Saturday, 27 January 2018

The opposite of abstract is personal

This is the essence of what I am currently trying to get across - a break point with the usual way of considering things.

Abstraction (pretty much) IS Positivism... and Positivism is what we are trying to escape. This, at least, is the case when Positivism is reconsidered as meaning Abstraction.

We start out as Personal - when we are children. As human culture (so far as we know) started out as personal - animistic, anthropomorphic, everything alive, conscious, personal.

Abstraction was introduced by (?) the Ancient Greek philosophers, and it grew initially in and from a situation of unconscious and spontaneous personalism. Thus the AG's advocated abstraction, but they were (by our modern Western standards) very animistic in their thought, behaviour and language (this last being well attested by Owen Barfield in his 1928 book Poetic Diction and elsewhere).

Since then Western Culture has become more abstract and less personal until now public life is wholly abstract - to the point that even in the Mass Media the personal is wholly abstract... that is my interpretation of the identity politics which has taken-over in the past 50 years: even people are now wholly (abstractly) representative of the class/ sex/ non-sex, race, religion of whatever. (As in the foundational feminist phrase The Personal Is Political.)

OK, it may be agreed that modernity is too abstract - a matter of models and symbols... but most people would regard The Concrete as the Opposite of The Abstract; I'm here pointing out that it is the Personal which is opposite.

So we must apparently become Personal instead of Abstract - but, I would emphasise, Not by trying to go back to being unconsciously and spontaneously and passively Personal, like a child or a putative simple hunter gatherer...

This times and in the future it much be a choice, a choice or decision that must be consciously and freely made. We need to decide that Personal is how things Really are: that deep-down and objectively things are ultimately Not abstract, but that they Are instead personal.

So we live in a reality, a universe, a world, where things are persons, things are beings - beings are persons... at bottom and root we have living and conscious beings.

This entails that mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology are not really real; these are (more or less use-full) simplified (= ultimately and always false) models.

(Same applies to the abstractions of managerialism - all those processes, measures, stats and targets - they aren't The Bottom Line they are plain wrong.)

It's a big change I am asking and advocating; but I think this is exactly what is demanded, what we need to do - by divine destiny. It's where we are all going, sooner (this mortal life) or later (after mortal life)... although we can, of course, always deny it; because we can (we are free to) deny anything...


  1. Brilliant. I feel exactly the same way about psychology too. I see psychology as a wedge of abstraction that we, as modern, secular people, drive between ourselves and others, dehumanising the other and in the process, dehumanising ourselves. Of course, psychology is useful for bringing about a desired effect, giving the user control, just like physics and bureaucracy are used to bring about effects - to control. But if our starting point is to always interpret what another person does or says through a lens of psychological formulae, how on earth could that relationship ever be personal?

  2. @Ama - I'm sure that Steiner saw this clearly, and said it in places; it was (I think) what he was doing when he spoke very personally - about Michael (epecially) or Ahriman.

    In the final book (Anthroposophical Guidelines) I feel he is struggling to write in this personal way - but he lapses back into abstraction recurrently. This oscillation I found confusing, until I interpreted it thus.

    Steiner made it harder for us because he seldom or never admitted that he had made a mistake or changed hism mind. So we have to discover this for ourselves, and in the face of his denials.)

  3. Help me out here - can you show me where Rudolf Steiner said that he never makes mistakes? I'm aware of followers who seem to feel that way.

  4. I really appreciate your use of "Personal" here; so straight-forward.

  5. Let me try to return the favor of your sharing.

    "This entails that mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology are not really real; these are (more or less use-full) simplified (= ultimately and always false) models." - I understand this feeling / assumption, as I lived with it - angrily - for many years.

    I wrestled with it when I taught high school physics (in Waldorf schools) and trained myself in Goethean science. I've done a great deal of study of the history of science - sa well as that of consciousness. First, staying within the view of physics - I will limit myself to that realm - that you profess - let me share what I finally came to. As a teacher I felt a responsibility to represent to the young people the thoughts and views of the social world they would be entering. At the same time I felt that science, as expressed, was deeply flawed. A colleague presented me with a challenging dilemma when she said she *knew* people who were scientists, and they were in fact good people striving for both the good and the true.

    Finally I arrived at the following: Virtually all statements out of modern science err in overlooking decisions at the beginning of the project, the decision to attend only to the "weighable and measureable" - fundamental to the Positivism you refer to. [I leave details of that to others, it is enough to delineate what I am referring to.]

    The "falseness" is in saying, "This is how it is" when what is meant is, "When I attend to these aspects in this way, this is the result."

    But I feel you do quite a disservice to physics with broad strokes that actually refer to the errors and not the substantial recent work in the field itself, most especially that of David Bohm, who took a very personal approach to physics, believing it to be literally personal, that each thought actually changes the person, and delving deep into the nature - including the personal nature - of consciousness is essential in coming to a deeper physics. His physics does not exclude, indeed supports, your "how things Really are: that deep-down and objectively things are ultimately Not abstract, but that they Are instead personal." (See his final book, "The Undivided Universe."

    Recall that modern science (from the Renaissance on) had the task of developing the faculties of clear, individual thinking. To characterize that as simply "false," I would suggest, is just as abstract as anything else you might decry.

    I am just digging back into Owen Barfield's works. I think it likely that we often mis-take what we name as "abstraction." I am not arguing this, I am puzzling. And here is what is coming to mind for me - and why I appreciate your use of the "Personal." Obviously any word and any language is abstract in our time. That is simply a given. Dark squiggles on a white page, for instance, can only, in and of *that* phenomenon, be "abstract." The Personal, then, must be in how I relate to and use them. And so to, for the reader to achieve the Personal, is in fact a deed, it depends on the relationship the reader develops to those squiggles. Even if the squiggles are turned to speech, the Personal can only arise out of the relational activity of the reader. Or so it seems to me . . .

    Interested in your response. Thanks so very much for your words.

  6. @csweningsen - Well of course RS said the opposite (as was often pointed out by OB); but to be fair, Steiner *acted* as if he didn't make mistakes, even in off-the-cuff speculations - at least I can't recall him ever correcting himself.

    Instead he often tried to argue as if his entire vast and rapidly-generated output was a coherent unfolding of a single theme. This trait was so extreme, that Steiner may well have been a variant on what Colin Wilson terms a Right Man.

    While a major genius and a good man; I regard Steiner as very far from the infallible and consistent saint he is seen within Anthroposophy. In particular, I regard his career as a 'leader' - from the time of joining the Theosophical Society onward, as a mistake and a corrupting influence; and I regard his ventures into 'practical affairs' as fundamentally wrong (I mean education, medicine, agriculture etc)... and since these are how Steiner is remembered, and what most Anthroposophists value him *for* - there is a collosal distortion at work.

    Almost all those who aren't themselves Anthroposophists (eg. Colin Wilson, Gary Lachman) see clearly that Steiner's genuine achievement was primarily in philosophy, in the books leading up to Philosophy of Freedom (and Barfield endorses this primacy, although his appreciation of RS is much wider); and that from then onwards was in essence an aberration... although he continued to produce superb ideas up to his death, embedded in a much greater volume of systematised wrongness; so it is necessary to read Steiner's later work, if his full value is to be appreciated, and full benefit obtained.

    For instance, last week I was reading some early parts of Riddles of Philosophy, and it was absolutely superb!