Quasi-Objects for Moderns and Premoderns

Posts in this series. In the first post I give some background on We Have Never Been Modern by Bruno Latour. The second post describes quasi-objects. In this post I try to explain why Latour thinks this is an important distinction.

The Moderns

Quasi-objects play a central role in Latour’s thinking. He uses a diagram similar to this

Above the line we see the separation of culture and nature, driven by the work of purification. Below the line we have quasi-objects, created by the work of hybridization. The work of purification is acknowledged to be a central part of our self-understanding. As a society we are conscious of this work, and we think it is important. Below the line is the vast bulk of the work we do in contemporary society, and have done for some decades. Our productive lives consist in the creation of quasi-objects, and our social structures revolve around these new creations.

But we do not subject quasi-objects to study, we do not pay serious attention to them, or demand accountability for their consequences. They are, for the most part, invisible to our understanding of our society. At most, we notice them when their consequences cannot be ignored even by the most committed moderns. Here’s a horrifying example.

The Premoderns

Latour contrasts this description of the condition of modernity with his discussion of pre-moderns:

So are the moderns aware of what they are doing [in the act of hybridization] or not? The solution to the paradox may not be too hard to find if we look at what anthropologists tell us of the premoderns. To undertake hybridization, it is always necessary to believe that it has no serious consequences for the constitutional order. There are two ways of taking this precaution. The first consists in thoroughly thinking through the close connections between the social and the natural order so that no dangerous hybrid will be introduced carelessly.

The second one consists in bracketing off entirely the work of hybridization on the one hand and the dual social and natural order on the other. While the moderns insure themselves by not thinking at all about the consequences of their innovations for the social order, the premoderns – if we are to believe the anthropologists – dwell endlessly and obsessively on those connections between nature and culture. To put it crudely: those who think the most about [quasi-objects] circumscribe them as much as possible, whereas those who choose to ignore them by insulating them from any dangerous consequences develop them to the utmost.

The premoderns are all monists in the constitution of their nature-cultures. ‘The native is a logical hoarder’, writes Claude Lévi-Strauss; ‘he is forever tying the threads, unceasingly turning over all the aspects of reality, whether physical, social or mental’. By saturating the mixes of divine, human and natural elements with concepts, the premoderns limit the practical expansion of these mixes. It is the impossibility of changing the social order without modifying the natural order – and vice versa – that has obliged the premoderns to exercise the greatest prudence. Every monster becomes visible and thinkable and explicitly poses serious problems for the social order, the cosmos, or divine laws. Kindle loc. 686, cites omitted; paragraphing and emphasis mine.

The moderns feel free to ignore all the restrictions the premoderns imposed on creation of quasi-objects. They cannot see themselves as a continuation of the premoderns but insist that they are completely new and different.

The Divine

As the foregoing quote shows, the premoderns included the Divine in their conception of the world. Both Hobbes and Boyle discuss the Almighty in their treatises, but they call on a distant God, one not involved in the discovery of natural law or the laws of society. Their God created the world and the natural laws that operate in it, and then left the construction of society and the discovery of the laws of nature to human beings. Latour refers to this vision of the Almighty as the Crossed-Out God. This Crossed-Out God lives in our hearts, but only in our hearts. Today we would call this Deism; remember that many of the Founding Fathers were Deists.


The history of Galileo and the Copernican Theory gives us a nice example. By Latour’s definition, Galileo lived at the end of the premodern era (1564-1642). Like Boyle, he applied some of the tenets of the scientific method. The details are laid out in Wikipedia. Galileo adopted the Copernican theory in the early 1600s based on his own published observations. There were two kinds of objections to heliocentrism. One was scientific, largely the work of Tycho Brahe using Galileo’s own methods.

The other was religious, based on several passages of the Bible. Perhaps the most obvious of these is Ecclesiastes 1:5; here’s the King James translation:

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

That clearly conflicts with Galileo’s findings and the Copernican theory. Galileo took up the challenge directly, arguing in an unpublished but widely read letter that he was right, and that the Bible should be read as the authority on matters of faith and morals, but not on nature. The Catholic Church claimed that Galileo was interpreting the Bible, which under Church doctrine was solely the province of the Church, and looked dangerously like Protestantism. Galileo’s views were declared heretical, his books and others on the Copernican theory were banned in 1616 and he was ordered not to defend his opinion about the motion of the earth.

Let’s examine this conflict in Latour’s terms. The premodern Catholic Hierarchy saw that this new idea about nature would have a big impact on the social structure. The Church read the Bible as an authority on all that it contained, as the inspired work of the Deity. Galileo’s data calls into question the authority of the Bible. If the Bible gets nature wrong, what else does it get wrong? How can the Deity be wrong? Was God intentionally misleading his creatures? In his reply, Galileo indeed questions the Church as the ultimate interpreter of the Bible, asserting that his way of understanding the Bible is better than that of the Pope.

Ideas like these could disrupt everyone’s life, destroying their faith, destroying their trust in the dominant class and the social structure it led, and leading in uncontrollable directions. With the incredible violence that followed the Reformation, these are reasonable concerns. [1]

We moderns just dismiss these worries. We think the Church acted like barbarians. We argue that the Church was simply trying to protect its privileged position, and the privileges of the hierarchy and of monarchs ruling by divine right. We say they denied facts in front of them and and used their power wrongfully. There is an element of cynicism in our dismissal, a denial of actual concerns that the Church might have had for its flock, a denial of the deep religiosity that stirred many clerics and the laity. Maybe there’s also a touch of arrogance, a belief that all scientific understanding and progress is automatically good.

I probably would have agreed before I read Latour. But look at precisely what the Church ordered: Galileo was free to follow his ideas as theories. He was merely ordered not to teach that his theories were physically true. That’s pretty much how we moderns think of his theory. We know it’s physically true, but we talk about sunrise and sunset. I don’t get up from my desk after an hour of reading and say to myself oh look, the earth has spun 15 degrees on its axis. For all the good it does in the world of theory and calculation, it still contradicts what we and our ancestors for millennia see with our own eyes.

Maybe we aren’t so modern after all.

[1] In exactly the same way, the Industrial Revolution, and the Darwinian revolution caused enormous social uproar and misery. This is a central point of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. I discuss the book in a series indexed here. I discuss Polanyi’s view of the social problems created by disruptive change in this post.


84 replies
  1. ernesto1581 says:

    “For all the good it does in the world of theory and calculation, it still contradicts what we and our ancestors for millennia see with our own eyes.” (E. Walker)

    “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” (Ecc 1:18)

    “Eppur si muove!” (G. Galilei)

  2. G Todd says:

    Interesting that you mention Hobbes. In his fourth part of The Leviathan, “Of the Kingdom of Darkness” (a part, BTW, rarely read these days), he discusses the sources of ignorance that challenge the civil authority using Galileo’s Heliocentrism as an example. He really doesn’t give a damn that it challenges the premodern Catholic Hierarchy. Rather he very much gives a damn that it could challenge the civil authority … very much a modern’s concern.

    • bmaz says:

      Hi there “G Todd”. You were formerly “GK” and are now sock puppetting this forum, which is not allowed. Now that is a “modern’s concern”.

      • G Todd Katner says:

        No intention of sock puppetting here (see my full name above), just a poor Boomer memory at times … OK?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Or, perhaps G’s concern was to establish new facts and new perspectives for the old, regardless of the institutional authority that backed the old ones and the authority derived from them.

      That would be a modern perspective, one that this administration is working hard to reject. It prefers to reimpose old-fashioned theories of dominance and submission, making facts secondary or irrelevant. It is a model anathema to what we call science, but it appeals to institutions that wish to make their own reality to serve their own ends.

      • G Todd (aka The Sock Puppet) says:

        You said it better and more concisely than I did. It’s always a challenge to respond concisely to twisty-turny PoMo articulations. Thanks!

    • Ed Walker says:

      This is a point Latour makes about Hobbes. Hobbes’ concern is not the Catholic Church, or even the Church of England. He wanted to make sure that the nation was reasonably united under a sovereign so as to avoid civil war and rebellion. In a way, this is the same concern I attribute to the Catholic Church, with all due respect to the points made by OrionATL below.

  3. skua says:

    “… but insist that they are completely new and different. ”

    What is the widest sense in which we humans constitute an economy? An economy that we claim to be completely new and different?

    Cf “The Great Crash of 1929” – Galbraith.

  4. orionATL says:

    “… We moderns just dismiss these worries. We think the Church acted like barbarians. We argue that the Church was simply trying to protect its privileged position, and the privileges of the hierarchy and of monarchs ruling by divine right. We say they denied facts in front of them and and used their power wrongfully. There is an element of cynicism in our dismissal, a denial of actual concerns that the Church might have had for its flock, a denial of the deep religiosity that stirred many clerics and the laity. Maybe there’s also a touch of arrogance, a belief that all scientific understanding and progress is automatically good…”

    1. “we think the church acted like barbarians.”

    a. in the first place, i don’t think this way at all.

    b. in the second, the “church” does not do anything; it is an ephemera. only powerful individuals in an institution’s chain of command take or force any action.

    c. in the third, i think it is clear from personal observation and history that human beings in general and powerful individuals in particular are capable of rationalizing anything they have done or wish to do. there is no reason whatever in human history to assume without substantial evidence that the rationalizations of the powerful are other than self-serving, self-justifying, self-excusing. it is perfectly reasonable to assume, for example, that the conflict of individual church officials with galileo was a conflict of wills and stuborness. or, e.g., to assume the conflict was merely one of fondness for one’s belief systems and ways of understanding reality. or, more likely, fear of losing power and preference in society. it is far less reasonable to assume, without specific strong evidence, goodwill and fellow-feeling among church power figures together with concern for the well-being of society. for some reason, the powerful seem most concerned with their own wellbeing.

    2. being realistic is not being cynical. however avoiding “cynacism” often implies depending on faith. faith as a mode of understanding nature is precisely in opposition to the native intellect of the individual named galileo.

    3. if the catholic church had not pursued, even into the present day, the ideas and philosophy of desiderius erasmus far more mercilessly than they did galileo, one might give at least a tuppence for the notion of “the church’s” concern that galileo’s ideas might bring chaos to society.

    • skua says:

      Dismissing a social structure as ephemeral, and favouring instead an analysis that gives individuals existence, leaves you needing to explain why individuals are not ephemeral and a biochemical analysis not better.

      • orionATL says:

        what a pile of sophistical crap.

        individuals have a corporal (physical) reality which includes the ability to move in space, to reproduce and to communicate with each other. institutions have no such thing, only a name. institutions are a non-corporeal, artificial (manufactured) entity.

        your reductionism here is silly and likely perverse.

        • roberts robot double says:

          When all the human beings in an organization adhere to the same doctrine, that doctrine itself has attained corporeality.

          Only human beings can manifest ideas, and the ideas they choose to manifest via their actions define them and are their measure.

          One can say one serves Christ *OR* one can hide mass child rape. Only those who speak out against such evil hypocrisies earn absolution. Where oh where are the Catholic whistleblowers? Thin on the ground from where I sit.

          • orionATL says:

            “When all the human beings in an organization adhere to the same doctrine, that doctrine itself has attained corporeality….”

            more sophistry.

            “doctrines” like “the church” have no physical reality. “doctrines” and “churches” and “states” are artifacts of human creation, like stone spear points.

            but we are getting too far afield. the only point i want to make is that only humans can do things. only humans can be concerned about the consequences of ……. – churches can’t, doctrines can’t.

            powerful humans can be, and often are, wrong. the decisions about galileo were wrong. “the world order” did not collapse as galileo’s ideas spread. for one, the civilizations of china and india and africa knew nothing of this and so were never “troubled” 🙂.

            the point i want to make is that “church” decisions were in fact made by specific individuals. the use of the term “the church” cloaks that reality. the viewpoints and motivations of individuals is always self-preserving, though not always merely self-preserving. the chances are very good that the suppression of galileo was the decision of one or a few individuals which was then more widely transmitted to others acting in the name of, under the shield of, the church.

            • skua says:

              A young person killed themself yesterday. You might be able to turn that into, “the viewpoints and motivations are always self preserving”, without using sophistry.
              Their death is producing changes in their social network, changes in the people in that network, and in the biochemistry of the people in that network.
              Suspending your reductionism at the level of the individual appears to be the product of a cultural understanding of what is worth paying attention to. There are multiple other cultural understandings of what things exist and what does not exist.

            • skua says:

              A young person killed themself yesterday. You might be able to turn that into, “the viewpoints and motivations are always self preserving”, without using sophistry.
              Their death is producing changes in their social network, changes in the people in that network, and in the biochemistry of the people in that network.
              Suspending your reductionism at the level of the individual appears to be the product of a cultural understanding of what is worth paying attention to. There are multiple other cultural understandings of what things exist and what does not exist.

        • skua says:

          Right back atcha!

          Individuals are a manufactured entities just as much as social organisations are manufactured entities

          • orionATL says:

            you try to steal ideas, just as your namesake tries to steals food.

            you remain today the same trivial, claptrap type of commenter you showed yourself to be when you first commented 2 or 3 years ago.

    • orionATL says:

      June 22, 1633, “We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”

      the matter of the history surrounding assumptions about “the church’s” good intentions to protect its parishioners and the 1632 persecution and silencing of gallileo opens a can of worms – which can lead to a diet of worms.

      martin luther came and went before Galileo was ever born. thus the protestant revolution in northern europe and the church’s response to it had been ongoing long before that institution had any notion of the heretical ideas of one galileo gallilei. in point of fact, the church and the sovereigns allied with it had been active suppressors of ideas and executors of “heretics” for a century before 1632. any notion that the church went after galileo out of concern for the stability of the social order rather than out of desire to suppress competing ideas is highly questionable – to put it kindly.

      for example we have the betrayal and burning of the jan hus (1416) a Czech reformer and a key predecessor to protestantism by a church council on grounds of heresy. we have the strangulation and then burning (1536) of william tyndale, an english theologian and linguist who worked to have an english version of the bible available to all who could read. tyndale was influenced by the dutch philosopher humanist philosopher desiderius erasmus who had lived in england and worked at queen’s college, cambridge for a time. unlike other intellectuals and reformers, erasmus remained a lifelong catholic. little good that did him though since some catholics persist to this day in demeaning this remarkable person.

      what is remarkable in all this history is the extraordinary level of interaction between intellectuals of many nations and how willing at least some scholars were to travel across europe.

  5. John Paul Jones says:

    I’d be interested in a preview of where Latour might be going, because so far it sounds an awful lot like the same sorts of praise of our organically connected ancestors who wisely rejected science, urbanism, and so forth, in favour of living an integrated life in a hierarchical society organized into villages-cum-parishes. I really hope that’s not where he’s going, but so far, it kind of sounds like it is. Those who espouse such views are often of a mind that the costs of modernity are too high, that we should strive to step back to a more integrated society, by which they often seem to mean, a society where theology has an active, indeed, a meddlesome role.

    On the other hand, I suppose Latour could simply be asking us to think harder about his “quasi-objects,” but isn’t it the case that this is, to a large extent, the domain of sociology? I don’t quite buy the idea that we don’t think about these things, nor the idea that we don’t think enough about them. I think lots of people do. And is quasi-objects a good way to describe what seem to be already denoted by the notion of consequences? Does the terminology really advance the discussion? I’m not sure it does.

    But by all means keep posting. This is a fascinating topic, and it is nice to have Latour collect it under one head, so to speak, even if I don’t quite agree with him.

    • Mooser says:

      “in favour of living an integrated life in a hierarchical society organized into villages-cum-parishes.”

      With computers, the Internet, and modern medicine, too! It’ll be a utopia!

    • Ed Walker says:

      I’ve been emphasizing the role of care in the creation of quasi-objects because that seems important to me. Latour doesn’t object to the creation of new things, whether solar power generating plants or smartpphones.

      He does think our tools for studying the creation and regulation of quasi-objects are inadequate. He proposes different tools for that purpose, including his own ideas about a new anthropology, the role of the study of rhetoric, and Actor-Network Theory. All are meant to serve a tools for the detailed study of our creations. The solutions are interesting, but seem highly academic to me. The actual problems are hard to solve. Climate Change, technologies that invade our privacy and distort our connection to reality, these are not amenable to long-term study. We need solutions now, and those will have to be political.

      • Mooser says:

        I mean, were there any tangible benefits from getting Earth’s relationship to the Sun right? Enough to make up for the disturbance?

  6. roberts robot double says:

    “Both Hobbes and Boyle discuss the Almighty in their treatises, but they call on a distant God, one not involved in the discovery of natural law or the laws of society. Their God created the world and the natural laws that operate in it, and then left the construction of society and the discovery of the laws of nature to human beings.”

    All laws of the universe are simply automatic, from quantum/relatavistic/Newtownian physics at its most basic to karmic at its most human/subtle. Only we human beings are subject to karmic law because only we have free will and the in-built sense of morality and a mind able of comprehending and then utilizing such discernment to choose right over wrong, selflessness over selfishness, humane cooperation over animalistic competition, love over hatred, virtue over vice.

    Our ability to discover physical laws is part of our human capacity but is not as essential as our imperative to learn about personal and societal morality and then choose to self-evolve our hearts, minds and subsequent choices to willfully and actively become a part of a just, compassionate society. Note that *ALL* personal and societal morality is encompassed best in one, single verse from the NT, but that doesn’t mean that this identical wisdom isn’t in the OT: (from Matthew 22:36-40):

    36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    There is no religion without this choosing to self-evolve towards complete annihilation into love. Just like the hypocritic liars in this corrupt GOP regime can call themselves “Christian” or Hindu nationalists can call themselves “Hindu” or Catholics can claim to represent Christ or ISIS/Saudi clerics can call themselves “Muslim”, anyone can claim anything they do is “religion”, but a Scotsman can only come from Scotland, and Jesus very clearly states in this passage the nature of True Religion and what differentiates it from worldly bullshit and/or horseshit.

    Religion is solely concerned with our developing compassionate hearts and minds that seek — before and alongside *ALL* worldly pursuits — to create society-wide happiness for *ALL* human beings. This *MUST* start first with our own personal self-evolution from vice into virtue, callous ignorance of others’ suffering into caring, compassionate, vigorous service to *ALL* others’ well-being.

    Another way to term his essense of religion can be summarized by this Jesus quote, “That which you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do unto me.” That requires self-evolving one’s self beyond mammalian pack-mentalities where only one’s own group members — be it defined by religiosity, political affiliation, culture, race, sexual orientation or identification — are of concern.

    This Great Command requires us to each first look inward to evolve ourselves and then to use that growing love as a force for good in our societies, which are, themselves, required to become tools of compassionate service to *ALL*. Instead, nearly all power structures on Earth here in 2020 are built to serve only themselves. By doing so, they too shall “hang” on the Great Command, for how we love the least of our brothers and sisters is the entire measure of each and every human being, from Adam until the end of time.

    Note that the first part of the Great Command is to love God, Its literally Unfathomable Self. This is not because our Creator has any need of this (for It is free of all needs), but because reaching inward towards God is essential for our personal growth, and that personal growth is essential for having the wisdom to evolve our societies towards “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

    Part of the personal growth that occurs as a result of seeking God with all your being is to have spiritual discernment for how you treat others. Oppressors of every kind must be treated with a much different kind of love than the victims of oppression. And those that pervert the One Religion of Love (that comes in various forms across the entire planet) for their selfish worldly gain must be stripped of their power to harm others just as the corrupt perverters of government must. Peace cannot be established until all power structures that harm others are stripped of their power to do so.

    This is the absolute, undeniable, inarguable truth, though many will deny it or even fight against it. Any perspective on religion that does not convey this most essential of truths is based upon confusion and/or corruption, willfully so or simply as a result of deliberate ignorance of the truth. Only open minds and hearts can absorb this truth and make it their own, but we are each capable of absorbing and incorporating it, for it is literally in our nature as moral beings with free will.

    As to the purely physical natural laws of the universe, they are a pleasure for those of us inclined to such scientific pursuits, and can be a great benefit to aid in our engineering of technologies to ease human suffering on Earth. Learning how ther mechanisms of this physical universe work can also be used to create destructive technologies that only benefit the few. As with all human endeavors, the intentions of the hearts of the people involved combined with the actions they subsequently choose are their entire measure.

    All aspects of this universe are built upon some kind of polarity. Human moral polarity is aligned with universal love at one end (requiring love for our Creator to reach its zenith), and selfishness at the other end, whether merely callous or actively hateful. Without willfully evolving towards compassion for *ALL*, no one is religious, no matter what practices they perform or what they call themselves.

    As ol’ Pops said in the spoken word into to “What a Wonderful World”:

    “Some of you young folks been saying to me, “Hey Pops, what do you mean ‘What a wonderful world?’ How about all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? That ain’t so wonderful either.”

    Well how about listening to old Pops for a minute. Seems to me, it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doin’ to it. And all I’m saying is, see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love baby, love. That’s the secret, yeah. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then this world would be a gasser.

    That’s what ol’ Pops keeps saying.”

    “The Way goes in.” –Rumi

    The joy and peace that results from this seeking — especially in these very troubled times — cannot be described in words and is only denied by those who have never undertaken the journey, for this is the foundation of the science of not just personal growth, but personal happiness and inner peace. This essential wisdom is denied and decried as vehemently as Boltzmann’s science of statistical mechanics was by his contemporaries, or Eugene Parker’s “solar corpuscular wind” was by his. And yet nothing could be more important to each and every one of us than this essential wisdom of love.

    And, remember, this is not the “Great Suggestion”; it’s the “Great *COMMAND*”, for it is the SOLE path to peace and happiness, both individually and in our societies, irrespective of which form of religion serves as the vehicle to arrive at that glorious destination.

    In loving respect to the love of truth and the truth of love, I testify that my family and I have tried to live these truths. Our raucous joy and uproarious laughter are nothing less than magical, even as world events and their cruel leaders are maddingly detestable.

    The only important magic in the universe is what happens in our inner world when we sacrifice our own resources, time and/or energy to create happiness for others. That is why Trump et al are currently miserable and are on the way to even greater misery. It is why my wife gave her only $20 to a young AA valet, even though we live in the projects.

    Finally, it was his acknowledgement of this Great(est) Command that made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the Greatest American of All-time. His great creative intellect came directly from his great loving heart, a heart rooted first in loving our Unfathomable Creator.

    I wish this could be shorter but explaining the meaning and purpose of human life within a universe of perhaps two trillion galaxies is non-trivial. Peace be with you all.

    • person1597 says:

      Here is a similar take…

      “As the soul finds unity with the Supreme Being and a person exits the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, self-realization occurs. As part of the process of achieving moksha, one loses the focus on the ego and the body and is able to focus on her or his own divine self.

      IRONICALLY, thought is the enemy here… sort of the ultimate subscription model to minimize ones’ FOMO….

      “God or enlightenment is the ultimate pleasure, uninterrupted happiness. No such thing exists. Your wanting something that does not exist is the root of your problems. Transformation, moksha, liberation, and all that stuff, are just variations of the same theme: permanent happiness. The body can’t take uninterrupted pleasure for long; it would be destroyed. Wanting to impose a fictitious permanent state of happiness on the body is a serious neurological problem.” –U.G.

      The observer is a material being, a product of nature — here now, but concerned about tomorrow. We seek easy answers for our mind’s peace. We seek the light of self-continuity. We create technology to help accomplish this feat.

      Convenience and ease of use are birthrights and woe unto those who challenge the light of gas that leads.

      Rumi needed no such guidance: “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.”

      As obsolescence assails, evolution prevails.

      • roberts robot double says:

        How 2020 of you to not care to discern the truth from a lie.

        What you say about Rumi is wrong on every level.

        The path appeared before Rumi because he submitted his entire being to the Divine Love. The purity of his Source is why his poetry thrives in this day and age, with a great assist from that other great heart, Prof. Coleman Barks.

        UCSD has a wonderful video called “Rumi and the Play of Poetry” where Prof. Barks recites some of both his and Rumi’s poetry to music played by a very gifted pair of musicians. Prof. Barks is a true treasure.

          • roberts robot double says:

            That’s the one. Thanks.

            “I am a moral human being with the ability and imperative to self-evolve in concert with my Creator into complete annihilation into love for all others such that ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven.'”

            That’s 20/20. And as timeless as Rumi’s poetry. His beloved’s name was “Allah”.

        • bmaz says:

          Hey there Robot, take your attitude and flat out shove it. You are one more instance of being a jerk from being completely gone. Don’t say you were not warned.

  7. PeterS says:

    I’m not sure I buy the sunrise/sunset example. Firstly, language is often a bit loose, sometimes for historical reasons. It’s full of analogies and metaphors. Here’s a concrete example (that was it). Secondly, modern people can, if given a little time, explain why the sun “rises” and “sets”.

    On the other hand, let’s look at the ubiquitous smart phone. Almost no-one understands how it works; powering on a phone today is as mysterious for us as the sun rising was for our ancestors, and it’s just as central to our lives.

    Does that make us premodern?

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    You can make it shorter, which makes it more readable and more likely to be read.

    Cut it up and use nesting and bridging sentences, for example. Or, try composing and reading it on a mobile phone. It tends to concentrate the mind and produce results.

    • roberts robot double says:

      Gotcha on the ‘nesting and bridging sentences’; thanks for that. Terseness and jumping from functionality to functionality are indicative of my native writing: various computer programming code. Or perhaps it’s that William Gibson is my favorite author? (His newest, Agency, is his best yet in a lifetime of fantastic novels.)

      As to readability, no thanks on the mobile phone for composing, but may try to preview on mobile. That would give a different perspective, for sure.

      As to ‘producing results’, no one seems to question any points I raise but I must assume very few people read it in this modern world where religion is thought to be “only for the unintelligent”. I doubt this is due to the length, but rather because of that inner force to ignore the truth that is the entire reason this world is in the poor shape it’s in:

      The willfully ignorant are too dumb to know when liars are perverting their govts, corps and religious institutions.

      In this modern case, the more “learned” a person is, the less likely they are to take any wisdom at all from religion, whether it be we proponents or the books themselves.

      As to breaking the post up, it would seem much rather more “spammy” to present it in sequential top-level posts, and that structure would require more connective paragraphs to indicate why they are separate. But thanks for the tips, I was merely technical for a rather lengthy, intense career of professional terseness.

      Still, I’d prefer questions about the concepts presented to vague comments on my writing style, but few horses care to taste the water at the stream we lead people to, and I’m only here to explain how the map works, not drag anyone anywhere.

      • bmaz says:

        Hi there “Robot”. As Earl noted in Latin, you have proved his point. You used up 291 words, pretty much a full blog post worth, feigning to admit you are a loquacious navel gazing troll, but ultimately in proving the opposite; i.e. that you are just a mouthy troll.

        “Still, I’d prefer questions about the concepts presented to vague comments on my writing style, but few horses care to taste the water at the stream we lead people to, and I’m only here to explain how the map works, not drag anyone anywhere.”

        Yeah, lol, nobody gives a shit what you “prefer”. Engage in that somewhere else, but it will not be here. What I “prefer” is to not have ridiculously loquacious trolls, eager to use up our forum comment inches for navel gazing bullshit.

        You have been here for less than two months, and seem to think you own the narrative, even after you were warned previously. This will not last.

      • MB says:

        I’m reading Agency right now, and one of the most notable things about it is the plethora of terse 1- and 2-page chapters in it. Very readable.

  9. roberts robot double says:

    Now for a specific point concerning your post, Prof. Walker.

    “The work of purification is acknowledged to be a central part of our self-understanding. As a society we are conscious of this work, and we think it is important.”

    I assume this purification relates to skua’s comment from the previous post:

    “Boyle and Hobbes, then, jointly constructed the program for purifying the discourses of nature and society—-expunging from each the traces of the other—-that, for Latour, is definitive of modernity.”

    I mean, that’s fine and all as nature is simply nature whereas society is based upon the whims and fads of the movers and shakers of the society. As such, they certainly deserve different treatments.

    But the purification that is required of human beings and their societies is the purification from selfishness and callousness to selflessness and caring concern for *one and all*.

    To parallel your sentence, Prof. Walker, our individual and collective problems are precisely that:

    (a) The work of (actual) purification (from vice to virtue) is *NOT* acknowledged to be the central part of our self-understanding.

    (b) As a society, we are deliberately UNCONCERNED with this work, and (when presented with this perspective) most people think that it is absolutely UNIMPORTANT.

    The result is that we have no collective moral compass because very, very few of us are doing the work to reorient our personal moral compasses. This is because most people here in America are content enough with their worldly situation to also be content with however much they have evolved without a connection to our Creator.

    Without understanding how to orient our personal moral compasses, we stand no chance to give a meaningful perspective on how to reorient that of our society. This is precisely why the Democrats are flailing about right now: sure, they are not the GOP (and that is enough for now in Trump’s America) but they, themselves, have no moral authority as evidenced by their lack of vision for a freely-trading America that somehow cares for the most poverty-stricken of us. (It is hopeful for me that Ms. Warren and Bernie seem to be targeting corporate power, demonstrating their commitment to attacking the single most destructive and amoral force in the world today. Remember, we cannot serve two masters and all they serve is profit without regard to humanity or the environment.)

    It’s a shame Dr. King’s Dream only gets mentioned one day of the year. It needs to be used as the basis for an actionable vision for what a peaceful and prosperous America could be if love ruled our hearts. Unfortunately, that is not possible without first seeking to perfect our own moral compasses in alignment and concert with the Divine Love.

    • bmaz says:

      Another load of run on navel gazing garbage. You were warned, the next instance will hit the dumpster with a giant thud. If your goal was to piss off people here and get gone, you are well on your way.

      • roberts robot double says:

        My goal was to comment on Prof. Walker’s post.

        So much for the “purification of discourse”, huh?

        And I’m the only one around here who has explained why the Dems are failing in the face of God-damned deplorable Trump and his obviously anti-American and anti-Christian policies.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          A casual reading of this blog would tell you that the answer to your rhetorical question is, “No.”

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Our view of nature boils down to Orwell’s view of history: “Who controls the present, controls the past. Who controls the past, controls the future,” supplemented by Planck’s observation about the sociology of science: it advances one funeral at a time.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      What constitutes science vs. magic or religion varies with the times and the sociological impact of recognizing new perspectives or facts on prevailing power structures, which, as Bourdieu notes, are themselves largely hidden from us.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Descriptions of what is “nature” are limited by access to facts and the ability to interpret them coherently, and by their perceived impact on power structures.

      What cannot be explained is [temporarily] discarded, either as magic – once a credible explanation for the unknown – or as “nonsense.”

      The latter means existing outside the bounds of discussion set by gatekeepers of orthodoxy, whether prelate or secular pontiff within the Ivy League. Gatekeeper status is as closely guarded as membership of the College of Vestals.

      So, I’m unpersuaded by Latour’s argument that there is a bright line between “culture” and “nature.”

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Fresh and Saltwater economists, for example, who control American economics departments, deride the history and sociology of economics as not worth studying. Alternatively, they are fit for study only by those who “can’t do the math,” which they have elevated to a status on par with the, “Market,” praise be its name.

        MMT, being farther outside their mainstream, is deemed nonsense on stilts, for the same reason a climate crisis advocate would not fare well at ExxonMobil.

        • Ed Walker says:

          Part of the problem of purification is evident here. By rejecting history and sociology, we lose the ability to see the origins of our thinking, and can easily be fooled into thinking that our discoveries are laws or rules, because most of them aren’t. At best they are rules of thumb which have to be tested by the most recent data to see if they are still working. The Philips Curve is a good example. Here’s my discussion: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/10/rise-fall-phillips-curve.html

          As I often point out, the entire neoclassical economic system is grounded in Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism. This fact is concealed behind a wall of theory about marginal utility, and rules like Mankiw’s ten things all economists agree on. It makes it seem like neoclassical econ is value-neutral. But it isn’t. It is biased towards utilitarianism, and leads to weird ideas like Pareto Optimality.

          MMT has the important benefit of starting with a factual question: how is money created in our economy, and then building on that foundation to create a framework for understanding the workings of our economy. This is a fairly neutral starting point. We can use that framework to reify our social and moral values, hopefully in a democratic way.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            My format was also an example, in the manner of Gould, of how to break up a long thread into short ones that logically follow each other.

            Mankiw’s list of ten things seems exclusionary: one cannot be an “economist” unless one believes those things. The College of Vestals excluding candidates, as it were.

            Reminds me of Bill Black relating how his econ. PhD from Ann Arbor was threatened by a helpful would be tutor Were Black to propose ideas in his dissertation that were too liberal, he would not be considered a serious enough candidate to receive the university’s imprimatur. A good example of a stilted orthodoxy disguised as value-neutral.

            I have heard tales of a large Midwestern public university’s medical school using a first-year examination essay for similar purposes. Too much liberality of thought might lead to being shifted to an M.A. in anatomy.

      • roberts robot double says:

        >> What cannot be explained is [temporarily] discarded, either as magic – once a credible explanation for the unknown – or as “nonsense.”
        >> The latter means existing outside the bounds of discussion set by gatekeepers of orthodoxy […]

        Note that it takes a great deal of effort to even *attempt* to explain the new universe of concepts to those stuck in the earlier, narrower view of the world. It also takes intellectual curiosity and honesty on the part of the ‘old guard’ to at least impartially evaluate the concepts put forth by the outsiders.

        >> So, I’m unpersuaded by Latour’s argument that there is a bright line between “culture” and “nature.”

        How about a wide, fuzzy line with plenty of overlap and a human-only zone?

        Our complexity and level of planet domination result in our societies having a far more complex set of desires that drive our systems. And the resulting complexity is confounded by our being the ones doing the measuring.

        • timbo says:

          The exact opposite is true too…in that many so-called “modern thinkers” are mere dilettantes when it comes to understanding how thought processes actually work in folks other than they. The assumption that the closer to the “center of consciousness” one becomes, the closer one becomes with Truth is an arguable fallacy…

    • Ed Walker says:

      EoH raises a number of good points in this thread. Part of the problem is that I chose to focus on aspects of this book that I thought were important, and I ignored some matters that seemed less important or even a bit strange.

      Latour describes the culture/nature distinction as a goal of the moderns, and one which moderns think they can actually achieve through the acknowledged work of purifixation. I think he believes that our effort to purify the twin poles of nature and culture is a bad idea. He thinks we need a way to study the system as a whole, not just its parts.

      Richard Rorty describes Latour as an antidualist.

      This does not mean that they are against binary oppositions; it is not clear that thought is possible without using such oppositions. It means rather that they are trying to shake off the influences of the peculiarly metaphysical dualisms which the Western philosophical tradition inherited from the Greeks: those between essence and accident, substance and property, and appearance and reality. They are trying to replace the world pictures constructed with the aid of these Greek oppositions with a picture of a flux of continually changing relations.

      Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and Social Hope (p. 39). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

      I read this to say that we need dualisms that are useful to our thinking. The dualisms that Latour sees in modernity, especially nature/culture, are not useful any more. I think Latour would say that we need to recognize that most of the interesting things about contemporary society are quasi-objects, mixtures of culture and society, and that our focus on purification blinds us to these things and their importance.

      I think a lot of this book is fascinating as a technical matter, but this seems to me to be the operational point.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I think that dualism is inherently part of how humans think. It is closely related to our delicate sensitivity to symmetry – to the potential threat posed by asymmetry – and to how we assess the new by analogizing it to what we already know.

        • timbo says:

          Ah, but what if we assume that something is good or bad and that everything is black and white like that. Admittedly, there is dualism in this too of course. Oh, to be so righteous like that…

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The annihilation of self into divine love seems to be the opposite of what the peasant village Jew intended by, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Rather than a peace available to the exceptionally dedicated and enlightened – the elite – he was urging that the heavenly be brought to earth in everyday human things, in everyday human relations, in everyday human work.

    • roberts robot double says:

      Thank you for helping me understand that “annhiliation into love” is too grand-sounding a concept for our daily lives here in 2020. What you understand about “Heaven on Earth” is absolutely perfect in its characterization, except for the fact that dedication *is* required to engage the fight with our selfish egos, and that that dedication requires a connection to our Creator.

      The reality is that we are *ALL* born with vices in our hearts that must be humbly admitted, thoroughly understood, fought and defeated. The only way to escape the reality of our “original sin[ning nature]” is to go inside and dedicate one’s self to doing the work there and in the world at large as we live it in order to no longer be a part of its problems. Each spiritual path has its own set of practices that facilitate the enlightening of our hearts with virtues in place of the vices we are born with.

      As such, we are only as elite as we have trod the road to honestly transmuting our vices into their corresponding virtues. An interesting fact is that one can only progress on the Path by being less prideful and therefore more humble. That is why pride is a deadly sin.

      That said, what I said about Jesus’ teachings is absolutely spot-on.

          • Alaska Reader says:

            I like a good muffuletta too, but I don’t believe I, or anyone else, is/was born with that particular, or any, vice.

            Someone’s character traits, good or bad, are the result of learned behavior and in no way inherent.

            • roberts robot double says:

              Some people are raised in the KKK and yet still overcome those hateful teachings. Yes, it is difficult and mostly rare (I believe), but that is a case where their susceptibility to the vice of hatred is low campared to their other vices.

              And addiction is but one of the 19 vices. Some people are easily addicted to anything, and some people are highly resistant to becoming addicted to anything. We *KNOW* that there is a physiological basis to some percentage of addicts. Socialized addiction can occur, too, but it more easily entraps those with the propensity.

              Every person has the same sum-total of vice in their heart from the get-go, but we each have our own basic distribution. And then, as you say, the socialization of vice occurs in most societies, whether it be the oppression of misogyny or racism, or the justification to steal from others who have more than you. Each culture has its peccadillos.

              The important thing is that, barring situations of rare physical anomalies (e.g. the brain tumor that makes a person violent), we can each choose to embrace love over hatred, kindness over oppression, etc. It is this ability to consciously self-evolve that is our most important difference to the rest of creation.

  12. orionATL says:

    to my mind pope francis is a remarkable person and the only leader we have who attains what could be called “world stature”. yet from the time he ascended to the papacy has has had intensely conservative american catholic terriers nipping at his heels – and worse.

    i’d bet these types of political personalities were prominent in galileo’s time and had more to do with his churchly persecution than any concern the church might have had for chaos in society, though avoiding chaos is supposed to be the conservative game:



    what we do know from history is that the church’s executions at the stake and other forceful suppressions of ideas over a 200 year period were uniquely unsuccessful.

    • roberts robot double says:

      Their most insidious policy is that of denying even normal sexual marital relations for its boots-on-the-ground “community leaders”, i.e. their priests and nuns. They did this solely to prevent the priests from having heirs, thus ensuring all property they earned grew the Church’s coffers.

      And Christ says very clearly that one cannot serve both God and money. That means that they left the path of service to humanity as soon as they instituted that inhumane, immoral and utterly financial policy. That they have the temerity to suggest that a (perhaps) celebate priest can serve as a marriage counselor is disgusting, but I’m sure they charge nice coin for that utterly worthless “service”.

      Last I saw, they have paid out over $4B to their rape survivors (complete with non-prosecution and non-disclosure, of course, their evil being quite modern in the 20th Century moving forward). What percentage of survivors even have the means to hire attorneys to begin the horrific slog to the pittance they might receive?

      I remember very clearly asking my parents if I could be an alter boy. The answer was a very curt, definitive “No.” My father was never pinned in a twice-All-American D1 career that ended with his being one of the five invited to try out for our olympic team. He once worked out for two hours in plastics without breaking a sweat, then pissed blood, after which his coach had to *make* him go up to the next higher weight class, where he proceeded to win the state title. PA is widely recognized as the premier home of scholastic wrestling in America; PA also produced a scathing report on the sheer number of rapists that passed through their parishes unhindered. I can only imagine how much getting raped by a man would make a boy want to be able to outwrestle others; I can only imagine that because my father ensured that I was never left along with those cracked bastards.

      Or maybe my Dad was just a fucking savage. I mean, he is an insane Trump supporter now :-(

      “There’s still time to change the road you’re on” works both ways.

        • roberts robot double says:

          >> what we do know from history is that the church’s executions at the stake and other forceful suppressions of ideas over a 200 year period were uniquely unsuccessful.

          Unsuccessful according to whose measure? You seen their revenue numbers lately? How about property values?

          How many organizations can just throw away over $4B to keep their child rapes quiet?

          Forest and trees.

          • MCM says:

            I’m an RCC medical abuse survivor myself and never received a word of apology or penny of compensation from the RCC, so I relate to the growing public fear and outrage.

  13. jaango says:

    I wasn’t going to post a comment on this insightful thread, but then, my sense of humor has to be observed, given that my level of “self-restraint” doesn’t always reflect my obsession with “decency personified” Oooops!

    And as such, I come at this subject matter and viewed through the prism that is ‘indigenous’ and which is contrary to the prism that is history’s and today’s, for the non-evolving Christianity. Thusly, Dr. Walker’s view is correct as being “political” since I am ‘reading’ him as laying forth the suggestion that creating the “objective” is the requisite behavior.

    So, when it comes to my assessment of “nature” and “science/technology” I come away with the notional that a tad of humor must remain intact, otherwise “street cred” is non-existent given today’s level for “lying, stealing, and cheating” although addressed on a daily basis, and in particular, where a priest or pastor can render a daily pardon consistent with the seminal advancement for having to pray by rote of the ‘traditional’ the Three Hail Mary’s.

    Thus, my point for the seminal ‘objective” is our National Debt and where the imposed National Debt Surtax, that includes the “repatriation” and “confiscation” is incorporated and where the “lying, cheating, stealing” must include RICO. Unfortunately dumb ass white guys created this financial mess and which simply means that this ‘debt’ will not be transferred onto the ‘brown’ Democracy within the next twenty years. And yes, this won’t be Civil War Number Eleventeenth since political violence will neither accepted nor will be tolerated.

    Alas, there are over one billion galaxies and my Best Fun Moment will be lost to me since, as a blogger, the myriad Interplanetary contacts, will not be readily available to me. However, the future that is ‘demographics’ will create the El Senor Tflatelolco to take my place in this arena of mine, that being Decency Personified and viewed through the prism of today’s “indigenous.” reality..

    • bmaz says:

      Jesus, more of the RICO bullshit. Please stop once and forever with that crap. THERE IS NO RICO AGAINST THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT and there is almost never RICO in any other circumstance. If you really read our pages, you would know this and not blithely raise such garbage.

      • jaango says:

        RICO is coming, and the Demographics are bringing it forward. So get over yourself! And in doing so, the brown “democracy” will be changing the Anglo-oriented “democracy” that is enumerated with monumental chicanery. And permit me to add “mandatory voting” that will terminate most of the ongoing corruption, and exemplified by the Office of Legal Council’s Letter. Now, should I consider further the ‘changes” in the offing? Or will you?

        • bmaz says:

          Jango, that is such ignorant bullshit it is hard to respond to. You do not have a fucking clue what you are talking about.

          Do NOT endeavor to make people here stupid, and that is exactly what your gibberish is doing. You are perpetuating complete bullshit to our readers. That will not be accepted. Stop.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Perhaps Iowa should throw out its caucus “results.” It’s a clusterfuck of bad math, incomprehensible processes, and a refusal to correct obvious mistakes. If it starts now to simplify its primary, Iowa might be ready in 2024. By then, the date for it should be in late June.

    • jaango says:

      The former Mayor of New York City is focused on his version of a primary campaign and which is consistent with California, Texas, Florida and New York. And that’s our future, nonetheless!

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Hasn’t much to do with Iowa.

      Bloomberg’s version of electioneering – as it is with everything else – is to buy it. Imagine what sort of president that would make him – a more effective version of Trump. Been there, done that. Screw him and the pony he came in on.

      • jaango says:

        I’m not a fan of Bloomberg, and yet his winning in these four states, will give him a ‘majority’ of the delegates. And which means that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Colorado have no viability in today’s context.

  15. skua says:

    I’m enjoying these comments.
    They remind me of Sunday drives when I was a kid.
    Border disputes, metaphysics and open provocation intermingled with threats and the occasional icecream.

    Ed eventually will decide that we’re prepared enough and set us to work comprehending what Latour can bring to an understanding of capitalism and neoliberalism – at least thats what I’ve written on my ticket.

    So far I think I’ve got the rote learning done. But if I try to drive it anywhere different then things go wonky.

    I’m looking at Australian commercial aged care.
    Science = nursing, drugs, nutrition, a/c, cleaning.
    Politics = bizarre mix of government funding, government legislation, corporate lobbyists, corporate profit-optimizing, decades of ineffectual consumer-actions.
    Quasi-object = commercialised aged care featuring very unreliable care-quality with poor government legislation, poor goverment oversight and unknown amount going into corporate profits.

    I think I’m going to have to wait for Ed’s anticipated Big Reveal to get further in using Latour to get more useable results from analysis

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