Sloth and Speculation

I’ve been playing a lot of guitar lately. That’s not to say I’m any good; for one thing, my midget fingers have never been able to master the dreaded B chord, which is constructed as a barre. Unfortunately, that particular technical nemesis is pretty essential to a lot of songs I like, and I’m also incapable of transposing– so avoiding it altogether is also out of the question. My handicap doesn’t constitute a life-threatening crisis, though, so my musical frustration has remained at a minimum, even as I get the sense that my skill at mashing down multiple strings simultaneously has not at all improved.

But reading, for all intents and purposes, has gone out the window; a story out of the Borges collection and a few pages of The Woman in White before bed at night have had to suffice. Thankfully, it’s no problem to pick up right where I left off with the latter; I suppose that’s the benefit of novels originally designed as serials.

What has been problematic is proceeding at the snail’s pace into which I’ve fallen with Feyerabend. In one sense, taking Mr. Science slowly allows the details of the man’s arguments to lodge themselves firmly in my brain before I add another layer to any given assertion. But leaving off in the middle of a thread means backtracking every time I pick the thing up again, further dragging this already glacial process down into a stagnant swamp of learning.

However! I’ll chose to look upon the situation positively, and claim that my current sloth allows me more time to wonder about questions the reading has raised before I get started again. For instance, Feyerabend begins Chapter 13 by reviewing the arguments he’s made so far about Galileo, namely that he

made progress by changing familiar connections between words and words (he introduced new concepts), words and impressions (he introduced new natural interpretations), by using new and unfamiliar principles (such as his law of inertia and his principle of universal relativity), and by altering the sensory core of his observation statements… We may therefore change [rules], create new facts and new grammatical rules, and see what happens once these rules are available and have become familiar.*

What hit me upon first encountering this passage, and is continuing to stay with me, is the suspicion that just this way of proceeding– essentially, imagining up an entirely new structure and just throwing it out there– may be the only way we can think ourselves out of and beyond capitalism. Admittedly, that project could end up bloody and horrific, as happened with the Soviets. But if we’re ever to emerge on the other side of societies being structured and run according to a free-market metaphysic (wherein The Economy is the overriding arbiter of all value), we’re going to have to burst the bounds of the known, because it’s just so difficult even to imagine what such a world would even look like, much less how it would function.

We have historical examples, sure: communities of self-sufficient farmers, various tribal arrangements, failed utopias, and so on and so forth– but none that really succeeded on the sort of global industrial scale to which we’ve all become accustomed. And so, one question is: can I still have access to quinoa and coffee if global capitalism goes away? And if not, is that really important?

What connections, and between which words and principles, might we need to create or reconstruct? What new (sorts of) impressions and/or senses are necessary to envision and birth a world devoted to human (and environmental) wellbeing, and not to an artificially crafted economic construction? I’ll end my idealistic speculation with those inquiries, knowing I’m far from the first to ask them, and that I’ll definitely not be the last.

     

* Paul Feyerabend, Against Method: Outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge (London: Verso, 1975), 163.

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