Paradoxes and Contradictions of "The One"

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The One. The One. The One.

Does it not seem like the human mind spontaneously “Counts to One”? This conjecture finds strong evidence from the foundational gesture of philosophy, where Parmenides, in an attempt to banish das nichts ends up proposing that being is absolutely one and eternal. The job of philosophy, after this moment, was to ensure the stability and consistency of “The One”, that we should always have this “One” as our own and our necessary background.

This is not so esoteric and disconnected from pragmatic psychosocial-anthropological engagement as it may seem. Whether we think in religious or in scientific terms “The One” is always there. In religion we see “The One” as an absolute background in the notion of an all-knowing God. In science we see “The One” as an absolute background in the notion of an all-encompassing Spacetime.

Of course such models in our contemporary epistemological universe often come under harsh criticism. This first move to break down “The One” may have received its most sophisticated philosophical treatment with the rise of existentialism (from Kierkegaard to Nietzsche to Camus to Sartre and beyond). For existentialists there is no “The One” that would be able to hold the background for all observers. Existence is irreducible to the location of a radically open consciousness becoming in an uncertain world. No God. No Spacetime. No ancient Parmenidean fantasy to save us from the abyss of our existence.

In psychoanalysis, which is often viewed as quite complimentary to existentialism, we also get to confront this abyss directly, as opposed to relying on the fantasmatic figure of “The One”. This is even the pragmatic function of the analyst (in a paradoxical form). The analyst is “The One” (absolute background) for the analysand (person undergoing psychoanalysis). This is why the analyst does not give his/her own views during the course of analysis. The analyst instead acts as a mute void that reflects back to the analysand all of their own intimate hopes and fears, desires and phobias as if as a pure reflective mirror of absolute questioning and uncertainty. This procedure is meant to create a space of free association where the analysand can untangle his/her own knots which would condense into “The One”.

Theoretically this seems pretty straightforward:

  • break down the illusory fantasy of “The One”

  • accept the abyssal nothingness at the core of subjectivity

  • work from this ground and free your self from the constraints of historical human civilization.

Does this not open up the space for the epistemological reign of pure multiplicity? Knowledge as a multiplicity of multiplicities? Knowledge which would avoid condensing and conforming to a pre-fixed and pre-given ideality?

This seems “true enough”, in both the existentialism of Wittgenstein, and the psychoanalysis of Winnicott.

But wait. Whenever we lose “The One” (e.g. religious God; scientific Spacetime) we also lose our ability for coherent and consistent organization. We fracture into an incoherent and inconsistent multiplicity of figures of consciousness that may become so fluid and formless that nothing happens at all.

Even stranger. Whenever we try to (re)organise collectively in the mode of a pure multiplicity, we immediately encounter the emergence of “some One”. In other words, some model or form starts to take primacy, some way of seeing or structuring or prefiguring action starts to dominate over the others. Over time, piece by piece, distinction by distinction, the human mind encounters “The One”.

Perhaps the most useful way to think about this paradox and contradiction of “The One” can be found in contemporary sexuality. Does not contemporary sexuality hysterically oscillate between “nothing” (a free for all of multiple sexual forms that disintegrate as quickly as they integrate) and “everything” (you must be “The One” for me in every and all possible futures)? This ground for our action may even prefigure certain political tensions between the spontaneous unconscious ideology of progressives and the reactionary unconscious ideology of conservatives. Progressive sexuality is in practice anarchic, without rule or structure, in its extreme. Conservative sexuality is in practice rigid, reifying traditional rule or structure, in its extreme.

Of course, one could here invoke the “Western Buddhist” “Middle Path”: just pragmatically form monogamous bonds where attachment and detachment are reflectively inscribed into the temporal becoming of the form. Everyone dies, every relation ends. Therefore we should not get “too attached” and we should learn to cope with “detachment” for “mental health” and “psychical stability” over the course of a lifetime that is increasingly forced into a complex world where ego formations will “come and go”.

What does this “spiritual” approach miss? It may miss some paradoxes and contradictions of “The One”. While it seems pragmatic to negate “The One” as illusory and even oppressive, it is nonetheless one of the most intense and authentic experiences on may ever have, a pure coincidence between eternity and time. This is why it may be time to consider the that the “whole problem” of the “whole” (The One) is that it is fundamentally incomplete (riddled with “holes” that we call “subjectivity”). This does not mean that there is just a pure multiplicity of forms that are simply relating to each other in an open temporal process. This means that we (as a pure multiplicity of forms that are simply relating to each other in an open temporal process) are at the same time overdetermined by a fundamental negativity.

How should we think this “fundamental negativity”? First, we should start by situating it as the opposite of logical positivism. Logical positivism seeks to explain the whole world as what logic can deduce as a positive existence (a multiplicity of relational forms in a temporal becoming etc.). However, when we introduce a type of logical negativity we have to confront an irreducible illogic internal to this multiplicity of relational forms in a temporal becoming. Logical negativity puts the abyssal void to work in its positive dimension, as the hole within the whole.

In order to situate this philosophically let us go back to Parmenides. Parmenides understood the abyssal nothingness. In its place he situated “The One” of “Absolute Being”. He left us with the hard work (responsibility) of ensuring we keep this “Absolute Being”, to protect us from das nichts. Existentialists and psychoanalysts may say that he projected his neurotic repression as a defense mechanism. They may even go so far as to say all “conceptual-abstract” philosophical engagement is a continuation of this neurotic repressed defense mechanism (of course, culminating in the “Hegelian Madness” of “Absolute Knowing”).

But there may be another opening for interpretation here. What if, instead of “deconstructing” “The One” we think about it in terms of logical negativity. In other words, “The One”, whether it emerges in philosophy, religion, science, love, or politics (or anywhere else), is a representation of a non-relationship or impossibility. Yes, it is true we “relate” to things and people (that they are not reified objects but processes of relation). However, it is also true that there is also an irreducible way in which we do not relate to things and people. When we fall into a passionate relation with an other, the whole problem is that this other cannot be related to in such a way that we can internalize this other (or be internalized by this other). Every relation could be “overdetermined” by our inability to relate “fully”. This would be the presence of the absence of “The One”.

What does this mean? (Other then the fact that we are alone).

This means that, instead of “deconstructing The One”:

  • in philosophy: postmodernism;

  • religion: pagan or void spiritualism;

  • science: quantum physics, evolutionism;

  • love: poly sexuality;

  • politics: local organising

we instead think again the way in which the “negative one” is always already acting in and through our “open process”. This is a coincidence between openness and closedness, between process and its object. This does not mean that we are constrained in all the aforementioned dimensions of human life to close on a traditional object (Being, God, Spacetime, Marriage, State, etc.) but rather think these “closed objects” in their becoming. These “closed objects” (perhaps) can be rethought, reworked, reinterpreted for a new temporal epoch. This temporal epoch, as signalled by existentialism and psychoanalysis, must include the observer at the foundation. This means that we are not thinking a “positivist one” that pre-exists human individuals (like a transcendental structure), but rather a “negativist one” (like death or the experience of pure void) from which a subject can absolutely determine its own necessity.

The goal?: intense conceptual engagement, spiritual integration, central real, strong bonds, common social life (that is always-already, and not in an illusory future present).

The alternatives to thinking the negative one (positivist one or pure multiplicity), it seems to me, can only lead to the continuation of vicious forms of repression. The traditional-conservative forms of repression are well known and deeply internalised (we must sacrifice our own free determination for a pre-given transcendental structure). However, the progressive-liberal forms of repression are now emerging with force as every attempt to “deconstruct an absolute” leads to an “absolute certainty” that prevents real thinking:

  • In philosophy there can be no universal conceptual thinking (just a pure multiplicity of epistemic forms);

  • in religion there can be no universal dimension of the transcendence (just a pure multiplicity of spirits);

  • in science there can be no universal dimension of reality (just a pure multiplicity of waves or life);

  • in love there can be no universal long-term relational structure (just a pure multiplicity of different libidinal patterns);

  • in politics there can be no universal collective projects (just a pure multiplicity of anarchic local organising).

In the framework of “The Negative One” this simply signals that a large-scale civilizational deconstruction of the “Old Ones” is (dialectically) preparing an opening for “New Ones”, new ways for humans to articulate their fundamentally negative relation to being in a radically observer dependent form. There are not just a multiplicity of relations as one lives one’s existence, but a multiplicity of relations that are overdetermined by a unified negativity (death, ultimately). “Tarrying” directly with this negativity is the way to gain a coherence and consistency that is authentic to one’s own life, as opposed to becoming subsumed under a pre-given transcendental structure or losing one self in a drifting formless void.