Leibniz, a Library, and Neoliberalism

Random thoughts you need to write down.  A discussion on three things.  First, Leibniz’s concept of Monads – a single view of a complex whole, say London looking West from the Tower of London. Leibniz’s Monad concept is about seeing and knowing.  Of course, we intuitively know that that one view of that complex thing “London” is insufficient as a source of knowing.  A complex thing needs a sense of knowing from a complexity of points of view.

The concept of Monad is a critique of analysis.  Too narrow, too singular, and you are in no position to make a judgment.  You intuitively cannot be wise.

Yet Modernity has put us on a path to exactly that delusion of knowing. “Analyse and you will know,” is not dissimilar in many contexts to “Look at the world from only one position, and you will know.”  Then only select the measurable things, and lose even more wisdom.

Welcome to our world.

Trinity College Library

Trinity College Library

Second, a library.  It’s just a set of books, right. Nouns. Things with objective properties, independent from the observer. Stored within a machinery of order. You could put a value on them, a dollar. Or categorise them by size, age, author, age, paper, smell, feel, subject.

Or you could treat them as a functional system interdependent with the subject, a complete conflation of value and object, with meanings relating to touch, love, fond memory, moments of aha, links to a writer of the past, to wisdom, to beauty of prose, to the rhythm of words.

But of course, we live in a world where all that soppy stuff is not ‘objective’, nor easily measurable, so it must not be borne. Better – more ‘scientific’ (let us delude ourselves further that ‘science’ is the only intellectual virtue) – to see them as merely ‘resources’ whose only meaning is price, and whose only function is to be allocated according to price in the “free market”. They can only function in a market, not in a persons soul.

Third …… would you ever consider taking that library analogy and looking upon life, society, a planet in the same way – by reducing it to the Monad of a warehouse store for allocation and price? Absurd idea. That would never happen. We are too civilised and intelligent to be that blind.

And yet ….

…. that is exactly what we have allowed to happen to our world through the delusion and arrogance of an economic creed. And they can provide all sorts of numbers and mathematics to describe their Monad in details, to demonstrate that it is the only view that matters.

This is why we talk of corporate Viking Squids in the cathedrals, and economic fundamentalist priest in the libraries of our society and our world, selling and privatising in rational order, and burning anything that isn’t measurable, burning anything that hints of a function of life or love.

This is why so many of us want to fundamentally change the way we see our world.

Chris Perley


Chris Perley is an affiliated researcher at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability with a governance, research, management and policy background in provincial economies, rural sociology and land use strategy. 

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Wall of books

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1 Response to Leibniz, a Library, and Neoliberalism

  1. it’s often about what we can describe and talk about isn’t it? What we feel able to communicate. And the words that we have (or use!) to talk about things. We’ve become so limited in that… we don’t know how to communicate our experience. So we measure and we count….
    Love the photos in this and imagining walking through a library where books are categorised by smell or feel. Nice!

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