October 30, 2009 · 4:12 pm
I really don’t get this political debate. I thought I did, but I guess I don’t. Either you are a realist or you aren’t, you can’t have it both ways. If you claim that there is anything that correlates with Being then you are a correlationist and an anti-realist. Of course, I disagree with certain people being implicated in Meillassoux’ formulation of correlationism because I disagree with his binary of Being/Non-Being, meaning I think “process” philosophers (Schelling and Schopenhauer for example) allow us to break with correlationism as well as the metaphysics of presence. This means that when Schelling says Freedom/Spirit or when Schopenhauer says Will, they are not correlationists because those are simply other names for Being (or rather, Becoming). They exist whether or not there are humans or thinking because their systems allow for unconscious entities (which is why so many Schellingians became scientists and why he was himself concerned with the natural sciences).
This is not the case for the political however. “Politics” is not another name for Being; politics are dependent on human beings. Certainly without humans there would be complex relations among entities, certain organisms would form politic-like organizations. We could say then that politics “image” other systems of relations, in the same way that Schelling speaks of “imaging freedom.” What he means is not that one is real and the other a copy, but that one is conscious and the other not, meaning one is reflexive. Politics are relations become conscious. Human beings, unlike ants or bees or wolves, are able to consider and change their grounding systems, able to weigh and decide the differences between varying systems and enact these decisions.
Nick has asked the questions: “(1) Are two galaxies colliding in the vast emptiness of space, political? (2) If yes, how?”
I think the answer is obviously no. Galaxies are unable to reflect on their relations, actions, etc, and are therefore not political. My decisions regarding my own systems of relations are political however insofar as they are conscious decisions. Certainly there is nothing inherently political about the fact that my body requires sleep (all animals do), but where I choose to sleep could be a political decision, as could a number of other factors involving this simple process. In this same way, a tree is not inherently political until I make it so.
We could perhaps question whether or not this means that speculation is in itself a political activity. This seems to be the main argument thrusts upon those of us who deny the ontological is political. Again, I follow the thinkers of the unconscious here and maintain that an unbiased view of things is possible. It follows that this view is not only not correlationist, but is devoid of politics until I inject them into it or thrust them upon it.
October 30, 2009 · 12:29 am
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.
August 6, 2009 · 7:34 pm
From a fascinating series over on Slate:
Hurricane Katrina proved that modern America is resilient. It didn’t prove that we’ll be around forever. After watching the place where I grew up avert total annihilation, I can’t help but wonder what course of events will eventually wipe out New Orleans and America as a whole. When it comes to human civilization, entropy conquers all: Rome fell, the Aztecs were conquered, the British Empire withered, and the Soviet Union cracked apart. America may be exceptional, but it’s not supernatural. Our noble experiment, like every other before it, has to end sometime.
The pessimists among us could be excused for thinking the country will run aground tomorrow. The U.S. military is understaffed and overstretched, global warming threatens to Atlantis-ize our coastal cities, and the strongest fundamental of our economy is that we need China to keep lending us money. General Motors—once an indomitable symbol of American might and ingenuity—filed for bankruptcy, and Glenn Beck, Fox News’ ascendant superstar, makes ratings hay by forecasting the apocalypse, American-style. Russian political scientist Igor Panarin has even predicted that the United States will break apart in 2010.
Be sure to read the various thought experiments of how the US could end!