of God without hiding in the cleft of the rock. Such analogies are meant to ask us, do we really know what we think we know. Are we really so sure that a face is merely a mediated idea of a face not dissimilar from a rock – a mere body of Concept or physics? Can we perhaps sense an encounter where ‘sense’ did not immediately cover over something raw, radically unknown, which felt infinite only to reflexively draw away back into something that felt more like home? Did you ever feel a glimpse of another as radical rupture which threw you back on yourself? And yet, you were stone cold sober. Isn’t love really the shadow of the otherness of the other where idea arrives too late? Levinas invites us to simply encounter the other as if we were the stranger to the one who cannot ‘know’, the eyes of whom we look. Perhaps, we are not alone in an assumed cosmic machine but have retreated away from the other which cannot ‘be’, cannot have origin, cannot be synchronously invested in me. Only when the political can be beyond ontology for ‘me’ can I find a state, can we find a state, which is found upon a history not yet written of state that brings forth the ethics of responsibility for the other and for environing which preserves and sustains environment as the cradle of incomprehensible others. While this seems like high-brow philosophy it is embodied in the simple face to face encounter with the other. It is not restricted to the domain of academic philosophy. It need only meet with humility as choice taken into responsibility to the other whom we do not know, who cries before us as if he or she was not in my thought, nor the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, but the “the still, small voice” saying but not ever captured in the said.

“My effort consists in showing that knowledge is in reality an immanence, and that there is no rupture of the isolation of being in knowledge; and on the other hand, that in communication of knowledge one is found beside the Other, not confronted with him, not in the rectitude of the in-front-of-him. But being in direct relation with the Other is not to thematize the Other and consider him in the same manner as one considers a known object, nor to communicate a knowledge to him. In reality, the fact of being is what is most private; existence is the sole thing I cannot communicate; I can tell about it, but I cannot share my existence. Solitude thus appears as the isolation which marks the very event of being. The social is beyond ontology.” (Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, 1985)

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Further Reading Links:

https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s3.html
https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/the-limits-of-reason-in-hobbes-s-commonwealth/
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/
https://orb.binghamton.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1094&context=sagp
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mill/
https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/complicated-presence-heidegger-and-the-postmetaphysical-unity-of-being/

End Notes:

[1] More from Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius:

  1. Incomes. Limitation of incomes implies the fixing of a minimum wage, which implies a managed internal currency based simply on the amount of consumption-goods available. And this again implies a stricter rationing-scheme than is now in operation. It is no use at this stage of the world’s history to suggest that all human beings should have exactly equal incomes. It has been shown over and over again that without some kind of money reward there is no incentive to undertake certain jobs. On the other hand the money reward need not be very large. In practice it is impossible that earnings should be limited quite as rigidly as I have suggested. There will always be anomalies and evasions. But there is no reason why ten to one should not be the maximum normal variation. And within those limits some sense of equality is possible. A man with £3 a week and a man with £1,500 a year can feel themselves fellow-creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot.

III. Education. In wartime, educational reform must necessarily be promise rather than performance. At the moment we are not in a position to raise the school-leaving age or increase the teaching staffs of the Elementary Schools. But there are certain immediate steps that we could take towards a democratic educational system. We could start by abolishing the autonomy of the public schools and the older universities and flooding them with State-aided pupils chosen simply on grounds of ability. At present, public-school education is partly a training in class prejudice and partly a sort of tax that the middle classes pay to the upper class in return for the right to enter certain professions. It is true that that state of affairs is altering. The middle classes have begun to rebel against the expensiveness of education, and the war will bankrupt the majority of the public schools if it continues for another year or two. The evacuation is also producing certain minor changes. But there is a danger that some of the older schools, which will be able to weather the financial storm longest, will survive in some form or another as festering centres of snobbery. As for the 10,000 “private” schools that England possesses, the vast majority of them deserve nothing except suppression. They are simply commercial undertakings, and in many cases their educational level is actually lower than that of the Elementary Schools. They merely exist because of a widespread idea that there is something disgraceful in being educated by the public authorities. The State could quell this idea by declaring itself responsible for all education, even if at the start this were no more than a gesture. We need gestures, as well as actions. It is all too obvious that our talk of “defending democracy” is nonsense while it is a mere accident of birth that decides whether a gifted child shall or shall not get the education it deserves.

  1. India. What we must offer India is not “freedom”, which, I have said earlier, is impossible, but alliance, partnership – in a word, equality. But we must also tell the Indians that they are free to secede, if they want to. Without that there can be no equality of partnership, and our claim to be defending the coloured peoples against Fascism will never be believed. But it is a mistake to imagine that if the Indians were free to cut themselves adrift they would immediately do so. When a British government offers them unconditional independence, they will refuse it. For as soon as they have the power to secede the chief reasons for doing so will have disappeared.

A complete severance of the two countries would be a disaster for India no less than for England. Intelligent Indians know this. As things are at present, India not only cannot defend itself, it is hardly even capable of feeding itself. The whole administration of the country depends on a framework of experts (engineers, forest officers, railwaymen, soldiers, doctors) who are predominantly English and could not be replaced within five or ten years. Moreover, English is the chief lingua franca and nearly the whole of the Indian intelligentsia is deeply anglicised. Any transference to foreign rule – for if the British marched out of India the Japanese and other powers would immediately march in – would mean an immense dislocation. Neither the Japanese, the Russians, the Germans nor the Italians would be capable of administering India even at the low level of efficiency that is attained by the British. They do not possess the necessary supplies of technical experts or the knowledge of languages and local conditions, and they probably could not win the confidence of indispensable go-betweens such as the Eurasians. If India were simply “liberated”, i.e. deprived of British military protection, the first result would be a fresh foreign conquest, and the second a series of enormous famines which would kill millions of people within a few years.

What India needs is the power to work out its own constitution without British interference, but in some kind of partnership that ensures its military protection and technical advice. This is unthinkable until there is a Socialist government in England. For at least eighty years England has artificially prevented the development of India, partly from fear of trade competition if Indian industries were too highly developed, partly because backward peoples are more easily governed than civilized ones. It is a commonplace that the average Indian suffers far more from his own countrymen than from the British. The petty Indian capitalist exploits the town worker with the utmost ruthlessness, the peasant lives from birth to death in the grip of the moneylender. But all this is an indirect result of the British rule, which aims half-consciously at keeping India as backward as possible. The classes most loyal to Britain are the princes, the landowners and the business community – in general, the reactionary classes who are doing fairly well out of the status quo. The moment that England ceased to stand towards India in the relation of an exploiter, the balance of forces would be altered. No need then for the British to flatter the ridiculous Indian princes, with their gilded elephants and cardboard armies, to prevent the growth of the Indian Trade Unions, to play off Moslem against Hindu, to protect the worthless life of the moneylender, to receive the salaams of toadying minor officials, to prefer the half-barbarous Gurkha to the educated Bengali. Once check that stream of dividends that flows from the bodies of Indian coolies to the banking accounts of old ladies in Cheltenham, and the whole sahib-native nexus, with its haughty ignorance on one side and envy and servility on the other, can come to an end. Englishmen and Indians can work side by side for the development of India, and for the training of Indians in all the arts which, so far, they have been systematically prevented from learning. How many of the existing British personnel in India, commercial or official, would fall in with such an arrangement – which would mean ceasing once and for all to be “sahibs” – is a different question. But, broadly speaking, more is to be hoped from the younger men and from those officials (civil engineers, forestry and agriculture experts, doctors, educationists) who have been scientifically educated. The higher officials, the provincial governors, commissioners, judges, etc., are hopeless; but they are also the most easily replaceable.

That, roughly, is what would be meant by Dominion status if it were offered to India by a Socialist government. It is an offer of partnership on equal terms until such time as the world has ceased to be ruled by bombing planes. But we must add to it the unconditional right to secede. It is the only way of proving that we mean what we say. And what applies to India applies, mutatis mutandis, to Burma, Malaya and most of our African possessions.

V and VI explain themselves. They are the necessary preliminary to any claim that we are fighting this war for the protection of peaceful peoples against Fascist aggression.

Is it impossibly hopeful to think that such a policy as this could get a following in England? A year ago, even six months ago, it would have been, but not now. Moreover – and this is the peculiar opportunity of this moment – it could be given the necessary publicity. There is now a considerable weekly press, with a circulation of millions, which would be ready to popularize – if not exactly the programme I have sketched above, at any rate some policy along those lines. There are even three or four daily papers which would be prepared to give it a sympathetic hearing. That is the distance we have travelled in the last six months.

But is such a policy realizable? That depends entirely on ourselves.

Some of the points I have suggested are of the kind that could be carried out immediately, others would take years or decades and even then would not be perfectly achieved. No political programme is ever carried out in its entirety. But what matters is that that or something like it should be our declared policy. It is always the direction that counts. It is of course quite hopeless to expect the present government to pledge itself to any policy that implies turning this war into a revolutionary war. It is at best a government of compromise, with Churchill riding two horses like a circus acrobat. Before such measures as limitation of incomes become even thinkable, there will have to be complete shift of power away from the old ruling class. If during this winter the war settles into another stagnant period, we ought in my opinion to agitate for a General Election, a thing which the Tory Party machine will make frantic efforts to prevent. But even without an election we can get the government we want, provided that we want it urgently enough. A real shove from below will accomplish it. As to who will be in that government when it comes, I make no guess. I only know that the right men will be there when the people really want them, for it is movements that make leaders and not leaders movements.

Within a year, perhaps even within six months, if we are still unconquered, we shall see the rise of something that has never existed before, a specifically English Socialist movement. Hitherto there has been only the Labour Party, which was the creation of the working class but did not aim at any fundamental change, and Marxism, which was a German theory interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted to England. There was nothing that really touched the heart of the English people. Throughout its entire history the English Socialist movement has never produced a song with a catchy tune – nothing like La Marseillaise or La Cucaracha, for instance. When a Socialist movement native to England appears, the Marxists, like all others with a vested interest in the past, will be its bitter enemies. Inevitably they will denounce it as ‘Fascism’. Already it is customary among the more soft-boiled intellectuals of the Left to declare that if we fight against Nazis we shall “go Nazi” ourselves. They might almost equally well say that if we fight Negroes we shall turn black. To “go Nazi” we should have to have the history of Germany behind us. Nations do not escape from their past merely by making a revolution. An English Socialist government will transform the nation from top to bottom, but it will still bear all over it the unmistakable marks of our own civilization, the peculiar civilization which I discussed earlier in this book.

It will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical. It will abolish the House of Lords, but quite probably will not abolish the Monarchy. It will leave anachronisms and loose ends everywhere, the judge in his ridiculous horsehair wig and the lion and the unicorn on the soldier’s cap-buttons. It will not set up any explicit class dictatorship. It will group itself round the old Labour Party and its mass following will be in the Trade Unions, but it will draw into it most of the middle class and many of the younger sons of the bourgeoisie. Most of its directing brains will come from the new indeterminate class of skilled workers, technical experts, airmen, scientists, architects and journalists, the people who feel at home in the radio and ferro-concrete age. But it will never lose touch with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above the State. It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand, and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as “a Christian country”. The Catholic Church will war against it, but the Nonconformist sects and the bulk of the Anglican Church will be able to come to terms with it. It will show a power of assimilating the past which will shock foreign observers and sometimes make them doubt whether any revolution has happened.

But all the same it will have done the essential thing. It will have nationalized industry, scaled down incomes, set up a classless educational system. Its real nature will be apparent from the hatred which the surviving rich men of the world will feel for it. It will aim not at disintegrating the Empire but at turning it into a federation of Socialist states, freed not so much from the British flag as from the moneylender, the dividend-drawer and the wooden-headed British official. Its war-strategy will be totally different from that of any property-ruled state, because it will not be afraid of the revolutionary after-effects when any existing régime is brought down. It will not have the smallest scruple about attacking hostile neutrals or stirring up native rebellion in enemy colonies. It will fight in such a way that even if it is beaten its memory will be dangerous to the victor, as the memory of the French Revolution was dangerous to Metternich’s Europe. The dictators will fear it as they could not fear the existing British régime, even if its military strength were ten times what it is.

But at this moment, when the drowsy life of England has barely altered, and the offensive contrast of wealth and poverty still exists everywhere, even amid the bombs, why do I dare to say that all these things “will” happen?

Because the time has come when one can predict the future in terms of an “either – or”. Either we turn this war into a revolutionary war (I do not say that our policy will be exactly what I have indicated above – merely that it will be along those general lines) or we lose it, and much more besides. Quite soon it will be possible to say definitely that our feet are set upon one path or the other. But at any rate it is certain that with our present social structure we cannot win. Our real forces, physical, moral or intellectual, cannot be mobilized.

[2] Additional Information:

https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/scientists-just-achieved-a-breakthrough-in-quantum-computing/, https://scitechdaily.com/quantum-breakthrough-researchers-demonstrate-full-control-of-a-three-qubit-system/, https://newsroom.ibm.com/2021-11-16-IBM-Unveils-Breakthrough-127-Qubit-Quantum-Processor

[3] Additional Information:

https://sites.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/teaching/HPS_0410/chapters/quantum_theory_waves/index.html
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-virtual-particles-rea/
https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/july-2009/60-seconds-virtual-particles

References:

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Adams, J. (1780). Constitution of Massachusetts. National Humanities Institute. Retrieved from http://www.nhinet.org/ccs/docs/ma-1780.htm

Alford, C. F. (2004). Levinas and Political Theory. SAGE journals. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/19947425/Levinas_and_Political_Theory

Brogan, W. A. (n.d.). Heidegger and Aristotle The Twofoldness of Being. State University of New York Press.

Caygill, H. (2000). Levinas’s political judgement, The Esprit articles 1934–1983. Radical Philosophy. Retrieved from https://www.radicalphilosophy.com/article/levinass-political-judgement

Colls, R. (2014, January 11). The war that made Orwell. salon. Retrieved from https://www.salon.com/2014/01/11/the_war_that_made_orwell/

Critchley, S. (n.d.). Cambridge Companion Online @ Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from https://partiallyexaminedlife.com/?get_group_doc=43/1367205278-CambridgeCompaniontoLevinas.pdf

Derrida, J. (1973). Speech and Phenomena: and other Essays on Husserl′s Theory of Signs. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books/about/Speech_and_Phenomena.html?id=N4v2AkGMnqcC

Dreher, M. (n.d.). Philosophical Series 6, The Origin. Retrieved from http://www.mixermuse.com/blog/western-philosophy/philosophy-series-6-2/

Editor, N. W.-S. (n.d.). What is a Particle? Quanta magazine. Retrieved from https://www.quantamagazine.org/what-is-a-particle-20201112/#:~:text=A%20Particle%20Is%20a%20’Quantum%20Excitation%20of%20a%20Field’&text=In%20addition%20to%20photons%20%E2%80%94%20the,that%20fill%20all%20of%20space

Estafia, J. C. (2019). Martin Heidegger’s Metaphysical Question of the Nothing (das Nichts) and Edith Stein’s Commentary. PHAVISMINDA Journal. Retrieved from https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/028b0f1b-224c-45f2-944a-0a4e4bbf7b2b/downloads/02-Estafia-JC-Fin.pdf?ver=1613304679143

Freeman, G. O. (1943). CAN SOCIALISTS BE HAPPY? The Orwell Foundation , originally published by Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/can-socialists-be-happy/

Gupta, V. (n.d.). Immanuel Kant’s Categories of Understanding. The Philosophy Project. Retrieved from https://www.thephilosophyproject.in/post/immanuel-kant-s-categories-of-understanding

Heidegger, M. (n.d.). What is Metaphysics?

(n.d.). Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hobbes-moral/

Huxley, A. (1932). Brave New World.

(n.d.). John Locke. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke/

Kahn, C. H. (1965). The Greek Verb ‘To Be’ and the Pr ‘ and the Problem of Being. Binghamton University, The Open Repository @ Binghamton (The ORB), The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter. Retrieved from https://orb.binghamton.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1094&context=sagp

Levinas, E. (1985). Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo. Pittsberg, PA, USA: Duquesne University Press. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Ethics-Infinity-Conversations-Philippe-Nemo/dp/0820701785?asin=0820701785&revisionId=&format=4&depth=1

Levinas, E. (n.d.). Basic Philosophical Writings.

Locke, J. (1689). The Founders’ Constitution – Second Treatise. The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from https://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s3.html#:~:text=God%2C%20who%20hath%20given%20the,and%20Comfort%20of%20their%20being.

Madison, J. (1788). The Federalist, Number 47, [30 January], 1788. National Archives, Founders Online. Retrieved from https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0266

Orwell, G. (1937). ‘Spilling the Spanish Beans’: Extract from Homage to Catalonia. The Orwell Foundation, originally published by New English Weekly, 29 July and 2 September 1937. Retrieved from https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/spilling-the-spanish-beans-2/

Orwell, G. (1938). ‘Three Parties that Mattered’: Extract from Homage to Catalonia. The Orwell Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/three-parties-that-mattered-extract-from-homage-to-catalonia/

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Orwell, G. (1941). The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius. The Orwell Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/orwell/essays-and-other-works/the-lion-and-the-unicorn-socialism-and-the-english-genius/

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Reviewed by George MacDonald Ross, U. o. (2011). The Limits of Reason in Hobbes’s Commonwealth. Notre Dame Philosphical Reviews. Retrieved from https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/the-limits-of-reason-in-hobbes-s-commonwealth/

(n.d.). Thomas Hobbes. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hobbes/

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The Impossible Possibility of Paradox – Part Two

Chaos Theory is:

“When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”1

In the Part One discussion we discussed the function 1/X. We saw cases in the function of infinity as X goes to plus and minus infinity. We also saw the case where X = 0 and the result is indeterminate. All the points except zero demonstrate a continuous, nonlinear function. That is, all real numbers in the graph is a smooth curve with no breaks or discontinuities except at zero. At X= 0 the function is discontinuous. This function simply demonstrates how we can get a degree of closure even when we entertain the notions of infinity and indeterminacy. Both infinity and indeterminacy tell us that even in the most banal circumstances such as the function 1/X we have a degree of certainty while at the same time entertaining notions where we can’t get absolute closure. Even more, these odd notions tell us that even such banal certainties are ruptured through and through with exteriorities which cannot remain in themselves but indicate an other which mathematics has no answer. In this part of the discussion we will explore further the complications which can only indicate the limits of our logic and the value of the questions these limits pose.2 The last footnote of my recent post On Origin ask this question:

Does chaos theory in contemporary science relate to radical otherness? If so, how? What about the implications of quantum theory and Schrödinger’s cat in the box? Does the uncertainty principle and the apparent malleability of what ‘is’ determined by observation have anything to do with radical alterity and the retreat from the face of the Other? More succinctly, do we face an ‘Other’, a radical alterity, even in the ‘it’ of physics?

This post will try to address this question and contrast its implications with what I consider to be a formidable philosopher whose influence has become a focal point and an anchor, both in its affirmation and negations, for the retreat from the face of the Other – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

For classic physics most notably represented by Newton, absolute time and absolute space is assumed. Underlying much of classic science and philosophy, causality is absolutely assumed. Causality is often associated with the billiard ball metaphor. When the cue ball hits other balls on the table, geometry and force absolutely determine the path of all the other balls. While causality may provide useful information in our everyday world, these notions have been antiquated by a much more precise understanding that spans phenomena from billiards to cosmological physics. Relativity supersedes Newtonian physics. Relativity is orders of magnitude more accurate even in the specific frame of reference which Newtonian physics works including billiard balls. However, relativity has some limitations. Relativity works extremely well on large scales but not on extremely small scales. For extremely small scales quantum mechanics is highly accurate. In special conditions, Einstein’s equations punched holes in the continuity of time-space. In a similar way that our mundane function of 1/X contains examples of infinity and indeterminacy, Einstein’s findings predicted such phenomenon as black holes and wormholes.

Einstein was responsible for pioneering quantum mechanics when he discovered that light had both the characteristics of a particle and a wave. After all he had already demonstrated that energy and matter, like the particle and the wave, were two different states of the same thing – Emc2 (i.e., think of water as liquid or ice where heat, or the lack thereof, determines the state…for matter and energy the speed of light determines the state). However, when quantum mechanics theorized the phenomenon of entanglement, Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance”. Entanglement happens where one particle influences its twin, irrelevant of the distance between them, instantly (i.e., faster than the speed of light). Einstein’s theory of relativity could not allow anything faster than the speed of light. He thought that everything from the very large to the very small must propagate through fields setup by space-time distortions. The physicists of his day also started discussing the ‘uncertainty principle’ and ‘waves of probability’ which he vehemently disagreed. His lifelong search for a ‘unified field theory’ which would unite electromagnetism (and the strong and weak nuclear forces) and gravity suggests that continuity was paramount for him. In addition, he is famously quoted as disparaging the quantum mechanics of his day suggesting the “God does not place dice with the universe”. However, when the universe plays dice with itself, we call that ‘Chaos Theory’. Chaos as discontinuous and probabilistic, just as the budding of quantum mechanics in is day, was a philosophy Einstein might not have held in high regard. Interesting enough it was Albert Einstein that stated, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

Chaotic systems permeate our everyday world. Weather, turbulent water, health sciences, road traffic, sociology, physics, environmental science, computer science, engineering, economics, biology, ecology, the stock market, our brain states, philosophy and temperature are examples of chaotic systems. Almost everything in nature is a chaotic system. Chaos theory is famous for the ‘butterfly effect’ introduced by one of the founders of chaos theory, Edward Lorenz. The butterfly effect informs us that the exact path and time of a tornado may have been started by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings weeks earlier on the other side of the planet. When initial conditions can be specified to a high degree, Newtonian physics works great on a highly restricted system. As initial conditions become more critical, like the real world, chaotic systems become more prominent in relativity and quantum mechanics. Two black holes orbiting each other exhibit a highly chaotic system. There is even a branch of physics called Quantum Chaos3. Mathematically, chaotic systems are always fractals. Fractals occur when real number math (fractions) feedback into the initial conditions of a system. Fractals are the result of simple patterns being repeated infinitely by positive feedback with ever changing initial conditions. Chaotic systems are not random, but they can predict the relative probability of randomness. Chaotic systems are always non-linear and deterministic. Chaos theory is deterministic in that it surmises that if the exact initial conditions of a chaotic system is known, the exact effect of the system could be known. However, chaotic systems also state that the complexity of a chaotic system makes knowing the exact initial conditions a practical impossibility. In effect, determinism is an ideal of a chaotic system which can never be proven only assumed. As the mathematics of chaotic systems, fractals, tell us, the infinite variation of input conditions provided by positive feedback of the system make practical determinism impossible. Additionally, uncertainty increases over time in a chaotic system. In practice, chaos theory always has a degree of indeterminacy. Additionally, the assumption of cause and effect is inherent in determinism but also remains as an ideal of chaos theory not a practical reality of chaos theory. It is highly likely that quantum mechanics influences chaotic systems. Quantum mechanics is proven to be indeterministic. This is due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle which shows that fundamental properties of a particle cannot simultaneously be known like the position and momentum of the particle. Since quantum mechanics certainly plays a role in chaotic systems, we can draw the conclusion that chaos theory is indeterminate in practice. Therefore, chaos theory highlights relative degrees of indeterminacy and infinity while producing useful results in the output of chaotic systems.

Chaos theory is a scientific principle describing the unpredictability of systems. Most fully explored and recognized during the mid-to-late 1980s, its premise is that systems sometimes reside in chaos, generating energy but without any predictability or direction. These complex systems may be weather patterns, ecosystems, water flows, anatomical functions, or organizations. While these system’s chaotic behavior may appear random at first, chaotic systems can be defined by a mathematical formula, and they are not without order or finite boundaries. This theory, in relation to organizational behavior, was somewhat discounted during the 1990s, giving way to the very similar complexity theory.4

The reasons chaotic systems can tend towards more chaos over time or fundamental transformation is due to the ‘strange attractor’. Researchers Briggs and Peat tell us:

Evidently familiar order and chaotic order are laminated like bands of intermittency. Wandering into certain bands, a system is extruded and bent back on itself as it iterates, dragged toward disintegration, transformation, and chaos. Inside other bands, systems cycle dynamically, maintaining their shapes for long periods of time. But eventually all orderly systems will feel the wild, seductive pull of the strange chaotic attractor.5

When a strange attractor encounters another chaotic system, it pulls the chaotic system toward a wildly different result. The strange attractor essentially changes a chaotic system. Thus, butterfly wing turbulence can cause a tornado on the other side of the earth weeks later. The strange attractor transforms the chaotic system into something other than what it could be from its own intrinsic properties. The chaotic system’s self-identity is fundamentally altered by the stranger, the Other.

For Newton, time and space were pre-conditioned by Descartes mind-body split. These notions originated in a particular Latin reading of Aristotle. ‘Body’ was substance in this reading. Over time substance took on the characteristic of mechanism. The universe was thought as a machine. Causality was an important underpinning of a lifeless machine. The universe operated obliviously to mind. Just as the ancient Greeks thought the earth was the center of the universe, mechanical causality taught us the we were immersed in a sea of dead ‘things’. The radical other of Newton was alien and followed its own mechanical rules absolutely. In philosophy we would say that a certain, already understood ontology of the universe (a historic-linguistic understanding of the being of the universe), guided even our possibilities for how we could think of everything not us, not mind. This ontological setting guided science and philosophy for centuries. Even the greatest thinker of German Idealism, Hegel (18th-19th century philosopher) was guided by the notion of mind and object where object was simply thought as an idea of mind. From this discussion, what have we seen about the direction of science since Newton?

Einstein has taught us that the universe is not oblivious to body. Time and space are permeable to an incredibly sensitive degree to the mass and speed of everything from galaxies, our bodies and anything with mass. Each one of us is enveloped in our own time and space given by existence [see On Origin]. If our body does our mind as Nietzsche thought, we find that the metaphor of chaos is closer to life than mechanism. We find on the smallest quantum level that indeterminacy, uncertainty and rupture determine ontology not absolutes (such as time and space). We are not immersed in a sea of ‘things’ but participate in intimate cooperation with a ‘what’ we still do not have the language and history to inform our outdated ontologies, our understanding of what we can only name as ‘Being’ harkening back to a once upon a time which no longer exists. We know that infinity was our historic clue that we covered over with certainties and determinacy. Yet, even as Descartes would tell us the thought of infinity overflows itself, it does not remain in itself, it ruptures even the ‘is’. As far back as Hesiod, we have the trace that the force of our misunderstanding had to covered over.

As I have discussed in On Origin, Hesiod’s chaos cannot even yet think itself to be neutrality, the ‘it’. The anonymous was not as easy to come by in Hesiod’s day. Only with the subsequent weight of a history yet to come after Hesiod, can the rupture take on the neutrality of anonymity. The post On Origin attempts to think through some of the ways the ancient Greeks might have tried to cover over Hesiod’s chaos. It also inquisitively tries to find a placeholder in chaos for what Levinas would tell us is the face of the Other. It seems to me a face of a ‘he’, a ‘she’ and even an ‘it’ does not draw on the history and language which misunderstands chaos as night, void, horror, anonymity, Idea…the ‘otherizing’ of the Other, etc. but can only evoke in proximity to the Other, to an infinite transcendence which faces us, the absolute primacy of Ethics. The universe of the ‘same’ as the other is not a flight from fear but a response to awe and wonder. Not until the absolute, un-determinate, chaos has a face can Ethics take the place the ancient Greeks intuited but relegated to the logos and physics (phusis) as neutered. In the radical rupture of the Other we do not ‘see’, we feel a past which we never knew, a time and space which was never ours. We can only wonder if there was an excess which we never accounted for, saw, or understood when she spoke to us, when he faced us – when it was a place or time that lingered long afterwards. And, instead of letting the retreat to the once ‘said’, the memory understood, the place and time resolved by mere extension and ticks we can choose to place Ethics in the fore as the only remnant of the infinity we never knew but glanced in proximity from an Other not us, not me, not mine…a ‘not’ which can remain indeterminate but cannot be ignored.

Addendum:

Here are the question I would pose to Hegelians:

How is it possible that an “Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences” would omit the sciences since Newton’s absolute time and space? How can we suggest that science implies absolute time and space, absolute causality and absolute self-determination? If anything, the sciences since Hegel tell us that the universe is permeable on the most intimate and personal scale. Our very existence as bodies with mass and movement shapes and forms a very personal time and space uniquely ours. The universe intimately dances with us to the point of creating own unique ‘time-space bubble’ [see On Origin]. Not only that, but there are others, strange attractors, which interrupt the chaotic systems of body-doing-mind. How is it possible that Hegel’s Logic would not formally account for the essential, un-mediate-able, idea of uncertainty, indeterminacy and essential rupture of self-determinacy by the Other which is not me, whose temporality is not my time, whose spatiality is not my space? Is it with the skepticism of nothingness?6 Is the evocation of the Other “nothingness”? Does the Idea reduce the Other to “nothingness”? Don’t the sciences counter the ‘Absolute skepticism’ and ‘nothingness’ of the infinite Other thought by Hegel’s Idea? Perhaps ‘nothingness’ is the final solution for anything other than Hegelianism. How does infinity and chaos relate to the hierarchy of the ‘higher standpoint’, the self-identity of the object and absolute knowing? For Hegel, isn’t Being thought in the same ontology as that of an object to Idea? For Hegel isn’t Being ‘pure knowing’ which is ‘pure indeterminateness and emptiness’ and merely thought of as the opposite of ‘pure nothing’ which is ‘complete emptiness, the absence of all determination and content’. Hegel tells us that Being and nothing are identical. The mere thought that Being and nothing are opposites gives rise to becoming but how can ‘thinking’ think the thought of opposites in ‘pure indeterminateness and emptiness’ in the absence of content? What is ‘pure knowing’ without content? Might we think that at the very beginning of the “Logic” thinking has the same invisible inflections bending inward as the thought of a ‘thing’. Isn’t the thought without determinations or content an unspecified filler which functions as the thought of a ‘thing’. As such, don’t we recreate the dilemma of Descartes? Ah, but the Hegelians will surely protest that the ‘Logic’ is actually a circle and there is no starting point or end, but rather a totality. If so, is the starting point irrelevant? Why would Hegel disingenuously start the “Logic” with the ‘thought’ of Being and nothing while telling us the first stage has no content and no determinations but, apparently has the thought that Being and nothing are opposites? Are we to overlook this apparent contradiction for what will come later in the “Logic”? Doesn’t Being ultimately answer to the Idea, the Begriff as the ‘object’ of Begriff? For Hegel, certainly we can’t suggest that the idea of chaos participates at the highest level of absolute knowing as the truth of every mode of consciousness? Can the Hegelian Idea un-fixate its Medusa-like gaze to give the proximity of Ethics an Other which is not an object of Being but an infinitely strange attractor which Idea cannot subsume within itself? What relevance shall we give to the idea which holds itself off, which gives itself its own essential limitation on the possibility that it may not be absolute but self-delusion which has an ultimate, world historical reason, for effacing and fleeing from what it can never ‘know’ but only encounter in the ‘he’, the ‘she’…and the ‘it’ which science informs us is not the ‘it’ we thought as ‘was’. The question is not ‘to be or not to be’ or even ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ but why is there ‘Other rather than nothing’?

Here are my unedited answers:

Thinking for Hegel is existential.7 Thinking is only allowed to think from the structure of his dialectic. Hegelianism is the autopsy of Idea in the region of the absolute. Hegelians seem to have almost have a gym-rat type vibrato about thinking the Thought. What are the building blocks of Hegelianism in the Thought of the Absolute? First, Hegel takes on the mantle of Totality driven by the Absolute – the science of his day. Certainly, the dialectic of Hegel assumes structure – hierarchical structure. Hegel’s claim to the circularity of his hierarchy does not undo the hierarchy but indemnifies it from temporality. In this way, he positions his structure as constitutional, as immortal, the ‘definition’ of human. Determinism is paramount for Hegel. Even the indeterminate must take a back seat to the Idea even at the first movement of the Logic (Being-Nothing previously mentioned). Any exterior to his definitive and determinative structure is relegated to ‘nothingness’ as Hesiod’s chaos was dispensed with the nothing of ‘night’ and ‘void’. Determinism is undergirded by the absolutism of cause and effect, the billiard ball approach, from the science of his day. Absolutism requires certainty. A machine must be capable of reverse engineering. Hegel has disclosed the structure of the human machine. The mechanical metaphor reigns supreme in Newtonian physics. One thing Hegel shares with current science is the assumption of progress. The move of Spirit will eventually unearth the mind of God which will be Hegel’s “Logic”. However, the difference in an absolutist structure and the relativity of uncertainty is the loss of discovery. Hegel has precluded any possibility for essential progress. Sure, work can be done ad infinitum to flesh out his superstructure but the System as ‘almost complete’ is meant with ‘almost’ meaning the perpetual fleshing out of his Idea. We should also notice that Hegel’s structure includes the existential (existentiell). As in Heidegger’s Ontic-Ontological structure, we have Hegel’s idea-Idea. All thinking and thoughts must forever suckle at the Idea. In this dynamic we have uncovered the power structure. Hegel’s master-slave paradigm is the dynamics of power relations. In thinking strictly and totally within the machismo-ridden structure of the Logic we have the master, Hegel, and the slave, his career driven philosophers. Hegel’s devotees are in servitude to the strict demand of obedience to the Logic lest they incur the penalty of falling into nothingness, the heresy of the strict confines of the Logic. Is it inconceivable that the slave could ever claim the right to freedom and cast off the yoke of Logic? Hegel even goes so far as to try to convince us that his Logic cannot be criticized. Since the Logic is absolute in its determinations anyone who criticizes it must be themselves deluded and thus irrelevant. All of this has the effect of isolating the Hegelian academics from any exterior which might try to update ‘The Science’ beyond Newton. The last assumption of Hegel’s super structure is denial of the other. Science is often criticized by philosophers as coming too late with too many assumptions. As such it is relegated to the ‘technician’ level of philosophical science. Hegel’s Logic is built upon the dogma that there is no exterior to the Logic. At least the philosophically deprecated sciences have the foundation of an other which is not understood. In servitude to Hegel the slave cannot admit any exterior. His economy is an absolutely restricted economy dictated by the master and his servitude to the abstraction of his existence. The master-slave dynamic can either break down or the slave can become yet another master with, according to Hegel, the added benefit of concrete existence from having been the slave. However, after a while, wouldn’t the slave forget his ‘authenticity’ and find himself equally abstracted from his existence as is to be expected from the master according to Hegel. The slave can never really escape the master-slave dilemma except in the freedom of abstraction. Thus, exteriority is forever denied. I guess it comes down to an Ethical decision. We can decide to take up the mantle of apostacy and decide that there is exteriority which cannot be subsumed into the totality of the same and thereby, discover an Ethics which is not altruistically derived from duty or Logic. When the radical rupture of the face of the Other is exterior to me, to the ‘said’ of language, Ethics is choice over necessity to the ontological or ‘Logic’al idea even as subjectivity is substitution from infinite responsibly.

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1 Lorenz, Edward Norton (1972). “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” Address at the 139th Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheraton Park Hotel, Boston, Mass., December 29, 1972.

2 In the previous discussion there is a graph which maps out in two dimensions the function 1/X where X varies from minus infinity to plus infinity. We can see from the graph that at the ‘zeros’ of minus infinity and plus infinity the function goes to zero. Note that while the limit of X at both infinities is zero, the function never reaches either zero as infinity is an ‘ideal’ of real numbers not anything which we could call ‘real’. Also, note that as X approaches zero from either zero the graph of 1/X approaches negative infinity to the left of zero and positive infinity to the right of zero. Likewise, in this case, as X approaches zero the result of the function goes to infinity of either side of zero. In either case, the fraction part of these real numbers needs ever arrive at its destination of zero. The approach to plus and minus infinity at zero we call ‘poles’ [See Pole–zero plot for more details]. However, at zero the result of 1/X is called undefined. What this means is the vertical line of the function on the graph at zero does not exist. We have a boundary condition at zero where the function makes no sense [Division by zero]. There is no number that satisfies the result 0 1/0. For example, if you have 1/1 you could think of it as dividing 1 cookie into 1 part which would be the whole cookie. However, in the case of 1/0, the divisor makes no sense if you want to divide one cookie into zero parts. The result of 1/0 cannot result in a number because the question posed by the function makes no sense. The function 1/0 exemplifies what I will call indeterminate or a singularity [See Singularity (mathematics) for more details]. The math makes no sense at zero for the function 1/X. For all X in our function except the point at zero, this is what mathematics calls a continuous function. In relativity, gravity is a continuous field. So, what does this mean for the purpose of this discussion?

What I am trying to flush out of this example is that we have a mathematical ideal which gives us some closure (recall the part 1 discussion about closure) around the function 1/X. We have concrete definition about the ideal behavior of 1/X. We can know much about the function’s behavior around the poles of zero. However, at the boundary condition of zero our ideal mathematical language makes no sense. The ideal language we are using breaks down, almost imperceptivity at an infinitesimally small point where X=0. We could say that the negative of the side where X is less than zero is the right side of the graph because -1 times (1/X) where X is always negative will always be positive like the graph where X > 0. Thus, the negative corresponds to a positive term, i.e., the right side of the graph. In fact, the negative of X< 0 OR X> 0 is simply a restatement of X> 0 OR X< 0 respectively. The negative is an absolutely necessary condition to satisfy the essential requirement of the function. Without the negative the function could not be posited. In this sense, X< 0 and X> 0 are absolute, dialectical opposites. They are absolute as they mirror each other in their opposition, their negation. At the same time, they also categorically define the function on both sides of X = 0. In effect, we have set up an absolute opposition between thesis and its absolute other, the negative, antithesis, and lifted them up as both inclusive and exclusive of each other without reserve…in a hermitically sealed closed relationship. What we have done is asserted a positive term or function X> 0 OR X< 0 and its negative X< 0 OR X> 0 respectively, literally what it is and what it is not. This is a multiplicative inverse or reciprocal relationship. The result of this operation is to deny, by definition, any possible exterior. Since this mathematical example is a very isolated situation by design, I do not want to generalize it as example of all Hegelian dialectics and thereby try to indict Hegel. I have come to see that the triadic (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) is an over simplification of Hegel’s project. However, I do want to pose this very isolated question, is it possible to think the negations discussed above as a specific and formal case of one type of a determinate negation (bestimmte)?

What can we make of the boundary condition of X = 0? We could take advantage of undefined, the absolute rupture at zero, by suggesting the 1/0 = 1 but then, according to division’s inverse property 0 X 1 would have to equal one – a contradiction. Basically, any possible number or relationship can be posited in the boundary condition. At the boundary of zero we could say that the boundary contracts or joins all other values of X OR we could say that the boundary condition alienates or separates all other values of X. Since this mathematical example is a very isolated situation by design, I do not want to generalize it as example of all Hegelian dialectics and thereby try to indict Hegel. However, I do want to pose this very isolated question, is it possible to think the negations discussed above as thesis and antithesis and the boundary condition as a synthesis, what Hegel called aufheben or sublation? Is it possible that the necessity of the dialectic drives the function 1/X?

“Malabou argues, ‘Dialectical sublation proceeds through a movement whereby, at one and the same time, it contracts and alienates the material on which it acts’. The Aufhebung is not simply the one that brings together the one and the multiple, but also the multiple that holds apart the one and the multiple; it is the identity of non-identity and identity and the non-identity of identity and non-identity. In Jameson’s words, ‘dialectics are dialectical’.” Aufhebung and Negativity: A Hegelianism without Transcendence, Ryan Krahn, University of Guelph

If so, the aufheben becomes a restricted economy which ‘contracts’ (combines) and alienates (excludes). By restricted economy I mean sets up all possible conditions under which anything can be said, thought, asserted or denied of the function 1/X. When the boundary is thought as aufheben there is no possible exit from the dialectic. Of course, we could say that the boundary is indeterminate. We could say that the boundary is a rupture, a radical alterity, with regard to the whole system of mathematics. Would these assertions be an escape altogether from the dialectic we have constructed? If we assume that mathematics is the only possible field where any possible objection can occur, then these objections are meaningless. If the notion of rationality as the only possible field is substituted for mathematics, then these questions can only be answered in the restricted economy we have set up. We have set up an absolute, closed system, which can never exceed itself. There can be no radical rupture. The effect of this is to close out all other possibilities in a restricted economy thus absolutely removing the possibility that the boundary is indeterminate. It is an absolute denial of all possibilities for a radical other. However, the denial is not in the asserted boundary condition but in the repetition of the thesis in the antithesis. The other was already made impossible by the repetition not from anything surreptitiously brought in at the boundary, the synthesis. This movement is what we now call totalization.

Let’s think about the approximation we thought about with the ‘tendency towards closure’ and the ‘opens towards an unbridgeable tear’.As opposed to the hermetically sealed which can recognize no other, the ‘tendency towards’ is the empirical. The System is deduction while the ‘tendency towards’ is inductive. It is also the difference between certainty and contingency. In approximation, we discover qualities around infinity which provide a degree of closure. The yawning gap of chaos is smoothed over by the mathematics of infinity, calculus. The radical alterity of the Other is tamed by common sense. We form ideas about the Other. Levinas calls these plastic casts we throw over the face of the Other. We have theories with relative degrees of accuracy for prediction. We think of the Other as the ‘same’ as us as a desirable idea. We think of diversity as a collection of Other’s which is also desirable. When we think conventionally as the other being negative, ‘otherizing the other’, we think of the other as alien and evil. However, the alien and the evil are our idea of the other. The idea of the other is yet not the other even as the idea of Hesiod’s chaos never arrives at its destination. In all these cases we have applied ready-made inductions to level out and retreat from radical rupture…the infinity which looks at us in the face of the Other and in the very notion of infinity.

From Part One of this discussion, let’s recall the paradox. We have the notion of a mathematical point which is infinitesimally small. Therefore, a ‘real’ point is an impossibility. However, relativity physics tell us that a black hole results in a singularity. In addition, according to relativity, if we follow cosmic history back to the big bang, all the matter in the universe coincides into a singularity. It is as if we backed up into the other side of a black hole. A singularity is a radical rupture in time-space. It is also indeterminate. A singularity is in effect a division by zero [Division by zero]. Is the “Beginning of Time” a myth? [The Myth Of The Beginning Of Time, “The Myth of the Beginning of Time”, A Matter of Time, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January 2012, Volume 306, Issue 1s] By ‘myth’ in this discussion we do not mean ‘not ‘true’ we simply mean impossible. The myth is the singularity of the black hole or the big bang that relativity would tell us. For Hesiod, the beginning starts with a myth and a paradox.

Let’s think of Hesiod’s myth as the story we tell ourselves like the story Einstein tells us in relativity (although they are obviously not the same). Let’s think of Hesiod’s chaos as the radical rupture we think in singularity. The story we tell ourselves is quite convincing. However, no matter how carefully we trace our steps back to the origin we find we are left with an indeterminate difference. The difference is demarcated by the myth and the rupture. In fact, might we think that the myth is a retreat from an impossible singularity, an alterity that tears at the nexus of the contradiction of paradox which cannot be true but is true. The myth must be mute with regard to the paradox. The muteness we call indeterminacy. Of course, in our time, physics has competing theories about how Einstein’s singularity can be eliminated. However, none of those theories have the extremely accurate predictability of relativity on a very large scale. They also have their own resurrections of paradox which is not the subject of this discussion. At the same time, quantum theory is highly accurate on a very small scale. To date, we have not found a proven way to unite the very large and the very small. In this discussion I will not attempt to deal with the vast paradox’s which quantum theory intriguingly brings to the fore. Of course, we can always simply ignore the rupture with eternal positivism for a future resolve of the large and the small, a myth that will finally be the “theory of everything” or as Hegel thought, the ‘System’. If the history of myth is any precedent, the promised myth will also arrive with its own tears in the fabric of, shall we suggest, ‘what is’. As Levinas reminds us,

“in thematizing we are synchronizing the terms, forming a system among them, using the verb to be, placing in being [the myth] all signification that allegedly signified beyond being [for the current discussion chaos]? Or must we reinvoke alternation and diachrony as the time of philosophy? … Philosophy is not separable from skepticism, which follows it like a shadow it drives off by refuting it, again at once on its footsteps. Does not the last word belong to philosophy?” [Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1998) , 167, 168, 169. Also Cited by Richard A. Cohen in The Face of the Other, Ethics as First Philosophy: Two Types of Philosophy in the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas , Delivered as keynote address on August 1, 2013, at conference on “Culture and Philosophy as Ways of Life in Times of Global Change,” School of Philosophy, University of Athens, Athens, Greece, pg. 11]

The diachrony of the time of philosophy and history covers over its own ‘geological faults’. It tells us the System is almost complete. Chaos will be discarded, the paradox resolved, the Gordian knot untied. However, every new myth cannot seem to rid itself of the infinites which face us. Skepticism refuses without falling into the void it stares into. Skepticism is the last tragic stand of the hero which can no longer assert anything but its end. In this situation philosophy (and science) must forever drive off the shadow, the night, the void, nothingness to retreat from the abyss. The radical tears in Being and ‘is’ punctuated by death yet, still covers over the absolute intolerability of chaos. Hesiod’s chaos has no face. As such, it is the ‘horror’ of indeterminate-ability of the ‘there is’ which cannot be, the il y a.

“Being, as we noted, also is dark indeterminacy. Having suspended the binaries of de facto inside and outside as part of his own phenomenological bracketing, Levinas will approach this indeterminacy not as objectivity, but as something revealed through mood. Whether it is the dark indeterminacy that besets the insomniac self, or whether it is the rustling of nocturnal space, Being’s dark aspect horrifies us. “The things of the day world then do not in the night become the source of the ‘horror of darkness’ because our look cannot catch them in their ‘unforeseeable plots’; on the contrary, they get their fantastic character from this horror. Darkness…reduces them to undetermined, anonymous being, which they exude”. This anonymous being, also called the il y a [there is], does not ‘give’ the way Heidegger’s Being does. And it is not revealed through mere anxiety. Nevertheless, it is a beginning. Insomniac and in the throes of horror, the hypostasis falls asleep. Or again, it lights a light and reassembles its consciousness. It “sobers up.” Therein lays our first, constitutive escape from neutral Being. But the il y a gives the lie to the question: Why is there Being instead of simply nothing? Nothing, as pure absence, may be thinkable, but it is unimaginable. Indeterminate Being fills in all the gaps, all the temporal intervals, while consciousness arises from it in an act of self-originating concentration. This is the first sketch of Being as totality. The self-‘I’ dyad becomes a limited transcendence arising in the midst of the self’s encompassing horror. It hearkens to a call that comes not from neutral Being but from the Other. The stage is thus set for Totality and Infinity’s elaborate analyses of world, facticity, time as now-moment, transcendence in immanence, and transcendence toward future fecundity. These themes constitute the core of Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority.” Emmanuel Levinas

3 Quantum chaos

4 CHAOS THEORY

5 Turbulent Mirror: An illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness, Briggs and Peat, 1989, 76-77

6 “the skepticism which only ever sees pure nothingness in its result and abstracts from the fact that this nothingness is specifically the nothingness of that from which it results.”…”the skepticism that ends up with the bare abstraction of nothingness or emptiness cannot get any further from there, but must wait to see whether something new comes along and what it is, in order to throw it too into the same empty abyss.” Phenomenology of Spirit [Phänomenologie des Geistes], translated by A.V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, §79.

7 Thinking is Idea in time. Here is how that works out in Hegel. Space is the negation of Idea as Concept. Concept (Begriff) is not ‘seen’. It does not undergo contingencies. Concept itself has no time or space (external to itself) except in the ‘timeless’ dialectics in which space and time arises. However, the negation of Concept is space. The negation of space is the point. The point is time. Becoming as mentioned in the post is the ‘now’ moment (which oscillates between Being and nothing) where all points in space negate themselves into a single moment, the present. Hegel understands space as three dimensional as Newton also did. Since time negates space, it collapses space into a zero dimensional point. Human time is the negation of the anonymous point (which is nature’s time) and passes into ‘recollection’. Recollection refers to the past and the negation of the past is the future. The now is the in-between, the aufhebung. The time-self’s negation is Concept. This completes the circle where all dialectics are fulfilled in Concept. The dialectical oppositions and sublations are preserved in Concept. Concept is completion and determination. According to Hegelians, Concept is totally within itself, driven from its own dialectics without externality (not already accounted for in its dialectical movements). Thus, the critique of my post with regard to the indeterminate, chaos, uncertainty are reduced to dialectical movements and subsumed by the absolutism of the Newtonian science of Hegel’s own ‘Now’ moments. Understanding Hegel’s Theory on Time Note: It is interesting that Concept itself can be negated. I suppose Concept’s time-space-lessness opposes itself in the other of space opposing itself as time, etc.. In this particular case, Concept, itself has an other (dare we think as externality?) . A Hegelian would probably tell us that the ‘other’ of negation is not an external other but an other driven from within the Concept (in this case) as its depleted mode (in a sense). So, therefore, space is not other except in thought (as was the case with Being and nothing). Can Concept think itself? Wouldn’t that require time? Is this yet another case where thinking is merely assumed as was the case with Being as ‘pure knowing’ which is ‘pure indeterminateness and emptiness’ and ‘pure nothing’ which is ‘complete emptiness, the absence of all determination and content’ that already has the thought of their opposition.