Bigsley the Oaf

Form as Tower

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on September 14, 2011

I momentarily [1] see all societal forms (let’s restrict ourselves to society, for the moment) as towers. You walk along, experiencing everything, until you either find a “tower” that others have built (a religion, a society, a “norm,” a branch of science, a cult, a branch of mathematics, a country, a state, a city, a tradition, etc.). Then, you start to climb the tower. Along the way, you meet other people in the same tower, and you interact with them. You interact with them in the context of that tower.

Sometimes, towers fall. Sometimes, people grow to hate their tower, and leave, and create a new, similar tower, with ONE difference (or two, or three…).

You can live in more than one tower. You can dwell in the Mainstream Catholic tower and the American tower. You can dwell in the Skeptic tower and the Mathematician tower. You can dwell in the Ruby on Rails tower. Etc.

Towers are nice because they protect you. Sometimes they give you food (e.g. citizen of a Welfare State tower). Sometimes they give you sex (e.g. citizen of the New Jersey tower). But you have to play by the rules. If you don’t, you might just get kicked out of the towers.

A prophet is someone who visits many towers and sees that all these people (or rather a large percentage of them) could really be living in the same tower. Most such people are crazy. Perhaps all. But some are right, sometimes. They create monstrous towers which persist for centuries.

Towers are horrible because they isolate you from reality. If you live on the ground floor of a tower – if you do the grunt work – you interact with real reality. It’s your job to protect the tower. But most people don’t live on the ground floor – most people live in the sky. They don’t see what’s going on – and if they’re not careful – they forget that other people don’t see the same filtered reality as them.

Some people live on the ground. They reject all towers. They deal with reality as it comes, but they build nothing, and they gain nothing. However, rejecting all towers (the homeless, hermits, etc.) is horrible because it is lonely. It is hard to provide for all of your needs (crucially sex, since it explicitly requires another person).

I believe that it is best to live in the Tower tower. This tower is very special, because it is infinitely recursively structured. It is the Tower of Towers. If you live in this tower then you can visit all towers. You can leave all towers. You will not be lonely if you don’t want to be, because you can walk up any tower and find people to hang out with, have sex with, do drugs with, play games with, etc.

Extremely advanced corollary which I won’t justify:

The Tower tower is the Buddha. We must destroy the Tower tower. AKA: A tower which lives forever must contain the means of its own destruction.

[1] Momentarily, in the sense that this framework appeals right now as a metaphorical lens through which I can view the forms of society which interest me. In the language of this post, it is a tower and therefore must have flaws, and will surely fall.

4 Responses

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  1. emmajolin said, on September 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Why do you think you even can live in the tower tower?

    Is the tower tower just a fiction based on your need for an ideal solution? Isn’t it also possible that there’s just a trade off that there is no way around – you live somewhere in one of the towers or you don’t?

    Do most people really live high up in the towers, or just the ones you know?

    Where is this post coming from? What need are you not meeting now? What tower are you in right now?

    Are you presenting a useful model of reality, or a wishful one?

    • bigsleytheoaf said, on September 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm

      I will answer your questions:

      The reason that I think you can live in the Tower tower is that I think there are towers, and I think they have properties which are shared across all towers. I think there are things to be said about them. Which is to say (non-metaphorically) that I occasionally glimpse a deep commonality between all societal forms, including the Tower tower itself (the form of societal forms).

      I don’t think it’s a fiction. Well, it’s a metaphor. What it’s really saying is that forms can be understood and approached in a general way. The process of climbing up into Christianity is the same as the process of climbing up into Algebraic Topology, in a very broad sense. Of course, the actuality of the towers is different, but the sense in which you are isolated from the rest of reality is really the key thing.

      I think you can live in multiple towers, and I think you can transition between towers. I think that to get really high in a tower you either need to understand towers in general, or just spend a long time in it. I’m not necessarily sure you can get as high with the general understanding as with the time-intensive approach to tower climbing.

      I think that there’s always a distribution of people in the towers. A tower’s boundary must be defended, otherwise it will be toppled, or too many people will leave, etc. For instance, Catholicism must deal with people wanting to leave the church, missionary work, sex, the internet, etc. Stuff that is not properly within the boundaries must be integrated. There must be someone “living on the edge” who will do this.

      A lot of the people I know are pretty high up in a tower, or some towers. E.g. Raju is pretty deep into ZFC math. Jason is pretty deep into Haskell. You’re pretty deep into Rails, relationship stuffs, etc. It’s a question of where you do work – are you trying to strengthen and purify the stuff that’s already there, or are you trying to integrate stuff that’s not? I also know some people who kind of drift from tower to tower (Alec, Nagle, etc.)

      This post is coming from the fact that I was walking along talking to Jen and had a sudden realization that this metaphor fits my ideas about reality pretty well. As I said at the beginning, it only has temporary appeal, in the sense that it probably won’t make sense later. The need that I am not meeting right now is a useful model of societal forms, such that I can use lessons learned from studying one form in my study of others.

      Right now (as of the writing of this post) I was in the Tower tower, where I could see the world as towers. Probably I will leave. It’s a hard thing to say, which communities I am deep into. E.g. I have gone pretty high in the ZFC Math tower, and am probably still there.

      I think it’s a useful model of reality. I’m not particularly concerned with whether I maintain it in perpetuity. It’s just an interesting mental toy to play around with. Thought experiments, bitches!

      • Graham said, on September 16, 2011 at 5:55 pm

        I’m interested in your justification of the advanced corollary as stated. Also I’d love to get your interpretation of this quote from Linji, the maker of the koan you’re indirectly referencing:

        “If you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you’re facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.

        “Those who have fulfilled the ten stages of bodhisattva practice are no better than hired field hands; those who have attained the enlightenment of the fifty-first and fifty-second stages are prisoners shackled and bound; arhats and pratyekabuddhas are so much filth in the latrine; bodhi and nirvana are hitching posts for donkeys.”

        In the context of towers as form it seems like Linji is saying that to live in the Tower tower you must live on the ground. Which is wonderfully paradoxical and maybe the essence of something, deep down. Thoughts?


        I also think this metaphor works because living high in a tower — which is to say giving much of yourself to understanding the world by using a particular interpretation, like French or topography or post-pluralism — gives one a wonderful view of the surrounding terrain. Terrain being “truth” or whatever you want to call it. Making patterns out of apparent messes. So then to give up the idea of needing a view — what is this?

      • bigsleytheoaf said, on September 21, 2011 at 3:35 am

        The quote is a hard one to interpret since, like most koans, it has many levels of meaning. For one thing, the assertions are absurd: is he really saying you should kill the Buddha, your parents, etc? It seems like a metaphor. But why shouldn’t you kill the Buddha? REALLY why shouldn’t you? Why don’t you want to kill him? What would you lose? By truly and deeply considering all these killings, and allowing yourself the freedom to perform them by somehow going beyond the act, you gain emancipation. There is a whole swirling complexity around whether this type of emancipation – is it really worthwhile? And if you are to kill the Buddha and so on, then why not Linji? Why not kill this quote? Why not kill you? Why not kill the self?

        I suppose that this is the crux of the first part, at least – that you must be willing to destroy anything that you hold dear, since:

        1.) You KNOW it’s transitory anyway.
        2.) It is best to destroy when destruction is right, when a form has outlived its usefulness. Since forms lack essence, they are meaningful only insofar as they are harmoniously related to other forms. If a form is no longer harmoniously related to other forms then why keep it around?

        As for the second paragraph:

        There is a double-implication wordplay going on here. Bodhi and nirvana are hitching posts/hitching posts are Bodhi and nirvana. He is talking to an extent about how the mundane things which compose life are the very things which are, and thus must be equivalent to those objects which we believe to be the highest (metaphyisically speaking). Besides this, he is saying precisely what you interpret him as saying – that to enshrine these things is yet another form of essence-worship, another longing for impossible eternity. At the beginning of the Mulamadhyamakakarika there is a dedicatory verse:

        “I prostrate to the Perfect Buddha,
        The best of teacher, who taught that
        Whatever is dependently arisen is
        Unceasing, unborn,
        Unannihilated, not permanent,
        Not coming, not going,
        Without distinction, without identity,
        And free from conceptual construction.”

        Of course, are we so naive to think that Nagarjuna is so stupid to not see the contradiction between calling the Buddha “perfect” (and therefore unceasing) but also saying that all things must fall, or rather that there are no things at all? No! Nagarjuna writes this in the experience of the Buddha. The thing which cannot be communicated. He points to nothing, but wishes he could point. This is the struggle, and why he writes.

        The point is that you must not live in the ground, or in towers, or in the Tower tower. You must be willing to live in a tower, but later burn that tower down. You must be willing to burn down even the Tower tower. Every home is prison and every prison is a home. So it is with the Buddha, your kinfolk, your practice, everything!


        W/r/t living “high” in a tower – I agree! The original intuition for this metaphor sprung from my realization that people are, fundamentally, repositories for information, and that when they get together they can combine their information in various ways (and this combination creates a tower). People can also be seen as towers, as can really any form (e.g. real, physical, towers).

        The idea that there are no “real patterns” is hard to get one’s mind around. So hard. Infinitely hard. AGH.

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