The moderns confused products with processes. They believed that the production of bureaucratic rationalization presupposed rational bureaucrats; that the production of universal science depended on universalist scientists; that the production of effective technologies led to the effectiveness of engineers; that the production of abstraction was itself abstract; that the production of formalism was itself formal. We might just as well say that a refinery produces oil in a refined manner, or that a dairy produces butter in a butterly way! The words ‘science’, ‘technology’, ‘organization’, ‘economy’, ‘abstraction’, ‘formalism’, and ‘universality’ designate many real effects that we must indeed respect and for which we have to account. But in no case do they designate the causes of these same effects. These words are good nouns, but they make lousy adjectives and terrible adverbs. Science does not produce itself scientifically any more than technology produces itself technologically or economy economically.✧ Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern
[This is not a dispatch; it is a meditation.]
The mystery of togetherness is a frightful illusion. No mind is, or ever will be, in true communion with any other mind. You will never spontaneously experience any other human being as a second self. All Others are, at the very least, impenetrable.
The entirety of the cosmos you experience is within you. No iota of matter, no quanta of energy, no movement of bodies, no gesture of goodwill, no screw of hate, no cry for help or exaltation has ever been before you have registered or conceived it.
There are things you do not actively control, but there is nothing that you are not. The sum total of your model of the universe cohabitates and transmits within your neural network to produce that node of being which expresses itself as I. This is the embodiment of the Self. The Self is the result of a constantly shifting totality that is curious and acquisitive, and entirely devoted to expressing itself to itself.
The Self is comprised of matter and energy that, in its ceaseless toil of maintenance and self-preservation, seeks continuously to free itself from itself and observe its origin. As consciousness describes itself only in effect, never cause, the source of the I is occluded, as the I occupies the node of existence identical to that which it wishes to see. The metaphysical locality of the Self is chained to its own subjectivity and can never escape the immediate performance of the I.
The Self is a mobile node that is driven to explore only inasmuch as its integrity is not threatened. Just as the experience of the body registers need for homeostasis, the experience of the mind strives for equilibrium.
Equilibrium can ossify into stasis. As change is the only constant of time, the healthy Self must adapt to change by maintaining its integrity, but also by accepting that, though continuous in its existence, the Self’s qualities must mutate as the necessities of interacting with what it does and does not understand—but which are all nonetheless part of itself—demand new strategies to cope with the reality that it has to work with.
If the universe exists beyond the perception of the Self, its ultimate reality is inaccessible beyond the terms of the Self; but if it does not, the I must accept that the simulation of a reality comprised of one fractured and multiplicious consciousness is the only one available to it.
Whether or not Other minds exist, the I that reasons and questions is lonely, and cannot define itself without translation developed though the interaction differences. Other minds are not the I that questions. Other minds must be contended with if the I is to maintain its integrity.
The elaborate structure of what is known and experienced only develops through testing and response. The isolated I, which can never prove that any Other mind exists, must suppose that what it experiences as Others equivalent to itself are essential for its equilibrium and continued integrity. As far as can be discerned, the experience of life is cognate with consciousness. Consciousness can only be validated by similar manifestations in experience. There must be a response to the I that questions.
As the I that questions is ultimately alone, and must develop tacit assurances as to the integrity of its existence. Without any ultimate verification, it continues to sense itself, and proliferate its experience in consistent but continually transforming ways.
The only way the I, which is the only known expression of existence in totality, can reasonably conduct itself without going mad is by recognising that all manifestations of difference must be treated as intimate expressions of its holistic appraisal of the universe. If reality is composed of the Self, the I must recognise that all discord, misery, and strife which it contributes to, or condones, is grief manifested within itself, and contributes to its own loss of integrity.
The only way for the I that questions to exist ethically is to honour what it experiences at the manifestations of reality with the same respect with which it treats itself.
As murky and undisclosed as the root motivations that drive the liberal arts can sometimes seem, there are some tacit assumptions and ambitions that do begin to take shape amongst the arena’s composite disciplines, collectively giving definition to the field of inquiry. Upon examination, “our lives, our world, and our future prosperity” are clearly central concerns that inhere at the very core of liberal arts research. By virtue of the commonalities there are to be found between the heterogeneous approaches to scholarship, analysis, and discourse that traverse the bodies of work found in the study of modern languages, history, philosophy, linguistics, et al. a clearer picture of what might be called the investigation of human enterprise, the study of the human sciences, emerges.
If we are to live in a world dependent upon the transmission of information, where not just functional literacy—the capacity to read and write an alphabet—is essential to gain access to the higher functions and institutions of our society, but also a symbolic and figurative literacy—one that allows the educated to gain some perspective about where and how the subject is situated in the larger world, and that that world has a reality that includes more than the present moment, but also a barely fathomable past and an receding horizon of contemporary cultures and concerns—then it is essential that the expressions and products of human perception and thought are studied. Our culture is the aggregate sum of its parts, past and present, and, when catalogued, the means an individual has to make sense of its existence can seem to be quite meager. A staggering amount of the information that bombards the mind of a contemporary ego relates to immediacy, to navigating and surviving the ever-shifting currents of a surging, interdependent ocean of things-which-must-be-done. What the liberal arts exist to do is to call attention, from within the moment, from the vantage of the perpetually ebbing present, to the patterns that emerge: the way that they replicate; how they imply sources; how they describe and prioritize hierarchies of concern that exist outside of the individual, and rather traverse the space between individuals, construct meaning, and define purposes.
The objects and expressions that humankind produces and has produced—from writing, to sculpture, to architecture, to visual arts, to music—all these things contain within them manifest and latent content. Just as Freud said of dreams, so is it true of all productions of the human mind. Objects that have been bequeathed to us from previous generations, due either to intention or happenstance, reverence or serendipity, these things comprise the substance of our enterprise as a self-referential species. Everything we have that has emerged from human impulse is not only record, but code. In the attempt to understand these objects and the ideas they articulate better, we are breaking a cipher that obscures every unexamined convention, every rote decision, every cultural moment of panic that threatens the cohesion of our collective project.
We are a cooperative species. This cooperative nature is more profound than our economic and national ties. What we read, how we converse, the stories that inspire us, the images that absorb us, the spaces we reside, gather, and celebrate in all contribute to how we prioritize and understand the world that we are constantly creating. Without an attempt to articulate the magnitude of what we express, and what we have been expressing from the beginning of recorded time, we have no hope of escaping dread of the future, or dissatisfaction with the past. Fear is the product of ignorance. This has been true of every region approached by human thought and then subject to resistance of comprehension. Just as we need science, mathematics, and medicine to render the world more approachable and livable, so do we need the liberal arts. Without an attempt to understand what it is that we do, what it is that we have been doing, and how it is that we mean to mean something to ourselves and others—how this project has been a driving force behind living a life worth living since a human being articulated “why?”—we are destined to live on the cusp of an ignorant panic, confounded by the symbols and structures of our own history. The liberal arts are what keep our lives and our world integrated with who we have been, and, increasingly, with who we are today as they study what transmits meaning, on an individual to global scale. The prospect of prosperity is dismal without meaning. Such a way of living can only promote an appalling transience, where the inhabitants of the now perform drastic acts of vivisection on the operations of society that carry the promise of a tomorrow capable of carrying on any insight from its predecessors. Ignoring the necessity of evaluating our connective tissues—the records of human expression—robs potential answers from any member of our race who dares to draw a question mark after doing something (anything) for its own sake.