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On sex and the originary dialectic
Thus do all theoreticians resemble Diogenes.
Our point of departure here is a specific sense of life as thermodynamic inversion; it refers, as Wiener puts it, to “local and temporary islands of decreasing entropy in a world in which the entropy as a whole tends to increase.” This point necessarily gives rise to a corollary: scarcity.
At its most basic, therefore, we may speak of life as defined fundamentally by hunger; it is this which orients it outwards—as scarcity is an internal condition—and thus also to the future. Here we may include animal and plant life alike, either requires some source by which this island of order may be maintained against the devourer.
Here we find the essential truth of Schopenhauer’s describing exploitation as the will to life; or as reformulated by Nietzsche, as the will to power. This is true enough in a certain sense, that life indeed entails the necessity of constantly overcoming death by the exploitation of other matter. Thus the two lines: ascetic and übermensch.
The will to life takes continuance as its prime imperative, which we may also term survival; it thus seeks to avoid death. Death, meanwhile, may be considered twofold by its locus: that which lies within, as scarcity, and without, as predators—a closer analysis will collapse the two into one, yet they may also be seen apart.
There is a further aspect, moreover, as continuance is not merely that of the individual organism; it entails further the continuance of a species—that is, by way of reproduction. Of course, the first forms of reproduction were not sexual and that we refer to such as ‘asexual’ belies their original primacy.
Asexual reproduction, indeed, is the originary motive behind scarcity; at the most basic level, an organism overcomes the ravages of time either by protection or reproduction; it attempts either to negate the effects of entropy or undo them. These are further intertwined; as evident in the human body, where skin provides protection and is itself reproduced asexually.
The development of sexual reproduction is often thought a puzzle, and indeed it does seem a strange dance; for now we must take it as a blunt given, however interesting a topic for theorising it may be. Our central argument here, as indicated by the title, is that sexual reproduction entails in nuce the origin of dialectical movement.
Sexual reproduction will here be defined in metaphysical terms, per the Hermetic corpus. While this may seem an obscure line, it allows for a generality and simplicity of understand which is otherwise obscured in biological entities and systems and so on. The topic for us, in contrast, is reduced to the polar interactions of male and female.
Hermeticism, of course, takes the principle of gender not in biological terms; it is a metaphysical principle: “Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.” This takes gender as fundamental to all forms of creation—whether physical, mental, or spiritual:
The part of the Masculine principle seems to be that of directing a certain inherent energy toward the Feminine principle, and thus starting into activity the creative processes. But the Feminine principle is the one always doing the active creative work—and this is so on all planes. And yet, each principle is incapable of operative energy without the assistance of the other. In some of the forms of life, the two principles are combined in one organism. For that matter, everything in the organic world manifests both genders—there is always the Masculine present in the Feminine form, and the Feminine form present in the Masculine.
The Kybalion takes as its example here a parallel in the physical plane, that of the electrical interaction between anode (masculine) and cathode (feminine). Here we may pause a moment to examine in this context the etymology of these two terms, anode and cathode:
The word anode comes from the Greek ἄνοδος (anodos), meaning ‘ascent’ or ‘the way upward,’ which today refers to the movement of electrons up into the circuit after being released from the electrode material by oxidation. Meanwhile, in a traditional cell, the positive ions resulting from the same oxidation enter into the electrolyte solution. Thus, the anode is the electrode where oxidation occurs. The anode is also called the negative terminal.
The word cathode comes from the Greek κάθοδος (kathodos), meaning ‘descent’ or ‘the way downward,’ which today refers to the movement of electrons down from the circuit into the electrode where they facilitate electrochemical reduction of the positive ions in the electrolyte solution at the surface of the cathode. Thus, the cathode is the electrode where reduction occurs. The cathode is also called the positive terminal.
The anode, in other words, is a movement upwards—or outwards—while the cathode refers to a movement downwards—or inwards. This is equivalent to the notion of masculine and feminine as active and receptive, respectively; but it is wrong, as the Kybalion emphasises, to interpret this in simplistic terms.
The cathode, they note, “is the one always doing the active creative work”—and this is seen obviously in the sexual reproduction of mankind, as the male provides only the generative impulse; it is the womb in which this gestates that carries to term the reproductive process. And yet, of course, neither is capable of acting without its own other.
As far as contributions to form, moreover, we see that the nature of masculine principle provides the generative impulse; it is then received by the feminine, which carries this to term. Yet the feminine does not passively receive, as has already been noted, plays if anything a more active part—thus the two are intertwined in the form which follows.
This can be made clear, as well as our purpose in this piece, by considering another instance of intercourse, that of communication between two individuals—that is, of dialogue, the dialectic. Here we see plainly, moreover, that masculine and feminine alike reside as principles in each interlocutor irrespective of their apparent form.
The individual that first speaks operates according to the masculine principles; as in asking a question, for instance, and this is transmitted to their interlocutor—wherein it provides the generative impulse. This is so insofar as it determines, for one, the possibility of reproduction; as two estranged species cannot reproduce, nor can they talk.
There need be, in others, a basic coherence between the specific natures corresponding to these two principles; as put by Aquinas, for instance: “Whatever is received is so according to the nature of its recipient.” Supposing, therefore, that our interlocutor receives our meaning—what happens next?
We note, foremost, that it is received “according to the nature of its recipient.” This is plainly apparent in the case of sexual reproduction, as the mother contributes not only the active work of creation but also half of the genetic structure which jointly determines the basic form which follows from this creative process.
The same is so in conversation, as our interlocutor hears our question and interprets its meaning; that is, they must first understand what we are asking—and this will determine the answer they give. Thus the generative impulse, our question, gives rise to the creative imagination of our interlocutor; it is thus that they interpret our meaning.
This is point at which gender is rendered apparent as a metaphysical principle and, at the same time, we encounter the bare form of the dialectic. The feminine, having received the question according to their nature, thus becomes the masculine; and in turn, the masculine becomes the feminine. This is so for the question calls forth an answer.
We must consider the masculine as so only at the point of emission, that is, at the point when words have left their mouth. The masculine, therefore, is always disconnected from the creative process—ever plays its part only at a distance, both temporally and spatially; it is the feminine alone that contains creativity.
The feminine aspect of creativity is thus engendered by the masculine impulse—here, a question—and this gives rise to the mind as womb, wherein the generative principles proceed actively via creative work; or in this case, imaginative. One imagine our meaning, which determines the answer as by negative image.
This creative process thus gives rise to a further emission, at which the polarity of interlocutors is reversed; it is thus the dialectic proceeds by negation, as each becomes its own other. Thus we see that the metaphysical principle of gender—here, the creative basis of sexual reproduction—reflects the fundament of all dialectics.
The dialectic itself, meanwhile, may be further phrased in terms of reproduction. For the communicative act is not only a transmission but also a ritualised realisation; it is the recurrence of prior form as determined by new circumstances. The past, here, is the masculine principle; and the present, the feminine. Thus does the womb of circumstance condition the variance of our eternal return.
The reproductive symbol thus characterises also the process whereby each individual reproduces themselves; this constitutes the nomos of actors in a network. These are not connected formally by some supernatural substance—as suggested by our common use of the word ‘social’—but are rather based only on interactivity.
We thus reproduce ideality by our acting as parts, thereby the forms we throw off are as emissions to the receptivity of others; it is this dialectic that thus reproduces the nomos which we take as reality. Marx’s example of money is here particularly relevant: “Bring paper money into a country where this use of paper is unknown, and everyone will laugh at your subjective imagination.”
The truth of a thing is thus realised in its dialectical reproduction, as materiality provides the stage and props that reciprocally condition our improvised psychodrama; it is so only as manifest in recurring patterns of material activity:
The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth—i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.