Belonging Again (Part 35)
“The Conflict of Society” Part III and Turn to the Question of Absolute Knowers
We are “becomings” (by which I mean “(be)comings,” to suggest Hegel’s Absolute Choice, a clarification always at play when I use the language of “becoming,” though I fear I don’t always had the parentheses), and that means for us to seek “being” is for us to cease to be. Unfortunately, all values inherently seek “being,” which makes all values pathological. All societies require pathological values, and if societies fail to manage them, since values help hold back our inherent pathologies (pathologies which are ontological integrated into us, as A/B) by setting limits on what we can and cannot do, by giving us direction, etc., then we will become pathological ourselves. We need society to manage our pathologies, because though we can live according to values in isolation, they become “meaningful” when they must be practiced at our expense in a social environment involving others. And yet the very existence of those “others” destabilizes, making isolationism tempting. Perhaps pathological existence in isolation is best? After all, pathologies are only a problem in a social setting, a point which suggests the legitimacy of isolationist strategies, as will be considered at the end of (Re)constructing “A Is A” by O.G. Rose.
Because of the growing intensity of “The Conflict of Society” due to the loss of “givens,” it is hard for us to feel at “rest” and like we “belong,” but that also means that it is hard for us to fall into “the banality of evil” — it’s always trade-offs. Pluralism and Globalization eroded the plausibility of “givens” and religion at the same time, which opened us up to “the groundlessness of values” (as “The Value Circle” unveils). In response to this, because we cannot live without values (see Missing Axioms by Samuel Barnes), values have radically multiplied (“The Nova Effect” of Charles Taylor), and this has unveiled to us the always present but now visible “Conflict of Society.” When values were (felt to be) “grounded,” they were also “bound,” and that meant the extremity by which we suffered “The Conflict of Society” was always greatly reduced (the suffering of which contributes to “The Meaning Crisis”). But where “values” are “groundless,” they multiply, and so also multiplies the extremity according to which we suffer and feel “The Conflict of Society.” Society is suddenly filled with many values, all of which feel affronted by the idea they need to be “processed” by the social order, and even if ten of them accept this “tragedy,” the other four do not, and those four are likely to become the strongest, for they play to people’s natural tendencies (to realize A/A) (which makes it easy to gain a following). Also, multiple value systems just can’t all be equally incorporated into the social order, and yet all the value systems will feel like they should “be” to the people who participate in them. Thus, there will always be some percentage of people experiencing “The Conflict of Society” intensely, destabilized people who stabilized people can witness and perhaps feel destabilized as a result. Multiplicity and difference thus make visible “The Conflict of Society.”
“Givens” hide us from “The Conflict of Society,” and especially when “givens” were religious, where the social order failed to live up to representing our values, we expected that failure (for the world is “fallen”). Now, we have no reason to expect the failure, and furthermore there is no God who teaches us that we must accept the failure. So why should we? Who can “Transcendentally Ground” that position? Who has the authority to tell us that “pure being” is impossible? Some Žižekian philosopher? How do they know they’re right? Are they God? And we have grounds to especially be skeptical of them seeing as they are telling us that finitude is “all there is” and that thus we are stuck with pathology. “Conflicts of Mind.” “Conflicts of Society.” Values seeking an impossible and totalitarian A/A. “No exit.” If finitude is all we have, then the inability of justice to ever just “be” without a process is a reality we cannot escape. To say finitude is all we have is to turn it into an inescapable prison. And that’s hard to accept. Much better to keep believing that our values can just “be,” but this is simply not true unless we are authoritarian and erase “difference.” And indeed, that is what some people are doing “for all the right reasons.”
Generally, if we believe in God, we already believe in tragedy, which is to say that human efforts for justice are imperfect. There is a divide between finite values and Infinite Values, and though finite values want to be Infinite and noncontingent, they simply cannot be: the best they can do is “participate in” Infinite Values. But paradoxically, when we don’t believe in God, there is no “given” reason values cannot be “noncontingent” (the views of Žižek and Lacan are just views, like anyone’s, or so they can be framed), and so the offense and afront of “processes” to realize justice becomes all the more unacceptable. God gives us a promise of a world after death where justice will just “be,” but without God, we still desire justice to just “be,” and there’s no reason that “being” cannot “be” now (there’s no God forcing us to wait). Yes, if there’s no God, we can simply say that values can never “be” as such, and yet we still experience “values” as if they ought to “be” and should “be,” and in fact if we didn’t treat values like they should just “be,” that would suggest we really don’t value them. Treating values as if they shouldn’t be processed, but instead “just be” is precisely a way we maintain their authority and “treat them as valuable”; if we cease acting that way, the values we require can die and fade. And so we are forced to keep “acting as if” infinity is possible precisely when we’ve stopped believing in infinity. And so pathology sets in.¹
“The Conflict of Society” arises when we feel “socially responsible” to make the society Christian (for example), but we realize it is not possible for us to do this through the social processes that makes the society possible and not a totalitarian regime. A society that isn’t a totalitarian regime must make space for difference, and that society works because it has processes which makes possible those differences. And yet we must believe it is “socially responsible” for us to seek the entire society to share in our values (for there to be “being”); otherwise, we would likely have to think our values are just “tastes” and matters of opinion (which perhaps some people like “Deleuzian Individuals” can think without their beliefs losing authority). No, this doesn’t mean we will use force on others and force them to share our values, but it does mean we will naturally think that others ought to think like us. The social order and its processes though won’t allow us to force everyone to think like us, and so there is a tension between “social responsibility” and “social processes” that we must learn to with and accept. And this is hard.
As has already been touched on, when we were Christian and lived in a Christian society, there were still different denominations and even nonbelievers, but the difference was “more bound,” and so the break between our “social responsibility” and “social processes” was not overwhelming or extreme: it was more existentially and psychologically manageable (for even the Bible speaks of “nonbelievers”). But as Pluralism intensified and difference became more radically different and personally experienced (people different from us became our neighbors, our coworkers, etc.), the tension between “social responsibility” and “social process” became more extreme. It became more difficult to accept “social processes,” for the differences those processes allowed was radically different. It was one thing when we allowed Methodists to express themselves while we were Baptists, but something entirely different when we found ourselves having to so allow Buddhists and Hindus. At this point we are at now, it can become too difficult for us to believe and convince ourselves that we are being “socially responsible” to allow the “social processes” to continue and operate as they do, and at this point we can easily come to oppose them. And so the social order can begin to break down: the drive to be “socially responsible” is simply too strong.
Every society entails the potential for “The Conflict of Society,” but when difference is more “bound,” the conflict is less intense and the tension more mitigated: people can live with it “as if” it’s not really a conflict but more an inconvenience. But when Pluralism happens, and worse yet the State becomes more powerful, “The Conflict of Society” becomes unbearable. We really must win this election: after all, look how powerful the government is and what they could do to us! And whoever wins will not necessarily be bound by a metaphysical order, say God, to not use their power in certain ways — who knows what they will do! And so we feel “socially responsible” to win the election at all costs, and we simply cannot let “social processes” stop us. And after we win the power, we must destroy the “social processes” which could take away the power we gained, because those who lost could do who-knows-what to us. And so “The Conflict of Society” compels us to become the worst of all possible dictators, as “The Conflict of Society” so compels everyone. “Everyone can be a fascist,” Felix Guattari taught.
We naturally do not want to “become”; we want to “be.” But as we have discussed throughout O.G. Rose, we are “becomings” and not “beings.” Likewise, our values don’t want to “be processed” (“becomings”), they want to “be,” but that makes them pathological and prone to efface themselves. Our social orders resist “becoming” (as do we): our social orders want to be stable (as do we). Our social orders entail “death drives” just like us. Social orders want to “be” (Edenic) just like we want to “be,” and for this reason we all entail natures of self-effacement. And it is easy for us to miss this because our very values and ethics are part of the problem, compelling us to “be.” How can we identify a problem if the very values according to which we define “problems” causes it? Not easily: we would have to think beyond “the internally consistent system” of ethics, say in the realm of ontology, to consider the structure of ethics as a whole and how that structure compels us. But as we’ve already noted, values compel us not to think, let alone to meta-analyze ethics, which would especially be a threat. Still, the point is that to determine that the orientation of values “toward” “pure being” (A/A) is problematic, we’d have to think outside of ethics (we’d have to think “about” ethics not “through” it), and there is no “ethical way” to justify making that move (precisely because it transcends ethical consideration into the realm of ontology). Values, hence, will oppose the move, and whatever conclusions we reach, it will not be easy to convince values to accept those conclusions (after all, values will have “internally consistent reasons” not to accept them).
“The Conflict of Society” is the feeling of “social responsibility” to make values “be” (A/A) coming into conflict with “social processes” which make values “become” (A/B), which is to say that “The Conflict of Society” is the fight to resist this “death drive,” which requires figuring out how to balance social responsibility with social possibility, and this is becoming ever harder as diversity and complexity increases. The Christian Eden represents “pure being,” and we all seem to naturally want a society like Eden that just “is.” And our values feel like they should just “be” and arguably rationally “must” feel that way, and in this way “values” compel us into the mistake of seeking “pure being.” Even if we accept Hegel and that we must “become” individually, we can still make the mistake of seeking “pure being” on the social order by not realizing the necessary “tragedy” of “The Conflict of Society,” where what we feel “socially responsible” to enact must always be truncated and retarded by social processes. This is a hard pill to swallow, but we must if we are not to tear down the social order.
Conservatives generally feel as if they should just “be” free, and any government process that inhibits freedom ought not to “be.” Liberals feel as if justice should just “be,” and any government process which inhibits it shouldn’t “be.” But a society that just “is” isn’t a society, for societies are processes, basically: where there is no process, there is either anarchy or totalitarianism. If we succeeded creating a society of “pure being” (A/A), as our values naturally compel us toward, we would efface society. And yet society requires values to not be totalitarian. Values naturally desire a “being” which would be totalitarian, and yet values are needed to avoid totalitarianism. And this is us.
As we move into the future and we “become” increasingly complex entities which incorporate ever-more difference, the temptation of “pure being” will grow in appeal. As Centralization, size, and scale increase, so “conflicts” will become more difficult to manage, and it will become harder to know what to do. Rationality will fail us, and as discussed throughout O.G. Rose, the need for “nonrationality” will become increasingly difficult to deny, but “nonrationality” is not a term we readily have available (and perhaps we can think of “Absolute Knowers” as beings who understand and live according to “nonrationality”). And so we will likely be existentially, intellectually, and psychologically overwhelmed. “The Meaning Crisis” takes over and will take over. We need values but cannot “ground” them, and that will only become clearer as we move forward into greater complexity and difference. What we cannot “ground” is irrational to believe in — or so we must conclude without “nonrationality,” and learning to accept “nonrationality” might itself be Deleuzian and difficult, as it might be Deleuzian to be comfortable with “processing” justice even though that is an affront to “the being of justice,” with “processing” freedom even though that is an affront to “the being of freedom.” None of this is easy, and if only a minority can live up to it, we are in trouble.
Perhaps just an ideal, but a society of “Absolute Knowers” (“Deleuzian Individuals”) would be a society that faced and learned to live with the inherent paradox and “A/B” of society. A world of “Absolute Knowers” would be comfortable with both “The Conflict of Mind” and “The Conflict of Society”; in fact, “Absolute Knowers” would see both conflicts as “negative spaces” in which sublimation and spiritual evolution could occur. The “conflicts” wouldn’t be effacements but glorious invitations, but invitations can still only be accepted by those who can handle them, and these invitations require us to overcome our inherent desire to “be.” Are “Absolute Knowers” people we can “become?”
¹Do note that experiences of beauty might provide “reason to think” there is something to the Infinite, suggesting why “The Fate of Beauty” could be “the fate of us,” but that’s another subject for another tine. Mystery could be a critical component of avoiding “the pathologies of finitude itself.”