My lifetime motto is that mathematicians think in (well, precisely defined and mapped) objects and relations, jurists and legal thinkers in constructs, logicians in maximally abstract operators, and . . . fools in words.

Two people can be using the same word, meaning different things, yet continue the conversation, which is fine for coffee, but not when making decisions, particularly policy decisions affecting others. But it is easy to trip them, as Socrates did, simply by asking them what they think they mean by what they said—hence philosophy was born as rigor in discourse and disentanglement of mixed-up notions, in precise opposition to the sophist’s promotion of rhetoric. Since Socrates we have had a long tradition of mathematical science and contract law driven by precision in mapping terms. But we have also had many pronouncements by fools using labels—outside of poetry, beware the verbalistic, that archenemy of knowledge.

Different people rarely mean the same thing when they say “religion,” nor do they realize it. For early Jews and Muslims, religion was law. Din means law in Hebrew and religion in Arabic. For early Jews, religion was also tribal; for Muslims, it was universal. For the Romans, religion was social events, rituals, and festivals—the word religio was counter to superstitio, and while present in the Roman zeitgeist no equivalent concept in the Greek-Byzantine East. Throughout the ancient world, law was procedurally and mechanically its own thing. Early Christianity, thanks to Saint Augustine, stayed relatively away from the law, and, later, remembering its origins, had an uneasy relation with it. For instance, even during the Inquisition, a lay court formally handled final sentencing. Further, Theodosius’s code (compiled in the fifth century to unify Roman law) was “Christianized” with a short introduction, a blessing of sorts—the rest remained identical to pagan Roman legal reasoning as expounded in Constantinople and (mostly) Berytus. The code remained dominated by the Phoenician legal scholars Ulpian and Papinian, who were pagan: contrary to theories by geopoliticalists, the Roman school of law of Berytus (Beirut) was not shut down by Christianity, but by an earthquake.

The difference is marked in that Christian Aramaic uses different words: din for religion and nomous (from the Greek) for law. Jesus, with his imperative “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” separated the holy and the profane: Christianity was for another domain, “the kingdom to come,” only merging with this one in the eschaton. Neither Islam nor Judaism have a marked separation between holy and profane. And of course Christianity moved away from the solely spiritual domain to embrace the ceremonial and ritualistic, integrating much of the pagan rites of the Levantine and Asian Minor. As an illustration of the symbolic separation between church and state, the title Pontifex Maximus (head priest), taken by the Roman emperors after Augustus, reverted after Theodosius, in the late fourth century, to the bishop of Rome, and later, more or less informally, to the Catholic Pope.

For most Jews today, religion has become ethnocultural, without the law—and for many, a nation. Same for Armenians, Syrians, Chaldeans, Copts, and Maronites. For Orthodox and Catholic Christians, religion is largely aesthetics, pomp, and rituals. For Protestants, religion is belief without aesthetics, pomp, or law. Further East, for Buddhists, Shintoists, and Hindus, religion is practical and spiritual philosophy, with a code of ethics (and for some, a cosmogony). So when Hindus talk about the Hindu “religion,” it doesn’t mean the same thing to a Pakistani, and would certainly mean something different to a Persian.

When the nation-state dream came about, things got more, much more complicated. When an Arab used to say “Jew” he largely referred to a creed; to Arabs, a converted Jew was no longer a Jew. But for a Jew, a Jew was simply defined as someone whose mother was a Jew. But Judaism somewhat merged into nation-state and now, for many, indicates belonging to a nation.

In Serbia, Croatia, and Lebanon, religion means one thing at times of peace, and something quite different at times of war.

When someone discusses the “Christian minority” in the Levantine, it doesn’t amount to (as Arabs tend to think) promoting a Christian theocracy (full theocracies were rare in Christian history, just Byzantium and a short attempt by Calvin). He just means “secular,” or wants a marked separation of church and state. Same for the gnostics (Druids, Druze, Mandeans, Alawis, Alevis) who have a religion largely unknown by its members, lest they leak and get persecuted by the dominant majority.

The problem with the European Union is that naive bureaucrats (those fellows who can’t find a coconut on Coconut island) are fooled by the label. They treat Salafism, say, as just a religion—with its houses of “worship”—when in fact it is just an intolerant political system, which promotes (or allows) violence and rejects the institutions of the West—those very institutions that allow them to operate. We saw with the minority rule that the intolerant will run over the tolerant; cancer must be stopped before it becomes metastatic.

Salafism is very similar to atheistic Soviet Communism in its heyday: both have all-embracing control over all of human activity and thought, which makes discussions about whether religion or atheistic regimes are more murderous lacking in pertinence, precision, and realism.


[…] “belief” can be epistemically, or simply procedural (or metaphorical)—leading to confusions about which sorts of beliefs are religious beliefs and which ones are not. For, on top of the “religion” problem, there is a problem with belief. Some beliefs are largely decorative, some are functional (they help in survival), others are literal. And to revert to our Salafi problem: when a fundamentalist talks to a Christian, he is convinced that the Christian takes his own beliefs literally, while the Christian is convinced that the Salafi has the same oft-metaphorical concepts that he has, to be taken seriously but not literally—and, often, not very seriously. Religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and, to some extent Shiite Islam, evolved (or, rather, let their members evolve in developing a sophisticated society) precisely by moving away from the literal. The literal doesn’t’ leave any room for adaptation.

As Gibbon wrote:

The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.


[…] the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate tried to revert to ancient paganism after his father’s cousin Constantine the Great started the process toward making Christianity a state religion almost half a century earlier. But he made fatal reasoning error.

His problem was that, having been brought up as a Christian, he imagined that paganism required a structure similar to that of the church, ce genre de trucs. So he tried to create pagan bishops, synods, and these kinds of things. He did not realize that each pagan group had its own definition of religion, that each temple had its own practices, that by definition paganism was distributed in its execution, rituals, cosmogonies, practices, and “beliefs.” Pagans did not have a category for paganism.

After Julian, a brilliant general and valiant warrior, died in battle (heroically), the dream of returning to ancient values ended with him.

Just as paganism cannot be pigeon-holed, the same applies to libertarianism. It does not fit the structure of a political “party”—only that of a decentralized political movement. The very concept doesn’t allow for the straitjacket of a strong party line and unified policy with respect to, say, court locations or relations with Mongolia. Political parties are hierarchical, they are designed in a way to substitute someone’s decision making with a well-defined protocol. This doesn’t work with libertarians. The nomenkatura that is necessary in the functioning of a party cannot exist in a libertarian environment fraught with fractious and vehemently independent people.

Nevertheless, we libertarians share a minimal set of beliefs, the central one being to substitute the rule of law for the rule of authority. Without necessarily realizing it, libertarians believe in complex systems. And, since libertarianism is a movement, it can still exist as splintered factions within other political parties.

(199-201) Sensemaking—Rigor in Discours…

Technically, there's nothing wrong with this concept. There was nothing technically wrong the thousand other times this was explored in myriad variations. The stumbling-block is culture. Inventors and architects have been trying to industrialize housing for a century and it has always failed because it's not a design or technology problem. The problem is that alternative architecture and construction is inherently disruptive to an economic philosophy that exploits a delusion of architectural permanence upon which our concepts of property are based and which has long been exploited by the finance industry to cultivate dependence. As soon as Mr. Wilson says (paraphrasing) "This is expensive now, but it will be affordable in volume." he's treading down a very well-worn path to making the concept critically dependent upon people--bankers and investors--who systematically created the very problem he's trying to solve. He needs to examine the history of industrialized housing technology, look at the mobile home, the Lustron, the countless prefab modular designs and alternative building systems. Why did they fail, become 'damned' from the presence of mainstream society by class association, or get relegated to use on the edge-of-wilderness? I fear that Mr. Wilson will soon find himself betrayed like so many others.

As an amateur Post-Industrial futurist, proponent of alternative architecture, and the concept of Mobilism, I completely agree with Mr. Wilson's assessment of the trends and the core logic of his design concept. I feel we are, in the long-term, evolving toward a more mobile society with a more Georgist economic philosophy. But the housing, real estate, and finance industries are the chief obstacles to that evolution. The situation at present is neither an accident or a product of nature. Solutions may need to be insurgent.

The automobile industry is not a model for housing. We've been down that road repeatedly and it was a dead-end. That approach is too centralized/massified and thus too easy to obstruct because of the liability of its economy-of-scale. We need to imagine housing as a verb--as an application, not an appliance--and leverage technology and design on empowering the individual in that application, whittling-away at the hegemonies bottom-up and from many angles at once. It's the 21st century. There is no reason a person should not be able to house themselves, by themselves, with ease, personalization, and out-of-pocket. I think the Kasita concept has the right core idea, but at the wrong component scale. I'm in favor of building on a functionally generic 'passive backplane' that enables minimal impact land use without conventional property development. The house should be more like a PC--with, maybe, a new Do-mino as motherboard. But the scale of hardware chosen compels a now untenable 20th century industrial approach. It risks becoming a vertical trailer park--risks becoming 'damned' architecture.

Imagine if you were to do much the same thing at a more human scale of plug-in retrofit. My own approach to the concept of Mobilism has been through the use of transportable, reconfigurable, 'furnitecture' that can apply adaptive reuse to new and old functionally generic structure---and do it without a hundred million dollar investment in production.

In some of the disasters of the twentieth century — the big northeastern blackouts of in 1965 and 2003, the 1989 Lomo Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast — the loss of electrical power meant that the light pollution blotting out the night sky vanished. In these disaster-struck cities, people suddenly found themselves under the canopy of stars still visible in small and remote places … You can think of the current social order as something akin to this artificial light: another kind of power that fails in disaster. In its place appears a reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative and local society. — Rebecca Solnit, ‘A Paradise Built in Hell’ (2010)

At Budj Bim in Victoria, the intense burning stripped away vegetation to reveal an enormous 6,000 year-old aquaculture system — effectively a machined landscape designed for sustainable eel farming. As the rains followed the fire at Budj Bim, the system flooded and started working again. The aquaculture system had been lying dormant since European colonisation, though few meaningful records exist, but it was so well-designed as to simply fire up again, once the contemporary landscape was stripped away. This machine is older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge, and still works. It puts the ‘perma-’ into permaculture.

Budj Bim is so ingenious that it only trapped mature fish and allowed younger fish to escape to pools of water so that the population could be maintained. This means that the first inhabitants of Australia created a sustainable food supply that was in harmony with nature. It is also believed to be the oldest freshwater aquaculture system in the entire world.

Bruno Latour, in his reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, writes of “the process of human development as neither liberation from Nature nor as a fall from it, but rather as a process of becoming ever-more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of non-human natures.”

It does imply a rebalancing, a new fusion between nature-based technologies and understanding assemblages beyond systems, whilst curating the elements of contemporary life that work within planetary boundaries, that enable biodiversity to flourish, that produce health not diminish it, that reward cultural diversity and social equity rather than destroying it. Also taking advantage of satellite data, sensor networks, contemporary biomaterials, machine learning ... What would that mean culturally, socially, politically?

Recall Tsing’s quote: “Landscapes more generally are products of unintentional design, that is, the overlapping world-making activities of many agents, human, and not human. The design is clear in the landscape’s ecosystem. But none of the agents have planned this effect. Humans join others in making landscapes of unintentional design.”

We must take notice of this ongoing moment. Remember it. Feel it. Talk about it. Identify the unintentional designs emerging. I write this article as a root, really a new twig, a place to store a memory in public.

As you all know, the Change was not a single solitary event. We speak of it in that manner because here we experienced one particular shift, of sea level and weather, over a period of years it is true, but it felt then and when we look back on it today still feels like an incident that happened, a defined moment in time with a before and an after. There was our parents’ world, and now there is our world. — Excerpt from John Lanchester’s ‘The Wall’ (2019)

Between the roots and the stars