Confronting History as Chaos, Composing, 10/10/2017

So a lot of my research so far for Utopias has been about political philosophy and thinking. Here’s another look at how I’ve approached the research for it.

Like I’ve said, there are three parts. The first one is about the human relationship with time, how we understand and engage it in our daily lives and in our larger self-conceptions of society and history.

The second is about how we can use the different aspects of that relationship to understand the dynamic processes of reality – the constructive, productive power of time.

Just around the corner, the limit.
The third figures out what ways to understand time best harness humanity’s most constructive, sustainably productive powers. Doing that also identifies what those powers are – the powers of enthusiastic, free solidarity in all sectors of human society.

I’ve been researching the third part mostly for two reasons. One is that the political philosophy concepts are where I needed the most work. I wanted to improve my knowledge about a particular direction in democratic theory.

A processual way of thinking about the development of communities, states, and societies, skeptical of all dominations, hopeful about the power of pluralism and freedom.

I’d already developed my concepts for part two writing Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. We understand ecological matters – and the general development of the universe – best when we think in terms of processes and dynamics.

My expertise on part one’s subject – humanity’s relationship with time – is a blend of the two positions. I’ve done a lot of the research about process already, but not yet about how we come to (mis)understand ourselves – historical, narrative humanity.

Analyzing how we understand history and humanity's development
through asking What Happened? is also a pleasant chunk of Gilles
Deleuze's writing. I actually see many similarities between his and
Arendt's concepts, even though there seems to have been no
influence between them.
Reading Hannah Arendt’s work is very enlightening, given that this is the setup of the project. I consider her a predecessor – in my pretentious moments – because The Human Condition is simultaneously about how humanity really develops over time, and the different ways we understand that development.

We understand our development by asking What Happened? Then we figure out the best ways to get answers. Once we have enough facts, we make a story – great actors, pivotal events, the power of humanity acting together. That’s our history.

History is what we tell ourselves when we answer the question What Happened? But that’s a retroactively written history – history with themes, great characters, running currents, a kind of unity. Whether it was a secular unity, or a Providence, Zeitgeist, Invisible Hand – it's still unity. Events as they’re unfolding have no such unity.

Events are chaos – maelstroms of colliding processes and forces. Military institutions like states smacking into each other. Terrifyingly complex economic and industrial systems span the globe, but emerge from thousands and millions of individual acts.

The system transforms those acts, but this feedback loop between a huge system and its constituents physically constitutes human civilization. There’s incredible variety here, a huge diversity of powers, processes, stories, lives. The history of humanity as it actually unfolds is an authorless history.

Despite the convergence I see in their concepts, Arendt and Deleuze
had utterly different philosophical approaches, styles, and thinking.
I think part of that is rooted in Deleuze's relative privilege compared
to her. Deleuze rode out the Second World War in relative safety,
losing only his brother, a resistance fighter. He was 20 by the war's
end. Arendt escaped the Holocaust and was a political refugee for
many years in her life.
Arendt makes very clear how utterly terrifying it is for human history to be truly authorless. Those metaphors about maelstroms are appropriate. We tell ourselves coherent histories – whether in scholarly books, or popular films and novels, or epic poems and myths in Athenian squares thousands of years ago.

It’s meant to give us a means to grapple with the chaos of time – to turn events into history through understanding. Sometimes, it works, and we understand the world in the best way to thrive.

Often, we lose track of how the world develops, clinging to old certainties out of inertia, or because we’ve culturally bathed in them for so long that it becomes difficult to conceive of anything different.

A complete conception of the real development of events is totally incoherent because of that chaos. Every simple story is too simple to be true – in the real complexity of history, all contraries are compossible.

But it’s seriously difficult to conceive of that kind of world. It takes complexity in thinking, and the ability to confront the terror of a rudderless reality.

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