Tensions, Terms and Apprehension: On Struggle

Betsy Calabaza
6 min readDec 6, 2020


Not all kinds of inquiry can appear in just any setting. There are conditions for the possibility of certain questions being asked.

In the sort of classic Greek language, the one that comes out of the, you know, the oral tradition of Homer and others, it would be insane to ask something like “what is courage?” Because the response, which many of you may have had in the back of your mind as I was speaking, would be “don’t you have a dictionary?” In other words, we know what it means. We’ve got a cohesive society, we’re unified. It’s like about the war now. We’re all together on this. We know what courage is. So there would have been no space for the Socratic inquiry [during Homer’s time]. It was only after a rather unpleasant experience in a Greek war …but after a tragic experience with the war and a military dictatorship, the words that had become standard in their culture and had been used unproblematically with meanings attaching to definite positions began to be sources of irritation, and so the ground and the possibility for Socrates inquiry was not really his individual genius, although that itself is a nice thing and not against it, but it was not possible except against a background of a society that had deeply begun to question what these words really meant. And one can’t help but think for example to try to make this parallel come alive that the radical questioning that’s been going on in the universities about the canons of knowledge, the instruments of knowledge has not been profoundly affected… but no it’s clear that the current struggle over the Canon and the meaning of these classic … but the point of all this questioning is that after this country’s experience in the 50s and the 60s, of the both the civil rights movement, in anti-war movement counterculture and so on, it became again a problem to say “what does it mean to be, for example, a good woman?” Well there was something started in 1951 that meant that clearly is a matter of debate now…well I’ll pick one that’s a little more controversial “what’s a patriot?” became a matter of debate in a way that in 1954 it was not all that confusing. And and I’m old enough to remember people not being confused by it. I think people want it to be non confusing again. Desperately!, they may want it more than they want even money. Which is amazing but the point is that philosophy, philosophical inquiry of the dangerous kind as opposed to of the analytic boring academic kind, philosophic inquiry of the dangerous kind catches a society at a moment when it’s insecure. About what it’s main terms that hold it together mean. Like “man”, “woman”, “patriot”, and in particular “human being.” So that is the human edge of philosophy. That you catch a society at a moment of danger. When a term or set of terms, that are very important to the identity of a lot of people, are in question. Are possible, the questioning of them. It may be that we are today and since I’m trying to remind myself as I talk about eternal values and not being a relativist and I do think it’s important to search for values that transcend the here and now, on the other hand in the time since Socrates we have become more dubious about eternal ones. Me too. We’re all more dubious about those but I would like to look for values that transcend the here and now and for obvious reasons. The obvious reasons in my case being that I think the ones that prevail here and now suck. Good English word, right? We all know what that means.
- Rick Roderick

You go to war with the army you have.

  • Donald Rumsfeld

In some page in Deleuze’s Nietzsche, one of them makes the point that each society is cohesive insofar as it shares a pain economy.

Another form of cohesive community is one defined by a language economy. The economy doesn’t exist unless you have a person that wants to communicate meaning. To communicate meaning is something like establishing order. The person talking has an order in their head, a unique understanding, they want to instill in the real world. The real world contrasted by a different set of order. To complete the language economy, you need another person that is willing to be communicated with. The listener has their own understanding of order.

During our times we have various tribes co-existing. Tribes are defined by the dogmatic order they recognize. When two people are communicating from different tribes or even the same tribe, the order they each want for the world manifests itself like a tug-o-war. Why do these people want competing order?

Part of the reason these people want competing orders is precisely tied to the pain economy mentioned by Deleuze and/or Nietzsche. Here we can just say that pain is tied to the biological ego. The people are raised to measure meaning by how their own ego is used (acts and reacts). They want to craft their ego in an order that pleases their tribe because the tribe has conditioned the individual ego to feel good when the tribe is pleased. A successful tribe reinforces the individual ego feeling good, creating loyalty.

We evolved like this. Fighting against each other and using our ego, recognition of order, and want from pain to bring order, our order, into the real world.

The system, however, has been gamed. And wherever we mention tribes, it has boiled down to a scientific recognition of DNA and genes. Which is bad science but it’s the new understanding worldwide that justifies our tribe mentality (an killing outsiders). The problem we have nowadays is that even the smartest ones still pledge allegiance to tribes, even if the only excuse is that tribes offer the easiest relieve from pain. We could operate under a new understanding that gets rid of tribes but most people only understand a pain free existence within their own. Not necessarily because their own is utopian but because their used to and have acquired a taste for their own. Moreover, xenophobic tribes have learned to teach their own to hate and distrust others, make the other the enemy if you have to. Not because the other is evil but because it encourages movement for tribal success. The Other becomes coal for the steam engine.

When language is used, order is re-arranged. Language is not unique in this behavior. Genes behave the same way. Genes are ordered and bring order to the real world and insofar as genes re-order the real world, they’re in turn re-ordered as well. A recursive relationship. The real world is transient and moving but meaning sticks for the ride; the role of meaning is superficial. Superficial because under the surface of meaning are moving parts that can get rid of meaning but meaning can never get rid of the moving parts. You’re as significant as your meaning but you’re also significant beyond meaning, in how you move. Your movement is what tribes fear. They can manipulate your meaning easily. But your moves conjure up unpredictable witchcraft magic. That’s why tribes don’t bother to define you as an outsider with deep movements because that’s how an outsider influences the movements within the tribe. Rather, outsiders are defined holistically as a superficial menace.

When talking about the language economy, it started with early humans attaching words to movements and recapitulating words with “rewarding” movements.

The pain economy is how the universal human ego is particularized in a particular moment in time. From this particular moment in time, the rest of time flows.

The elders and wise overseeing the pain economy manage the transactions. Mafia style permits brokered in dark corners. Juries buzzing through neighborhoods, old flaps yapping, conjuring the mass to be particularized into matter by all the citizens. Absolute judgements proving the integrity of the state, absolute enforcement maintaining the living spirit of the tribe. From this display of authority the citizens act and put into motion culture.

From pain, humans get themes of anger, malice, and hate. The spices of human life. The force against the living trying to break free in total freedom, battled by pre-existing dogma that turns the living into a superficial, predictable meaning. Our movements pledge undying loyalty to meaning and thus our movements become predetermined. We feel stuck and repetitive because we can’t escape the words that entrap us. The freedom comes from breaking the pain barrier, ruining the pain economy. Not to be stoic in front of the tribe but to destroy the tribe with wrath. To free and liberate the movement of all, to restructure the pain economy.



Betsy Calabaza

blooms — crazy rants masked as abstract experimental philosophy. s/o CS Peirce