🥃 Spinoza, Marx and Decentralization

Karl Marx, like Friedrich Nietzsche, was a Spinozist. Both thinkers had direct and initially welcoming interactions with the great ethicist-cum-hermaneuticist. The ideal center of debate for understanding Spinoza turns on the question that asks what his “God-intoxication” in fact means. In our present discussion, what does it mean to be intellectually intoxicated at all? In step with the particular, Schopenhauer would say that failing to explain God makes one an atheist, or that merely dressing up our language, divinizing nature, makes one an atheist, as if such verbal acts or epistemic failures are not a common measure of almost any theist’s commitment to the divinity, seeing God’s divine plan in all things, as it were.

Art by Veta Gorner

Perhaps, then, all Christians who see God’s hands in all workings of events are also atheists. Spinoza in fact wanted to convince us that engaging in such verbal acts, or realizing such failures, could itself become a method, a method of decentering the subject, and one that warrants the claim of being the least convincing, except for all the rest: that there is a right and a wrong way to say of what is properly God’s will (so long as we re-cognize it as the same as God’s intellect). The center of the debate turns on Spinoza’s accusation that all other Abrahamic traditions, interpretations and the like, are suspects of interpretative failures, or hermeneutic misfires. Why should any of this matter to decentralization? I will suggest that seeing God aright, i.e., natura naturata, in all things, and ideas, is a basis for decentralization in all its forms: to see the fundamental agency, or species conatus, of all configurations of the Real is a maximally consistent principle for decentralization and decentralized systems architecture, a schematic of immanence for the autonomous Real. Ultimately, to this end, we might be touching a difficulty: thinking according to the One, what is not nothing but other than the activity of God or Nature, such that we conceive of relation without exchange, as since we want to discuss exchange at all, finding it in the interactions of particles requires that we think ourselves as though the same, macro- and micro- distinctions fading away, ever concerned with the axiom that the order and connection of ideas is the same as, yet not reducible to, the order and connection of things. When we say that ideas are objects there should be no ambiguity about what the copula is doing: it is not a prompt for a reductive analysis, but rather a prompt to think according to the One, by the vision-in-One. Sometimes we may venture toward correlations, and other times we may see connections, and operate according to that unilateral duality, as the determination of the One. There are many more contemporary formations of this thought and findings of it:

  1. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson analyze linguistic behaviors in terms of conceptual metaphors which enable thinking according to cognitive groundings, as well as normative groundings, of and for transforming reality; e.g. Argument is War, Time is Money, Happy is Up, Bad is Down, Wrong is Low,etc., all by which Richard M. Hare’s prescriptivism may be considered and to which expressivism, that resistance to the modus ponens (i.e. “… if it is low to boil frogs, then it is low to let your little brother boil frogs …”; whence cometh real truth values as the explanans for normative behavior?), may be developed. What does it mean to be scientifically skeptical of such metaphors? What does it mean that while their presence in valid arguments may be given, we yet still suffer a symbol grounding problem? Is this why the world is rife with so many appeals to informal fallacies and without any open-source argument licensing committees or Free Argument movement? Such expressions and their locality, whatever their status, are not indications of philosophers seizing the rug from under us, but in fact indicate, by their ubiquity, that the philosopher is at the mercy of language, which has no interior or exterior, and speaking of that…;
  2. Ludwig Wittgenstein reflected heavily on the images, or as Marguerite La Caze and Michèle Le Dœuff might say imaginary, abandoning the picture theory developed in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, of language whereof we make up the rules as we “go along”, the ineffable being-given normativity (is is used this way, is is used that way, and so on, until a student demonstrates the success of using the term which amounts to meaning, which as Putnam might say “ain’t in the head”);
  3. Charles Sanders Peirce approaching paradigmatics and normative definitions; even Hegel: “The terminus is at that point where knowledge is no longer compelled to go beyond itself, where it finds its own self, and the notion corresponds to the object and the object to the notion” (Phenomenology). Who isn’t a Spinozist, or maybe even an Egyptian, as in perhaps accepting one’s own vanity: there is nothing new under the sun?;
  4. and, of course, these moves are not without their historico-political impacts, as race has been “given the epistemological status of silence” and how nothingness and blackness are wedded by the copula. The black person might not want to play the balancing act concerning the skeptical commitment to whether or not we have epistemic access to metaphysical necessity and whether it’s all merely metaphorical, as Fernando Pessoa reminds us: “Some metaphors are more real than people you see walking down the street. Some images one finds in books are more vividly alive than many men and women. Some literary phrases have an absolutely human individuality.” Why should the philosopher’s cry for apriority sway us when “philosophy never goes beyond a widened cogito” and “implicit in its existence is a transcendental hallucination of the Real, and in philosophical ‘self-knowledge’, a transcendental illusion”?;
  5. In Red Skins, White Masks, associate professor in First Nations and Indigenous Studies Glen Sean Coulthard calls our attention to the task of developing a basis for grounded normativity, toward a grappling with the politics of recognition (and lack thereof), the importance of withdrawal from current instances violent colonialism as bureaucratic expansion (“capitalism with a smiling face”), and shifting the context to the analysis of the colonial-relation prior to the capital-relation central to Marxian formations of critique which elsewhere fail to remark or account on indigenous struggle — a politics of seeing and seeing-as;
  6. Historian and Feminist Studies professor Donna Haraway, in A Cyborg Manifesto (see Manifestly Haraway), writes of “one last image: organisms and organismic, holistic politics depend on metaphors of rebirth and invariably call on the re-sources of reproductive sex” (my emphasis), and later “Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves”;
  7. Media theorist McKenzie Wark in Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse? notes of the need to revisit the label of “neoliberal capitalism”, its explanatory lack toward our contemporary modes of “late stage capitalism”, it’s seeming redundancy and also contrasts, or refines, the “hacker” (what was in the old lexicon the “producer” or the “laborer”) and the “vectoralist class” as the new “ruling class” (those who organize the means of production, rather than merely own it): “To the vector the spoils”;
  8. Andrea Long Chu in Females discusses how “literally everyone, every single human being in the history of the planet” is female and hates it;
  9. Recall Jacques Lacan arresting us by the claim that “the Real” is that which cannot be described and “the Imaginary” as that which we can see;
  10. don’t forget the Peterson-Žižek dog and pony show, centering us to the microcosms of everyday life, be it clean rooms or toilets, by their own idiosyncratic ideologies, only to generate a copula which more often obscures than it reveals in analysis;
  11. and there’s no shortage of “living/dead” metaphors (X has a spirit/is a specter or X is an organism), from Marx’s Capital and Derrida’s hauntology to WHATWG’s “living standard” to “living law” to “living drugs” to Holochain modeling “validation rules” on DNA to “trophic flows as local economies” (just because nature does it that doesn’t mean we should too, and if we do, it’ll likely be for a different set of reasons), to Klossowski’s “living currency”.

We might ask: are these really “metaphors” and not just the thinking stuff that regulates philosophy and its margins? Are they diminished by calling them such? Does buying a metaphor constitute the difference between education and indoctrination? Do they need the “empiricist’s touch”? Are they attempts at virtual forcing (“no one is illegal”; my emphasis), “rendering obsolete of all points whatsoever” toward a “generic ethics”?

Woe to him who hides wȺsŧɇłȺnđs connections within.

To develop a Spinozist form of governance is to commit to a polycentric model where councils keep each other in check, preferring representation over elections. It is an ontological commitment in the last instance to thinking according to the One, and if we cast a Marxian apology, it is a concern for the general process of distribution as the politics of metaphors. Today the Marxian thought, now more or less formulated most readily in heterodox economics, like of Frederic S. Lee and John E. Roemer, adaptations to Piero Sraffa’s surplus approach reconstructed from David Ricardo’s surplus theory, Allin Cottrell and Paul Cockshott’s cyber-socialism, and the legal theory of finance of Katharina Pistor, must speak alternatively or at least additively to the model of the citizen-laborer not receiving the product that which is in excess of their mere existence and identity. That is to say, that surplus is defined in terms of that excess lack of remuneration, which results in alienation as labor is commodified (people become commodities less themselves). Bruno Lator might say the problem has always existed with us in the fact that mediators, translators and purifiers have always existed since pre-modernity, of a modernity that has always been beyond us to-day, challenging the myth that society and nature are distinct or have ever really been conceived as such except as a relatively more recent phenomena, completed or fulfilled by the postmodern condition (remember Spinoza’s point on human dominion within, and not distinct from or at any rate special with respect to, a dominion of nature as it concerns his suspicion of any and all finality in nature). So much for the simple “shopping mall” characterization (owners, buyers, and sellers) of political world economy you may encounter so often as a defense of the way things are, regardless of the addition of shareholders and investors. Today, Marxian thought speaks to the ontological commitment, or maybe even the material-semiotic problem, of the limits of causal or control power within not only all individuals, as we all must admit that individuality itself is formed through historico-socio-linguistic developments, but how the distribution problem is unique to any species conatus, A, as it relates to some other, distinct and clear species conatus, B, before we attribute labels “ruling class” or “1%”. Is Spinozistic defense of “aristocracy” trapped in a language of legacy, of its age, or did it identify the true limits of our discourse? Are mediators and purifiers part of such a class, just as investors and owners? Is a translator ever commodified, do they organize the direction, upward or downward, of the social surplus (“To the vector the spoils.”), or both in a superposition? Should we modify, refine or abandon Spinozism if, as it might be clear now, that so many thinkers have turned on this problem?: the normative role (the manifest image, as Wilfred Sellars might say) of the copula, as it draws on us to think according to the One.

Consider that we’ve yet to see a sufficiently convincing reduction of “reasons”, “intentions”, the manifest image, to the scientific image, we may want to avoid claims that it’s all biological or physical: again, there are “ideas,” “things”, “connections” and “correlations” all of which prompt us as equally real. How many times a day can you reply, “correlation does not entail causation” or that “mind is not brain, even though brain subtends mind”? Today we might ask whether our socio-technological practices suffer the same tensions and are enabling us to embed technology into our social praxis, or whether we are embedding praxis into technology. It might be seen as evidence of this concern when thinking about the “agent-centric” vs “data-centric” approach to “decentralization” so far as distributed computing technologists and computationalists are concerned. If thinking is computation, and if we’re caught up in the correlationist way of modeling, we can ask if we are embedding thinking in our distributed setups, or embedding distributed setups in thinking, before we consider if we are embedding technologies in social praxis rather than embedding social praxis in technology.

To say the least, the “blockchain thinking” ideology wants as to think in terms, counter to our common sense notions, of the brain as a decentralized-autonomous-corporation (DAC; note that cooperatives can be incorporated and by neuropragmatism we can justifiably defend that the brain is structured “democratically” rather than hierarchically), which just amounts to yet another metaphor: thinking is computation(al). Now there is a question of whether we should adopt this seeming metaphor as an identity statement (a theoretical identity), but further as an a posteriori necessity, a kind of necessary truth (Saul Kripke attempts to explain the illusion of contingency concerning statements like “Water is H2O” or “Gold is the element with atomic number 79"). Our entire discussion would itself seem to be for naught if it is a scientific image, if the truth of the matter, determines what is the grounding of any and all metaphors. As discussed before, we might ask the Sellarsian: are conceptual metaphors scientific images, manifest images, or neither? What of dear metaphors, when do they die and is that a biological process we can explain without presupposing a conceptual metaphor in such a explanation? What of our socio-racial considerations? Can we start talking about and deciding on racial identities as a posteriori necessary truths just in case we can talk about the periodic table of elements as a posteriori necessary truths? Likewise, is it an a posteriori necessity that thinking is computation? We have many correlations that abound, and then we also have “connectionist” proposals: “Training nets to model aspects of human intelligence is a fine art.” Yet let us not be misled that the connectionist is fundamentally talking about “order” as well.

When Spinoza says “the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things” he is implicating a notion of normativity inasmuch as sameness concerns preserve one’s being in accordance with reason: “No virtue can be conceived as prior to this one, namely, the conatus to preserve oneself” (Ethics, IVP22). Insofar as a conatus, any kind, even a species conatus, seeks to preserve itself (its scientific image), this is logically prior to the conception of virtues (the manifest image). Herewith, the manifest image, for Spinoza, is itself determined: it is an active (natura naturata), necessary cause. Again, the ontological schema Spinoza is working from is that God’s intellect is the same as God’s will. Yet here we are left we questions of whether superstructure correlates with base structure, whether or not thinking is theoretically identifiable as necessarily true a posteriori with computation. Which grounds which: are these “conceptual metaphors” the synthetic a priori, or are a posteriori necessities our proper grounding of the grounds for grounding grounds? Is metaphysics a muddle of metaphors and we’re all doomed to re-grounding, de-grounding, pre-grounding, etc. the given? This is a basic problem to the non-philosopher who studies philosophy: how, or by what principles, does philosophy guide itself and how does it regulate itself? Philosophy is not the only discipline we may say must continually answer this question: science must answer this question, before it proposes its “ethical principles” and falsificationism or verificationism debate. What grounds normativity in science against the skeptical meta-induction (the history of ideas suggests that if past successful scientific theories were shown to be false or past scientific statements not to refer, we’d have little warrant to believe our current scientific theories are approximately true) and error theory (one scientist claiming X is a good theory, which implies a reason, A, for X, while, ceteris paribus, another scientist claiming Y is a good theory, which implies a reason, not-A, for Y)? Of course, scientific practice involves a method that is generally subtractive, leaving the “best” available theory to scrutiny: but by which principles do we scrutinize what is leftover, and are those principles not grounded normatively in a former scientific paradigm?

This is probably all one can ask of history, and of the history of ideas in particular: not to resolve issues, but to raise the level of the debate.
(Albert O. Hirschman 1977)

Does decentralization have to deal with all of this, really? Is it really a bunch of gish-galloping in the name of pessimism about the whole matter, or is their some grounding, as it were, to the very questioning of grounding (our symbols and their meanings). Does it even make sense to contrast a posteriori necessity with the synthetic a priori, hasn’t this all been covered before by better thinkers and academics? Again, it’s quite simple: you have ideas, things, correlations and connections. We might call “correlations” the “orders” of Spinoza’s manner of speaking. And what of it, haven’t I just made a mess of things, have I really raised the level of the debate? If I’ve done anything here, it’s at least bring together some issues that are seemingly unlikely related and put some historical context to their being information.

This mess is mine, but I’ll leave with some questions. Is asking how are metaphors possible the same as asking how are synthetic a priori propositions possible? Did Kant not depend on “containment” metaphors, or analytic imaginary, to achieve his analyses, to be considered normative to the philosophical subject (what is not the purely transcendental subject)? Are agents, or data, merely yet another philosophical subject conformant to a philosophical apriority? When you’re asked to think that agents or data as decentralized, and the best approach to achieving such a purpose, is such a possibility grounded by a metaphor or a scientific image as a theoretical identity as an a posteriori necessity? Why should we think socio-technologies and their mental models escape or resolve these questions in the last instance if non-philosophy is a globally transcendental discipline that is real-in-the-last-instance?



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