An Essay Featured in The Map Is Indestructible by O.G. Rose

On Description

O.G. Rose
14 min readSep 12, 2023

Framing Depiction

Photo by Fabienne Hübener

Whether through painting, writing, speaking, etc., description is always an act of thinking of perception or itself, and hence description is inseparable from the first-person: psychology, philosophy, phenomenology, self-deception, and all the other workings of the human mind (that humans themselves often hardly understand). Description always reflects thinking to some degree, even though countless artists might try to avoid incorporating human phenomenology into their work. Failing to grasp that description reflects thinking (that it is never “pure perception,” to allude to “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose), we prove less likely to avoid describing reality in a manner that doesn’t unintentionally contribute to Pluralistic tribalism, atomization, and the world being broken into ideological bubbles that lose connect with the earth. Basically, subjectivity is unavoidable, and the less we embrace this reality, the more likely we are to miss reality in our efforts to describe it.


A “perception description” is impossible: to describe what I perceive or what I think is to “think describe,” per se. All description is a function of thought, though many great Realist artists might do everything in their power to only describe what they perceive, which is to say to leave aside all influences of thought and describe a cup exactly like it is in perception (versus describe a cup relative to their subjectivity). Of course, this is a somewhat fruitless endeavor, seeing as it is impossible to describe “a thing in itself,” but I can still describe at least what I perceive that is yet to be falsified as what I perceive it to be, and hence that which I have reason to believe is “like in my subjectivity” practically what it is “like in of itself” (this is a premise I can hold until it is falsified, at least, alluding to Karl Popper).

Like “autonomous reason” is impossible (without being self-effacing), so “pure description” is impossible: we cannot describe what we perceive exactly as what we perceive “is” (the word/image/sound (of) “cat” is never the object-cat). In other words, I cannot transfer my perception of a thing to another as (the) perception, only as (a) thought (I can discuss “water” but never share the feeling of touching water, at least before a neuralink, perhaps). Hence, all description is thought-based and all description is incomplete, for the thought of a thing is never the whole of it (thought slims, though perception does as well). I can never think about all that makes a thing what it is at the same time, let alone all that makes the different parts what they are, and so on, and because thought “slims down,” description does the same, and yet interestingly description attempts exactly not to slim a thing out of being what it “is” (holistically). If I describe a coffee cup, I’m arguably trying to describe “all of it” or at least all I believe is important to know about (for no one tries to describe a thing and leaves out what that person believes is necessary for “seeing” the thing). Description is an act of thought that fights against “the slimming of thought,” and though it always fails, not all failures are equally wrong.


Let us pretend though like I successfully describe all of a cup in its materiality: have I succeeded describing it, or must I also include my mental experiences of it? Since cups are always thought about and/or described by some mind, there is no such thing as an experience of a cup that isn’t “colored” by mental activities; hence, shouldn’t description include phenomenology, psychology, etc.? It would seem that we can describe a thing: in thought, in perception, and in both. Some aim to describe things in perception alone; others, in thought alone; others, in both. And these three schools of description might think the other schools get it all wrong (it’s only natural).

Is one school of the three schools of description more “realistic” than the other two? It depends on what is meant by “realistic.” Humans predominately exist in a state of simultaneous thinking and perceiving: they perceive a thing that is immediately colored by thought (“as if” it was always colored by thought), what they think about influences what they choose to perceive, and what people perceive is constantly forcing them to rethink what they perceive (and forcing what they think to “fight with” what they perceive to make it fit within the worldview of the perceiver). We can travel to see London, and this is more “vivid” than reading about it (ideas are not experiences), and yet how we experience London is easily influenced by what we’ve read about it. If an author believes he or she can truly take people to London by writing about it, the person is mistaken, as are those who think we can experience London outside notions of it. What is written is never the world, only something “like” the world, which isn’t to say there is no place for Realism in art, but that if there is a bias against philosophy, phenomenology, psychology, and the like in art, “the school of perception” is trying to declare dominance over houses it cannot rule. Besides, there is room on the street for a community.

“The school of thought” (alone) tends to be more like philosophy, while art is either “the school of perception” or “the school of thought/perception” (I would consider Tolstoy more so of “the school of perception,” while Dostoevsky is more “the school of thought,” though both move between both). The danger of “the school of thought/perception” is that it risks losing its beauty and art amidst its ideas, while the danger of “the school of perception” is that it generates “meaningless beauty” (it’s more so only “pretty” or “enjoyable”). The art of thinking/perceiving often fails though because it doesn’t “realistically” depict how people think: artists tend to sacrifice minds for mouthpieces to portray the writer’s ideology. Humans self-deceive, believe things that are false, interpret the actions of others wrongly, ideology preserve, lie, and more, and they do all this in the context of a perceivable world that constantly influences their thinking and forces them to rethink. If art is to succeed at depicting thought/perception, it must let characters be themselves, and since people often spend their lives convincing themselves they are right, for one, characters who don’t express their minds are characters whom aren’t themselves. At the same time, characters who express their minds as if they have complete control over their thoughts, know what they think, aren’t self-deceived, etc., are characters who indeed are just fictions (and might problematically train us to think that we are less like we are than we are, strangely).

Fine, but beyond art, why does all this matter? Well, because we all describe, and by not training ourselves to describe the phenomenology of ourselves and others well, we fail to understand the world, to critically think, and ultimately threaten Pluralism. If Wittgenstein is right that the limits of our world are the limits of our language, then doesn’t that mean that our world is the world we describe?


In light of Trump’s 2016 election, numerous articles appeared describing Trump voters as “fighting to preserve White, Christian America.” And this very well might be what Trump voters did (perhaps without realizing it); however, I highly doubt that the majority of Trump voters went to the polls consciously thinking “we need to preserve White, Christian America.” One voter was probably against abortion; another, against Socialism; another, hoping to save factory jobs; and so on. Perhaps the group was “practically voting” to preserve the parts which constitute “White, Christian America,” but individuals may not have been voting for this “practical sum,” only “parts” which created this overall effect. However, regardless their level of accuracy, articles claiming “Trump supporters want a White, Christian America” create the impression that the individual motivation of Trump supporters was to preserve “White, Christian America.” Since this wasn’t perhaps the reason most Trump supporters voted in their own minds (or so I believe), these articles imply a description of the subjectivity of Trump supports that is inaccurate. This matters because Trump supporters will then dismiss these articles outright, contributing to tribalism (and also misguiding us in our understanding of how mass movements formulate).

Liberals are often described as Socialistic by Conservative media, and though there might be truth to this, I know of very few Liberals who call themselves “Socialists” (though more grow comfortable with the description through time, as more Conservatives are fine with being called “Popularists” — a development I’m not sure is positive). Rather, they see themselves as supporting the market but that the market doesn’t work on its own; it needs State assistance, for otherwise Capitalism fails. Many Liberals I know don’t view themselves against Capitalism so much as “against unbridled Capitalism,” and I think it is important that Conservative articles express this phenomenology. Otherwise, Liberals will dismiss these articles as inaccurate (for they indeed are inaccurate relative to Liberals), contributing to tribalism.

It is easy to generate descriptions that contribute to tribalism by demanding descriptions of those we disagree with which those others themselves wouldn’t accept — suggesting that we are in the business of tribalism. If a Conservative reporter refuses to describe Liberals as “Anti-American,” fellow Conservatives may accuse the reporter of being “dishonest” and “cowardly”; if a Liberal article were to be published that claimed Trump voters were motivated by anxiety and a loss of traditional American “givens” (perhaps referring to the work of Peter L. Berger and Philip Rieff), but they never used the word “racism,” Liberals may accuse the article of “lying” and “contributing to discrimination.” And yet both the Conservative reporter and Liberal article may be more accurate relative to how Conservatives and Liberals understand themselves: the supposedly “dishonest” descriptions could actually be “more fitting” phenomenologically and combat “confirmation bias.” The problem of description is a problem of tribalism and empathy, and it is a problem everyone could be pulled into, seeing as no one can avoid description.

To describe us without our motives is to fail to describe us, as is describing our motives as others interpret them, not ourselves. Even if our motives lead to Popularist or Socialistic outcomes, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we think of our motives as for such outcomes, and if descriptions imply otherwise, the articles, works, pieces, etc. containing these descriptions are likely to be dismissed by us as “unrealistic” (for relative to us, they indeed are, for we actually know “the reality of ourselves”), even if the works contain truth. This is unfortunate not only because we will be intellectually impoverished, but also because we could be increasingly sure we are right and lack empathy. If we describe people in a manner that does not at least try to describe their phenomenology to themselves (which requires some degree of reading what they read, reasoning through their problems relative to their axioms about human nature and reality, living where they live, working jobs they work, traveling to where they travel, etc.), our descriptions will perhaps be “realistic” to people who think like us, but they will probably be “unrealistic” to those in most need of our work (those who think we are wrong; those whose criticism is most likely to develop us — but those who will see no need to thoughtfully criticize us, for it will be “self-evident” to them that our works are hopelessly biased propaganda).

Description that fails to take the phenomenology of those described can end up tribal and ideological. Though the description that “Trump voters perpetual White, Christian America” very well might be accurate, this phrase more so depicts how I describe what has occurred, not why they did what I am describing. If am to understand other people and exercise truth empathy (and hence “critical thinking,” as argued in “On Critical Thinking” by O.G. Rose), I must try to describe to myself at least why others did want they did in the terms that they would describe themselves. If I fail to do this, I might “keep out” with my description the very humanity of the people I am describing (and they are not likely to take this kindly). Even a phrase like “Trump supporters didn’t vote necessarily meaning to preserve White, Christian America, but that is the consequence” could be less tribal, for the description clarifies it’s not of motives but unintended consequences. Described this way, there at least would be a better chance Trump supporters would absorb the criticisms that may help them think more critically, as might Liberals hear Conservative criticism better if they were not called Anti-American.

When we describe something, we know what it is “of” or “relative to” (whether motives, consequences, etc.), but descriptions don’t “wear on their faces” our aims for those descriptions. Wordcount restrictions of publications, time constraints, and the like don’t help, and they might increase the likelihood that we describe in a manner that is tribal, but we must do our best to accurately describe not just how we perceive and think about others, but also how they think and think of themselves. An accurate description of what we perceive isn’t necessary an accurate description in sum, especially if we fail to describe how others think to themselves. If we so fail, our description might be more about ideological reinforcement (“map-reinforcement”) then it is about identify “what’s there” (all while presenting itself as merely a description of “is-ness”).


Description only “practically vanishes” from “the life of the mind” when we thoughtlessly perceive, but thought is always consuming perception, and description that fails to reflect this is description that will fail to describe something actual. Description matters: failure to practice the art “realistically” will easily contribute to tribalism and perhaps social autocannibalism. Democracy will suffer and there will be a loss of faith in the power of democratic debate to change minds, for there won’t be “evidence” that people try to understand the world as those they disagree with do (there will only be exchanges of power). Then, democracy will be exercised not so much through argument, but by those who can increase their numbers quickest, whether through immigration, voter-suppression, birth, violence — anything but free exchange (which will easily be seen as denial of reality).

Description influences sight. If we don’t describe subjectivity via phenomenology, inner-movements of rationality, etc., then people may learn to think of subjectivity as less important and less real compared to the material and seeable world we inhabit. Materiality matters, of course, but it (for us) is always indivisible from human existence. Furthermore, non-intersubjective description might contribute to people failing to understand how others think, and perhaps people come to think that they are alone in how their mind works, creating a sense of isolation, not being understood, and existential tension that could lead to unhappiness, mental illness, and worse. If there is a lack of description about people struggling to decide if they should forgive someone or not, about mothers becoming frustrated with being mothers, about how somedays we just don’t feel like getting out of bed, etc., then when we struggle with these kinds of thoughts, we may not know what to do, think there is something wrong with us, believe that everyone else knows what they’re doing except us, feel isolated, and the like. Description can make the world feel inviting or cold, and description lacking empathy is likely to freeze us into our ideologies.

If we tell someone that we are struggling to decide what job to take and someone else says, “I know the feeling,” unable to occupy that person’s subjectivity, we cannot really know if the person is just saying that or means it. However, if we read a description about someone thinking like us, by seeing the mechanisms of how the person thinks, the nuanced details, etc., we can realize the person couldn’t create these descriptions unless he or she really was struggling like us (description is a proof). It can be easier to believe in the sincerity of a description than a claim, but if as a people we don’t describe, don’t describe subjectivity, or aren’t skilled in description, solidarity will be difficult to find. Isolationism and also cynicism will be harder to avoid.

A lack of descriptions about the thoughts running through peoples’ minds might also create an illusion of “mental normalcy,” that there is a way “normal people” think and act, and if we’re not like them, we’re “not normal.” This might lead to people feeling like outsiders and excluded, when ironically the Foucauldian “normal” from which they are excluded from is easily illusionary: there is no “normal way of thinking,” especially if by that we mean “stable way of thinking” (we all wrestle with strange thoughts; none of us know what we are doing, unless perhaps we try to ignore the big questions; none of us have certainty unless we engage in denial; etc.). Life is existential, but when everyone hides their subjectivities, is unable to describe them, and there is a lack of descriptions of the subjective (due to “norms,” incentives, etc.), acknowledging the existentiality of life can become a taboo (making us feel alone, “off,” and confused). Again, this can lead to a hierarchy forming against subjectivity and sense that it is “unreal” and not as important as materiality (when subjectivity is strangely the supposed “unreality” we’re all living through always). Once this hierarchy is erected, the likelihood of us learning to describe subjectivity lowers (contributing to a sense of mass isolationism in the midst of a growing population), and we probably won’t have incentive to grasp subjectivity’s mechanisms and depth, which might turn people against psychoanalysis, therapy, interpersonal dynamics, and the like. Even if people realize these fields and topics are important, without skills of description, they may not be able to navigate, understand, or master them.

A lack of description of subjectivity can lead to misunderstandings about it, and this can contribute to a loss of self-knowledge and knowledge of others. If we don’t “see” how we think (which is different from just “knowing” how we think), which is to say if we don’t have a grasp of the mechanisms, movements, and phenomenology of thought itself (all of which requires description), then arguably we don’t fully know ourselves; likewise, if we don’t try to understand how others think, we don’t try to know others. The mind is inseparable from the self: to ignore it is to ignore people. Furthermore, to ignore the mind can imply that understanding subjectivity isn’t essential to life, and when we fail to describe subjectivity, this is exactly what we can unintentionally imply (for even if we nod in the direction of the subject, we don’t care enough about it to learn how to describe it). This can lead to overlooking the complexities of human life, a tendency to label others versus understand them, and contribute to overall unhappiness as we all learn to live through a subjectivity that we often indirectly learn to think of as “less real” than what we experience through it. The means of subjectivity is treated as secondary to ends and things we experience, and yet we never experience things outside a subjective framing (we are arranged for pathology and self-effacement).

In closing, rather due to aesthetic hierarchies, cultural taboos, or the like, failure to describe subjectivity will likely contribute to tribalism in Pluralism, an increase in mental instability, and a feeling of people being alone with their selves. Thriving under Pluralism requires learning to live with others we don’t fully understand, but if we don’t believe they share any commonality with us (such as in struggling with subjectivity), it will be difficult for “living together” to be much more than “surviving together” (if that). No one can enter our minds (we share in solidarity that solitude with every human being), and likewise we never enter the minds of others. Yet living with this atomizing truth, we must still avoid atomizing: we must not cut ourselves off from the world. Splitting off into single individuals directs society toward tribalism and isolationism, and in this environment civil wars, revolutions, and social turmoil seems likely, and if we don’t learn to describe “realistically” (which includes subjectivity because reality includes subjectivity), we will help create this unfortunate environment. Description creates sight, both for the eyes and the mind’s eye. Without it, life is blind, and whatever isn’t described is that of which we will be blind. That might include ourselves. That might include everyone.




For more, please visit O.G. Also, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram, Anchor, and Facebook.



O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart.