All there is today is a lack of the All.
We no longer think the All exists as provisionally primary. We no longer believe that it is the source of all the examples of the All which are each and every particular.
No All with a universal essence is acknowledged, and in consequence, there no longer exist for us any individual, particularized exemplifications of this All, possessed of a relatively stable substance, secured and defined by a specific participation in the All’s universal essence.
There is no longer any recognized All, and so there remain only apparently stable things. For if the space of the All is empty, then things that are must, at their empty hearts, echo this void. Therefore, things are now for us infinitesimally vanishing.
And there is in consequence no connection between the void where the All once was and all the now merely apparent items. We necessarily inhabit an atheistic occasionalism for which all finite and particular motions and causations are illusions. A randomly diverse set (in kind and number) of real things is only directly sustained by the empty set of the void, where once for theistic occasionalism (already a proto-modern metaphysics, distorting perennial traditions) they were directly sustained by and directly known in God.
Things are now tacitly taken as mythically expressing a mythical All through the passage of a still more mythical linkage.
Therefore, without the All, there are no longer any particular items either and everything is disconnected, both vertically and horizontally.
* * *
In consequence of all this we no longer recognize a cosmos or a nature, neither as the physis of essence nor the physis of linking motion, since there is neither totality, nor stable items, nor connection between the whole and the individuals, nor between the individuals themselves.
There can be no cosmos or nature, it is argued, for it would contain itself and therefore would not be the supposed transcendent container of everything. Such a container vanishes upward in an infinite regress.
But this mode of argument is a mere refusal of paradox and an insistence that reality must obey the law of non-contradiction.
Whereas, by contrast, reality seems to embody paradox in its very coherence that is other than a simple logical coherence. Universal essences do indeed seem to be inside themselves: all flowers germinally latent in the eidos of flower that somehow repeats and sustains itself; all waves about to break from the eidos of wave that pre-imposes a mysterious order of catastrophic breakdown on every shore. Inversely, the All of flower is fully and not just partially in every grown flower, the All of wave is fully and not just partially in every breaking wave.
The including essence is a set inside itself and yet remains a consistent essence in excess of its particular exemplifications. The individual substance is included within the set of an essence and yet is all of that set entirely, though without exclusion of myriad other examples.
* * *
But gradually, since Peter Abelard, the rule of logic in the West has been taken to overrule these appearances of connectedness.
In each case, appearance that things come from and are held together by a certain universal shape or form or eidos.
Of every specified thing as manifesting a generic eidos.
Of everything whatsoever, however specified, as manifesting ousia or some mode of essence. As manifesting Being always as a way of being and in some fashion always attractive or beautiful; always desirable and always meaningful.
This is all manifest to a natural and a well-attuned human judgement.
But today, not only are ousia and eidos denied, but also the difference between genus, for which a difference in kind is divisible into further specific kinds, and species which is not so divisible, constituting thereby a last difference. Today, there are no last differences, but only endless sub-species. There are only genera, though these are only species, since they are no longer meta-sets of specific sets.
For there is a stoppage in the tumbling hierarchy of lesser all’s within the one All, and beyond that stoppage lies the further destiny of the individual, who alone and perfectly has a destiny at all. The individual thing is not just a manifestation of a generic and a specific type, but is also in every case a unique and fluid bundling together of a vast number of nonetheless universal qualities, providing it with a unique pattern, style, rhythm, and habitude.
The bundle develops but with a consistency, if sometimes debatable. Thus the essences are vertically received only through the horizontal establishment of habit by virtue of non-identical repetition. But since habits are in time primary, and always already begun, their consistency can only be explained in terms of the reception of a vertically descending gift of its fluid and open, and yet mysteriously consistent, essence.
Thus there is both a vertical and a horizontal process or flux. But there is also substance, established horizontally by habit but sustained as habit by the vertical lure of essence. Process and substance alternate to allow consistent motion downwards (and upwards) and along. But in that motion they are also “contradictorily” but one.
To summarize: Each thing is only something as fully containing a universal essence; every anemone is the all of anemone, every human is the all of what a human is; if she is not “humanity” still, she fully and completely exhibits it. Inversely, every essence is already and virtually all the individuals that participate in it, since it only exists as invisible and vertically generative. The form of the oak is not a giant oak, yet its reality must be prior to growing oaks, else they would not grow at all.
But essences flow and descend; they are fully substantiated only in the individual.
Therefore, neither universal nor individual nor flowing emanation is first. Nor the degrees of horizontal motion, habitually formed, of transition and historical becoming that each thing also is.
In terms of something like this reasoning and meta-perception, almost universally all human post-axial civilizations have recognized an All beyond the All, as the To Hen, Brahman, Nirvana, God, the Absolute, whatever. Though perhaps the Christian notion of the Trinity and the participation of the Creation and all created things in it seems most rigorously to envisage all the above mentioned ontological circumstances.
That was our specific Western legacy. Our vision of participation and of interconnection.
But now we have come to live out a daily dissolution. There is no “nature,” so why should not everything be rearranged? In consequence, noble ecological purpose lacks metaphysical support. For even if, as we can allow, all nature is incipiently cultural and all of human culture natural, we still need to see all of that, including human artifice, as bound within a shared and harmonious physis, else there are no objectively right goals to be sought, or any natural beauty and harmony to be universally recognized.
Artifice is included here, since while human beings make signs and deploy tools, there is and was no conceivable and specifically human existence without the sign and the tool. And so they equally make us. An aporia results, which cannot readily be resolved either by supposing an automatic robotized process across history of artifacting, which is of itself both dead and inert, or by fantasizing an impossible human voluntarism prior to the aid of word and instrument. Or else again by supposing a pure subordination of techne to phusis. For even if natural selection has favored the creature skilled in speech and technology, this will not explain how, from the outset, this specific creature, the Human Being, was always already a technician and inversely shaped by techne.
If nature in this unique instance takes a drastic detour into non-organic artifice, then this is only comprehensible through teleology: That there is indeed, according to nature, “supposed” to be an extra-natural cultural animal.
Equally, if human shaping is reciprocally shaped by artifacts, then the prime mover here must be neither, but rather the essentially gratuitous (however secondarily useful) ritual pattern of primary art, which is understood to subjectify its performer as much as the human subject renders the performance.
A ritual here is pre-given, as it were, and concomitantly technology (as in ancient China) can only be tempered when it is subordinated to this ritual carapace of cosmic offering. For if artifice makes us as much as we make artifacts, then we can only control our controlling if we are attentive to what constitutive ritual communicates.
And we now know that we need to control our controlling if we are to stave off human and cosmic disaster. To believe that this is possible requires a religious faith, for the reason that I have just given.
But also for another related reason: If only a disintegrating anti-nature is real, then we, the disintegrators of a natural ecology, are both natural and inevitable. In order instead to hold ourselves culpable of terracide, we must believe, ironically, that we do indeed transcend nature from within nature. Then indeed we can trust that we have the capacity to save nature, though only if we allow again in our ability to receive once more the divine beyond nature according to the first reason.
* * *
Without the essence of the All, without essences and final ends therefore, everything in both nature and culture necessarily withers and dissipates. Instead of the language of joining and novelty and motion we are only able to utter tautologies about everything including ourselves. Thus we are daily subjected to the sub-Darwinism of journalists: such and such an attribute, such as envy or shame, was evolved for human survival. That is to say, the survival of just the thing that the human thing is, in the way that it is, which includes, but not exclusively nor primarily, a capacity for survival. For an inexhaustible number of alternative realities have survived and might survive in all sorts of ways, that include their own invention and promotion of unnecessarily novel modes of adaptation.
Once the human essence has vanished, then human individuals in their partially constitutive relationships vanish also. Everyone is no longer a uniquely situated person, transcending their attributes by the way they select and compose them, but becomes instead existentially “professional”—whether as a manager, computer operator, dog-walker, feminist, transsexual, disabled person, country-music follower, et cetera.
Without the human essence or the human type there remains only the subtype. Nothing personally unique ties together the unique bundle of qualities that composes individual any longer.
These just evaporate into whatever qualities people now choose, robotically and metronomically, to identify with. Each individual becomes the selected trope they decide to be and perpetually tattoo themselves with, both literally and metaphorically.
In order to be safely buffered and isolated and distinguishable, autonomously willing subjects, they have to de-individualize themselves and become solely the advocate of a type, style, or cause.
But a type sits uneasily between objecthood and subjecthood. To identify oneself solely with a cause or a style can be to forego one’s subjectivity in that very decision and to commodify oneself as a mere part of something tradeable.
For every mere quality that lacks either essence or defining personal exemplification is free-floating in a cosmic market, and can only be related to another quality through informational positioning, bureaucratic regulation, or monetary evaluating.
The world without essences is the capitalist world and the world of the absolute sovereign bureaucratic state. It is a philosophical illusion to imagine that it offers any true liberation beyond these processes, whether they are taken as temporary entrapment or as dialectical nurture of a utopia to come.
Just as there is no longer any recognized All of humanity, so there is no longer any All of the West or of Europe. How could there be any such thing, since this, it is thought, would be to deny the multi-history of all the minorities which is all there ever has been? The real strands of fragmentation that are suppressed by the imagined history of the whole, which has only been real as multiple oppression.
Moreover, this oppression must have been the West’s real, dominant history, with its seemingly more attractive features reduced to surface illusion. On the prevailing, popularized evolutionary view, such violence is all that any cultural assertion, like any act of assertion and self-promotion, can possibly consist in. Any claims that European identity lies fundamentally in the transmission of what preceded it geographically and historically are clearly unwarranted, if history is the history of survival and not of tradition.
* * *
Without the All, without the cosmos, without God, we in the West are lost both as individual persons and as an inherited culture. There can be no more cultural lived Christianity or Judaism, no more Greek philosophy, Roman legality and ritual.
Instead, utilitarianism and liberalism remain as the only shared public discourses and practices. Only “free” processes of dismantling and re-assemblage remain publicly recognizable and validated.
What is more, given the well-rehearsed multiple impossibilities of the utilitarian calculus, together with the increasing obscurity of what would be useful or experienced as most felicitous and for whom, even the pursuit of utility has lapsed in favor of the Californian, male adolescent thrills of experimentation upon live subjects for the mere sake of it.
Beside this degenerated utility we publicly recognize in addition only the ever-more absolute rights of the individual in terms of ever more subtypes and ever more freedom to choose one’s subtyping—always combined with ever more obliteration of some traditional civic rights, especially more shared ones, deemed to interfere with this ever multiplying scope of choice.
The exercise of these rights can no longer be mediated when they clash by the “all” of an objectively distributive justice, since the reality of this all is also denied.
In default of a mediating justice, the ensuing anarchy both expands and is limited by the operations of functional power, increasingly controlled by a few subjects who treat the rest of humanity like objects.
Freedom now consists in the ability to do more and more in an increasingly confined private space. Although you will be most publicly “assisted” within this space, if you decide to remove it from the map altogether.
* * *
We can of course (just about) still recover. But that would mean recovering both the universal All and our particular cultural all which has been our way to this All. And thereby recovering also ourselves as persons both in relation and in mediating motion.
To allude to Peggy Lee’s famous song, if all there is is only a dissolving cosmic fire that is inevitably burning our Western house down, then we cannot even compensate ourselves for the triviality of this spectacle by holding a ball.
The precondition of resuming our Western relational dancing is resumption of belief in the round of the All and its harmonious mediations in the light of the flares whose burning is illuminating and perpetual.