On Intention, Stumbling towards a Loose Rigor

Here’s a series of statements, let’s see where they lead.

My intention is to be effective.

To be effective is to avoid futility.

Intentional striving is futile.

To be effective requires letting go of intention.


Is this squaring the circle?

Or describing a paradox?


Intention exists.

It is useful.

This is true on micro scales where we are dealing with rather simple and contained circumstances and conditions, as well as at the macro scale we started out with, the intention to be effective, for example.

Does this mean something else is happening in that broad middle-ground?

Yes, and no.

All of the pitfalls of intention; unintended consequences, the fog of war that envelopes us when we are blinded by what we intend and confused by what is, all the miscues and misunderstandings, the hubris; all these elements impinge at every scale with varying consequences.

The trouble with intention is not strictly bound to scale.


Intention is the director of our attention. It focuses attention and establishes an agenda.

Both are problematic.

Focus disrupts a wide-scan.

Agenda creates an expectation of control.

IF we can maintain fluidity of attention. AND IF we can be realistic about the limits of control. IS intention still problematic?


This is cane-tapping looking for a direction, not a pronouncement. What if we look at the question of effectiveness in this way? It appears to be the most direct avenue to discovering the dynamics involved.

The tendency to short-circuit into absolutes is always there waiting to trap us when we stray into uncharted ground. The illusion of certainty is always more appealing than a confrontation with limits. This impacts the question of intention either as,

“Fuck it! I know what I want and I’ll do whatever I can to get it!”


“Intention is bad, Um-Kay! I’ll renounce it and just float.”

Or we see “the other” as holding whichever of these views we find most ridiculous and we shake our heads and walk away.

The “intention” of this line of inquiry is to break clear of those habitual responses. If we can find a way to talk about how intention is tied to effectiveness – not efficiency by Jiminy! – then we might find a path leading us away from our current conditioning, as rational means-and-ends thinkers-and-doers, towards a new world-view that resets our habits along more effective lines.

Let’s see about defining effectiveness. I came to a conclusion somewhere along about twenty years ago that this would be my main task, to find a way to be effective. It’s been a worthy endeavor even if it has surprised me how difficult it has been to achieve. I came about it honestly enough. I found myself hemmed in by external constraints, as well as, by internal barriers and ways of thinking that kept me trapped in futile actions or paralysis. This quest has brought me to these questions here. As I’ve learned to recognize and accept external constraints as given, and found practices that have helped me past internal blocks, this question of what effectiveness would ultimately look like is one I’ve not addressed directly. I’ve known what it ain’t. How about getting to what it might be?

It has something to do with the biological facts of existence. If a creature is ineffective at maintaining its conditions necessary to sustain life, game over. This seems like a good solid starting point.

Immediately I see impediments to using this as the sole criteria of effectiveness in the human context. The reasons for this actually confirm a biological basis rather than denying it. We are social and we can only live within a supporting healthy biosphere. IF these conditions aren’t met our individual existence is threatened at its core. – Sorry Ayn Rand!

These constraints, actually part of the original basic need to continue to exist, can trump the individual’s needs when the risk of the destruction of these underlying necessities is imminent. This is the greatest constraint on our effectiveness, both in relation to what we are effective at bringing about and in how effective we can be at any achievement. As actors, our freedom of action stops shy of burning down the theater.

This is sobering. It is a clear delineation of our responsibility. It should be straightforward in principle no matter how “unfair” we might find it at the tail-end of so much self-indulgence. What is often left out of most cries to submit to our responsibilities, made whenever someone has an end they’d like us to be the means to, is that no-one can make this judgement for another. We each have a responsibility to find our own path through our human condition. This is a cornerstone of the importance of dissensus. We cannot claim to know that any other path taken by another is wrong. We can chose to resist another’s actions, but only with the terrible certainty, the only certainty available to us, that we might be wrong.

Effectiveness requires a familiarity with the limits imposed on our perception and on our actions. A lack of this “due diligence” condemns us to futility. These understandings exist within a greater sense of awe in the face of all that is unknowable beyond our limited horizons. Human knowledge is finite, the universe is infinite, any finite n is infinitely smaller than infinity. QED.

These stabs at axioms still leave my head numb. There is none of that opening and lifting sensation that comes from the discovery of a metaphor that grounds the imponderable. A gyroscope is like the dynamic between strength and balance that keeps us on track when it comes to dealing with the gap between our will-to-control and its illusory condition. A similar rhyming that would illuminate effectiveness hasn’t presented itself.

My tendency to take meta to meta to the n levels is a habit that has led to a certain negative capability, a comfort with these head-aches of groping blind beyond a familiar framework. It is also an annoying and self-defeating habit that I only recognize as such when an insight cuts through so much seemingly self-generated fog! The tension between these two conditions is the place from which any development might come, so long as we stay loose and don’t push it.

This is another way of looking at an underlying factor of effectiveness, this loose rigor. A combination of joyful disillusion with an ability to stumble along in the dark without running away screaming towards any convenient exit. It’s loose in that we recognize the ineffectuality of control, it is rigorous because we don’t give up.

A note on paradox. Philosophers introduce us to paradox not with the intention of wowing us with parlor tricks, but unfortunately that’s how we take them most of the time. It’s like, “Wow! Look at how both sides of that are true, and untrue, at the same time, though not always!” We tend to stop at the “Wow!” and leave it at that. Paradox becomes a “sophisticated” way to signal complication, our unwillingness to see complexity as another level of order beyond our understanding and dismissing it as a barrier we then consider as important only as the cause of our irritation. This loop takes us from a direct confrontation with the awesome, the awful, and returns us to self-congratulatory ignorance.

Another cascading aside: We are ignorant. What we know is infinitely smaller than what is. Self-congratulatory ignorance, the foundation of the pride we find sprayed all about at every turn, is not an acceptance of our condition as unknowing. It is an excuse for abdicating our responsibilities and retreating into whatever comforting illusions we happen to have.

If effectiveness is the adoption of a stance of loose rigor – this reminds me of Bagua, where we stand still by letting go of rigidity and leaving room for movement throughout our stillness. By accepting a seeming paradox, of the movement within stillness, we free ourselves from a constraint that otherwise seems unavoidable and can stand still for hours without cramping or loss of attentiveness. – If this is the posture of effectiveness we can begin to see that intention is not the origin of effectiveness but only one of its pathways. This loose rigor exists outside of intention, it exists whether we are exercising intention or not. It is a way of being, not a way of acting. Being exists first, action is a possibility that being can make room for, not the other way around.

Perhaps this is sufficient as an insight towards an understanding that intention is conditional, a subset of what it means to be effective, not its driver. Let’s see if we can reformulate the opening series of postulates that gave primacy to intention.


Being is.

To maintain a state of being – in this current form, the only one we have direct knowledge of, with every implication arising out of our relation to the limits of knowledge. – requires effectiveness.

Intention is an aspect of effectiveness, a tool among other tools, it drives how we act in certain circumstances, not whether we act, or why.

Intention’s problematic nature is confirmation that it is a tool, all tools, techné itself, is open to misuse. They all have tendencies that lock our focus within the narrow parameters of what they can do rather than leaving us within a posture where we are free to use them or reject them.

This ability is the result of a mastery over a practice and our ability to take the habits this experience has instilled in us and use them as a far-ranging defense against the “fog of war.”

Every description, map, allegory, metaphor, is a tool also, with all the same limitations and predilections for abuse.

Not only is our ignorance absolute in proportion to what is, but our constraints are infinite.

To be effective we need to realize that we cannot control, or overcome, any quora of constraints so as to “clear-away” a “field-of-action.” We need to develop a relationship with constraints that does not see them as obstacles. – this is NOT an affirmation of pie-in-the-sky bullshit about “opportunities” either!

This new relationship does not make us invulnerable. It does not feed our desire for comforting illusion in the place of reality as best we can approximate it in all of its complexity.

Embracing these conditions, adopting a practice that develops mastery, takes us out of the ruts formed by habit and our current suite of cultural conditioners. This opens a route towards open-ground where we might find a way to establish new habits that engage us with reality. This is not the same thing as “solving” our “problems.” In fact it requires an abandonment of the reflex reaction that sees existence as a set of problems in the first place.

This requires a loose rigor. Loop back and begin again.


5 thoughts on “On Intention, Stumbling towards a Loose Rigor

  1. […] Having been raised on double-binds, I had some experience with its demands. I’d developed a patience for its insistence. Like a soldier trapped in a minefield, double-binds tend to panic us into precipitous action when the chances for that action going well are infinitesimal. This, I feel, is how some of us are introduced to the capacity to defer our need for certainty, to develop a negative capability. […]

  2. […] Having been raised on double-binds, I had some experience with its demands. I’d developed a patience for its insistence. Like a soldier trapped in a minefield, double-binds tend to panic us into precipitous action when the chances for that action going well are infinitesimal. This, I feel, is how some of us are introduced to the capacity to defer our need for certainty, to develop a negative capability. […]

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