Always Already Complex, Research Time, 06/04/2018

It’s been a rough few days, as you can tell when I can’t squeeze out even a short therapeutic blog post in the middle of the week. But I’m feeling better, though I’m still wrangling together all the details of moving apartments – I hope to one I'm working on just around the corner.

But I want to get back to some conceptual stuff. Once I move apartments and I’m better organized, I can give some more detailed updates on professional developments. I’ve had some, and they’re pretty alright. That’s as far as I’m going for now.

So earlier this week, I was talking a bit about Gilles Deleuze and Georg Hegel. Plenty of people have too, and one of them was Michael Hardt. He makes Deleuze’s conceptual wrestling match with Hegel the pivot of his book.

What's the problem Deleuze had with Hegel? It’s the same one I have with Hegel. And I admit that it was Deleuze’s criticisms that made me realize what a big problem this is for thinking. It’s over the nature of what kind of difference is the most fundamental, ontologically speaking.

Art by Everett Patterson
Put in really, really, really simple terms – Hegel prioritizes stark contradiction. A or not-A. Or as he lays it out in the Logic, Being or Nothingness. What makes this kind of contradiction so stark is its simplicity and its abstractness.

And yes, by the time you work through the Logic, you’ve reached a state of knowledge that can be adequate to all the material complexity of the world. But complexity is the end product of a long conceptual development.

It prioritizes simplicity from a fundamental ontological perspective. Human reason tends to work from simplicity to complexity. We’re at first only able to understand really simple concepts, and eventually figure out greater complexity, nuance, the world’s messiness, multiplicity, and chaos.

That last part is the big problem Deleuze had with the Hegel-influenced and Hegelian way of thinking. Humans have to learn complexity. But existence is already complex. We have to adjust ourselves to the world.

The real is not rational – well, I shouldn’t quite say that. More like, the real can generate many rationalities. Reality pretty frequently generates new orders of being, new kinds of existence. The profound chauvinism of Hegel’s thinking was to consider the structure of human reason* to be the structure of existence.

* And not just human reason either. After all, humanity has many models of rationality, all of which can communicate with each other, even if they might be mutually contrary or contradictory. Hegel’s was a particular kind of human reason that he and the imperialist culture of his time took to be the only one that counted as reason.

Hegel’s philosophy, in that way, was very much of its time and place. Industrial, imperialist Europe of the early 1800s, setting out to conquer the world and build autocratic state machines.

A democratic way of thinking couldn’t thrive in a Hegelian framework because pluralism was where you arrived – you started at a unified, simple universal. Democracy is about fostering the singular, the different, the unique. So a democratic mind starts there.

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