Reading time: ca. minutes
The little book I mentioned at the beginning, "Rhizome" by Deleuze and Guatari, is one of the most revolutionary texts that have ever come before my eyes. It is not an easy read because it goes against a deep rooted bias what could be called "hierarchism", a bias which is ubiquitous, in society, in our minds, in science and also in what is called "spirituality".
Our whole culture is permeated by this kind of thinking and it is not easy to detach from it.
Hierarchism, or "arborescent thinking" as Deleuze and Guatari call it,
[…] refers to the shape and structure of a tree. It is used to characterize a certain type of thinking, exemplified by the western scientific model, where knowledge emanates from a single stem and ends in predetermined "fruits". The concept suggests a linear progress towards the truth, which they condemned as both unrealistic and stultifying to the imagination. It is contrasted with "rhizomatic" thinking, which is open ended, has no central structure, and is constantly changing.
Arborescent thinking is marked by insistence on totalizing principles, binarism, and dualism. The term, first used (in western philosophy) in A Thousand Plateaus (1980) where it was opposed to the rhizome, comes from the way genealogy trees are drawn: unidirectional progress which enforces a dualist metaphysical conception, criticized by Deleuze.
In hierarchism, everything is ultimately reduced to One, the Fundamental Principle, the thoroughly authoritarian precept that is the Basis and at the same time the Highest. It is Reason, the Family Tree and the Root. It is God, the State, the Crown, The Truth, the Theory of Everything, it is I, the Absolute Mind, Universal Consciousness, Brahman, Supreme Enlightenment, the Top of the Pyramid, the Root Race. The One Ring to Rule Them All. Important Words In Capital Letters.
It is Fascism.
In hierarchism everything must be subjugated and unified. Escape is not possible. Resistance is futile. Ordnung muss sein!
The One splits itself into Two, a duality of opposites. The duality finally brings forth the "ten thousand things". But the trail can always be traced back to the Root, to the Holy Center. But only in thought, nowhere else.
Reality, life, is not One, not Two, not even Many or Nothing. It is indeterminate and does not allow itself to be determined. It knows no security, is unpredictable and leaves no traces. Life can have hierarchies and symmetries, but it is messy at the same time. It escapes all of our rational, orderly thinking.
Hierarchism is a mode of thinking that is clearly being forced upon reality, upon ourselves and upon the universe, upon life itself.
It is very tempting to sweep all those nasty doubts, all those creepy afterthoughts under the rug of "Universal Consistency". I expect that the universe won't fit under whatever Umbrella.
I can see in myself also this need to unify, this attraction to neat, nicely symmetric, centered structures and pictures. It's beautiful, peaceful. Perhaps it has to do with the symmetry that is evident in the human body and the human face.
Deleuze and Guatari propose a mode of thinking they call "rhizomatic", or "nomadic". It is based on a biological characteristic of certain plants called a "rhizome". Wikipedia:
"In botany and dendrology, a rhizome is a modified subterranean plant stem that sends out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes are also called creeping rootstalks or just rootstalks. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow horizontally. The rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards.
"If a rhizome is separated each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant. Rhizomes have no main root. It sends root fibers in all directions and connects and mimics with other rhizomes. It grows laterally."
The image of a rhizome is a more realistic, a more organic picture of how (undisciplined) thinking, how life itself, actually moves and propagates.
Rhizomes make connections, both between parts of themselves and between parts of different entities. An example of the former is the rhizome of, say, the root system of a grass species. An example of a heterogeneous rhizome is the connection that arises between a particular species of wasp and an orchid. The wasp and the orchid make a connection without anyone giving the order to do so! An organically grown unit that arises of its own accord is a much more stable structure (or anti-structure) than the artificial formation of organizations imposed from above.
Artificial formations can also arise, for example, as a result of a certain idea or ideology, which is supposed to be the Central Hub, around which and from which recruitment takes place. After a while, the structure falls apart, because there are in fact no "real" connections between the members of the organization and with other organizations. There is competition, jealousy, manipulation and oppression.
Been there, done that…
I am also reminded of Paul Feyerabend's anarchist epistomology, in which he proposes that "anything goes". He says this in a treatise on the philosophy of science ("Against Method") as a way or methodology that would be more fruitful than following some rigid rule, such as falsification. Feyerabend also had the idea that the universe is not the tidy place most scientists think it is or would like it to be, a form of wishful thinking.
This life is a wild, multidimensional, totally awesome, anarchic happening that refuses to be put in a straightjacket.
Hierarchism is how we see the world and how we see ourselves. The hierarchical view has apparently had evolutionary advantages. Times have changed. Hierarchical thinking has become counter-productive. It is now destroying the world. We need to relax, give up the search for unity and throw away the straightjacket.
Deleuze and Guattari conclude their story with the following words:
"Do not conjure up a general in yourself! Make maps, not pictures or drawings! Be the pink panther and love each other like the wasp and the orchid, like the cat and the baboon."
And I end this chapter with the realization that anarchy is the only way because it is what in fact is happening.