The End of Days
May 21st 2011 – for some this is the day – the last day of time. I don’t agree. Bad theology may predict some event or the other, but like a broken clock does correctly define current time twice a day – someday will be the last day in time, but today simply does not look to be that day.
What this non-event has provoked for me is additional evidence for the continuance in my struggle to objectify my life by descriptive writing – who I am and what am I doing – in preparation to answer for my behavior when and if it matters, given that the last day does, in fact, arrive: a defensible argument – that’s assuming I need one and the hedge, I’ve been depending – grace, fails to cover my offenses.
Other than working out, playing online chess with my grandson – much of my time has been focused on the “last love” project. This post combines the thoughtfulness in choosing the love to become “worthy” and the power in the response to the “ghost” of the post before. What’s joyous about it all that sometimes I actually acquire by one method or other ladies of varying taste and capacities to engage on a date. I’ve actually been on a date or two or 10 – who could guess with such abstractness running in an out of my life?
A time or two I’ve suspected my search was or is over. Then I realized that the writing I was engaged had little to no bearing on the encounter. My real purpose – not to scare off those who show up – to write about an idealized search – philosophizing – has almost nothing to do with them – I’m actually looking to find a gift. In other words – even after I find that woman that can indulge me with a smile – I’ll still write. In general I like standing back a little from the ephemeral urgencies to take an aphoristic overview that usually embraces both value-commitments and beliefs about the nature of behavior, events and language.
What we here today are doing is more like discussing the social conditions that capture the movements of a virus that spawns both knowledge claims while limiting others both of which rides upon a base of mystery.
My hobby demonstrates how I decided to engage the paradoxical nature of living NOW. It is generally true we are situated in an ongoing condition of paradox, arising when, from a number of premises all generally accepted life strategies are true, a conclusion is reached by valid deductive argument that is either an outright contradiction or conflicts with other generally held beliefs. Such a result is both perplexing and disturbing because it is not clear which of one’s well entrenched beliefs should be rejected, while it is pain that in the interests of consistency some modification must be made. So I write in the tragic tone of mystery.
In a couple of the conversations I’ve had with this or that person rejected my authenticity– it’s canned, they have said. Somehow my quest and urge to write is being down played as purchased or simply a false front. I make no claim to having talent – but like it or not this is really me. I’ve gone so far as to engage in securing from my friends, family and even strangers in defining what and who I am – really. The following is a series of steps I’ve taken to support the notion of “the authentic me”: How I got to know myself as a separate object than my daily behavior of stuff:
- Explored my autobiography – Familiarize myself with my anchors – the people, places, and events that shaped me. I openly share these discoveries with others – I write.
- Return to my roots in Detroit @ the corner of Mack and St. Clair (1 of 2 – out of 20 or so male friends still alive).
- Track what gives me comfort and not. Step out of my normal routines, sought new adventures, and took some risks – what can be of higher risk than objectifying and chronicling my search for love.
- Provoke honest feedback whenever the opportunity presented itself. Asked for 360-degree feedback from close colleagues, friends, family and so on.
- Scoured insights and tactics passed down from age to age – read many of the great books, several times in some cases – I tend towards the Greeks, tricksters from many traditions and Michel Foucault.
Get to know others better by:
- Built a fragment and complex picture of my environment – in what I write. I don’t permit myself the short hand that sees others as one-dimensional; engage with and seek out in conversation their stories: backgrounds, biographies, families, and obsessions.
- Battle against the barriers that spring up between me and others. Selectively show a weakness or vulnerability that reveals my approachability to others and so on.
- Empathizing passionately (I don’t do this really well but…) with those close to me.
- Letting others know what’s unique (and authentic) about them. I give feedback that acknowledges and validates their origins and views (sometimes this is really hard – not everyone fully understands what they are saying – some really stupid stuff I have to bite hard and swallow what I want to say).
Connect to the community context better by:
- Getting the distance right. I am wary of creating the wrong first impressions. I try hard to discipline myself to use both myr sense of self and my best guess at understanding the origins of others to connect with, or to separate from, others.
- Routinely hone my social antennae.
- Honor others deeply held values and social mores. I see how unlikely it is to make connections by riding roughshod over other cultures’ strongly held beliefs.
- Develop my resilience impulse. I expect setbacks as I expose myself to new contexts and cultures. I continue to believe that preparing me by learning about and understanding about my own values is the most edifying tactic (accepting that mystery abounds).
Make or Buy (framework development)
A very close friend – I lament we are not so close now – use to entertain each other while we both struggled through divorces by playing this thought game: Make or Buy. He was in a MBA program known for its abstract theorizing in finance and economics and I was also studying economics and religion. Neither was very interested in small talk so our ongoing conversation across a number of areas was “Make or Buy”.
There were two areas where this question most showed itself: Mate selection and personal economic behavior. I for the most part took the side of buying external expertise and he making internal sources suit the need with added investment. Not to sound crude, but I wanted a highly efficient capable resource where he was more tolerant of lower capacity claiming the additional opportunity cost was for a development process that would make a difference over the long run. My retort was in the long run we are all dead!
Over hearing some of our conversations I guess could be very disconcerting. Practically my choices that he was oppose – dating white woman too – only selling to large mainstream corporations – living on the North side of Chicago – insisting that my children went to selective enrollment schools and such. Put simply – I did not want to pay an extra dime to promote under developed people or institutions, where he was fine thinking he was contributing to some larger good. This tactic, of efficiency over development could sound even confused coming from someone that was studying to become a minister and community organizer, as I would do – mystery at play in my life.
We would argue about transaction cost versus strategic development – I have over time seen the benefit of some of the strategic investments he argued for. We could go on and on about external triggers – reasons for undertaking the rationale for the question in the first place. I would chide him with the facts regarding integration and how paradoxical and ironic his hoping for development was. I would tell him that he needed to redefine that “Black Thing” he was hoping for to the “talented tenth “(as defined by W. E. DuBois without the restriction that all the other 90 cent will or could be uplifted).
He would remind me of the institutional baggage and unfairness that cluttered the normal course of events related to race, gender, trans sexual choices, economics and education. I’d agree but then simply call them externalities that someone – the government – should pay for – simply not enough of my problem to sacrifice my other options!
What we did agree on is a framework to use when such analysis would be needed. What we did not agree on – even as he was my best man for my last wedding – was my choice of a wife. Our lost of friendship was not solely due to my choice, but it played a major role. With that said, let’s turn back to the framework he and I worked out and the part it now plays in my “last love” project.
The easiest topic was the scope of the external triggers to use before the make-or-buy analysis e.g. price competition – the triggers are the reason(s) for undertaking the review and can be easily identified by asking why the decision is being made. Care must be taken to link performance measures to decision triggers.
Then, given our predilections we agreed on the following:
- How to make comparisons between internal cost and external price
- How to research when multiple steps and other people were involved
- The advantages of structured vs more randomized approaches
- Desirable characteristics of a structured approach
- Total acquisition cost, complexity, technologies and skills, and finally a caveat on “power”.
Over the past years I’ve become fairly adapted with this process. I’ve used it in lots of ways – am using it currently. What I write may not close or open the door for this prospect or that one, but what it does is highlights some tolerances, mental notes I take for comparison sake across the field.
The S.K.A. (skills, knowledge and abilities) I focus most on are mental curiosity and agility. My thinking is that there is no amount of work or advice or assistance I could provide to “develop” these abilities. Lower on the scale yet almost as difficult to incite development for is physical fitness – if someone is not into their body – nothing I can say or do can make that big a difference. Highest on my scale but the most difficult to develop or even balance with other limitations I have is creativity and ambition.
This may seem a little convoluted but the balance I seek revolves around the reality that I’m not very materially motivated, and these ladies that I have met my three highest requirements tend to be either wealthy financially or prize it highly – I’m not, nor am I really interested in becoming materially so focused. So in that case we have to negotiate an exchange of high enough mutual value that we both come away satisfied or nearly so (I have yet found less than 5 so far that even get the question – no less worked out the trade – so I continue to write about mystery).
What seems to stand in the way for many a possibility are the social tolerances they have or want to maintain in their life going forward. The community that will judge them; the traps that they have fallen into based on flaws demonstrated in previous relationships and the ghost that find life in events or roles from childhood and the stirring reality that blending lives takes time and thought.
Sooooooo, whither it’s age, traps, or otherwise an approach must be developed that extends into process of negotiation that better forms tactics for this kind of engagement – difficult, yes!.
Now we finally are at the section where I go all abstract on you – nearly poetic. This is where the subject turns analog most like a discussion about a bacterium. The following propositions situate the power (actionable engagement) in Michel Foucault’s “war by another name” and Sun Tzu fights to merge heaven and earth. Power for them is not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away—it simply is.
Relations of Power thrive in any space with respect to types of relationships (economic processes, knowledge relationships, sexual relations), but their immanence is always contested; they are the immediate effects of the divisions, inequalities, and disequilibrium which occur, and conversely they are the internal conditions of the differentiations.
Power comes from your basic stand; that is, there is no binary and all-encompassing difference between rulers and ruled at the root of power relations.
This simply says we simply can’t understand power relations if we begin with the macro level of analysis of class, race or gender oppression. To truly understand Foucault we need to begin with the local scene – like the clinic, the mad, pleasures of the Greeks and see the patterns of practices and discourses and their interrelations and how they have become inert and seemingly fixed.
We have to back away from the notion that Power is either heroic or evil, but in fact it’s more like fog both intentional (think global warming) and nonsubjective (without consciousness). If in fact this fog is intelligible, it is not because it is the effect of another instance that “explains” it, but rather because it is imbued, through and through, with calculation: there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives.
The rationality that characterizes power is spelled-out by the observable tactics that are often quite explicit at the restricted level propagating one another, but finding their base of support and their explanations elsewhere, unknowable, ending in comprehensive systems: the logic is perfectly clear, the aims decipherable, and yet it is the case that no one can be found there to have invented it, and few who can be said to have formulated it – a true mystery.
Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. Should it be said that one is always “inside” power, there is no “escaping” it, there is no absolute outside where it is concerned, because one is subject to the law of language in any case. Or as Foucault reminds us – “that, history being the ruse of reason, power is the ruse of history, always emerging the winner”.
To those unhappy with omnipresent nature of this power your lament is duly noted, but to me this sounds like so much hot air – no logic to the choice just a discourse defense for what you want to be the problem. It’s known that the fundamental method of the feminist movement and civil rights movement and gay and trans liberation movement is pegged to defeating “power”. These movements began with people telling stories and then strategy is built on an analysis of power relations as a result of already gathered specific experiences with oppression – ass backwards. These analyses also involved creating new language to counter power. So why would they look across and within their own comrades to witness the power struggles as it shows up in front of their eyes.
The goal is to see power acting in the world in a new way—not to deny its general design or institutional crystallization but rather to see it as more insidious and complex than previously thought. Foucault frequently uses language that argues that power “pervades the entire social body” or is “omnipresent.” Thus all of social life comes to be a network of power relations. And some critics have argued that if power is everywhere at all times it is functionally equivalent to saying power is nowhere. Power just is. And anything you try to do to counter power is within the system of omnipresent power relations and may indeed lead to further oppressions.
I think Foucault would certainly disagree with this analysis of his work— The Genealogy method is an attempt to show how looking at the particulars of power discourse across time and contexts helps us understand mechanism of power (such as the discourse of liberation better so that we can resist them better).
Seeing power in all interactions can certainly be disheartening, but it is not the same as saying power is irrelevant. Nancy Fraser says, because Foucault lacks a normative standard—a clear ethical standard in his formulation about truth and freedom, for example– he leaves himself open to misunderstanding. But is also true, is that by doing so it opens up space – leaving it for you and I to plant whatever mysterious plat we would need.
Many followers of Foucault and postmodern philosophy have adopted a kind of ethical ultra-relativism that is, in part, based on the kind of deconstructive practice that Foucault developed. In this context it simply takes me back to that I have to figure out the balance within wherever relationship that shows up as a gift – a mystery.