One concern in putting this module together has been language itself - in particular the word "sacred". Words like this have such inertia as a result of all the uses to which they have been put over the generations. They have been misused repeatedly in the service of violent and oppressive narrative structures which do not truly serve our species.
There is, to quote Douglas Rushkoff, Nothing Sacred. Which also means everything is sacred.
What we most want to say here cannot be said. Instead, simply recognize that you cannot acquire everything, which is why any path to the sacred (meaning beyond yourself) has always had to do with letting go. We are not on a hero's journey. We are on a fool's errand to give back the evil which does not belong in this world.
How does this fit into Kernel?¶
We must take great care with the language we use to describe our intentions when working with a global, shared and ownerless platform for computing. This is because the plot of our narratives is actually written in economic code and executed without the context stories provide. The possibilities for the kinds of transactions we can enter into are endless; this is neither a good nor a bad thing. It is simply a (very strange) fact of the time in which we live.
"Since a songline can span the lands of several different language groups, different parts of the song are said to be in those different languages. Languages are not a barrier because the melodic contour of the song describes the nature of the land over which the song passes. The rhythm is what is crucial to understanding the song. Listening to the song of the land is the same as walking on this songline and observing the land."Brief¶
Marianne Brün begins by discussing the tacit assumptions of a work on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn, along with the claims he makes about the term "paradigm" and the dilemma this lands him in, which she will unpick in the course of her essay.
"In short: its greatest dynamic power is held by a paradigm while it is not called paradigm, but called facts, data, truth, nature, ethics, proper procedures, etc. As soon as a paradigm is called a paradigm (usually then referred to as a mere paradigm), its power collapses.""
Assumed knowledge, like geocentrism or the existence of a particular God, creates the framework for investigation. However, it has throughout most of human history been a taboo to question the existing framework itself:
"It was a sin and crime, punished by law, church, and community vigilance, to ask and probe whether the known was true, whether philosophical thought and scientific research and problem-solving were based on all one could know.""
We cannot sneer at this history, knowing that the people of bygone times acted in accordance with what they knew, and could not have suspected that much of their knowledge was based on flawed interpretations or faulty observations. Of course, this also implies that:
"We today can not tell, by definition, within which paradigm we are dwelling, thinking and acting, unless and until we are able to observe us and it from the outside, just as we recognize it and us from outside the times of Galileo.""
Kuhn was the first to use the term ‘paradigm’ in this sense, and in so doing, he trapped himself in exactly the kind of paradigmatic thinking he was trying to escape. Brün points out the self-contradiction in Kuhn’s attempt to carefully explain his leap in ways that would appear reasonable to those still trapped within an old paradigm. In order to bypass this problem, Brün simply defines her stance:
I shall use the word paradigm whenever I wish to speak of any structural notion and concept which, underlying the development of discourse, is tacitly taken for granted by all participants in that discourse, taken to go without saying and left unquestioned, regardless of whether the discourse leads to an agreement or a disagreement on any issue.
Prompt: Paradigms hold the most power when they are taken for granted by everyone and not called what?
The Inertia of Language¶
Using Brün’s definition above, all of history can be seen as the retroactive telling of paradigmatic stories:
their inception, flourishing, and collapse; and how there always has been a new paradigm waiting to substitute for the collapsed one. These stories do not, however, sufficiently emphasize a recurrent and ubiquitous phenomenon [...] This phenomenon is best described as the inertia of language.
However, these paradigmatic stories do not cleanly replace one another, due to ‘the inertia of language’: the tendency of our words to preserve old ways of thinking, even long after the paradigm from which they were born has been superseded.
This inertia is both a symptom of paradigmatic stories, and the dynamic force behind their telling. It can be traced through linguistic constructs like how the sun still "rises", even though we have known for hundreds of years that it is the Earth's horizon which dips into dawn, and rises into dusk.
Due to this inertia, language stores and offers for communicative usage many remnants of many obsolete paradigms.
If we accept these remnants in what we write, speak or hear, then we subject ourselves to the unstoppable inertia behind it. This is something for which we must take individual responsibility:
In human society language is so powerful that only violence (which is not language) can stop it. Where its power fails to serve my desires, it would be a mistake to blame such failure on the weakness of language. Rather I should blame the weakness of my relation to language. If I fail to notice that I think and speak, under the influence of language, in patterns and constructs accumulated and preserved in the junkyards of long since vanished paradigms, then this shows my lack of consciousness with regard to just that power with which language can quickly make me spokesman for ideologies, in which everybody is almost always “right” at the “wrong” time.
Prompt: The only way to act against the inertia of language formed in long-past paradigms in to take individual ______________ for the words we use.
This rightness at the wrong time becomes most obvious in a failure to appreciate the importance of context for any creative use of language. We wish to point out that such contextual, environmental awareness is more readily available in indigenous protocols:
The work to reclaim language through these various mediums inaugurates the next leap between oral, written and textual mediums into the digital. But technology reveals what language reclamation solely through the discipline of linguistics lacks, that the creation of meaning cannot be programmed without context.
Brün notes that ideologues always use language which insists on its own timeless truth and consistency, yet is hostile to critique and frames the observed evidence as a betrayal of its believed premise. Ideologues believe in the power of language but fail to recognize it and so they become no more than the tools of their own ideologies:
The accumulated language of bygone times: powerful, familiar, and obsolete, uses the ideologists and makes them its speakers. Through them it thwarts those specific human attempts which we call ideas and which, rebellious against all that is, would engender new thought and new procedures.
This brings us to the crux of the dilemma faced by authors like Kuhn - and us all, really:
Neither insight nor good intention, not even syntactic and grammatical care, will protect me from becoming an ideologist as long as I am unable or unwilling to create the suitable language which speaks as I think and not louder than my thoughts.
Overcoming this issue begins by facing squarely the human misery and suffering in this world, seeing how it is largely created as a result of our culture, ethics, morals, beliefs and values and then attempting to join "the problem-solvers" so that we might stand ready for the day when the underlying paradigm can finally be seen clearly as a mere paradigm:
The universal paradigm, in whose invisible and unquestioned embrace human misery can accurately be named a somehow excusable and certainly always expected commonplace, will stand exposed and rejected, to be replaced by one that I (from my present outlook) would prefer or (a radical change in social consciousness) by none.
We're arguing for the replacement of the paradigm which casts man-made suffering as an excusable certainty with no paradigm at all, rather than Brün's preference, but her following analysis of the already existing paradigm is still on point.
The Reward-oriented Hierarchy¶
My conjecture is that we all live, speak, and act, perceive, judge, and decide under the unquestioned, untouchable, and firmly established guidance of an image which I call “the reward-oriented hierarchy”. By calling it so, I may be able to show that particular dynamic property of language which, undetected, blocks creative, and thus political, thought processes.
Brün makes a clear distinction between:
The premise of any truly human society, which is the satisfaction of all human needs before and so that
The purpose of a society can be envisioned, which is better means to meet our needs; the use of freedom from need for enjoyment of diversity and difference; the exploration of ideas; and the implementation of inventions.
We do not live in such a human society. Our society has developed an image of itself, according to which the satisfaction of needs has to be deserved and earned, so that it be understood as a reward [...] The premise of the reward-oriented hierarchy states that the necessities for the satisfaction of human needs are scarce. This scarcity poses individual and social problems of production and distribution. Finally, the premise declares that the problems of scarcity can not be solved before individual and social problems are solved.
Our present knowledge and technology could remove scarcity, but its economics and language linger on and stand in the way of us realising our power to change things. Shared networks which merge the two explicitly allow us to program dynamic flows of value are fascinating. Structuring incentives according only to who gets rewarded inevitably results in imbalanced systems, which are manipulated by those already in power for their own ends. This is why balancing penalties with rewards and developing clear cost models for malicious behaviour is so critical. It is the last piece Brün was missing back in 1980. However, she already understood then what many still do not:
💡 The problem is not primarily social or political. It is linguistic and contextual.
Prompt: What is the paradigm within which we currently live?
The reward-oriented hierarchy.
On Your Marx¶
We cannot use the language of this reward-oriented hierarchy in which we are so deeply embedded to discuss its own premise: we must first teach it to experiment with itself in order to discover how it labors under the paradigm it ought to expose.
In particular: can we find the language whose grammar, syntax, and sentence structure would make it consistent with the premise that all human needs have to be satisfied first, before and so that individual and social problems can and will be identified and solved?
Brün quotes Karl Marx and shows how his analysis of labour may be applied to language to make a very subtle point about how insidious paradigms truly are. Though we can use Marxist analysis to reveal the contradictions of capitalism, showing that there are contradictions is not revolutionary. It is the contradictions themselves which are revolutionary because they generate the antagonisms which the system cannot resolve without disintegrating. Therefore, Marxist analysis is a great starting point, but due to the inertia of its language, it inadvertently misleads its followers into focusing on the ideology rather than the insufferable contradictions. What it lacks - and what Brün dreams of - is an economy of signs largely free from the accumulated inertia of past paradigms.
Prompt: The language we are developing is an economic one whose grammar, syntax, and structure will make it consistent with what premise?
Human needs must be fulfilled before and so that society can flourish.
If we are to realise Brün's dream of a society which sees the satisfaction of human need as its premise, we must
become the creative artists who compose language to teach its writers and speakers how to be thoughtfully and carefully inconsistent with undesirable premises, to be incompatible with the morals, the religions, the armed forces, the arguments of the reward-oriented hierarchy.
This kind of dream cannot be realised in conventional language, no matter how eloquent:
Communicative language is accumulated language based on obsolete and present paradigms and can not speak for those of us who think and dream in another paradigm.
We can turn again to David Graeber to understand what these kinds of inconsistent, incompatible ways of organizing might look like in both history and modern practice.
Anarchist-inspired revolutionary 'networks' and 'convergences' employ decision-making processes which assume that no ideological uniformity can or should be possible. Rather, these forms become ways of managing a diversity, even incommensurability, which is seen as a value in itself [...] It is precisely what most outside observers take to be the foolishness and naiveté of the movement (their apparent lack of coherent ideology) [that] has turned out to be a token of their most sophisticated accomplishment and contribution to revolutionary theory.
The refusal to adopt one, ‘coherent’ ideological paradigm is an essential aspect of the three freedoms outlined in Graeber's book, The Dawn of Everything. The freedom to refuse, to disobey, is critical to reigniting our shared political imagination and finding better ways to live together in diverse societies.
We have written this brief with the intention to indicate a connected chain of thought - a digital songline of a different and human society. Following this age-old tune, Brün finishes with a note about doubt, humility and art:
Language is not the standard against which thinking is to be measured; on the contrary: language is to be measured by a standard it barely reaches, if ever, namely the imagery of human doubt and human desire [...]
If the imagery succeeds in containing, anti-communicatively, for later, the simulation, the structural analogy to that which was found wanting, then, who knows, it may tell us or someone some day with breathtaking eloquence and in then simple terms what we, today, almost speechlessly have wanted so much.
Prompt: What do we need to embody in order to forge carefully a language which is inconsistent with undesirable premises about who deserves rewards and incompatible with the arguments of any armed force?
A creative spirit.