Proper title when finished
This introduction is still in progress. I hope to have it finished later tonight (Sunday), but wanted to get it up to a location other than my hard drive. Comments, on everything from style to content, are appreciated on what is already here.
You wake up one day and the world is different. You may not be able to pin down in what way it is different, but you sense it. Maybe there is a plan that is about to come to fruition. Perhaps it is merely a shift in personal perspective that has opened up thought of new possibilities. A view point has shifted in some manner and the way you apprehend and anticipate the world has changed. Or someone else’s apprehension of you has changed which forces a corresponding change in your interactions. You have an intuition or a hunch and it mediates how you go about your day. You may never discover the cause of the shift and it may, with time, amount to a mere blip as the sensation sinks back into a prior status quo. Yet the cause may also seem obvious even if there does not appear to be a drastic difference with the day before. There may have only been gradual shifts that you could perceive that have, through some manner of consideration, amounted to more than you originally expected. Small, subtle differences suddenly seem gigantic in their compounded effects.
Or perhaps the cause of that difference seems exceedingly obvious. On the morning of September 11th, 2001 the world became a different place for the mass majority of Americans. Crashing planes forced a shift in how we viewed ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. Foreign policy and behavior was redirected into two wars and questionable information collection methods even as domestic policy and behavior exhibited a similar drawing of lines and casting of distinctions based on conflicting assumptions about the role and expectation of disagreement and dissent in times of crisis on the role of security in a climate of perceived threat.
Not all drastic changes appear as monumental for as large a group of people, yet they nonetheless force similar shifts. A migrating population brings with it the need to reconsider their relationship with each other and their newfound home in social, cultural, and ecological manners. Meanings of artifacts and practices might change from arbitrary to necessary as their significance increases compared to their absence elsewhere. A short morning news report, one that could easily have been lost in the shuffle, creates a need to come to terms with an old friend as you knew him years ago with the horror of a deed committed. The unanswerable question becomes: did something happen over the intervening years that lead to matricide or were there consistent threads and patterns that only became fully apparent later and in light of this latest action? Without any way of finding acceptable answers you are instead left with the problem of achieving an internal sense of meaning in an arena of senselessness; something that allows you to tuck it away, even if unsatisfactorily so. A weekend of frightful anxiety, following several months of increasing worry and apprehension, reaches its conclusion with the unexpected but dreaded words “I’m leaving.” There are other words, too, but those, along with “… and I don’t know that I ever really did,” are the ones that matter most. Years of implicit and explicit meaning and anticipated futures collapse and vanish in an instant. Everything – past, present, future – becomes different. Sense evaporates with the promises, inferences, statements, and claims it was partially based upon.
In each of these, the world becomes different. There is a fissure, and on the other side of it nothing looks the same. Despite this breakage, though, despite the seeming significance or extent of the difference, there are threads of consistency that reach across the gap and draw the before and after together. Identities maintain a form of cohesion even as they mutate. New experiences and effects of interactions become incorporated into the identities but they are not transformed. The meaning of an ethnic background ceases to be the same and the use and placement of that background is similarly changed, but those differences merely become part of their extending and unfolding story. Meaning and significance has expanded, but the prior ones carry through with it. Similarly, the old friend is still in body the same person, which casts questions of whether in mind he is as well. Media statements sound remarkably similar to those from years ago. The meaning of them, though, has become different. The difficulty in making sense becomes largely a function of this consistency through inconsistency. The differences have entered into combat with the same and cannot be fully resolved. In declarations of leaving and restatements of what the time together meant, like wave interference conflicting narratives engage and disassemble one another and signal deteriorates into noise. The disassembly is based upon similar experiences, but the interpretive significance of them is different. Similarly, the people involved and behavioral patterns appear frustratingly the same, creating increased difficulty. The manner in which they manifest in the world, their targets, and their effects, though, are completely different. Again, everything has changed, but everything is still the same.
This duality between change and consistency initially appears as a contradiction. How can both appear at once, and in equal measure? The common strategies when faced with a situation like this are either to place one above the other or to craft a synthesis that effectively removes the contradiction. The former strategy is perhaps best represented by historical disciplines and some branches of social theory. History, which typically avoids grand explanation in favor of a textured representation of particular events, prefers to look at local causes and explanations for phenomenon. Migration and subsequent matters are the result of particular decisions made by particular people in response to a range of considerations ranging from political, economic, social, and ecological. Different people or different priorities would result in different outcomes, so any general statement of processes of determined change are treated as secondary considerations at best. Alternatively, general systems perspectives, and others working particularly in quantitative social fields like economics and sociology, treat change as a continual function. Variables like natural resource availability, population, and wealth enter into causal relationships in order to explain the changes that occur. Given a set of factors, predictions over large-scale system behavior can be made about likelihood of conflict in a region or changes in trade relations. Changes occur in these models, and differences in those changes can be examined by altering response or other variables, but the changes happen within a coherent framework or field of forces. This framework or set of structures persists through time and change happens through them but not to them. They persist even as they change in significance or role.
An alternative to this either/or approach is that of synthesis, or an attempt to find a perspective that uses them in a way that transcends their difference. An example of this process may be found in Sewell’s Logics of History. In this formation, the development of social structures is punctuated by transformative events which force a process of recoherence of the structures in a new context. Sewell defines events “as that relatively rare subclass of happenings that significantly transform structures.” (100) Their rarity demonstrate the relationship between structural transformation, or discrete change, and structural processes, or continuous change, as a back and forth dynamic. Structures operate in a predictable fashion until faced with a transformative event. At that point, different rules apply whereby the seemingly incidental or particular details of historical analysis influence the shape and behavior of the structures after the event. The causes of these events are varied and the result of contingent, unmodelable phenomenon. These contingent phenomena do not always result in transformation, but no structure is immune to their possibility. Change and consistency, therefore, operate in a temporal relation to each other as one becomes dominant over the other.
Sewell’s notion of events is not far removed from that of Badiou, perhaps the leading theorist of the event. For Badiou, events are “strong singularities whose consequences are virtually infinite.” They exist in contrast to three other forms of change which may, to varying degrees, invoke transformation, but not to the degree of significance or embodiment of truth that Badiou seeks. In this sense, his class of events is narrower than Sewell’s, but they have an important parallel in their assumed rarity.
More later tonight, I hope.