Coherency and Redrawing the Map

Thoughts on RE-design, and what/how is the world.

April 2020

In his recent essay titled ‘The Coronation’ Charles Eisenstein wrote some powerful statements and posed some important questions. I read his piece, enjoyed it, reflected on it somewhat with friends and let it marinate further in the back of my mind. Today two of his statements pierced through the routine of the day as I checked my Instagram while waiting for the water to boil for the cup of coffee that would hopefully rocket me back into productivity. Through some serendipitous algorithmic twist the first thing that hit my eye was Russel Brand announcing his interview with Charles Eisenstein. A few touches of the finger later and bright white letters on a purple background appeared on my screen as I flicked through Charles’s story: 

In his essay Charles Eisenstein was speaking in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. I advise everyone to read his work as he beautifully describes the current state of affairs and shows glimpses into the possible futures. This, however, is not an essay but a blog in which I collect some thoughts on things design related. For fun, for inspiration and reflection and future reference for myself. So bear with me.. 

Back to Eisenstein’s two phrases quoted above. What else might we achieve, in coherency? So beautifully phrased, ‘coherency’, a state of sticking together or being connected. And what about those last five words! Charles wonders what world we shall create. A question that has been raised many times before and requires both action and reflection to answer because answering it is doing it. And, more importantly, it is a question that I feel we are now slowly beginning to try and take seriously.

Transcript from the 4:50 mark:
Herzog: Give us adequate images, we lack adequate images and I think a civilization is doomed is going to die out like dinosaurus if it does not develop adequate images (…) It is a dramatic situation. 
Herzog: We have found out there are serious problems facing our civilization like energy or environment problems, nuclear power and over population but generally it is not understood yet that a problem of the same magnitude is that we lack adequate images.

The notion of the ‘separated self’, the reductionist and positivist scientific world view that separated humans from the world and furthered our economic activity towards a linear take-make-waste economy is but one of the frames that now seems to be inadequate in making sense of the how the world is unfolding. Our current ‘map’ of reality, the way we have been making sense of the world, is failing to be productive for us. (I say ‘we’ roughly meaning the dominant capitalist, neoliberal mode of existence, but let’s keep it light, shall we?). The paradigmatic change that we are in and people often talk about, characterized by various crises, is the very proces of redrawing that map. This means developing new metaphors, new vocabulary, new roles, new practices, new relationships. It also means confrontations and change, conflict of some sort and above all, collaboration (and because of that, inherently a sense of ‘not-knowing’). We are in the proces of RE-framing what it is to be on and to be of the planet. 

Nobody said it was easy. But I’m sure it’s much more fun and insightful

The same goes for cooperation. Nothing ever really cooperates. Rather, we should explore how to collaborate and ride the waves.

From our poreus bodies to the many things we enact and participate in. Luckily, the coherency of the world is not a coherency that is necessarily sticky and restrictive of our movements like the goopy slime. Unfortunately, many of our institutions were formed not by a sense of coherency but through a longing for hierarchy and classification. This, this is an object! Look at it in all its essence. And this, well this is another object! And this, and this, and this. Let me describe this object for you, name it, and now we have classified it and the world. Nevermind proces, duration, change and relations. Oh, how neatly the world appeared, ready for us to do with it what we like. But, in the Heideggerian inspired words of anthropologist turned philosopher Tim Ingold, we do not live in a world with objects but in a worlding world where things are thinging. The recent years of ecological alarm bells should have made it more clear. The world is not static, it’s ‘alive’. And ‘it’ includes us, because we are of it and with it. 

What world shall we create? Who knows, but let’s not await the answer. Let’s explore, because exploring is a making-practice, it’s creating. 

So, the world is in need of redesign, our paradigm, our map of reality is in need of redesign. And this redesign should be understood through coherency. It should be understood as a process of stickiness, through the idea of being as a state of connectedness. Redesign is a proces of exploration, not a proces of abstraction, simplification and implementation. Redesign is a proces in which those things can occur but always in relation to- (as part of a mode of investigation). Abstraction from a context is fine as long as it is a tactic, an investigative move, an in-between step geared towards re-contextualizing. We ought to keep the party moving, from context to context, situation to situation, collaborate and intervene to keep redesigning, to keep things alive. We need to start getting better at being confidently tentative, exploratory. One of the ways to get better at it is to do it. Be more empirical, be more collaborative, be more open, be more generous, be more experimental, be less risk-averse, be more with the world. 

“Our civilization’s established institutions are increasingly helpless to meet the challenges of our time.” 

“What else might we achieve, in coherency? What do we want to achieve, and what world shall we create?” 

“Yes”, I said to myself, increasingly helpless and yet coherency might hold the answer. 

First, coherency. Coherency sounds like an apt word to describe both what we long for and what we seem to miss dearly in our imagination, a sense of connectedness. Almost forty years ago Werner Herzog sounded the doomsday alarm when he stated that our civilization lacks adequate images, that we were going to die out like dinosaurs if we don’t develop an adequate language and adequate images. This would be the biggest problem of our times. He was right, I believe, and still is today. We are desperately in need of actively RE-framing what it is to be on the planet and to be part of the planet.

Powers of Ten. We ‘zoom out’  and ‘zoom in’.  There are a lot of things going on simultaneously, intermingling and entangling, leaking and emerging in/through/with/from each other.  Depending on the frame we adopt, the situation we envision or encounter, different things pop up. 

That might sound very grandiose and, well, for lack of a better term ‘abstract’ doesn’t it? I mean, rethinking what it means to be on the planet, let alone being of the planet? But if we stay calm for just a bit and adjust our expectations, from clarity to creativity, we might be able to think along those lines. Drawing a map sounds very concrete and practical. Drawing a map is an action that involves movement, looking, observing, drawing, translating perhaps. It requires making a legend and perhaps also trying to navigate with the map, to try and see if it is a functional one. The map emerges out of dealing with, intervening in and experiencing the territory, translating and communicating it along the way. So redrawing the map requires investigating, speculating, imagining and (inter)acting. Not implementing, but ‘Emergence’! 

What emerges out of coherency? A state of sticking together. Sometimes our complex reality can feel like that in a negative way. Like a goopy slime has covered existence and every time we want to distinguish one thing, pick it up and act upon it we notice a great many things sticking to it, and to those things again! More so, we ourselves are entangled in all sorts of other things as well!

Unfortunately, many of our institutions were formed not by a sense of coherency but through a longing for hierarchy and classification”

The Strelka institute in Moscow opened a call for papers and projects titled ‘Revenge of the Real’ in response to the COVID-19 situation. And indeed, staying with the Star Wars theme we might see it as the most recent version of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ with the empire as res publica, the public thing re-envisioned through coherency. What is next? Phantom Menace? New Hope? Who knows. All that these movie analogies can do right here, right now, is inspire our imagination to run wild. What I’d like to say as concluding remarks about COVID-19, Charles Eisenstein and the idea of coherency in relation to design is this. What world shall we create? Who knows, but let’s not await the answer. Let’s explore, because exploring is a making-practice, it’s creating.