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from Thinking Thoroughly


One of the things I enjoy about Durkheim so far is the way he uses notions of both space and time to analyze society. It is rather ingenious. It does seem like the density and number of nodes on a social network have an effect on the way time is socially experienced across the network, as well as other features of society and how individuals experience society. Put in other terms, Durkheim links network topology (looking at a network as a geometrical object that can experience displacement of its components while preserving certain properties) with social ontology (the social being of the individuals that form the nodes of the given social network). I’d like to expand on this insight, since so far at least Durkheim is not incredibly clear about his reasoning process from quantitative population measures and network size to qualitative differences in solidarity. What he does make clear is the relationship between qualitative differences in solidarity and the sophistication of the division of labor. It is this which makes me not fully buy into Durkheim, and, I think, if I go over why this doesn’t make me buy into it in detail, it may reveal this comes from some of my sympathies for Marx.

So maybe I should think abstractly about social networks for a moment. For example, if you have millions of people you socialize with, each of whom know at least a subset of those who you socialize with, even if its to varying levels, one can say that your social network is “high density.” Perhaps we could measure density in terms of how often network links intersect with each other, and thereby how many times an intersection must happen (wherein the intersection is not yet another individual, and is thus not a node insofar as nodes are specified to be individuals in our analysis here). Or, perhaps, in terms of how many links are likely to radiate from any given node in the network. In any case, a high density network is going to affect each node’s experience of time insofar as each node’s traits remain constant (or, more generally, to the extent that nodes are constrained in their use of resources and their rate of capacity to reproduce themselves before they’re completely spent out of existence). That is to say, a high-density social network would make agents in them experience a higher pace life since it may require them to divide their time, however disproportionately they may do so, and it would also make agents in them experience higher risk in decision-making. Both of these are because:

  1. Each node has to divide their time in a way correlated with the amount of links radiating from them, leading to a loss of integrated social information by which to make decisions, increasing uncertainty about the general reception of their personal/social decisions;
  2. Each given node is more saturated with information that is of personal relevance (whether negative or positive), which means that cultural symbols lose consistency of meaning across groups and the likelihood of miscommunication across social groups is thereby high. Society can here then be said, not only to “speed up” since social formations become more ephemeral/flexible with higher density, but higher density can also put pressure on nodes in the network to the degree that there may be an incentive to meet social status goals more quickly or as quickly as other individuals.

Yet, Durkheim’s interpretation of this breaks down right here. It’s not enough for society to be high-density, in order that it speed up or accelerate. This already presupposes a generalized social status factor that requires a high degree of competition, due to its object being scarce (whether naturally or artificially). This is not a given. An alternate possibility is for high-density networks to incentivize the growth of each individual’s capacity for manipulating abstraction as well as each individual’s capacity for metacognition (or, capacity for entertaining a multiplicity of perspectives/interpretations of behavior).

In the same respect, it could then disincentivize them from relying on fight-or-flight, fear, etc., as sources of problem-solving. This is because the necessity of these skills seem to be latent in the fact that those individuals have to deal with more complex social networking (although, again, this is mediated by status-seeking). Further, Durkheim seems to see this “civilizing” force as, in retrospect, promoting individuation (i.e., increasing the average uniqueness of traits across individuals). But he never asks whether this individuation is on the individual’s own terms; he seems to implicitly think so since his language for describing what happens in this individuation is that society leaves a space open for the development of individual powers. He doesn’t say that society produces that uniqueness. Rather, for Durkheim it seems to be a side-effect of the space left open, to members of society, for independent action. This way of characterizing it may be a bit naive, for if indeed society also tends to speed up or accelerate with this process, it’s not clear where Durkheim’s assumption of agency comes in. Is it not the case that agency may be decreased given a loss of huge amounts of integrated social information available to the individual?

Even Durkheim’s point about specialization and the division of labor may not be straight-forward if its justified only on the basis of properties of the network. To illustrate: The other property of the network we can look at in terms of space is the number of nodes in the network. It seems obvious that, since any given level of density in a social network is also constrained by the quantity of nodes/agents in the network, a high number of nodes/agents in society is necessary but not sufficient for high network density. What, then, is the more direct impact of a high population of societal members on that same society, if it’s not necessarily high network density? Well, with higher population, a higher range of differentiation is possible simply because there is a higher number of possible permutations that may act as variables related to particular traits that may be manifest in individuals, and because there is a higher variability of possible distribution of individuals in that society across a whole geography. Higher population, then, is likely to increase diversity.

However, here’s where Durkheim’s optimism falls apart a bit: Durkheim interprets this diversity to mean specialization. The previous point I mentioned shows this to be a non-sequitor, as the skills that a high-density network can promote may allow for incredible ease at multi-tasking, integrated application of different skills as a single person, and an over-all improvement of performance across various domains. While the level of skill or performance in some things would still be higher than others, other skills and performance can nonetheless be high enough that tasks requiring them do not have to be outsourced to other labor so that the given project undertaken is successful. The relevant variable being what “successful” is, but it will involve an average understanding of success by that society that may not need to absolutely emphasize productivity (output per unit time, in money or product) or efficiency (trimming of labor extraneous to the basic expected average use of the product).

Even if we grant that the domain-general skills a high-density socially networked society demands of individuals need not prevent specialization even if may make it less necessary in more general terms, there’s another issue with Durkheim’s assumption that diversity means specialization: he lumps, or conflates, all division of labor as essentially the same. This makes his parallel between the development of mechanical solidarity into organic solidarity, and the development of low specialization to high specialization, quite suspect, even if we take it to be a logical/ontological claim (a claim about one thing’s logical dependence on another, or one thing’s dependence on another for its existence) rather than a historical claim (a claim about what came first in a temporal order, in actual fact). How is it suspect?

Well, given what has been said so far, it seems reasonable to say that mechanical solidarity can hold, internally, a high degree of specialization if it is extremely strict, as all mechanical solidarity requires is that individuals in the society be highly integrated into performing a single function at the societal scale. We see this in some ants. What it can’t incorporate is a flexible and highly dynamic allocation of individuals into particular divisions of labor. Organic solidarity, on the other hand, could probably internally hold both sorts of division of labor. In fact, we see this in how some societies are constituted by some rather essential social conflict due to the disproportionate significance given to certain divisions of labor, or in how the production of a division of labor may be largely related to culturally specified roles more than they are necessary to the material provision or production of goods in more general terms (this role having material necessity only to the extent such a contingency itself affects the politics of distribution of wealth and of the distribution of the returns on production). On the other hand, if we see history in terms of forces of production, as Marx does, we can see how this “cultural contingency” is not entirely a contingency, but a matter of the relative development of the forces of production from one point in history to another given both scarcity and the inextricability of consumption from the development of unified culture out of inconsistent norms and values.


from Thinking Thoroughly

So I gave this article on some more recent discoveries in IQ and genetics a read.

Some of those genes which correlate not only with IQ but social success at the same time, may not actually be contributing directly to IQ but to capacity for acquiring or building those environments relevant to IQ gains (which can involve environmental factors as an individual’s traits can affect society’s receptivity and vice versa). Note, by directly contribute I mean that it enhances the phenotype, all other conditions at the genetic level being equal, and by indirectly I mean that it enhances the phenotype based on its ability to precisely break or leverage initial environmental conditions (and thus irrespective of genetic or environmental heterogeneity). In any case, genes that contribute directly can get muddled up with traits that contribute indirectly, which is where the danger comes as the latter type of trait’s contribution is mediated by social status. I also suspect that the more complex the phenotype, the more that phenotype just tracks correlates produced by patterns in social selection. This is important to emphasize due to the fact that scientific racists rely on the strict dichotomy between the social and biological world.

Paradoxically, not selecting some adverse genes might—depending on which they are—in the long-term further entrench social, and thereby ecological, ills the more fit the aggregate of the populace is in its own unecological & antisocial social structures and institutions. People who lack reproductive success, who in aggregate have lower rates of survival due to social vulnerability/negligence/violence, or who have trouble accessing social environments that enhance potential survival outcome perform a positive long-term function in interdependent societies by supplying short-term potential negative feedback to population-scale coordination, incentivizing the society as a whole to develop either more efficient or more rewarding forms of coordination. It would seem any contemporary eugenicists out there might feel threatened and would rather not acknowledge any positive function for mutations or “unsuccessful” or “low-achievement” genes. This would seem to make political sense since eugenicists—having historical roots in scientific racism and misogyny as well as sympathies with fascist concerns—would hate if the society they benefit from were pressured to improve.

The lazy way out preferred by them would be to edit all undesired genes out so that they can continue to justify their incompetence, though as ecological destruction accelerates nature will indeed have the last laugh. When there's a demographic that normies (literally normies—those who are nearer the center of the bell curve for things) find undesirable, even sub-/un- consciously, the two options are to adapt social conditions to make room for that desire or those people, or to continue to reject their existence as desirous beings themselves (the modern racists & modern eugenicists seemingly favoring the latter by default). Which option should be taken likely varies situationally on a cost/benefit basis, but most of the time, for reasons I will not digress into, nature is suboptimal, so I can expect people often err on that analysis even if we tend to do well enough on that analysis to make it through as a species on average (a rather low bar for a species that would see itself as intelligent and trifles over stupid things like IQ scores). In any case, any “hard scientist” in these areas should be looking into sociological theory (functionalism, “conflict theory,” and symbolic-interactionism) and its sub-disciplines of sociology of knowledge and sociology of deviance. This is why science these days requires a greater synthesis across disciplines, not snide interdepartmental condescension.

Here’s a key and interesting quote from the article, which to me resonates with the idea that we need a functional biology and more biosemiotics. So far my impression is that the interaction between social and biological phenomena can only be analyzed if biological phenomena are treated as wholes with functional excesses that are constrained and honed in by and through social behavior, and if the selection of such functions is seen to involve the relatively short-term, error-prone, heuristic processing of group information or interpretation of signs by individual organisms:

[…] Stanford University geneticist Jonathan Pritchard and his colleagues argue that complex traits aren’t polygenic, or influenced by multiple genes, as geneticists have long assumed. No, Pritchard argues: They’re omnigenic, or influenced by every gene.

In essence, the omnigenic hypothesis posits that the networks regulating genes are so interconnected that any gene expressed in a given tissue is going to have some impact, no matter how infinitesimal, on the function of that tissue. What’s more, the genes likely aren’t neatly arranged in discrete clusters, as behavioral geneticists have hoped.


from Thinking Thoroughly


Joule was faced with the dichotomy: heat is either a substance or a kind of motion. From the experiments which were performed with the magneto-electric machine, he inferred that heat must be a kind of motion, since it could be created or destroyed through motion. Since heat is motion, the experiments were interpreted as conversion from mechanical motion into another kind of motion or vice versa. The conversion factor is called mechanical equivalent of heat. The interpretation of the paddle-wheel experiments is analogous. He defended that friction consisted in the conversion of mechanical power into heat. This statement was not published in accordance with the wish of the Committee to whom the paper was referred (Joule 1884, p. 328).


Energy is usually presented in the following way: ‘energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only transformed’. If energy cannot be destroyed, it must be a real existing thing. If its form changes, it must be something real as well. Thus, that statement can easily lead to the concept of energy as something material. The German physician Robert Mayer did not find, however, anything like a substance but rather a methodology for dealing with phenomena. Using observable or measurable elements, he established equivalences between different domains, such as those which concern heat, motion, position or electricity. Let us suppose that we use Mayer’s methodology for dealing with phenomena. In this case, we know in advance that an equivalence is established by us between certain quantities. Hence, we do not need the ‘indestructibility’ of an entity to express that the quantity does not change. As we also know that we establish equivalences between mechanical, thermal, electrical quantities, we do not need to suppose the ‘transformability’ of the same entity.

The above excerpt about energy sounds a lot like Marx's concept of value to me, especially since he analogizes it to weight in Capital, vol. I. After all, value also acts almost as a mere conserved quantity in the context of exchange—the main difference being that value can be “created” and “destroyed” because its also tied to an exclusive domain of activity, i.e. some “transformations” are either irrelevant to the particular world in question in which entities act—due to differentiated fitness landscapes or the presupposition of a given, particular input—or act to antagonize that particularistic world—e.g., waste, death (violence more generally according to Bataille). This also makes it easy to incorporate Bataille's insights on the connection between life and death through his scheme of continuity v. discontinuity (synthesizing Bataille's concept of excess with Marxian economics’ concept of surplus).

In addition, this may have connections to the concept of abstraction as understood in software engineering and programming language development since exchange-value does not just refer to exchanges in the sense of transformations, but exchanges as a consequence of a sort of particularized abstraction (represented by Marx's theory of commodity-money). If it were just a matter of exchanges in general, then treating the economy (understood in terms of value) separately from the ecosystem (understood in terms of energy) to any degree would be a mistake (I don't think it is though, despite obvious continuities between value and energy). That it isn’t a mistake to do so is especially so when one considers that information conservation is at odds with the thermodynamic tendencies of closed systems (more generally, at odds with highly efficient thermic systems), as well as when one considers how economies are in some ways cognitive systems (an insight we get from Hayek), as are the living actors or agents particular economies depend on. Here becomes visible a potential notion of teleology that is already mired with conflict from the start—a sort of conflict involving possibilities.

Needless to be said that conceptualizing energy in terms of motion rather than as substance also means one can't just treat all energy uses as equivalent in that they refer to the “same sort of thing,” as if there were no opportunity costs for specific “effects” of “motion” (thereby as if “energy harnessing” involves the containment and local conservation of some specific scarce “stuff,” and as if energy is indifferent to the type of “harnessing” it undergoes). This take also creates a distinction between matter and energy. This distinction doesn't necessarily contradict Einsteinian equivalencies, but just implies that this equivalency need not suggest identity (am reminded of Heidegger's critique of reducing identity to a mathematical discourse of equality). This distinction also allows us to think energy outside of the properties established by substance theories. Energy seems precisely to be about the relationship between a whole and its parts (e.g., the conserved quantity being the speculative whole that acts as the denominator to plural entities), and formal/structural possibility sets. This may present some issues for strict mechanism, and would also then possibly link the problematic notion of energy to the problem of non-locality in quantum physics.


from Thinking Thoroughly

In reaction to the following question posed:

Suppose I have a 1st order desire A; a 2nd order desire B which is to not have desire A; and a desire C which is to not have conflicting desires. Is C a 1st order, 2nd order or 3rd order desire?

It can be achieved by changing desire A to conform with B (and if I wanted exactly that then it would have been a 2nd order desire) or by changing desire B to conform with A (and if I wanted exactly that then it would have been a 3rd order desire), but what if I don't have any preference as to how to achieve C?

When one speaks of “orders” of desire, it is likely one is looking at the issue propositionally, as the idea of “orders” is a logical one, hence one that applies to propositions. Namely: (1) “I desire 𝓍,” (2) “I desire that it not be the case [I desire 𝓍],” etc. In which case, if there is some desire for the consistency amongst desires, such that one can conceive of the desire as higher-order, such that it becomes “I desire that it not be the case that [I desire that it not be the case [I desire 𝓍]],” what occurs is merely further inconsistency in evaluating the truth or falsehood of any particular proposition about desire, as stating a desire does not seem to mean simply stating a factual state of affairs, but stating something about a factual relation to some event or object that may well be non-factual—and if one were intent on further solving for that evaluative undecidability (that, in a determinate form, would result in inconsistency) by searching for some foundational desire, one gets into an infinite regress insofar as the number of possible orders of desire are indeterminate. And in any case, if that foundation were found or the regress arbitrarily limited, it would deviate from our actual diversifying, everyday, concrete desires. Yet if that arbitrary limit is not reflective of the nature of simple desire as such, such that the limit is actually a priori given as “I desire or do not desire X” (i.e., a point of indecision rather than a real limit), it is possible that such an arbitrary limit itself remains the consequence of at least some second-order desire, such that desires are at least limited up to the second order for purposes of description (that is, in order to be put them in propositional form).

But in the case of the second-order limit, one assumes a contingent decision has to have already been made, and, insofar as the possible choices are constrained in their occurrence according to at least this factor of desire (the factor we are isolating here, the second-order desire), that means the arbitrary limit can only be “justified” or caused precisely if a regress were to have been presupposed prior to decision-making. Proposing an arbitrary limit or foundation for the sake of allowing assessment of the truth-value of desire-propositions, or being able to make propositions about desire, would at the same time mean excluding the issue of decision-making which is either a condition of possibility for desire or an outcome of desire. This means the regress problem applies not only in the case of negative desires¹ that are more than or equal to the second order of propositions, but to positive desires² at any order as well. But this looks like an infinite regress merely from one perspective—if the several orders of desire are herein being treated as a hierarchy, then there is no reason to assume there's any bidirectional relationship among the different positive or negative desires occurring in this context.

All these objections would ultimately come down to the desire for consistency or inconsistency being located outside of the given orders of desire, in the same sense that in a formal system there will ultimately be a presented undecidability between consistency and inconsistency when striving for soundness. Yet it's not even all that clear there really is a consistency problem in this case despite the analogical structure between orders of desire and orders of justification—the objects of the proposition “I desire that it not be the case that [I desire 𝓍]” and “I desire 𝓍,” or “I desire that it be the case that [I desire 𝓍]” and “I desire ¬𝓍”³ are different—only one of the orders in the second-order/first-order pairs provided here is about 𝓍. The idea that there is an inconsistency presupposes that desiring that it not be the case one desire 𝓍 entails something about what happens to 𝓍 as much as the desire for 𝓍 does. That is, it implies that all desires with the same “nested” object are functionally equivalent, i.e. all bare some consequence on the nested object.

To the contrary—the former second-order desire regards a desire and not the object of that same desire, to that effect producing or suggesting paths of action that would differ radically from a simple negative desire towards 𝓍. In other words, one is presupposing a set of conditionals of the sort: (1a) “If there is an 𝓃th-order positive desire nesting 𝓍, then 𝓍 will/shall be the case,” (1b) “If there is an 𝓃th-order negative desire nesting 𝓍, then ¬𝓍 will/shall be the case.” If these conditionals are rejected, there is no inconsistency to solve, and so there is no desire for consistency or inconsistency of desires possibly implicated. That is, the perceived inconsistency, circularity, or regress comes from too straight-forward a view of the relationship between desire and action/decision-making, and thereby too naive an assumption that statements about desire have the same consistency requirements as statements about the world. Desires are rarely, in other words, merely intended towards objects, but implicitly already involve possibilities of action and approach given a combined state of objective and subjective affairs. The regress of orders of desire is an illusory effect of the fact that desire both produces and is produced by this state of affairs. The problem across the orders of desire isn't so much one of inconsistency or regress as of practical action: its indeterminate what will be the case, or what will be desired in the future and, consequently, what can and should be desired now—it is here that the conflict plays out. This is why desires are nonetheless experienced as conflicting—desire is unitary and singular as a vague generality without a determinate object, but it splinters into agonistic pieces when active reality breaks through the intertia of subjective affect. The additional implication here is that it is impossible to know what one desires except post-facto.


In some sense, too, desires do not just appear to conflict, but desires actually do conflict at that point at which “active reality breaks through the inertia of subjective affect”—it's just that this conflict cannot be characterized in logical terms. This moment of breakthrough is whence a set of universal practical dilemmas: scale v. span/scope of decisions (long-term v. short-term, local v. global effects), as well as opposite directionality of effect internal to action itself (anticipation v. production of some outcome, preparation v. follow-through of some process) that produces imperfect information. Imperfect information regarding the erotic or desirous content of future experience, and its relationship to affect at the finalization of an action. Imperfect also in the fact that holding any particular thing as an object of desire automatically segregates it, at a cognitive level, from other phenomena that nonetheless constitutes or captures that object while likely affecting the production or capacity of desire as well. So the real question is how one's desire or lack of desire for 𝓍 relates to both 𝓍’s and the desire’s own conditions of possibility. In turn, the question also becomes how these conditions of possibility affect how the relationships among (positive) desires are to be evaluated or how the relationship between a (positive) desire and itself is to be evaluated, insofar as any given (positive) desire could lead to a network of (negative or) opposing desires given the latent potentials of the object of (positive) desire.

The relevant desire is then not of consistency of desire, but of the consistency among actions in upholding the possibility of the fulfillment of any given action—that is, the integrity of action. Integrity is often described as honesty with oneself regarding one's own moral principles and how one's acts fit within those principles—but this is rather an epiphenomena of actual integrity, as inconsistency between cognition/conation and action is the bread and butter of all passionate action. Given the practical contradictions aforementioned, it would be unreasonable to always expect people to “do as they say.” That is to say, integrity in this case does not indicate a lack of hypocrisy—if hypocrisy is treated broadly as any observed contradiction in one's actions (the quintessential being a contradiction between what one declares belief in and what one does). Rather, integrity is a stance towards consistency in relation to the conditions of existence for the desired object and the capacity to affect that object, as well as a stance towards those conditions necessary to reasonable reproduction of that desire. Desirous or erotic action therefore inherently involves a working through the inconsistencies of practical life, which will mean starting from these inconsistencies as bias and moving towards some attempt at greater consistency. It also otherwise comfort existing between temporal antinomies (past v. future), which is the same as to say comfort with acting in the present.

The “orders of desire” are really a helpful but limited gimmick when it comes to describing this—the “orders” really just have different objects of desire that reflect a dialectical movement in the development of desire. Going back to our conditionals, they would more accurately be: (2a) “if there is an 𝓃th-order positive desire regarding 𝓍, then 𝓃-𝟏st-order positive desire regarding 𝓍 will be the case and 𝓃-𝟏st-order negative desire regarding ¬𝓍 will/shall be the case” which is practically the same as to say “if there is a positive desire regarding 𝓍, then 𝓍 will/shall be the case”; and (2b), being an inversion of the former as far as the positivity/negativity of 𝓍 and of the 𝓃th- or 𝓃-𝟏st-order desires. In other words, we can already see that there is a kind of churning wheel of negation that constitutes the orders of desire. Perhaps the problem then is that we are assuming a propositional nature for desires, and thus that desires about desires are “second order” in a propositional sense. Instead, it may well be that desires have a metaphysical contingency to them, but nonetheless a sort of subsequent logic (dialectical rather than propositional) that makes desire look like a pseudo-coherentist affair.

Yet, supposing we wish to maintain the propositional form, perhaps modal propositions need to be introduced. Suppose that propositions about desire equal to or beyond the second order are actually different in form in a sort of patterned way: e.g., rather than a second-order desire taking the form, “I desire that it not be the case that [I desire 𝓍],” it would be more-so “I desire that it be possible that [I desire 𝓍]” or “I desire that it necessarily be the case that [I desire 𝓍].” In this case the situation becomes far more interesting—one could argue that the language of necessity or possibility renders even propositional inconsistency a non-issue and thus erases it as a possible erotic/desirous concern.

Either of the solutions presented here (which are not necessarily mutually exclusive) would render locating a “desire for consistency or inconsistency” a non-problem. The result, of course (if we're using “desire” as the basis of, or a significant complicating factor in, our ethics or axiology), is a sort of value pluralism—but the role of practical and material conditions (and their various levels/scales) can constrain or expand its scope, such that some value dilemmas indeed are rationally decidable and are thus non-arbitrary despite the intrinsic contingency of desire. That is to say, under an ethics developed from the point of view of desire, traditional kinds of moral rationalism would be scrapped. A new moral rationalism that accepts the indeterminacy and contingency of the ends of action would be birthed, whose concern would be internal instrumental consistency within action and among actions at any given scale. Preference of how to achieve 𝒞 (as specified in the question) may be a matter of indifference to desiring subjects, but what was just explained suggests that the preservation, expansion, degradation or constraining of possibility is itself going to have ethical/axiological implications that slips past any sort of ethical consequentialism. Ethical consequentialism would play a role, but would be perceived as a severely limited approach due to its negligence of internal instrumental consistency. Neglecting such comes at a high cost in ethics, because it makes it more difficult to find a link between personal and sociopolitical morality, and makes it less likely that ethical teaching could have any observably positive effect on social life. In this regard, an ethics informed by desire as it is conceived in this post could be called a kind of “ethical structuralism” insofar as conditions of possibility are an object of concern for all desires and all action, even if the connection is not immediately apparent for subjects (hence the possible indifference to the means of achieving 𝒞).

  1. Negative desires are desires not to do something.
  2. Positive desires are desires to do something.
  3. While this was left out as being a tangential concern, it is certainly possible that there is a material difference between “I do not desire 𝓍” and “I desire ¬𝓍”—that is, between a negation of desire and desire for the negative of some object. For example, if I say I do not desire coffee right now, this is to say that this object is uninvolved in any of my desires. Not only do I not desire coffee, but I consequently do not desire not coffee. That is, in the sense that one could not conclude that I desire everything or anything else. On the other hand, if I say I desire not coffee, I am indeed saying I desire everything or anything but coffee. Perhaps this is why the grammatical convention in natural language use is to negate the verb or adverb, or implicitly negate the copula.

from Thinking Thoroughly

This may or may not end up being a sort of preliminary comparative analysis of Bataille and Kant's respective takes on universality, as opposed to something more thorough. After all, it may seem as if Bataille doesn't say too much regarding universality—at least not explicitly. Of course, this is not really true insofar as Bataille develops normativity in terms of universality—namely, at the very beginnings of Erotism: Death & Sensuality, Bataille precisely develops the case for the culturally universal presence of the taboo despite empirically documented violations of these very taboos.

Bataille and Kant on the Problem of Cultural Universality

The Investigation of Cultural Universals

After all, it would seem that no matter what norms are considered as “culturally universal”—key rites of passage for example—these norms can always turn up an exception. Easiest to observe is the fact that supposed norms against murder and incest are asserted as present irrespective of the aggregate level at which these very behaviors or relationships are partaken in, in a community. In other words, the sociologist and the anthropologist, when making claims about the presence of cultural universals, immediately confront the difficulty of scientifically bringing into account such universality. Measuring the presence of a norm seems to be impeded by the fact that norms themselves are internally comprised of the contradictions within individual subjects' idealization of the social functioning of the given society—this idealization extant insofar as the society itself is seen as actually endorsing its own professed aspirations, despite observed dynamics of behavior in that society. To be able to measure, then, the presence of norms in a society is at the same time to necessarily presuppose precisely that more hidden relation between what is professed and what is not done, for otherwise there would seem to be an impossibility of the very idea of a cultural universal.

Nonetheless, with this presupposition, the very objectivity of that cultural universality would seem to empty itself into a subjective generalization made in defense of the cohesion necessary for social function. That is, the norms immediately turn into the empty rituals of institutional mechanisms of enforcement at the same time that the norms achieve only a subjective reality. For this very reason, the anthropologist and sociologist who see themselves as reasonable and empirical sacrifice the initial objective search for cultural universals, in order to initiate the objective search of institutional dynamics instead, reflective of an emphasis on exogenous normative enforcement. The institution, in this case, is the universal, or the cultural universal. But this is merely a sly act of moving the goalpost, for an institution is precisely predicated on the lack of universality—that is to say, its internal structure and function leeches off cultural particularities so that it may persist. This temporal persistence evidences a kind of universality, but it's not a universality of culture—it's a universality of both the technical and the social. It is also only a contingent universality, as not all institutions survive the test of time, and not all of them arose in some perennial fashion. In this way, any generalizability and thereby universality of an institution itself already rests on the aforementioned presupposition immanently operative within the given culture itself.

Kant and Bataille's Respective Solutions

How, then, does one make an objective case for cultural universality? By abandoning this very project of empirical objectivity. Here is where Kant and Bataille seem to have some agreement. When expounding on universality, in this case of culture (or a sort of descriptive ethics), there must be a formalistic approach—it cannot be merely empirical. Where Kant and Bataille would nonetheless disagree is that the former thinks this involves an objective process independent of empirical content or a normative process of confirmation built into the relevant propositions about culture (which renders it a priori while nonetheless synthetic), while the latter thinks the investigation of the form of culture or the community involves precisely an investigation into the structures of objective, external facts and observations to see what they say about subjectivity. Kant, in other words, sees the problem in terms of the conditions of possibility for thinking culture and community which one cannot get behind and which transcend all experience of culture and community, while Bataille sees this problem in terms of the possibility for culture and community evident in the structure produced and enacted by cultural and communal participants, and which constitute their external objective being. In other words, there is a methodical difference. Bataille, then, retreats precisely into the structure of the subjectivity which grounds the relations among the objective facts observed in culture, rather than to the objective features necessary to a subjective, epistemic access to culture and community (e.g., the properties of thoughts or propositions regarding some object—for example, culture or community—which render them intelligible and truth-functional). The result of Kant's method would be close to mere definition (whether analytic or synthetic), while the result of Bataille's method would be an exposition of the dynamics inherent to the production of culture. Bataille, in this sense, is more in line with Hegelianism (and Heideggerianism) than Kantianism, although he still breaks from all of these thinkers in that both Hegel and Heidegger still posit their own version of a transcendent (respectively, the teleological terminus or the ontological difference/gap).

To be fair, of course, Heidegger and Hegel's respective “transcendents” are a lot more ambiguous than Kant's insofar as they precisely either violate the dichotomies Kant constructs, or otherwise posit a functional binary that, in being ontological rather than epistemic, obliterates the problem of realism and epistemic access (or at the least, their relevance). Of course, it also may be somewhat unfair to depict Kant as blind to the subjectively enacted structure necessary to community. After all, insofar as his social/political philosophy, Kant seems to have an awareness of the impossibility of perfectly following the categorical imperative—particularly in public life—and seems to understand rather implicitly, as in his philosophy of religion, that there is a sort of assent to the community as such (the commitment to the existence of the community as a prerequisite to its flourishing) which is requisite for being bound to morality. In Kant's case, this community is idealized as religion, and the metaphysical notions within a religion are precisely of a practical import to the creation and sustenance of the community. That is to say, individual caprice can be subject to the ideal of duty-for-its-own-sake most optimally only when a means of rational discourse and deliberation is present, and this is present only when the notion of existent community is assented to without need of proof (when the idea that the most perfect and rational being exists is assented to as a matter of faith). This is why Kant's concept of faith plays an important role in his epistemology—without it, there would be a disunity between his epistemology and normative ethics. It's also a way of resolving the tension between Kant's notion of personal duty and the practical realization of the kingdom of ends in the public arena. For Kant, faith therefore doubles as social trust and assent without proof.

But this merely brings us back to the original problem. Rather than synthesize it, Kant's approach sustains the contradiction by consent to an illusion: the community or culture (or God) exists by means of its lack of existence. This may of course not be surprising given Kant thinks there are limits to reason (exemplified in his exposition of the antinomies of pure reason). Nonetheless its worth noting the inadequate attempt at tying the knot back together. The subjective provision for the objective lack of community/culture/God (via faith in the lack of this lack of community/culture/God) is done as a matter of moral necessity. Is it not clear in that case that, in the context of trying to resolve the problem of (descriptive) cultural universals, Kant would merely lapse back into the methodically confused investigation of the sociologists and anthropologists as previously explained? With practical reason, the divisions of a priori v. a posteriori, and synthetic v. analytic judgment break down. Given Kant's approach to morality, this breakdown is made invisible by the treatment of ethical claims as a priori synthetic claims insofar as they rely on a metaphysics—but the result of such a notion is precisely that ethical claims fail to fulfill their function, even by Kant's own standards, without faith deployed in metaphysics, which disregards the requirements of a priori synthetic (or scientific) claims.

This outcome, of course, does not so much prove Kant entirely wrong as it much more proves the limitations of his framing—namely, his understanding of universality. Of course, one can argue that Kant's notion of a priori synthetic truth precisely suggests some unity of normativity and evidentiality or justification that may be compatible with his notion of faith, as in that case propositional meaning and method of confirmation are in unity. This is simply not the case, however, as his notion of faith is precisely not about a provision of evidence or justification—it is disconnected from this epistemic concern, precisely so a priori synthetic claims have full force. Notice the structure of what occurs here: practical reason, which relies on a grounding scientific logic, must take an exception to its own grounding so that its pragmatic aspect remain intact. In other words, in parallel fashion Kant has landed back to moving the goalpost from the issue of normativity (the existence of descriptive cultural universals) to that of institutional dynamics (the action/reaction patterns of social actors and the role of institutional trust). Indeed, one is immediately reminded of the structure of Bataille's notion of the taboo (universality which subsumes its own exception).

For Bataille, the universal is not so much found in its global applicability as precisely in its particularity—it has a precise and particular relationship to the possibilities of experience as a whole, and this whole is not exhausted in it but, rather, must always pass through it. This universality is a universality of passage rather than a universality of ends. Thus, in Bataille's case the particular character of the exceptions to an otherwise universal is itself supremely important to whether the universal is indeed actually absent or obliterated. I.e., the passage may be the universal, but the beginning and the end of a passage have a diversity of relationships just as they do diverse relations with the passage. Yet in all cases the passage functions as some sort of condition for them. When one mentions the exceptions to a cultural universal it is necessary to look at the character of these exceptions to see if they precisely constitute that universality, or if they indeed contradict it. Contradicting a universal would mean to obliterate the passage, rather than to exit it by its blessings. In other words, the question is: is the purported exception necessary to that universality? How is it possible to discern this?

Bataille isn't clear, but throughout Erotism: Death & Sensuality there's a sentiment that any exception which finds its necessity in the universal or whose practice must be rationalized through the constraints of the universal is constitutive of that very universal. For example, when Bataille discusses the taboo on violence, this taboo is for him culturally universal, despite the fact that violence nonetheless exists in various cultures. But this violence nonetheless occurs always from the standpoint of this prohibition of violence—either the violence infects those who, in its enthrallment, are both threatened and aroused into their own explosion of violence for the sake of snuffing out the violence confronted and effectively stopping it in its tracks—even if at the danger of succumbing entirely to this very violence—or the violence is given a habitual and regulated procedure of enactment such that it must incorporate an antithetic movement towards the affirmation of the scandalous nature of that violence. Consequently, cultures are equally fascinated and disturbed by violence in particular ways precisely because it is universally prohibited. In sum, for Bataille, the universal could be seen as merely a particularity privileged as the frame of reference through which its negated contrasting possibility is structured. E.g., “non-violence” is privileged as the frame of reference through which the real and undeniable possibility of violence is engaged and made intelligible.

Evaluation of Kantian v. Bataillian Approaches to Universality


Universality in the Categorical Imperative

Admittedly, Kant's discussion of the universality of normative ethics is being treated as transferable to a discussion of descriptive ethics (or, cultural universals), while Bataille's discussion of descriptive ethics (or, cultural universals) is being treated as transferable to a discussion of normative ethics. But in fact, insofar as the implications of the thesis of universalism is extremely similar whether applied in normative or descriptive ethics, I believe I am justified in making this seemingly asymmetric comparison/contrast. There is nonetheless a difference between normative and descriptive ethics, but this is precisely where the implications of, say, Bataille's views become interesting as they cross-pollinate with concerns in normative ethics, especially in the context of Kant. Famously, Kant's categorical imperative legislates the moral law on the basis of internal conceptual coherence of act in an imperative, provided its own conditions of effective possibility. That is to say, in the example of whether one should lie when a murderer is asking about the location of his victim, the condition for the effective possibility of telling a lie is that there is some standard of honesty as a frame of reference by which the lie can be made. But if one suppose everybody lied all the time, lying would be inherently impossible. Hence, it fails the test, and lying is no longer a moral option.

Relation between the Categorical and Hypothetical Imperative

While Kant disassociates this categorical imperative from the hypothetical imperative, given that its supposed to be unconditional, it is possible to analyze the categorical imperative in terms of the hypothetical imperative. After all, despite Kant's banishment of the passions as arbitrary sources of moral decision-making, it is necessary that Kant extract his purely rational ethical formalism through abstracting from these desires and passions, thereby entering into the cognitive mode of discourse by which rational deliberation is made upon desire, yet in spite of desire. But essentially what this means is simply to isolate reason from the material accidents which spur such passions and desires, and thereby to dilute any empirical content (the observation of the fact that we “feel” like doing something or “enjoy” doing it or otherwise) as source of justification for our actions from rational deliberation. This is so even if the undertaking of action must, after this, still find itself under the forces of the experiential world and confront them.

Hence, in the context of the hypothetical imperative, what Kant is essentially doing is subtracting the accidental character of the antecedent: “If I want eggnog, then I must go and buy it at the liquor store.” While there may be reason, material or otherwise, to mentally associate the given content of the consequent with the antecedent, the antecedent, despite its lack of dependence in this context (wherein it stands as independent variable in the conditional), is largely accidental. For the subject need not want eggnog. It could aim for any sort of thing. So, what Kant is trying to do is make this un-accidental by reducing the antecedent to its formal nature, susceptible to purely rational deliberation: “If I want X, then I must go and buy it at the liquor store.” While “want” gives a sense of passion and desire, it could be seen as a trivial expression for “aim”: “If I aim for X, then I must go and buy it at the liquor store.” The subject here has a variable aim whose value is, if analyzed simply in terms of the possibility of what may be aimed for, rationally discernible in terms of the weighing of logical possibilities.

The logical possibilities are already delimited by Kant's own valuation of the subject as, via rationality, a self-controlled and self-legislating, and thereby free, subject. They are also delimited precisely by the distillation given in his exposition of the forms of knowledge: this aim must be both a priori and universal. Indeed, also synthetic insofar as this aim is not already thought in any of these particular aims, even in combination. They may or may not be contradictory at any given time, but this would not tell us much about their decidability as this contradiction does not conceptually derive from these aims but is also contingent. Nonetheless, contradiction is another thing to avoid for a rationalist ethics, but what contradictions matter? Those that derive from application: practical rather than theoretical contradictions. Already, there is an attempted unification of universality with applicability—the practical expression of universality. The universal applicability of what, then? Of some action, as an action sums up an aim in its generality. If there is a contradictory result due to the universal application of that action undermining its very conditions of possibility, then it is categorically prohibited (it contributes to a negative maxim). That, in sum, is how the categorical imperative works to allow for universal maxims.

In this way, the given aim—the categorical imperative, or its allowable maxims, or their contrapositives—can be inserted for any other aim into the hypothetical imperative, albeit consequently disbanding a subset of possible aims by also covertly restricting the consequent. In fact, the consequent is largely irrelevant except in this act of restraint on possible ends. Notice that the consequent takes the role of a means by which the antecedent is achieved, and likewise acts as the causal/logical outcome of the antecedent. In other words, the means by which one abides by the maxims allowed for by the categorical imperative (as well as more unsurprisingly, the material consequences) are irrelevant. The means, through their irrelevance, are an indirect way through which to restrict achievement of the aims to those means which precisely abide by the aims, for their sake. The relationship between the means and the aim here seems reciprocal initially, but they are not—the means is subordinated to the end, not in the sense that any means will do provided the end but that any means will do provided it is consistent with the kingdom of ends (which means a lot of both means and possible ends are off the table).

They are asymmetric simply because of the very functional difference between the antecedent and consequent clause of a conditional: in completely abstracting and formalizing the antecedent, what is being done is a movement whereby the consequent, whose conceivable content is dependent on the content of the antecedent, plays no content-based role in relation to the antecedent yet remains formally restricted by that antecedent. The loss of the consequent's material-practical meaningfulness leads to action being disconnected from both those conditions necessary to act (means) and those effects or ends which may or may not affect the presence of such necessary conditions (of such means). That is, in privileging and prioritizing rationality, Kant subtracts those concrete conditions and constituents of basic agency. While he attaches those concrete conditions and constituents back post-facto, they have been so abstracted in the service of rationality that it comes at the cost of the exercise of actual, concrete agency as well as at the cost of practical plausibility. The issue, then, is that the categorical imperative restricts the moral possibilities far more than is rationally necessary (e.g., the categorical imperative would seem to restrict a person from killing another person trying to kill them¹), but also does the opposite in opening the possible moral maxims far more than is rationally necessary (e.g., the categorical imperative cannot decide between a maxim of self-defense v. that of pacifism—even as it restricts a person from killing another person trying to kill them, which is too particular to generalize into a restriction on self-defense!).


Issues with the Categorical Imperative

First, in applying a criterion of coherently, logically possible universal applicability to the aim or end alone, it assumes that the resultant incoherence of a universal case is somehow transferable to the actual particular case such that a value judgment can follow directly from it. In sum, it assumes that value judgments are transferable across universal and particular cases. There is simply no reason to assume this even with Kant's rationalist approach. Notice that in explaining Kant's categorical imperative and the reasoning behind it, at no point is the connection made between abstract maxims derived from a hypothetical case of universalization, and the world of causality and concrete determination. Even if we treat autonomous actors as ends-in-themselves, this does not mean non-universalizeable actions violate this treatment given that non-universalizeable actions can in fact protect the necessary conditions for other people's exercise of their autonomy (such as, say, personally choosing or allowing someone else to choose to have homosexual sex instead of heterosexual sex²), or may involve a dilemma in which two actor's autonomies' are mutually exclusive.

The perfect [Kantian] example of the latter is whether one should lie to a killer about the whereabouts of their victim—Kant says one shouldn't lie, but clearly the victim would then lack treatment as an end-in-themselves, making one's lying or not lying effectively a trade between violations of the categorical imperative. Of course, Kant's abstracted notion of moral agency allows it so that this can be true, but nonetheless not affect the morality of our action let alone our blameworthiness. Yet this abstracted notion of moral agency is problematic precisely because it deflates blameworthiness to the moral value of one's action. There is a strong disconnect, in other words, between Kant's notion of free will (will formed by rational reflection, which anchors the morality of action) and “will” as an object of causal necessity (the will as something one can be more or less responsible for given degree of personal contribution and how this is to be meted out given the relationship between moral causes and moral effects). While it is certainly true that Kant cleverly tries to dissolve the is-ought issue by rendering “oughts” a consequence of a rationally self-reflective “is” within the chain of causation, he messes this attempt at reconciliation up majorly by failing to adequately recontextualize moral agency—after all, this rational self-reflective mind must find a rational connection between maxims and laws of nature at some level and this connection cannot but be instrumental in nature. Yet the direction of this instrumentality is not clear: maxims being useful to nature, or nature being useful for maxims.

In addition, even if we take that autonomous activity which is an end-in-itself as precisely characterized by sticking to the categorical imperative rather than the mere possibility of doing so, it would then not be autonomy in Kant's sense. If non-universalizeable actions or maxims a priori negate the presence of autonomy then Kant has betrayed his own notion of autonomy, in which freedom is expressed through self-legislation. If it is required that one decide not to kill oneself, for example, so that autonomy is to have been exercised, then it would seem respect of the moral law supersedes the mere possibility, plausiblity or likelihood of respecting that moral law when it comes to evaluating the presence or lack thereof of autonomy. This would seem to suggest that anybody who is ignorant of what the objective maxims are even as they act out of duty, while nonetheless following or violating whatever the true maxims are, lacks autonomy even if they have been effectively self-legislating. Again, this would be bizarre, even if it would be consistent with his condemnations of suicide, given another of Kant's objections to lying is that it withdraws others' ability to exercise autonomy in their decisions (suggesting that it is the possibility to act out of duty that makes autonomy what it is, rather than conformism to the moral law). It seems there is ambiguity whether respecting one's own autonomy and that of others requires allowing them space to self-legislate, or requires self-legislating the correct moral law and following it. This connects to aforementioned quibbles: this bizarre take on autonomy comes from a disconnect between agency and blameworthiness in Kant—or, the way causality is rendered irrelevant to the exercise of moral agency.

Further, even if we assume that, while non-universalizable action does not necessarily violate treating autonomous actors as ends-in-themselves, it is still immoral based on the categorical imperative, the fact that that which is tested for universal applicability is one's aim (whether understood as action or translated as maxim) is actually entirely arbitrary on the part of Kant. Testing one's aim for coherently, logically possible universal applicability is testing just one aspect of action—thinking that actions can be morally evaluated in a way intrinsic to those actions, which is also to say in terms of good will, does not necessitate they be evaluated only as (logically possible) ends. Kant's emphasis on rationality and intrinsic value in ethics does not require framing actions as ends, insofar as actions are always constituted by an instrumental relation. An action may have its intrinsic value due to its uniqueness as a means among other means. Even further, it seems this universalizability test is merely a moral heuristic and not strictly a rational affair: for example, that effective lying universalized is in tension with its presupposition of a frame of reference of expected honesty and the presence of truth, does not make the outcome incoherent. It is enough for there to be a mere possibility of truth for lying to likewise be logically possible, and so a case of universal effective lying has nothing incoherent about it. It is not even a performative contradiction. It would be like saying that universal darkness is impossible because darkness assumes a frame of reference where one could conceive of the presence of light, when it is in fact enough that light itself be a possibility regardless of conceivability. The fallacy is just less obvious because we're dealing in the “ought” realm.

A Bataillian Take on Universal Imperatives

The real concern here, again, would have to do with the conditions of possibility for lying. Once that is realized, however, the categorical imperative ceases to make much sense—the test of universal applicability doesn't really tell us about the conditions of possibility for lying, besides that condition in which honesty must be a logical possibility as well, at the very least. What's of real relevance, then, are the material conditions under which lying could obtain, but even more the conditions, rational or otherwise, where it would or should obtain. Simply thinking of the conditions under which it could not logically obtain leaves us empty-handed as to its value under any and all possible sets of conditions. If indeed it could not obtain without a frame of reference of actually expected honesty and actually-occurring frequent honesty, as well as the existence of truth, then this is merely a factual case of implausibility (or in the case of an absence of truth, impossibility), wherein the implausibility or impossibility is through some sort of moral alchemy transformed into a value judgment that transfers over cases where it is in fact plausible or possible.

First of all, why is universalized lying's implausibility or impossibility married to lying being bad? If its to do with the notion of a rationalist ethics (a way of avoiding performative contradiction), then it is the resultant irrationality of the universalized act that is immoral (the irrationality of the act is already contingent on conditions of omnipresence), and not the act itself. Bringing up respect for autonomy here as a defense doesn't exactly help as it merely raises objections already made previously. Especially given that autonomy nonetheless assumes a capacity for rational, and thereby universal, moral judgment (predicated on this very logic!)—and given that it is this capacity which requires we treat others as equally capable legislators of morality (i.e., that we respect their autonomy!). Further, would not a universal morality require that the goodness or badness of an act obtain regardless of whether everyone was or was not doing it? Would not a proper universal end be indifferent to conditions, even ones based on conceivable universalizeability? In which case, what relevance would “badness” (or incoherence) in a scenario where the act is implausibile/impossible have when it comes to demonstrating the possibility of universal morality, as opposed to simply the moral value of that which is universalized once it is universalized? If rationality were what were key it would seem that an autonomous agent would have to admit to being lost precisely in the seeming accident of aims and the concreteness of causal relations, and thereby in the practical relevance of instrumental relationships. There is no need to be a consequentialist to realize that our ends only gain any discreteness as a result of the properties of the very objects of our aims—their bounds, their relations, their structure (topology), their causality, their contingency. Hence, our aims are never isolated, but collide and intercourse with each other, in ways not merely accidentally related to the aforementioned external factors (e.g., bounds, relations, et al). If universally true moral claims must be synthetic, it would be a testament to this fact. As was noted earlier, there must be a connection, likely instrumental, between the rationalist intrinsic value revealed under pure contemplation and the mundane practical world ruled by regularities, causality and physical laws.

Kant here is simply performing the move of the exception yet again to get out of this rut, as this is precisely what gives the enactment of his morality an aura of impossibility, and thus of absurd harshness of moral judgment—that  is why Kant's political-legal-juridical notions seem at times far removed from his normative ethics (e.g., Kant was in favor of the death penalty). Bataille allows us, with his own notion of universality, to think this very exception Kant performs back into Kant, as woven more directly into a synthesis of his philosophy. Not only does a universal ethic allow for lower-order precepts, actions, or granular moral valuations which cannot be universalized in the way Kant wishes but may still hold correct in lieu of the highest-order universal precept, action, or value—and thus already accounts for exceptions to ethical judgment that apply universally—but the universality of one's aim is largely irrelevant the possibility of universal morality. A universal ethic could not be universal because it is applied to an object thought of as, or which actually is, universal—this is Kant's mistake. Rather, ethics could be universal only if action, as an object or end, which it would hold as its object, is rendered irrelevant. If it were otherwise, and actions are analyzed purely in their character and logical consequence as ends-to-themselves, the problem of actualizing the good rears its head: in such a case no action could be addressed in terms of some subordinate relation to another action.

It may seem as if Kant is privy to this, but arguably its quite the opposite—he rails against any particular, empirically filthy aims determining the moral law, but only to take the rational form of the aim as such and extrapolate an aim from it, however abstract (e.g., the following “maxim”), which all are subject to. This is precisely why for Kant it is not enough to simply conform to the maxim—it must have been one's deliberate aim, i.e. it must be that one acted out of duty. Thus he still technically holds to the relevance of the aim, and thus of the universality of the object of moral judgment, as relevant to the establishment or demonstration of a universal normative ethic.

Bataille seems closer to a more accurate view of both culture universals and, by analogy, ethical universalism. Contrary to Kant, the universality of a moral “law”—under a universality holding a similar structure to Bataille's taboo—holds by virtue of a particular relation this law has to “the whole.” That is, a relation such that any action, maxim, etc., passes through it even if it is not exhausted by it. Hence, under a Bataillian normative ethics, exceptions do not count against the universality of the moral law insofar as they precisely constitute the conditions of possibility for the binding nature of the moral law. This take, therefore, sees the universal moral law as, while applied by individuals, only rendered possible at the societal systemic level, via institutions insofar as institutions provide the medium through which exceptions to the moral law are incorporated or taken into account by individuals. Thus, in this case the individual subject's ethical position on what comprises the moral law also immediately forces always a confrontation with the whole of society, requiring the enactment of that moral law's ownmost exception insofar as the subject's position is a reflection of the impossibility of the law's fulfillment within that society. That is, the moral law, whatever it may be, even if it should be followed by everyone at all times, is nonetheless regrettably capable of challenge if done as a testimony to the societal impossibility of this moral law and done in the spirit of this law. Further, Bataille himself points us to an alternative to this “legislative” view of morality. Principles of morality emerge from networks of desire and their material basis (e.g., material constraints).

  1. Killing is non-universalizable. After all, お前はもう死んでいる (何?!)—that is, you would already be dead—and dead people can't kill. There is no way for people to truly equally kill each other at the same time.
  2. Homosexuality is non-universalizable. If all parents could have engaged in it, as well as all presently existing people, there would be no presently existing people to engage in it, and generations prior to those parents would render the parents non-existent as well, and so on. Of course, it may be questioned whether Kant's test should be applied diachronically as well as synchronically. Even conceding that Kant may restrict his universalizability test to be synchronic, it's clear that introducing synchronic universalization presents a problem for the question of autonomy and treating people as ends-in-themselves in Kantianism, and that this is related to the problematic nature of the assumption that value judgments are transferable across universal and particular cases. It would seem that introducing a temporal dimension into a rationalistic ethics breaks down Kantian deontology. The relevance of this (i.e., why this should be considered a flaw) is elaborated in the rest of the essay, albeit in the terms of causality more specifically rather than temporality more generally.

from @emsenn@wordsmith.social

I've just set up a fresh Guix install on my desktop and installed some of the packages I know I need – like emacs. I've previously read through first part of the Guix Reference Manual, see Notes on “Guix Reference Manual,” Sections 1-3.

My first goal with this system is to get a federated communication platform set up – something like Mastodon, though probably not Mastodon. The first step to doing that is getting some services running – probably a web server of some sort, and probably also a database.

I'm going to skip ahead now to Section 8.8.16, “Web Services,” …which makes absolutely no sense to me. It's jumped straight into saying how to configure the services – which is something I can understand, I think, but I don't yet know where this configuration goes, or how to update it, or stuff like that.

I remember from reading the first few sections that the configuration file is a Scheme file, and it's, I think, at /etc/config.scm. So I've opened that file in another view, and it definitely looks like a system configuration file – I mean, it starts with a comment saying “[t]his is an operating system configuration,” I didn't deduce it.

Anyway let's back up to the start of Section 8, and see if that doesn't give enough context.

It does. It says that the Guix System – that's the name for “/Guix as your operating system, not just package manager” – supports a “whole-system” configuration, where “services, timezone…, user accounts – are declared in a single place.”

So, Guix offers a system configuration mechanism. And that's what this section'll be about.

It says you write a configuration, and then use the guix system command to instantiate it – make it take effect. Then it provides a demo configuration. It's in Scheme, I guess – I don't know any of the paranthes-heavy languages so they all look like Lisp to me.

Comparing the example to what is at /etc/config.scm, they look pretty similar – my configuration has my username and partitioning, and MATE desktop stuff, but otherwise pretty- closely matches the default.

The documetnation goes on to explain the “most important” fields in that file – fields here being “things that go inside the (operating-system) paranthesis. (Statement? Again, I don't know Scheme.)

The first one it explains is the “Bootloader”. My computer boots, so I'm not touching that one.

The next section is “Globally Visible Packages”. Before I get into this, I know this is going to be something I need to learn – there are packages I want my system to have, system-wide, not just for an individual user. (Maybe? I guess with how Guix does packaging, system-wide packages are less important?)

Looking, I see that my configuration adds “nss-certs” to my list of %base-packages. I'll leave it alone for now – I think I understand how it works enough to add packages to it if I need to. Moving on.

The next system is “System Services.” Getting closer to setting up an HTTP server, it sounds like. System services, it says, are to be made available when the system starts. That might not be where the HTTP server goes… though it gives OpenSSH as an example service here.

Okay – looking, it seems like my configuration has “%desktop-services” while this says “%base-services”… some of the time. Others it says desktop-services; maybe the two are synonyms or… determine when in the startup they get called? Let me just search the Manual for "desktop-services". I don't think this matters, but it might.

Okay – the same way %base-services is a collection of basic services for a system, at all, desktop-services is for a GUI desktop system.

Okay – I think… I'm ready to try adding the Nginx service to my configuration? Back to Section 8.8.16, “Web Services.”

Okay so it says “The (gnu services web) moduel provides the Apache HTTP Server, the nginx web server, and also a fastcgi wrapper daemon.

So I think that means I go to this line in my config.scm:

(use-service-modules desktop networking ssh web xorg)

And add web – the list seems to be in alphabetical order, so I'll stick with that.

And now to near the end of the configuration – inside the (operating-system) declaration, there's the (services) declaration.

Right now, it looks like this:

(services (append (list (service mate-desktop-service-type) (service openssh-service-type) (set-xorg-configuration (xorg-configuration (keyboard-layout keyboard-layout)))) %desktop-services))

According to the documentation, I can set up a basic nginx server by changing that to this:

(services (append (list (service mate-desktop-service-type) (service openssh-service-type) (service nginx-service-type (nginx-configuration (server-blocks (list (nginx-server-configuration (server-name '(“emsenn.net”)) (root “/srv/http/emsenn.net”)))))) (set-xorg-configuration (xorg-configuration (keyboard-layout keyboard-layout)))) %desktop-services))

You can see I added that bit about the nginx-service-type. I'm being optimistic and hoping I can get my home website running on this machine stable before too long, so going ahead with setting it up.

I… don't understand, really, any of what I just added. Also, the scattered parantheses of Lisp-y languages still looks ridiculous to me. I get why it's clever, but gosh. If it were any other character I think I'd have less of a problem with it, but my grammar-nerd just rankles at that many nested clauses.

I understand the server-name and root parts – I'm inferring server-blocks is what each… oh I don't remember what the parts of an nginx configuration are called; I suppose it might be “blocks” there too. But like, each discrete… not “server” because that's what nginx is. Set of server-names and file locations and security certificates and so on.

So I guess… let's see if guix system reconfigure works with that config file, eh?

It did not:

guix system: error: exception caught while executing 'start' on service 'nginx': Throw to key srfi-34' with args(“#”)'.

Parsing that out, I think srfi-34 is the error code… and the error is something to do with nginx not loading its config properly? I don't know more than that.

I tried the lines in the Reference Manual for setting up an Apache server, pointing at the same place, and it worked just fine, so the issue might be something with Nginx's package. I just don't know enough to know!

(Actually, looking at it more closely, it looks like the nginx config is in a different “store” than Nginx itself – and if I run the nginx command I get an error saying it can't find the log file/directory - same for the config file.)

I went away to sleep for the night and came back and I think I can see what the problem is:

When Nginx is installing itself, it outputs this during guix system reconfigure:

creating nginx log directory '/var/log/nginx' creating nginx run directory '/var/run/nginx' creating nginx temp directories '/var/run/nginx/{clientbody,proxy,fastcgi,uwsgi,scgi}temp' nginx: [alert] could not open error log file: open() “/gnu/store/byd116qs89b0am4zwjf4vjai7qlskvaw-nginx-1.17.0/logs/error.log” failed (2: No such file or directory)

So it looks like it's making the directores for Nginx under /var/run/nginx/, which is where the documentation under Section 8.8.16 says it will be.

However, it then looks like it's looking to write the log file under the GNU store directory…

Maybe that's not the problem though. The next line in the output log is:

2019/06/03 00:17:50 [emerg] 10065#0: no “ssl_certificate” is defined for the “listen ... ssl” directive in /gnu/store/4d6mc3ja9q530w6ghp0ab8y0hp0lh121-nginx.conf:13 nginx: configuration file /gnu/store/4d6mc3ja9q530w6ghp0ab8y0hp0lh121-nginx.conf test failed

Maybe I need to say “don't use SSL?” I think I read about how to do that in the Manual

…I think how to do that is… by adding these lines into the nginx-server-configuration list, that is inside the server-blocks declaration, that's inside nginx-configuration, that's inside nginx-service-type, that's inside the list of services to be appended to %desktop-services.

(ssl-certificate #f) (ssl-certificate-key #f)

Let's try that, by again running guix system reconfigure config.scm

Nope – same exact error. Let me look at the file it's looking at - /gnu/store/4d6...-nginx.conf… I see the server block declaration:

server { listen 80; listen 443 ssl; servername emsenn.net ; root /srv/http/emsenn.net; index index.html ; severtokens off;

First off, it's weird how some of them have a space before the ; and others don't. But also – I see: it has ssl on by default? Which seems silly since that needs a certificate; maybe it assumes you're setting it up all at once, not bit-by-bit? And I will want SSL set up – but for now, I want to know how to turn it off, even if the next step for me is going to be ssl certificates.

Back to the Reference Manual. Here we go – the nginx-server-configuration data type (aha! “data type” is the term here) has the parameter (aha! another term!) listen, which defaults to '("80" "443 ssl")

I think that means I need to add the following line to the nginx-server-configuration data type:

(listen '(“80”))

Let's try this now, then!

Oh! Oh!

shepherd: Service nginx has been started.

That's progress, right there! Looking back up, I see there was no longer the SSL error with the service – there's still an error about logging, but the Manual explains how that's due to Nginx's bootstrapping process, so that's fine.

Okay so… now to bring up https://localhost in my browser. I've put a file that says <html><body>Hi!</body></html> at /srv/http/emsenn.net/index.html, so I expect to see that when I go there.

And I do!

Wonderful. I'm going to wrap up this note here – I have a functional Nginx server on my desktop. Next step will be setting up my registrar to point to this new server, and then after that, setting up those security certificates I danced around this time.


from @emsenn@wordsmith.social

I've just installed the Guix System Distribution on my desktop, and in an attempt to learn it fully I am going to read the manual and record notes here.

The full text of the documentation is available at https://www.gnu.org/software/guix/manual/en/guix.html

The manual says GNU Guix is a package management tool, letting unprivileged users manage packages. It can be installed on an existing GNU/Linux system, or as a standalone operating system, Guix System. That's what I'm doing.

Guix implements the “'functional package management' discipline,” apparently pioneered by Nix, another Linux distribution.

The package build/install process is a fuction. Its inputs are the build script, the compiler, dependent libraries, and it returns an installed package.

Packages can only refer to packages and such that were passed as inputs, and can't modify a system outside of its build and installation directories.

The results of package build functions is cached in “the Store,” under a folder that has a hash of all the inputs, so it's appropriately unique. That's pretty clever! It's, by default, under /gnu/store/.

So, on to the Guix System. It comes with some core packages…

You “declare all aspects of the operating system configuration and Guix takes care of instantiating the configuration in a transactional, reproducible, and stateless fashion.”

What… does that mean? Is it like Emacs, where you write an initialization file and that gets loaded on startup? And then… it checks the hash that the inputs of your build function calls against the packages that are there to see if things need to be installed?

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that might be it. So, I've installed a few packages since I started up the system… I wonder where my system init is.

(Also, isn't that how Arch used to work, back when? A series of startup scripts that you could just… edit? I miss that; I had a very speedy netbook because of it.)

The next section of the manual is for how to install Guix ontop of another Linux, so I'll skip it for now; hopefuly that's fine.

The next section I already read before installing the system, because it's how to install the Guix System.

Well… I didn't read it, as such. I skimmed it. Let me read it thoroughly now.

So, it starts off with some limitations – that's a good idea. I should start off my project installation guides with disclosing limitations/failures of the project. Logical Volume Management is missing, but I don't know what that is and so I don't think I'll miss it. KDE is also missing. That's fine, it's never been my preferred window manager. I'm using MATE right now; I made it all gray and blue to look like old-school Windows.

It also warns me that wifi support is ify. My wifi chip does work, but I'm also wired into the router so that's irrelevant to me.

Okay, blah blah, more installation instructions. Nothing that seems too important. I'm going to go ahead and take a break.


from Kearsey Wingard

A question that I was requested to answer.

Positive nonverbal communication is likely a great place to start. In fact, it should be implemented in any social environment until it is so natural that it literally improves your mental health and brightens the day and mood of everyone else around an individual.

If you’re ever interested in getting deeper with nonverbal communication, I recommend Joe Navarro’s What Every Body is Saying.

Doing some research for this answer, because I do not want to misinform you.

I have just heard of the reciprocity principle that founders and CEOs of organizations/corporations use to their advantage, which is the obligation or pressure to repay someone for a favor or anything they’ve done for us, and individuals tend to give back more than they initially received to get rid of any guilt felt for receiving the preliminary favor. It is said that, “Internally, this can help improve or repair work relationships, win over co-workers and build consensus.” Kind gestures can overcome feelings of dislike or suspicion that are directed towards you in the workplace. Things like bringing some of your co-workers a beverage they like, or surprise some of your colleagues with breakfast/snacks/lunch. Actions do, as everyone knows, speak louder than words.

Priming concept is interesting. Give the people a nice environment to work one (a visually appealing one) with minimal decorations that give off bubbly vibes, or a theme that reflects your desired work culture and product.

Social psychology can be used in several more ways, I’m sure, but I’m honestly not that versed in social psychology.


from Kearsey Wingard

A question that was requested I answer.

Overall, yes, it does—at least in my opinion. Forgive me, I am entirely biased. Bias? That in and of itself is psychology, no? Anything outside of my mind or within it has an impact on my brain and how I process things.

If there was one single individual in his lonesome on the Earth with no person or animal to interact with, it still remains psychological, because everything is filtered through the mind. Your thoughts on the sky, the trees, and its effect on you.

Granted, a human would go insane without social interaction. Eventually, the brain would construct itself a realm of social interaction. For all you know, it could start calling trees their friend. Ready to be a tree hugger? A study in the past I did research on was conducted by two scientists who sat in caves, both for separate amounts of time. The one who stayed isolated longer was much more deeply impacted by the traumatic experience. He'd made the rats skittering around in the cave his friend, talked to them as if they were people, and lost all concept of time. He also slept for 2-3 days at a time, feeling as though it had been a normal eight-hour slumber.

I can't imagine how humans would be today if they were all isolated from social interaction, but nonetheless, psychology would not cease to exist unless creatures themselves ceased to exist.

In conclusion, a human can still experience negative emotions or overly positive ones. In fact, social interactions are likely what's keeping a person's sanity intact. I believe that psychology and how susceptible your brain is to outer stimuli is significantly higher than it would be without social interactions.


from notes?

Links to do with Language:

From questions of how language is approached – aka defined?

(eg, while we use the term “language” in connection to humans sharing ideas, memories, means of communications, ways to inform and coordinate, and suchlike, “language” is also used in a wider range of sequences.)

How is language to be approached?











Motion's language? https://www.jstor.org/stable/30225400?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

https://wave.umww.com/assets/pdf/wave_8-the-language-of-content.pdf (a dead links?)


Bubbles' physics and language? https://neurosciencenews.com/language-bubble-physics-7168/



Stones? Language? https://monoskop.org/images/a/ad/Caillois_Roger_The_Writing_of_Stones.pdf (a book)

DNA as a language? http://nautil.us/blog/is-dna-the-language-of-the-book-of-life



Culinary language? http://www.supercook.org/CULINARY_FACTS/language_1.asp

Transportation – language? http://dusp.mit.edu/cdd/project/transportation-language


Language and drinking languages? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319813.php



Language and the economy?





Legal lingo? https://lexresearchhub.com/q-a-define-legal-language-b-nature-and-scope-of-legal-language-c-importance-of-language-in-law/

Spaces language? https://www.evolutionatwork.org/language-of-spaces

Language and + of time? https://www.popsci.com/consent.php?redirect=https%3a%2f%2fwww.popsci.com%2flanguage-time-



from nomadic?


A few days before leaving, someone at the hostel introduced themselves as: Vlad.

Is this a short for Vladimir? I asked with an innocent tone, to hopefully deflect any possible other interpertations. LOL was it wrong. Sure, they got the innocent question idea – however it turned out a bit of a harsh issue. An issue that, for Vlad, was the very question of Romanian uniqueness and interval from slavic languages, people and cultures.

Vald was keen to underline that regardless of whether his name was shortened from Vladimir – it has become it's own name, and Romanian as such.

This comes as part of other snippets and conversations I've had – when people seemed to have a bit of a slight against slavic connections in general and russians in particular. These are relatively young people who did not endure the so called communist period.

When I was in Cyprus, people talked about russian digital companies taking over – and people i happened to chat with, didn't feel entirely relaxed about that. More over, some expressed regret these aren't british companies – since in their eyes, being beholden to the brits is much preferable than to russians. Why do russians, seemingly, have such a negative rep?

Going back to Romania, where the term for Yes is Da – and everybody knows it is taken from russian – yet to hear someone saying Romanian should get into a more Latin kind of Yes, Si?


from nomadic?

Another curious thing re Bucharest is the prevalence of MegaImage supermarkets. Some places have them every few meters. Seriously. Just across the road from one another. One is the express version, the other full blown store. Then, walk a few tens meters, maybe 100 at the most – and another MegaImage.

Seems that other supermarkets have a similar logo – does it make that logo-image, Mega?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_Lion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxi_(Serbian_supermarket)

or just a manifestation of the parent company's meganess?



from terms opener?


Ever felt a violence from a dictionary? Nope

Well.. Ever been in an exchange about words, say difference between rocks and stones, when someone had an idea to the tune of: “Hey. Let see how the dictionary defines rocks, shall we?” ..and following the dictionary idea – the conversation became Beholden by a particular interpretation-come-dictated-definition of the discussed words.

Well.. That's just a definition, not violence.

Sure, some people may not feel Beholden, or even Compelled by one definition or another, and perhaps for them the notion of a Dictionary is smooth and fab. However, what with people that might feel unease? An uncomfortable sense from the obvious link between the terms “Dictionary” and “Dictator” – indeed by the usage of dictionaries to dictate – litterly and metaphorically – how words are. Perhaps language is, as Roland Barthes mentioned – Fascistic: “Language is neither reactionary nor progressive; it is quite simply fascist; for fascism does not prevent speech, it compels speech.”

However, it could also be that, one way to overcome this fascism, as Catherine Malabou concludes – is through being free while in prison. https://youtu.be/hcSAp-nBwR8

One of the concerns here, IMHO, is that once compulsion is accepted, practised and culturally refined – we are, in fact, approve of fascism at every turn, fold and beat of life.

Such is life. What would you say if it was proved that fascism or some other way of authoritarianism – is just how Life is? Will you be against the sun?

Yes. Sometimes it is hard to perceive beyond certain rhythm, repetitions arrest as well. However, the beings that might be alive by the time the sun's inevitable doom is tangible – will they not attempt to somehow disorient their lives around the sun's daily show? In other words -even if authoritarianism is the way life is, does it not worth while making other ways to live?


Would you like to be slapped?

LOL.. Mostly not.. ;)

Would you like to feel controlled?

Still.. Mostly not :)

Well.. Is it not curious how – somehow in a similar auto emergent kind of action – living beings seem to attempt resisting capture?

However, they are captured!

Yes.. And perhaps then spend lives attempting to experience their inevitable release – something that, in itself feeds back to violence as a person finds themselves attempting to compel their prisons' masters to let go.

In my mind, even words, with their own kind of lives – while being captured by tools like dictionaries, tend to escape. At times, the scape is a dead term. Other ways include forms of evolution like:

regeneration (Check terms popularity tools), changing meanings (eg, Gay, as in Happy – gaining that extra way of referencing not so sex binary bound people) and becoming new words (eg, geoluread, aka yellow-red, evolving into Orange).

Other approaches to Dictionary?

A few terms that, at the time of writing, while being used – were not in an english dictionary? https://ideas.ted.com/20-words-that-arent-in-the-dictionary-yet/

A list of words that were interpreted wrongly – yet became dictionary approved. (Curious to note that the discussion prior to the said list, contains an attempt to lay off concerns about language being anarchic.) https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/02/08/when-does-wrong-become-right/

One pre-dictionary, as a term, dictionary* is: Amarakosha Perhaps apt to note that the term invokes the idea of words being alive yet somehow immortal – out of the evolutionary flow. (My interpretation of immortality, ofcourse..)


* The word “dictionary” was invented by an Englishman called John of Garland in 1220 — he had written a book Dictionarius to help with Latin “diction” (from wikipedia)