21 July 2020

Power, fairness of interplay, justice, right and freedom

(Excerpt from a work in progress)

As already touched upon, the recasting of human being, for the first time, explicitly as whoness in lieu of as subjectivity has far- and deep-reaching ramifications for the conception of the ontology of power, for now it can no longer be the case that power continues to be conceived implicitly and uniformly as efficient, productive power over the movement of things (whats, including human bodies) as has been the case throughout the Western tradition from Aristotle onward up to and including all of today’s modern sciences as well as the ‘acceptable’ but innocuous, mainstream philosophy. To alleviate our mental blindness, the conception of power (δύναμις) under an ontology of whatness, which has been the way in which Western thought has come to grips with all phenomena of movement and change, must make way for an explicit conception of power under an ontology of whoness. In a rupture with traditional metaphysical ontology, such an ontology proceeds from a multiplicity of human beings sharing a world with one another via the interplay of mutual estimation. The opening of the view to plurality enables for the first time the ontology of social power to be thought through adequately, and that from a dynamic conception of being as essencing within the three-dimensional temporal clearing.
Each individual leading his or her life is necessarily engaged in interplays of mutual estimation of many and various kinds that per se, as life-movements, are power interplays. Why? Because each individual as an origin or ‘principle’ of his or her own life-movements is such an origin as a power, potential, potency over such movements (ἀρχή τῆς κινέσεως). Being the origin of one’s own life-movements does not render the individual as an underlying subject, but as a dynamic player in diverse power interplays; as one of many players, the individual does not ‘underlie’ the power interplays and, despite all ontic and ontological self-deception, cannot (ἀδύνατος) master them (cf. however below on phallic whoness).
Human being itself is thus stripped back from traditional casts of human being, such as a person morally demanding dignity (Kant), to a player essencing in diverse power interplays. To adequately conceive whoness, being thus becomes dynamic essencing. Due to the multiplicity of life-movements of a plurality in different, sometimes allied and often opposed directions, the exercise of individual powers is necessarily a power interplay of often antagonistic and mutually excluding, contradictory powers. Power interplay is thus the obverse side of the interplay of mutual estimation through which individual human beings are sociated with each other as whos on the most elementary level. These two sides of the coin are inseparable. The mutual estimation is either appreciative or depreciative or any subtle nuanced blend thereof; the power interplay is therefore either for, with or against each other, including all blends thereof.
All sociation (Vergesellschaftung) is dynamic power interplay. Your selfhood as a reflection from the world of others and hence your who-status is therefore also shifting throughout your life. The mutual estimation is also necessarily hermeneutic because, in mutually estimating and esteeming each other in whatever way, the players are simultaneously interpreting each other’s who-stands and -status evaluatively through the socio-ontological ‘looks’ of whoness predominant in a given age at a given place. These ‘looks’ are not merely culturally sociological, but socio-ontological, i.e. rooted in elementary modes of presenting oneself to the world as somewho, in short, of essencing as somewho. The power interplay provides room for movement for both putting somewho down or lifting them up estimatively, thus boosting or depressing that somewho’s standing. The estimative interplays, as mutual, can therefore become brutal and nasty.
Sociation as power interplay is thus a foundational concept in the ontology of whoness that must not be confused with socialization, which is a merely ontogenetic concept of explanation employed ubiquitously in modern disciplines such as sociology and psychology that are incapable of thinking ontologically. Socialization amounts to indoctrination into a cast of being within a given society along with its established mores and narratives. As necessarily sociating beings, we human beings live ‘simply’ in continual power interplay that is simultaneously and unavoidably an interplay of mutual estimation, hence, a mutually estimative power interplay that can assume the guise of virtually infinite variations and nuances ranging from private intimacy through earning a livelihood in fair or bruising economic interchange, to the brutal, conniving, intriguing power interplays of politics on all levels up to the geopolitical. In addition to all the personal power interplays, there are all the derivative, more impersonal, mediated power interplays, more often than not played out in the medium of reified value, among groups and also in the medium of the social institutions that precipate as organs for organizing society on all levels from bottom to top and are thus organs of social and political power. The holders of office in such organs of power are themselves endowed with social and political power and players in their respective power interplays.
If social living in an elementary sense is the diverse intertwining movements of myriad mutually estimative (and therefore also hermeneutic) power interplays, then the question of justice must relate also in an elementary way to such interplays. There is always a plurality of powers at play in such interplay which, as interplay among whos, is mutually estimative, reciprocally evaluative, either directly, or indirectly via the impersonal medium of reified value (money, etc.), and social and political institutions that are nevertheless borne by their agents such as officials and bureaucrats with their respective who-status. In such mutually estimative power interplay there is always the question as to the fairness of the power interplay which can be assessed according to how the powers at play are mutually estimated and receive their due. As a ‘look’ of the movement called mutually estimative power interplay, fairness is a socio-ontological, hermeneutic concept of estimating-as..., not just an ontic description. If one party in the power play is obviously at a great disadvantage, is put down and treated unfairly in it, this is seen clearly as an instance of injustice. Since, however, the judgement as to whether a power interplay is fair or not is necessarily an interpretation of the state of affairs, the power interplay itself inevitably shifts terrain to a power interplay of an exchange of words interpreting the power interplay one way or the other, more often than not diametrically contradictory, hence a struggle in the medium of the hermeneutic λόγος over fairness in a particular instance. The phenomenal ‘looks’ presented by the power interplay can be interpreted one way or another, all the way down to fundamental, elementary conceptions of whoness itself.
Fairness itself is no hard-and-fast, definitely definable criterion but, like the outcome of power interplays themselves, is also a shifting criterion that depends on how the players themselves and the onlookers interpretively estimate and evaluate the fairness of the interplay itself along with its outcome. If all sides in a power interplay are more or less satisfied with a given outcome, fairness, and thus justice, is generally deemed to have been attained, especially if the onlookers concur. Hence criteria of fairness themselves shift according to public opinion, and socio-political struggle itself becomes a battle over shifting the weight of public opinion regarding the fairness or unfairness of the outcomes of power interplays in one direction or another. The more momentous of these power interplays become long-term historical struggles that leave their indelible mark on an age. In this sense as the fairness of sociating, estimative power interplays, all justice is social justice and at base a question of power rather than a moral question of ought-to-be.
Social mores, how they look as fair or unfair, thus have a powerful influence and they shift over (linear) time according to common, invariably hermeneutic, conceptions of what shape social living ought to take according to moral judgements. This Ought as a look of fairness is itself subject to the ever-controversial power interplays over fairness, i.e. over the ‘fair sight’ of acceptable social practices of all kinds, as distinct from the ugly sights that take hold in social opinion as a blight and a blemish. There is thus an ineluctable hermeneutic circularity in determining the fairness of social power interplays, since the determination of fairness itself as criterion for justice is just such a social power interplay with fluctuating, shifting outcomes dependent upon public opinion. The circularity, however, is not vicious, but arises necessarily from the hermeneutic nature of the world itself: the world is as we think it interpretively to be which, of course, does not mean that the world is a subjective world-view that ‘we’ ostensible ‘subjects’ project onto an ostensibly ‘objective’ world. Rather, who ‘we’ are is always a way we interpret ourselves to be through the incessant estimative power interplays that make up life itself. In modern democracies there is the opportunity to politically play out social power interplays over determining their fairness insofar as the citizenry has the vote and there are, in turn, fair elections. In other non-democratic circumstances, such social power interplays may be played out in popular uprisings.
The acknowledged criteria of fairness for the outcomes of mutually estimative power interplays attain the solidity and fixity of a social value with the status of a right, only apparently set in stone. Such values evaluate estimatingly the outcomes of power interplays according to right and wrong. Individuals can thus be conceived as (institutionally and politically, especially constitutionally guaranteed) bearers of rights in a society who must be respected as such in intercourse among themselves. Such rights attain the force of laws in relation to the state that is endowed with the legitimate power (including physically violent power, legitimized by being accepted and affirmed by the citizenry)  over the power interplays of society within the framework of law that aims to regulate the power interplays within such legal bounds. Once certain rights are socially established as criteria of fairness for power interplays and enshrined in law, an individual can insist on his or her rights not being infringed or violated, and have them acknowledged and enforced by the state as the superior, preferably legitimated, instance of social power endowed with a monopoly of legitimate physical force. In an elementary socio-ontological sense, the state can be conceived, first of all, as the mediator and adjudicator of fairness, and thus as the guarantor of justice, in conflicts arising within the countless ongoing power interplays of society which constitute it as movement. Such adjudication as the state’s administration of justice is called for whenever certain power interplays are considered on one side or the other as unfair. The judiciary is the organ of state tasked with appropriately interpreting conflictual power interplays within the framework of law.
As instituted by the state and enshrined in enforceable law, rights are relatively stable fixations of the outcomes of social and political power interplays that may have been played out tediously and recurrently over generations and centuries. As the secular outcome of mutally estimative power interplays, rights are themselves values evaluating the fairness of power interplays of diverse kinds. Their apparent established fixity reifies them as if they were unchangeable, even inalienable human rights. However, rights are established nevertheless through socio-political power struggle in an historical age and can also be eroded and watered down in the same way; they are not ‘eternal’, but are exuded by the movement of social power interplays that never attain a final outcome once and for all, and themselves remain subject to controversial reinterpretation in one way or another, even to the point of perverting and inverting them entirely in a movement known as socio-political rollback.
The criterion of fairness underpinning justice and right serves for judging the outcomes of ongoing power interplays of all kinds and, as already stated, is itself subject to social power interplays that are always also essentially hermeneutic in nature. This makes fairness not only hard to define, but also susceptible to fluctuation through power struggles, especially in words. Underlying fairness is always how human beings as inevitable players in all sorts of mutually estimative power interplays estimate and esteem each other, i.e. whether appropriately or inappropriately in all shades and nuances. The power struggles over the criteria for fairness itself, justice and right thus recur again and again in historical time in ever new situations and interpretations and against diverse socio-historical cultural backgrounds. The fixation of criteria of fairness as rights is only ever relatively permanent; rights therefore have to be preserved and rewon from the incessant power struggles in societies that are invariably also hermeneutic struggles over the interpretation of key controversial phenomena such as the ‘right to life’.
Since power interplays are kinds of movement, the question of freedom itself is rooted in the question of the freedom of life-movements in such power interplays and most fundamentally in the freedom of each individual player to strive to cast her or his very own self. The power to play freely in such mutually estimative power interplays lies at the root of human freedom for us sharing the world with one another, estimating each other as whos. (As such, the conception of freedom as an individual’s freedom to do what he wants without restriction is grossly bogus.) The very socio-ontological ‘looks’ of whoness, albeit obliquely, unknowingly and only implicitly, underlie such struggles. An explicit struggle over such ‘looks’ of whoness would amount to a socio-ontological struggle itself, whose elementary presupposition is that ‘we’ understand what social ontology is as an endeavour arising from the hermontological difference itself. Today’s institutional status quo conspires ubiquitously against learning what social ontology, in its genuine sense, is. In this historical context, mainstream philosophy with its silently, but tightly, enforced mediocrity serves as an indispensably useful anaesthetic for the mind, in particular, for hindering young minds from going astray by questioning the status quo.
To be free, the interplay must be fair, and to be fair, the interplay must be free. Freedom thus resides elementarily in the fairness of mutual estimation of powers in dynamic interplay, in the first place, of individual powers, but not restricted to these, since there are also indirect media of power. The proclamation of human rights attempts to give the outcomes of struggles over fairness relative permanence or even ascribed, by wishful moral thinking, the status as ‘eternal’, ‘innate’ or ‘inalienable’ rights, although they originate from incessant social movement, i.e. from power interplays that are often long and bitter struggles. In this Nietzschean sense, the permanence of being is stamped upon endless becoming with a kind of pretence of permanence (which Nietzsche calls necessary “Irrtum”, i.e. error). Rights in this sense are ideals as ontological ‘looks’ that serve as orientation in power struggles. Such proclamation of human rights can also be the expression of mere wishful thinking that posits one-sidedly an ideal without roots in the interplay of opposed powers but which perhaps serves as a secular, idealistic goal that can become rooted in socio-political power struggles. The movement of history is thus not driven — pace Marx — solely by class struggle, but by the contradictions of opposing social powers of diverse kinds engaged in antagonistic struggles with each other.

Supplementary reading: Social Ontology of Whoness


  1. I agree with this characterization of fairness as interplay, a dynamic process involving contradictions "mit einer positiven Vorzeichnung".

  2. Could it be a constituent of the notions of fairness and freedom (doesn't fairness entail freedom?) that the interaction in question allow all parties to appear as a "who", not merely as a "what"? For it is possible for a "who" not to be able to appear as such in a given interaction, such as in the case of chattel slavery. Yes, each person is a "who" in some way, however in being sold as property, a person is in that instance being treated as a "what." The resulting continuum of whatness to whoness could offer a useful benchmark for evaluating fairness in social interactions. In essence: der Weg zum Wersein gleicht der Weg zum Menschen. Do you see it that way, or am I oversimplifying?