Integral Manifesto Pt V(1) The Shape of Human Action/Tales of Chaos and the Norm

Books Discussed in this Section

James Rosenau (2003) Distant Proximities: Dynamics Beyond Globalization, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Some observers,” Rosenau notes, “appear to share the recognition that the intellectual tools presently available to probe the pervasive uncertainty underlying our emergent epoch may not be sufficient to the task.”

Where earlier epochs were conceived more in terms of central tendencies and orderly patterns, the present epoch appears to derive its order from contrary trends and episodic patterns. Where the lives of individual and societes once tendend to move along linear and steady trjectories, now the movement seems nonlinear and eradic, with equilibria being momentarily and continuously punctuated by sudden acceleration or directional shifts.

Rosenau’s depiction of this challenge

Never mind that societies are increasingly less cohesive, and boundaries increasingly more porous; never mind that vast numbers of new actors are crowding the world stage; never mind that money moves instantaneously in cyberspace; never mind that the ripple effect of horrific, terrorist actions seem endless; and never mind that the feedback loops generated by societal breakdowns, proliferating actors , and boundary-spanning information are greatly intensifying the complexity of life at the outset of a new century– all such transformative dynamics may complicate the tasks of the analysis, but complexity theory tells us that they are not beyond comprehension, that they can be grasped.

drives his point that for understanding the nature of human action– that it will be necessary to incorporate new intellectual tools and undertake an approach within the framework of complexity theory. However Rosenay himself also cautions that the task of complexity theory is not prediction and control– we should recognize by now that those halycon days are bygone– but offers a heuristic framework which might “provide a basis for grasping and anticipating the general patterns within which specific events occur.”

Complexity theory might enable us to create figure-ground, internal-external, whole-part, and space-temporal references with respect to the various relations inherent in the dynamics of the system of human action, so we might anticipate variable trajectories on a metasystematic level. This is turn might allow us ample degree of freedom and choice in the realm of human affairs.

The story of human action, however, will never me merely a story of chaotic systems and their dynamic criticalities. It is also a consistent dynamic and purposeful effort toward the stable and normative, for the ability to live a coherent and meaningful life. This at first may seem at odds with the analytic approach of complexity theory– yet any adequate theory of human action must be able to bridge the chaotic attractors with our normative needs, keep the meaning-filled ends in sight of the dynamic means, while managing to  incorporate the operation of adaptive creativity and novelty born in chaos, that make such systems resilient to surprise and collapse (even at the expense of coherence an robustness), and simutaneously managing to incorporate the operations of interconnectedness and relatedness in normative systems that maintain their coherence and robustness (and by opposite measure, more vulnerable to surprise and the risk of collapse).

If we are to design such a framework of understanding and meaning, with multiple degrees of freedom– freedom of choice in the realm of human affairs, freedom among adaptive variables, freedom to connect and to unconnect interdependencies, freedom to tune in or to drop out, freedom to design one’s own individual identities, and freedom to adopt collective ones, freedom to participate in creative construction of stabilizing elements and, alternately, their creative destrucction– then we must be prepared not only to adopt novel paradigms of human action, but also be able to work through a cross-paradigmative approach– a challenge taken up in this series.

In such a paradigm, of human action– a paradigm that has the capacity to model the internal and external dynamics that account for the kinds of real world conditions and real life situations that we have been discussing– several crucial factors must be taken into account. At minimum, such a paradigm must be

  • Consistent with a natrualized evolution
  • Consistent with complexity theory
  • Adaptable to rapidly changing circumstances
  • Transfromable to completely new forms
  • Maintain coherence and robustness through change
  • Resilient to collapse inthe face of uncertainty and surprise
  • Incorporate multi-scalar operations
  • Provide for both globalizing and localizing dynamics
  • Guarantee the multiple freedoms mentioned above
  • Provide a way to interpret the past and anticipate future developments
  • Provide a useful conceptual tool for mitigating unfavorbale effects and facilitating favorable events in collective human action.
  • Provide a guide to re-envision normative judgments about collective human action

This is a challenging list. Still, most significantly for our purposes here, this paradigm of human action must act as a litmus test both for the originating inquiry of this series — What is the pivot point around which the local scales to the global? — as well as resonate with the fundamental hypothesis at the center of this series–The subject-to-subject encounter is the limiting quantum of Human Action. It may very well be the case that the second statement correctly answers the first question.

Integral Manifesto Pt III(1): Integral Politics? / Action Beyond Reason and Reason Beyond Sensibility

Books Discussed in this Section

Steve McIntosh (2007) Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution,  Continuum Books.

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

Toward the end of his book Pandora’s Hope, Bruno Latour asks

How sensible is it to cry for Reason when faced with the horrors we witness every day?

The more your own opinion tends toward the affirmative, the more on board you might feel with the usual offerings from “mainstream” integral politics arguing for an integral version of Global Governance. By “mainstream integral” I am referring to integral thought based primarily on Ken Wilber’s AQAL model incorporated into a Spiral Dynamics worldview (often labelled iSD).]  Like the idea of the polis,this sensibility — that Reason and Rule go together — is rooted in early Greek thought. It appealed to Socrates, the summa qua non of the vita contemplativa– who neither labored, worked, nor partook of the unruly sport of the Sophists (those original politicians), and who, in the famous dialogue of the Gorgias gives this vehement rant against the Sophist Callicles that Latour relates in his book

In fact, Callicles, the expert’s opinion is that co-operation, love, order, discipline, and justice bind heaven and earth, gods and men. That’s why they call the universe an ordered whole, my friend, rather than a disorderly mess or an unruly shambles. It seems to me that, for all your expertise in the field, you are overlooking the point. You have failed to notice how much power geometrical equality has among gods and men, and this neglect of geometry has led you to believe that one should try to gain a disproportionate share of things.

It may be worthwhile to compare Socrates’ statement with one from Steve McIntosh’s new book– a primer on Integral Consciousness with emphasis on integral politics:

Without its championing of the movement for global governance, the integral worldview fails to offer the type of powerful new solutions that the previously arising worldviews have provided. But when the new insights of the integral worldview are applied through this political platform, their power to produce lasting cultural evolution becomes evident. Just as the moral superiority of democracy over feudalism served to convince many to adopt the values of the modernist worldview, so too will the evident moral superiority of global governance over a world of sovereign nations operating in a state of nature eventually convince many that the integral worldview is the way forward.

Latour might just as easily be speaking about McIntosh, in his commentary comparing Socrates to the writer Steven Weinberg (whose name I have substituted in the following act):

What these two quotations have in common, across the huge gap of centuries, is the strong link they establish between the respect for impersonal natural laws, on the one hand, and the fight against irrationality, immorality, and political disorder on the other. In both quotations, the fate of Reason and the fate of Politics are associated in a single destiny. … The common tenet is that we need something “inhuman” … [for McIntosh, the natural laws of evolution and the spiral] that no human has constructed; for Socrates, geometry, whose demonstrations escape human whim– if we want to be able to fight against “inhumanity.” To sum up : only inhumanity will quash inhumanity. 

 Not surprisingly, many reader will cry “Foul! Surely the ancients’ emerging belief in the power and promise of geometry is not the same as our trust in the power and promise of the evolutionary spiral!” In effect, however, the two are parallel phenomena, stemming from common assumptions. From the vantage point of modernity, we can surely see that geometry belongs to a different domain than politics; and for the same reasons, that both are the products of scalar constructions, the one a geometry of physical spaces, the other, iSD a geography of worldspaces. But since neither of them rests on the central conviction of the space of appearance– neither of them emphasize the power and promise of authentic political action.

The error in connecting Reason with Politics, stems from a series of insufficiently examined assumptions embedded in the culture of science and scientism which confuses the open space of the body politic with the closed halls in which experts and professionals assemble to conspire towards a politics of Reason. This would make for a democracy with an intolerant and dominant temperament. The speech acts in the open space of the body politic are quite different from those that occur around specific bodies of knowledge. Latour proposes four conditions to free politics from scientism. He writes

… the first specification of political speech is that it is public and does not take place in the silent isolation of the study or the laboratory.

From the point of view of the governors of the body of knowledges, the body episteme, the speech acts of the body politic represent defects, weaknesses, and inaccuracies. The ideas of the body politic arrive disarranged, and tend toward discordance– they are not system-ically assembled. Furthermore, in the open space of the body politic, speech acts are discontinuous and indeterminate– they do not standardize. Therefore, Latour’s second specification is

… that political reason cannot possibly be the object of professional knowledge.

Although political action requires attention to the body politic as a whole, this kind of attention requires a special genius of its own– the ability to embrace all of the parts without generalizing, which is another term for reducing uniqueness. Generalization is a contraction of the polis, a closure of the spaces of appearance, through a process of coarse-graining until there is only a cacophony of background voices in which no single voice can be heard.

This is what Socrates recognizes under the name of a good and ordered cosmos in the qualities required of the expert technician. “Each of them organizes the various components he works with into a particular structure and makes them accommodate and fit one another until he’s formed the whole into an organized and ordered object.

The third consideration Latour points out is

not only does political reason deal with important matters, taken up by many people in the harsh conditions of urgency, it also cannot rely on any sort of previous knowledge of cause and consequence…

In this sense, political reason is no reason at all, since it is foremost action. From the point of view of action, Reason, like Hamlet’s soliloquy, is an interregnum. The dispensation of action without the benefit of expertise or recourse to rational analysis, greatly disturbed Socrates in the Gorgias — yet how accurate his definition of positive attributes of the kind of democracy his fellow Greeks were inventing — attributes that Latour greatly admires

How moving to see, by returning to the past, how close these Greeks still were to the positive nature of this democracy that remains their wildest invention. Of course “it does not involve expertise,” of course “it lacks rational understanding”: the whole dealing with the whole under the incredibly tough constraints of the agora must decide in the dark and will be led by people as blind as themselves, without the benefit of proof, of hindsight, of foresight, of repetitive experiment, of progressive scaling up.

In applying to politics a “context of truth”, “mainstream” integral politics reproduces Socrates’ category error. The role of reason is to in-form politics; yet reason alone has no capacity to re-form the body politic. The body politic re-presents, by allowing for, by opening the space of appearance for, innumerable presences, the “who-I-am” that announces itself through subject-to-subject encounter, the limiting quantum of action. Given the appropriate space of appearance, this body politic, this re-presentation that occurs, occurs in a thoroughly spontaneous and ad-hoc manner, which Latour describes as a kind of “fermentation process”

The stunning beauty of the Gorgias is that this other context [other than the context of facts, reason and truth], is clearly visible in the very lack of comprehension Socrates displays for what it is to re-presentthe people. I am not talking here about the modern notion of representation that will come much later, and that will itself be infused with rational definitions, but about a completely ad hoc sort of activity that is neither transcendent nor immanent but more closely resembles a fermentation through which the people brews itself toward a decision– never exactly in accordance with itself, and never led or commanded or directed from above.

How drastically this sensibility differs from the sensibility of integral theorists like McIntosh who writes

Others who have considered the future evolution of global governance believe that such global systems will not arise in a formal way through the ratification of a constitution, but rather through the gradual accumulation of treaties, nongovernmental organizations, trade agreements, and global economic institutions. However, while the incremental accumulation of issue-specific global systems is generally positive, I do not believe that we can achieve the full benefits of a world federation … without the effective implementation of democratically enacted global law with jurisdiction over individual persons. Even if such jurisdiction over individuals is limited by the mandate of restricted federal authority … for global law to be effective, nation-states will be required to relinquish some degree of their presently unrestricted sovereignty. And the only was that nation-states will likely be persuaded to give up some of their sovereignty is under a scenario wherein their relinquished sovereignty becomes reinvested in a higher authority. That is, to bring about the bright promise of a world without war, oppression, environmental degradation, or human suffering, a world federation will have to me adequately empowered empowered by the master lawmaking authority [emphasis mine] of a democratically enacted global constitution.

McIntosh writes with a weighty sense of self-assurance, which comes from the fact that his arguments are all well reasoned, and firmly based in what he terms “the integral reality framework.” Within this framework, McIntosh can prove that political reason, effective-action, jurisprudence, and the rights of higher authorities scale up like nested sets in a transcend and include manner— from the microscale of consciousness, through scales of cultural values, to the global scale of a world federation (and even on to the nature of Spirit– the scope of which is outside this paper). His framework, the AQAL/iSD grid, is the geometrics of integral. To his credit, McIntosh writes of the possibility that “pushing power up” through the advent of a global constitution would allow for more power to be “pushed down … to the level of the people;” and he claims that this “power down” should empower and strengthen traditional cultures to “better develop their own forms of modernist cultures– the kind of homegrown modernism that would complement and preserve the uniqueness and evolutionary genius of their own particular versions of traditionalism;” but at the same time, paradoxical to what his values may seem to be, he asserts

But when we contemplate forming a union that encompasses the large populations of the Third World, from and integral perspective we can see that a simple one-to-one vote system would likely create major problems. If global law were to be made by a world legislature elected exclusively by a population size [a curious euphemism for “majority vote”] this would effectively hand over power to the large populations of the Third World. And because these populations are still largely centered in traditional consciousness, the ethnocentric morality that generally characterizes this level of development would make for  predictably one-sided laws.

So much for the “evolutionary genius” of the Third World’s own forms of modernist culture. To be sure, we would not want to cede global authority to a federation of ethnocentricllay-minded folk. Might not it be ethnocentric in any sense of the word to assert the following?

Thus a significant challenge for any would-be global democratic [democratic, that is, without either a one-to-one or majority vote] entity is to provide a certain degree of protection and insulation for modernist economies and modernist and postmodern cultures from the now significantly larger populations centered in traditionalist consciousness and below.

McIntosh recommends a tiered approach to membership in a world federation which precludes nations that do not have a requisite degree of modernist consciousness or that have not yet become democratic. Democratic in what sense? Presumably, not in the sense of one-man-one-vote, nor in the sense of majority rule, nor apparently in the sense that all participants are allowed a space of appearance– for under these conditions, the world federation itself does not pass muster. McIntosh seems to confuse democratic with demographic when he describes a tricameral federalism of checks and balances that is designed to

provide for democratic representation of all people within the federation while preventing the more populous countries from completely controlling the government and redistributing the world’s wealth and since economic development roughly traces the development of consciousness [a spurious assumption!] the disparities in wealth must be given sufficient insulation to prevent the natural course of evolution …

Of course, in his case, McIntosh’s economic demographies are prescribed by the evolutionary prime directive, namely “the principle which recognizes that every stage of the spiral of development needs to be nurtured and respected,” except that along the way we need to cut and paste entire populations on whom the “natural “evolutionary spiral depends (if there really is such a thing) according to an absolutist and elitist and ethnocentrist framework we have fashioned so carefully as to be rational, perhaps, but not sensible.If what remains after several tiers of segregation is still tagged as a democracy, it will most certainly be one with an intolerant and dominant temperament.

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


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.