‘The Encounter’ as the Venue for Truth

Part 8 of a multipart series, “How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity”. This article series is for economic reformers and political activists interested in the metamodern political movement. This series will undoubtedly find appeal with those who have come to understand that the current values which drive global economy, those which we call ‘liberal’, are obstructing solutions to contemporary political challenges — in as much, those values are unable to guide a common activity beyond. Admittedly, the prescriptions herein are likely a mere articulation of what is intuitively felt across a large demographic — certainly those who have found themselves gravitating toward contemporary nationalist solutions. Undoubtedly a bit of political agnosticism is required for digesting this series. Already now, the final recommendation can be teased. If we wish to nurture truth and authenticity then we require an economy championed under the banner of prefigurativism.

Throughout this article series the disposition of doubt, as a condition for the primoridal actio, episteme, has fallen under much criticism. However, the narrative would be ignorant to dismiss doubt altogether. After all, doubt is a word which has been given to a collection of real phenomena — phenomena to which each of us can attest. If we consider that experience, the real phenomenological experience of doubt, we should, of course, expect many varying descriptions. However, we can also assume a few common characterizations. An attentive focus, for example — one which is motivated by a desire for relief to mental discomfort. We might say that this discomfort demands for the presence of λογος, such that the phenomena of our experience come into accord with one another — such that a logical consistency presents the world over to us as a whole. In as much, doubt offers an explicit example of an ‘ecstasy of time’ — a moment which arises from out of the habitual experience of the day-to-day — such that we meet the world in an intellectual encounter.

This encounter with the world is the very ‘venue’ in which a disclosure of the truth is possible.

Now, while doubt proves a good condition of the disclosure of truth, we must also admit that it is merely one. And it does not exhaust the possibilities. Consider even the trivial task of entering a room. After all, while there may be countless operations which are performed without thinking (operating the door latch, operating the door hinges, even bodily breathing and walking) there is also the possibility that in executing this task you discover that the door is, in fact, stuck in a closed position. And, in this case, it is most likely that your behavior would be guided by a physical-mechanistic λογος as ‘resolving the obstruction’ becomes the task. However, we would be fooling ourselves if we were to believe that physics and a physical description of the world exhausted the possibilities at the encounter. If, for example, the door is in a public space then a variety of social obstructions might appear before the mind’s eye. It could be that someone has intentionally locked the door. Perhaps there is an event happening inside the room which should not be disturbed. The point is that an encounter with the world not only opens a space for the disclosure of the logical-mathematically, but a robust world — whether the moment has been conditioned by the epistemologist’s doubt or by the simple task of passing into a room in a public building. And while we would describe the world as singular — as ‘one’s world’ — that world is full of a variety of objects. From food and chairs, to feminism and liberty.

Now, it may seem as if some of the language which we have taken up in this series is in contradiction. For example, when we talk of “the world as a whole” and at the same time criticize any description of a ‘uni-verse’ — an object composed of a totality. Yet, this contradiction is only apparently so. In as much as the objects presenced at the encounter may or may not conform to mathematical quantification, these objects resist ordering into a schematic such that a singular totality could ever be made. Contrary to such totalization we may even find that once having drawn our circles we discover one or more phenomena that may be multi-stable. Rubin’s vase becomes two opposing faces with a change of focus.

In as much, we must admit that any one description of phenomena could never be more or less ‘universally’ appropriate than another. Lightning, for example, is not tantamount to or merely a type of ‘electromagnet discharge’. While ‘electromagnetic discharge’ may be a refinement of the description ‘lightning’, it is neither more or less ‘universally’ appropriate than the other. To think otherwise would be to put the cart before the horse, as the expression goes. The articulation of any object is only possible from out of that pre-intellectual, or pre-cognitive, primordial discourse — that ‘wheeling and dealing’ with nature. Any object which captures and defines a phenomenal experience is always and forever appropriate to the economy to which it ‘belongs’. Indeed, it is the appropriateness which stabilizes that object, such that its adherence can be experienced.

Given the polylogical possibility inherent in the nature of each encounter, we can surmise a certain qualification to our project at hand. If we are to genuinely nurture truth and authenticity we must overcome the monological tendencies which we have inherited over from modernization. From the Roman Empire to the Catholic Inquisition and the industrialized sciences, the language of Latin has carried with it the monotheistic residue of imperial economy — that economy which seeks a quantified and totaled ‘uni-verse’ — whether that be by way of Immanuel Kant’s noumenon or science’s physicalism. And yet, it really should be no surprise that the romanticized picture of the polytheistic agricultural civilizations calls for our attention. While we could never forgo the expediency which industrial manufacturing has provided to the production of food, housing, transportation, and other goods and services, it is still all-too enjoyable to picture ourselves out of this technological luxury. We imagine every action, from the tiling of the land to the collection of the harvest, as a communication or κοινωνια (koinonia, ‘communion’) with our most supreme idols. For the ancients, labor flattered their idols. Those idols adhered through such flattery. And that flattery was requited through the bounty of the labor. Of course, what should not be overlooked as ‘primitive’ is the plurality of those gods. After all, ‘primitive’ is exactly its positive characteristic. ‘Primitive’ points toward the ‘primordial’. Plurality itself echos the multi-stable nature at the encounter. A characteristic of the encounter which was jeopardized already in a Christianization of Roman.

This turn towards labor as an example in this exposition is not accidental. Labor, as the economic expression of the primordial ‘wheeling and dealing’ with nature, as φρoνησις (phronēsis, ‘practical wisdom’), points us toward the necessity of this article series — as a further refinement of the tradition invested with the creative self-authoring human spirit — that tradition which has gone by the name ‘romanticism’ — a tradition which brings together the intellectual tradition which we have been following. Heidegger, Gadamer, Wittgenstein, Schumacher, and Roy. In fact, returning once again to Small is Beautiful, we recall that E.F. Schumacher writes of a harmony with nature as a work which, “brings forth a becoming existence”. Existence becomes — that is, existence is ‘presenced’ and ‘intellectually refreshed’ in each moment of articulation. In this moment of articulation the mechanical and social hierarchy of the world is presenced. Equally, a history is presenced. History unfolds through the succession of mechanical objects which we know as ‘belonging’ to time. And through such presencing we find ourselves animated — pulled toward — that casual chain of events. Such a feedback loop with nature has been characterized psychologically as a ‘cognitive flow’ (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) — a process of challenge and resolve. It is with this understanding that we proceed with labor as the economic expression of the conditions for ‘the encounter’ as the venue for truth. A reunion between labor and the very phenomena of our experience promises a redemption of that primordial harmony with nature — that which was separated very early in the development of liberalism — between church and state, or rather, between belief and action. This reunion promises a re-communion with our idols, such that they may once again bless us with their presence.

In as much as this is the case, any prescriptions for nurturing truth requires that we address the conditions for this encounter. And because the encounter (as the venue for truth) is possible anytime and anywhere, we cannot fool ourselves that nurturing truth simply demands ‘venues for truth’ — scheduled meetings with ‘safe rules’. Prescriptions for nurturing truth would be unbelievably naïve if they simply suggested juried townhalls for deliberation such that, at the end, everyone walked away having possession of ‘the truth’. No. Nurturing truth demands that we respect the natural environment in which we find it — that ‘wheeling and dealing’ which manifests through the labor of the project and can be recalled at the most trivial of places — the airport, the coffee shop, or neighbor’s patio barbeque party.

Of course, there is a contrary understanding, popularly held by the progenitors of industrialization — one which is accepted by both employer and employee — that labor is ultimately something which is to be reduced and preferably obliterated. ‘Labor is expensive’, says the employer — and for the employee, labor takes time away from pleasure. He is made to believe he is something of a hedonist — that the natural condition of human existence is pure sensual satisfaction. The hourly worker is paid for his time from such pleasure. Such understanding gives cause for a prophesy — that one day an automatized manufacturing will relieve man from his fetters. This day will constitute some kind of holy day for humanity, and then we can all go on holiday. And yet, standing here in this very moment, in this “time between worlds”, we understand the folly of this understanding. An automatization of labor could mean nothing other than the death of truth.

Now, having come to understand ‘the encounter’ as the venue for truth, a moment which is conditioned by a primordial ‘wheeling and dealing’ with nature — φρoνησις — that which we understand through its economic expression as ‘labor’ — we are prepared to answer the first of our questions posed at the close of the previous article. We are prepared to answer any challengers as to why it must be exactly ‘engagement’ that constitutes our prescriptions for nurturing truth and authenticity. Yet, what remains is the second of our questions — an understanding of ‘the civic’. Φρoνησις is characterized by proximity. And the evidence for such a claim is all around us. The craftsman’s workshop is arranged according to ergonomics. The office workers keys on the keyboard. Even the automated assembly line, devoid of any human whatsoever, is arranged under the schematic of proximity. Proximity is the character of φρoνησις. So, when we talk of a type of engagement, ‘civic’, we are talking of a proximity of engagement.

In thinking on the historical economy of truth in the first half of this article series, there is no hiding the pejorative characteristic of episteme. When we critiqued episteme as a primordial actio, one which seeks to ‘over-stand’ the phenomena of experience, we intimated it as a type of human comportment — that is, a type of φρoνησις. Yet, our distain toward episteme remained obscure. And it will remain so until we have resolved for ourselves a rubric in which to place episteme and any alternative. The previous article announced αληθευειν (alētheuein, ‘to adhere to the unconcealed disclosive in the saying that lets appear’) as such an alternative. An explication of episteme as a type of human comportment, a type of φρoνησις, will prepare us to understand αληθευειν within the rubric of ‘the civic’.

Taking episteme as a type of human comportment, we can come to theme certain approaches toward phenomena as ‘epistemological’. No doubt, we have come to theme the economy of the empire, the imperium (Latin, ‘I command’) as epistemological comportment — including its intellectual expression in the sciences and its political expression in, for example, liberalism. In as much as ‘the epistemological’ is a type of φρoνησις, we can then ask about the proximity of ‘the epistemological’. No doubt, we find an answer to this question in returning to the traditional interpretation of episteme, as ‘knowledge’ or ‘science’. We understand quite simply that knowledge does not include in itself any particular red apple, for example, but instead the description ‘red’ and ‘apple’. Physics, for example, does not include in itself ‘gravity’ but is instead the discipline which contains the atemporal and aspatial description ‘gravity’. Therefore, we can say that the objects of knowledge, of episteme, are universal in character. In as much, the proximity of ‘the epistemological’ is universal. This universality of ‘the epistemological’, as a human comportment, runs up against the real-world proximity of φρoνησις . We take as our evidence for such “running up against” the very symptoms announced at the inception of this work: modernization’s alienation, estrangement, and civic apathy, the products of economic giantism. It is equally evidenced in our distain for the imperium, the ‘I command’.

In as much as the universality of ‘the epistemological’ is at odds with proximity, we should not be surprised that appeals for proximity are often encountered as archaic — and often claims of an anti-intellectualism accompany critiques to the proponents of proximity. No doubt, throughout the story of later modernization we find the conservative spirit as the whistleblower on infringements to the proximity of φρoνησις. Simply consider the challenger to technological progress and homogenization of the human expression following globalization. Yet, this conservativism should not be mistaken as belonging exclusively to the politically Right. After all, a call for proximity can be seen reaching across the political spectrum. Margaret Kohen’s Radical Space, Building the House of the People, for example, offers one of the best examples from the spirit of progress. In that work, Kohen appeals to challenge the “widespread suspicion that a political appeal to place is conservative, essentialist, or anachronistic”. She explicitly champions for “a political approach to community that mobilizes the resources of locality”. And mirroring Bonnitta Roy’s prescriptions, Kohen calls for civic engagement and a political approach which “involves citizens in governing through participation” a governance which “blurs the line between state and civil society”.

Having now explicated the proximity of episteme, we are now prepared for placing αληθευειν in relief. Yet, before we move on, having felt the atomic tremble of conservatism, each for ourselves, we must also admit to an unexpected confession. One which has likely already surfaced in each reader up to this point. We should be not be surprise that platforms like Bernie Sanders ‘socialism’ and Donald Trump’s ‘protectionism’ both lean towards a ‘nationalization’ of human economy. Of course, this parring of opposite character-types under the same banner might be quite jarring. And yet, there should be no doubt that the self-authoring creative human spirit pines after such nationalization on both sides of liberalism’s Left/Right political divide. Inherent in such nationalization is a scoping of proximity. If we wish to nurture truth and authenticity in the emergent human project then we must be prepared to champion for an investment into national economics, even if the longer horizon reveals ‘nation’ and ‘free market’ to be a dichotomy of a past human enterprise.

The perverse extrapolation here is, of course, we can no longer expect that successful social welfare programs will realize by way of a progressive liberal spirit. And if we could ever one day enjoy the utopia promised of Marx’s communist revolution, then it will be by way of the conservative spirit manifest in state capitalism, arising from the ruins of liberalism’s giantism and global ‘free market’. It is today, of course, all but trivial to realize that there can be no socialism without nation. We only need to contrast the confused position of the United States, where an appeal for social welfare has met with resistance, to that of Denmark. It is not accidental that a homogenized and appropriately scaled nation such as Denmark is the icon of social welfare.

Justin Carmien, January 7th, 2020

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