Sinthome from Larval Subjects has re-emerged from a recent silence with a beautiful critical challenge:
Marx famously said that the point of philosophy is not only to explain the world, but to change it. But what is it that is to be explained? What is it that is to be changed? And how is it to be changed?
Sinthome notes – and criticises – the attraction of authoritarian and anarchistic visions of transformation, and then returns to several pivotal questions:
Returning to Marx’s conception of the aim of philosophy, it seems that there are three relevant and interrelated issues:
1. What is to be changed?
2. How is it to be changed?
3. Why does the world take the form it takes at this particular point in history?
Sinthome then suggests the scaffolding for an analytical framework that would seek to analyse potentials for transformation by grasping three main elements: attractors – relatively stable, equilibrium states toward which a system is drawn; vectors – processes through which attractors come to be; and the current state of play at a particular moment in time. Sinthome suggests that different critical theories can be characterised by which of these three elements they emphasise, but argues that the main strength of this approach is not classificatory, but rather practical:
The point of these distinctions is not merely sociological and anthropological. While it is certainly the case that a rich sociology and ethnography could be developed using these concepts– indeed, it could be said that economics, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, etc., study nothing but various types of attractors and vectors without using this precise language –the aim is ultimately a response to the first and second questions: “what is to be changed?” and “how is change to be produced?” At what points, in a particular social system, do disequilibriums appear, such that new attractors either become possible or appear? What dimensions of a social formation are to be targeted? Can particular attractors and vectors be strategically targeted, or is the cadence of change an inexorable process immune to social engineering? Can the formation of new attractors be targeted in a precise way, or are we necessarily faced with the demon of unintended consequences when targeting the vector-fields of a particular social system (i.e., we end up with a situation like Pol Pot)? Why is it that certain strategies of transformation are often so unsuccessful? For instance, the protests throughout the world leading up to the current Iraq war? What is it about the current social system that was able to absorb these events without a disruption of the dominant attractors, as if they didn’t even exist or occur? Why did protests have a much greater impact during the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements of the 60s? Is there a relationship, a social memory, that annulled the efficaciousness of the contemporary protest movements? Without posing questions of disequilibrium, it is difficult to pose any of these questions clearly.
I’ve condensed the post severely here – read the original for a real understanding of how the argument unfolds.