Labels, Names, and Poems
On the needs and perils of words and improvisational community
This is a pen. We know what that is, yes? I don’t need to say much more. In an instance, I’ve communicated enough information to have everyone on the same page. We’re unified. We recognize the word. We recognize the object. We can envision it with ease. Pens are fairly complicated, actually: I doubt I could explain how one is made, what goes into producing one, nor do I think I could describe the color, weight, or shape in any precise or useful way. And yet with a single word, “pen,” everyone knows what I’m talking about. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? The pen is labeled.
Since this a pen, you also have a sense of what we should do with it. We should use it with blank paper to write a message. We should keep in the drawer near the front door. And we also have a sense of it’s value and our relationship to it. No, we don’t want to intentionally throw the pen away or disregard it, but if something happens to it, it’s not that big of a deal: we can buy another. There’s probably ten of them scattered around the house, anyway. The object is replaceable, which in one way puts us at ease — we don’t have to be so nervous — but at the cost of making the pen not that important. We don’t have to worry, but we also might not care.
Now, this pen I’m holding, let me tell you something about it, associate it with a name. This was Mom’s pen. She wrote everyday. She loved to write. She had dark black hair, two sisters, and enjoyed early walks. She was kind. I hold the pen up. Do you see? This pen cannot be found in a store. It must be found here. You cannot buy a pen that is infused with a story. Granted, Mom had a lot of pens, so there are maybe ten pens which we can refer to as “Mom’s pen,” but this category is still rare, very rare. And because it was Mom’s pen it means something to me. It’s special. But that might be precisely what you’re afraid to use it. You need a pen, but you also don’t want to use a pen that is so emotionally charged. You’re also concerned you might pick the pen up on accident and use it without meaning to. The pen brings a smile to your face, hearing the story about it, but it can also cause nervousness. Also, is there “a certain way” which the pen must be used? If not, will there be a problem? Questions compound. You smile and can tell the pen is special. Mom was special. The pen is named.
And now I tell you, “This was Mom’s last pen.” Mom is gone. The aura in the room changes. You can tell I’m having a rough day. I’m thinking about Mom. I’m thinking about our walks in the field. I’m thinking about how long it’s been since I have seen her. I’m struggling. You put your arm around me. You tell me everything will be alright. But we also have to cancel our plans. We will not go to the park. It is not the right day for it. You worry that sitting with me, silently, isn’t what I need, but you also trust from our time together that silence is what I prefer in times like now. You sense life with Mom. I experience the story of her life. The pen is a poem.
The same object, person, event, or the like can move from label, name, and poem. Based on the information we know about it or I communicate, our orientation to the object can radically shift. And because the same object can be a label to some people, a name to others, and a poem to others still, knowing “the meaning” and “nature” of an object will require relationships. Without those relationships, we will struggle to know “what things are” to people, and thus likely mis-orientate and mis-organize ourselves to them in light of that object. If I don’t know you, I can’t know if you’d prefer me to treat x “like a label” or “like a poem”: if I don’t treat it like a label, you might feel like I’m making a big deal of something I shouldn’t think so hard about, but if it means a lot to you, not treating it “like a poem” could break your heart. But how can I know “which is best?” By knowing you. By being enough in a relationship with you to “know” the kinds of conditions and conditionality you meet and embody in your personality and character, which comes out relative to different things, people, places, etc. at different times in different ways. Without the relationship though, I cannot grasp the conditionality of “you” to know if x is best as a label, a name, or a poem.
Isaiah Berlin argued that we desperately needed “a middle ground” between Fundamentalism and Relativism. He saw how Fundamentalism could bring about totalitarianism, but he also understood how Relativism was “too open” and “too weak” to stop totalitarianism from rising to power. Berlin was also concerned about Utopianism, which he felt Liberalism fell into, and sought a new foundation for Liberal thought which avoided Utopianism and the horror seen in the Soviet Union. To avoid all this, Berlin stressed “Pluralism,” which for him stressed that different people could reach different rational decisions about the same information.
For Berlin, if the increasingly Globalized world was to survive, Pluralism was needed: otherwise, we’d all end up fighting one another to the death. People who believe in Christianity, for example, would feel like they were intellectually betraying their “fundamental beliefs” if they didn’t concert Hindus to the faith, and Germans would feel as if they couldn’t “work with Americans” because Americans were stupid to think politics should be organized in x and y way. Berlin understand that we need to be able to think of people as different from us as still being rational, as not being different because “they’re stupid” or “misinformed.” Berlin wanted us to understand people could have different rational conclusions based on the same information — that difference could result and it not be a sign of error. If we didn’t understand this, we would feel an obligation to correct the error, and “monism” and “totalitarianism,” for all the right reasons, would likely win the day.
If it’s raining outside, it’s rational both to stay inside and to find an umbrella, as it could be rational to see rain as “not a big deal” (we only live once) and thus bolt aside to dance. Who’s right? No one and everyone. Everyone has good reasons to do what they’re doing, and we can’t say that one reason is better than the other. If someone is being “irrational,” we’d have to know the person. For example, perhaps the person who says inside is “afraid of the rain” because he read a report that warned it was full of pollution. Thus, the person is afraid and shouldn’t be — but to know this we’d have to relate to the person. We’d have to listen to his fears. Understand where he is coming from. Build trust. And eventually bring the person to the place where he understood it’s okay to go outside. All of this requires a relationship. To tell the difference between “rationality” and “irrationality,” it can only be done from the place of community and care. And community and care dull the blunt edges of identifying someone “as wrong.” We tend to be less self-righteous, and our effort to point out the error is out of love versus out of a hope to establish superiority. In forming a relationship, the effort of correction is “balanced” and “organized in the best way.”
Different people can treat the same pen in different ways and all be right. For one person, it will be a label; for another person, it will be a name; for someone else, a poem. All three people can be equally rational. For my neighbor, the pen in my house is “just a pen” (a label), for my neighbor doesn’t have the same relationship to the pen I do. He doesn’t know it is “Mom’s pen,” though my brother does know this because he “meets the conditions” necessary to know this about the pen (he recognizes it; he asked me if it was; etc.). However, only I really “get” what it means that it was “Mom’s last pen,” for my brother was not there the day when she said, “This is the last thing I will write ever.” She was sitting by the window, quiet and to herself. She made a point to write her last letter with this pen. Yes, our brother knows Mom is gone and that this was “her pen,” but he doesn’t know that this was “her last pen” — the depths of the word “last” are not open to him. Not because we don’t want the depths of “last” to be open to him, but because he just wasn’t there that day when she said, “This is my last pen.” He didn’t hear her voice, see the look on her face — he wasn’t where he needed to be to really “get” that “this was Mom’s last pen.” He didn’t meet the conditions, not because he’s a bad person or because we’re elitist or something, but simply because he didn’t. The reality is part of the world itself.
Who is most rational? Who is most right? In this context, these questions don’t really make sense. It is rational and reasonable for the pen to be a label to one person, a name to another, and a poem to someone else. There is no hierarchy, just differences in the conditions which people meet, which in turn transform and condition the meaning of the object. There are no locked doors, no refusals to “allow people inside” so that they can experience the pen as “Mom’s last pen.” Now that Mom is gone, it’s simply impossible for people who don’t already meet the necessary conditions to really get what it means to say, “This was Mom’s last pen.” That door is closed, not because we closed the door, but because the conditions changed. There was a small opening by which this object could be “Mom’s last pen” to us, and we were in that space to gain that phenomenological, emotional, and existential understanding. We can tell others that it was “Mom’s last pen,” but what that means exactly will never fully “hit them.” It cannot. The conditions have changed. We cannot give experiences, only talk about them.
When it comes to forming communities and close relationships, generally speaking, people need to have similar sets of “labels, names, and poems.” The sets don’t have to be identical, no, but if what is a “poem” to me is hardly even a label to you, then it will be very difficult for us to relate. What matters to me will not matter to you. What I care about might be objectified, which might make me feel like you don’t care about me. At the same time, if things which are just “labels” to me are “names” to you, it will be difficult for our community to “flow” and operate efficiently and smoothly, because small things will be treated like big things, and I might always be nervous because something that to me is just a “label” might be a “name” to you (and even a “poem”), causing emotional pain. And so on — communities require similar “labels, names, and poems” to function well. Where this “shared language” is absent (this “native tongue,” per se, to allude to “Native Tongues and Native Worldviews” by O.G. Rose), it will be difficult for people to relate and function.
How do we all share similar sets of “labels, names, and poems?” Well, we have to “work that out,” and I stress again that our sets don’t have to be identical. But they need to be “more similar than not,” and figuring all that out will require relationships and community. Think of it like a jazz improvisation: to know when we should start playing, when we should move aside and become the anchor so someone else can take over — all of this can only be known in the music, in the middle of the performance. It cannot be known ahead of time or outside the improvisation — everything has to be known in the moment, the present. I have to be present and present for the jazz improvisation to really work, to know the ebbs and flows and shifts and key changes. So it goes with knowing the labels, names, and poems of a community: I have to be there. It’s not the case that “anything goes” in a jazz improvisation — there is a very real skill and art there — but it is the case that “what goes” can only be known in the improvisation. We have to be there. The music is the playing.
Beyond label, name, and poem, there is a fourth category — ( ) — which entails not words at all, no language. This can be associated with pure experience, raw act. But do you have any idea what I’m talking about? No, we don’t have to worry about the raw experience or thinking being reduce to a term that threatens it with “reductionist violence,” but it’s also hard for us to relate or “be on the same page.” If I’m thinking about a pen and just look at you, how can you know what I’m thinking about? How can we organize? How can we relate?
It can be tempting to avoid language entirely, considering the difficulty of navigating labels, names, and poems — it’s hard to know what we should do and when, so why not just avoid language entirely? Well, because then we would have to be alone. Language is necessary for relationship and community. We cannot “stare” our ways into love. We must speak. We must try to navigate the waters of life together. It is hard, and we will make mistakes, but we must try. If we do not, we will not be a “we.” Words direct, and though a world without words might be freer, it will be a world which proves difficult to live in.
Language fails — words never fully capture what they are about — and yet that failure is necessary for community to form. If we never talked, we’d never relate, but if we relate through language, we could misidentify, miscommunicate, misinform — countless errors could be warned about. And yet where there was no failure, there could be no relationships, suggesting the necessity of this risk and failure.
Avoiding language is not the answer, but instead learning the skill of knowing when we should employ a label, a name, or a poem. Sometimes, using “a label” is best: if I quickly need a spoon to finish fixing dinner, I don’t need to communicate an entire narrative on the history of utensils — just give me a spoon. Done. Labels have a place: they are not always bad. If we never had labels, we’d be cognitively overwhelmed very quickly and very often. However, if it’s appropriate to use “a name” and we use a label, we risk dehumanization and objectification.
If I’m speaking with Sarah and say, “She’s a Liberal,” I could be reducing Sarah to a political affiliation, ignoring and missing all the intricacies in her thinking and personality. Sarah is not merely “a Liberal” — she is Sarah — but at the same time the term “Liberal” could be useful to help Sarah determine what political party she should join, where her thinking falls on various social issues, and the like — the term “Liberal” could communicate useful information. And if I’m running an organization and try to decide how I should organize groups, knowing Sarah is a Liberal could prove very helpful. But if Sarah started to give me her life story when I asked her if she was a Liberal, this could prove inappropriate. It is not the place for Sarah to “unveil” herself as a poem, and yet there is also something wrong and dehumanizing if I treat Sarah like she isn’t a poem and shouldn’t be one.
Sarah is “a person,” a name, and a poem all at the same time. The label “person” is very vague and tells us nothing about Sarah in her particularity, but it also tells us that she deserves to be treated with respect and to receive “human rights.” The label has a role and a place, even if in other contexts it would be a kind of “violent objectification.” As Sarah is a label, a name, and a poem at different times to different people, so it goes with everything, which begs the question: “How do we know when something should be treated as a name, a label, or a poem?” Not easily; it requires learning discernment and invaluable skills. Skills and discernment are what are needed, not ideas and positions. Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on “having the right ideas” and “believing the right things,” but really what makes the difference is skills and abilities. We need to emphasize training, not just learning. It is not enough simply to “know” we are friends: I also need to have the skill to read your emotional state, to sense what you are going through, and the like.¹
We talk about “relationship skills,” but perhaps we should go deeper and think of “relationships as skills” — there is more of an “equal sign” between the terms. The phrase “relationship skills” suggests that relationships exist independent of the skills, which is true, but there’s also a sense in which we really need to place emphasis on the idea that relationships are skills. We bump into strangers at the grocery store all the time, but do we have a relationship? In space and time, yes, but to really make it “a relationship,” we need to know how to talk to the person, how to tell a joke, how to tell when the person needs to leave, and the like. There is a certain skill that is needed, a certain “art” (my word of choice), if the “connection” is to become a “relationship.” And yet we don’t really live in a culture that emphasizes the need to “learn skills.” Yes, people know skills matter when asked directly, but indirectly is where we tend to find the truth of people. Indirectly, we are drunk on the messaging and thinking of colleges, which stresses how we live in a “knowledge based economy.” “Skills” are for blue-collar workers, for tradesmen — the “white collar jobs” with the status for the college educated are about “knowledge.” Thus, the emphasis goes on “knowledge” and “knowing what we need to know” — we do not think about skills, and as a result we fail to develop empathy, the ability to read situations, the ability to discern if x is a label, name, or poem, and the like.
How do we learn these skills? Well, in relationships, as we learn to improvise with other musicians. We have to practice, and we practice at sports by doing sports. Now, practicing wrestling isn’t the same as a tournament or match, which is to say not every interaction in a relationship is “equal” — I would say we practice in “the day to day” to be ready to handle the hard situations (where a family member dies, where a person is suffering a mental breakdown, where a person is depressed, etc.). We “practice” relationships so that we are ready for the difficult times, but how do we even “start relationships?” Well, how do we start learning music or mastering a sport? By starting. We must dive in and comment, a shot. “A real choice,” as discussed in (Re)constructing “A Is A.”²
It takes skills to read poems. They present themselves as if no skills are needed (and that’s part of the problem), as does improvisational jazz (you just get up there and play, right?). I mean, anyone can read a poem, yes? And yet getting a poem seems to be something else entirely. Poems and relationships are matters of “high order complexity” (as described in “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose), which is to say that they unfold according to a “dynamic logic” that cannot be understood in pure linear terms. Sports like wrestling “present themselves,” in their phenomenological experience, as needing skills. Yes, sure, anyone could jump onto the mat, but we all know that we’ll probably get destroyed; similarly, pipes around the house “could” be fixed by anyone, but we also know that we probably should hire someone who has the skills.
Poems are strange: they present themselves phenomenologically as “not clearly” requiring skill to be understood. I mean, some poems don’t require much skill, say nursery rhymes or the like, while Wallace Stevens requires a lifetime of pondering. Poems seem to “present us” with a need for the skill to read, but if we can read, what else do we need? Poems don’t really tell us, as don’t many artforms like painting or making music, which makes it especially easy to think, with poems, that anyone can read them. They’re don’t tell us in our phenomenological experience that we “need more training.” And if we don’t get the poem, they don’t stop us from blaming the poem for being impossible to understand. We can absolve ourselves responsibility easily. We can blame the poem.
Relationships and communities are very similar. We grow up being told that love is forgiving, unconditional, and accepting. We are lead to believe that love just “is,” and thus requires no skills. Art just “is” expression, similarly, and so if we express, we are doing it well enough. If we love, we are loving well. And so no skills are developed, but this is a problematic and consequential mistake. Yes, my brother might love me, but he won’t necessarily like me — receiving both love and like requires skill and discernment.
Again, poems are strange. We can identify them as “a poem with a glance,” but we might have to read them ten or twenty times before we really start to “get” what they are about. The first time, we might just enjoy the aesthetics of the language; the second time, we might really be taken by the word choice; and the third time we might begin to start to “sense” the meaning lurking in the prose. Poems which we read once are hardly assignments; for a poem to be a poem, we really have to feel it and embody it. It has to enter us. It has to be more than words and yet known in words. The words are essential but not the whole, as each individual note of a song is necessary, and yet the song cannot be found in just a note.
How to get a poem is very hard to explain to someone who doesn’t know, especially if that person isn’t open to being taught. And why should we work so hard to “experience a poem?” Why can’t someone just write their poems better? Likewise, why can’t the community just let me in? Why do they have to require me to learn how to relate and discern what others are feeling? Aren’t people supposed to love one another? Aren’t they supposed to be graceful and forgiving? Yes, but all of that, when used to justify not learning a skill, become forces of destruction. It takes one exchange to ruin a marriage, and one explosion of anger to destroy a relationship. Human relationships are fragile, and we have to be very wise on how we relate to the people around us, and they need to be wise in relating to us.
The poem does not exclude us from enjoying it: it simply is what it is, and in that poem just being itself, we just “can’t” get it unless we learn the skills. Gravity isn’t exclusive or elitist: it just “is” something that keeps us from flying. Likewise, poems “just are” things which take work to get and understand. Relationships and communities are exactly the same: they just “seem like” they aren’t because of the differences in their phenomenological experience. The great difficulty of art, relationships, and communities is precisely that we “can” bend the standards, because the standards only exist to the degree “we hold them up.” They are not made solid like gravity is by material facticity, so they don’t exist if we don’t “hold them up.” And yet the standards and “cause and effect” are just as concrete and just as unavoidable — they just “seem like” they aren’t because they’re “metaphysical standards,” per se, and that makes them much more existential precisely because they “seem changeable.” And this is why it is so hard to do art, relationships, and communities well: they require skills they don’t seem to require, and requiring those skills must be personally enforced versus enforced by a raw, non-existential facticity.
A community that cannot rightly apply labels, names, and poems is likely doomed, but requiring the skills and discernment needed to make this possible can only be “personally” and “existentially” upheld. Determining the presence or lack of these skills itself requires discernment, which can feel existentially difficult. But this anxiety cannot be avoid, as cannot be avoided the anxiety of “maybe messing up” when in the middle of a jazz improvisation. Few things worth doing don’t require courage. Meaningful lives face fear.
Human civilization is dramatically shaped in terms of labels, names, and poems. If everyone around us is just a label, then we are objectified and lifeless. But if everyone is a name, we might be overwhelmed by all the information and cognitive strain we must constantly exercise in order to really treat everyone like names (let alone as poems). An intimate and deep community is one in which people have the chance to feel like poems, and it’s generally where everyone will feel like they at least have a name. But if everyone we met “had a name,” per se, we would be overwhelmed and socially overextended. We need boundaries, but there is something about boundaries which seem cruel and exclusive. What should we do?
Communities struggle to define themselves. They struggle to find the middle ground between “being inviting” and “having no standards.” They don’t want to exclude, but they also want definition, and definition inherently excludes. But let me ask you: Are we excluded from being black belts? When the teacher at the martial arts studio says, “We are not black belts,” is that exclusive and elite? Not at all: no one can make us a black belt. We either are or we aren’t: “being part of the community” has nothing to do with “being invited.” We’ve either done what we need to do to “be a black belt,” or we haven’t. If someone literally “gives us a black belt,” that will not mean we suddenly have “black belt abilities.” We are not “excluded” from “the club”; rather, if we are “acknowledged as a black belt,” we already were a black belt. The acknowledgment is indeed an acknowledgment.
Likewise, communities do not have to exclude or include people: they can simply acknowledge that we are “already a member.” If we have developed the relational and personal skills which make the community possible, then we are more so “acknowledged” as “always already” “one of us,” versus say “invited in.” This is a critical distinction, for it suggests that communities can find a balance between “invitation” and “definition” by basing their identity on skills.
My wife wouldn’t have married me if I lacked “certain skills,” not because she was elitist or prideful, but because marriage is an investment, and her life would be a lot harder if I wasn’t able to read certain situations, change tone relative to audience, and the like. A community is an investment, and by asking for people in the community to have x, y, and z skill, we are assuring that “the return on the investment” will be high. Again it is not exclusive to say, “You must be able to listen to be part of this community,” for anyone can learn to listen. A condition is not an exclusion. Also, anyone at any point can start their own community: they are not be excluded from the possibility of doing things on their own.
Communities need ways to “slow people down” from joining: we seem to be living in a world where everyone is joining everything far too quickly. This makes everything feel shallow and empty: by making membership something earned, the community can feel deeper. Marriage can feel deeper because spouses had to “earn” one another (via various ways), which can sometimes be oppressive and silly, but other times it can prove strong way to create meaning and roots. Finding this balance isn’t easy, but I am doubtful that the answer is no skills at all.
Belonging is a skill. Relationships are skills. Where the skill is lacking, so will be lacking “belonging” and “relationship.” Skills are not exclusionary. Skills are simply present or absent. Communities today will rise or fall by focusing on and really asking a question: How present are we?
Cooking, spoken word, cyphers, improvisational rap — there are numerous metaphoric schemas which could prove useful for understanding “the new community” which the world may need today. I lean toward the metaphor of “jazz improvisation,” for that is an experience that strikes me as describing “the kind of community” we need to learn to form and participate in. In the past, before Globalization and Global Diversity, information flows were more contained. For good and for bad, their were limits on the amount of diversity to which we were exposed, and this made it to where communities and identities could be more easily structured. We could “safely assume” the people we encountered, if we lived in Virginia (for example), were likely Christian and Conservative, and so though there would be personality differences, the differences would not be “so deep” that it proved difficult and impossible to understand one another. But times have changed, and the differences we encounter tomorrow might be so totally unlike what we encounter today. We cannot possibly plan ahead of time what we will encounter: all we can do is prove ready to “handle it” by developing the necessary skills and personality.
The ability to read sheet music is very hard to learn and very impressive — as a musician, I wish I was capable of the art. But if suddenly musicians who could read sheet music were thrown into a world where sheet music no longer existed, could they still play music? That is the world we find ourselves in today as human beings: old institutions, philosophies, religions, and ways of doing things no longer apply. Sheet music no longer exists, per se, but if we don’t play music, society will collapse (music is the society). Thus, there is one option: learn to improvise. But what is improvisation? Well, it’s very hard to explain: you just know it when you do it. But how do you know to play the D at that point in the jam session? Well, you just do it. But how? How did you know it would sound good ahead of time? Well, I just knew. And suddenly the improviser can start to feel like he or she “isn’t a real musician” at all. The improviser can’t read sheet music and the improviser cannot explain what happens — it just “happens.” Sounds pretty fuzzy to me…And yet it’s real (I would argue improvising music can be some of the most fun in the world). Being in that flow. Being in that jam. It’s special, and yet cannot be captured or really explained outside of it. And though it’s theoretically possible to transpose a jazz improvisation into sheet music, who would want to?
To improvise music is to live with an existential tension of “not being a real musician,” as those making new communities can feel like “they’re not making a real community.” But they are: the issue is merely that the community cannot be explained in clear and linear formulations. It is dynamic and “high order”: it cannot be understood outside of it, only inside. This is arguably the most meaningful and profound kind of community, and yet it can seem the most flaky and “unreal.” But I would argue that “the ability to improvise” is utterly necessary in the age of the internet. We are now living in a world where we are perpetually faced with infinite information. We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. We don’t know what to think. And it is impossible to know or guess all “the emergent ways” the information of the internet might interact with one another, arising to untold new possibilities. And the information overwhelms us like a flood. It’s coming. It’s here. We can’t predict it ahead of time. There’s only one thing we can do: respond or not. Make music or not. The skills today that we need are skills of improvisation and discernment. We either have them or we don’t, and invitation can’t change the facts.
The internet is causing mental health problems. It is causing a Meaning Crisis. Should we get rid of the internet? No, but that means we have to do something. What will we do? Learn to improvise. Learn to make music with what we cannot predict ahead of time. And if we are to learn how to improvise, we will need to be part of communities which stress improvisation, which in their structures are the music they make. If a person is always standing on stage playing music, then that is a structure, for we at any moment can join that person and play. And if we play for a few hours and everyone walks away, as long as one person keeps playing, the music has not stopped. And if everyone leaves the stage and goes to bed, this is simply a pause between movements, a silence that creates space for more. The silence is the rest. There are rests in music. Rests are necessary.
The community is the music, and it does not have to be explained only joined. But it can only be joined by people who have the skills and discernment to play along. Improvisation is not something anyone can join well, not because the musicians are unwilling to let people join, but because the music itself doesn’t sound good when people without skill join. The raw facticity and experience of the music is the standard — there is no locked door. The music sounds good or not. The community creates belonging or it doesn’t. There are no locked door, no hard standards. There is reality. There is the experience.
In a jazz improvisation, musicians sense when they are to take up the anchor, lay down a consistent beat, and make space for other musicians to take up a solo. But those making the solo will sense when it’s time to “pass the chance” off to someone else, perhaps someone who a moment ago was the anchor: the foundation and the leader change. There must always be a foundation and a leader, a structure and an expression of freedom, but it is not always one person: it moves with the music. So it goes with the governing structures of new communities, which sounds strange and fuzzy. But if you did it, if you were “in it,” it would make sense. It would be concrete and “object-ive,” based on the experience itself of the musical notes.
All “art-forms,” all “formulations based on arts and skills,” are matters of “high order complexity, “ which is to say they cannot be understood in linear and simple formulations. In the internet world, this is the only kind of structure that can sustain itself. We cannot create a structure to capture the diversity of our world because we don’t know what that diversity will be ahead of time: we don’t know what’s coming until it’s here (as with jazz). Thus, the question is if we have the skills or not. Communities will be “the music,” and thus they will need “perpetual improvisers” more so than leaders, someone “always keeping the music going” more than someone “to tell the musicians what to play.” Nobody “instructs” people in improvisations very much: people just know what to do. And yet it is not random; it seems planned.
We cannot name what is coming, only “improvise” when it’s here. I can’t think of a single experience or emotion which cannot arise in a jazz improvisation — anger, laughter, joy, sadness, disappointment — so improvising will require great emotional skill. Will we be ready for it? Will we have what it takes? Personally, I think everyone wants to know if they do.
¹This point suggests Isaiah Berlin and the topic of Pluralism and Conditionality, whose thinking I do think is critical for relationships and community.
²There is also a profound role of “introspection” in all this, but I’ll elaborate on that in “Introspection, Empathy, Judgement, and Justice” by O.G. Rose.
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