After Overcoming

His overcoming brings the great peace. He overcomes into silence. The untroubled man no longer writes. There is no more need for philosophy, any sort of talking or writing about. Indeed, what is philosophy no longer has meaning for him. He understands that language can have nothing more to say on these matters. His overcoming has returned him to the world.


Note on Writing

“If my mind could gain a firm footing, I would not make essays. I would make decisions.” ― Montaigne

There is something of the coward’s hesitation in sitting down to write that can never quite be removed. The writing moment is an extension of the conscious moment, a breakdown of man’s place within the world. Writing may clarify a man for action and return him to the world, or itself become a kind of fetish, a bad habit, a secure retreat from the world of men and activity.

He who writes feels more productive than he who simply sits. But it is mostly a false comfort, because for whom does the writer write? His audience is those who sit to read. And his writing, if he chooses to publish, encourages other men to sit.

Writing, to be productive, must itself result from some conflict regarding an action, return the writer to action, and just as importantly bring any reader to action. While good writing returns both author and reader to the world of decision, bad writing creates a lasting world of its own for a reader, giving him pleasure and comfort to remain within it. He lives in the musty quiet of libraries, or under the protection of universities, and any writing he may do will be no more than a derivative, secondary literature on that which was already written.


Shadows of Consciousness

1.The female migrating swallow is passionate in her care for her chicks. Her day is occupied with their nourishment and she will sacrifice her life to defend them against a predator. But when the flock of migrating swallows appears signaling the end of the season, the mother swallow will immediately leave her chicks to migrate with the others. She joins the migrating flock and abandons her chicks to certain death. She acts without hesitation or evidence of confusion.

2. Some chimpanzees from the Gombe group were observed as they came upon a strange female chimp carrying a baby. The Gombe chimps immediately seized upon the baby chimp and killed it as they might have killed a pig or a monkey. “Humphrey was beating its head against a branch; then he started eating its thigh muscles and the poor infant went limp. Mike was allowed to tear off a foot. But now confusion seems to have overcome the attendant apes. They watched intrigued, but none begged a portion. They did however inspect the carcass, and Humphrey too began poking and sniffing rather than eating it. He even groomed it, then dropped it and walked away (prey is devoured by the group with not so much as a scrap wasted). Others retrieved the small corpse, only to play, examine or groom it, often giving it the respect accorded a dead community member. The carcass changed hands six times and, although battered beyond recognition, very little had been eaten.” (The Ape’s Reflexion, Adrian Desmond, pg 220)

3. Humans feel a deep sense of horror at the neglect, abuse or killing of a child by its mother or another adult. This outrage also extends to the abuse or killing of babies of other social species (puppies and kittens in particular). The case of the migrating mother swallow is curious to the observing ethnologist for this reason. In many ways her conduct appears similar to that of a human mother, but then in one astonishing moment, without any hesitation, she abandons her children to migrate with the group.

4. I previously used the metaphor of a suddenly stopped film to describe the appearance of consciousness. It was as though you were at the cinema when midway through a film the screen went blank, the lights came on, and the story in which you had been immersed is gone. You are suddenly aware of yourself sitting in the cinema. Consciousness appears as a similar sort of breakdown and awareness. The world in which one has been acting, its fluid, narrative-like quality, is abruptly broken. One is aware of himself and a world outside himself, seemingly distant. He feels very alone. He hesitates to act. What causes this hesitation? What triggers the conscious moment?

5. The mother swallow joins the migrating flock so that she may survive the winter and there is no evidence that she is conflicted over the abandonment of her children. The Gombe chimps by contrast appear conflicted over the infanticide. Humphrey and Mike carry out the killing, but when the others fail to join them in eating the dead infant both Humphrey and Mike hesitate. When the others (likely more than two) poke and sniff at the carcass Humphrey imitates them. Some of the others then play with the carcass or groom it, one seemingly treating it as a dead community member.

6. There is confusion among the chimps over what has happened and its significance. Though the gender of the other chimps was not recorded (were some or all of them women, mothers perhaps?), it is clear these chimps do not consider the infant chimp to be prey. Humphrey and Mike do not follow through on their impulse to eat the dead infant. None among them is certain how to act.

10. In their own chimp manner Humphrey and Mike have become aware of the conflict between their impulse and the behavior of the other chimps. To conceive this conflict is to become conscious. They are self-conscious because they are conscious of others.

21. Man’s consciousness is rooted in his sociability. There is no self-consciousness without consciousness of other selves. The two require each other. In much the same way a man’s genetics express themselves through the institutions that surround him, his self-consciousness requires the consciousness of others to express itself.

35. Consciousness emerges from a disagreement between genes and the institutions that exist for their expression. A man unwilling to express himself within the institutions around him feels alone, world-less. There is a breakdown of sociability. The institutions that surround him are no longer welcoming. Instead of acting he hesitates. He fears the disapproving look of the others, their judgment, if he acts otherwise. When the others are not present to provide the disapproving look his conscience provides it. The others physically, or through the institutions he was born into and through which he expresses himself, are part of him.

49. Institutions define what is expected, they define appropriate behavior and standards of conduct. Certain institutions are more deeply coded into man’s genes and to break with them will produce in him a physical anguish, the pang of conscience.

68. Motherhood is the original institution. Upon the model of the mother’s care for her child other species specific behaviors are based. Changes to the institution of motherhood as a result of birth control; first pregnancies in their late thirties; refusal to breast feed; employment of nannies to care for children born to careerist mothers; etc. pose specific challenges for institutions throughout a society.


Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

12. His genes are a record of what has worked, what has survived. Institutions are themselves a similar record. Institutions might be thought of as the genetic material of a society (see Veblen).

16. Institutions are the conditions, habits and rules of group life. His parents, through the genetic material they provide him and their care for him in his early development, enable him to engage and live within certain institutions.

22. Human life is group life. Man could not exist without some group. The family group, a particular lineage, is in his genes and he exists as an extension of it. In infancy he could not survive without the attention of his parents, attending to his nourishment and protection. In infancy and youth his parents introduce him to the institutions that will shape him. His parents are society, they are the others, and they bring to him a particular institutional life (language, social customs, art, economics, technology, etc.). From the start man cannot exist without other men, his parents and the others. (The nourishment and protection the helpless infant receives are themselves a form of institutional life.)

30. Genes work in tandem with institutions. There is not one without the other. Together they blur any distinction between “inner and outer” as conceived by the philosophers. They influence each other and develop together. Man is both himself and the others. He exists through the cooperation of his parents and the social cooperation that created the institutions within which he will come to understand his life.

34. He has the genetic makeup to learn to speak because a language already exists for him to learn.

35. The shape of his face changes according to the language he speaks; his body develops according to the food he puts inside it; his posture develops as a result of the number of hours per day he sits at a cubicle before a computer; etc.

45. His instinct is a genetic disposition for something. That something is defined by institutions, by other men. Without a particular institution an instinct would remain unexpressed.

58. Man’s destiny includes other men. It is a fact of his species. He is a descendant of other men and he is their record.

76. A man can only act with regard to his genes and his particular perspective on the institutions around him. His acts are his own, specific to him and his understanding. In this freedom consists: that his action is his own and cannot be any other’s. He cannot be anything other than free.

80. If you alter the institutions you alter man, though the effects are unpredictable.

92. In prior times nature, the wild, the unknown and dangerous world of other animals, was a significant element in man’s genetic and institutional development. Technology has allowed man to eliminate much of “the wild” from his daily life. Only rarely does nature affect his development (e.g. an earthquake or a bear attack), and then it is only for a moment. It is his institutions and technologies that compose his daily life.

109. Certain men will be drawn to other, different institutions to express themselves. An uneasiness within the institutional world they inhabit may push them towards other institutions. Some men may attempt to transform a particular institution, while others will depart for a new society altogether.


Man, Myth, & A Poem

1. Man is unique among the social animals in that he is able to create myths to explain his world to himself and to other men. He lives according to myth and his institutions develop within it.

2. The sweep of the scientific myth is far reaching because of what it has produced technologically. Science must be correct because we have the jet airplane. It is as though a tribe decided to accept the metaphysical proclamations of a shaman because he had discovered a jungle root to cure an ailment that afflicted many.

5. Myth is most powerful when he can touch it. Through technology he touches science.

11. Observing other social species man recognizes a moral feeling and conduct similar to his own. The mother wolf cares for her children, the father provides, defends and will sacrifice himself. The family of wolves is affectionate with one another and a wolf will often assist a fellow wolf in need. Yet the wolves act morally in the ostensible absence of any religious myth.

12. Man shares with the wolves (and chimps, birds, elephants, dolphins and others) the moral habits of the family and the small group. But unlike these other species man attempts to explain this morality with a story. Through myth he communicates where he comes from and why he acts as he does. These myths no doubt strengthened the family and the group, providing it with a shared identity that could be communicated through language, ritual and art. But morality existed prior to the myths erected to explain it.

19. With Enlightenment the ancient myths were slowly destroyed. Strangely, man assumed that in the absence of religious myth his feeling toward other men, his morality, was now without a foundation. The philosophers argued the foundation for what is morality was “outside” him, first in a positive sense (Descartes, etc). Then later some argued (Nietzsche, etc) that morality was a negative imposition upon his essential freedom, a stricture without any basis, forced upon him by other men seeking power. Other enlightened men pictured man as only physical, defined by his genes, a being reducible to brain function and electrons. To others he was psychological man, a consciousness spontaneous and essentially nothing, fighting for its freedom against the inauthenticity imposed by other men and the world around him.

20. Common to these newer myths was a conception of man as individual, alone, separate from all the others, cut off from the world. In evolutionary terms he pictured himself as competing with other men in a fight for survival (see Hobbes and Huxley). Psychological man was also in a struggle, though one more for his authenticity and freedom than his survival. The economic man of the 20th century was also constructed upon these ideas of individuality and competition as man’s natural state. Mankind is best served through competition, not cooperation, they argued.

31. Might not there have been more cooperation in man’s history? It does not matter. Man’s myths of today hold no place for cooperation despite the examples of it he might observe among the other social species. Man and his institutions develop otherwise. He becomes as he believes. His myth is his becoming.


While they
Gettin turned out by they bosses
Making facebook updates,
Gettin drunk & trying to fuck

I alone living lone
And laying down
The fucking scorch

And shittin on you face,

Now you shook, now

they all
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