Monday, May 3, 2021

Repetition & Reality

- We have time. Give me an update on the people in your life.
- Well, fierce and beautiful Michelle, pushing her cart of possessions in West Hollywood, got herself arrested she says for attempting to defend herself with a pipe against another of those tens of thousands who sleep on the streets here. The story came out in her constant stream of talk of herself and my silent listening which constitutes my conversations with her. The Jewish kids from the religious school?* I'd told myself after refusing their one hundred dollar bribe to undergo their ritual that I'd find within a week much more, I'd calibrate myself to that task. 
- And did you?
- Calibrate and find. Yes.
- Of course you did, you being you. Enough about you. This morning I watched a YouTube video, made by the people at the School Of Life that says that aliens visiting our planet in the future will conclude we humans destroyed ourselves because our brains made us hate strangers, not like to think ahead and hate truth anyway. All we have to do is love strangers, think in the long term and love the truth.
- So we've solved the world's problems.
- Hardly.
- Why not?
- Wouldn't we have to know how to love strangers, think of the future and love the truth?
- And we don't know how?
- No.
- What would you say is the problem?
- This is what I want to talk to you about. Throughout our ten years of conversations we've come back to the idea of repetition. Repetition in work, repetition in the image making of language, repetition in the social reenactments of ritual. All three forms of repetition play a prominent role in capitalism.
- The capitalism that is leading us to destruction and the future dismissive judgment of aliens.
- Yes. You don't mind if I go over what we've gone over many times before?
- I won't object to the repetition.
- We told a story about how when our hunter-gatherer ancestors became farmers they first encountered repetition, the countable number of grains grown. Language supplied familiarity with symbols, so high numbers began to symbolize strength, power over future contingency, high numbers both of grains and of farmers to be themselves farmed or mastered by others. Ritual operates to make acceptable a relation of master slave. The ceremonial repetition of ritual expresses the establishment of power of a ruler over the ruled that offers security for both master and slave participants. Primary among capitalist rituals is the market exchange, in which the pain each naturally friendly being feels in becoming the enemy of the other somehow is supposed to turn out to be to the benefit of all, and the rich who reap most of those benefits become the natural leader of the ritual. Rituals establish roles.
- And do you still buy this story told all those years ago?
- Do you have a better one? Here we have our capitalism, leading us to our destruction, capitalism that essentially is a perverse form of slavery in which the slaves are made to buy the products they themselves have made. Like grain to our ancestral farmers, the slaves are the countable products of their master, grown to produce and consume as required in ever greater numbers. When not producing at work numerous items for sale, in their private lives they consume, that is to say, they have a passive relation to what happens to them, whether it is news delivered over the internet or entertainment. Each act of consumption increases the symbolic power of the built up self image associated with the objects consumed. All three forms of counting are present: repeated acts, symbols, social relation.
- The worker watching his violent pornography, each view counting up, repeating symbols of his power to maintain a social position.
- Yes. Slave in production, slave in consumption. Told what to repeatedly make in work slavery, repeatedly consuming images of his self. 
- The worker is a slave even when not working because the world of news and entertainment acts on him to construct his self out of repetition, symbol and social relations. Self containing, he is unable to act on the world of news and entertainment that acts on him to make him what he thinks himself to be, his 'self'.
- All that was ten years ago. Is it as obvious to you as it is to me that to save our species we should figure out how to stop all these repetitions that establish slavery of production and consumption? 
- What can we say to the McDonald's worker watching his pornography in his free time, the worker made into an image expressive of his employer's power, a slave to his consumption of images of his own power, unable to act on the world that delivers to him his self image: advise him to love strangers and rationality and truth? Would that do any good?
- Not likely. He is living in a world that is a numerical, symbolic social construction. He thinks he is a more or less powerful kind of thing, his employers / slave masters think the same of him and think the same of themselves. Not interested in acting on the world, no one is listening to anyone (except on the subject of themselves) any more than your friend Michelle listens to you.
- Do you know, in the past couple of weeks I discovered I was in regular contact with two Holocaust deniers, one a computer chip salesman originally from Iran who'd asked me to do some editing for him, the other the very same Michelle. They acquired the view like an article of clothing, adding substance to the thing they call their 'self'. Tell them there are no objects in the world, including the self, independent of their perception of them? Alan Watts, speaking also about alien visitors, said they would see that on our planet even rocks have a share in consciousness: that as a tree 'apples', rocks 'people'; consciousness is not a complicated form of mineral, as people like to think these days; rather in the past a mineral had within it the future of consciousness. In a moment of strange, unaccountable beauty, listening to Michelle go on as she often does about the gangs identified by colors that were stalking her suddenly she fell silent, looked me right in the eye and asked me, 'Is this real? I used to have a house, a job, family. I don't know what this is'. 
- What did you answer?
- That it wasn't real. Really? she asked: not real like we can wake up from it? No, I said, unreal in the sense it is an imitation of life. I started to tell her about the ancient Greek philosophers, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus** who were clear on the point that there were no objects outside of our active attempt to get to know them. Or again, as Alan Watts put it, no walking without the floor to walk on. When we are acting creatively we can actually see how objects take on their shape as we make our way through our thinking of them, applying what we have seen of them to the purposes at hand. This is especially clear in writing, where the words seemingly on their own snap down on the page of text out of mists of hard at work consciousness.
- The 'tree that apples', the 'rock that peoples'. Money refused then finding more. Consumers of Holocaust Denial. What a conversation. What times we live in. It's interesting that right at the beginnings of our civilization the problem of objects had been raised, but I don't see how it helps us with the world we live in now of slaves who are countable objects to their masters and to themselves. I assume Michelle didn't follow a word you said. The repetitions in production and consumption somehow must be stopped despite capitalists, governments in their pockets, dedicated to keeping the repetitions going. 
- Let's conclude with a vision of what aliens visiting us now might understand us as believing:

The second axiom of economic ontology: that which is not profitable does not exist...Compared to the real existence of assembly line products, intended to satisfy needs (or which “foresee” these same needs that they will then satisfy), in the view of the ontologist of economics, nature as a totality, despite its immensity, lies outside the boundaries of the foreseen, outside the boundaries of what for him represents the field of “providence”. For him, nature is in itself only κατὰ μβεβηκός, only accidental, although, as a raw material for products, it, too, participates in “existence” and “value”, but both only in the form of loans, that is, that they are borrowed in advance by the products, which can acquire part of them. However, what nature really conceals that is unprofitable, that is, those pieces that the producer not only cannot use, but which he cannot even eliminate, the excess of the universe, for example, the Milky Way, represents in the view of this ontologist, to the extent that he will admit its existence, a metaphysical scandal, a material outrage, that nothing can justify, installed without any reason and, in a certain way, only explainable by entrepreneurial incompetence on a cosmic scale. Probably, the current nihilist complaint about the “meaninglessness of the world” is the expression, at least, of the cosmic sorrow of the industrial era; a cosmic sorrow that is precisely founded on the suspicion that, when all is said and done, the excess of the universe is neither usable nor profitable, it is superfluous, a waste and it exists for nothing; and obviously it has nothing else to do but to metaphysically loaf around in space, which has been put at its disposal for incomprehensible reasons.***

Further Reading:
Abel Is More Able
** See: Eric Perl, Thinking Being: Introduction to Metaphysics in the Classical Tradition
*** Günther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man