On Compassion under Chaos | Consolidation
This is part of a series of stories, for now titled “Consolidation”. For a framing of this project, start here.
All majoritarian movements of the past (here using a term that I hope to co-opt in order to weave my narrative of a new logic of social cohesion) are rooted in a singular, albeit abstract, narrative of individual satisfaction as derived from “justice”. There are the opposing movements of capitalism, individualism, humanism, socialism, communism, authoritarianism, fascism, anarchism. Each comes with assumptions about their world which have never existed, which couldn’t possibly ever exist. Satisfaction here refers to a kind of relative better-off-edness — the idea that there is some rearrangement of present conditions that could, potentially, generate some better outcome for ones own narrow goals in life. Justice gestures towards some universally derived sense of fairness, of security in the face of surroundings that are often brutal and chaotic. Otherwise put, then, the -isms of the past imply the rearrangement of conditions for the generation of some new and emergent, coincidentally solipsistic, coincidentally beneficial system in which all are poised to gain.
These theories are inevitably unfair. These narratives are blindly optimistic. In the world as it has and will forever be positioned, existence more often than not appears as a zero sum. Survival often must come before collaboration, compassion for those around you third, empathetic self-sacrifice far below. Particularly within systems like that of the United States, where life and liberty are rooted in the pursuit of ones own betterment, our own happiness is often derived from the transitionary, whereby the perception of gain is only realized for an infinitely small moment. Look to the central notions of majoritarianism for examples (here, again, used as the catch all term for the -ism based social movement culture of the previous centuries). Capitalism takes the condition of scarcity and creates a new matrix of personal gain somehow equating to the broad gain of many. Rugged individualism, Adam Smith’s “pursuit of self interest”, is made generative by some inevitable characteristic which both inheres and expands. Socialism and its derivations suggests a reversal of this logic, with the collective ownership of some means of production, or perhaps means of creation, divorced from individualism, instead occupying some maximal vector of common men, of the common man.
Alternatively, look at these issues minimally. Human beings are tethered to their fundamental need(s). I don’t mean needs in the Maslowian sense, in the sense of our needs for food and water sustenance, for our need for self-actualization. I mean, more precisely, the need for neutrality within a world that is markedly chaotic, for which there is no necessary or sacred order on which lives can be based. Production is a proxy-term for purpose. Purpose, in a world that can never be fully known, is transient and smoke-like. It takes shape only momentarily, and then transforms and dissipates. It convinces us of its importance only to be devoured by the powerlessness of our position as humans with an incomplete knowledge of our own cognitive drive. Regardless of the ennui that it produces, we are almost always subject to the world first and foremost.
Therefore, a new form of social cohesion must focus on the level of the individual. It must come up with some new sense of neutral purposefulness, in which our incomplete understanding of the mind can be made cogent. It must espouse non-interference and mutual recognition of our own brutal uncertainty about our surroundings. It must lean into chaos as a rule. It must reject surveillance, for data points can only make sense of these smoke-like, momentary truths — all while giving the illusion of observational permanence. Majoritarianism gives the impression that the mind is somehow able to find certainty in the world. Democracy gives the impression that it reflects some immutable characteristic of its participants, that the nexuses of democratic interaction, voting mainly, reflect some withstanding truth about those who it operates for (or, perhaps, on).
That is why this new form of social cohesion must also reject notions of government and nationhood as they have traditionally been considered. Rejection here cannot be seen as revolutionary, for revolution implies persistent rejection, immutable departures from what was once considered sacred. Instead, I suggest that it roots itself in agility and self-recognition. Think of the supporter of a certain political ideology, perhaps the supporter of the current American president Donald Trump, as a flash in the long-unfolding process of common identity-making. I choose to invoke this controversial presidency in particular to outline a central notion of this movement. To recognize the need for this new logic requires that you recognize that Donald Trump isn’t some persistent truth about those who outwardly, vocally support him. His election is transient, he is simply a nexus of chaotic though, splayed out maximally in an American electoral system that requires the collapse of the endlessly transforming political ideologies into binary (in the case of the two-party American system) or x-ary (in other cases) choices. Fixating on these moments of choice, on elections and policies, diverts the eyes from the realities on the ground.
Most simply, politics as it stands cannot possibly reflect any specific, or even general, truth about its participant precisely because those who choose to subscribe to its notions cannot possibly understand their own persistent sense of purpose. All things are poised to fall apart. Purpose, and therefore intention, only exists for a moment, and then instantaneously devours itself and transforms into the unrecognizable. The deep-seated desire to return to those initial conditions can only generate anxiety, manifested in a self-discrediting sense of cognitive dissonance, in hypocrisy, in doublethink.
This is the point zéro of this movement: recognize compassionately one’s own uncertainty about the present conditions. Approach this truth with the recognition that the world around you is inherently chaotic. Form communities around this notion. Wave the smoke from your eyes and cling to the process of purpose formation, not to the conditions of decision-making. I plan to return to this notion frequently.