Saturday, August 3, 2013

Resisting the System

In the past all I wanted was to weave all my thoughts and theories into one big, coherent system that explained my fundamental views on the world and invited (read: coerced) others to come live in that system. Today I think my thinking is more sophisticated than it has ever been, but I also find that it resists systematization. I think in remarks, I think in isolated games and relations, I oftentimes relate those relations to one another, but they do not have their proportions worked out. I don't have a hierarchy, I don't have a scale for those games in relation to one another.

Sometimes I want to sit down and build that system, but I resist that urge. Why?

To get the baser reason out of the way: because not trying ensures that I won't fail. For the more fundamental reason, though, I have come to distrust systematic thinking.

I find relations to be more personal than nouns. When we observe phenomena we tend to observe them in largely the same way - that is when we talk about them we don't seem to spend much time squabbling over, say, the blueness above us or the greenness beneath us. We don't squabble terribly much when we observe common relations, like the being-on-top spatial relation between a cat and a rug or the prior-to temporal relation of Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama. But we do notice increased squabbling around the point where we discuss relation, like discussing the similarity relation between a given lasagna and a given pizza. We are left in dark and confusing territory when we begin discussing causal relations, like bad parenting, destructive culture, genetic predisposition, and mental disorder in relation to a given committed crime. Then we enter into full-on war when we discuss the proportional relations like the balance of strength and speed in successful martial arts strategies.

We find some relations which rely heavily on common, public appearance and phenomena, like spatial relations. Then we find relations which seem to be based largely on personal intuition and seem to be perceived much differently depending on the one who perceives. Sometimes these latter relations can be cast in a way that can be publicly measured, sometimes they cannot.

In terms of system building, it seems inevitable that much of the scaffolding will be made of these personal relations. Perhaps to me we have to start with the absurdity of human existence, or perhaps we have to start with the question of what can be known, or we can ask how we follow God in a modern age, or we can ask what is the Good. Perhaps I say that this starting question (whichever one I choose) has a primacy relation to all other questions, my question must be asked first. Of course there is no appearance that we can measure to see if this is true, and there is no shortage of people submitting alternative questions that they claim has a primacy relation. The system becomes deeply personal, less and less available to other people living their lives.

Or, to put it in a another way: perceived abstract relations contain something personal to the speaker. The bigger the relation, the more personal it becomes. The more personal it becomes, the more alien it is to other people. So whereas my little isolated relations and games contain a little that is personal and offers itself to other people as eager, helpful tools, if I were to turn them into a large system it would taste so much like me that only those who happen to like my flavor would be able to thrive living by my system.

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