Some Thoughts Regarding Everything

Even if being born in the first place did not occur as a blind event, seeming to open us onto the world in a random place and time, the fundamental condition of humanity would still consist of that which is purely contingent. Not only the car accident or the chance encounter attest to this within our own lives; we are encountering contingency in each conversation, in every word or deed for which the outcome is unknown in advance, for which the result could as easily have been different and which would have subsequently unfolded alternatively. This is not to say that one cannot draw lessons from patterns that emerge; it is only to say firstly that it is always possible for a radically contingent event to break with any configuration or pattern, and secondly that each action that is performed by humans carries this same potential within it.

We act into a field that presupposes us even as we affect it, attempting by deed to direct an outcome. This action is not meaningless, as if it simply passes into a void; neither still is it sufficient to directly produce the outcome that we have envisioned. Each action between humans is always a refracted action, which not only charts an unforeseeable course, but which also alters the courses of each action it touches, is reflected or diverted from, which too are refracted as they pass through and splinter infinitely. Thus Arendt can write that “the smallest act in the most limited circumstances bears the seed of the same boundlessness, because one deed, and sometimes one word, suffices to change every constellation.” Her understanding of “uncertainty” as the “decisive character of human affairs”[1] leaves no interpretation of society unaffected. The outcome of approaching analysis with the presupposition of its fundamental contingency is not to deny the reality of patterns or of configurations; it is only to recognize that the ostensible legitimacy, the supposed naturality behind these configurations, is, in that they could have been otherwise, profoundly undermined. This shift does not entail denial, either of events or of their impact on a given configuration of sense; the shift involves observing the completely real potential for such an event to have unfolded otherwise, and that because this is true, the acknowledgement of a profound lack of any necessary factor which could have directly ensured such an outcome over any other. When events and forms of society become foundationless in this way, one is obliged to re-evaluate the interpretation of these forms themselves. This is the reason why any system of thought that treats patterns as if they were metaphysical necessities (Marx’s class struggle, the technocratic dogma of today’s markets) will always self-destruct; they leave no room within themselves for the radical contingency that constitutes a principle consistently immanent to humanity. “There is no good reason but contingent reason; there is no universal history except of contingency.”[2]

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Countless times a day, the slightest wisp of a choice precludes possibilities for a new outcome, and in this moment the frame in which we act changes its composition slightly; the configuration of the future possible changes color or re-aligns itself to display new pathways. Preclusions also birth new suspensions of potential, which too will be closed save one. But to say ‘one’ is to imply a door passed through, a room entered, a quantifiable result achieved; however, this choice of outcomes is always only the choice to reconfigure the field of which we are apart, irreducibly, and cannot be summarized or quantified. This frame constitutes our affordances, or the conditions which determine potential actions. In this way it is either a frame to be permeated or radically broken, though the latter is not an action that can be directly induced. It is always a matter of the type of coincidence between our actions and what is presented to us, either as potential or as circumstances beyond all control and comprehension. At times these choices and actions are ephemeral, unnoticeable, unremarkable; the key is that they each carry the potential to accumulate into a movement which, only in retrospect, one sees as the outcome of a set stacked in what now appears as the only possible alignment. This is the notion of history as it is the construction of our memories. Outside of the rearward view, to present potential actions simply as choices—which they sometimes are—misses the point: that words and deeds are irreducible to mathematical probability, and therefore exist outside of the predictive quality of chance procedures.

In the same way that human actions are irreducible to quantified outcomes, so too are the frames within which we operate irreducible simply to ‘my’ or ‘your’ set of circumstances. Our affordances exist at an individual level, but that level is itself both composed of smaller levels and is also situated within a broader frame defining the context of each of our lives; this larger frame in turn is composed of countless framed lives and is situated in its own milieu. Thus our frames stretch infinitely in all directions, overlapping with one another. The frame which constitutes a configuration of perceptions may carry within it the very meaning of words, the very means by which events are interpreted, defined, analyzed, theorized, or witnessed. At the same time, within this grand frame, humans act and speak according to such a context; their words and deeds would take entirely different meanings and outcomes were they a part of another frame, which defines these phenomena in its own way. We are caught up in the frame of our discourse, which is situated among other frames of equal size and scope (within yet larger frames). Inside these frames are our own, which affect one another when we birth a new action according to that which is afforded to us.

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Something happens to thought when it begins from the following premise: only uncertainty is an absolute certainty. This acknowledgement is the opposite of chaos; it is the certitude that human life will always be predicated on contingent events. Far from being paradoxical, this notion mandates clearly its own set of imperatives: because of the potential for each human to be in any position equally, any politics that determines a position in perpetuity for one group or another fundamentally denies the most human quality that exists. Once again, this notion does not preclude but only specifies the possibility of consistent configurations over time. Simply because the human condition is uncertain does not mean that we are incapable of carving out patterns for ourselves, which remain consistent for a time; in fact this is the very promise of being enmeshed in a contingent frame, as opposed to a deterministic mandate. The problem arises when these patterns are artificially fixed in ostensible perpetuity so as to deny the very contingencies from which they came.

We are today all the time confronted with constructs that claim to enable agency, that claim to manufacture situations that mimic the genuine indeterminacy that constitutes human existence: so-called ‘open’ architectural spaces, art-practices, or elections conducted in modern democracies are each examples of these, in their own ways (and to varying degrees). What ostensibly open practices elide is that they too are constituted through specific circumstances which color all potential outcomes; the danger is specific in these cases because the purported freedom of the situation effectively nullifies any responsibility to account for these circumstances, as they are already in theory only the result of personal agency. In reality, it is precisely these conditions that are most crucial to acknowledge; in all cases, it is possible to analyze a scenario and to assess whether or not a choice has been made that will increase or decrease the potential for contingencies, which will befall any construction inevitably, but which can also be purposefully affected in the meantime.

[1] Arendt, The Human Condition

[2] Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?

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