A Sociological “Death of Skepticism”
Process has been conflated with skepticism, and with skepticism having been conflated with disbelief, process has died alongside skepticism. Furthermore, using process to determine truth has been conflated with taking a position, and so process has been replaced by force. To want an investigation to determine what happened the night a man claims to have been attacked can now be associated with disbelieving the victim and protecting the criminal (as can be making this very point). As a result, those who want to stand up against injustice will have to take matters into their own hands, however they may see fit. For if the process to determine if the victim is telling the truth is viewed as disbelieving the victim, then the only way the victim can be believed is by “going around” the process and for individuals to act outside of process. The consequences for this — all out of the best of intentions and longings for justice — may prove dire.
I don’t mean to imply that process has been erased: we still have courts, laws, government, and so on. My concern is what can happen in our culture when a story first rises to the surface: how people react, what people do, how people think, etc. Today, it seems that appeals to “wait for an investigation,” “wait for more information,” etc. are viewed as excuses to “justify inaction,” “permit injustices,” etc. And this “onset’ can last for a long time, and it is the conflation of “appeals to process” at the onset and “disbelief” which concern me. For without process, there cannot be critical thinking or analysis, for these inevitably take time: transcending subjectivity and determining truth is no quick or easy matter. The death of process is the death of the time it takes to test, and that includes testing ourselves.
In addition to critiquing process for “delaying justice” and “victimizing the victim,” there can also be a distrust of process if it keeps our vision of the country from being realized. The Conservative “January 6th Insurrection” is a prime example of this, but so is the leaking of Supreme Court documents on May 3rd, 2022. In both cases, people take into their own hands what “they think is right” over and against “social processes” that they believe have either failed or changed to create and protect injustice. And maybe the individuals are right about this — that’s a different question — but that still doesn’t alter the fact that a society without “processes” is a society that will fall into disarray. If today appealing to process and analysis is considered immoral and wrong, the majority will likely forgo process, helping uncertainty morally reign.
Appealing to a process isn’t the same as taking a position. Wanting a process for the States to determine if polygamy should be allowed in each of them isn’t the same as being against polygamy, as certifying the votes for President Joe Biden isn’t the same as being a Democrat. Perhaps wanting the States to decide on polygamy is the wrong view — my point is only that we shouldn’t automatically associate “supporting process” with “being against” something. Process is mainly neutral, though I don’t deny that there are circumstances where process can oppress (Josef K in The Trial, for example), but rightly determining when processes become oppressive itself requires process, or else we end up with a world in which people take justice into their own hands. Yes, this means we could end up with “ballooning bureaucracy,” and that can be a problem, but the alternative is individuals privately acting on their own personal notions of right and wrong.
Perhaps the person who wants the States to decide on polygamy is in fact against polygamy, but as an evil person who says, “2 + 2 = 4” still speaks truly despite his motivation, so the person who is against polygamy can still be right in claiming polygamy should be left up to the States. Perhaps not — that is a question not to be addressed here. It could be equally true that a polygamist could appeal to a process for the States on the issue (believing this longer roader will achieve a more stable and genuine acceptance of polygamy), but in today’s thinking this option could be laughed out of the room. Even entertaining the possibility that polygamy should be left to the States is, in of itself, viewed as “being against” polygamy. To entertain a possibility and to think through a topic is viewed as taking a position, because why would we entertain such a possibility unless we were against polygamy? And it is this kind of hyper-association and assumption that can contribute to the death of democratic debate, critical thinking, investigations, and more — all necessary processes so that we can better manage the problems of subjectivity, difference, and legitimacy.
There is no necessary reason why those who support polygamy should assume leaving the decision up to the States is to oppose polygamy: it could easily help its legitimization and acceptance. Then again, perhaps polygamy should be a Federal issue — my concern is the automatic assumption that “supporting process” is “being against.” Republicans across the country are assumed to be “against Conservativism” simply because they accept the certification process of the 2020 Presidential Election: “supporting a process” is assumed to be “supporting Democrats.” Yes, it could be argued that wanting an investigation of the 2020 Election is itself “to support a process” and isn’t equivalent with invalidating the election, but this process lacks any support from traditionally constructed systems of investigating fraud — it’s a demand for an investigation in a vacuum.
Still, doesn’t this suggest we need processes to determine which processes are valid? And couldn’t the processes of the society be corrupted to hide corruption? Yes, all of that follows, and it’s possible that “the death of process” will paradoxically cause a radical multiplication of processes, but these will cease to be “social processes” and/or “institutional processes” and instead simply become “individual processes” and “individual agendas.” Processes will then lose authority and hardly be “processes” at all. Considering this, appealing to new “processes” beyond what already exists and what is socially supported is to actually be against (institutionally supported) “processes,” which threatens those institutions and can contribute to “the legitimacy crisis” Habermas warned about. If institutions collapse, there is no way to legitimate one process over the other, and all “results” of processes could be dismissed or accepted as easily as any other. Thus, a “process” which threatens traditional institutions and the social order is easily an “anti-process process” — a snake eating its own tail, a process by which process dies.
The assumption of intention relative to the support of a process is a dire mistake: “process” is neither for nor against, but the very “grounds” that make possible “meaningful” assent or dismissal. A society that lacks process lacks the possibility of “shared intelligibility” and “shared ground” — the possibility of a society at all comes under threat. Society almost is its processes, and if we automatically decide friends and foes based on their support of a process, “shared intelligibility” will be lost.
Injustice is real; there are wrongs to be righted. Knowing the pain that exists, there is a desire to determine who causes such pain so that we can stop it before the pain happens or happens again. Unfortunately, though there are White Supremacists who are blatantly racist, usually identifying potential perpetuates of injustice isn’t so easy. And so we look for “signs” which suggest the hearts of people: we look for phrases and ways of speaking that hint at what people are actually thinking. We cannot inhabit other minds, but longing to right injustices or stop the loss of freedom, we look for ways to determine what’s going on inside people. And compelled by the passions of values and rights, we can be quick to jump on any signs that a person supports the “Liberals who are destroying America” or “the patriarchs who dislike women,” as we are quick to identify what strikes us as signs of apathy for immoralities and injustices And once we make this “jump,” our values would not have us retreat, not before we’ve done everything in our power to right wrongs.
Values naturally compel us to associate “supporting process” and “skeptical analysis” with disbelief and opposition, for values present themselves as having a right to just “be” — we don’t experience them as needing to be “processed” or examined. In fact, we experience process and examination as delaying the enactment and realization of those values, and that is to contribute to immorality, injustice, restricting freedom, and so on. For us to support process and skepticism requires us to think through the phenomenological experience of our values, and that will naturally feel wrong and immoral. We simply have to know we require process and skepticism, but we probably won’t feel right about it. Values make us feel like we must choose between “the death of values” and “the death of process,” and what good are processes without values? It seems like an easy choice.
Problematically, even the very point regarding how “the phenomenology of values” can bias us against process can itself be framed by values and emotions as supporting “the death of values,” so how can we even start the discussion? Not easily — this “association trap,” supercharged by ethics, is cyclical and incredibly difficult to escape (it seems self-justifying, like worry and fear, as argued in “Concerning Epistemology” by O.G. Rose). In fact, it would seem we either “just know” process is necessary, or else we’ll never get to the place where we “get it” (similar to how trust is either “given or not” and cannot really be earned, a point stressed in “On Trust” by O.G. Rose). We can always come up with reasons for why processes are problematic, and we will always have “rational reason” to oppose processes, especially when they don’t favor us. To avoid this mistake, we simply must (“nonrationally”) trust their necessity, but doesn’t that make us vulnerable to manipulation (a point similar to what is suggested in “The Authority Circle” by O.G. Rose)? Yes, that is indeed the case. Does that mean we should oppose process? That would be to oppose society.
Don’t “social processes” break? If we never question them, how could we fix them? A fair objection, and this is how I think most people who oppose a process feel: they are of the opinion democracy is broken, that the government is corrupt, that the police are oppressive, and so on. Indeed, perhaps some processes are broken, but that would not justify assuming “appeals to process” are “veiled oppositions” to the values and positions in question. However, it is possible a person could appeal to a process precisely because the person knows the process is broken and will support injustice which benefits the individual, as the State could oppress us by appealing to complex and dynamic information (say regarding foreign affairs) that there would be no way we could confirm for ourselves. The paper “Assuming the Best” by O.G. Rose suggested that we must “assume the best” of others if society is to function, but couldn’t others use such assumption to control us? Yes, indeed they could, which suggests a dire problem.
There is always the possibility that people use processes to control us, and yet a society without processes would collapse. This means that we have to accept a certain level of vulnerability to participate in society, and that is existentially disturbing. It’s also disturbing to experience our values as needing to be “processed” and “justified,” for we naturally experience our values as having a right to just “be.” If we cannot trust, we cannot survive socially, and considering the fallibility of governments and processes, we have very good reason not to trust them, which is to say we have very good reason not to survive socially.
Processes are needed to reform processes, but if processes can need reform, why should we trust new processes to correct our troubles? Processes become hard to trust: if the government is corrupt and yet only the government is positioned to correct it, if the courts are corrupted but only courts can correct law — what then? These situations are very possible, and once they occur we seem to be in deep trouble, for the corrupted processes seem to be all that is available to correct them — why should we trust them? And yet without processes society becomes impossible. This suggests the horror of when processes become corrupt: our only option is to reform them, but only processes can reform themselves. People can demand reform, yes, but it is ultimately up to those who control the processes as to whether reformation occurs. And if they’re corrupt, why would they listen versus just make it appear that they have listened? And so January 6th occurs…
When they go awry, processes are very difficult to fix, and countless people can suffer unjustly. Considering this, we might want to be slow before we expand State and social power, which always requires there to be new processes. At the same time, expanding State power can help us end injustices, and the thought of not expanding power in fear of creating processes that would be difficult to manage is a thought that our very values will phenomenologically bias us against. Are we heartless?
A society where justice isn’t “processed” isn’t a democratic society: it is either a monarchy, a small tribe, a dictatorship, or the like. If there is a dictator, he or she can certainly decree that “x will be the case” and no process be required; likewise, a family can discuss “what should be done” and that discussion be the extent of the needed “processing” (hardly a process at all, and certainly not bureaucratic). Where there is a society that manages significant diversity, there must be social processes which manage that diversity, and yet all values will experience themselves as having “good reason” to just “be.” For society and value, the long road is the only road, but everything in us can cry out for us not to accept this: we, in wanting justice and freedom, morally must demand change now (for it is immoral to delay morality). But that “now” is precisely what processes deny us, as do “givens” and other social institutions (as “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose explores).
But we don’t have time! Injustice, totalitarianism, suffering — they’re happening! And so we can come to think of “appealing to process” as a luxury of those who don’t suffer and who can afford not to act. If we are ourselves were being abused by the law, or if we ourselves were sitting in prison unfairly, the notion of “appealing to process” would easily disgust us. Process is luxury.
As one who sees “2 + 2 = 5” feels almost automatically obligated to fix the equation, so we can feel similar when we encounter violations of our values, and yet processes would basically have us wait (and wait, and wait…) to fix “2 + 2 =5” into “2 + 2 = 4” — and actually there is no guarantee the process will even come through for us so that we can “scratch the itch.” Wanting to make the world a better place, anything that slows that objective down is naturally viewed as an injustice in and of itself, worsening the problems we want to fix (and forcing us not to scratch the terrible “itch,” suggesting C.S. Peirce). Wanting to scratch an “itch” is understandable, especially when doing so will “add value,” but this feeling must be resisted if social processes are to be maintained. Perhaps an “Absolute Knower” or “Deleuzian Individual” is someone who can learn to live with this “itch?” Someone who suffers to be put in a situation where others can view the person as contributing to injustice? Who in their right mind would want to be in that situation? Someone “nonrational,” it would seem.
The desire to end injustice comes innately with a desire to end it now, and when there is a power concentration in the State, appealing to State for help can logically come to be seen as the best means to achieve justice (now).¹ But the State can be the very source of the injustice we seek to end, and it will certainly have to make changes we want through processes, processes which we will have to trust and have good reason not to trust. Thus, values can compel us against processes by turning to a State which creates more processes, processes we may later turn to the State to correct, which will require more processes — on and on. But why would I even make this point unless I didn’t care about the injustices, violations of freedom, etc. which values work to correct? Again, “the self-justifying system of association” strikes…
A reason processes exist is precisely to slow down our innate desire to do something now, which is to say that processes exist to keep people from taking justice into their own hands.² Otherwise, there could be “an anarchism of good intention,” and in fact processes free people from having to act on their values, for values don’t provide us a justified ground not to try and make them “be.” This is a key point: if there are no social processes forcing us to negotiate our values with other value systems, then we are completely free to try to make our value system “the value system” by any means necessary, which means that if we don’t do so, we are responsible for that choice, and that is a very hard weight to bear. If we cared about our values, we should do something about them, and if social processes aren’t in our way, we have no excuse not to act on them. In this way, though we tend to naturally dislike social processes because they keep us from enacting our values, this hindrance is invaluable precisely because it provides us with a “legitimate excuse” not to try to force our values upon others or to act desperately. The restriction on our freedom is what we hate and what we need to “plausibly deny” that we are responsible for making our values just “be” precisely as our values demand of us. All values demand to “be,” and without processes holding us back, we lack any “good reason” for us “to believe that we believe” in our values while we don’t try to force them upon everyone. There are no social processes holding us back, after all, and don’t we believe in our convictions? Aren’t we supposed to die for what really matters? At this point, perhaps our best hope for holding society together could be hypocrisy and paradox.
Where there are no processes or social restrictions, we are “free” to enact our values and to try to make others value them too, and why in the world wouldn’t we do so? Do we not really believe in our values? Social processes provide us with “plausible reason” around others and our communities for why we don’t act to make our values “be” for everyone. With processes providing us with “plausible deniability,” we can better handle “the Sartrean gaze” of others; without them, “the gaze” will prove difficult to bear. Again, our values compel us against the processes we need to avoid full responsibility for failing to make our values “be,” which means that as processes weaken, so too weakens our reason to “hold ourselves” back from trying to weaken processes further so that our values can “be” like they innately seek. Thus, as processes weaken, the weakening likely accelerates thanks to people trying to make the world more “valuable.”
Processes force us to pause, but pausing could elongate injustice — society is tragic, and our values will struggle to “be” at peace with that reality. The best we can hope for is perhaps learning to live with this tragedy (an “Absolute Knower”), but perhaps believing that will contribute to us not trying to right injustices that we could indeed right. What should we do? Our minds begin to race, motivated by “emotional judgment” and confused by a fragmenting media and a “collective consciousness” online that is pulling us in every possible direction. We want to have faith in the process, but it’s not clear where we should place our faith or if faith isn’t a way to maintain oppressive systems. And then on the talk shows questions about process merge with questions about positions, questions about what a person believes are conflated with questions about how a person believes it — it all blurs. Questions are muddled together as if the same kind of question (distinctions are lost between the epistemological, ontological, scientific, religious, personal, public, etc.), and this muddling is usually worsened by hyper-emotionalism, hyper-sensationalism, time-limits, commercial breaks, and hosts who can boost ratings by encouraging this muddling and by angering the participants. And then we open an article on our phone which gains viewership by making outrageous claims versus be cooler and more empathetic (as process would have us be). Sensationalism, which increases ratings, fans the flame of our innate desire for justice, freedom, etc., and this increases our desire to skip process and “do something” now. And in this line of thought, the constant images we see through our media of injustices in the world overwhelm us (as discussed in “The Grand Technology” by O.G. Rose), and just to lessen some of the existential burden, we seek to address some of the problems — or are we just going to sit here and do nothing as our phones and televisions scream at us to act? Don’t we all desire the world to be a better place? Or are we just going to sit and let arguments about the inherent tragedy of life stop us? Maybe we’re just looking for an excuse not to act. Maybe.
In conclusion, to conflate “defending process” with “threatening values” will contribute to a collapse of critical thinking, legitimacy, and democracy “for all the right reasons.” Furthermore, where skepticism and process fail, appeals to power will become prevalent. Power will be necessary, arguably, for if debates, processes, and individuals cannot change one another due to associations and conflations that keep them from being able to reason together, then all that can bring about change is power and force. There is a time when power and force are necessary, but not always, and use of either always entails great risk, a risk we are likely to regret taking if we use power too often, as we perhaps must where processes are dead.
If we oppose process “for good reason,” we will have to appeal to direct action and power. The State will come to be used for this purpose, and those who control it will remove process from holding them back while perhaps increasing process against their opponents. Furthermore, we will be trained against being our own problem-solvers and critical thinkers, not believing thought processes make any difference and that the time they take to flesh out inhibits justice. The more this happens, the more we will associate and conflate “process” and “skepticism” with “disbelief,” which will result in more State growth, and further conflation. The ironic self-feeding and self-justifying cycle will not end until we simply “step out of it,” but that will require us to accept that our values cannot “be” as they demand.
Process is necessary. Where it is corrupt, we must reform it. Reformation is slow, and people will suffer unjustly. This is monstrous, which is why we must be more discerning and wiser to keep such situations from arising in the first place, but unfortunately, when things are good, discernment seems unnecessary. We must learn to be prepared when preparation seems like paranoia and a waste of time, for otherwise, the situations we will find ourselves in will be situations in which no one benefits and many suffer (our current predicament, for example). If we do so succeed though, we will never see what would have happened had we done nothing, and so there will always be “space” to wonder if we should have instead tried to make our values “be” (if we “betrayed them” for no good reason). We will see the injustice we “process,” but we will never see the horror removing process would have caused — and so we will always be poised to doubt our decision to honor process. And this doubt will be an “itch” we can only scratch by changing course. Will we?
¹This is especially likely in a society where there is a bias toward “low order causality” over “high order causality,” as discussed in “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose).
²Processes are especially necessary in a society where “Emotional Judgment” is prevalent, for in that society, the power of emotions will be even stronger, for emotions will be seen as “right,” and hence worth fighting and dying over.
1. Searching for an argument isn’t the same as taking a stand.
2. Appeals to studies and science can also be appeals to processes which can be associated with “disbelief.” Such empirical methods are important and necessary, and appeals to them are common in modern debate and argumentation. However, we have to be careful that we don’t begin thinking by empirical methods exclusively, the pitfalls of which are expanded on in “On Defining Evidence” and “Incentives to Problem Solve,” both by O.G. Rose.
3. Thought processes have died with process in general: “the death of skepticism” and “the death of process” are both chapters in “the death of thought” and philosophy. If I ask, “Why go to college?” for example, it is now assumed that I am saying, “I don’t want to go to college,” rather than inquiring into what college is for and its merits. If we cannot think through things without “being against” them, thought is dead, and with thought goes meaningful and functioning life.
3.1 Similarly, “the death of process” can also impact personal relationships. If a married couple, for example, thinks that “talking through a decision” is “to be against the decision,” the couple will likely fight.
4. This paper doesn’t propose for people to not act, but for people to think before they act, and to act in such a way that doesn’t entirely erase process. This paper inquires on “how” we should act, which might have to be tragic.
5. If a quick solution doesn’t entirely fix a problem, but the slow solution completely addresses the problem, the slow solution is superior.
6. Because bureaucracy has grown significantly, the amount of time a judicial process takes has significantly lengthened, and this in itself has contributed to “the death of process,” for when people want justice, naturally and rationally, they want justice now.
7. Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke is a case study on what happens when rational and justified longings for justice overcome and erase necessary but corrupted processes and systems. And couldn’t Burke be used by dictators to stop revolutions against them?
8. “The due process of law” is threatened by the desire of justice to “be.”
9. Everyone is a “true believer,” for everyone must believe in a truth for rationality to be possible.
10. Manners, common decency, respect — all of these can be seen as social practices and even “processes” which justice can easily frame as contributing to injustice. They are not likely to survive efforts to moralize the world.