I wanted to write something on ontology and politics since it’s been going around. I haven’t had a chance to read the posts by Ben and Reid regarding this issue, so this may be painfully out of date and for that I apologize. I always worry when a hot topic goes around and I know that both Ben and Reid have commented on the issue that I will simply be repeating them. This comes largely as notes on Nina’s original post and Nick’s follow-up. It is not meant to be conclusive, but simply a statement of belief regarding the relationship of ontology and the political.
I can understand the theory that brought these ideas forth, I have even made similar arguments against someone in my department (a post-Marxist who draws on Deleuze and Negri and insists that ontology is inherently political). What I am concerned about is more of an epiphenomena of such a critique. I accept Nick’s claim that Being (and it’s study) should not be hindered by one’s politics; monarchists have just as much access to reality as Marxists. I do however worry about what such a sharp divide does for ontology.
One of the things I very much dislike about Badiou is that for him philosophy is very much reactionary. It is always the result of someone working within one of the conditions and then applying such advances, discoveries, or beliefs to philosophy. It strikes me that this is what is at root of both Nina’s and Nick’s writings on the relation of politics and ontology. It seems very much like a Reese’s problem, as if the history of thought said: “you got your politics in my ontology,” “you got your ontology in my politics,” and now we are looking to separate the two. I don’t think ontology is inherently political, reality is not conservative or liberal or capitalist or communist, it is what it is. That being said, I don’t think the division can be stated so strongly. Politics are a part of reality, as part of humanity they are an emergent property of the real, that is, Nature. There is nothing artificial about politics. One of the points of Nina’s original post was that there is a necessary split between politics and ontology, even if it is entirely artificial. There is no such thing as artificiality. All is Nature. As such, we must consider politics as entirely natural. I am very much an Aristotelian in this way (or perhaps a pre-modern or anti-modern), we should look to Nature in order to understand our own political struggles. This is exactly why I have proposed a loose outline of survivalism, a form of ethics and politics that takes the health and well-being of systems as its goal.
It is not then that politics have infected metaphysics, ontology is not in itself political. What is the political though? I think it can be defined as essentially “the development and maintenance of systems of things and relations.” At it’s most basic politics are a complex system of relations. Ontology as I understand it, the study of Nature (the only realm of existents), is also relational. It would follow then that the study of one will necessarily involve the understanding of the other. We must be clear however that I grant no sacredness to the political the way Nick seems to, politics are the logical extension of a thing able to act on those systems which generated it, just as ontology and ethics are studies which develop from specific things in reality (complex animal organisms), so too is the political able to act on on its own ground. This is consequential of the outgrowth of consciousness in Nature: organisms can now act rather than simply react. In this sense I grant politics to all relational organisms, or rather, all organisms able to act on their own systems of relations. This means, again, that politics are not sacred. I see nothing special in human politics except that we are more partial to them because we are implicated in their development and decisions. I’m sure if the politics of bees had an impact on me I would be much more concerned with their network of workers and queens, but as it stands the system of human relations are just another system. Certainly I would not stand for political decisions that I see as unethical or unjust, but that does not make such systems holy, only of more concern for my wellbeing. To repeat, I see Nature as inherently relational, and I see the political to be nothing more than a complex system of relations. It follows then than we should, following Aristotle and many others, attempt to understand the political through an understanding of Nature-itself.