FRAMUSTANS

Copyright by Barnabas D. Johnson

There are no simple ways
to say truly complicated things.
Dumbing-down complex relationships
mocks what we humans are: Carriers of the
evolving DNA of our planetary future, which is,
or should be, "not dumb" ... a celebration of complexity.

***

The evolution of our capacity to discern and communicate "not this" and "not that" has been and remains central to civilization and its future worthwhile evolution. A "framustan" is a territory or relationship that is "framed" or "signaled" in relation to what it is not.

Consider the following:

Harrowell said that ... theorists have had to guess about elementary atomic properties of glass ... and he wondered whether one theory could cover all glasses, since glasses are defined not by a common characteristic they possess, but rather a common characteristic they lack: order. And there could be many reasons that order is thwarted. “If I showed you a room without an elephant in the room, the question ‘why is there not an elephant in the room?’ is not a well-posed question,” Dr. Harrowell said.

From The Nature of Glass Remains Anything but Clear, by Kenneth Chang, New York Times, July 29, 2008.

***

Although "this is not that" signaling is often broadcast in an "affirmative" way — for example, "this is play" (meaning "this is not real") or "this name denotes that beast" (meaning "the map is not the territory") — the "negative" form, no matter how well hidden, is integral to thought and language, whether in simple linguistic classifications (pigs are among those things that don't have wings), in more complex meta-linguistic messages (the word "wings" cannot fly), or in most complex meta-communicative observations (how presumptuous of me to bother you with pigs and "wings").

Linguistic, meta-linguistic, and meta-communicative know-how draws us, even if reluctantly, to examine framustans precisely because thought and communication evolve to identify and distinguish similars, which necessarily involves finding differences. As Aristotle said, only similars can be usefully distinguished. In our own time, Spencer-Brown (see below) has argued that "indications of distinction" are the most basic implements of thought and communication. But long before our time, philosophers have pioneered personal and societal knowledge aimed at distinctions and similarities, analysis into parts and synthesis into wholes.

This enterprise presupposes that, no matter how identifiable any "part" is, it cannot be "fully identified" (or at least fully known) except in relation to the whole — ultimately, the Universe — of which it is a part. This insight, not surprisingly, led long ago to a deep skepticism about our ability to know anything "well enough" to allow our truths to generate consequences: to shape behavior, the wise governance of self and society. Pre-Socratic Sophists were probably the first to grapple with this difficulty in a systematic way. Their "answer" moved beyond logic and science (albeit theirs was a very primitive understanding of both) to the rudiments of what we now discern as cybernetics — the theory of self-corrective "learning systems" based on probabilities, not certitudes, and therefore based on continuous probing, self-examination, and resulting self-transformation. Clearly, we are embedded in our own knowing and doing. And "knowing what is not" is crucial to that enterprise. See discussion of "metalogues" in Conversation of Democracy.

***

As we shall see, because cybernetic systems, including healthy individuals and cultures, depend mostly on "negative feedback" — continuous cultivation and harvesting of "environmental warnings" regarding mistakes to be avoided — we must honor those "guard rails along the road of life" which keep us from falling into a lawless, frameless, self-destructive abyss; accordingly, we should not assume that "negative" is "bad"; indeed, "negative feedback" in cybernetic theory is good, precious, necessary.

The capacity to communicate "no" or "not this thing or idea" is crucial to the evolution of symbols, languages, ethical systems, and emergent global law.

***

A constitutional democracy is not a kingdom, aristocracy, plutocracy, kleptocracy, autocracy, theocracy, etc. Knowing what it is not is arguably part-way to knowing what it is.

In the game of Twenty Questions we learn almost as much from "no" as from "yes"; but we must always be "getting to yes" as our destination. Is it smaller than a breadbox? Is it larger than our galaxy? Is it an idea? Is Freedom of Inquiry its highest value? 

We are allotted a maximum of twenty questions to identify what "it" is; if we need more, we lose. But we gain by discovering that the "information" — significant similarities, differences, patterns, paradigms — generated in consequence of twenty thoughtful questions and twenty truthful answers ... can be staggering!

Constitutional democracy is a transcendent Idea deduced over thousands of years of countless questions, not all of them thoughtful, and even more answers, not all of them truthful. Indeed, this Idea denotes or points to or "calls into being" a sort of learning organism that facilitates evolving awareness of achievable goals distinguishing gradations of plausible from implausible, thoughtful from thoughtless, likely from unlikely, just from unjust.

***

What "is" a constitutional democracy? Well, in a metalogue, we must cultivate the denotative, metalinguistic, and metacommunicative elements of this question. Doing so, we shall wend our way towards concluding that a constitutional democracy is its own best metaphor or, more precisely, as Julian Jaynes proposed, metaphrand: in essence, an invitation to further inquiry ... searching beyond metaphors ... touching the unarticulable major premises of human existence.

The game of Twenty Questions provides a provisional metaphier (idea multiplier, pronounced "meta-fire") beckoning us to explore the metaphrand "constitutional democracy" as if it were a verb, an activity, a process — some "thing" we are working on. We would be building. We would be building answers to "building questions"!

A constitutional democracy is less a "thing" than an enterprise, an intellectual and practical endeavor that calls into being something which is itself evolving — or, more precisely, coevolving with all the other particulars and potentials of our seedling planet.

Indeed, a constitutional democracy is not a "thing"; it is "no-thing"; it is ... Framustan: "created" when "backing into the future" ... focused on avoiding and evading recognizable errors, danger-signals, attacks from mindless quarters, etc.

Backing gracefully, of course. It is a form of dance.

As Isadora said.

***

According to ancient wisdom, recently advanced by George Spencer-Brown in Laws of Form (1969), every distinction creates not a duality but a trinity — that which is within the distinction, that which is outside, plus the distinction itself, which is neither "inside" nor "outside" but which, upon the making, partakes of ... yet, intriguingly, changes ... the whole. The "distinguisher" becomes imbedded within that changed (evolving?) whole. The would-be knower proceeds to become part of what would be known.

Arguably, evolving "personal consciousness" denotes evolving awareness of that "self-other omnipresence" which characterizes intellectual strivings, and therefore speculatively calls forth "cosmic consciousness" as a presumed contrast to personal consciousness, perhaps even endowing it with potential omnipotence. Advanced intellectual strivings arguably invite "spiritual" strivings that look beyond grunts, words, distinctions, metaphors, analogies, and similar tools of thought and communication, focusing instead on what "Yahweh" seemingly denotes: the un-namable One.

The Divine Metaphrand seeking among available metaphiers ... ever seeking ... ceaselessly inquiring:  Further? Never being too goddam sure! Framustan is ... only that.

Wisdom comes slowly ... with mostly backward glances.

The life of the law is experience, logically shaped.

Recognizing absurdity is not ... absurdity.

***

 

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