Inspired by Alex Ebert and Featured in (Re)constructing “A Is A” by O.G. Rose
Alterology and “A = A”
On the Unavoidability of “A /A” in Be-Coming but Trouble of “Autonomous A/A” Outside Be-Coming, and Possibility of Alterological Being
It is no secret that I am critical of the ontology and epistemology of “A = A,” which aligns me with thinkers like Hegel and Alfred Korzybski, but I want to take a moment here to suggest that my emphasis against A/A (as I say for short) is mainly an emphasis on “autonomous A = A,” which is to say A/A as a standalone, outside a doctrine of “becoming” or “A = B” (to formulize Hegel’s “becoming” and/or “contradiction,” though I prefer “A/B” because the “/” suggests a dialectic better than the equal sign, though either can be fine). I use the language of “A/A” and “A/B” for short, and that too could cause confusion (how tricky language can be), and I’m sure that overall I create the impression that I think A/A is always and without exception bad. In this work, I hope to clarify my view.
Like “being,” A/A is unavoidable and fine within a “dialectic” of “be-coming,” but unfortunately we are so naturally “toward” “being” that we easily fall into “autonomous being,” which causes pathological effacement. Furthermore, I consider possibilities of “Ultimate Being” (or some “Ultimate A/A”) as topics of what I call “Alterology” (under which falls subjects like Theology, Psychedelics, Speculative Futurism, etc.), which I try to “bracket out” from Philosophy. I also emphasize the problems with A/A, because I believe it is increasingly hard for us to avoid “autonomous A/A,” which is natural, subconscious, and causes trouble.
The original paper which captured my thinking on “A = A” is found in “On ‘A is A,’ ” around which my ontoepistemology is constructed. I believe what I write in this new work is consistent with my thinking found there, and please note that I don’t always use the “=” to describe “A is A,” for I think it can risk clarity, but I have indeed used the symbol here.
I associate A/A with “being,” and so I’m sure that it also seems like I think “being” is always bad, when really “A/A” is unavoidable and fine within an ontology of “becoming.” The problem is “isolated” or “autonomous” being — this is an effacement. Though I don’t always explicitly say it, “becoming” is a negation/sublation of “being” into “be-coming,” which means there is “being” in “be-coming,” just not the other way around. “The First Things First Principle” from C.S. Lewis could prove useful here:
If we put “becoming” first, we get “being” too.
(If we put A/B first, we get A/A too.)
If we put “being” first, we lose both.
(If we put A/A first, we lose A/A and A/B.)
There is indeed an “A” in “A/B,” as there is a “be” in the word “be-coming,” and I have been tempted to write in my works the word “becoming” as always “be-coming” or “(be)coming,” but that proved far too bulky. Similarly, I have been tempted to write “(A/A)/B” instead of “A/B,” but that too is clumsy. Hence, I have sided with a smoother language at risk of being misinterpreted: “the map is not the territory,” and we always must make tradeoffs against technical accuracy.
There is indeed an “A” in “A/B,” as there is a “be” in the word “be-coming,” and I have been tempted to write in my works the word “becoming” as always “be-coming” or “(be)coming,” but that proved far too clumsy. Similarly, I have been tempted to write (Schrödinger-esq) “(A/A)/B” instead of “A/B,” but that too is bulk and visually odd. Hence, I have sided with a smoother language at risk of being misinterpreted: “the map is not the territory,” and we must always make tradeoffs risking technical accuracy.
We cannot escape experiencing the world and thinking in terms of “being”: if I literally tried to avoid all language or experience which manifest to me “like being,” life would be incomprehensible. I must engage with A/A, and that is perfectly fine as long as I never forget that this A/A is within A/B — but unfortunately my brain naturally forgets this and treats the world “as if” the universe can be understood in terms of “autonomous A/A” (which can be associated with the problematic “autonomous rationality” described in “Deconstructing Common Life” regarding David Hume).
There is a tragedy and “fallenness” to life, in the sense that we must experience the world in terms of A/A and cannot escape this, but there’s also a sense in which we can “redeem” this “fallenness” by situating A/A within A/B (“be-coming”). I reference it often, but I think the section on Deleuze from The Futurica Trilogy of Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist helps articulate this tragedy (we can associate “eternalism” with “being” and “mobilism” with “becoming”):
‘Deleuze is an impassioned immanence philosopher, and wants at all costs to avoid what he perceives as concessions to eternalism. Despite this, he himself is forced to make a considerable concession in the Nietzschean sense when he — like all other philosophers, for that matter — is forced to put his thinking into words in order to structure and, in due course, communicate it.
‘No matter how mobilistic Deleuzianism may be within Deleuze’s own brain — even if this cannot be fully thought through either, because verbal reflection has been deeply involved in the formation of thought — it is still transformed into an eternalist phenomenon among others as soon as it is formulated in language. Philosophy as a discipline, unlike art and possibly poetry, can never itself be mobilistic.’¹
“Mobilism” is basically “becoming,” and the point is that we cannot live “purely” in terms of “becoming”: we must deal with “being” and “eternalism.” Of course, this is problematic, because that means we are always at risk of forgetting that we are A/B and hence live according to “autonomous A/A,” which would be a pathological effacement. Because all of our experience and daily life is perpetually in the business of “taking things in” according to A/A, I myself place a great emphasis on stressing A/B, but this does not mean I don’t think A/A is “necessary” or even valid within A/B. Still, I no doubt create the impression that I think A/A is always bad, and indeed “autonomous A/A” is bad, in the same way I think “autonomous rationality” is bad, but that doesn’t mean A/A, being, rationality, and the like are always bad and cannot be conditionally good. Indeed, A/A has it’s “tragic place” within A/B.
Though I use the language of A/B, it is very important to realize that my understanding of what “A = A” must mean (in order to not be an effacement) is the following, as taken from the paper “On ‘A Is A’ ” by O.G. Rose:
“ ‘A/(A-isn’t-A)’ is ‘A/(A-isn’t-A)’ (without B)”
“A-being-(A-isn’t-A) is A-being-(A-isn’t-A) (without A-Being).”
This is featured in Section 3 (“Understanding”) of (Re)constructing “A Is A” (Part 1), but the idea is that things must “be themselves while simultaneously not being themselves” while “toward” “being their full undifferentiated selves” (achievable or not). This “fuller take” on “A/A” is what I am pointing to whenever I use the language of “A/B” or “A = B,” and when I critique “A/A,” I am critiquing the idea that “things are just what they are.” To put it simply:
“A = A”
“Cat = Cat”
“A = A” meaning “(A ≠ A) = (A ≠ A)” (without A = A)
“(The un-isolatable cat) = (The un-isolatable cat)” (without the cat in the fullness of its being).
To say that things are never fully themselves means things all entail “essential otherness,” which is an idea we find in Hegel. Things are always “toward” the fullness of their identities, whether at the end of time and/or in thought, but they never (in finitude) find themselves “being” their “fullness”: there is always “something more” (which is “lacking”). To put this another way: when I critique the doctrine of “being,” I am critiquing “isolating being” outside of “becoming.” “Becoming” entails “being,” but “being” doesn’t entail “becoming.” Critically, this means “being” cannot be ignored entirely; if we do, then we will be missing the “A” we need for our “A/B” (our “be-coming” will only be a “coming” with nothing to arrive).
We must not skip “the work of being,” per se, in “be-coming” (though we might think we can when we emphasize A/B over A/A). In Hegel, scientific thinking and empiricism are parts of what Dr. Cadell Last calls “The Phenomenological Journey,” which is to say they are necessary stages in the development of the subject toward Absolute Knowing. Similarly, “being” and A/A are necessary considerations of “be-coming” and “A/B,” which is to say we must take seriously how things “present themselves” in phenomenological experience. Skills of identification, of avoiding logical contradiction (a clarification Dr. Todd McGowan stresses in his work in contrast to ontological contradiction which then lead into new logic), of taking seriously what “is” now — these are abilities we must master before and “in” A/B: this paper is not arguing A/A is something we must entirely avoid, but something which is always “incomplete” unto itself and a source of effacement when autonomous.
We must do “the work of being” if we are to step seriously and well into “becoming.” Again, there is A/A in A/B, but not A/B in A/A. Consider:
“A = A without A = B” or “Autonomous Being” = Effacement
“A = A within A = B” or Be-Coming = Negation/Sublation
Alright, but wait: if “becoming” entails “being,” doesn’t that means we aren’t “lacking?” The idea of “lack” permeates O.G. Rose (see “The Philosophy of Lack” series with Cadell Last, Tim Adalin, and Alex Ebert), and how can I say subjects are fundamentally “lacking” if they “entail” “being?” Well, it is because we must always “lack” a final state of “being,” which would be a state of “autonomous being” free of conditionality, change, contingency, and “wholeness.” Furthermore, we “lack” the possibility of ever being done with thinking, existential tension, “final wholeness,” and the like (at least in finitude, leaving theological possibilities aside).²
In other words, we “lack” the possibility of “a non-tragic being,” which is a “being” that isn’t concealing us from the reality of “becoming” and “mobilism.” To put it more directly, I am against:
“Autonomous A/A” (Epistemology)
“Final A/A” (Ontology)
Whereas I “bracket” out from my Philosophy:
Oh boy, what does that mean? Well, it basically means that I “bracket out” from my Philosophy a “Transcendent Being,” an “Infinite Being,” an “Ultimate Being” — stuff like that, not because there can’t be some Ultimate Being (like God or a Higher Dimension), but because I personally try to maintain hard distinctions in my thinking (not that I always succeed), and in my view the topic of “Ultimate Being” is a topic not of Philosophy but of what I call Alterology. What do I mean by that? I mean “The Study of Alternative Ontologies.”
In the past, Philosophers would work hard to define Philosophy from Theology and to keep the fields distinct, and that’s basically all I’m doing here. However, I hesitate to talk about “Theology,” because today the avenues of exploring “Alternative Ontologies” has expanded from religion into psychedelics, general spirituality, and technology. The word “Theology” doesn’t capture these other fields, which is why I think a new term is needed. I considered using “Transology,” or “The Study of Transcendences,” but that seemed like it might be confused with gender studies and other fields of inquiry.
Again, I’m increasingly convinced new language is needed, one I will call “Alterology” (“The Study of Alternatives”), mainly in the realms of Ontology and Transcendence. What falls under Alterology?
And so on. I am not saying these fields are false or don’t deserve thought: my only point is that I personally try to “bracket out Alterology” from my Philosophy, which means I emphasis A/B. That said, I’m highly skeptical of all Alterology that tries to give humans the possibility of permanently achieving “Ultimate” or Alterological A/A in finitude. Perhaps there are moments in which humans can “glimpse” an “Alterological A/A,” say in intercourse, psychedelics, or visions, but for me that is very different from suggesting humans can “live in a permanent state of Alterological A/A” or should. I have no doubt that one day humanity could invent a “pleasure machine” which could simulate a perpetual state of Alterological A/A, but I am against this, for I think it will necessarily have to efface differences and cause isolationism.
We could say I am against “autonomous finite being” (finite A/A) while I “bracket out” “Ultimate Infinite Being” (infinite A/A), but again this is language I hesitate to use, it being so loaded. I also don’t think “A Philosophy of Lack” or my Philosophy in general is necessarily Anti-“Ultimate Infinite Being” or Anti-Alterological, though certainly “A Philosophy of Lack” doesn’t have to “point to” a UIB — it’s a Kierkegaardian either/or.
Now, even if in some sense we do eventually reach Ultimate Being, say after death (Theology) or thanks to psychedelic experiences (New Age), I think it is important to keep these considerations “bracketed out” from Philosophy as a field even if real and possible, for otherwise I think we, as finite humans, will easily start to think they we’re capable of achieving “Alterolological Being,” and that is what I am hesitant of us thinking. If there is a God, I want that God to be who brings us Ultimate Being: I want us radically humbled (I take “fallenness” very seriously).³ If we can “glimpse” Ultimate Being in psychedelics, I want us to keep the experiences as “glimpses,” as I want us to avoid engineering a technological Ultimate Being, because I think that’s just going to lead us into encountering a creature out of Lovecraft (though, if “approaching The Singularity” is inevitable, we better quickly start figuring out how to engineer a “Technological Harmony” instead, as discussed with Dr. Cadell Last in O.G. Rose Conversation #60). We could list out my thinking as follows:
An Alterological or human A/A which is engineered, sought, etc. by humans = Effacement and bad. (This is the temptation for “a Big Other.”)
An Alterological A/A that isn’t engineered, permanently sought, etc. by humans = Fine. (This is a possibility that I personally don’t oppose as long as it stays distinct from Philosophy in Alterology.)
To put this another way, in my view:
Finite Being (A/A) = Effacement
Finite Be-Coming ((A/A)/B) = Negation/Sublation
Ultimate Being (Infinite A/A) = Not Inherently an effacement but must be outside finitude and the agency placed outside humanity.
For me, whether some Alterological Being or not, either way, we “practically” and in finitude must live according to A/B. My hope is that my Philosophy doesn’t suggest that an Alterological Being is impossible (I leave that up to readers to decide), but I also don’t want my Philosophy to “necessarily blur” with Alterology: my hope is to maintain distinctions.
Classically, Philosophy has had to define itself with and against Theology, and found itself having to arrive at three distinctions:
It could be said I want to do something similar:
(Now, a critical question is if Metaphysics can bridge a movement from Philosophy into Philosophical Alterology, and if Philosophical Alterology can then move into Alterology. I don’t know, and admittedly the line between what my philosophy and “Metaphysics” is very thin, and indeed the categories profoundly overlap. And indeed, I think Metaphysics is unavoidable, but “Metaphysics” is not identical with “Philosophical Alterology,” no more than Metaphysics must be Theological.)
For me, the above suggests that the only grounds for discussing a capitalized-“Autonomous A/A” requires Alterology, but Alterology must be kept strictly separate from Philosophy, and also for me this means the only possibly valid Alterology is one that strictly respects humans as entailing an inherent “fallenness.” This doesn’t mean there cannot be philosophical arguments made “pointing to” “Ultimate A/A,” but that would likely be Philosophical Alterology, and even that is distinct from Philosophy. It is easily possible that arguments can be made which prove the possibility of transitioning from Philosophy to Philosophical Alterology to Alterology, but the likelihood of us successfully entertaining such arguments is very low, in my view, if we fail to maintain the categorical distinctions I have mentioned. It is simply too likely that we’ll entertain Alterology while we think we’re doing Philosophy, and thus do both poorly. Still, the following is possible:
(Must stay in A/B)
(Can “point to” Ultimate A/A but we must stay in A/B)
(If we can make it here, then “from here” we can consider Ultimate A/A and finite A/B in light of that Ultimate A/A)
From the standpoint of Alterology, Philosophy can then be reconsidered, but only from within Alterology: we must maintain that reconsideration only within Alterology (like Dante looking back down over creation from Heaven but realizing what he sees only applies “while in Heaven” and relative to that standpoint). This is very difficult to do, I think, and I think it is also hard not to fall into “Escapist Alterology,” as has occurred with many religions, but it is still the case that Alterology doesn’t necessary become escapist, and thus can be a valid field of study and consideration.
Lastly, it should be noted that for those who (believe they) make it from Philosophy to Alterology, it will seem “as if” they were “always doing Alterology,” and that thus Philosophy and Alterology are equivalent. I think this happened often classically with Theology, where thinkers believed they successfully transitioned from Philosophy to Philosophical Theology and into Theology, and that thus they were also “just doing Theology.” This is what I call a “flip moment,” and it greatly contributes to the difficulty of maintaining these distinctions. Still, I think realizing the role of a “flip moment” in all this, as well the distinctions, is paramount for us to efficiently engage in deep thinking.
A reason thinkers have viewed it important to keep Philosophy, Philosophical Theology, and Theology separate is “the problem of ascent,” which is the problem of how to get people to “feel like” a conclusion is valid or compelling. It’s one thing to be convinced that x is “internally consistent” and could be true, but entirely another to feel like x is true. This is the problem explored in “Compelling” by O.G. Rose, and basically the idea is that if we move too quickly from Philosophy to Theology, people will not find the theological conclusions “compelling,” and hence their possible “internal consistency” will matter little. We must be gradual, or we will not really advance — so it goes with Alterology. However, it’s not always easy to tell if we are going “too fast,” though it can help if we maintain strict categories in our minds between Philosophy, Philosophical Alterology, and Alterology. Where that strictness is lacking, error is likely.
In conclusion, I would sum up my perspective as follows:
Autonomous A/A (Autonomous Being):
A/A in A/B (Dialectical Being in Be-coming):
Fine and Unavoidable
A/B without A/A (Autonomous Becoming):
Not practically possible, because at the very least we must think and experience A/A.
(Yes, we can emphasis that “becoming is more real than being,” but I think we have to be careful with language that suggests “being is an illusion.” Personally, this is why I try to avoid the language of “illusion” in favor of “incompleteness.”)
Ultimate A/A (Transcendent and Unified Being):
Fine if strictly kept in Alterology.
If strictly dealing with Philosophy, A/A must be “Autonomous Being,” and that is what I am against. Since we are stuck in finitude and The True Isn’t the Rational is a Philosophical series, then this trilogy will emphasize A/A as problematic, but that doesn’t mean an Alterological A/A is impossible — it’s just another topic for another line of work.
In Alterology, “Ultimate Being” is possible, but I personally think “Ultimate Being” is outside the immediate scope of Philosophy. Yes, Philosophy can perhaps make arguments to transition into Philosophical Alterology, and then from there into Alterology, but if we are strictly dealing with Philosophy, I think the topic of Ultimate A/A must be bracketed out. This does not mean Ultimate A/A is true or false, only that I try to maintain strict distinctions, though I realize this isn’t easy, because if one believes in “Ultimate A/A,” that “works backwards” and entails Philosophical implications. Still, at least in The True Isn’t the Rational, I will maintain the distinctions best I can, though I do not promise that you will never find me doing work in Alterology. My hope is only to be justified in any direction my thought might develop, though I will leave it to others to decide if I succeed in this endeavor.
¹Bard, Alexander and Jan Söderqvist. The Futurica Trilogy. Translated by Neil Smith. Stockholm Text, 2012: 330.
²Please note that even if we believe in a God, we still have to deal with finitude until God “breaks through” — belief in God does not get us out of this problem, and perhaps could hinder a feeling that we need to deal with A/B, a significant problem.
³Though Ultimate Being is perhaps a valid possibility considered by Theology, I do not think it is the case that we within finitude can reach a full “Beatific Vision,” and efforts to try will cause pathology, neurosis, and effacement. If there is a God who can invite us into “Ultimate A/A” somehow, that’s entirely different than us believing that we, on our own and stuck living according to A/B, can somehow engineer an ultimate “A/A” or “Ultimate Being” according to which we can escape our fundamental “(in)completeness.” Personally, I have no problem with belief in an ultimate ascension into some “Ultimate A/A,” nor do I deny the possibility of “glimpsing” some “Ultimate A/A” — what I oppose is believing anyone but a God can make that come to pass.