GTD and Reflexivity #2 – Reflexive Technology & Teleology

We create and identify with things that aren’t real yet on all the levels we experience; and when we do, we recognise how to restructure our currentl world to morph it into the ne one, and experience an impetus to make it so.

Things that have your attention need your intention engaged. “What does this mean to me?”, “Why is it here?”, “What do I want to have to be true about this?” (“What’s the succesful outcome?”) Everything you experience as incomplete must have a reference point for “complete”.

Once you’ve decided that there is something to be changed and a mold to fill, you ask yourself, “How do I now make this happen?” and/or “What resources do I need to allocate to make it happen?”

“What does this mean to me?”, “What do I want to have to be true about it”, “What’s the next step required to make that happen?”. These are the cornerstone questions we must answer, at some point, about everything”

I’m now getting to the end of the first GTD book (and half way through the second… I’ve got nothing else done in the last couple of days) and still stunned by the extent to which David Allen is talking specifically, on a conceptual level, about human reflexivity. My vague idea about doing research on ‘reflexive technology’ (tools developed to aid the efficacy of reflexive practice, shaped by the socio-historical circumstances in which emerge and the pathologies of reflexivity endemic to such environments) is turning into an increasingly worked out plan*. I think Allen actually says this explicitly at points but it’s possible I’m reading too much into it.

If you accept the neo-Aristotelian proposition that there are normative standards (‘internal goods’ in Alasdair MacIntyre’s phrase) internal to any practice then, logically, there is no reason why human reflexivity – construed as an embodied and situated practice rather than an abstract capacity – should lack such an inherent teleology. The nub of GTD lies in taking a process which is partially deliberative and partially applied (i.e. we’re only sometimes aware of the fact we’re doing it, it’s only sometimes entirely explicit/procedural/linguistic and we only apply it in partial spheres of our lives) and, through systematic self-critique leading to habitualisation, transform that process to apply it entirely deliberatively to, ideally, all spheres of life.

There are standards inherent to the practice of reflexivity which, for all manner of contingent reasons, rarely get actualised: efficacy, brevity, clarity, congruence. I sometimes think of these in terms of ‘reflexive poise’, lifting a concept from Alexander Technique which relates to physical experience and applying it to a life as a whole. This can seem cold and mechanical but I’d content this intuitive, though common, response is weirdly an aesthetic one at heart: our habitual cognitive categories are littered with the detritus of the war between rationalism and romanticism whereas both, paradoxically, manifest the same subjectivist bias albeit with a contrasting focus.

A normative account of reflexive poise promises to reconcile this long-standing antinomy within western culture because the effective application of reflexivity is the precondition for living a life which both (a) is congruent with our concerns (b) actualises them in sustainable and satisfying ways (subject to the constraints and enablements afforded by our circumstances. Or in other words: it’s only by thinking rationally and deliberatively about our lives in effective and ongoing ways that it becomes possible to have a life which is consistently emotionally and morally satisfying under conditions of late modernity.

*Which probably isn’t the best thing given I’ve still not finished writing my thesis. But hey that’s life.