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PERSONHOOD AND DESTABILIZING EFFICACY

An Essay on the 1981 Essay and the 2001 Revision

© Henry A. Flynt, Jr.

The manuscript in question was written in February 1981, with the marvelously sinister title Personhood and Subversion (a title reminiscent of Lawrence Beilenson’s Power Through Subversion).  But the title aimed far too low.  It promises a relation between personhood and an undermining campaign whose goals are social.  That would make the manuscript a theory of covert social destabilization which emphasized the target individual’s potential for disaffection, for transfer of loyalty.

But to the contrary, the manuscript addresses the threshold between the present civilization and a speculative future devolving from cognitive nihilism via meta-technology.[1]  I had used the term ‘experience-world’ in the discourse which prepared for meta-technology.  Now, in the months before 1981, I began a knowingly compromised discourse on the “person-world.”  Cognitive nihilism and meta-technology were omnidirectionally destabilizing.  The person-world conception, in contrast, seemed inert, like an administrative resolution of metaphysical questions.  I needed to aggressively re-position personhood theory, and, at the same time, to apply person-world analysis to the “human” problem of escaping the present civilization.

Modern thought has increasingly idolized society as a grandiose objectivity.  There is, for example, a sociology of knowledge—which proceeds as if society (on earth) can be the ultimate reality which constitutes the physico-mathematical universe.  This same fetishism of society views “human change” in the perspective of propaganda theory, brainwashing theory, and electrode implantation, for example.  It was part of the program of the present manuscript to announce that social objectivism, as one of the secular religions of contemporary civilization, must be destroyed.  Very roughly, we had to understand “human change” phenomenologically.  We had to aggressively identify mutabilities of the person-world.  We had to find the trap-doors in societal objectivity.

So far from being confined to social change, the manuscript envisions the destabilization of everything encompassed by the word ‘reality’.  The first case study it takes up is that of mathematical truth.  At the same time, I needed to ponder the resistance to destabilization evinced by the person-world in early formulations.  We are at the threshold of a speculative future devolving from cognitive nihilism via meta-technology.  The point was to explore “human fixation” and “human change” aggressively as they are thrown in sharp relief at this threshold.

The manuscript proves to bear on topics suggested by the original title anyway.  I do speak of covert social destabilization with special attention to the target individual’s potential for disaffection, for transfer of loyalty.  I make passing mention of the culture of demoralization, if you will, which erupted conspicuously in the Seventies.  (Using punk as a proxy because the topic doesn’t deserve a comprehensive treatment here.)  At the same time, the 2001 revision transfers all references to the sociological view of “human change” to a supplement.  There I cite Bernays’ classic Propaganda, and Conway and Siegelman, Snapping.  

The culture of demoralization encourages the smart set to view manuals of propaganda and brainwashing as deliciously criminal.  But given the resources at my command, propaganda and brainwashing and “new myths” are no more than frauds suitable for bullies and salesmen.  I don’t know how many people Stalin convinced that he was a greater physicist than Einstein, or how long people will believe that Coke is the real thing, but these achievements in human manipulation (which, to social scientists, are stellar achievements) are merely abusive; there is no reason for me to dwell on them.

                                                                                                                                                •

In February 1981, I thought I should attempt an oracular style.  As a result, the tone of the review of cognitive nihilism at the beginning is less than ideal.  My review of the “Is there language?” trap is cloudy because I was trying to characterize cognitive nihilism at personhood theory’s level.  It isn’t worth it to try to improve this treatment; let it be imperfect. 

What the 1981 text had to say about personhood theory concerned a theory that was less than a year old.  Personhood theory does not exist anywhere except in my formulations—but when I first formulated it, I was reflecting what I had heard from other people.

Western metaphysics notoriously knows certain quandaries: 

—the notion of a mind unable to establish a world outside itself

—subject/object cleavage

—mind/matter cleavage

—self/other minds cleavage

—the free will/causation clash

—the notion of a world consisting exclusively of objectivities

Other people were intimating that personhood theory should resolve these quandaries with a dogmatic formula.  I wanted to explain that any attempt to resolve the quandaries with a formulaic assertion would only hide them.  Moreover, if personhood theory aimed at concealing the quandaries, it would end as an inert, stale, administrative “solution of the problems of philosophy.”  In fact, the quandaries point to junctures of the person-world which are the hardest to account for reasonably.  I was beginning to trip over those junctures in this text.  Later versions of personhood theory would be configured around them.

                       The argument is dense at points where I was trying to align personhood theory with my less compromised pronouncements, and to ascribe blame for what seemed to be the inertness or staleness of personhood.  Since embryonic personhood theory may have been responsible for these entanglements, I don’t touch them in this revision.  It was enough that later formulations outgrew many of the deficiencies noted here.

                                                                                                                                                •

The reader needs to have immense patience for my sense of having a message of world-shattering importance which other people were dismissing.  I assume that I possess world-shattering results from which I can judge the present civilization’s degree of intellectual integrity.  From the outset, the text is filled with extremism.  (The reader may not know that I consider my extremism extremely productive over the last four decades.)

The reader needs immense patience, in particular, when I take other people’s dismissal of my message as the topic.  I use myself and my enterprise as a norm against which to test everyone else.  There is nothing wrong with that as long as it is explained properly.  “If you the reader are willing to humor my claim of world-shattering results, then allow me to use those results to explain why the results themselves are frequently dismissed.”  (If one thinks that a submission has been rejected for bad reasons, then one tries to explain that—and the explanation automatically makes the submission in dispute into a norm for truth-claims.)

Readers who are expecting a sociological manuscript which takes the objective world for granted will find, perhaps to their horror, that I demand the destruction of social objectivism.  As I explain, we have every reason to want an escape route from socio-idolatry.  As the oldest people in Russia today may know, being a cog in the Marxist historical machine was not so wonderful.

Another feature of the text which may be startling is that I speak of DESTABILIZING EFFICACY as something desirable everywhere.  Well, there is a tendency to fetishize destabilization, to which my 1969 manuscript “Subversion Theory” had contributed.  But now it is not fetishism; it is legitimate.  I have the vantage-point of meta-technology or astute hypocrisy (and beyond that, I wish to “manifest” cognitive nihilism.)  Omnidirectional destabilization is then a requirement of principle.  The minimum acceptable result is the annihilation of the universe.  §A and §B.1 say it, in a more decorous way.  It really saves time, because we can dismiss as worthless everybody who is not out to annihilate the universe.

                                                                                                                                                •

As background, what the person-world needs to be compared to, as a topic, is THE EXPERIENCE-WORLD.  A notion which was behind everything I wrote on the evaluational processing of experience.  (Dreams and Reality.  The Geniuses Liberation Project?  Determination of an Objectivity by Reciprocal Subjectivities?)

We must get clear on an elementary distinction in personhood theory.  Personhood theory may portray or report that I comport mentally in a certain way.  One may believe “my personality leaves my body and survives separately in a non-physical realm when I die.”  Personhood theory reports the belief—and wants to understand where the belief “lives.”  Personhood theory does not commit to this belief; the portrayal or reportage does not assert the belief.  The enterprise has a strong “quotation” aspect; we review what we commonly believe without committing the review to those beliefs.  (Locutions such as “we” harbor a lot of incongruity, of course.  I don’t want to tamper with that here because the diction would become outré and it’s not suitable in a preface.)

                                                                                                                                                •

Even though the 1981 critique gets left behind by later personhood theory, it offers lessons about every doctrine which has the same philosophical shape as embryonic personhood theory.  We may mention the doctrines from different schools which seek to gloss over the Western metaphysical quandaries—and which end by being administrative and stale.  We may mention any “theory” which claims to take all doctrine as its subject while viewing that doctrine from outside.  (I shouldn’t quote Althusser, but he was on the right track when he wrote, in early 1969, that the accusation of being in ideology only applies to others, never to oneself; “ideology” has no outside, but at the same time is nothing but outside.)

The text offers another lesson:  when it launches into non-intellectual epistemology.  See the discussion of “ideological mathematics.”  I sought a more substantial understanding of why my appeals to principle had failed to persuade in the communal arena.  I judge non-intellectual epistemology to be “necessary” in the body text, §E.1—for what?—for meta-technology, for undertakings in persuading people.

If I hoped for wider acceptance of the message as a result of taking personhood theory as the topic, and probing “human change,” it didn’t happen. There had been a few people who had listened to meta-technology because they took it as an amusement at the fringe of science.  Personhood theory did not find an audience.  Principle made it necessary.  In particular, it provided my backlog of views on psychology and society with a far more suitable basis. 

Every paragraph of the body text evinces why I found it necessary to carry personhood theory forward no matter how thorny it was.[2]  Officially, we have a physico-mathematical science which acknowledges nothing “human”—and a sociology which, whether it reduces to physico-mathematical science or not, extinguishes individual subjectivity.  (Prevailing psychologies are just as unacceptable—as I say briefly regarding psychoanalysis in Supplement 1.)  Then all of the “where am I going?” questions are consigned to religion or some such superstition, an utterly unprincipled move which pubic opinion is perfectly content with.  (For what religion means to the smart set, see the front pages of The New York Times news sections.)

I had to have a perspective in which “where am I going?” questions could matter without being tied to beliefs which physics and social science had already debunked.  (The shrieking duplicity of the smart set was intolerable.)  This step then reacted on physico-mathematical science:  showing that the consenting sham is central to what is officially called objective truth.  (Actually, the smart set’s unprincipled embrace of religion and ethics is enough to discredit science utterly—but never mind that.)

                                                                                                                                                •

Cognizant that personhood theory reflected other peoples’ views, and confident that I already possessed world-shattering insights, I demanded an explanation for the relative inertness conveyed by personhood theory as of February 1981.

Meta-technology looks at “reality” and finds it to be vulnerable and plastic.  Why doesn’t personhood theory find the person-world to be vulnerable and plastic?  Why does “the” person-world confront “us” as something inert?  Is it something about the methodology, about the questions asked?

Is personhood theory capable of DESTABILIZING EFFICACY?—I asked.  For example, could it support meta-technology? 

The text was a turning-point:  a critique without which further advance would not have been possible.  Following on this critique, I redirected personhood theory.  The original text is headed Part I, and promises a Part II.  But there is no document called Part II in my archive.  Evidently the promised Part II was “Personhood II” of May 1981.

Personhood theory does not culminate in a dogmatic account of reality.  It moves the view back and forth along a chain of “instabilities.”  In February 1981, I was wondering where the destabilizing efficacy was.  Once personhood theory was well under way, it became manifestly oriented to destabilizing efficacy.

The manuscript offers its own terminology.  Here is a short lexicon.

cognitive nihilism

experience-world

meta-technology

evaluational processing of experience

cognitive autonomy

cognitive theory

ideological theory

consenting sham

inertia of the person-world

realized choice

the thought-modality of a civilization

post-scientific thought-modality[3]

inter-epochal thought-disparity

culture-correlated impairment

skill potential

motivation profile

authentic personality-option

personal departure

supposedly cognizant indifference

                                                                                                                                                •

My goal in producing the 2001 revision was to arrive at a text which I can read without getting hung up.  Mainline arguments needed to be repaired or focused.  When there were vague references, I had to try to supply the particulars.  The only reference I haven’t cleared up is my proposal regarding 0/0. 

The rewriting project offers an important lesson in moving a text “up the tree” in the sense of “Uncompromising Positioning.”  The manuscript harbored two discussions which were distractions.  First, personhood theory, to serve its purpose, would have to adopt accounts of self and other, culture, and society which diverged radically from common sense.  Secondly, there were the review and critique of social science and other modern accounts of “human reality.”  Since the whole point was to disabuse ourselves of these secular religions, the body text was not the place to settle accounts with them.  These discussions are transferred to a supplement.

[The 1981 text devoted much space to informing the reader that personhood theory must repudiate biological and social objectivism.  Society and culture have to be conceived as their “penetration” of the person-world, relativized to the subject.  I painfully translate the individual’s co-existence with culture and society into the concepts of personhood theory.  That means that much of the 1981 text was devoted to spade-work which didn’t directly inform regarding the stated topic.  Much of the original text should be called “rejection of modern objectivist conceptions of the human arena.”]

The manuscript was vague where certain key decisions were needed.  I resolved these points according to clues in the manuscript itself.  First, the threshold between the present civilization and the speculative future is identified where it penetrates the person-world.  As well, the inter-epochal thought-disparity which matters at present may have no analogue in the past.  That means that I do not present a theory of transitions between civilizations given as historical objects.  There may be no comparison with e.g. the threshold between Islam and modern Europe portrayed by Lewis.

On another point, I mention how a problem posed for meta-technology, to make 1 = 2 credible, might be “solved” via a consenting sham.  It needed to be clarified that consenting shams are not contributions to meta-technology, and the text needed to be edited accordingly.  Making the lie “true” by believing it is not properly meta-technological.

Brackets in the body text usually indicate explanations added in 2001.  Parenthesized letters refer to asides which I printed for my own use.  There may be instances where it is important that I was making a certain point as early as February 1981.  In such instances, one can refer to the 1981 draft to see if the point was there.  The revision cannot be vintage evidence.

The rewriting project offers an important lesson about how to construe early manuscripts which I don’t have a chance to rewrite.  As well, it evinces that nobody but me can salvage one of my early manuscripts.  They have to be unraveled, and rewoven, sometimes with different threads (to continue the metaphor).  Nobody but me would know.  Identifying the mainline and disconnecting everything not on the mainline.  Focusing or repairing arguments.  Getting some clarity on the 1 = 2 matter.  Even something as elementary as making the commercially published references explicit (Hao Wang, Abraham Robinson, Borel, van Dantzig on Brouwer, Sirag, Tim Crane, Mlynár, Bernays, Conway and Siegelman, Lewis) is far from trivial.



[1] An endeavor of which I am the only full-blown exponent, unfortunately.

[2] Cf. the remark on the turn to personhood theory at the end of §E in the body text.

[3] More extreme:  post-civilization thought-modality.