3 Replies to “Mary Evelyn Tucker – Journey of the Universe”

  1. Reposting my comments from facebook as they seemed to get lost in the soup somewhere:

    As each individual is in some sense a recapitulation of the entire story, there is no way to enter into a conscious, voluntary collective without first passing through the stage of recognizing the value of the individual. Once this stage has been passed through, it leaves a permanent mark. To try to bypass this stage will only end up in an unconscious, involuntary collective that history shows is extremely damaging to life and human well-being. I see many people who think they can leap frog over individualism, and poopoo it as a bygone philosophy which we have transcended. The way I see it, most haven’t even entered into a stage of true individuation that would allow them to take the next step into a conscious collective.

    As an analogy, multicellularity could never have arisen without first the competence of single celled organisms. Each individual must learn the value of being the single cell before he or she may enter into a healthy multicellular collective. That is my view of it, anyway.

    Ironically, those who shit on individualism and preach the value of collective action never seem to buy a round of beer at the bar 




;)

    If you are at all interested in what we might actually do to practice what we preach with respect to living in a sustainable way and avoid catastrophic failures on mass scales, here is a short letter form Nassim Taleb on how we can avoid constructing fragile systems: http://longplayer.org/what/whatelse/letters.php


    Taleb beautifully synthesizes theory and practice by using theory to show its own limitations. Once we can recognize the limitations of theory, we can develop a practice to act in ways now that limit our exposure to the unknowns of the future. Any kind of grand-scheme proscriptive philosophy will at some point get something wrong, and if these errors are centralized (as they tend to be in these grand-scheme visions) these errors will spread through the entire system and we will have catastrophic failure. We can limit this exposure, not by predicting the future, but by designing the systems we use in such a way that they don’t centralize errors.

    Feeling oneself a part of the ‘earth community’ is a nice first step in addressing these ecological issues, but it doesn’t speak at all into the practices we must enter into in order to achieve that balance we then desire. As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

    Developing a theory of practice in the face of the necessary uncertainty of being embedded in a complex, unpredictable world is the step we must take. We need to drop our desire for platonic ideals with which we can calculate the future rhythm of the cosmos. Those lead to fragile systems.

    I hope, Matt, you will move forward from attempting to cultivate the feeling of being a participant in the world-story, to becoming a practicing member of it whose practices are well-informed by what we know, and don’t know, about the future of the world. Without such a next step, the gestures are empty.

    All my best,
    Joe

    1. I plan to read Taleb today. I’ll let you know what I think. Thus far his approach seems to me part and parcel of the turn away from physics (as classically understood) toward ecology as the foundational science. Ecological systems are precisely the sorts of decentralized, complex, unpredictable anti-fragile systems you’re talking about.

  2. Thanks for reposting these thought.

    A few of my own in response:

    About individualism… I think we’ve been working at it for more than 2,000 years now. Socrates and Jesus were among the individual self’s earliest advocates. There would seem to be two crucial dimensions to integrated individuality: a ‘head’ dimension and a ‘heart’ dimension. Socrates taught us the former: to think for ourselves and to discover our daemon. Jesus taught us the latter: to individuate from our family, race, nation, etc. and to become capable of loving one another regardless of blood ties. We’re still learning these lessons. Nowadays, capitalism downplays these dimensions and instead emphasizes other dimensions of individuality, those associated with the lower chakras relating to the competitive will, the sexual drive, and basic survival instinct. Capitalism has successfully transformed the meaning of individual freedom such that it no longer refers, as it did for the Greeks, to a freedom ‘to’ participate in the governance of one’s polis or country. Nowadays, we only really care about the freedom ‘from’ government: we are concerned only for our ‘private’ lives and could care less about forming and maintaining a legitimate ‘public.’ In ancient Greece, ‘privacy’ was far from an ideal; it referred to the domestic lives of women and slaves, to all those who were not permitted to participate in the public affairs of governance. It implied “privation,” a lack of real freedom. Things have certainly changed… Individualism has become a vice that no longer serves human freedom. Today, in the context of the capitalist marketplace, individualism serves only to alienate us from real civic engagement, making corporate takeover of formerly public domains that much easier. Here is the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm speaking to this way back in 1958: http://youtu.be/3jVXboQmPzs?t=7m20s
    See also this excerpt from his 1955 book “The Sane Society”: http://books.google.com/books?id=J_Iog2g0U2sC&lpg=PA140&vq=private&pg=PA138#v=snippet&q=private&f=false
    Hannah Arendt also speaks to this in her book “The Human Condition.” Unfortunately its not available on Google books. She makes it clear that the private life we all value so much is indeed just a subtle form of slavery.
    So I think we need to re-evaluate what we mean by individualism. Does individual freedom entail a freedom and a desire ‘to’ participate in forming publics, in forming communities of political import? Or does individualism entail a freedom ‘from’ such participation, freedom from taxes, from jury duty, from the difficulties of law-making (which we private individuals expect the technocrats to handle for us), a freedom to remain an atomized individual who earns their own private income and drives their own shinny car and pays rent on their own condo where they can sit undisturbed every evening in front of the TV to eat their microwave meals?
    The individual can still be the primary locus of value. I agree with you that this is an important ethical discovery: that society should value the creativity of individuals, not try to squash it or force it to conform. But we should take the ancient Greeks as our model individuals (of course making corrections for slavery and patriarchy), not contemporary Americans. Using the cell analogy again, we might say that in contemporary America, individual cells have become cancerous in that they can no longer genetically participate in weaving the larger creaturely fabric of their society. We have become autistic cells. We strive against one another because we hope and pray that the invisible hand of the God of the marketplace will distribute to each of us our just rewards. So yes, in this sense you’re right that we must become healthy individual cells before we can form metazoa.

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