To Develop a Singular Identity, Research Time, 11/07/2014

One of the centrepiece concepts of my broad philosophical work is singularity. In an absolute sense, this is the notion that every body and event in the universe is at least minimally unique from every other. In a relative or practical sense, it is the notion that there is a natural tendency for systems, especially when they interact, to become more complex over time, thereby increasing their degree of uniqueness. They become more singular.

We can see this functioning, for example, in human personalities. One of the most lamentable developments for a person to take is to become nothing more than a stereotype, a cookie-cutter person, a total conformist. The best people are remarkable, interesting, weird. 

This notion of singularity is at the centre of my Ecophilosophy manuscript, and it will be very important to the basis of the political philosophy in the Utopias project. Wonderfully, Peter Kropotkin has given me a foothold to use this idea in relation to the anarchist project. In a late essay, Kropotkin contends that the most important political and social priority is something called individualization, creating a social and economic structure that allows people to do what they are best suited and find most interesting. It would encourage them to develop their personality along entirely unique lines, creating a world of the remarkable. In such a society, we would never be bored, always meeting fascinating and weird people. This is a world of extremely intense human singularities. 

I only discovered the idea in a short article, in fact an encyclopedia article Kropotkin was asked to write about anarchism, so it doesn’t go into much detail. But he considers anarchism the political system best suited for achieving this singularization of the human race. The central argument for it in this essay is that coercion encourages conformity, the stifling of one’s individuality for the sake of survival. This is so whether it’s conformity to the rules of the state in fear of its military violence, or to the dictates of an oligarchical business clan in fear of its ability to trap you in poverty.

One of the nice things about encyclopedia articles written by brilliant theorists and writers is that it allows them to define a complex concept in as straightforward a manner as possible, and a political concept needs a straightforward articulation. Anarchism, says Kropotkin, is a political system of voluntary associations, obligations, and agreements to manage all social and economic functions which currently rest within the state. Instead of the state’s univocal laws that are so difficult to change as to be ossified, we govern ourselves in a complex network of dynamic covenants. We are each a node in the network, and in being so, have the power to help shape that network.

The theory isn’t perfect, after all. We know now that in dynamic, mutually self-constituted networks, not every node is created equal, as Kropotkin would suppose. Spontaneously developing networks are usually scale-free, with some nodes being much more important than average, and some nodes quite marginal and isolated. But the dynamism inherent to a networked relation would make an individual equally dynamic, encouraging their creativity not from fear of harm, but from the desire to connect and evolve. 

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