Simone Weil: “Everything is in disequilibrium”

Perusing my long ago moth-balled Tumblr, I was reminded of the following passage from Simone Weil’s Oppression and Liberty (1955).

Never has the individual been so completely delivered up to a blind collectivity, and never have men been less capable, not only of subordinating their actions to their thoughts, but even of thinking. Such terms as oppressors and oppressed, the idea of classes–all that sort of thing is near to losing all meaning, so obvious are the impotence and distress of all men in face of the social machine, which has become a machine for breaking hearts and crushing spirits, a machine for manufacturing irresponsibility, stupidity, corruption, slackness and, above all, dizziness. The reason for this painful state of affairs is perfectly clear. We are living in a world in which nothing is made to man’s measure; there exists a monstrous discrepancy between man’s body, man’s mind and the things which at present time constitute the elements of human existence; everything is in disequilibrium.

I initially stumbled upon this passage in Henry Finch’s Simone Weil and the Intellect of Grace (1999). Finch adds, “We are crushed by paradoxes: never was our power so great and never were we so powerless; never was there so much control and never were we so vulnerable to accidents; never so much interdependence and so much fragmentation.”

It would be hard, I think, for us to overestimate the problem of scale.

3 thoughts on “Simone Weil: “Everything is in disequilibrium”

  1. Paradoxes and the pervasive approach of simplistic dualism that started with Descartes and won’t go away! One wordy but quite scholarly author who addresses this is missionary Diarmuid O’Murchu. I’m finishing his book on Evolutionary Faith. He is helping me to advance my thinking that started 50 years ago with my happy discovery of Teilhard de Chardin. Lately I discovered Brian Swimme (see The Center for the Story of the Universe site). O’Murchu discusses de Chardin, Swimme, Thomas Berry. I could have taken a course at Fordham with Berry in the ’60s but I didn’t know he was there! Are you familiar with O’Murchu?

  2. I’m curious about her phrase “the social machine” here. Weil has long been a thinker whose work I’ve planned to spend more time with, and I’m glad to be reminded of that.

    The dominant paradigm of the social, in all its variations, has also been on my mind a lot. Negotiating how connection and communication affect the dynamic of particular/general or individual/collective is key, I think, but it has seemed to me that we need a healthy or at least functional respect for the virtues of each side of those dichotomies in order to relate them properly. Or do we? Maybe a static vision is too confining; I’m not sure.

    There are epistemic questions about any collective or society the answers to which seem to require a technical element, at least if we don’t assume that society has grown too big to organize (maybe it has). How does a society that needs to know/view itself as an agent on some levels come to know itself? What character or stance is it fair to attribute to it, and are our democratic and statistical methods still reflecting/producing that character faithfully? How efficient should they attempt to be? Lots of questions…

    Relatedly, I’ve been curious also about your views on the kinds of things Tristan Harris and his group are up to. I think I know where you stand on addictive tech, but I wonder if you see problems with his approach. I’m interested in it, but it seems incomplete to me.

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