Monday, August 6, 2012

The world is a Gordian knot

You can start just about anywhere, and you will soon find that this starting point is a thread that will lead you to a complex set of interwoven social and semantic relations that won't easily untangle for anyone.

Not even for the living and breathing persons that happen to call these relations their everyday experience.

The key to this knot is that it is easier to live it than to understand it, and that understanding is secondary to praxis. If you can act in accordance to the implied rules and conventions of the knot, then you can slowly submerge yourself into it, slowly coming to some sort of understanding as you go along.

This does not bode well for the impartial observer. Distant empiricism will only get you so far, and in the end the lack of proximity is what killed the curious kitten.

Or, in other words: the knot will always be there, and if you can't beat it, adapt to it.

That is not to say that there are not attempts to remove it. Bureaucracy and externally imposed authority are very clear attempts at cutting through that indeterminate knot and Get Things Done. Not by adapting to local social and cultural conventions, but by making these adapt to the newly imposed order.

This works very well when there is a functioning state apparatus behind these demands. Even more so when the implied threats inherent to demands of change are backed up with the very real capability of making life very miserable for those who (for whatever social, semantic or cultural reason) fail to adapt.

In the myth, violence is the tool of choice for making the knot go away. The previous order of things will just have to untangle along.

Yet, in practice - as every colonial power knows - things are not as simple as that. Once the new order has been established, and the violence inherent in the system is made invisible, strange adaptations start to happen. People start to meditate upon the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of it, and before anyone knows it, new complex interwoven social and cultural behaviors manifest themselves. By skirting around the new order, the old order remains, resists.

Even - especially - when the response to this is to make that invisible violence visible.

Both the distant impartial observer and the equally distant yet brutally partial lawmaker face this knot. I cannot but think that there is a lesson to be learnt here.

No comments:

Post a Comment