📰 The Paradox of Control

Author: L. M. Sacasas

Full Title: The Paradox of Control

URL: https://theconvivialsociety.substack.com/p/the-paradox-of-control

Highlights from March 11th, 2021.

“The driving cultural force of that form of life we call ‘modern,’” Rosa writes, “is the idea, the hope and the desire, that we can make the modern world controllable.” “Yet,” he quickly adds, “it is only in encountering the uncontrollable that we really experience the world. Only then do we feel touched, moved, alive. A world that is fully known, in which everything has been planned and mastered, would be a dead world.”
Philosophically, Rosa develops his thesis from the observation that human experience is grounded in the perception that “something is present,” and that this awareness even “precedes the distinction between subject and world.” Gradually, we learn to distinguish between the self and the world, but these are “two poles … of the relationship that constitutes them.” The question for Rosa is “how is this something that is present constituted.” In other words, how does our mode of relating to the world shape our perception of it?
Rosa’s “guiding thesis” on this score is that “for late modern human beings, the world has simply become a point of aggression,” an apt phrase that seemed, sadly, immediately useful as a way of characterizing what it feels like to be alive right now.
“More and more, for the average late modern subject of the ‘developed’ western world, everyday life revolves around and amounts to nothing more than tackling an ever-growing to-do list. The entries on this list constitute the points of aggression that we encounter as the world … all matters to be settled, attended to, mastered, completed, resolved, gotten out of the way.”
Why are we like this? Rosa provides a two-fold answer: “the normalization and naturalization of our aggressive relationship to the world is the result of a social formation, three centuries in the making, that is based on the structural principle of dynamic stabilization and on the cultural principle of relentlessly expanding humanity’s reach.”
Rosa invites us to consider how a growing number of parents in the “developed” world claim that they are motivated not by the hope that their children will have it better than they do but by the fear that they might have it worse.
The “institutionally enforced program” and “cultural promise of making the world more controllable, not only does not work but in fact becomes distorted into its exact opposite.”
“A world that is fully known, in which everything has been planned and mastered would be a dead world.”
“The basic mode of vibrant human existence,” Rosa explains, “consists not in exerting control over things but in resonating with them, making them respond to us—thus experiencing self-efficacy—and responding to them in turn.”
As a result, the farther we extend the imperative to control the world, the more the world will fail to resonate, the more it falls silent, leaving us alienated from it, and to the degree that we come to know ourselves through our relation to a responsive other, then also from ourselves.
Interestingly, Rosa, who otherwise develops his argument in strictly sociological language, nonetheless notes an analogy to religious insights. “Religious concepts such as grace or the gift of God,” Rosa writes, “suggest that accommodation cannot be earned, demanded, or compelled, but rather is rooted in an attitude of approachability to which the subject-as-recipient can contribute insofar as he or she must be receptive to God’s gift or grace.” “In sociological terms,” he adds, “this means that resonance always has the character of a gift.”
“An attitude aimed at taking hold of a segment of the world, mastering it, and making it controllable is incompatible with an orientation toward resonance. Such an attitude destroys any experience of resonance by paralyzing its intrinsic dynamism.”
“If we no longer saw the world as a point of aggression, but as a point of resonance that we approach, not with an aim of appropriating, dominating, and controlling it but with an attitude of listening and responding, an attitude oriented toward self-efficacious adaptive transformation, toward mutually responsive reachability, modernity’s escalatory game would become meaningless and, more importantly, would be deprived of the psychological energy that drives it. A different world would become possible.”