origami_chubby_owls_by_htquyet-d5xrtm4To be is to differ.  We must take care not to be lured by language.  We might wish to draw a distinction between being and becoming, treating being as that which does not change and becoming as that which changes.  Yet nothing about the term “being” implies stasis.  Being denotes existence and with the exception of those beings that perhaps don’t become such as mathematical entities, all existing entities become.  Existence, for the most part, is phusis; though the concept of phusis must be rethought in light of both the materialist tradition descending from Democritus and modern physical and biological sciences.  We must avoid the animisms of vitalism.  Those that renounce ontology on the grounds that they endorse becoming are particularly irritating because they don’t seem to recognize that they’re making an ontological claim about the nature of being or existence.

Being differ in a variety of ways.  Here I am not proposing the trite thesis that being is characterized by comparative difference.  The thesis is not that apples are different from oranges, though this is true.  Such a thesis wouldn’t get at the heart of beings, at their internal constitution, at what it is to be an entity.

Beings differ constitutively, internally.  In the first instance, beings differ through the constitution of a boundary.  In some instances, the boundary constitutive of an entity and necessary for the existence of a being as a being, is a membrane like the skin or an eyelid.  Boundaries, however, need not be membranes.  They can be operations and forces as well.  If, for example, a city is an entity, it is certainly not an entity with a membrane.  To be sure, there’s perhaps a line on a map, but the map is not, as Bateson says, the territory.  No, the boundary of the city, that which constitutes the city as a distinct entity, is its operations.  These operations consist in administrative functions of its government and institutions, the manner in which it sorts outside and inside, the way in which its citizens define the difference between those who belong and those who don’t, etc.  Cities and institutions do not have physical boundaries like membranes, but rather engage in activities or operations that sort inside and outside, what belongs and what doesn’t, what arises from within and without.

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