Posted: June 21, 2014 in Poems

Silently asking,

a Silent question,

to Silence.


Posted: June 18, 2014 in Pensees

Without chaos there is no emergence.

Once upon a time there were two loops, each loop-dancing through the flux as loops like to do. Both were loops much like any other. But of course they were also unique in their own ways and knew themselves as set apart from the other loops. For many years they looped away, each far away from the other, and yet two loops more similar in shape and spin it would have been hard to find anywhere. Although they begun worlds away, in time they began to gravitate towards each other, who can say why, for it happened unknown to them. In the flux, the ocean of ambiguity beat down on each of those two loops, and each had found their meandering paths had left them drained of over flowing life.

On and on the loops had spun and twisted, writhing through their lives up until that point, the magic moment as they first came into contact with the other’s spin. As their surfaces met the loops took hands, accepting the cosmic invitation to a dance. The dancing harmony of the two loops then is more beautiful than any work of art, for it is beauty made of spinning life itself, not dead rocks or words. When each loop beheld the other in that ecstatic dance of meeting they met their own loop and soul as in a reflection. It was a dance of outside coming inside, going outside again only to come in once more. Like a beating heart they pulsed, in and out, up and down, on and off, together and apart, in and out, pumping the two loops around and around in their whirling embrace along for a time.

But life is fleeting as it rolls through the flux, and the dance of the two loops soon began to tangle. Their loops, each once in it self, fell into a confusion from You and I to Us and We. Where before it hand been a dance of motion, it became a grinding embrace of beating hearts. Hearts beating, beating hard and smashing together. No longer did the two loops go out or up, off or apart, but in and down they settled into one another, lost in the flux, but comfortably lost to the flux. Such a dance is no dance at all, but a long deep loop of pregnant depression.

As the two loops sank further and harder into their isolated bubble of misery, their spins both began to fail, to spiral down towards the nothing. The hearts attack then, the dance dying in a slow decline and finally giving birth all at once to an explosive recoil resolving into their own loops. From so dark a place, so tight and jammed, everything explodes as if from nothing. The embrace of in and down is abandoned in an instance for the receding spiral of out and apart. Each loop lost to itself superimposed and out of focus repels the other loop out of itself so that it may find itself once more. Everything once pulling the two loops into their collapse has now turned around and pushes them apart with every force.

And here we find the two loops as they are now, in this demanding confusion of flux. The dance, long forgotten in the depths of mutual helplessness, for a moment flashes again, and each loop is given its choice. They might let go, escape the gravity of each other’s loop, fling themselves back across the world into the flux, confirming their dance’s heart attack fatal. Or they might choose to hold on to the other’s hand, to be flung out from the other only to hold on and resume a new dance orbiting at arms length. Two loops swinging out into the void, returning in, out and around again in the dance of holding hands and beating hearts.

The Dream Academy

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Stories

Sophia Starbuck woke up.  The sun was already high in the sky and the world had already begun to bustle with business.  Sophia groggily searched her bedside table for her dream diary, clumsily rearranging a mess too messy to get worse before finding it.  She opened it at random and began writing down the dream she had just awoken from, as usual, exactly as she had been trained to do.  It was the same one she’d had last night.  In fact it was the same one she had the nights before that, as long back as she could remember.  “What am I doing?  Why doesn’t my dream make sense?” she asked her ceiling.  Sophia had recently begun talking to herself, though only when she thought she was alone.  When she had finished recording her dream she ripped out the page and threw it at the full rubbish bin.  “This isn’t the way dreams are supposed to be.”  It merely bounced off and rolled to join the rest of her dreams in a pile on the floor.  “Why don’t our teachers ever teach us about this kind of dream?”

“One foot out of bed, two feet out of bed.”  She stumbled in slow motion down to the empty kitchen.  “One coffee, two toast.”  She slowly broke her fast and then stumbled to the bathroom.  “One get naked, two get wet.”  Sophia stood in the shower for a long while, just pondering.  “One get dry, two get dressed.”  When Sophia was eventually dressed and ready she threw her dream diary and lunch into her satchel and left her flat.  “One step, two step.  One, two.  One, two.  One, two.  Repeat until I get to the academy.”  Sophia attended the Dream Academy.  Everyday she would lie and tell her teachers that she had dreamers block. “A dream that only asks questions and answers in riddles is as livable as no dream at all.  I mean, what would be the difference?” she questioned the bush at the end of her street as she walked past.  “I’ll be stuck here forever, probably still pretending to have dreamers block.”

As Sophia sauntered through the mid morning air she lost herself imagining all the things she could say to her teachers and classmates.  “Your dreams all seem perfectly ridiculous to me anyway.  Even if my dream doesn’t make sense, at least it is..” Sophia grasped for the word, but failed and resorted to “interesting.”  She was asking herself why she didn’t just tell her teachers about her dream instead of lying, when, without warning, her awareness was pulled violently back to her immediate surroundings.  A man, completely naked but covered in a thick layer of grime, was laying on his back across the path.  This was different.  He just lay there, staring intently upwards.  He seemed to be studying something perfectly above him.  In her turn Sophia just stood there, looking down at him, but with a concerned expression on her face.  When he noticed her standing there looking alarmed, he perched himself upon his elbows and smiled pleasantly at her. He still had the same intent expression of study on his face, though now directed towards her.  Sophia’s brain was racing, he seemed very familiar.  Those fiery eyes shining out from their grubby surroundings, and yet she could not quite place his face.

The arrangement lasted until Sophia began to feel awkward and broke the silence, “What are you doing here?”

The man simply replied, “I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.  Maybe I was searching for you?  You seem to have found me in any case.  But, what are you doing here?”

“I am walking to the Dream Academy.”

“Are you really?”

“Yes, I am a student there.  Now if you’ll excuse me I am going to be…”

But before Sophia could finish explaining that she was running late the man interrupted her, “I don’t think I’ve heard of this ‘Dream Academy’.  What exactly do you do there anyway?”

Sophia was a bit shocked, everyone knew about the Academy.  It was the cornerstone of society, their teachers reminded them of that whenever the chance arose.  “Oh umm, well, my classmates are developing their dreams, and err, refining them, until the teachers think they are worth living.  And when they graduate they will begin living their dreams, that is the point of it all.”  Sophia had forgotten she was running late and so she continued, “the teachers remind us over and over that it is our privilege to attend the Dream Academy; ‘the less fortunate children don’t get to choose their own dreams, they just have to copy their parent’s lives.’”  With an incredulous look Sophia asked, “Have you really not heard of the Academy?”

“Oh, well, maybe I have.  Maybe I have?  I guess it sounds vaguely familiar.  Do you like it there?”

“No, not at all.”  Sophia gave him a long look, and then asked, “you ask a lot of questions, who are you?”

“Do I?  I guess there is a lot I don’t know.  I’m not sure who I am, still trying to find that out, to be honest.”  And then the loopy man began to wax lyrical.  “Am I a beast, complicated and swollen with passion like a many headed hydra?  Or, am I a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, though with a diviner and lowlier destiny?  I mean, do you honestly know who you really are?”

“Yes, of course I know who I am.”  Though Sophia agreed that the old loon could well be either a beast or a gentle creature, his appearance seemed to support both possibilities.

The man fixed his studying glare even more intently on her, “Knowing who you are, with such confidence, and at such a young age, you must be particularly wise!  But, who, may I inquire, are you really?”

Sophia just gave the man a blank look and shrugged.  Then, finally remembering herself, and feeling slightly at a lost at having to explain things she thought everyone already knew, Sophia quickly excused herself, “I am going to be late, I am already late.  I really must be going.”

“Late is a curious thing to be.  Are you sure?” the old man asked.

But Sophia was already crossing the street so that she would not have to climb over him.   She called out, “yes I am, now goodbye,” before continuing on her ambling walk to the academy.

*           *          *

The regime, once well started, will roll on like a circle in its growth. For sound rearing and education, when they are preserved, produce good natures; and sound natures, in their turn receiving such an education, grow up still better than those before them.

Plato, The Republic, 424a.

In Regeneration is the preservation of the world.[1]  The pattern of wild nature is constant renewal and adjustment to new conditions, the same pattern also constitutes our own society.  One generation feeds into the next generation in a dynamic process of regeneration; each new generation never perfectly resembling its forebears.  Democracy itself may be best understood as the ideal process of regeneration through which society’s laws and values are constantly re-examined and reiterated by the collective contribution of all members.  Because the continual reformation of good policy depends on an informed population, education plays a fundamental role within democracy; it is the medium through which the knowledge and wisdom of previous generations is bequeathed to the next.  The potential progress of society always resides within its youngest members; those most naturalised within the current circumstances who are best situated to imagine what might come next.  Because this democratic process of youthful regeneration is neither entirely predictable nor controllable, it has often been the source of much paternalist fear.  However, we must remain courageous and confident that through a democratic process we are most capable of solving hard political problems; problems that shall sometimes even threaten the continued survival of our society.

We live in a chaotic world.  More accurately, we are part of a chaotic world.  By chaotic I mean a complex system permeated by rich interconnections.  Through the interconnected interdependence, patterns of loopy causality will inevitably arise to form quasi-stable processes (though such processes always remain prone to perishing).  Through our collective experience of the recent earthquakes in Christchurch we have learnt particularly vividly what it means to live in a chaotic environment.  We have particularly learnt this of our own society in the wake of the quakes, as social and political processes that had once seemed stable were suddenly disrupted.  In particular, the suspension of our democratic processes highlights that we must sometimes even need to reclaim our democratic society.  It has made starkly clear that the challenges we face as a society will sometimes even threaten our collective continued existence; there is no magical supernatural force that will ensure our continued survival.  In the past many cities have crumbled into ruins. Unless we are able to resiliently face the challenges that threaten us, there is no reason that our city will not also perish.

Why do some processes (organisms, institutions, or societies) flourish while others perish?  The conditions for continued existence may be stated qua wholes and qua parts, in what may be termed the ‘Two-Fold Principle of Becoming’:

  • As wholes, those processes which create the internal conditions necessary to perpetuate themselves will continue to exist.
  • As parts, those processes that are functioning parts of wider environmental processes, creating the external conditions necessary for their continued existence, will continue to exist.

Every process exists simultaneously as both a whole in itself and as a part in some larger whole, and thus every process must satisfy both conditions to remain in a process of continued becoming for very long.[2]  With the idea of a Two-Fold Principle of Becoming in mind, we can begin to understand the nature of some fundamental flaws in our current economic institutions.  They have proven themselves to be internally unstable, as demonstrated by the 2008 global financial crisis which required massive ad hoc bailouts to save the system from crashing.  They have also proven to be externally destructive of the environmental conditions necessary for their survival, as demonstrated by the catastrophic levels of environmental degradation.  Both of these flaws have been particularly salient within the New Zealand context.

It is possible to understand political societies in terms of collective problem solving processes.  Doing so allows us to evaluate whether they are effective; first at recognising problems, and then at resolving those problems.  The fundamental problem facing any political society is its continued survival.  However, if we understand flourishing as essentially a condition of harmony that is highly resilient to perishing, then the problem of survival can be more richly conceived as the problem of flourishing.  Justice may be understood as an arrangement of social concord or harmony, and as such a just society will also be the most resilient society.  Liberal thought has often celebrated democracy for the preeminence it gives to our liberty.  However, it is also possible to celebrate democracy as the political problem solving process most capable of addressing fundamental economic and environmental challenges facing society.  Because democracy is a process that grows and evolves by its own inertia, it is not possible to predict what outcomes it will produce.  Like the scientific method, though we do not know at the outset what the solution to any particular problem will be, it provides the most reliable and rational method (though still requiring individual and collective creativity to apply) for discovering optimal solutions.

It is worth noting that Aristotle’s reason for defending the claim that “the masses rather than the few best people must be in control,” was that “even though each one among the many is not an excellent man, still it is possible that when they combine they are collectively, though not individually, better than the few best people, just as a dinner provided by many people’s contributions is better than one provided at an individual’s expense; for (on this view) they are many, and each has some part of virtue and intelligence, so that when they combine, the masses become like one human being, with many feet, many hands, and many senses, and similarly for characters and for intellect.” (Aristotle, Politics, 1281b)  The phenomena he describes has been rediscovered by modern science, and is known as ‘the wisdom of the crowd’.  When the educated guesses of many relative experts are combined and averaged, they are more successful at reaching an optimal solution, when compared to the guesses of highly trained individual experts.  Crucially, however, a group non-experts do not exhibit this phenomena.  It is only when all things are given due consideration that we approach the most rational perspective.  Thus, for democracy to function well as a collective problem solving process, it is necessary that the entire population be educated enough to act as relative experts.

The conception of democracy as a process rather than a state is in contrast to much classical political thought, which tended to consider the goal of politics as some prescribed outcome; a static state of perfection much like utopia.  Of course contemporary political thought no longer hopes to realistically achieve such utopia, yet the focus often remains on the idealised outcome of politics.  Paradoxically, the focus on outcome seems to result in a myopic concern for the concerns of the present moment; meaning that we essentially live under a governance of the present, by the present, for the present.  In New Zealand this static utopian ambition was reflected in our pursuit of full employment and economic stability during our period as a welfare state in the mid-twentieth century.  More presently, we can see this conception at work in the current blueprint for rebuilding Christchurch.  The focus is entirely on what the city will finally look like, with no attention to the process of how we as a community will regenerate ourselves.

Neoliberalism has shifted somewhat away from prescribed ideal outcomes and towards simply letting dynamic forces self-select into optimal solutions.  This has been a step in the right direction in this one sense; in a dynamic world the solution to political problems rests in a constant process of regeneration.  However, the neoliberal ideology remains flawed insofar as it provides a dangerously shallow conception of the complex system of human society.  Embracing the absolute mantra of the superiority of the free market reduces our conception of politics to the narrow level of economics.  It is to in essence replace the free polis with the free market.  The neoliberal reforms at the end of the last century significantly redefined the role of government in New Zealand; rather than a democracy fostering cooperative political agency, it became one fostering competitive economic agency.  It could even be argued that Neoliberalism reduces our conception of economics to a shallow one dimensional measure of efficiency;  a conception that would have been unacceptable to classical market liberals such as Adam Smith.  It also remains questionable whether neoliberal rhetoric is even in earnest, as the outcomes neoliberalism produces –  consolidation of power coupled with growing inequality – seem more and more removed from what it once promised.

It may be helpful to re-imagine human society in the metaphorical terms of a healthy ecosystem, for instance a forest (or any other complex organism).  In a forest there are many diverse levels of phenomena, such as trees, bushes, soil, birds, insects, mammals, etc.  Within a healthy ecosystem the thorough interactions of these levels form an interconnected and interdependent whole system.  The waste products of one process are the materials of the next; as the leaves fall in autumn to produce the rich soil for seedlings to sprout in spring. Through constant regeneration it remains stable and resilient to disruptive events, even while itself in a dynamic state of wildness.  Human society also consists of many diverse levels of phenomena, such as politics, economics, religion, science, education, media, arts, etc.  Although these levels are often seen as fundamentally distinct, it is important to be aware of the deep interactions and interdependence within and between them.

Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest might be re-described in my own terms; the processes which are internally stable, and externally well-functioning, continue to exist, while those which are not perish; resulting over time in the seemingly spontaneous evolution of self-regulating stability.  However, neoliberalism retards the evolution of stable order within the whole system by retarding the influence of all spheres other than the market, thus restricting emergent order to the shallow level of maximising economic efficiency.  It retards especially those levels which have traditionally counterbalanced the excesses of pure economic pursuit.  It would be like decreeing that the healthiest forest is the one with the tallest trees, and then using pesticides and herbicides to remove or retard all other flora and fauna  because they hindered the competitive growth of the trees.  In such conditions it would be unreasonable to expect the forest to survive as a forest for very long.

We must admit politics as a legitimate level of phenomena within human society.  It deals essentially with the way people live together, and how our behaviour shapes itself and the world (including other groups of people) around it.  It is what we are doing when we ask questions about power and justice, or success and flourishing.  This understanding of politics lets us see that the religious establishment was the dominant political force in the dark age, insofar as its ideas shaped the way people lived their lives and interacted with one another.  Today this role is primarily filled by economic institutions; what we might call our ‘religion of consumption’.  The market has become the predominate force shaping our lives.  So much of our individual and collective behaviour is shaped by advertising and our jobs within the market.  It sets our aspirations and values.  It suggests what will fulfil us and make us happy.  It provides a conception of success for people to aim at, which is to become rich.  It also tells us what is bad, which is debt.  Debt is the consumers equivalent of sin; bad and yet inevitable, and many people spend a great portion of their lives attempting to redeem themselves from it.  Perhaps we simply need some saviour to come along and forgive our debt; it exists after all, like sin, purely by social convention.

Like the church in the dark ages, there remain a few critics of consumerism.  However they are isolated as fringe heretics, and made to seem unworthy of attention by the greater mass of adherents.  When the church was eventually criticized in the enlightenment, it was not a philosophical complaint over the theological existence of god, but over the political influence that the church exerted over peoples lives, often to their detriment.  If the enlightenment thinkers were living today I expect they would be criticizing the market’s influence in politics as harmful to the common good.  In the enlightenment their critique culminated in the moment of the separation of church and state.  A modern argument along similar lines might be made for some separation of market and state.

[I’ll get around to finishing this properly some time, for now this…] A flourishing society is one which always remains in a process of regenerating itself into perpetuity; failure in this respect is failure absolutely, success in this respect is success absolutely.  Our collective behaviours, even while shaped by consumerism, remain essentially political.  Thus we must consider them in terms of classic political questions; is our society just and fair? Is it stable? etc? [[ Conclude section on principle, and point towards what might follow from this all? ]]  Some problems we face are persistent, never finally resolved. On a personal level this is the problem of feeding yourself and breathing, and we’ve evolved very good processes for solving such problems. The important point is that the solution is not an outcome. persevere.

[1]  Or as Henry Thoreau famously argued in Walking, “in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”

[2]  It might be helpful to attempt to consider these conditions in terms of the following examples; a molecule, a fire, a river, a gene, a heart, a meme, a habit, a person, an institution, or an entire ecosystem. The tension of identity – between something as a unified whole and something as diverse part in some greater whole – is the source of much confusion when thinking about humanity and nature, as well as individuals and communities. Theorists tend to focus exclusively on one or the other.  However, to see the world for what it is, we must let this identity remain in tension. For instance, seeing ourselves as simultaneously both political animals and rational individuals; individuals which are essentially members of communities, and yet as members not reducible to our communities.

ζωον πολιτικον

Posted: May 9, 2012 in Pensees

It is unhealthy to misunderstand morality, or your place amongst nature.

All chaotic systems produce random noise, or Wildness. From this wildness emerges a new level of stable looping orders of being. This Wildness owes mostly to the instant mortality of all events. The world is in a constant flux, and it is only those arrangements which some way or other induce their environment and their own self to somehow produce the conditions necessary for their continued loopy existence. Wildness seems to pervade all levels of being; as a new order arises its parts will start to chaotically interact, however they soon resolve themselves into loopy patterns of change that manage to sustain themselves against constantly pending obscurity. Those arrangements that fail to produce the conditions, internal and external, necessary for their continuation, will simply vanish back into obscurity and not be likely to happen except by random chance. The arrangements that do, on the other hand, loop are able to sustain themselves on a constant loop of becoming. Even still, their being is mortal, and thus never attaining to perfect renewal only ever exists as becoming. But again, these ‘becoming’s, if particularly stable, will produce the conditions for a new level of order to revolve and thus evolve from wildness, and so on.