Integral Manifesto Pt II(2): Subjects and Surrogates/ The I-Thou

Books Discussed in this Section

Martin Buber (2008) I and Thou, Hesperides Press

Hannah Arendt (1958)  The Human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Bonnitta Roy (2006) A Process Model of Integral Theory, from Integral Review Journal, Issue 3 at www.integral-reivew.org


In a very real sense, the central subject in a political act is not an individual subject, but a subject-to-subject actant. Not unlike Latour’s equation of humans and non-humans enfolded into each other, in an authentic encounter, aka a political act, subjects are enfolded into each other as an I-Thou. The notion of I-Thou-ness is not specifically a relational one, since this is a situation of complete reflexivity, parody and equanimity– whereas for two thing to be related, there must be a third term namely the scale of their relatedness. In an authentic I-Thou encounter, there is no third term. Of this encounter, Martin Buber has written

Beyond the subjective and this side of the objective, on the narrow ledge where I and Thou encounter each other, is the realm of the in-between. This reality, whose discovery has begun in our day, points the way for coming generations, leading beyond both individualism and collectivism.

This I-Thou enfoldment might be considered to be vis-a-vis the intersubjective realm, a reconstitution of the originary, primordial process described by Roy that, along with layers of affect, image, body and world, also enfolds the sense of “other” in the microgenetic series of the cognitive occasion that is responsible for the primary unification of these pre-subjective levels into the “unified subject.” In this sense, it is a re-cognition of a pre-subjective inter-face “between self and other,” in the special case where “self and other” are pre-subjective surrogates of the conventional level, standard meanings, of “self” and “other.” At its most fundamental level, this subject-to-subject encounter is a re-en-actment of a prior, pre-subjective occasion, in which the surrogate subject allows (acknowledges, accepts, invites) “otherness,” the surrogate other, in inimical communion as a vital and necessary step to achieve union as a “self”– in other words, as a necessary component of the question “who am I?” Normally, the pre-subjective component of every moment-to-moment arising of cognitive occasions remains unconscious, hidden in the preconstitutional components of self. Occasionally, this pre-subjective, a-conceptual “experience” revitalises itself through intense I-Thou encounters in which something of the below, beneath, behind the self-other formulation discloses its originary aspects. Still, even at the level of fully formed subjects, the subject-to-subject encounter continues to provide essential components of the individual subject’s question of the “who I am,” as the Greeks fully understood. According to Arendt,

Action and speech are so closely related because the primordial and specifically human act must at the same time contain the answer to the question of every newcomer: “Who are you?” This disclosure of who somebody is, is implicit in both his words and deeds. …

[Moreover] … it is likely that the “who” which appears so clearly and unmistakably to others, remains hidden from the person himself, like the daimon in Greek religion which accompanies each man throughout his life, always looking over his shoulder from behind and thus visible only to those he encounters.

According to Arendt, it is this special quality of the subject-to-subject encounter which distinguishes authentic human action versus the instrumentalization of human deeds. This space of human action– “the space of appearance in the widest sense of the word, namely, where men exist not merely like other living or inanimate things, but make their appearance explicitly”– is not a comfort zone. On the contrary, “the conviction that the greatest that man can achieve is his own appearance and actualization is by no means a matter of course.”

[both homo faber and animal laborans] will inclune to denounce action and speech as idleness, idle busy-bodyness and idle talk, and generally will judge public activities in terms of their usefulness to supposedly higher ends– to make the world more useful and more beautiful in the case of homo faber, to make life easier and longer in the case of animal laborans.

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Integral Manifesto Pt II(1): Intersubjective Fields

Books Discussed in this Section

The IHDP working paper at http://www.ihdp.uni-bonn.de/html/publications/workingpaper/wp02m.htm

Hannah Arendt (1958)  The Human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Introduction

Consider again the proposition of this manifesto

The fundamental encounter of subject-to-subject in a shared subjective space is the limiting quantumn of freedom.

If we allow this as a starting premise, namely that the subject-to-subject encounter is the limiting quantumn of freedom in the realm of human action, we might be inclined to a corollary proposition:

The space or ground of subjectivity is a field of relational properties that scale along various orders with respect to various processural rules.

In doing so, we might imagine an economy as a field of generative order and sets of rules that govern the scalar relations of those orders– a field in which innumerable subject-to-subject encounters occur. The orders and rules that prescribe the economy would be in continual transformation, both from top-down instructions and bottom-up feedback– yet, in a final analysis, both of those shaping systems emerge through subject-to-subject encounters. We cannot describe these as a “series” of subject-to-subject manipulations, as that would overdetermine their ordinal rank. Neither can we describe these encounters as completely discontinuous, for they operate in a field that mediates their engagement in such a way as to order than and scale them. The order that emerges is always “generative,” not imposed, since the relations create or generate themselves, the new relations between subjects, while the rules that govern them, prescribe the kinds of relations that might emerge. The rules set a kind of boundary condition, or event horizon– but never do they preclude the creation of completely novel forms through new subject-to-subject encounters, which by their very nature, are ultimately and radically discontinuous from the field, discontinuous from temporal and spatial relations, and arise anew from moment to moment, along with the subject, qua subject.

Similarly, then, we can imagine geographies–of space and mind– that are fields of generative order and sets of rules, that are both permeable and transformable, as they are continually fed “new information” from the pool of subject-to-subject encounters; as well as technologies–fields of humans and nonhumans enfolded into each other– arising from and descending into the intersubjective spaces where subjects encounter each other in free and novel engagement from moment to moment. Returning to the diagram of transformational phases posted earlier, we can describe the kinds of processes responsible for resilience as well as transformation in such intersubjective fields:

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In the exploitation phase, there is less stored information in the intersubjective field– less order and more flexible rules– and as these orders and rules become more fixed, subjects become more interconnected–but not as a kind of superorganism, rather,  their connectedness is mediated through the generative orders and sets of rules that constitute their relatedness. The system, however, is continuously being fed “new information” that arises in completely novel ways through subject-to-subject encounters; and it is this new information that has transformational potential. However, this potential acts in a way such that the interconnections that mediate subjects is radically broken, and a phase of chaotic release (re-organization, creative destruction) ensues. It is therefore not surprising that the discourse associated with this transformational disturbance would not be found in top-down forms like institutional reports, judiciary commentary, military analyses, and the like, since these forms of discourse are deeply constrained by the prevailing orders and rules of the intersubjective field.

Therefore, connectedness alone is not a sign of robustness of intersubjective space; rather, it may be a signal that the field in which subjects operate is so rigidly fixed that it overdetermines the outcomes of subject-to-subject interactions. Instead of laying down connectivities that increase the kind of relationships that can emerge, the field becomes a box which inters it’s subjects such that few are able to “meet outside the box.” The generative capacity of the field, and its ability to set and re-set connections through rules of order, is very much like the laying down of  connections in the brain and its relationship to neuronal flexibility. The number and kinds of connections changes with need, usage and disturbance; and the brain has been shown to be able to hard-wire itself in habit, as well as to re-wire itself in completely new ways. The continually changing subjective state of the mind— intentional states, attentional modalities, states of awareness, states of consciousness– provides the continual renewal of information that energizes and renews the growth and change in the brain. Analogously, in intersubjective fields, growth as well as changes in connectivity must be continually energized and renewed by the intersubjective states of subjects through subject-to-subject encounters.

The crucial implication is that the field of intersubjective connectivity arises from subject-to-subject encounter, never from a collection of subjects, however, we try to analyze just what that collective is — an economy, a geography, a technology. Of course, there are feedback loops. But the feedback loops don’t mediate the authentic subject-to-subject encounter– they impact the cycle at the level of the individual subject. This is the sense of the inter-action of subject and world, and the nature of human and nonhuman enfoldments. The authentic subject turns toward her neighbor and re-enacts the world. The world is no mediator in this  en-act-ment, which is the quantum of political action as much as it is the limiting quantum of freedon.

The crucial distinctions between the objective world and its inter-ests among humans, versus the unmediated encounter of humans in action and speech that bears the stamp of the authentic subject-to-subject encounter, is an underlying theme running through all of Arendt’s political thought, and echoes in the following

Action and speech go on between men, as they are directed toward them, and they retain their agent-revealing capacity even if their contentis exclusively “objective,” connected with the matters of the world of things in which men move, which physically lies between them and out of which arises their specific, objective, worldly interests. These interests constitute, in the word’s most literal significance, something which inter-est, which lies between people and therefore can relate and bind them together. Most action and speech is concerned with this in-between, which varies with each group of people, so that most words and deeds are about some worldly objective reality in addition to being a disclosure of the acting and speaking agent. Since this disclosure of the subject is an integral part of all, even the most “objective” intercourse, the physical, worldly in-between along with its interests is overlaid and, as it were, overgrown with an altogether different in-between which consists of deeds and words and owes its origin exclusively to men’s acting and speaking directly to one another.

This second, subjective in-between, is not tangible, since there are no tangible objects into which it could solidify; the process of acting and speaking can leave behind no such results and end products. But for all its intangibility, this in-between is no less real than the world of things we visibly have in common. We call this reality the “web” of  human relationships.

What is this reality, this web of human relationships, is a central theme of human action and inquiry.

Integral Manifesto Pt I(5): Three Cautionary Tales of Scale/ Technologies

Books Discussed in this Section

Hannah Arendt (1958)  The Human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Bruno Latour (1999)Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies, Harvard University Press

 Technologies

In the realm of human action, technology elevates it’s own power through two outstanding characteristics: unpredictability and endurance. This greatly worried Hannah Arendt

In this aspect of action– all important to the modern age, to its enormous enlargement of human capabilities as well as to its unprecedented concept and consciousness in history– processes are started whose outcome is unpredictable, so that uncertainty rather than frailty becomes thedecisive character of human affairs.

… the strength of the action process [techne] is never exhausted in a single deed, but, on the contrary, can grow while its consequences multiply … The reason why we are never able to foretell with certainty the outcomes andend of any action [techne] is simply that action has no end. The process of a single deed can quite literally endure throughout time until mankind itself has come to an end.

Even today, as our technologies bear down on planetary limits, they continue to journey “where no man has gone before”– into new outer spaces as well as new inner spaces. Nations co-conspire and collaborate on projects of massive physical scales and with enormously powerful potentials– as well as on projects of infinitesimal scales such as nanotechnology and genetic engineering– and continue to do so regardless  of our knowledge of, or lack of knowledge of, their unintended consequences. We know what we know, and we know what we don’t know– and sciences can only scratch the surfaces of these questions; whereas theoretical contemplation cannot even address the question of not knowing what we don’t know– but time and again, technology supplies the missing link; and so, in a sense, humans have always engaged technology to complete an epistemic circle. The switch from homo faber to homo techne occurs when the center of that circle is no longer the “who I am” but the “will to power” that lies within.

The tremendous power of technology is not only due to its ability to scale to enormous proportions, but also due to its capacity to overdetermine patterns of use that develop deep grooves or habits, traces in the way humans continue to act and employ certain technologies over long durations of time– even beyond the term of their usefulness. We have yet to experience the Brave New World where machines conspire to be completely independent of human control– no technology today can operate without a great deal of continual human support and interruption– but because of the way technologies become engrained into the fabric of society, we continue to support them even as their destructive consequences come to outweigh their social utility and human value.

These “deep grooves” are not only physical precedents, like ancient paths that have been made into local streets, and then remade into major thoroughfares– they can also be ritualistic or mimetic structures deeply embedded in cultural heritage and social consciousness. Moreso than ever before, these “grooves” are not merely large in scale and long in standing, but are increasingly complex and multi-dimensional. Today’s technologies are not merely aggregates of materials, man-power and the convenience of habit– rather they are complex networks of deep and extensively distributed processes that, in the lexicon of Bruno Latour, include “humans and non-humans alike.”

… the prime mover of an action becomes a new, distributed, and nested series of practices whose sum may be possible to add up but only if we respect the mediating role of all the actants [ entangled humans and non-human agents] mobilized in the series.

 Latour describes a technology as a collective of humans and non-humans wherein humans and non-humans are enfolded within each other. Take for example, his consideration of a man and a gun and their relative agencies. For Latour, it is insufficient to contend either that “guns kill people” or that “people do.” Rather, he contends that both the human and the non-human (person and the gun) are enfolded in such a way as to create a new kind of composite agent, referred to him as an actant.

You are a different person with a gun in your hand. This translation is wholly symmetrical. You are a different person with a gun in your hand; the gun is different with you holding it. You are another subject because you hold the gun; the gun is another object because it has entered a relationship with you. …When the propositions are articulated, they join in to a new proposition. They become “someone or something” else.

It is now possible to switch our attention to this “someone else” the hybrid actor comprising (for instance) the gun and the gunman. We must learn to attribute– redistribute– actions to many more agents than are accpetable in either the materialist or the sociological account. Agents can be human or (lie the gun) nonhuman, and each can have goals (or functions, as engineers prefer to say). Since the word “agent” in the case of nonhumans is uncommon, a better term, as we have seen, is actant.

 As Latour would have it, our modern dispensation is that we live not “in society” but  in collectives of humans and nonhumans, and the process that creates increasingly indelible relations in these collectives are becoming more intricate, more complex, and conceivably richer all the time.

Contrary to what makes Heiddegerians weep, there is an extraordinary continuity which historians and philosophers of technology have increasingly made legible, betweeen nuclear power plants, missle-guidance systems, computer-chip design, or subway automation and the ancient mixture of society, symbols, and matter that ethnographers and archaeologists have studied for generations. … Unlike what is held by the traditional distinction, the difference between an ancient “primitive” collective and a modern or “advanced” one is not that the former manifests a rich mixture of social and technical culture while the latter exhibits a technology devoid of ties with the social order.

The difference, rather, is that the latter translates, crosses over, enrolls, and mobilizes more elements which are more intimately connected, with a more finely woven social fabric, than the former does. The relation between the scale of collectives and the number of nonhumans enlisted in their midst is crucial. One finds, of course, longer chains of action in “modern” collectives, a greater numbe of nonhumans (machines, automatons, devices) associated with one another, but one must not overlook the size of markets, the number of people in their orbits, the amplitude of the mobilization: more objects, yes, but many more subjects as well. Those who have tried to distinguish these two sorts of collective by attributing “objectivity” and”efficiency” to modern technology and “humanity” to low-tech poeisis have been deeply mistaken. Objects and subjects are made simultaneously, and an increased number of subjects is directly related to the number of objects stirred– brewed– into the collective. The adjective “modern” does not describe an increased distance between society and technology or their alienation, but a deepened intimacy, a more intricate mesh, between the two.

Harking back to the writings, but not the warnings of Arendt, Latour confirms– actually affirms– that techniques, as a class,  are unpredictable in nature — not means, but mediators– means and ends at the same time– and that the conviction of actants, as it were, is to remake social relations through “fresh and unexpected sources of action” since, as Arendt herself noted, “society is not stable enough to scribe itself in anything.”

On the contrary, most of the features of what we mean by social order– scale, asymmetry, durability, power, hierarchy, the distribution of roles– are impossible even to define without recruiting socialized nonhumans. Yes, society is constructed, but not socially constructed. Humans, for millions of years, have extended their social relations to other actants with which, with whom, they have swapped many properties and with which, with whom, they form collectives.

For Latour, technology irrupts the temporal scale of science which in all of modern times has had the conviction of separating the “objectve” portionof reality from the “subjective” portion– in other words, of rescuing what objects really are in themselves from the barbarian superposition of what human beliueve them to be, projected with passions, biases and prejudices of all sorts–toward a situation where “time enmeshes, at an even greater level of intimacy and on an ever greater scale, humans and nonhumans with each other;” a temporal map where “the confusion of humans and nonhumans is not only out past but our future as well. As technology scales along this temporary projectory, Latour concludes

Political representation of nonhumans seems not only plausible now but necessary, when the notion would have seemed ludicrous or indecent not long ago.

Given the complexities of these relations, it is as if the enormous momentum needed to overhaul existing technologies and replace them with completely new ones, is in turn stored as the tremendous inertia tahat overwhelms the ordinary person when s/he contemplates change in a completely new direction.

 

Integral Manifesto Part I(2): Action

Books Discussed in this Section

Hannah Arendt ( 1958) The Human Condition The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Political Action

To the extent that collective labor depends upon the quantification of laborers and their interchangeability, while collaborative work depends upon the qualification of the worker and his non-replaceability, the essential nature of collective action is human plurality—the twofold character of equality and distinction:

Human plurality, the basic condition of both action and speech, has the twofold character of equality and distinction. If men were not equal, they could neither understand each other and those who came before them nor plan for the future and foresee the needs of those who will come after them. If men were not distinct, each human being distinguished from any other who is, was, or will ever be, they would need neither speech nor action to make themselves understood.

Human distinctness is not the same as otherness—the curious quality of alteritas possessed by everything that is and therefore … a universal character of Being, transcending every particular quality. Otherness, it is true is an important aspect of plurality, the reason why all our definitions are distinctions, why we are unable to say what anything is without distinguishing it from something else. In man, otherness, which he shares with everything that is, and distinctness which he shares with everything alive, become uniqueness, and human plurality is the paradoxical plurality of unique beings.

For Arendt, the defining characteristic of action is political, that is, related to the polis “as it grew out of and remained rooted in the Greek pre-polis experience … of what makes it worthwhile for men to live together, namely the ‘sharing of words and deeds…” The polis constituting the “space of appearance in the widest sense of the word, namely, where men exist not merely like other living or inanimate things, but make their appearance explicitly.”

The pre-polis experience of the Greeks, wherever and whenever men of action could escape the necessities of labor, revealed the disturbing boundlessness of human action in which the “actor is never merely a ‘doer’ but also at the same time a suffer” of his deeds; where the actor may encompass his own deeds but suffers consequences that are boundless because he acts “in a medium where every reaction becomes a chain reaction and where every process is the cause of new processes;” and where “the smallest act in the most limited circumstance bears the seed of the same boundlessness, because one deed, and sometimes one word, suffices to change every constellation.”

That deeds posses such enormous capacity for endurance, superior to every other man-made product, could be a matter of pride if men were able to bear its burden of irreversibility and unpredictability, from which the action derives its very strength. That this is impossible, men have always known. They have known that he who acts never quite knows what he is doing, that he always becomes “guilty” of consequences he never intended or even foresaw, that no matter how disastrous and unexpected the consequences of his deed, he can never undo it, that the process he starts is never consummated unequivocally in one single deed or event, and that its very meaning never discloses itself to the actor but only to the backwards glance of the historian who himself does not act.

Therefore for the early Greeks, the space of the polis had a two-fold shape: 1) the boundaries of the body politic constituted by rules of participation and governance that might “offer some protection against the inherent boundlessness of action” and the polis – “the organization of the people as it arises out of acting and speaking together.”

Political action therefore is the ways in which men and women “show up” not as laborers, or actors(sufferers)—the one subject to all the cyclic processes of life, the other subject to the boundless action-reaction processes—but rather emerge as subjects, subject only to other subjects. The conviction of political action is foremost the appearance of these subject-to-subject relationships, the creation and preservation of the space(s) of their appearances—which can be shown to constitute the fundamental condition of human freedom. For there, and only there, in this space where men and women “show up” as subjects, to and for themselves as well as other subjects in equal proportion, are found the conditions of human freedom.

Yet, paradoxically, as Arendt points out, “Nowhere … does man appear to be less free [italics mine] than in those capacities whose very essence is freedom and in that realm which owes its existence to nobody and nothing but men.” Such is the case whenever we despair of the realm of human affairs its web of human relationships in the pursuit of individual sovereignty. If among the spheres of the vitae activae – this is also true—then the realm of human freedom is not assured by the pursuit of sovereignty of any kind—regional, national, corporate—rather, freedom is defeated wherever the conviction of sovereignty prevails. If so, one might consider the following proposition:

The fundamental encounter of subject-to-subject in a shared subjective space, is the limiting quantum of freedom.

An Integral Manifesto Part I(1) : Labor Work

Books Discussed in this Section

Hannah Arendt (1958) The Human Condition The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Preface

People operate on unexamined assumptions most of the time. If you want to get a quick list of these assumptions, just write down the bumper stickers you see.  If we relied only on what knowledge we could gather directly, we would live deep in the Great Mystery – the ur-ground of reality. Though some knowledge may be the prerogative of the few, there is no knowledge without the some, for knowledge is a condition of human plurality. I don’t personally know that the solar system exists in such and such a way—I share that it does, in a way that makes meaning. Knowledge, unlike experience is communal.

Since experience is unique and personal, and knowledge is shared and communal, it may be impossible to “verify” shared assumptions other than by their share-ability (i.e. acceptance by a community of the adequate); and perhaps also by their utility—I find that if I make the correct mathematical equations, I know how much money I can earn at the bank. However, examining such assumptions can be a liberating experience, especially when one has been visitedby doubts.

During this election year, I had come to doubt a familiar assumption of my generation: that one should “Think Globally and Act Locally”. Unexamined, it makes perfect sense. Subjected to a critical inquiry however, this prescription quickly became problematic. Because I don’t want to disappoint you at the end, I will admit this up front: Perhaps I should have left well enough alone, because my attempt to silence my doubts, only fueled them with bigger questions. Perhaps I merely journeyed toward the depths of the Great Mystery in equal and opposite altitudes as Icarus’ flight toward the sun. His wings fried, my ballast burst. Despite this affiliation, I trust you might see a difference in the final act, as he felled himself irrevocably into the sea, yet I have since come up for air.

Section I : The Life of Human Action

Vita active

When the Greek philosophers of antiquity contemplated the human condition, they distinguished the vita active  from the vita contemplative – the life of action from the life of contemplation. For these Greek philosophers, there was no continuum between the two—they seemed distinct in every way—as if the two were separate realms that humans might inhabit. Surely, not all people had access to both realms—for there were people, unlike the philosophers themselves who were men almost exclusively of the vita contemplative—who hardly thought at all.

Within the vita active,  Hannah Arendt identifies three further distinctions as the fundamental human activities labor, work, and action. She writes

Labor is the activity which corresponds to the biological process of the human body, whose spontaneous growth, metabolism, and eventual decay are bound to the vital necessities produced and fed into the life process by labor. The human condition of labor is life itself.

Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world. While all aspects of the human condition are somehow related to politics, this plurality is specifically the condition—not only the condition sine qua non, but the condition per quam­­—of all political life. … Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live.

Work is the activity which corresponds to the unnaturalness of human existence, which is not imbedded in, and whose mortality is not compensated by, the species’ ever-recurring life-cycle. Work provides an “artificial” world of things, distinctly difference from all natural surrounding. Within its borders each individual life is housed, while this world itself is meant to outlast and transcend them all. The human condition of work is worldliness.

Arendt considered these fundamental human activities to be both distinct and discontinuous. To enter the world of either work or action, men first must free themselves from the necessities of labor. The organization of the family and community were two crucial steps in the evolution of human action—these small social groups created excess human capacity such that  men “of family and property” could escape the merely biological and cyclical patterns of living. While men labored both to keep themselves alive and to reproduce themselves, the cyclical patterned of both life and death in the process held little promise of starting something new, or a completely new beginning.  In labor, man shared his destiny with slaves and beasts of burden. The possibility for action—to create and make anew—presented itself only with this first prerequisite of freedom—the escape from the cycles of labor into new possibilities of human activity.

Once freed from mere laboring, men were eager to pursue other types of human activity. Those of the merchant class, the artisans and craftsmen engaged the world through work. For these men, the world and its worldliness mediated all their interactions, and set the stage for the notions of “exchange rates” and “transactions.” Of the men who had liberated themselves from a life of labor,  Aristotle considered these the less free. These “men of work” had escaped “living conditions” yet remained tied to “worldly conditions,” whose outcomes rose and fell according to patterns of production and acquisition.

On the difference between labor and work,  Arendt writes: “Labor assures not only individual survival, but the life of the species. Work and its product, the human artifact, bestow a measure of permanence and durability upon the futility of mortal life and the fleeting character of human time.”

The end-products of labor and work can at times be strikingly similar. It is the motivation or driving force within the individual that defines them . If I am producing  paintings to make a living, I am still laboring, regardless of my skill. If, on the other hand, I am painting in pursuit of a kind of “immortality” project – to make a lasting impression—then I am working, regardless of how much or how little money or comfort I derive from the activity. In one case I tune into to certain kinds of feedback from my efforts—how much certain styles sell for, what is in popular demand—and tune out other kinds of feedback – what kinds of art I might really love to b doing, for example. In the other case, the situation is reversed—I ignore what is popular and profitable, and tune into a more private, radically creative urge. We intuitively make this distinction when we judge works of art. We intuitively make this distinction when we judge entrepreneurs by their visionary capacity versus their salesmanship. Marx understood the importance of this distinction in his critique of capital systems of production—when work is reduced to labor,  men are somehow reduced too—the principle of alienation and disenfranchisement.

Collective Behavior, Collaborative Work

In this series, I propose adapting Arendt’s tri-fold division of labor, work and action to the pluralistic dimensions of human activity, and in doing so consider three spheres of the vitae activae:  collective behavior, collaborative work and political action.  Wherever and whenever men and women labor we see collective behavior. We see collective behavior through systems analysis of the type that are easily reproduced in computer programs and actuarial studies.  The nature of the collective in collective behavior is a multiplier, an issue of quantities and statistics and their relative quantitative together, we see collective changes in time.

The collective nature of labor means the loss of individuation of the person, bringing men together to labor as though they were one. The collective  nature of labor is a kind of super-organism—it is the collectively accumulated activity of individuals, each alone with his body, “facing the naked necessity to keep himself alive. Therefore, collective labor is essentially anti-political,  (“This unitedness of many into one is basically antipolitical; it is the very opposite of the togetherness prevailing in political or commercial communities…” and the values of the collective are entirely social. Arendt  writes:

But this “collective nature of labor, “ far from establishing a recognizable, identifiable reality for each member of the labor gang, requires on the contrary the actual loss of all awareness of individuality and identity; and it is for this reason that all those “values” which derive from laboring, beyond its obvious function in the life process, are entirely ‘social’ and essentially not different from the additional pleasure derived from eating and drinking in company.

Until the modern age, the notion of collective work was rare, and may have been impossible to conceive. Prior to the modern age the notion of work applied to the independent artisan or merchant—the captains of industry, the great leaders and visionaries craftsmen, architects and artists.  These are individuals, like Plato’s philosopher king, who are very often either exempted from the norms of society, or expelled from the Republic. They are significant in their individualization and their engagement with the world and its worldliness –  the maestros and geniuses– persons of significant achievement or masterpiece often garnered through a life lived at the expense of others.  Only recently, and due in a large part to the enormous scale of modern-day undertakings, the creative and aesthetic impulses in man have come to produce great collaborative work.

Unlike the quantitative nature of collective labor, the nature of collaborative work is qualitative. Where people labor together they become a “mass”—a kind of organism without individuation. The notion that “all men are created equal” is more apt to describe the laboring masses, than men of work or action.   The collaborative group, on the other hand, sorts participants by the quality of their workmanship and their talent  with respect to the world—the  project at hand. However,  just like the labor collective, the collaborative group needs individuals  unlike themselves, to lead them into the public eye, and to represent them there. In other words, collaborative groups themselves lack men of public action.

The convictions of collaborative enterprise are not the convictions of the company of laborers which is to make life easier or more secure, along with the belief that life itself is the highest good. The conviction of the collaborative group is not merely the completion of the project at hand, but the lastingness or endurance of the work, which ultimately is the only way to gauge its merit. The conviction of collaborative enterprise is a kind of collective remembrance of a people’s history—an enduring record of “where we are, where we are going, and where we have been.”  These convictions do not preclude a political way of life per se (as do those of  labor)—but it lacks the central  conviction of a political way of life—the who of “who we are”—and therefore remains unpolitical.  Only collective action maintains the conviction of the who of “who we are” – and to which we now turn.